“If there was one country that would find a way to share beauty in the midst of a global pandemic, it would be Italy,” I told my fiancé, as I watched the solidarity Italians nationwide have forged together in song. From routine blasts of their national anthem at 6 p.m., musicians playing from their windows, couples dancing on their balconies, and famous artists like Andrea Bocelli giving at-home concerts, it’s clear that Italians will not let this disease crush their spirits.
A few years ago, I was living and teaching English in Sicily, Italy. One of my main takeaways from Sicily was that for Italians, beauty is more than just a concept or a description—it’s a virtue. Beauty goes beyond aesthetics, because it offers the beholder, a sense of wonder, awe, and inspiration.
Italy’s national quarantine produced two of their trending hashtags: #iostoacasa and #andratuttobene, which mean “I’m at home” and “everything will be fine,” respectively. This balance of caution and hope has allowed Italians to make the best out of a dire situation, and come together as a country.
With most of the United States now under our own stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, some of my Italian friends have encouragement for us. Each of these young women has dreams for her future that had to be paused due to the mandated quarantine. I reached out to them so they could have the opportunity to share their reflections on life in lockdown and to build solidarity with Americans.
Clara, viticulture and oenology student at the University of Turin
I’m Sicilian, but I’m studying in Turin for my master’s degree. When we discovered that there were a lot of people infected with the virus in Milan, the universities in Milan and Turin closed. The situation continued to grow worse, so I went to Rome to meet a friend. The day I arrived in Rome, all of Italy became a red zone, and we were not allowed to move unnecessarily. So, I’m still in Rome, and I’m following my online classes.
At the beginning of the lockdown, I felt anxious because I could not live my life normally, like meeting my friends and going to university. Everything that was happening seemed unreal. But now I have to say life feels pretty normal again, I reorganized myself into this new world, and I’m staying positive that everything will be fine. I read a lot, watch movies, do yoga in my garden in the sun, and plant vegetables. I chat with my friends, but I’m trying to avoid using my phone too much. This lockdown has taught me that in life we don’t need many material things. We all should adopt a minimalist approach to make the world healthier and focus on what really matters in life: humankind. My advice to the United States would be to stay at home and eat Italian food!
Giorgia, pre-law student at the Bocconi University
Right now I am in my hometown in Sicily called Marsala. I’ve been quarantined for almost a month now, and to pass the time I study with my online classes, follow the news, keep in touch with my friends, and read. This was not the way I intended to spend my first year at university in Milan. I was also supposed to meet some of my friends from Spain, whom I haven’t seen for almost two years. I was just starting to build a solid group of friends, to have a more settled routine, and I was starting to feel like I belonged in Milan.
Some days when I'm really upset, it seems like those happy months in Milan were such a long time ago. But since my mother is a doctor and I see what she’s going through, I try to help her as much as I can at home. I’m rediscovering the beauty of books, old movies, and music, and I’m also lucky enough to have a garden surrounding my house, so I enjoy a walk with my dog or even a little bit of sun. I’m also studying French again, a language that I love deeply. This situation is teaching me Aristotle’s lesson that “man is a social animal.” I’m understanding how much we depend on simple things like a hug or a handshake.
My advice for the United States would be to not underestimate the significance of quarantine. Some people may think it’s silly or useless, but if we don’t want to do it for others, let’s at least be selfish enough to save ourselves. Remaining isolated is a way of thanking the hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, and everyone who is fighting against this common enemy.
Martina, language and literature student at the University of Verona
I’m currently in my hometown, Marsala, in Sicily. I study languages and literatures for the publishing industries and digital humanities at the University of Verona. I’ve been social distancing since February 22, when COVID-19 started to spread quickly in North Italy. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to go back home just before the situation in Verona plummeted. When I arrived in Sicily on March 10, after 17 days of self-isolation in Verona, I alerted all the regional agencies that are dealing with the emergency. I also tried to stay at least a meter from my family for 14 days to reduce the spread of infection in case I was a carrier. Fortunately, no symptoms appeared in those days, and now I spend a my quarantine a little more quietly in the house with my parents, and I work on my online classes.
The lockdown has completely changed my first year of university. We still don’t know if we’ll be able to come back for our summer exams, and we don’t know what they’re going to look like if they’re going be offered online. As much as we’re lucky to have the opportunity to study online, I don’t really like it. I miss the feeling and the energy that face-to-face classes give you. Combine it with the general tension of the current situation, it doesn’t make you totally productive.
One “positive” side of this time is that I am lucky enough to stay with my family. I now have the chance to do activities like cooking with my mother and listening to my father play the guitar. I stay in touch with my best friends everyday, and we try to video chat as much as we can. I think I’m lucky because I normally like staying at home, so I have a lot of “indoor hobbies,” like watching TV shows, makeup, and reading—I’ve read 18 e-Books since the lockdown started! I think that one lesson we’re all learning thanks to this situation is the difference that one single person can make. We’re finally starting to understand that everyone in the world can make a big difference—in this case just by staying at home and by following the rules for our own sake. On the other hand, by staying at home we’re also realizing how lucky we’ve been to be free, to travel the world, and to do whatever we like.
The only advice I think I can give to the United States is to make the most of this time, try to understand the big difference every single person can make right now by staying home. We are all superheroes at this time; we can literally save lives by sitting at home watching Netflix and doing everything we have always wanted to do, but because of work or study we’d never have the chance to do.
Laura, au pair in Wisconsin
I’m from Marsala, Sicily, but right now I am working as an au pair in Waukesha, Wisconsin where I spend most of my time taking care of three children. When I’m done working, I try to keep myself as busy as possible. I like using the indoor bike to exercise or go jogging around my neighborhood. I also study English translation by reading books or watching something on Netflix. Of course, it’s not fun to spend every single moment at home, but if we think about everyone’s wellness, I would rather stay inside. I video call my parents and talk to many friends back home every day.
I had plans to travel throughout the United States, and although it’s disappointing that my plans are changing, I prefer to think about the well-being of those around me. I’m learning even more how much teamwork is important, and how collaboration is necessary. It’s important for Americans to keep humanitarian concerns in mind in addition to economic considerations. Make people’s wellness the priority: humans are a driving force of economy, and if human lives suffer in this pandemic, then so will the economy, American friends. You have a great chance to take a break from your busy lives, so take advantage of it! Stay home, cook, watch the news, movies, spend time with your family and your kids, read, exercise, but stay inside!
Iris, science student at the University of Ferrara
Before the official lockdown, I was at the University of Ferrara, in the north of Italy, where I study pharmaceutical chemistry and technologies. When I understood the importance of the situation, I decided to go back to my family in Sicily. Since I’ve returned here to my home city, I haven’t visited my grandparents, and I have not seen them since January. My university has moved to online classes, so I’m studying as if I were still in Ferrara.
Despite everything, the lockdown doesn’t feel as bad as I thought. The best way to keep my mind full of positive vibes is to plan out my day. I wake up, I study in the morning, and in the afternoon I exercise at home with water bottles and chairs. My friends always want to chat with me on Skype; we’re very lucky to have devices that allow us to stay in touch! I really miss all the things that I took for granted before the forced lockdown. I have promised my “future self” that I’m not going to get mad for little things that used to drive me crazy. On the contrary, I’m going to appreciate every sunbeam, every cloudy sky, and every hug. This period has also influenced my future goals: one day I’d love to work as part of a scientific research team to find cures for diseases.
In the meantime, I do believe everyone should stay home, because that’s the only thing that can help end this pandemic. We can all defeat this monster if we work together.
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