Mediating Cultural Exchange
Last week I gave a talk at a networking event that I helped plan. I contributed the title "Mediating Cultural Exchange" to which the group added the subtitle "facing issues of adaptation and integration working in Florence and Tuscany". My talk is not about the working world, about which I know too little as an academic who lives in lala land, but about my observations on the study abroad and tourism industry in Florence. This was a rather different field than that familiar to the 50 or so people in the audience, though I think they enjoyed it nonetheless. Three other talks addressed the working world.
Last year I had the fortune of teaching art history at the University of Georgia Study Abroad program in Cortona. Like most study abroad programs, students come for one semester in Italy, which is three or four months. When they first arrive, they grapple with culture shock, they question why things are different here, and they sometimes complain about the lack of certain conveniences like being able to order coffee to take out in tall paper cups. In the first weeks, some of my favourite students worked hard to fit in, and asked me things based on their observations. They asked if it was okay to drink beer in the streets since that is in fact legal here but not at home; or if it was okay to go to a church service even if they’re not Catholic. Over time they figured it out and came to love many things about life in Italy, even perhaps prefering cappuccino standing at a bar instead of walking around with a gigantic cup from Starbucks.
A profound effect
Three months in Italy will have a profound effect on anyone, student or adult traveler. Most of the students I taught were artists, so aspects of their Italian experience were particularly evident in the art that they produced here and continue to produce at home. For example...