Traveling abroad is a rewarding experience that fosters personal growth and cultural enrichment. The prospect of experiencing new and unfamiliar landscapes, cuisines, cultures, norms, and languages is certainly intriguing. My maternal grandparents, with my uncle in tow, emigrated from Italy in the early 1950s. A family trip in 2004 to their homeland, taken over the course of thirteen days during my seventh grade, would sadly prove to be the only one for many of our older and elderly relatives. I am very grateful to have met them at least once in a lifetime. My grandmother, her older brother and sisters, and several other relatives have since passed away.
I can remember thinking how we were going to communicate with relatives, as only my mother and grandmother were bilingual. My mother acted as the translator since my grandmother spoke broken English. However, her role in this capacity was not constant. Despite my apprehension, I was amazed about how effective we proved in finding ways to communicate with one another. As the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” We communicated by speaking, pointing, using made-up sign language, and via a handhand translation dictionary. Our youngest relatives spoke broken English.
“When in Rome, Do as the Romans do…”
Upon arrival at Fiumicino International Airport, we spent our first three days in Rome at the second home of my grandmother’s niece, Maria Angelina. This home would be the first of many observations and experiences that differed from life back in the United States.
Its door, fence, and windows were gated and its interior was composed of four, small rooms: bedroom, combination family/dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. There was even an outdoor shower. Nested at street level within the hustle and bustle of city life, it differs from American stereotypes of second homes. Maria Angelina and her husband also acted as our tour guides in the city. We hustled to keep pace with their brisk walk as we navigated the city, especially as they crossed streets that lacked crosswalks. We found Rome pedestrian friendly until it came to crossing streets.
From Rome, we traveled to my grandmother’s hometown of Baia e Latina in the Province of Caserta. Another one of her nieces, Memeg, hosted us for the remainder of our trip.Her house was two-story with a gated, outside entrance to the upstairs quarters.
It was different for us to walk outside first before retiring to our quarters at night.
We would scurry downstairs in the morning to eat a quick breakfast with her and her family and by 9 am our other relatives arrived to shuttle us to their house, tourist destinations, and my grandfather’s hometown of Pietramelara. Dining is an especially important part of their culture. Although their traditional dinner time is around noon, we were served dinner at every relative’s house we visited. Many of them knew this would be the only time we would dine with them.
This visit became a pivotal point in gauging my interest in sustainability. Apart from differences in language, culture, and mannerisms, I also observed and experienced differences in natural resource consumption (water) and waste. With our family who hosted our lodging accommodations, I can remember being in the shower when the water turned off as I was about to rinse. In general, our relatives concentrated their water usage on other tasks like cooking and watering the garden versus longer showers.
Their bathroom was not equipped with a garbage can, and they initially attempted to open up the garbage bag to learn how much waste could be generated in a bathroom. On our relative-guided tours of the urban landscapes, particularly Rome and Naples, garbage cans and litter were virtually nonexistent on sidewalks, a sharp contrast to the United State where they are a staple in the cityscape. I can remember my sisters and I having to take turns carrying a plastic bag of our used tissues (we had allergies and colds). Such a contrast highlights differences in waste generation and the “throw-away” mentality between the United States and Italy. Most significantly, traveling to Italy has inspired me to better appreciate our natural and cultural resources and understand the lifestyle of another culture.
~by Angelo Teachout