Impressions in Italy
by Julie White
Ciao! Io sono Americana e abito in Italia. “I am an American and I live in Italy,” is a sentence I’ve wanted to say since my freshman year in college, and this spring semester the sentence took on truth. From January 4 to May 9, my mail was sent to Viterbo, Italy as I studied there for the spring semester.
Choosing a program and country was the most difficult decision of this experience. I flipped through numerous magazines and spent hours on the computer researching options. Europe was the continent of choice because of the vast travel opportunities, but I chose Italy for its diversity, interesting culture and history. The study abroad office helped me choose a program that fit my needs and budget. Many family members and friends were surprised when I did not choose an agricultural-specific program, but I wanted to give myself an opportunity to become more diversified. This paid off when I met the other 60 students in the program and instantly became a voice for agriculture. The majority of the students did not have any experience with agriculture and it was rewarding to share my knowledge with them.
I wasn’t removed from agriculture for long, as I sought out trips and experiences to become acquainted with the Italian agricultural industry. Italy is about the size of Florida and Georgia combined. In contrast to the United States, small farms prevail, and farmers grow as much as they can on an average of 7.4 acres. This proved true when I visited the southern part of Italy near Naples. No matter how big or small the land around a house, something was grown in each open area; usually fruit trees or grape vines. There is a difference in agriculture throughout the country that reflects the diverse terrain. Italy has mountains, coastline and plains and a general Mediterranean climate. The north produces grains, sugar beets, soybeans, meat and dairy. The south produces fruits, vegetables, olive oil and durum wheat. While the Tuscany and Piemonte regions are well known for wine production, each region produces its own variety of grapes. Approximately 9.7 million tons of wine grapes are produced annually. Olive oil, termed “liquid gold,” is a staple in Italian cuisine. More than 3.2 million tons of olives are produced each year. Fruits and vegetables are important exports, but imports have increased. Around one half of meat consumed is imported. The Chianina breed of cattle originated in the Tuscan region. In Florence I had the opportunity to try it in the form of bistecca alla fiorentina, a Chianina t-bone steak. It was a nice change from the pasta and pizza I had been eating in Viterbo.
Tuscany was my favorite region, and I was able to travel there a couple of times because it’s located close to Viterbo. My first trip was to Siena, which sits right in the heart of the Tuscan wine country. From there I was able to take a wine tour in the Chianti region and had a first glimpse at the beauty of Tuscany. The tour took me through bare vineyards and to some wineries to taste the most prized wine. I really got a feel for how important wine is to the Italian culture as the owners shared stories and taught me to really appreciate what I was drinking. I took another trip to Siena to meet the K-State food science group there for a spring break tour. I rented a car for the trip and drove past the characteristic green rolling hills dotted with small colorful houses lined by Cyprus trees. The group was wonderful and so much fun. They reminded me of how I first felt being a visitor in Italy, and I enjoyed sharing knowledge and stories with them, as well as hearing about their experiences on the trip.
Studying abroad was one of the best choices I have made in my college career. This experience made me grow in cultural sensitivity and taught me how to adjust to and respect different personalities and backgrounds. While spending an entire semester abroad may not be for everyone, I would encourage an international experience of some form. The great times as well as the challenges will impact a person in ways only to be discovered.