Updated: Sep 27, 2020
by Agita Wijaya
To the locals who happened to pass by, we must have looked like clowns. Huge suitcases (some stark neon pink with Victoria’s Secret written all over it), expensive and clunky professional cameras around our necks, money belts around our hips, and cases of guitars and ukuleles in our grips. We were dressed in tie dyed t-shirts, bandanas, sunglasses, and short jeans. Squinty-eyed, restless, loud, unaware, and…… foreign. Oh so foreign.
That was how my Summer Abroad program in Tuscany started back in 2012 on a hot and sticky July afternoon. Little did I know that those 5 weeks in Tuscany were all I needed to want to leave the North American way of life and to become a sworn Italian (..ok, a sworn wannabe Italian). I learned to live like Italians, in Italian time (+/- 15-20 minutes… or sometimes an hour), with that famous easy-going Italian attitude, and my oh my, it was simply the best summer of my life by far.
Going back home to Toronto, I found myself having a hard time to reset my way of thinking to the way it was before; I had been changed forever. And though life goes on, there were 3 simple lessons from the land of la dolce vita that I held onto and continue to celebrate today.
1. Doing Nothing
As simple as it sounds, doing nothing is actually one of the hardest things for busy, business-focused North Americans to do. Exhibit A: Before Italy opened my eyes to a different way of living, I had religiously planned to the second and missed no beat. I thought about what I wanted to do in 5 years, in the next month, in the next day. I checked off my to-do list, took one 25-minute break during my work day, and forced myself to go to spin class after work because I wanted to prove to myself that I was not lazy. The only time I was “allowed” to be lazy was after a long day of work, which almost always involved a combination of drinking alcohol, watching Netflix, and binge eating chips.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Tuscany, I noticed Italians do it differently. There was a sense of disorder and it made me uncomfortable at first, but once I got used to the art of “doing nothing”, or dolce far niente, I couldn’t look back. I love the way Italians take long lunches to appreciate the meal or how they stop to chat with a vegetable vendor on their way to a meeting. And who can deny the beauty of going home for a nap in the middle of the day, or just sitting in front of an outdoor cafe, doing nothing in particular as the day comes to a close.
As whimsical as it sounds, they let their instinct be their guide. I remember sitting in a piazza with a cold, creamy gelato, taking in what went on around me. I was inspired, I was reflecting, day-dreaming, imagining, all relaxed and happy. At first, it was so painful to not do anything that yields a quick result (like sending a quick email so I can cross that off my list). But after a bit of reflection (why do I feel like I have to be doing something all the time? What if I allow myself to just “be”?), I began to understand that relaxing is not only achieved by taking a one-week all-inclusive vacation to Mexico. It can be achieved simply by letting myself be, by breathing deeply, and letting my mind wander as freely as a child.