An NYU student went viral for all the wrong reasons. Stacia Datskovska came under fire this week for her article titled, “I’m an NYU student studying abroad in Florence. I hated my semester abroad in every way.”
In the article published on insider.com, Datskovska complains about her semester abroad in Italy.
“I envisioned fun potluck dinners with my roommates, summer flings with people who called me ‘Bella,’ gelato dripping off my fingers in the heat, and natural wine that blended effortlessly with good conversation and better prosciutto.” mated,” she wrote. It’s safe to say that their fantasies didn’t come true.
She writes how she grew bored with the sights of Florence and found the locals “hostile” and “ruthless.” While her seven roommates enjoyed traveling around Europe, she felt increasingly alone and was missing out on work experience opportunities in New York.
These kinds of startling first-person features get released every day on the internet, so there was a good chance this one would have slipped under the radar. But after Amanda Knox tweeted the article, Twitter dutifully bared its teeth.
“Fine, we don’t want you here,” wrote an Italian Twitter user. “BREAKING: Citizens of the United States realize the world is not theirs,” wrote another. And Twitter’s #BeKind faction also contributed, arguing that their editor should never have published the article, knowing full well what a onslaught of abuse she might endure. Thankfully, Datskovska seems to have a thick skin on the matter, writing in the Independent that she “laughed at” the comments as they kept rolling in.
But everyone seems to have missed something here. While Stacia Datskovska is still in the early stages of her career as a journalist, she has encountered a principle of travel writing that separates the good from the timeless. Openness. Especially about the fact that sometimes the places we visit are not what we hoped for.
In Traveling with Charley, John Steinbeck wrote of Chicago: “I began to despise the sights, hated the people, and couldn’t wait to get home.”
Only John Steinbeck didn’t write that. That’s what Stacia Datskovska wrote about Florence, but you probably believed me, right? When it comes out of the mouth of one of America’s great writers, it has a sort of cigarette-stained, whiskey-sipping dignity. Coming from a Gen Z NYU student, it comes across as attention-grabbing and tasteless.
All of the best literary travel writers speak with an openness that doesn’t necessarily seek to inspire (which, of course, is a craft in itself), but rather to transport the human experience and speak about it in a way that resonates. Good or bad.
Paul Theroux, one of the most respected travel writers of all time, wrote of hating holidays (all real quotes from now on): ‘I hate holidays. I hate them. I don’t enjoy them. I can’t do anything. People sit and relax, but I don’t want to relax. I want to see something.”
Irish travel writer legend Dervla Murphy vilified the billions who live in cities: “To me, city dwellers are the dispossessed, the unfortunates who have been deprived of every living thing’s right to territory.” Bruce Chatwin has belittled tourism in general, saying: “Wandering is a virtue, tourism is a mortal sin.” I’m reading David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, which gives accounts of the cities he’s visited over the years. It’s a brilliant read.
Even the original world chronicler Marco Polo did not hesitate eight centuries ago: “Here the people were once honorable, now they are all bad; One thing they have retained is that they are the biggest drinkers,” he said of one of the civilizations he encountered on his travels.
I am of course joking. Stacia Datskovska does not belong in the same breath as the travel writers listed above. Your article is reductive and insubstantial, and certainly not lacking in self-awareness. At times, it’s downright obnoxious — “I began to protest by presenting myself to the public in a way I knew they would hate,” she wrote, describing how she wore loose “American athleisure,” only to piss off the locals. Or maybe we, the readers, are the ones being teased here on purpose.
Whatever their motivations, the piece is the antithesis of the cringing, oversaturated brand of influencer content we associate with this generation. And it’s important that those who are compelled to travel and write speak openly and fearlessly about travel destinations. After all, trips don’t always go according to plan. We all had nightmares abroad. In fact, the harder elements of travel — the mishaps, the mishaps, the misunderstandings — are universal, and these are often the experiences we end up fondly remembering after living to tell the story.
As a travel writer, people often ask about my experiences abroad, and I think of my nighttime escape from the police in Cuba, the tropical hookworm that entered my buttocks in Malaysia, my fortnight stranded in Melbourne during the Icelandic ash cloud crisis are. No one wants to hear about the delicious macaroons I found in my Shangri-La hotel room upon arrival.
International travel can be challenging and destinations fall short of expectations, but that’s the truth and it’s interesting to tell the truth. Last but not least, Stacia Datskovska can take this home with her from her otherwise disappointing semester in Florence.