We were gathered around the cramped living room of Kait’s quaint apartment on the top floor of the castle tower. Not one, but several half-eaten cakes occupied the dining table, one of which was adorned with candles. They blended in with the foliage of bottles, balloons, cups, streamers, and snacks scattered about. For many of us, this would be our last night together in Bologna, as the semester students would be returning home that same week – although I expect to know many of them for some time. The night was beginning to wind down and the question being tossed around was, “do you think your experience abroad has changed you and, if so, how?” I was impressed with everyone’s responses as I frantically searched for my own. I landed on something about how my self-confidence has grown as a result of my travels and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome along the way, which is true, but only now, after returning to the Indiana for a three-week holiday break, do I realize the full extent of my personal development.
I can narrow it down to three things: manners, patience, and tolerance. The first I noticed at the dinning room table the first night of my return as my siblings shoveled down their dinner before my parents even had a chance to sit down. I found it astonishing that four months ago I would have done just the same, but after spending that time eating with strangers abroad the lack of gratitude and consideration was appalling to me. My parents don’t mind but after pointing this out, my sister has begun to follow my lead; my brother is a harder nut to crack.
I noticed my increased patience in the car, a place I often lose all patience. I no longer found myself screaming obscenities at complete strangers that would make a sailor blush. I wasn’t teetering on the extreme edge of every speed limit but took my time getting places, enjoying the journey, which is a mandatory requirement if you intend to live in the slow-paced Italian lifestyle.
It dawned on be that I had developed tolerance during conversations with friends and family that took a less than politically correct or understanding direction. Italians aren’t known for their political correctness, however, like some of my peers from back home, I don’t believe they mean to offend, but have never been close to someone they would or could offend. It’s a rather homogenous society, not much unlike Indiana. As a white heterosexual male, this wasn’t so much of an issue for me, but it was for some of my American peers in BCSP. This greater diversity of friends is what I have to thank for my increased sense of tolerance and acceptance. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bologna is welcoming place for minorities, there’s a flourishing GLBT community, but you have to understand that it’s not the melting pot that many of us have grown accustom to in America, which I am now more thankful for.
Tomorrow I get a haircut, maybe buy some clothes, and pack my bags for another semester in Bologna. I can only imagine what I will come to learn in the following six months and I intend to make the most out of every last-minute because the lessons learned there will serve me for a lifetime not only as a professional, but as a person. Therefore, the Italian word for the day is ringraziamento or “gratitude.”