Although upon introduction it may seem difficult to find common ground between contrasting cultures, the undeniable force of pop culture subtly connects communities of all ages and interests. Join E&M editor Isla in finding out why.

In Italian, the word for foreigner is straniero. Straniero can be more accurately translated as alien: somebody strange, somebody from another land. In rural areas especially, which make up the vast majority of the country, Italians have very little experience with these stranieri.

Moving to one of these Italian villages at age 10, the locals had never met a British person. Most had never left the country. The year before, we had visited this town on holiday, and like every other northern European holidaymaker, we saw a quaint village, picturesque with an idyllic life completely made up of consuming Italian delicacies and being surrounded by vineyards. Once deciding we’d like to indulge in this lifestyle for years rather than days, we figured it would be a short transition period followed by a permanent lust for life.

Upon arrival, the locals kept us at an arm’s length. In class, I sat with the Albanian boy and the Senegalese girl, both who had grown up in Italy but were not true Italians in the eyes of our classmates. The others didn’t want to partner with us for projects, and laughed at our grammar mistakes.

One day, the Senegalese girl who I sat with told me how much she loved Harry Styles. She asked me if, being British, I knew him personally. Her dream was to ride around London on a double decker bus! After decorating her school diary with ‘Mrs Styles’, she caught the attention of some of our Italian classmates. They also loved One Direction, and once again were asking about my (supposed) personal connection to them.

After finding out about all these 10 year old Italian girls’ love for my nation, we started running some disorganised, mixed up Italian and English lessons after school. We all got to learn the language we dreamed of understanding: for them, it was an escape from their isolated Italian life, for me it was a gateway into it.

By Christmas, I spoke the language well enough to have normal friendships with the other girls in my class. Me and the other stranieri were slowly welcomed into their community. Whilst they once regarded my iPad’s dictionary as something that would stand in the way of us having anything in common, we now used the search bar to have secret conversations that the teacher wouldn’t notice, as they also just believed I needed help understanding what was going on in this foreign land.

All it took was a 2010 pop band, made up of 16 year old boys, to bring us together. For my classmates, somebody British was as alien as somebody straight from Mars. They weren’t aware of the European concept of free movement, no borders and a constant flow of stranieri found in cities across the continent: something well set in many European minds at this point in time. These political ideas didn’t reach rural towns. So my international childhood was not one like the children of diplomats I’m now friends with, who went to schools welcoming foreigners from every corner of the globe.

Despite this, in Italy I found that the European identity was still present in a subconscious, but ever more authentic form, known as One Direction.

Picture by @pixelheart on Pixabay

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    Isla is originally from northern England, but grew up in Italy and has now been living in the Netherlands for 4 years. She loves getting to know the small things about people and exchanging stories. She is currently studying Politics, Psychology, Law & Economics at the University of Amsterdam, but spends more of her time enjoying all kinds of art and culture.

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