Affection, Catcalling, and the Bronco Family Bond

Lilee VandeZande
Graphic Design Major
Book Arts in Europe, Summer I 2017

This post is going to be a little all over the place because the first two weeks have been crazy busy and I haven’t gotten a lot of time to get my thoughts in order. These have been some of the best days of my entire life so far and this experience has opened my eyes to a completely different culture and lifestyle from the western one I am so used to. So, this entry will be written a little like how it runs through my head.


The first thing that I noticed when I arrived in Florence, Italy is how narrow the streets and sidewalks are. The thousands of people who visit Florence each day would cram onto the sidewalks that were just wide enough for two people to slide by one another. The streets were cobblestone and looked just as old as the city and was covered in cars, bicycles and pigeons. The cars in the city would fly down the tiny streets that were just wide enough to fit one car going one way and would zoom past the people on the sidewalks. They were so close to us that if you stuck your elbow out like a chicken you would get hit. It was such a shock for me because in the USA we stay as far away from other people on the streets and avoid strangers as much as possible, but here in Italy, the proximity of things is much closer. It also reflects their culture because they kiss each cheek when they meet and are more affectionate towards one another than western cultures.

The most shocking thing to me when we were in Florence is the way that men cat-call at women. For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am adopted from China by American parents, so I don’t look like most of the people from Europe. Whenever I would walk by a group of guys hanging out somewhere they would yell “China” at me as I would walk past. Then, when I wouldn’t look at them they would yell “Japan” or “Korea” at me thinking that they got my ethnicity wrong. It was like they assumed that I didn’t speak English but knew my race and that by yelling that it would get my attention more than saying “hey”. It didn’t bother me too much the first couple of times I heard it because I thought they were just heckling me but as it went on each day and men would start to approach me, then that is what threw me off. It amazed me how those men would just assume I am not from USA just by the way I look, rather than people in USA who don’t think twice because our country is so diverse and anyone could be from there.

The most interesting thing that has come from the trip’s first two weeks is the fact that we met a WMU alumni at the Venice Biennale Arsenale. By chance I was wearing a bronco’s shirt and she caught my attention and said, “are you from Michigan?”. At first I thought she was mistaking me for someone else, because there was such a slim chance we would see anyone we knew in Venice. Turns out she graduated from Western in 2008 with a degree in Visual Arts. It just goes to show that WMU students are global and still a family wherever we are.


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