The longer I stay in Italy, the more evident their economic crisis becomes. Fedderico confessed to me, one Sunday afternoon as we took a break from playing Scarabeo (the Italian version of Scrabble) with Lavinia, that he was worried about his daughter’s future. Lavinia, the vivacious eleven year old I teach how to paint on the weekends, attends school from Monday through Saturday and studies on average two hours every day after she gets home from her classes. She is perhaps the hardest working eleven year old I have ever known, and yet her father worries that it won’t be enough by the time she graduates from college. The current generation, my generation, has the highest average levels of education Italy has ever seen, but it also faces the highest unemployment levels of any generation currently living in the peninsula. Lucio Bianchi explained that it is a snake-biting-its-own-tail situation: Italians are having fewer children, the children currently attending school are not receiving an education that will prepare them for jobs after graduating college, there are so few jobs available for young adults because the older generation refuse to give up their positions based on a poor economy, young adults then become unemployed which further harms the economy, these same young adults have fewer kids because they simply cannot support them, and the cycle continues anew. What this has seen has been a massive emigration movement as Italians look abroad – usually Switzerland, as I’ve come to discover. In 2015, about 107,529 Italians between the ages of 18 and 34 moved out of their home country to look for jobs. Typically, they end up staying, and the generation gap back home continues to grow.
Olivia, my coworker at the Museo Archeologico asked me this morning if I wanted to come back to Italy to work after I graduate. I confessed that I really enjoyed the thought, and would be happy to do so if the fates allowed. She then frowned and her eyebrows furrowed. We spoke in the broken-English/broken-Italian way that has become our own sort of game as we try to meet each other partway to communication. She expressed, in not so many words, that the Italian economy was not so great right now, as lovely as the thought would be for me to return. She then pointed up with one finger, gesturing to the rest of the continent, “There are better opportunities in Europe.” A smile then crossed her face. “Like France”, she teased, knowing how much I love the language. Olivia mentioned two of her nieces. One is twenty eight and has been out of college for a while; she’s been searching for a job since graduation, with no luck. The other is twenty one and is exceptionally nervous about graduating because she fears the same fate.Olivia and I agreed that many millennials run themselves through the ground in student debt in order to stay in school longer, usually by taking up a minor or double majoring, and to delay the fear and – quite frankly the reality – of unemployment.
I admit it is a fear that I also hold. And I am not alone in this. Walking across OU’s campus, it is an undercurrent within every student I come across. Our futures are not as guaranteed as our parents’ were. In Italy, the average child does not leave the home of their mother and father until their lateis because they simply cannot afford to support themselves alone in such an economy. In the United States, society still tries to force teenagers out of home at the ripe young age of their late teens, whether or not they have a job, and to spend the next four years of their lives accumulating debt that stacks up to well over 40,000 dollars. The possibility that many of them – many of us – will never be able to pay that off is absolutely terrifying. In America, my generation grew up during the housing market crash. In Italy, they are still living in an economic crisis.
All that I can say thus far is that it has built inside of us a resilience. No, a determination. If we cannot rely on what once was, we must make our best lives in what is. Or better yet, make improvements for what will be. An unguaranteed future does not mean an unguaranteed present. We are extremely conscious of our decisions, and the consequences of them over the long term. I think an effect as well is that we enjoy the present moments more. We cherish them. It is something I have been very reflective of during my time here in Italy, and my time here at the museum as well. Maria Gatto has invited me to an international museum conference in Firenze next month. I plan on attending. With my whole heart, I want to be there and I want to learn as much as I can from that experience. These incredible women have inspired me to branch out, make connections, and to aim high in spite of all this. On November 15th there will be speakers at the Museum of Palazzo Vecchio from the Centre of Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, the Danish Centre of Arts & Interculture in Copenhagen, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, among many other museums across Italy itself. The future is certainly in flux, but I do not doubt that these experiences make for a better life. That is, after all, what I aspire to most of all.
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