Response: July/August 2015 Issue

An Education in Italy

A United Methodist Women scholarship recipient works to bring light to and shed light on his home country of Italy.

An Education in Italy
Graffiti on a wall in Castel Volturno, Italy, reads “La dignità non crolla,” meaning “Our dignity will not collapse.”

Like any imaginative, energetic young man, I am hopeful for my country. I live in the beautiful seaside community of Castel Volturno in the Province of Caserta in Italy. I attend Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II in Naples, Italy, with help from a scholarship from United Methodist Women.

I was introduced to United Methodist Women and its programs through my church's partnership with The United Methodist Church. My father, Raffaele Caruso, is president of Chiesa Evangelica Italiana in Castel Volturno. The church has partnered with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries to expand the church's community outreach. My mother, Angelina, visited the agency offices in New York City and learned about the United Methodist Women scholarship program.

I have always wanted to study a subject in which I would be intellectually and spiritually fulfilled in school and vocation. I am currently studying sociology and hope to become a social worker. My choice of degree is inspired in part by my church, Chiesa Evangelica Italiana, which is constantly reaching out to communities in the regions of Naples and Caserta. But my choice is also influenced by the fact that my region of Italy has only one social worker for a territory of 72 square miles, with 30 miles of shoreline occupied by majority of immigrants.

The whole world in Italy

Living in Castel Volturno brings you in close contact with a multiethnic population. Many residents have come in from Poland, Romania, Russia, China and South America, but most migrants come from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and most recently from Libya. The constant flow of immigrants into this area has caused a great social separation.

Castel Volturno has 24,000 residents, which includes registered immigrants. There is also an additional 26,000 undocumented immigrants. Castel Volturno has become an "open port" for immigration and illegal activity including drugs, prostitution and organized crime-the Camorra, for whom many immigrants work because it is the only income available.

There are no public funds for a cultural mediator who can translate different languages, making communication and community building difficult.

Other European countries are better equipped and organized to accommodate migrants. Italy has about 8,000 kilometers (just under 5,000 miles) of coastline on an easily navigable sea, and we are not equipped or prepared for the continuous flow of thousands migrating into the country.

Many Italians feel overtaxed and economically strained, and they in turn resent immigrants receiving benefits. Italy has been governed by corrupt politicians for decades, looking after their own interests and not that of their country, and much of the funds designated for immigrants has been "dispersed" (pocketed), leaving the welcoming ports in turmoil with no support to adequately accommodate migrants.

Stagnant economy, empty promises

The Italian public debt continues to grow exponentially. The debt is now at 2.2 trillion euros, 135 percent of gross domestic product, the third highest in the world after Japan and Greece.

Italy has the fifth highest tax burden in the developed world, with seemingly little to show for it as funding for social programs continues to decline. Though its sales tax rate is average for European Union countries at 21.3 percent, Italy's tax rate for labor is 42.3 percent (second only to Belgium). After taxes on sales and labor, an Italian company can expect to pay a tax rate of about 68 percent.

Many of the small, medium and family businesses that have given Italy its great identity have switched to cash-only transactions without receipts to stay in business. In addition, tax evasion is rampant in Italy. The Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance has stated that tax evasion costs the country around 91 billion euros ($114.75 billion) every year.

You can imagine that starting a company in Italy means entering a bureaucratic nightmare, and keeping it open is even harder.

Italy has now had three consecutive prime ministers who have not been elected by its people. Matteo Renzi is the current prime minister. He is jokingly called the "Italian Tony Blair" for trying to modernize his party, the Democratic Party, by burying the past to face the future. Initially he had promised to institute all of his structural reforms within 100 days, but, of course, he did not.

Add to this a sluggish, Byzantine court system, politicized and in possession of a frightening power over companies, no sane foreign company will place a business in Italy.

Immigrants and emigrants

Youth unemployment in Italy has reached 43 percent — its highest rate ever. This doesn't account for the black market, which is vast and includes prostitution, drug trafficking and smuggling of illegal tobacco, among other illegal activities. The Italian government now wants to include such forms of income in its gross domestic product calculations. The thinking is that this "contribution" would bring the country out of its third recession in six years.

Many companies have left Italy, as have many skilled laborers and academics, a so-called "brain drain." Low wages keep educated young people away. And for decades the birth rate in Italy has been declining, and it's now almost to the point where more Italians die than are born. A longer life expectancy and a smaller labor force put further strain on the economy. If it were not for immigration, the overall population would be in decline.

Students in Italy graduate and are unable to find jobs. I am grateful that United Methodist Women has granted me the opportunity of reaching my intellectual personal emancipation and my goals as a student, supporting my studies for the past three years. I am happy to have been able to receive an education in my own country. It has helped me better understand my country's problems. Unfortunately, I do not see a future for myself in Italy.

I have accepted an invitation from my family to move to the United States and continue my education in social work there.

Italy has the most generous, friendly people. The country is beautiful, full of culture and history. It's a great place to visit, and I hope one day soon a great place once again to live.

Salvatore Caruso is a student at Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II in Naples, Italy, from Castel Volturno, Italy. He plans to continue his education in the United States.

Posted or updated: 6/25/2015 11:00:00 PM
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