February 25, 2024

Student on Stopping to Savor and Experience Life

Author in the only southern entrance in Orvieto, Italy. Courtesy of Deborah Sullivan.

By Deborah Sullivan ’19

During winter break I got the opportunity to study abroad in Orvieto, Italy.

First of all, I never thought that God would grant me this opportunity in a million years; I guess, like Disney, God also makes dreams come true.

The sights were beautiful, and the culture even more so. Spending time within the Italian culture taught me some unexpected, yet valuable lessons.

Lesson #1: Stop rushing everywhere.

American culture is rushed.

I didn’t realize how rushed we are until I walked the streets of Orvieto. The first night there, my group was touring the different parts of the town. The streets were filled with people, mind you it was New Year’s Eve, but they were all walking so much slower than we were.

I thought our pace was pretty normal, but compared to the Italians we were bookin’ it. The townspeople took their time, and honestly, I came to a place where I greatly appreciated the time they took with each interaction.

For example: in the coffee shops, I expected to pay for my drink up front and get my coffee to go, however, that’s just not how things work in Orvieto. The man who owned the coffee shop explained to me that we were to pay for our coffee at the end of our time there.

Italians live in a culture that is trusting and relational with the people around them.

Lesson #2: Fight passed the small-talk, because no one really likes it anyways.

I went into this trip not knowing anybody, and honestly I was content to go the whole two weeks without coming out of my shell—maximizing my introverted side. Yet, for some reason on this trip, people were extremely into asking questions about each other, especially at the dinner table—it was inescapable.

The adult learners omitted small talk; this was a new concept to me, and it quickly led to greater quality conversations.

Small talk is the killer of conversation.

Talking about the weather, and “what’s your major” can smother the possibility of a good conversation. Small talk, in my life at least, causes a loss of the ability to have a meaningful conversation with another person.

We rush through conversations because we are uncomfortable to get to know the people around us.

Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to sit in silence.

This is a big one. Sitting in silence has become increasingly difficult in this day and age with iPhones, free music, and social media at our fingertips we never really get the chance to sit in silence. Even when we do sit in silence, we cannot bear it for very long.

The discipline of silence was reinforced on this trip because we had a severe lack of wifi; this meant no opportunities to sit on our beds for hours scrolling through social media. I am glad that this was the way that is was because it allowed me to unplug from the chaos and clutter of my normal life.

Lesson #4: Stop taking pictures so quickly.

Okay, this one sounds a little harsh, and I am not trying to bash photography.

Photography is a beautiful thing that allows us to look back at the moment the picture was taken. However, we have come to a place where we immediately take that photo and do not even take in the moment!

I saw this plenty of times observing the tourists that were in Italy; they would hurry over to the coolest thing they saw, snap a photo, and then move on.

People take pictures in front of these historical places and they do not even know the history behind that place. Taking the time to experience that place and learn about it makes that photo and the moment worth more.

The overarching lesson learned: as you go through life, take your time.

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