Travel Writing: Journal # 6

One border that our writers have travelled is the one between expectations and reality. This is something that can be seen in any person’s travels. Everyone has ideas of what a place will be like that they are visiting, but nothing is ever quite what it seems. Sometimes this is a good thing, and other times it only leads to disappointment.

I too crossed this border in my travels to Italy. I had images in my head of the idyllic Italian countryside and some of the sites I had seen in movies such as Roman Holiday. While I did see these things during my trip there, I also saw many things I was not prepared for. I know that there are poor people and beggars everywhere, but I seemed to disregard that when I imagined my trip. This reality was somewhat jarring at first, but soon it became commonplace and I was almost desensitized to the sight of a poor woman holding out a paper cup to passersby. These poor people reminded me that the suffering are everywhere and that I do not have to go somewhere like India to help the poor. There are always people in need, and that made the world feel a bit smaller and more connected. Once I became used to this site I was ashamed of myself for not feeling the same tug of compassion and pity for these people. I became skeptical of their motives and the reality of their situations. This desensitizing isn’t something I ever expected would happen and I couldn’t help but wondering if it was good or bad.

Another reality-check I experienced was the language barrier. I thought that all Italians spoke at least a little English, but this was far from the truth. While most Italians knew a few words and phrases because of all of the tourists in their homeland, not many were fluent in English and this posed problems when trying to communicate. I could usually get by with a combination of broken Italian and vivid hand gestures, but there were times when I just couldn’t get my point across. This experience taught me the importance of learning a bit of the country’s native language before travelling there. My assumptions and expectations originated from the slightly arrogant American mentality that since we are a world superpower, everyone should know some of our language. Now I have a much greater respect for those who are bilingual and put forth the effort of learning another language. It is not an easy thing, but it is a sign of respect to the natives of the country you visit.

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