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?
This 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.
Eating 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.