The Girl Who Was an Outsider

People often romanticize travel and life abroad. Here’s an honest account of three months of my life abroad in Italy.

I have one full day left in Itay. I still have two classes to teach, goodbye lunches and dinners to attend, bus and train tickets to buy and bags to pack.

Before all the hustle begins, I wanted to just sit. Breathe. Take it in.

My time in Italy has been one of the craziest times of my life. It started with a bang, had lots of ups and downs in the middle, and is ending with another bang.

My first week in Italy, I was pickpocketed during teacher assistant orientation in Turin. Toward the middle of my trip, I was abadoned by new “friends” in London (in the middle of a snowy night.) My last week in Italy, my American checking account was hacked, and I had to cancel my debit card. You just can’t make up a better script than the one life writes for you.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh at the obstacles life hands you because it doesn’t always make sense. While some hard things just happen arbitrarily, other hard and painful things happen because of the person staring back in the mirror.

My time in Italy has been a lot of deciphering between the two, the things I cannot control and the things I can, like my attitude, my ability to communicate and listen, if I will forgive and let things go and my willingness to perservere and push through.

One of the hardest parts of living in Italy for me was the feeling of being an outsider. I am a brown, American woman with curly hair who speaks English walking up and down the streets of small town, Bra, Italy. There might as well have been a sign painted on my back that said: OUTSIDER.

It might sound harmless, but three months of getting stares wherever you go and few smiles or hellos from passersby is exhausting. I have been told by many Italians that this is the reality of northern Italy and Piemonte, the region where I lived, that people tend to be cold and not overtly friendly.

My semi-introverted personality couldn’t handle the stares and all the attention. My extroverted side struggled with the lack of hellos and smiles.

Within my teaching program, I had these “outsider” moments too. While a lot of my fellow teacher assistants had the financial ability to jetset across Europe every weekend, my bank account said a big, fat, “Hello….uh, no.” I am just a normal, middle-class, twenty-something American, who mommy and daddy cannot and will not foot the bill for. I was still able to travel to several really cool places though (Barcelona included!), but I was penny-pinching and saving money at every corner. I couldn’t go on all the pricey trips my peers went on, and when I did, I couldn’t do everything they did.

It’s true. I felt like an outsider here in my time in Italy, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. Being on the outside gave me an appreciation for some things that I may have previously taken for granted. It gave me perspective. It also helped me realize some areas where I can grow in. (Aaah, growth!)

For example, something as simple as a smile or a hello is magical. It can literally warm a person’s soul. Anytime a student stopped me to chat or said hello in the hallways or around town, it cheered me up instantly! I really appreciated a kind hello.

I gained an appreciation for a listening ear. The English department head at my school sat and listened to be rant and sometimes cry in the teacher lounge. I am so appreciative of her taking time to listen to my struggles. Several other professors helped me work through the stresses, or just got loads of messages on Whatsapp from me trying to work through them.

I gained an appreciation for friends. Friends back home kept me sane by checking in on me. The few friends I made here, English speaking Italians and assistants in my program, helped me laugh. One friend and I burnt a pizza and lost electricity all in one hour! Friends make a world of difference.

I gained appreciation for kindness. Daniela is a woman who works for my host family, and she is literally my favorite person in Italy. Get this- She speaks no English! But we talked every day. (Hello, Google Translate!) I learned that you do not need to speak the same language to communicate with someone. Kindness, warmth and a smile, they speak volumes. Daniela made me feel welcome and seen. (Boy am I going to have a hard time saying bye to her tomorrow!)

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody):

“A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference. You can always choose to be that one person.”

I was nervous to think what I would say when people asked how Italy was. What will they think if I’m honest? Will they judge me if it wasn’t this picture-perfect, movie experience? Can I be both positive and transparent?

I decided I would be honest. Italy was hard, but in the midst of the difficulty, it was still good. I learned. I grew. I was challenged. I cried some tears, and then, I got back up and put one foot in front of the other. I struggled. I made mistakes. I got frustrated. I frustrated people at times (I’m sure!) I laughed. I adventured. I lived well.

Perhaps my experience as an outsider would have been a bit different if I spoke some Italian or maybe if my skin were a different color. Perhaps, then I would have felt not so different. Italy is currently in a time of political tension as it faces a swell of immigration from Africa and with it, a swell in racism. I asked my students about the current state of politics in Italy and how immigrants are viewed here. They shared that immigrants are often looked down upon and seen as outsiders.

There’s that word again- OUTSIDER

I can only imagine what their lives are like, to live in a country as an alien, to be seen as different. I get to go home, but for them, this is their day-to-day lives.

Here’s what I know- A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference.

Thank you to all the beautiful people who made me feel welcome during my stay here. To the people who took me for coffee, traveled with me, made a seat for me at their dinner tables and showed me around wine country and small, Italian towns, thank you for making me feel like less of an outsider.

With hope,

Stevie

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Weekend Adventures European Style

It’s official! I have one week left in Italy and one full weekend (i.e. time to explore, take cool photos, rest a little, do some laundry- you know, the normal things). I thought I’d use my last weekend to share some photos from the weekends I have spent traveling around Europe.

So little time, so many photos.

Traveling for three months straight has been a whirlwind. My time abroad has been less a vacation, and more so a fast-paced speed course on how much Italian culture and travel I could cram into three months.

Weekend travel looked a like waking up at 5:30 a.m. (on a Friday) to catch a 6:30 a.m. train to Torino, to catch an hour bus ride from Torino to the airport, and typically a two- to three-hour flight to some European destination.

As soon as the plane touched down, it meant hitting the ground running. Rest has not been a thing. After touch down, I’d take a train or a bus to wherever I was staying, drop my things off and off I’d go to begin exploring.

My travels have entailed a lot of walking! Sometimes for five to eight hours at a time. (Kinda like that one Rihanna song only less “work, work, work” and more “walk, walk, walk.”)

Beloved artwork, renowned museums, huge monuments, historic Greek ruins, ancient sculptures, famous streets, lively squares and piazzas, I have tried to take it in with my mind’s eye so I will have these memories to hold onto forever and have some stories to take back to America and maybe tell my children some day.

I’ll share with you some photos from my travels so hopefully I can take you along through my journey.

First day of English classes in Bra:

The Alps

Turin, Italy

Savigliano, Italy

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My friend Nick and I being tourists in his homestay town 🙂

Milan, Italy

Saluzzo, Italy

London, England

Nice, France

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Group photo with the Nice skyline and an engagement photo in the background.

Food in France (Amazing!)

 

Venice, Italy

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My first gondola ride was well worth it!

Florence, Italy

Siena, Italy

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Wine tasting in the Tuscany.

Barcelona, Spain

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A trip to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the cloudy skies began to clear.

La Morra, Piemonte Region of Italy

Alba, Italy

Genova, Italy

Le Langhe, Piemonte region of Italy

Cuneo, Italy

Goodbye Bra!

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Look who came to visit me in Bra!

With hope,

Stevie

Why I Count My Blessings in Life Abroad

There’s a well-known saying that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. At 20 years old, I conquered the city that never sleeps. I navigated the subway system successfully. I worked under some of the biggest editors in the magazine world (and I only cried once!) I didn’t let the rats, trash, chaos of the city or brashness of the people shake me.

Yet, even with all its bright lights and movie glamour, New York wasn’t for me. I left proud of what I had accomplished there and so glad I took the risk of following my dream of living in the Empire State.

Fast forward to 2017 and I ran my first half-marathon. For me, training for a half-marathon trumped moving to NYC. It was hard. It was sweaty. It was painful. It took discipline, hard work, dedication, and commitment. Oh, and my poor knees! (My bad running form hurt my knees.) I was always sore, but eventually the soreness got easier to cope with, and I pushed past the pain. The moment I crossed the finish line of the Hollywood Half Marathon was my proudest moment.

Fast forward a year later, and I am now living in Italy. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would live in a foreign country, but lo and behold, here I am! Living in Italy is, by far, thee absolute hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t think anything could be harder than that half marathon, but I was wrong.

Harder than the challenge of moving to New York. Harder than the physical and mental challenge of running a race. Moving to a foreign country has challenged me in every way possible. To be 100% candid, there have been a number of moments along my journey when I have wanted to give up. Then, I stop, pause, and there is always something good around me to remind that I am no quitter and that there is goodness here even when it’s hard to see.

This past week was tough, from being sick to challenges in communication and cultural barriers. So I thought it’d be good to take a moment to count my blessings and to remember what I have to be grateful for in this moment.

Here are a few things I am grateful for in the midst of the ups and downs of life abroad:

1- Good friends and family

I am grateful for all the friends and family back home who have reached out to me to check in and make sure I am OK week to week and keep me updated on life in America. One friend in particular, my very own Kelsie Lee, helped me get in touch with my parents when my phone was stolen my first week here. If I ever fall off the face of the Earth, it is safe to say Kelsie will always come looking for me. Everyone should have a Kelsie in their life.

2- The freedom and the ability to travel

Even though it’s not easy, I know that traveling abroad is such a gift. Not everyone gets to experience this. For me, I was at a place in my career and life where I was able to pack up and go. The opportunity to live and work in a foreign country is such a blessing. I get to see Italy as more than just a tourist or someone on a business trip. I actually live here. That’s pretty dope. I am also physically and financially able to travel. What a gift!

3- Good home-training

Whenever I encounter an obstacle, I think to myself, “Momma didn’t raise no quitter.” Sometimes, I imagine my grandma whispering in my ear, “Keep your head up baby.” I know that I am a mosaic of all the beautiful people who have helped raise me, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, teachers and mentors. These people have instilled in me that I can do anything I set my mind to. It is because of them that I am so stubborn and unwilling to quit.

4- Italian food

OK, so yea, it’s pretty good. My absolute favorite thing is to hear my students tell me how Italian food is the absolute best in the world. They are so very confident in this. It makes me laugh. Lets just stay my stomach has never gone hungry since living here.

5- New friends

The greatest gift someone can give you is friendship. One person showed me a wine vineyard in one of my first weeks here. My host family took me to the Alps for a weekend. Another person took me to a book store and drank hot chocolate with me as we sat and read Italian children’s books. One of the teachers invited me into her home for lunch (twice!) with her family, and the food was so delicious! I went to the fair in my town, and I got to be a big kid and ride on the ferris wheel and the bumper cars. (I was very happy!) I am really grateful for the English speakers I have met here, who help me learn Italian and who also speak English to me (Praise God!)

6- The good ‘ol USA

OK, so America definitely gets a lot of things wrong, but it also does a lot of things well, like democracy, freedom of press, and the push to break gender barriers. I most certainly do love my country more after time away.

7- Good Music = Good Vibes

Music really is a universal language. Music has been one thing that has allowed me to connect with my students and my host family. A lot of Italian people listen to American music, which makes for really good conversation. It has also been fun to listen to Italian music my students ask me to try.

8- The Internet

Oh my goodness, do I love the World Wide Web! It allows me to continue with my journalism work back in the states, listen to the latest music, and keep up with the latest news in America.

9- My host family and the teachers at my school

I think it must be difficult to allow a stranger into your home. I don’t take for granted that my host family allowing me to stay here is a big deal. Also, the teachers at my school who have taken me under their wings and given me a number of pep talks on my hard days, they are life savers.

10- Faith

My faith helps me to have hope on my worst days. Believing in something and someone bigger than me gives me strength of heart to not quit.

I am counting my blessings to remind myself that even when things get hard, there’s always some good to hold onto. If you are having a hard time in this chapter of your life, I challenge to find the good, the blessings, the silver-linings, on even your worst days.

With hope,

Stevie

The Reasons Why We Travel

Travel. Why do we do it?

Honesty moment- traveling abroad is not easy. When people post pictures on social media, travel looks glamorous, but it is actually quite challenging. It is expensive and can be exhausting at times. It is also one of the most testing and stretching experiences you can voluntarily sign up for. You are surrounded by a foreign language and culture daily.

They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. In my opinion, if you can live abroad for any amount of time, you have the grit, the ingenuity and willpower to do just about anything. Travel truly shows you the stuff you are made of, the good, the bad and the ugly.

We travel because we are curious. We are curious to see the world, to not just read about it online or see photos on our timelines. We are curious to learn about other ways of life and curious to see our own ability to handle adversity. There is a curiosity in each of use like a well run dry that can only be satisfied with the refreshing of travel.

I came to Italy, plain and simple, because I wanted to grow. I was eager for a challenge. I was curious about a world outside of my comfort zone and what that would look like. I am a twenty-something who does not have it all figured out. My time here has taught me so much about myself and about other people. There have been lessons of empathy, lessons of forgiveness and letting things go, lessons on flexibility, lessons on openness and acceptance and lessons on being present and enjoying the moment.

Once I am back in America, my travels won’t stop. Each year, I have a goal to travel to at least one new state in America. In 2018, Utah is my state of choice. My goal is to get to all 50. (I am currently sitting at 30 states.) Why? Because I am curious. Each state has its own uniqueness, and you can easily travel from the west coast to the east coast and feel like you are in a different country. I travel simply to learn and to better understand people.

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Nice, Italy

Don’t just take my word on the value of travel and living a curious life. I asked some of my fellow WEP teacher assistants and friends why they travel, and they had a lot to say. A lot of them have traveled around the world prior to our time in Italy, and I have so much admiration for each of them. Every time I am with the teacher assistants in my program, I learn something from each of them.

My friend and fellow world traveler Tiffany White explains it most poignantly when she says, “At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we all have stories to tell. So, I travel to see the world, but with my heart just as much as my eyes.”

Keep reading to meet some of the other WEP teacher assistants and read the reasons why they travel:

Griffen, MacLeod, Chino Hills, California

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“The reason why I travel is that this world is so much bigger than just ourselves. I am searching to make myself, and whoever I encounter, have a better life, in whatever capacity. Learning, teaching, experiencing, seeing, and, overall, enjoying life as much as possible in the world we are blessed with.”

Zuzu Hamel, Seattle, Washington

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“I travel because it gives me a sense of independence I’ve never felt before. I love getting to experience and meet new people. As I see more and more of the world, it allows me to appreciate other cultures and makes me miss and appreciate home in ways I hadn’t before.”

Tommy Do, Dallas, Texas

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“I believe that in order to make an impact upon the world, you have to go out there and see it. Traveling gives me the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds who all have a story to tell. We can all learn from and help one another. Being able to make these meaningful connections inspires me to travel, to have an open-mind and leads me to love my experiences that much more!”

Taylor Gersch, Portland, Oregon

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“I travel because it gives me a chance to learn about other cultures and an opportunity to teach others about my culture and way of life. Traveling also allows me to explore other parts of the world that are incredibly beautiful.”

Jonathan Sambucci, Mullica Hill, New Jersey

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“Travel isn’t about stamps in a passport. It’s not something you ought to do in your early 20’s because ‘You’re only young once!’ Travel is a mindset. I am currently in Italy, and I am traveling, but when I return home, I won’t stop. I’ll try a new dish I haven’t before. I will go to a new park and make a new friend. It’s an attitude driven by the never-ending question of “What exactly is behind that corner?”

Cara Costello, Boston, Massachusetts
*Please note that Cara sent so many good travel photos, it was hard to choose.

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“I travel because despite all of the terror going on all over the world right now, especially in my country with politics and social madness, I want to experience the beauty that surpasses the negative. The world is a big place. I believe experiencing its different cultures and exploring the unknown is imperative if you want to grow as a human being. Travel not only to live the world but to live in awe of all of its beauty.”

Nicanor Basabas, Wellington, New Zealand

“The reason why I travel is because I enjoy learning languages. The fact that if I go to a country and I can converse with the people in their language, I feel more of a local. Your experience becomes more real compared to just being a tourist.”

Tiffany White, Allentown, Pennsylvania

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“I travel because I’m not just a citizen of the United States but of the world. I’ve traveled for sports, for study abroad and now for cultural exchange- While my reason for traveling may change, the outcome is always the same. Each time I learn something new. Those that say traveling is the best classroom are undoubtedly correct. While I experience new cultures, I am also able to reflect on my own being and my own culture. The challenges we have to overcome abroad teach responsibility, problem solving and flexibility. It has all surely helped me grow as a person.”

Ms. Not Know-It-All

If there’s anything that I know as a twenty-something, it’s that I don’t know everything.

To be 100 percent candid, it feels like I hardly know anything most days. And that’s OK. In my 20s, I am learning about being an adult, about living on my own, about negotiating salary, about mortgages, 401K’s and how to live with roommates. I am learning about what friendship in adulthood looks like versus college and the teenage years. I am learning about dating, about my wants and needs in relationships, about setting boundaries in love, work and friendship.

I am learning. Aren’t we all?

Since being in Italy, I have been confronted with the reality that it is impossible to know everything and have it all together at all times. It is not only impossible, but it is also not the point of travel. The point of traveling is to learn about other people, different cultures and, inevitably, about yourself in the process.

Since living abroad, my brain has been on constant information overload. I am literally always learning something new. Whether it is a new word, directions to go somewhere or a cultural norm that is different in Italy than in America, there’s always something new to learn. I kind of like it that way. The stumbling, the baby steps, the blunders are all a part of learning something new.

One of my teacher assistant friends speaks five different languages. (FIVE. Count ’em!) Needless to say, I am very impressed by him. I have remedial Spanish skills, and I can hold a conversation if need be, but other than that, English is all I’ve got. My friend and I were talking about what it’s like living in a foreign country and the process of learning a new language.

We also talked about teaching our students English. We had a similar experience in that we found a good majority of our students were afraid to speak English in class. I thought back to my Spanish classes in high school and college, and I could completely understand the reason why. There is a fear when trying to learn a new language and speaking that you will get it wrong. There’s a fear of being embarrassed and of not knowing the right words to say or of saying them wrong.

Twenty-Something Advice (For Anybody): “Throw caution to the wind. Don’t let fear of getting something wrong stop you from doing it.”

Here’s what I am learning and trying to bravely accept: It’s OK to get it wrong. In fact, the only way you will ever learn is by stumbling, taking a few wrong turns, and falling flat on your face. It’s OK to mess up. The older you get, the harder it seems to embrace this idea of learning and messing up. As adults, our pride can inhibit us from learning new things for fear of embarrassment and the fear of what other people will think.

Any person who speaks more than one language will tell you the best way to learn is by listening and speaking. You have to be willing to get it wrong so you can eventually get it right. Heck yes, sometimes it’s awkward repeating the same word in Italiano over and over again, but it’s the only way I am going to learn. So I keep trying. I keep asking questions. “Come si dice…” (how do you say…) is how I start most of my sentences in Italy.

I make a lot of mistakes, and I am sure sometimes my accent sounds really bad, but I am trying. I won’t let fear of embarrassment stop me from learning. Also, I think I have embarrassed myself so much in life that, at this point, nothing phases me. I’ve learned to laugh at myself and not sweat the small things.

“To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.”

I encourage you to fail your way to success. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong, but instead, just accept that you will make mistakes ahead of time. You won’t learn until you try!

With hope,
Stevie

The Power of One

Hi readers! First off, I just want to thank you for following along in my Italian adventure and my journey as a twenty-something. My hope for each post is that you can relate, walk away inspired and perhaps have a laugh or two. (Because I am definitely a twenty-something still figuring out this thing called life, all the while facing embarrassing, cringe-worthy and humorous mishaps and missteps along the way.)

It means the world to me to be able to share my experiences with you through the written word and photos. I am currently teaching a lesson on writing to some of my high school students and trying to convince them that writing can be fun. (Mind blowing idea!) So thanks for reading along and reassuring me that the power of the pen has not been lost.

In one of my recent posts, I shared with you about the ups and downs of living in a foreign country and about learning to embrace the differences. I still am encountering the culture shock I mentioned before, the learning a new language (I am reading a book in Italian at the moment), the stares when I’m out in public and the food, language and other differences.

Last week, there was a point where I was feeling pretty down. I messaged a friend who is living in Israel and teaching there for nine months, and I told her I was feeling pretty defeated. I didn’t understand just how she was doing this for six months longer than I was and how she was able to muster the strength to overcome the inevitable obstacles of life in a new country.

Of course, like the good friend she is, she encouraged me. She reminded that I have faced hard things before and I will surprise myself at my ability to overcome the obstacles I am facing now. Her words gave me a glimmer of hope. She reminded me of my own ability to do hard things, but she also reminded me of the power of a friend.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “One friend, one person, one kind word, one act of goodness can make all the difference.”

Life abroad has shown me the difference one person can make. My third week in Italy was rough (i.e. a no-show train to Milan, language barriers and adjusting to my new home and job). Other than talking with my American friend in Israel last week, I was able to spend time with another teacher assistant in a nearby town called Savigliano.

A friend was just what the doctor ordered. He showed me around his town, introduced me to his host family (they’re the sweetest people), took me for coffee and dulce (yum, Nutella croissant), and we went shopping! (Retail therapy is a thing!) It was simple and sweet, time with a friend on a warm, sunny day (the first in my time in Italy).

Slowly but surely, I watched my perspective start to shift simply because of the encounters I had with people. The next day, I had lunch with a professor from my school. We sat for hours just talking, and I was honest with her about the ups and downs of my time in Italy. There was no sugar-coating. (Gah, doesn’t it feel great to just be authentic with people?!) She took me for a tour of my town, and she showed me places in Bra where I might meet people my age to hang out with. She took me for coffee and dulce. This time I had torta al cioccolato. (If you couldn’t tell, the way to my heart is clearly coffee and sweets.) Yet again, time with a one kind person shifted my perspective. It was so simple, but it really made my day.

Fast forward to the weekend, on Friday night, I visited a nearby town, Saluzzo, with a friend who is from there. We had pizza and tiramisu, and I remember making a joke about how good it was to see people in their 20s and 30s out and about at night. We even laughed at the people staring at me! (My friend threatened to stare back on my behalf.)

The next day, Sunday, I spent a rain-filled seven hours touring Milan with another teacher assistant, my friend Gabby. We were soaked. Our hair, our shoes, our purses, everything wet. Our paper shopping bags were useless and dripping with water, but we had the best time. We joked about Italian men, and we laughed about how we missed American breakfast and earlier dinner time. We talked about spring break plans and how we want to see a soccer game while we are in Italy. Within my first hour in Milan, I saw a man steal something and get chased by police, a pregnant woman expose herself (and also run from police), and a young woman have a crying session in the train station. (Aaaah back to big city life!) It was a humorous and cloudy day well spent because of good company.

Plain and simple, life can be hard. We have curve balls thrown our way when unexpected things happen. We make mistakes and bad things happen. (Did I mention I got on the wrong, more expensive train to Milan and had to pay the ticket price plus a surcharge?) I think one of the most valuable tools we have in overcoming obstacles is a friend. One person can truly change your perspective and open the curtains on an otherwise dreary and dark life.

I am really grateful for the people, near and far, in my life who help find perspective and let the light in to the window of my heart.

Here are some photos from the last week. (Click on the image to enlarge and for captions.)

Savigliano


Saluzzo

Milano

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The Milan Cathedral, Duomo di Milano

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The Kardashians are all over Milan. This is the Milano Centrale train station.

With hope,
Stevie

Dear America, the World Is Watching

*Warning: The following post is political and not all roses and bunnies. If it offends you, well good. I ask that you take the time to consider why.

In my five weeks abroad, if there’s one thing that I have learned, it’s that American news is global news. When something happens in America, the whole world knows. It’s like a gunshot that reverberates around the globe.

My Italian host sister and host mom knew about the February 14th Florida high school shooting before I did. When I found out, I went into my room, and I watched the news coverage about the shooting at Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. I sat and listened to teenagers talk about watching their friends, classmates and teachers bleed out on the floor as they ran for their lives. (They are the same age as the students I teach every day in school.)

I listened to the name and stories of the 17 victims who died. One student, Joaquin Oliver, was a Dwayne Wade fan, who was buried in his jersey. Another student, Alyssa Alhadeff, was a soccer player and a huge fan of the U.S. Women’s National Team. I looked at the victims’ photos and videos, and I listened to their moms, dads and friends talk about who they were. I listened, and I cried.

The same way I cried about the Las Vegas’ shooting last year (where 59 people were killed). The same way I cried for the Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting in 2016 (where 49 people were killed). The same tears I cried for those lost at the Newtown elementary school (26 killed, 20 of whom were children ages 6- to 7-years-old), the South Carolina church (9 killed) and the Aurora movie theater (12 killed).

Every time a mass shooting occurs in America, I listen to the names of the victims and to their stories. Although it is heavy and difficult to hear, for me, it is important to remember the lives lost. By listening, it is a way of saying their lives, their stories mattered. I realize that there’s strength in tears because tears can compel you to action.

Americans need to know that what happens in America does not stay in America. While we are often viewed as the leading nation in democracy and freedom, the whole world is wondering what we are doing with the gun issue. My roommate for the first week of teacher assistant orientation in Italy is Australian. She explained to me that Australia had one mass shooting in 1996, changed its laws and hasn’t had one since. An Italian friend in his 20s told me that he does not understand Americans and the 2nd Amendment. He asked me how could Americans be so adamant about our “rights” and “freedom” to carry weapons in everyday, civilian life even if it compromises the safety of others?

I did not have the answers to any of their questions or concerns about America and gun control. In fact, I agree with them. Americans should be embarrassed at the number of mass shootings we’ve had in the last 10 years alone and how little has changed in our legal system. We should not only be embarrassed, but we should be angry. We should be so angry that we are compelled to change something.

What I do know is this: It is reckless and irresponsible to use blanket statements (or generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes) and to label all mass shooters as terrorists or as “crazy” people with mental illness. If we look at facts, actual FACTS, and lay aside emotions, most mass shootings in America are committed by white men, American citizens, with NO history of registered mental illness or terrorist affiliations. These are facts, not opinions or biases, but reality.

I was alarmed by a statement from NRA representative, Dana Loesch, at the recent CNN forum on the Florida high school shooting and gun control reform. When speaking about the gunman, she referred to him as “nuts” and as an “insane monster.” She said that a person capable of hurting himself or others should not be able to get an automatic weapon, and that the NRA does not support people who are “crazy” having access to guns. Loesch seemed to attempt to connect the dots between mass shootings and mental illness.

This statement baffled me. Capable of hurting himself or others? Don’t we all have the ability to hurt ourselves and the people around us? It’s a choice, isn’t it? We have free will. Just like rape or murder, mass shootings don’t require a mental illness to pull the trigger, but, rather, they require a person choosing to take their “right to bear arms” and use it for ill will. It is careless to say every mass shooter is mentally ill. It creates a stigma, and it also takes away responsibility of the shooter and the legal system that allows the shooter to obtain weapons capable of mass murder.

My question is why would any everyday civilian need bump stocks or automatic weapons, which are used in times of war and for combat. Why is the right to carry guns more important than the safety of children? How many more times do we have to get this issue wrong in order for something to change? How many more mass shootings have to occur for common sense to kick in? Does it have to happen to someone you love or do you have to stare down the barrel of a gun in order to stop simply talking about the issue and sending prayers and warm thoughts without taking action?

Dear America, we as a nation have to do better (myself included.) It is a matter of life and death. I want to be safe at the movie theater, at church, and at concerts. These are all places where mass shootings have occurred in the last 10 years. I want to send my future children to school and know that they are safe there.

Wake up America. It’s time for less talk and more action. So what can you do? Educate yourselves about gun control laws in America. Start voting in more than just the presidential election every four years. Vote in your state and local elections and only support officials who take a strong stand for common sense gun laws. Do not financially support businesses or politicians who take money from the NRA. Boycott the NRA and its affiliates. Take action. Do something.

I am encouraged by the teenagers raising hell right now to get America’s attention. As a twenty-something, I want to do my part so this mass shooting trend and careless gun culture is not something I pass down to my children. Because this should not be normal. This should not be something people ask me about when I am in another country and they realize I am American.

Dear America, it is time to wake up. The whole world is watching you.

With hope,
Stevie