One Minute, One Million Memories

“91 cappuccinos. Wine corks that probably shouldn’t be counted. 9 weekends spent traveling. 3 private cooking classes. Stories of the 5 senses and 266 popes, all started 14 weeks ago from today,” I tell two cameras larger than my body and the two monotone men controlling them.

IMG_1255In my Pope, Politics and Popular Culture course, we were offered the unique chance to broadcast our opinions on Vatican TV. Well, more or less.

Standing in the Vatican TV studio, our class was asked, one by one, to describe our abroad experience in 60 seconds. Our professor Sèan, recommended we think about the balance of what we would say- be prepared, yet not robotic; composed, yet genuine.

The cherry on top of this challenge was when Sean asked us to share of what our audience needed to know, not just what we would like to say.

60 seconds. It’s said to be how long it takes first impressions and judgements to form, and is often the maximum amount of time we have to answer a question. While this seems superficial, it makes sense. In my opinion, it’s partly a result of our tendency to like the ideas of things more than the logistics. “We’ll get coffee!” can go on for months before you actually find yourself sipping espresso in company.

So as much as everyone “can’t wait to hear everything” there’s still a strong chance those stories will need to come in 60 second increments. Luckily, the more I thought about this semester summary, I realized the best experiences don’t have to be told. Gained independence carries itself in my aura, global perspectives are intertwined in intelligent conversations and my favorite stories would make me laugh too hard to effectively communicate.

Sometimes it’s not the pictures you have to show, or the things that can be said.

I also found this through my communications course as I sat behind a Vatican Radio microphone, during another amazingIMG_2412 class. While in the studio at the Vatican, Sèan asked questions about our résumés, testing how well we were able to communicate our experiences and sell ourselves.

Elements of any résumé can only tell you so much, that’s the purpose of an interview. In my case, being a yoga instructor intrigued Sèan, and he wanted to know more. I described my passion for helping others, how I am able to represent myself as a brand and how my time on the mat leads to serene problem solving. I was prepared but not robotic, but more importantly I was able to communicate something you wouldn’t find from that one piece of paper.

For my 60 seconds of fame, the anticipation and monologue setting made me a bit more unsettled, and I’m not sure I was as real as the previous Vatican media experience. I have yet to see my Vatican TV video, but  regardless of how it turns out, the experience was enough to make up for any embarrassing stutters or awkward body language.

Following the switching red lights of the cameras, I said something along the lines of, “I’ve never done so much in a semester, and had it go so quickly. But really I think it’s because I haven’t truly tried, I don’t think anyone has. Being abroad offers you all these amazing experiences, but they have an expiration date.We’ve seen and done more than so many locals, because for them it’s not going anywhere.”

“Making the most of everyday,” I continued, “is something that can only start once excuses stop, which has made this semester as amazing as it was. It’s also universal, wherever you are, wherever you’re living or studying, explore the world around you. It’s because of this mindset that I can’t recap my study abroad experience in 60 seconds, or reduce it to a number. And for that I am eternally grateful.”

Now that you have the semester in 60 seconds, you have a few weeks to prepare the specific questions. But only if you want truly genuine answers, can handle moments of cackle-induced incoherency, and are able to set a date to add to that infamous wine cork collection.

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Time Is Of The Essence

As I’ve mentioned, Italy takes a different approach to daily routines, one that has made me never feel pressed for time- until now. I’ve been told that our time abroad is beginning to near the end, an idea I refuse to acknowledge enough to fact check.

The saddest part of this concept, isn’t all the cappuccinos, amazing professors or beautiful monuments that I will miss. It’s the presence of people, across many different programs, counting down the days until their return to US soil.

Yes, everyone is different and to each their own, etc. Yet, for me, witnessing these reactions to our last month studying abroad represents a lack of gratitude and appreciation. From Rome to Brazil to Australia, wherever you are, studying abroad is a privilege so many people are unable to experience. How could you not appreciate, cherish, and already miss every single moment?

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 9.51.49 AMThis value of time coincides with the Italian approach to food. Dedicated to the slow food movement, Italy has reinforced my values of eating local and knowing what you’re eating. From the traditional family restaurants to the abundance of open air markets to the beloved Made In Italy label, real food is essential to Italy.

Similar to students ready to return home, our usual approach to food speeds along a process in a way that compromises quality and experience. Our Sustainable Foods professor, Sergio, says we are “enslaved by speed,” meaning we allow a lack of time to decide everything about our lives, especially what we eat. After an amazing weekend field trip to the Abruzzo region of Italy, where we only ate food grown and produced on the farm and watched cheese being made, the value of taking your time with food was driven home.

Everywhere around the world, especially the US, we take quality ingredients for granted and attempt to make the process of cooking and eating as efficient as possible. Few people want to know where their meat or produce come from, and have even less interest in the process it took for their meal to get there.

Started in Italy by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists in the 1980’s, Slow Food began in response to the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome. Even though there are now 10 Roman locations, this is no sign of a Slow Food defeat.

Followed first by Germany and Switzerland, the Slow Food movement gained international recognition, even leading to Slow Food USA in 2000.

IMG_1782Eating is one of the simplest, yet most memorable, ways of experiencing a culture. This makes quality food universally and cross-culturally valued, something I experienced first hand in Istanbul. Walking past the fishermen waiting patiently by the river, walking through bustling fish markets, then visiting the famous fish sandwich vendors and enjoying our meal on said river; the simplicity was impossible to ignore. Sergio often reminds us to ask ourselves where our food comes from. All at once I could see where my fish came from, and each step of the production process, usually kept clandestine by the food industry. This transparent, local and sustainable approach to food is one of my most sacred memories of Istanbul.

What this all comes down to, is there will never be enough time; but we have more control over how we spend it than we admit. Whether it’s a semester abroad or ingredients for dinner, we’ll experience so much more if we make the most of what we are given. Skype shouldn’t trump scenic walks through foreign streets; 15 minutes isn’t better spent Facebook stalking than cooking real meals; and opportunities for connecting and building relationships with those around you shouldn’t be swapped for updating that silly countdown.

True appreciation of the experiences we are given, whatever they may be, calls for a mindset that focuses on what you have accomplished, enjoyed and grown from- not when it will be over.

And if you’re truly doing it right, what you take away from these once in a lifetime opportunities won’t have an expiration date. You’ll meet people with an open mind, thinking of that one roommate that pleasantly surprised you; you’ll say yes to invitations out of your comfort zone, remembering everything you gained from new cultural experiences; and most importantly, you’ll have gratitude that needs not a reminder.

Travel Sin El Ego

7o degree weather usually acts as a cue for the warmest clothing and least amount of cares. In Rome, however, you find locals in slightly lighter winter coats, patiently awaiting the scorching summers. Pairing my skirt with a sweater and tights, I continued my efforts to be mistaken as a Roman.

Whether it’s the way we dress, the news we read or the explanations we BS, it’s common to love being in the know. This makes it difficult to release our egos, and unashamedly say I don’t know.

This translates to travel as well, and not just with most people’s reluctance to ask for directions.

While traveling to Istanbul, Emily and I realized we knew next to nothing about the country we had worked so hard to enter. Luckily, we had a wonderful host awaiting us, who was able to bring us to the best hole-in-the-wall’s and explore the world’s second largest city with directional confidence. Or at least feeling no responsibility for the lack thereof.

Park Güell Circa January 2013
Park Güell Circa January 2013

This past weekend, I visited Barcelona with friends, a trip that came with a very different mindset than Istanbul. Having travelled to Barcelona with my family the year before, I attempted to resist thinking that I had seen it all. Once again, a temporary local pulled through. A friend of a friend, who studies there, showed us all a Barcelona worth revisiting.

Touring and dining in neighborhoods I hadn’t realized existed made me quickly realize I had not seen it all. Traveling on foot rather than opting for taxis, creating a multitude of ridiculous stories, and comparing paella prices also showcased the differences of traveling with friends versus family.

I realized this was a wonderful opportunity to see Barcelona a way most won’t. Saving time not revisiting some monuments, I decided to break away from the group to take a bike tour around the city and refused to let the Picasso museum go unseen. And I’m glad I did.

Seeing the city via bicycle turned out to be a completely different experience. Even though most of the monuments weren’t new to me, many of the historical explanations were. Last year, I recall being told Casa Batllo is meant to look like a fish, while this year, I learned there’s a tale of St. George who fought off an indestructible dragon to save the city’s princess that inspired the building. The sculpture described as the face of Barcelona was actually done by the American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in 1992, when earlier in the day I said I vaguely remembered Picasso being the artist. Wrong for so many reasons.

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Park Güell Round 2

It’s a beautiful process- learning to let go of one’s ego and admit how much more you have to learn. These opportunities are all around us, not just granted with one’s passport. We need to not only realize how many lessons we have to learn, but also realize how many teachers surround us. Whether it’s our peers, strangers, or our parents (usually the most difficult), we must recognize that everyone has an individual perspective, and something to share.

As I walk back from class, starting to glisten from my winter-ready outfit, I realized sometimes it pays to not fit in. I pass tourists wandering away from the ruins in search of more monuments, only to find themselves on Via Baccina, the street I call home. They turn around discouraged, thinking there’s nothing more to be explored or discovered.

Little do they know, there’s a popular neighborhood filled with restaurants, cafes and boutiques right at their footsteps. More so, there are Monti residents walking back from the grocery store to their posh apartments, who know the in’s and out’s of the city. One apartment to speak of is even filled with five girls studying abroad, who would love nothing more than to be asked can you tell me what’s over here? However, that’s a question only answered when we simply aren’t afraid to ask.