Studying abroad has been a dream for me ever since I was in high school. Little did high school me know that I would fulfill that dream of mine… during a global pandemic.
It has been about a year and a half since the words COVID-19 have been added to our vocabulary. I was extremely lucky that I was able to study abroad in Rome during the Spring 2021 semester, a time when a majority of the study abroad programs in Europe were cancelled. Studying abroad during a pandemic did come with a few perks, such as no tourists in one of the most touristy destinations on the planet. But, the thing that I was the most grateful for was the opportunity to learn about how the pandemic was being handled globally.
I was set to leave New Jersey on January 9, 2021, but just the day before, the U.S. set a record for the most COVID cases in 1 day for a total of over 300,000. I was definitely nervous to go on a plane, but I was interested to see how another country was handling the pandemic.
During my time in Rome, I had the privilege to meet with three Italian youth who gave me insight into what it is like being teenagers and college students in Italy during this turbulent time. Much like in the U.S., the teenagers and college students were being blamed for the pandemic spreading; the Italian youth informed me that the older generations were blaming the younger generation for the spread. The older generation did not understand that the majority of the Italian youth were taking the pandemic seriously and were adhering to Italian Health Ministry regulations.
Unlike in the U.S. where young adults will take any chance they get to move out of their parents’ houses, multi-generation households are a common way of living in Italy. The Italian youth are just as cautious about COVID as their older counterparts. It was wrong to blame all Italian youth for the spread of the virus, especially when a majority of them still lived with their parents and grandparents.
I went on a walk around my neighborhood in New Jersey one day in the spring of 2020 with my surgical mask covering my mouth and nose. I saw a neighbor walking around as well, and we walked towards one another. We talked about how COVID unexpectedly changed all of our lives. She then went on to say, “It’s the young people like you that don’t care about others and are spreading the virus.” I was shocked. Now, I don’t know if she meant me personally or was generalizing the statement and just said “like you” to prove a point, but I felt uneasy knowing that someone who lived in my very community was generalizing the problem towards a specific group.
No matter what part of the world we live in, blame isn’t going to solve the pandemic. It is hard to know what goes on in someone’s household. Therefore, accusations will hurt more than help.
16 months and over 4 million deaths later, it is time to stop blaming a certain population for the spread and start spreading compassion and empathy, in Italy, the U.S., and around the world.