In 2007, I partook on my 1st study abroad trip in Rome. In just the first few weeks I started to have a sneaking suspicion that something was just not right. My idealism of Italy was starting to be questioned even as a sheltered, study abroad student.
On a perfect evening when I was roaming the beautiful Roman streets, brooding with confusion, just like a child who senses that something is wrong in a broken home but doesn’t have the cognizance to see it loud and clear, I serendipitously stumbled upon this book in a shop window: The Dark Heart of Italy. I consumed that book slowly and it paralleled my next few months studying and observing Italian society, culture and history while staying in Rome and eventually Perugia.
Reading that book opened my eyes, I started to see what that nagging intuition was. Which is: Italy can be considered at best, a dysfunctional state. At best, that book gave me the power to make a more informed choice about my love for Italy. I realized, I was in love with a criminal.
This journalist who wrote that book just basically did the equivalent of telling me Santa Claus wasn’t real. Even despite it all, I knew I couldn’t imagine and wouldn’t give up, living anywhere else but Italy.
Personally, I don’t feel that one should determine their geography based on “what is most logical and pragmatic.” Italy is not a logical or pragmatic place. I think I have utterly confused my friends and family by choosing to leave a city like Seattle to throw myself in the chaotic woes of Italy.
I recently came across this article: Italy is in terminal decline and no one has the guts to stop it.
I think Italy is the greatest place on earth to me. It has a culture that I think embodies the urgency to live a meaningful life. who else can say they have the Duomo?? ART! What country, the size no bigger than California, has more UNESCO protected masterpieces than Italy? Italian Film- heard of Federico Fellini anyone? What other culture gave the world PIZZA? There are of course more countries in the world with fine history and culture such as China, but I mean- who does not love Italy and Italian food? Don’t even get me started on the people! I have never met people so generous, so social and so full of soul. I am expressing this because everyone likes to complain about Italy and no one tends to express all the great things besides coffee and pasta. It is very easy to be pessimistic about the situation in Italy without looking on the brightside.
Not to mention that the youth all have secret exit plans. You want to leave? Well good for you- go to Germany where they have dinner at 6pm and sleep at 9pm. Be the 10,000 millionth Italian in London. I get it- the work situation is horrible but we need to do something about it and leaving is not going to solve the problem. In fact, living in a foreign culture albeit rewarding can feel isolating when you’ve left your home country out of necessity rather than choice. I totally get that some Italian companies do not give dignified opportunities to younger, able aspiring professionals. I assure you, there are good Italian companies that exist as well as private firms and international companies that are changing this status quo. And to be able to live in such a beautiful place like Italy, to me it is worth fighting to stay.
I really believe that the values cornerstone to Italian culture is what life is about. Italians have figured out the secret to life and we all bash on them, make the country look like a hot mess and don’t do anything about it.
If we don’t do something about Italy, then one of the greatest cultures will be lost to all the other mediocre ones.
I am over simplifying- believe me! What I have come to realize is that there are big problems like corruption and nepotism everywhere, even in “free” countries like America. I’d rather live in Italy where I can get a good meal, access fresh vegetables at any income bracket, enjoy other types of freedoms like basic healthcare and live a life not surrounded by materialism, pollution and cars.
Escape Italy and you will find problems elsewhere. Italy is just having a rough patch- if we take a more optimistic approach, perhaps we can turn some of this rubbish around. Look at how Italy was 500 years ago and how it is today- social justice and mentality shifts unfortunately take time.
I am over simplifying a solution. I think there calls for some serious changes to policy and infrastructure, and above all mentality. It is NOT the end of the world. People tend to let the media sensationalize and make gross overstatements and they fail to realize that concrete change takes time and effort. Italian society, believe it or not, HAS come a long way!
I understand that there are problems. But I do not know a solution. All I know is that there are many rewards to the Italian life and being in Italy.
If you are interested in a better Italy, start with getting informed and inspired from these following resources:
Girlfriend in a Coma- a campaign to wake Italy up
Italia Si / Italia No- A short film asking the simple question to people from all over the world in the back of a mini Fiat 500
Italy- Love it or Leave it– A very good documentary detailing a couple debating their decision to be with or without Italy by making a pact to take a road trip to understand the true pros and cons of Italy.
Emergency Exit- A project which tells the stories of people who emigrated to more opportune parts of Europe
And one of the few steps towards progress that the Italian government is trying to take charge of:
Giovanisi– Funded by the region of Tuscany, a resource center to get youth autonomous from “la mamma!” Programs for housing support, career and networking opportunities, announcements for grants towards various disciplinary projects (including for the sciences) and more. (This is in Italian- for expats who would like to share this!)
If anyone has additional resources to share- please leave a comment below! If you love Italy, you should be ticked off too! Let’s prove the world wrong and show that Italy will wake up and be cured (at least mostly!)