Update from Italy: Monday Morning

I just felt like invoking Kannon, the thousand-armed goddess of Compassion common to Asian tradition, said to align with the succor of the Virgin in Christianity. Everyone take a deep breath. Now take another one. Now one more. Good. Photo by Hiroshi Tsubono on Unsplash.

I don’t have much to report from Florence today.

Everything here is calm and normal, minus Jason’s workload and office, since the American programs have almost all taken a hard turn to send students home. He’s neck deep in meetings and logistics and managing people and news. But everything in Florence is running as usual: work, school, transportation. People here are aware of the news while monitoring the situation.

What has been more difficult is explaining to locals the American culture around risk, risk management, liability, and duty of care to students abroad. There seems to be an assumption that programs in Italy took this decision into their own hands, making a precipitous decision out of fear, rather than in collaboration with, and ultimately responding to, guidance from the home campus in the U.S., when in fact the decision has been driven by campus risk management and general counsel. Now, more than ever, intercultural understanding is needed. It’s all fun and games to mix and mingle, but when crises emerge, and there is not a clear mutual understanding of why Culture A might take (or be able to take) a different decision than Culture B in a specific situation, rhetoric often escalates immediately. The U.S. would do well to understand why Italy responded as it did. Italy would do well to understand why the U.S. is responding as it is. There are so many variables I could pick apart in these statements, and I am happy to do so, if anyone is interested.

The news out of the US and UK seems less based in fact right now now than the news in Italy. I am reading as much as I can (and as much as I can stomach) on English-language major news outlets.

This virus is going to make its tracks globally. That is a fait accompli. Italy is about two weeks ahead of most other places on this, with the exception of China and South Korea. The Italian healthcare system has done a good job responding, and the country has taken seriously their quarantine of the 11 northern cities where the outbreak has been most severe.

Speaking with a very international Italian friend this morning, her assessment is that the crisis is more a hospital crisis than a public health epidemic. “This is not a war,” she said. “But the virus is very grave for older people, who will be in hospital, just as if they had the flu and were already at risk.” And, let me add again, for the regular flu, a vaccine is available.