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The 411 on global citizenship

Grand Canal, Venice

Global citizenship.

Ever wonder what this actually means?

Throughout my UBC undergrad, this buzz phrase was consistently scattered on chalkboards and throughout lectures, but it was not until my two-week sojourn through Italy that I discovered what this truly meant.

Cut out all the scholarly jargon and it comes down to this: connecting with other cultures on the ground level, on the everyday level.

From their emotional hand gestures to their mouth-watering cuisine, I relished every Italian cliché and stereotype. When heard of, these traits merely set people apart. When experienced, these differences provide insight into one of the world’s most legendary cultures. The simplest are oftentimes the most revealing. Here are my top three:

No. 1: Warm hospitality and family values. I had the pleasure of experiencing both at a beachside restaurant in Sorrento. After foolishly burning my finger on a straight-out-of-the-oven cannelloni dish, my waiter yelled a quick string of Italian words towards the kitchen. There was an immediate commotion in the back of the restaurant, followed by the clash of a couple of falling pots, and then out came the chef himself with a tube of foreign ointment.

Not only did the chef drop everything to rush to my aid, he gingerly dressed my finger. To say that their genuine concern and tender care for a complete stranger was a life-lesson is an understatement. It was a lesson on the importance of treating total strangers with compassion. I understood this before, but I now know the vital importance of it: one act of kindness can ripple through an entire lifetime.

No. 2: Italian men are born lovers. Of course my trip through Italy would not have been complete without receiving the phone number of a suave waiter named, Giovanni, and his flirtatious invitation for a night out on the Positano town. Of course not.

What I would have previously perceived as a sleazy European come-on was surprisingly replaced by flattery. In a country where romantic gestures are as equally abundant as men donning Speedos, this forward display of affection provided an intimate glimpse into a culture that pays no heed to personal space. A stark contrast to much of the world’s reserved take on PDA (public displays of affection) my encounter with common Italian flirting revealed a charmingly alternative take. Some stereotypes really aren’t so bad.

No. 3: A slower pace of life. Sitting along Venice’s Grand Canal and reading away an afternoon at a cafe was the perfect way to spend the day. I could have easily lined up for tourist sites but I chose otherwise. Too often have I rushed through my daily life: running to meet an appointment, juggling a hectic work/study schedule and god-forbid, pulling an all-nighter writing a class paper. The Venetian locals demonstrated how to slow everything down a few notches, to appreciate the simple things and to cherish all the moments in between.

Where my education has taught me to accept cultural differences, traveling has illustrated the value of them.

The things I have learned on the road have not just complimented what I have learned in the classroom; in some respects, I daresay, it has surpassed it.

So whether or not you have walked across the graduation stage, bon voyage.

Article commissioned by UBC Careers, August 2008

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