While studying in Europe, one major cultural difference to adjust to was a language barrier. The only person in our group who could speak Italian was Jeff, our faculty leader. While a large amount of the population spoke English, not everyone did and not everyone spoke English well. In places like our studios, pharmacies and restaurants all of the workers knew English, but there were a few times that I bought groceries or asked for directions and I had to rely on actions in order to communicate. Also, even though our studio instructors knew some English, there were still language barriers that arose when talking in more technical language.
If I would of known I was going on this trip earlier, I wish I could of taken classes to know some Italian. Half of our trip was spent in cities in Italy, and being able to communicate more effectively with the locals would have been worth the time studying Italian. Even so, while living in Italy for two weeks I began to pick up on the language. It is surprising how quickly that happened with being submersed in their culture for just two weeks. By the end of our time in Italy, I knew basic phrases and could figure out what people were saying with the help of context. Then, we spent much less time in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, so I did not learn much German or Dutch. Even with this difference I was able to learn a lot and get buy purchasing groceries and finding my way throughout the cities. I never encountered rudeness or unhappiness that I did not speak the language in my time in Europe, but if I go back I want to return with some knowledge of the language of the country that I visit.
Something that I would re-do if I could would be packing differently. One thing that I did very right for this trip was invest in a hiking bag to carry all I needed while studying abroad; we traveled by plane, train, boat, taxi and foot, so having a bag on my back rather than lugging around a suit case was a smart decision. Even though I invested in the correct bag, I still managed to over-pack. The best thing to do when it comes to packing clothes, makeup, and other things that easily take up space is to lay out all you think you need, and then delete half of that. I tried to pack light on clothes, but I did not wear everything I brought, which means I could have easily packed less and then had a much easier time getting all that I bought there into my bag. Bring washing materials and wash your clothes whenever you get the chance, even in the sink if you have to, just to hold off for a few days. In the end, packing light pays off.
I had so many amazing opportunities while in Europe, but the most amazing was my studio time. I had the opportunity to set type from huge type collections, which is not something you can find at Western or in Kalamazoo. Metal and wooden type blocks were used in the traditional printing methods, but now everyday printing is done on an offset press or inkjet. It is hard to find as marvelous of collections as what was available in our studios in Italy and Amsterdam, and getting to print a book and poster was great experience for print making. One of the studios we worked at, Tipoteca, was also a museum, because of how huge their type collection was and their collection of printing presses. I am so blessed to of had the opportunity to work with these printmaking masters and use their supplies.