Eating dinner at nine, placing your money on the counter instead of handing it to the cashier, ordering a coffee and actually drinking it there. Nothing groundbreaking, right? Right. So then why was I utterly confused when I wanted to eat at six but everything was closed? Or when the clerk placed my change in front of me. Or when I looked around in a mall and NO ONE had a Starbucks cup in their hand. Differences. It’s not that one thing is weird while the other is normal, rather it’s just that when something is different from what you’re used to, you’re caught off guard. But the best part about differences is right after the immediate discomfort, there’s a moment of recognition, when you realize your way isn’t the only way. This is a key moment, as it offers one of two opportunities: one for re-evaluation, learning, and growth, and another for judgment, rejection, and ignorance. While our stubbornness makes the latter the easier path to take, advancement is only possible through the former. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to study abroad; to face cultural, academic, and professional differences in order to develop my perspective and progress as a person. And although I’ve only lived here for about two months, differences in the little details like sitting at the bar with your coffee, and bigger differences like navigating the flooded streets of Venice have already taught me a lot.
Yes, you read that correctly. This city boy waded through flooded streets. Now those who know me from home know that I just barely invested in a pair of lace-up boots, in order to walk around on a rainy day in Milan. Back home in California, rain is typically so minimal that my shoe collection is made up of loafers and moccasins. No sneakers, no boots. Therefore, investing in a pair of rubber, knee-high rain boots in Venice was a big change for me. But when you wake up, look out the window, and see that there is a small river where your front steps used to be, you suck it up and wear the damn rubber boots. This experience, however, quickly became one of my favorite memories of this trip thus far. Living in a city where something as fundamental as transportation is so drastically different from what you’re used to truly opens your eyes to underlying concepts such as how we interact with our environment, and how unique locations influence daily life. The bus and metro system of Milan is familiar and similar to that of San Francisco, which is immensely helpful for living here and traveling locally. But experiencing a taste of something so different like Venice, where the cars are boats and the streets are rivers, was refreshing and incredibly enjoyable.
And guess what? I didn’t even stop with the rain. I went even farther out of my comfort zone and ventured into the snow! In Los Angeles, my home street is “Mountain View Avenue,” so I’ve always had a convenient view of the snow-capped mountains in the distance, but have never actually made the 45 minutes trip to actually go into them. So when SAI announced there would be a weekend ski trip in the Alps, I decided my first real experience with snow was going to finally happen. And so with the help of my friends, #DiegoOnIce was born. Ultimately, I came to the same realization that I’ve reached in the past regarding other athletic activities: skiing wasn’t for me. Between the burdensome boots, the unwieldy skis and poles, and that uncomfortable simultaneous hot/cold feeling of working up a sweat in the snow, it just wasn’t my thing. However, I also realized that sitting in the snow and just marveling at the sights with a warm coffee and a good book was an activity I could spend all day doing. My whole life, I had been looking up and away to the snow from my home. Now I had the opposite perspective, standing at the top of a mountain, watching the snow fall from tree branches and the bustling cities off in the distance. Experiences like these were exactly what I had hoped for; opportunities for reflection that connect me more deeply with both Italy and my life and culture back home.
Diego is a student at San Francisco Art Institute studying at Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti during the Spring 2014 term.