As I rode through the countryside of Italy on a charter bus towards Napoli, my excitement was hardly containable. A group of American students and I were headed to a wine tasting in a Cantina at the base of Mount Vesuvius, one of the most famous active volcanoes in the world, before continuing to Sorrento and the spectacular Amalfi coast. When we finally arrived, the atmosphere of the winery was indescribable. We were literally in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. The area was quiet and the air was still. The food was organic and made rich in nutrients by the volcanic sediments from the eruption of Vesuvius. In awe of the beauty of this place, our tour guide further explained some folklore concerning this particular region. Apparently the story goes that when Lucifer was cast from heaven, he was able to tear a small piece of paradise down with him which became Napoli. There is certainly no arguing that Napoli is a small paradise.
As I sat down for our meal and wine tasting, I remember thinking how at peace I was. I was in a calmer state of mind than I had been in quite a long time. I found myself envying the Italians and the family who owned this small winery. How much I would love to leave the traffic, busyness, commercialism, and pollution of America behind to live like these people. Living among nature, in a small town with an amazing landscape, with your own small business in the heart of paradise. My anxiety and daily stressors would dissolve, ceasing to be important. At first I was convinced that this was the life I pined for. Eventually though, I decided that the grass may not be greener on the other side. Having talked to many young Italians during my stay here, most of them resent Italy’s job market. They say it’s suffocating with no opportunity for growth since the older generation inhabits a significant percentage of the workforce. The young men and women have increasingly few options for work during this time of economic hardship. I suddenly imagined myself growing up in the family business, resenting my obligation to my parents and yearning for the opportunity to do what I wanted with my life.
As we continued to the Amalfi coast, I continued to contemplate the differing qualities of life and what defines happiness. Winding through the cliffs of the mountains towards the village of Positano on the Amalfi coast, buildings and coast lines were beginning to come into view. When we finally arrived, we were guided through the narrow streets filled with touristy shops towards the beach. Again, I thought about the kids growing up in this small town that would be forced to choose between the tourism markets and leaving their home to find better work. From a tourist’s point of view, this place was heaven. I sat on the beach without a care in the world as I enjoyed the ocean breeze and the perfect weather as soft electric guitar was being played somewhere in the distance. It baffled me that Italians with such easy access to natural perfection could want to leave their country but at the same time, I understood. As much as I yearned for the freedom from stress and pollution, they yearned for the freedom to be in control of their professional life.
Later we took a ferry ride around the coastline which was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. There were mountains that seem to stretch miles into the sky and elaborate homes on the cliffs by the sea. I tried to soak up as much as I could because I never wanted to leave, and I promised myself that I would someday return. I let the experience wash over me like a wave on the beach, trying not to worry about the fact that it was all going to end. I focused on all the opportunities that I take for granted where I come from, like being able to pursue the career I am interested in with freedom of choice, and even being able to use my resources to study abroad and open up my perspective of the world. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been, and as I rode the bus back to Rome, my thoughts went to the young Italians who would love to be in my shoes. It was truly a humbling experience that has made me even more thankful of where I am in life. I just hope that Italy is able to further recover from its economic crisis and afford young people some of the same opportunities that I have. I am optimistic.