What A #TSM Should Be

Most members of the Greek community who study abroad stay connected through WhatsApp, taking scenic pictures in spirit jerseys and wearing letters in hopes of meeting brothers/sisters abroad.

For some, like myself, this is a bit of an adjustment. Even though I try to stay updated, it’s impossible to truly be in the loop. I have no idea what this spring jam name change drama is, even though I read the Panhel email that was longer than most papers I have written here. I no longer have “Vice President of Recruitment” proceeding my name, or a leadership position to define my place in the community.
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And the shocking part is, I’m not sure I mind.

Last night, I ended up meeting someone from the U of M Greek community who was visiting Rome for the weekend.

Naturally excited, I inquired what chapter he was apart of. To my surprise, he responded hesitantly and said he didn’t want to say. My confused looks must have implied a need for more information, as he proceeded to hint at unflattering events/rumors that tend to be associated with his chapter.

After this little guessing game, he finally revealed his chapter. I could too, but it’s not relevant. To most of the world, greek letters look like weird shapes, and what I am doing in front of the Trevi looks like a gang sign. Greek is Greek.

I could’ve changed the topic, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Offering our new friend some PR guidance, I told him the next time someone asks what house he’s in, he can’t reply with “I don’t want to say.” If you don’t want to say, you shouldn’t be wearing those letters. In fact, you shouldn’t be Greek. There’s already enough people saying negative things, you don’t need to add to it. What you need to do is tell the stories that have become overshadowed- the ones no one seems to know. If you don’t believe in your chapter, no one will.

You don’t have to be halfway across the world to be removed or to be wearing letters you’re not proud of. What this all comes back to, is there shouldn’t be a chapter that needs to discuss PR strategies outside a bar in Rome.

We use these rumors as excuses. They become something to hide behind, a reason to give up.

Your school newspaper doesn’t hate your Greek community, your University has nothing against you. A newspaper is going to report on news, you have no one else to blame for the material they’re given. An argument regarding new University regulations tends to overlap with a conversation boasting about how Greeks are more responsible and prepared for life. It doesn’t add up.

Living in Rome, I am surrounded by Greek mythology, which inspired much of Roman history. What, and who, our community is named after is far more inspiring than what we allow ourselves to get away with. What each letter of our chapters represent is so much more than where exchanges will be held or what they’ll be called. Or at least it should be.

If these are the standards we continue holding ourselves to, there will be no reason to be in the loop.

Now, the chances of my new BFF remembering this encounter aren’t the highest. However, it made me realize that regardless of any title or role, I will always have a place in this community. Leadership isn’t only defined by exec boards and committees, but also by the times you decide to not change the topic.

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Why you won’t make a blog

You’ve probably noticed that most people studying abroad create blogs.

They detail their exotic adventures and reflect on culture shock, while others live vicariously through each post they peruse. But why did most of these world travelers never blog beforehand? From what I have noticed it seems to be one or more of five reasons.

So, why don’t you, still living in the US, have a blog? Why will most abroad bloggers stop writing once they return home?

Here’s why-

1. Your lives aren’t interesting

Everyone thinks it takes living in another country to have something valuable to write about, let alone share.

The reality is, if you don’t think your life is unique enough for you to detail the events or for others to read about it, why is that the life you are leading?

People are made up of stories and experiences just as much as we are of cells.

No one has seen the world (the small town, the college campus, etc.) exactly as you have. Everyone is an expert in something or has insight to share, it’s only a matter of recognizing that in yourself.

2. No one wants to read it

Blogging is a vulnerable hobby. You think, “Who am I to assume anyone wants to read this?” Well, who are you to assume no one cares about your point of view? Or maybe you worry, “If people read this out loud, it’s going to sound Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 9.02.23 AMcliche and cheesy.” Why yes, yes it probably will. But at least someone’s reading it.

People are naturally nosy and curious about those who surround us. We yearn for the opinions, experiences and humor of others. People will read it.

And the best part is- once they do, you won’t care.

3. It’s a waste of time

Like most of my habits, we can probably trace this one back to all the yoga. I love to reflect and find deeper meanings, connections and value in everyday occurrences.

So I can’t really understand how people could find doing just that as a silly use of time.

Communication, writing especially, is one of the most powerful things we are able to do. Fine tuning writing skills through grammar, finding a voice and developing a point of view will always be worthwhile, regardless of occupation.

It also doesn’t hurt that something of value that displays your intelligence and curiosity will surface next to the picture of your drunken keg stand when employers Google your name.

4. You have nothing original to say

Maybe you don’t.

But that’s what makes blogs relatable. They are written by real people, not paid researchers looking to share findings in encyclopedias. They don’t need to be on new topics, but rather just a new perspective.

Our majors, living situations, schools, families, and upbringings make how we experience each day, even the most mundane event, completely original.

Think of all the various news shows, and try to say you can’t interpret the same event in different ways. Furthermore, each one of them has a blog (not sayin, just sayin).

5. Everyone has a blog, you’re over it

Do you think people considered not writing books because there were already a lot out there?

As we continue to move to a more digital age, blogging is a way to be engaged. Instead of just reading and sharing all these pages on Facebook, you could also be creating them.

Experience with various digital and social media skills are becoming essential, and will only make you stand out to employers, especially if your blog is regarding topics in your field of study.

Ultimately, whether you choose to blog or not is up to you. All I ask, is that you take the time to reflect, appreciate and enjoy each and every experience you are so incredibly lucky to have. Taking the time to value and make the most of each day is something that doesn’t necessarily require a public blog, or a semester abroad.

Perceptions of Pressure

IMG_0263While in Verona and Venice over the weekend (casual), I realized many conversations I was having continued to circle back to the future.

Families, internships, bridal parties, full-time jobs, changing careers and so on.

Hopefully not in that order.

While this remains a common topic of conversation for all twenty somethings with college graduation on the horizon, being surrounded by the Dolce Vita creates a different perspective.

While in Venice, we visited Murano and watched a glass-blowing tutorial and created jewelry with glass beads. The most interesting part of this was hearing the history behind the man creating beautiful vases, pitchers, animals and more.

He had been practicing glass blowing since he was 12 or 13, which is the norm for the profession. It’s not something that requires a college degree and is rarely a first generation pursuit.

IMG_0278The men are trained by their elders and perfect the skill as they age.

And by the men, I don’t mean the over-arching term for people. When asked if there are any female glass-blowers, the man responded, “No, women can’t do it. They aren’t strong enough.”

Hm. Keeping in mind the differences between cultures and traditions, we’ll skip the feminist rant for now.

However generalized, his words are still powerful.

Without attempting to, he provided a snapshot of the Italian workforce. Careers tend to be decided by family tradition- who you know isn’t a plus, it’s everything.

Even though we may be lost and confused, pressured about what’s to come next, we at least all have a choice regarding what career we are pursuing. For the most part, family professions and more importantly, gender, won’t dictate what paths we take. We also don’t need to make decisions in fear of the alarmingly high unemployment rate awaiting the other side of failed endeavors. Although it might not feel like it, we have the wiggle room to take chances.

Recently, I fell in love with the wise words of Julius Caesar that state, “As a rule, men worry more about what they can’t see than what they can.”

We become so obsessed with the future, the unknown, that we forget to make the most of the ephemeral present. Maybe that was the pure intention behind the god awful #YOLO movement, but I think it goes past any cliche saying.

Everything becomes a search for something that already exists, rather than a quest to create new opportunities. We take pictures without knowing the captions, replace but never attempt to fix, and Google before we test our memories.

Worrying about what’s around the corner, we forget to take in everything that is in front of us now. Classes seem pointless as we await real jobs, yet the homework we avoid and the lectures skipped may be what provides the upper hand one day.

While tradition can be associated with old-fashioned, Italian’s appreciation for the classic and pure methods of all things- from food to textiles to glass blowing- is something to be admired. Whether it’s because of their secure future in the family business or acceptance of the mammoni life, they’re able to wait patiently for the future; while they enjoy and truly learn from the present.

Small Victories

Nothing compares to strolling out of an interview in complete confidence. 

Only issue is, today I was completely confident that I did not get the internship I was interviewing for.

That may sound presumptuous and negative, but as Haley, Danica and I entered our group interview for a potential internship, we were greeted by employers expecting fluent Italian speakers. We awkwardly informed them that was not us, and like any three strategic communications students, talked up and spun our strengths to the best of our abilities.

Based on the lack of eye contact, sighs of disappointment and phrases like, “I am going to have to see” and “I think the decision is pretty clear,” we have a feeling our pitches didn’t quite cut it.

It’s actually entertaining that earlier in the day I thought my decision between wedges or flats would actually matter (wedges prevailed as always).

It’s obstacles like these that can make you doubt your capabilities in a different culture, language and country. While I wrote news releases on a weekly basis at St. Jude, the reality of the situation is, I’m not ready to do that in Italian.

However, it’s also obstacles like these that make you appreciate the things you can do, and teach you to celebrate the small victories. Here’s some of things that have become wildly exciting in the eternal city:

1. Running errands

About two weeks ago, I bought tape and I still haven’t gotten over it. The quest for Scotch-esque tape was a difficult one seeing as there aren’t places like Target & Walgreens/CVS that carry everything under the sun. Finding this specialized supply store was a win in itself, but to make it even better, my entire interaction at the store was completely in Italian. So rewarding.IMG_0203

2. Hosting

Considering shopping for our apartment is one of my biggest stress-releasers, you could say I’m a bit of a natural host (one of my many Mom qualities). This weekend was prime for hosting as I had two of my best friends visiting and was able to show them around Rome. Showcasing my favorite places and hole in the wall must-see’s made me feel like the love child of UrbanSpoon and Google Maps.

3. Street Interactions

Coming to Rome, I was very concerned about aggressive Italian men. Luckily, I have nothing negative to report back. Who doesn’t want to be greeted as “Bella” everyday by strangers and our to die for elder doorman, Bruno? Not complaining. Furthermore, I made someone laugh on the metro today with my Italian know-how rather than my lack thereof. Bliss.

4. Waking Up Before Rome

Unlike most Romans (or normal people), exercise is my one true love. So signing up for a half marathon in northern Italy sounded like heaven. Little did I realize, training in Villa Borghese early in the mornings would also offer me a snapshot of a different Rome. Workers clean the windows of vacant Via Del Corso high end stores, awaiting the stains of envious hands. The Spanish Steps are completely empty, the air is a cheerful calm and dog play-dates run the social scene. Swoon.

5. Becoming A Regular

Blame it on Cheers, Starbucks’ sharpie on holiday cups; whatever it is, everyone wants to go somewhere where people know their name. That’s why walking into Cafe Amore every morning and hearing, “Ciao, Sarah!” (Slight roll of the R included) is so life changing. Additionally, being recognized at yoga by the sweetest people is beginning to remind me of the sense of community I have at studios at home.

These little things add up and are able to outweigh the unfortunate instances like getting lost, being sick or feeling impatient. And while I worry about finding summer internships back in the US, I am now reassured remembering that I can in fact fluently speak, and even write news releases, in the expected language.

How to spot a tourist

After the obvious cues of taking selfies on the metro or in front of the colosseum, butchering Italian phrases and walking around with one’s eyes glued to a map, there is a sure fire way of spotting a tourist.

They’re not Italian.

With my fingers crossed, I hope to be so integrated in Italian culture that I shame the “ugly-American” persona. Unfortunately, even with my new eurochic poncho, I still have one small thing working against me.

I’m not Italian.

Living in the US for my whole life, I never really thought about the variation in ancestry, races and personal styles that surround me. Here, people don’t describe their nationality with fractions and what sounds like a roll call at the UN. They’re Italian.

Discovering this cultural difference and appreciation for American diversity explains why I was so surprised and disgusted by headlines following the Superbowl.

I was unable to watch the Super Bowl, but I dedicated some quality should-be-studying-for-Italian time to catching up on the commercials, which I always look forward to. I love seeing how companies decide to present themselves as a brand and how they strive to forge a sustainable connection with people they have never and will never meet. I love seeing how advertisements can, in 40 seconds, mirror our cultural norms, values and stances on social issues.

ImageSo, when brands like Coke and Cheerios do just that, and receive such a degree of backlash, it’s appalling. I could go on a tangent about each advertisement’s strategies, but the point is the underlying message of diversity. The same diversity that I am admiring from a country that I can’t slip into the cracks of, based on German and English heritage. 

I don’t have anything to share with anyone who has an issue with interracial families, Americans who speak English as a second language, or any of the realistic dynamics displayed in these commercials. The chances of these bigots landing on a blog post that would inspire them to love everyone are slim to none. The chances of it being this one, even lower.

But what I can share, is a different perspective inspired from a different country. I can share my appreciation for numerous races being united by the title “American.” I can share my hope that ads like these will always be celebrated, and that people won’t hesitate to speak out against wrongful racism and ethnocentrism, even if it is just in one blog post.

Where to Go, Who Not to Room With

One of my favorite things about Italy is the how many beautiful and unique cities are only a train ride away. A few friends and I took advantage of that this weekend for a trip to Florence. Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 8.08.23 AM

This trip marked my first experience staying in a hostel. Even though I haven’t stayed in one, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Apparently, one of our roommates did not.

This woman, roughly 45, was visiting Florence from another country, and clearly didn’t think through her commitment to a communal room. I’m starting to doubt if she has ever lived with or encountered another person.

Friday night, we returned to our room at 1 a.m.,which she reminded us of roughly 15 times even as we whispered and tip-toed around the room in the dark. She kept saying she just didn’t understand.

Naturally, I was the first to cross a boundary, by changing in my corner of the room. She expressed disgust, which for the sake of my own self esteem I will choose to not read too far into. Once we went to bed, she continuously yelled  shh at one of our roommates for snoring. Next, she hovered over another roommate’s bed and woke her up to tell her to be quiet. Allison has a tendency to talk in her sleep, which apparently was unacceptable.

After the roomie from hell flipped through channels on the TV at 3 a.m. (I’m assuming we were too free spirited and noisy for her to sleep) she woke us up at 5 a.m. with a 10 minute phone conversation. Something tells me that could have waited, but considering it happened the next morning as well, it must be her thing.

IMG_1169Luckily, by the time I woke, I had an amazing wine tour to look forward to. Three friends and I met the bus just a few blocks from our hostel and began our day. We spent the morning in Siena, visiting the Siena duomo, exploring the city, and tasted a Siena speciality that we nicknamed sugar balls.

Next, we took a beautiful scenic drive to a Chianti vineyard, where we were having lunch on an organic farm. I just feel like that sentence speaks for itself. It was refreshing to be surrounded by green hills, plains and every beautiful part of nature you forget about living in a city as big as Rome.

The four course meal of toast with olive oil, pasta, salad (non-vegeterians had pork tenderloin), and almond cookies were made completely of organic ingredients from their farm. Each course was accompanied by tastings (then glasses) of white wine, Chianti, Merlot, and dessert wine. The care and appreciation Italians have for food and wine has been inspiring all semester, which was even more evident here.

We finished our tour with a visit to Pisa, and were brought back to Florence after some touristy photos. My three friends and I met up with the rest of our group, who decided to stay in Florence for the day. We explored the city, had a wonderful dinner at Mamma Gina’s and swapped stories from our days.

The next morning, I got up early to walk around Florence one last time with my friend, Rachel, who had also gone on the wine tour. I was glad I was up, because our angry roommate turned on the lights in the hostel room, packed loudly and had more phone conversations. I received more glares while changing, but you can’t win ’em all.

All in all, I strongly recommend the Walkabout Florence tours. Everything was planned perfectly and required little to no effort from participants. We had the perfect amount of time in each place and got a true feel for the Tuscany region. Also, considering the number of laughs our hostile hostel buddy gave us, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.