What the EU flag means to me

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece based on my experiences in Europe. I may get some things wrong or say something you don’t agree with, but do not fret because it’s not the end of the world.

I have been in Europe approximately 5 months. When I first arrived I had a slight notion of what the EU was, but I didn’t even know there was a unifying flag. I questioned: what is the blue flag with stars and why it is everywhere?

I’ve learned a lot these past 5 month, talked to a lot of people, and read a lot of European news. I’ve realized that countries are proud to be part of the EU, especially the less western ones like Slovenia and Croatia. I’ve also realized a lot more countries than I expected are in the EU. You have to have certain standards of living and infrastructure, and there are only a few places left in Europe without them.

Visiting the EU parliament (museum) taught me a lot about what the EU actually *does*. It was created after WWII when Winston Churchill stated that Europe needs to be more like the United States and be the United Countries of Europe. The EU was formed to prevent another atrocity like the first two world wars to happen again.

Besides promoting unity and conflict prevention, the EU allows free economic trade and an overall currency that is together, stronger and not quite as susceptible to some currency. The Italian lire for instance was in bad shape when the switch was made. 1800 lire for 1 euro? They had 10000 lire bills and more. A few too many zeros on that to be considered a strong currency. The euro though is strong, comparable to the US dollar. Only two countries are exempt from the euro, Denmark, and the U.K. (Mention of brexit to come). The rest are supposed to phase into it at some point, some places accept both euro and the local currency, even if they aren’t in the stage of phasing out.

Goodbye Milan

I am so blessed to have beautiful weather on my last day in Milan. I was able to bike around the city and take in all the sites one last time.

Leaving Europe is bittersweet. I spent 6 whole months here and went to countless places, met some amazing people, and I have been inspired. I never knew how fascinated I was with language, or the way different people function. I learned that everywhere you go there are people who lack basic common sense, but that they are mixed along with people who are inspiration, smart, and capable.

I’m returning to Texas tomorrow, with a gleam if sadness in my eyes. Sad because I’ll be leaving Europe, where it’s easy to get anywhere, and no one checks IDs. But I’m also sad because I am returning to an unfamiliar America. Throughout my journey I had thoughts of: America is better because this; America is better because that….. But on second thought I don’t really know if America does it better. Although they are way better at making Mexican food, thanks neighbors.

I leave Milan content. I like the city, but I never loved it. It was never quite my type of place. The overall atmosphere of the city was too uptight for me. If I had the chance to go back I would probably opt for Rome or Naples instead. Still frustrating, but more laid-back, casual, and more my speed.

I like Italy, but it has been very frustrating. Something about Italians… very hardheaded. There is a common lack of sense, and efficiency doesn’t exist. Customer service, also non-existing. We had this joke that goes along the lines of: “How many Italians does it take to check you out (at the register)?” “Two, one to do it, and another for them to talk to.” Constantly we had cashier who would completely ignore you while they rang up your items, and just continue talking to their friend. Their ideal situation would be you show them your items and just leave the correct amount on the counter. I also won’t miss the dog poo all over the sidewalks. The rain wasn’t very helpful either.

Overall I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had and I will cherish it immensely. I’m excited to come home and start a new adventure.

A Good Customer Service Experience

Italian businesses have frustrated me countless times, especially phone service companies. When I’m upset or frustrated, I hardly ever get a response or even feel like I’m valued. Even when I’m not frustrated people just don’t try to keep me happy.

Take the grocery store for example. If I’m checking out at HEB, usually the cashier will be peppy or at least have strength in their movements. They’ll ring me up with some sort of motivation or hast. At the grocery stores here, half the time it’ll just be an employee going through the motions. You might write it off as, “Yeah of course, that’s how that are everywhere actually.” But here it’s more than just going through the motions. They go slow, they give me the limp arm, as they ever so slowly scan the groceries and plop (not place, just carelessly “plop”) my items on the counter. They look at me, expecting me to just leave my money on the counter and get out of their face, instead I always have to pay by card. This gets me a lot of glares, especially when they realize I have a foreign card and they have to press one extra button.

Whenever I do get a good customer experience, it really has a huge effect on me. I smile, in disbelief, and it really brightens up my whole day. I was walking with my friend Anna to the Armani Silos exhibit, when we passed a store that caught her eye. They were selling purses: leather and ones with fur. We decided to go in and see if the fur was real. It was. Dyed fur, but still real, from the leather hide of the animal. She really liked one and eventually decided to buy one, they weren’t too pricey.

The guy manning the store was really friendly, helping us when needed, and giving us good information. I had some trouble opening a particular clutch and after a few minutes of all us fiddling around, he finally figured it out. She bought the bag and looked around some more while he packaged it. It was a local shop and the sack didn’t have any branding, so he got out his marker set. He drew on the bag, representing their little shop through colors and art. He took his time, and he did it with a smile in his eyes. On the way out the door he gave both of us little furry keychains. That was the icing on the cake.

We walked out the door extremely satisfied. I was in shock about how kind that man was. Even without the free gift, his smile was so unusual for someone working a job in Italy. If you want to check out the shop, I took a photo of the business card. It’s a nice, affordable bag shop in Milan, near the Porta Genova stop. Check it out.

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EU Daylight Savings

So apparently….. Europe has a daylights savings as well. This would make a lot of sense. As I woke up today in panic thinking I overslept my alarm, but I found I still had 45 minutes of sleep. Technically I would have overslept, if it wasn’t for my phones automatic time change. Secondly, my boyfriends watch was an hour forward. We were soooo confused, like was it like that this whole time? Was it fast? Was it somehow really slow?

No. It was the “fall back” of European daylights savings. Who would have thought that existed. Totally thought it was only one of those weird American things conceived to “sell more grills” or some other consumerism reason. But no. The last Sunday of October time goes back in Europe. A week before the USA daylights saving time.

My Views on Language

When I first came to Europe, language was very daunting. I wasn’t very motivated to learn about a language and it kind of scared me. I started in countries with languages and letters somewhat foreign to what my typical 26 alphabet is. Danish, German, and Dutch. I didn’t try to learn them that well, and did my best to get around then.

In Germany I met a guy from the Austin (yes Texas) area who was taking a class on German. I was fascinated, but I doubted that I would remember, understand, or even care about it. Now I’m in Slovenia, another country with a few extra strange letters, and I can see the similarities and differences between languages. Their š is a lot similar to the “sci” sound in Italian (although it is actually “shu”). Their words like “pizzeria” are the same, but just with an added “j” making the “yuh” sound (pizzarjia).

France was when language first started making sense, as I took 6 weeks in middle school. It is also similar to Spanish (somewhat), which I studied in high school. French is really hard with the pronunciations, so I didn’t get very far in practicing.

In Spain things started to get better, all my Spanish came rushing back and I don’t remember having learned as much as I actually knew.

Coming to Italy I knew a few things and was prepared and motivated to learn the language. It’s been hard, but I keep pushing myself. The more I push myself to learn another language, the more my interest in other languages perks up. It’s not just the language itself that fascinates me, but the way that the country thinks.

I think when I go home to Texas, I am going to give spanish another try. In two months I have learned more italian than spanish in the 4 years I studied it. If I can push myself to learn spanish like I have italian, I know I can do so much more and put it to such good use.

US Presidential Debates: Live from Italy

I’ll bet you that every country in the world, in some shape or form, has been following or at least seeing updates on the US presidential election. Italy is no exception. If I watch the italian news every I’ll hear “italian italian italian Donald Trump italian italian Hillary Clinton,” etc. If I look through a newspaper or magazine, somewhere in there I’ll see something regarding the US election. When people learn I’m American they ask me who I am for, the list goes on and one, point being that the world is eating up this disaster election just as much as the American people.

I attended a debate watch at my italian university, Bocconi, consisting of mainly people from a television class offered there, but open to all others who wanted to join. Due to the time difference we were there at 3am (yes that early in the morning) to watch it live. I observed the reactions and comments that the other students, mostly italian, were making. Some had beers in their hands, and as you can imagine, they were a little more vocal. The class also created a twitter account where students could log in and tweet comments and quotes along with retweeting other twitter users and media accounts. You can check out their full twitter page here.

These are some of the observations I made and responses that I heard.

“I have tremendous respect for women.” – Donald Trump. Everyone laughs.

Similar to the young generation in America, most of them think Trump is absolutely ridiculous. They’re laughing and jeering at some of what he is saying (followed by a “Silenzio!” by the professor).

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“Because you’d be in jail” – Trump towards Clinton. OHHHHH, Everybody knows she just got burned.

Also similar to Americans: they don’t particularly like Clinton either. Most (well everyone I’ve talked to) have told me they would much rather have Clinton than Trump, but they still question her trustworthiness and character.

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The first sounds of anger from the audience came when Trump stated that “Obamacare is a disaster.” One guy in the back yelled some obscene words as Trump carried on his speech about american healthcare. In regards to Italian healthcare, from what I know at least, it is similar to the rest of Europe and is free or very low-cost in the public sector. Maybe this young man was a fellow american, maybe he just really hates the direction America is taking.

Things got more heated as more beers were drunk and as the debate got fiery. Trumps stance on Muslims and the Iraq War caused a few more obscenities and “you’re crazy” to be fired out from the audience. When Donald started his rant on “extreme vetting,” someone yelled out how we need some real-time fact checking DURING the debate. I talked to someone who told me that they are sick of Donald deflecting the question and going straight for ISIS. This subject is especially touchy for european citizens, who have to bear most of the weight of middle eastern refugees, also combined with the increased security due to recent terrorist attacks. Just this weekend walking around in Milan I saw more military soldiers than normal (all holding their large automatic weapons), and I wondered if there was any sort threat they might be preparing for. It’s hard to keep up with middle eastern affairs, especially with how complicated everything has become.

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It’s also been interesting to hear some things the candidates say and compare them to how things work in Italy. For example a candidate said “Jobs (in America) are nonexistent.” I talked about this with some italian students just the other day, they told me it is very hard to find a job in Italy. One of them, who was an international student from America (not on exchange) agreed with them and said it is way easier to find places that are even just hiring in America than in Italy. I feel like finding a job in America isn’t too difficult, you just need the skills to actually be hired for it. I think I’ve seen only 2 signs related to hiring or jobs while here in Italy, although I’m not fluent in italian so maybe I passed over a few without knowing.

Another question that got me thinking was NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump keeps talking about how it is the worst trade agreement in the world, but does the world even know what it is? Does it really affect them? Can it be labeled as a world issue? I asked a student if she knew what NAFTA was, she didn’t, so I provided a brief explanation.

“No I don’t know what NAFTA is or why it is such a big deal. From what you told me, I don’t really think it affects us here in Italy or the rest of the world.”

For more on NAFTA, check out Politifact.

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The twitter account had a poll asking who they thought was winning, there were only 9 votes, but it does show who is favored in this US election.

One of the students I talked to mentioned that Italy had their own “Donald Trump” figure a few years ago. Silvio Berlusconi, he was the 50th prime minister of Italy and in office 3 separate times for a total of 9 years. Some basic facts about him from Wikipedia: “Berlusconi was Prime Minister for nine years in total, making him the longest-serving post-war Prime Minister of Italy, and the third longest-serving since the Italian unification, after Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Giolitti….Berlusconi has been involved in many controversies and over 20 court cases during his political career, including a conviction to 4 years prison and 5 years suspension of public functions by the Court of Appeals for €7M tax evasion (and €280M slush fund) on 8 May 2013, confirmed by the Court of Cassation on 1 August 2013….. According to journalists Marco Travaglio and Enzo Biagi, Berlusconi entered politics to save his companies from bankruptcy and himself from convictions.” Read the rest of the wikipedia article here.

Silvio Berlusconi, the 50th prime minister of Italy, who is often compared with Donald J. Trump.
Silvio Berlusconi, the 50th prime minister of Italy, who is often compared with Donald J. Trump. Photo: Wikipedia

With more research I found several articles comparing the two figures and also outlining italians’ feelings towards the US Republican Candidate.

This one from TheLocal IT, “Italy’s News in English,” talks about how both Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi, are non-politicians who appeal to those who want change in how their government works. Berlusconi owned a lot of media in Italy, allowing him to be in everyone’s homes and promote his new party, Forza Italia. Other similar attributes between the public figures include: Crude treatment of women, anti-immigration beliefs, and relations with Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia. Read more about their similarities here.

Another article comes from the New York Times. This article focuses more on why Italians kept Berlusconi in office so long and why Donald Trump is more trusted by italians than any other european nation. It also brings a little more insight to italian politics quoting former Italian president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who said: “Italians preferred to laugh at Mr. Berlusconi’s bawdy behavior than discuss the budget deficit.” Sound Similar? Read more about Silvio Berlusconi here

Overall  the majority of Italian students are liberal to the hard-left, similar to students all over Europe and North America. I’ve met students in my program from all over the world and hardly any of them are on the conservative side. Every country I’ve been to so far seems to favor “Not Trump.” From what I’ve gathered, Bernie Sanders was the choice a lot of europeans wanted, due to his socialist and similar values. While Hillary Clinton is not their first choice, they choose to back her knowing that America will be at least the step in the right direction, instead of a step towards mayhem; a radical leader who may worsen relations with countries around the world, worsen the refugee and crisis in the middle east, and one who doesn’t seem to know what he is doing.

Comments and corrections are appreciated and encouraged. If I misspoke, or you have an opinion, feel free to comment. Please no negative language or obscenities or your comment will be marked as spam and deleted.

Steps to Visiting a New City

Traveling to a new city isn’t always the easiest thing, especially if their language and culture is very different than from what you are used to. I’ve travelled to a lot of different cities and began to form a quick pre-departure plan.

Google Maps App is a lifesaver
Google Maps App is a lifesaver

Step 1

Download the city and surrounding area on google maps. This allows you to access streets, some buildings and businesses, and more while offline.

 

Step 2

Research where you want to go in the city and how to get places. Even if you know what you want to visit, you never know what kind of surprises a city may hold. Continue reading “Steps to Visiting a New City”

Packing the BackPack

What did I bring with me in my backpack? Quite a few things, I think I may have actually overpacked. Granted these are my only possessions I will have for the next couple of months, most of what I brought are things that are of low worth to me. Clothing that I am okay with throwing out if (and probably when) I buy more; clothing I am okay with getting soiled. I brought small travel sized containers of my toiletries, because I know I will buy or borrow most of what I need overseas. I brought towels that can double as blankets, etc etc. Read below to find my detailed list!

Continue reading “Packing the BackPack”