Open Your Eyes, Open Your Mind : Thoughts from a Guy Who Tries
Joseph, SAI Ambassador, 2019
September 18, 2019

What has your experience taught you about the world?

No matter where one finds themselves in this vast, spacious yet small, densely populated, and heavily interconnected world; the priorities and passions of people are largely the same. The divisions between peoples are very real; there are different languages, traditions, customs, styles, etc. It’s beautiful and highly important to be able to take pride in all the things we are, and to relish in the things that define us and make us stand out as people. Studying in Florence gave me a particularly insightful perspective on this topic due to its history and culture, which is defined largely by this marked shift in focus from the community and the communal in the Medieval Age to the individual and the internal during the Renaissance. This focus on the individual was a major change that allowed people to express and project their selves prominently and our world would be so different if that change had never taken place. Much of the art, music, and literature that I so frequently turn to would be nonexistent. Yet, in direct contrast to that idea, in each of our individual essences, we are all human and are all very similar thanks to many years of evolution that predate our modern age.

Lookin’ extremely happy to sit down at the Rome Modern Art Museum!

There are things that people still find commonly important – concepts like the family, gathering to eat, basic conversation. These ‘simple pleasures’ are the reasons that many people are able to get up in the morning and face their day. I think that there was immense value in not only recognizing this in strangers but also in the people that I love and interact with on a daily basis. Putting this idea to work in my own life meant practicing awareness, actively noticing beauty, and being inspired by the Earth and its creations in all of its myriad forms. Of all the things I gleaned from my experience, this was perhaps the most powerful and readily applicable. It costs absolutely nothing to take time to recognize the immense wealth of love in our world, just how truly amazing humankind is, and just how incredibly lucky we all are to lead the lives that we do and to meet the incredible cast of characters along the way.

The end of an incredible hike from Fira to Oia on Santorini.

What did you learn about yourself when you were abroad? How have you changed?

I arrived in Florence with many of my own ideas on what to expect. I was going to see many fantastic, ornate architectural landmarks. I was going to be exposed to literal tons of famous artworks. I was to partake in the finest of all pizza and pasta tastings in Europe. These statements were, much to my chagrin, true in many ways. But, I didn’t learn much from just seeing the sights or tasting the food. I did, however, notice a transformation once I began to work to understand the significance of these things on a deeper level. To relate with a painting takes more effort than to glance at it and make a summary judgment of its aesthetic value or its outward and obvious ‘meaning’. To feel and hear a conversation between an architectural space and the people in it takes more effort than to marvel at its shiny surfaces. To understand the significance of a dish and the necessary processes in order to make it takes more work than to heap shovelfuls of pasta into one’s mouth. Having multiple layers of value and virtue, being more than meets the eye, making an effort to go beyond the surface — these are life lessons hidden within a plate of pennoni con verdure arrostite.

Laughing at this caption for this art exhibit, or at the fact that my photo’s being taken.

This isn’t to say that the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel aren’t stunning at first sight, or that I didn’t eat my entire pizza from pizza-making class in one sitting before I went home because I thought it was so good. It’s simply something I noticed, and something that I wanted actively cultivate within my own self after I returned, since this realization is something that can be applied to both building a chair and building character. Our roles in society often make it difficult to exist comfortably outside the confines of a ‘skill’ or a ‘specialty’, but the sum of human beings is often so much more than just what they outwardly appear to be good at. For a historical and topical example of this, we can look no further than Florentine legend Leonardo da Vinci, the exemplary ‘renaissance man’. Da Vinci exhibited such a passionate love for life and learning and was incredibly determined to peel back as many layers as he possibly could to attain as much understanding of the world around him as he was able to. In doing so, his existence and his work ended up benefitting far more than it would had he stuck to a ‘specialty’. He chose to cultivate layers upon layers of knowledge, he strove to extend himself into so many fields that it inspired generations to come. At first through mere circumstance, then exposure, and then further study, I was able to absorb these lessons from the culture within Florence and I try each day to continue to cultivate myself in a similar way that keeps true to the spirit of the what I learned. I have changed insofar that I have discovered that I am never complete and am always changing, learning, and growing.

Got stuck inside here. Took me 30 minutes to get out.

What travel tips would you give someone studying abroad?

  • Bring solid shoes with good traction, especially if you’re going to be hiking.
  • Do ample research on the place that you’re going to beforehand, formulate a rough plan of action, and you’ll most likely have a much better time. That being said, leave room for spontaneous moments of inspiration and wonderment.
  • One of my most important takeaways from studying abroad is that there are good times to decode the specific functionalities of a public transport system and there are bad times. One such bad time would be right before you’re about to board said transport. If you don’t know which direction that ferry is going, or whether that train is the A-line, or if that bus stops at your extremely specific stop with the really long name you can’t pronounce, ask somebody! You will probably figure it out after a bit of struggle and initial awkwardness, and you might make a momentary friend.
  • I would also recommend to not be afraid of going out to experience things on your own (within reason), because of the feeling of freedom that such an experience comes with is priceless. If you’re traveling with a group, make sure to let them know what’s up, but I highly recommend taking some time to absorb and process things on your own.
  • Pack lightly, but bring all your essentials. Laptops can be super useful in a pinch but they are quite heavy. Literally always bring your passport everywhere, always, without exception. Maybe don’t bring it to Conad, but it’s probably not a bad idea if you do.
  • Be adventurous. And safe.
  • Make sure to purchase and learn the accordion in case you run out of money so you can busk by the side of the road for a few hours to get yourself back on your feet.

Gearin’ up for the day!

Have a great trip!


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