A photo project: the cultural differences that reflect on the city streets in Italy

One thing I always found fascinating while traveling is the differences between the streets from city to city. The architecture is something so beautiful in its practicality, but in essence so much more than just aesthetics. Each style embodies the culture of the city, whether through the agriculture of the region or the personality of the people.  Which makes you notice something new every time you do get lost. So in my last trip, to keep track of these differences, I decided to create a point of comparison between the different cities I visited – Capri, Amalfi, Rome, Assisi, and Perugia.




The reality of the Cultural Iceberg: A comparison between American and Italian cultures

BABa in Bulgaria

Having grown up in Italy and then moving to the United States, some of the biggest differences between the two countries and their cultures were not so obvious to me. The cultures of both countries have served key roles in my personal development and my understanding of how the world works.  When visiting my Neapolitan friend over the summer in Luxembourg last year, I complemented him on his pure heritage. He laughed at my ignorance, “Yes, I’m proud to be an Italian, but everyone is always ‘pulling your leg’ with ‘pasta, pizza, and cappuccino!’ These are stereotypes one could not escape.” Once, he said this, it was probably when I realized for the first time the “tip of the cultural iceberg” of Gary Weaver and his brilliant parallel between the invisible mountain of ice and the lack of deep understanding in our perceptions of cultural differences.

Being from the United States one tends to identify as a “kind of mutt” – you have a father from ‘there,’ and a mother from ‘here;’ or you were born in one place, but raised somewhere else.  We identify as ‘Americans,’ but deal with a constant ‘identity crisis,’ which is highlighted when asked, “Where are you from?” America is indeed a mixing pot, and New York City is probably the epicenter of it all.

There is a lot to compare between the culture of the New York City and the culture of the Italian state – for example the Italian immigrants, the Italian architecture of some of the buildings, the Italian art in the numerous art museums, and last, but not least – the Italian food.  Like most things that require deep understanding, there is more to it than the eye can see on the surface of things.  The Cultural Iceberg Theory explains a different way of observing, analyzing and thinking and provokes the reader, the viewer, the researcher or simply the outsider to take a deeper look at any different culture then his own and to attempt to pass and overcome the obvious stereotypes and perceptions.

For example, using the metaphor of an iceberg, one should picture the unknown proportions of an iceberg and how much one could see and how much one actually can’t see. Above the water the tiny tip of the iceberg serves as the perceived characteristics of a culture while below the water, the unseen iceberg, serves to show that there is a much larger picture of a covered with water ice mountain.  For example, characteristics that represent the ‘above the iceberg reality’ are language, art, religion, music, dance, sports, national costumes, food; while ‘below the iceberg’ would be the place for the culture’s core values such as ideas about family, education, history, or cosmology, and concepts of beauty, motivation to work, decision making processes, physical space, friendship, love, murder, or handling of emotions.  Just like in my case, the differences couldn’t be less obvious for two countries experiencing often so much misunderstanding of each other, such as the United States and Italy.

As the world is becoming more global, these misconceptions are also becoming more prevalent, as most countries are adopting and customizing food and culture from other countries in attempts to adapt to a more global society.  However, this way of thinking has become the basis of what tends to define American culture – exactly like American-Chinese food is completely different from traditional Chinese food, so is the American-Italian food from traditional Italian food.  And Italy is clearly more than its food. There are habits that diverge Italians from Americans such as splitting the bill vs. separating checks, eating three course meals vs. just one dish, or greeting people with kisses vs. handshakes.

As an illustration, I remember the girls I would study abroad with would be extremely “creeped out” by the forwardness of Italian men. Their spontaneous ‘romanticism,’ which was a gesture that has been completely condemned through prudency in American culture, was compelled for misunderstanding.

Culture and habits are passed from generation to generation, and develop throughout history based on lessons and influences from parents, teachers, laws, and social norms. Unless one is fully submerged into a culture, it’s difficult to understand these core values from just a few days in a country.  One tends to first experience “culture shock” – a personal disorientation through the exposure of a new custom or culture. Eventually though, with enough time, these core values are understood through observation, experience, and a bit of reflection. Just like an American might be astonished by the fact that a 30-year-old Italian is still living with his parents, what comes off as bizarre to us, is completely normal to them.

Understanding and growing from the experience starts with recognizing our own personal icebergs – what we portray through our clothing, how we act, and what we say vs. how it reflects on our core values, our prejudices, or our aspirations. Then follows, accepting discrepancy and acknowledging another person’s core values. And finally, it requires meditating and enjoying one’s growth.  The influence of culture on the elements of communication need to be explicitly explored rather than taken for granted or ignored.

So, yes, it is difficult for people from two different worlds, such as the United States and Italy to understand each other, but it is not impossible.  Let us look harder for the nine-tenths of the culture which is hidden from the view and may be there in the valleys of the ‘deep culture’ we will find the things that unite us, not the things that divide us.  It is up to us not to build “Walls” between our customs and cultures, but instead to build “Bridges” on our common values, connecting people and ideas.

Nine must-have apps when travelling

Judy and Taylor in France

Whether you are trying to go off the grid or not, technology has undeniably changed the way we lived our everyday lives. Not only from what we decide to eat to how we listen to music, but also with traveling, from booking a flight to paying for a hotel, everything is done through the internet. So, might as well embrace the change and use it to our advantage. Here are some of the most useful apps to download before setting off on your adventure.

  1. Duo Lingo and Google translate – Evidently, when in another country you will probably encounter a lot of miscommunication or language barriers. So what’s the best way to overcome this dilemma? Put a little effort into learning and speaking the other’s language. In the end, they’ll appreciate the effort as a sign of respect for the culture, and you’ll get the chance to learn something new.
  2. Viber or Whatsapp – When travelling anywhere out of the United States; Europeans, South Americans, or Asians all typically use either of these two apps to communicate. The reason? Phone plans are not so common outside of the United States because of the prevalence of public Wi-Fi. It’s free, fun, and fast. So despite how awesome your international plan is, it’s inevitable to adopt these apps when making new friends from all over the world.
  3. Google Maps – I could attest from the frustration of wandering around foreign streets with a paper map, that this app could single-handedly become your most valuable travel tool. You’re going to be treading a lot of unknown water, and when going to a specific location such as a museum or a restaurant there is no better navigating system for both walking and taking public transport.  I particularly recommend Google Maps as opposed to Maps, because of their offline feature, which saves your route despite lost of connection. Besides, there is no better way to  explore a city then by walking, you never know what cool things you’re going to find.
  4. Uber – Besides using Google Maps or the local taxi company, (unless banned in the city you are visiting) Uber is your next most reliable resource when getting from one place to another without any hassle. Yes, it is more expensive, but on a drunken wayfarer night there might not be anything more straightforward than an Uber ride back to your hotel/hostel/airbnb. Plus: you can worry less about having foreign currency.
  5. Magnus – Are you the touristy type that likes to explore the history and art of a place? Then I believe this app was made for you. Magnus updates you on all of the new exhibits and must-see museums of wherever you are travelling to. Perfect for helping you build a sightseeing bucket list.
  6. HotelTonight and Hipmunk– If you’re the spontaneous type, these two apps will help you find the best hotel deals anywhere in the world at the last minute.

Have you had any apps that helped you on last adventure? Share in the comments!

Looking for cheap and ceaseless fun? Buy the ticket and take the ride to Bangkok,Thailand!

Thailand is a country that knows no boundaries when it comes to fun. From ear blowing dart shows to monkeys performing magic tricks there’s never a dull moment that occurs once you step foot onto the exotic country. Thailand has all sorts of entertainment for people from all over the world, you can start your day off by dipping your feet in the warm clear oasis waters of Phuket and then end the night with a shot of snake blood in Bangkok.

“The moment I stepped into Bangkok I felt so free” said July Roeuth, who visited Thailand in the summer of 2015.

July in Thailand 4

The temples in Thailand provide you with peace and tranquility on those days that you just want to relax and escape. The architecture of the temples are ancient and they display the history and culture of Thailand. Bangkok alone has over 20 Sacred Temples that are welcome to all guests; here you can see local monks and giant Buddha statues.

So you might be thinking: all this spontaneity would hurt your bank account? Not at all! In Thailand you can have an entire day worth of excitement without having to worry about your wallet getting damaged.

“I think it’s literally impossible for an American to starve to death,” said Roeuth, “because food is just so cheap!”

July in Thailand 5

Today, one U.S. dollar is equal to approximately 35 Thai Bahts.

Besides the beautiful temples, another tourist attraction that Thailand provides is the floating markets. One can rent a boat and coast through the rivers where other boats are afloat. There, local vendors sell a vast amount of merchandise aboard their little boats. Merchandise can range from local beers to fresh locally grown vegetables. The possibilities are endless from home style Thai food to sneakers, you name it the floating market has got it.

July in Thailand 3

Finally, to end your day, Thailand’s nightlife is like no other anywhere else in the world. As depicted through Hollywood movies such as The Hangover Pt. 2, The Beach, and others, it clearly has an untold adventure in store for even the most humble tourist. The carnival shows with live tigers and the low-priced alcohol has tourists completely overwhelmed.

Downtown Bangkok is famous for being the most diverse area in the world. It’s a perfect opportunity to mingle with travelers from all over the world. Sit down, introduce yourself and crack open a few beers; your night of fun is just beginning with the people you just met at the bar.

July in Thailand 2

Overall, a trip to Thailand is something that everyone must experience at least once in a lifetime. The streets are lawless, the entertainment is never ending, and the scenery is beautiful. The Southeastern country leaves a feeling in your veins that makes you want to come back for more… because there’s always something new to discover in Thailand.

Love dancing? Love music? Travel to France for the Fête de la Musique!

What better way to bring people together than music?

For the last two years (2016 and 2015), I’ve been fortunate enough to be in Paris, France, during the Fete de la Musique.  One of the most joyous and lively festivals in the world. Hosted every year year on June 21st in over 120 countries all over the world, the international celebration aims at bringing genres and musicians of all sorts to the streets. From one block to the next, you can dance your way through time from Cuban Salsa to American Hip Hop. This wide array of diversity, ultimately promotes a world-wide phenomenon of sharing cultures and spending time with people you might never have otherwise met before. Did I mention all of the music and concerts is free? Yes, all the musicians donate their time, energy, and equipment for the cause. If you have the time, I would recommend this experience as one of the most inspiring, fulfilling, and worthwhile event in the world.

How to travel the world alone as a woman!

(A calling to all women)

Ever wanted to travel somewhere, but have been too scared to go by yourself? Have no more fear. The following is a step-by-step explanation of how you could overcome your inhibitions and easily travel the world all by yourself. 

Everyday millions of women travel the world alone either for work, vacation, or volunteer opportunities. But while it may be undeserved, your fear is not without merit. There are many challenges both men and women travelers deal with on a day-to-day basis – we both have friends and families who worry about our safety, we both come across similar financial situations, etc.

We aren’t so different in many ways, but then why is it such a big deal for women to travel alone?

Unfortunately, truth as it may be, women have different overall concerns, especially when it comes to traveling.  Women are more vulnerable and are attracted to different values and experiences.

So you may ask, “Who would ever want to travel alone?

Well, as a matter of fact, there are a great many benefits to traveling alone, as opposed to traveling in a group, even as a woman.

Traveling alone gives you complete freedom (in all aspects), to do anything and everything you feel like doing, there is nobody around to inhibit you. It also increases your problem solving ability, for you are entirely responsible for when things go wrong. It creates self-dependence, because you rely on yourself for figuring out your sleeping and traveling accommodations, and finally it tests your courage because you realize what you’re capable of.

So the real question is, “Why wouldn’t you travel alone?”

These are priceless characteristics that shape you into becoming a well-rounded, open-minded, and largely better person .  The point is that it is not just a mans luxury, the three main reasons that prevent women from traveling alone is fear of being alone, unsafe, and bored. Something that with the right amount of guidance and experience you can overcome with ease.

“Won’t I be alone?”

  • Smile. Sometimes just appearing friendly will elicit others to be helpful and welcoming towards you in case something goes wrong.Smiling will even portray an air of confidence suggests Liubov Russell, a Foreign Service Officer at the Department of State, “If you are confident in what you are doing – people will always accept and respect you.”
  • Set up challenges for yourself. Force yourself to ask questions, start up conversations, and keep discussions going. “At first I was very resistant to talking to people,” says Kimberley Harricharran, a Resident Assistant at St. John’s University’s Paris campus and frequent single woman traveler, “but then I forced myself to talk to some of the locals of the cities I went to and it provided me with a more profound perspective and understanding of the culture.
  • Have an open heart and be open minded. “Majority of the people that I met or had interactions with were very friendly, welcoming, and similarly to everybody else around the globe, are praying for peace, wanted to help their families and are dreaming for better lives for their children,” says Russell. Understand that you are in a different part of the world, and things are going to be very different from you are used to, do not be too quick to judge and say no to trying new foods and customs.

“Won’t I be unsafe?”

  • Be prepared. Do your research about the customs of the country you are traveling to “You should make an additional effort to learn about the geography, history, and the sensitive issues of the country. People are also very pleased when you learn a few phrases in their language and attempt to use them.” Russell suggests. Try to blend in with the locals, be this through the way you dress or your body language, in order to not draw any unnecessary attention.
  • Be aware. Before leaving for your destination, scan your precious documents, like passports, IDs, or credit cards so you have them on file. Tell a friend or family member where you are traveling so at least one person is aware of your location. Walk around the town or neighborhood the first thing you do once you arrive, in order to get a sense of your environment. Always know where your valuables are located, whether on you or in your hotel. Most importantly, with human behavior is to trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable go with your gut feelings. “We typically recommend to female students to not responds to taunts,” says Gregory Bruhn, assistant director of St. John’s University’s study abroad programs, “because they don’t necessarily understand the social cues or cultural treatment, it tends to provoke the aggressors to challenge their authority.”
  • Be smart. “I always arrived at my destinations early in the mornings, when it’s still bright outside and never stayed out past midnight,” Harricharran explains about her experience. Easiest way said: don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. For example, don’t get too intoxicated, accept drinks from strangers, or go hitchhiking. Maybe you will be sacrificing a little bit of the party lifestyle but its for the greater good of your journey and you will find other ways to have fun.

“Won’t I get bored?”

  • Check out apps and websites like Lonely Planet, Timeout, Project Expedition, and Spotted by Locals about events going on in the city you are in.
  • Seek out regional foods. Challenge yourself to never eat at chain fast food restaurants. Food Spotting is a useful website for discovering the best local restaurants where you are – who knows what you will like until you’ve tried it!
  • Create a bucket list of things for you to see and do before you leave or move on to your next destination. This will motivate you to do more in a short amount of time. You never know when you will be able to visit the same place again.

Anymore excuses?

The world has grown in uncalculated ways – many good and others bad. In the good sense, we, as women, have developed an access to resources, places, and people never before so easily available. And just like us, civilization is growing and evolving with constantly changing ideas and experiences. Therefore its our job as independent female explorers to share these concepts and shock those we’ve encountered with the knowledge that we’ve learned. Without further adieu, it’s these simple tips and tricks you’ll be able to conquer any of your biggest travel fears and inspire others with your greatness.

Procrastinate no longer! Spit on your inhibitors!