Month One

Hi, readers.

It’s been a whole month, can you believe it? One down, seven to go. (Not that I’m counting.) Things have gone smoother than I could’ve hoped, despite the fact that I’m tackling the struggles of my first real job in a foreign country, without really knowing anyone, and having to adjust to the language all over again.

Phew.

School is great, and so incredibly unpredictable. One day, the overhead projector doesn’t work, so you better hope your lesson is adaptable. Another day, your class will be bouncing off the walls, and it takes all your patience just to get them to listen. Other days, they don’t make a peep, and you begin lecturing at the nearest brick wall, mostly because it seems more willing to participate than the students themselves.

And yet, I love every second of it. The classroom atmosphere is much different here than in the United States, but I haven’t quite figured out why yet. Students here seem to fear authority less, although that’s a wide generalization. However, I haven’t had too many problems. (Then again, I’m still somewhat of a novelty. I’m not sure if they’ll be so receptive towards the end of the semester.)

For those of you who don’t know, I’m teaching in a tourism and graphic design high school. For now, I’m teaching a wide range of topics, within graphics and tourism, but also other random stuff too. I’ve taught classes on analyzing advertisements, but I’ve also lectured on the American school system, Halloween, and even food. It just depends on the class, and what their teacher wants me to talk about.

Starting in January, I’ll begin lecturing in a wider array of classes, such as art history and Italian literature, which are my two main interests, so that’s exciting!

Enough of the boring stuff. Some other observations:
– I move into my apartment this weekend. It’s a glorious one-bedroom place with a mini-spiral staircase leading up to a loft with an extra bed. It’s in the exact center of town, with my street basically facing the main church. (Photos to follow.)
– Americans really are lazier than Italians. Here, if your destination is within a 5 kilometer radius, you will usually use your bike to get there. For example, I ride 3 km to school and 3 km back every single day. In the states, I would drive my car a block just to go to the local convenience store!
– They have vending machines that sell only milk and polenta. Yes, you read that correctly.
– People dress much differently here. They wear sneakers with pretty much every type of outfit, and lots and lots of scarves! Students dress very differently as well… Not preppy at all. I would say their style is very urban, in fact. Hats, harem pants, chains.
– Everyone here smokes. EVERYONE. EV. ERY. ONE.
– Verona is one of the most charming cities I’ve ever seen in my life. (Didn’t think I would ever utter that sentence after living in Florence, but it’s true.)
– Schools here don’t have a formal dress code, or school lunch, or yearbooks. Seriously, I brought my high school yearbook, and the kids were amazed!

Verona
Verona

Anyway, those are just some random thoughts I’ve had. I don’t want to make this post too long, but I will say this: never before have I had to rely so much on the kindness of others. Being thrown into a situation like this, you have no choice but to be brave and to say ‘yes’ to things. And the people here are absolutely incredible.

They advertised this program as one that required really brave, flexible students who are good under pressure and outgoing. When I applied, I felt like I was pulling the wool over someone’s eyes. (That’s not me. I’m not actually a risk-taker. How am I going to do this??)

The answer, apparently, is day by day. And with relative ease, believe it or not.

Until next time,

-G

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Dove posso cominciare?

Where can I begin?

Ciao lettori,

I’ve arrived safe and sound in Treviglio. I almost started writing as soon as I arrived, but I figured I’d wait until I was a little less fragile.

What do I mean by fragile?

Fragile = being in a frantic haze because on the first day here I only understood half of what everyone was saying, blinking away tears every single time I laid eyes on a dog or heard one bark because I miss my four furry children, or getting all excited because in my strange, jet-lagged exhaustion, I thought I saw my little brother walking down the street. It was quite heartbreaking when I realized that Luke was not, in fact, in northern Italy with me. But don’t worry, I’ve gotten a lot of sleep since then.

Naturally, amidst all this fragility, I was feeling a little gloomy. Not to mention, moving to a foreign country is A LOT OF HARD WORK. I’m sure you couldn’t have guessed that, right? You have to set up a bank account, get a phone with an Italian SIM card, register with the government, and a load of other things. (To say nothing of finding an apartment, a feat which I haven’t yet tried to pursue.) There was a bit of a debacle since I’ve already registered once with the Italian government when I lived in Florence, but alas, it was taken care of.

I live in a beautiful apartment with my adviser, Carla. She’s incredibly kind and I wouldn’t have survived 3 hours let alone the last few days without her help. Since they speak a little differently here compared to Florence, and also about a MILE A MINUTE, I was having trouble initially. Now, after only a few days, it’s like a switch flipped in my brain, and I’m absorbing mostly everything.

I start teaching at the beginning of October. I’d say Treviglio is a smaller version of Florence, with less art. It has those similar winding streets, beautiful architecture, and the occasional renaissance/medieval/etc church that you can stumble upon without meaning to. The people here laugh and say that Treviglio is nothing like Florence, but what they don’t realize is that most every city in Italy is in some way beautiful, and with a long and glorious history of some kind. For example:

Treviglio was founded in the Middle Ages, probably before the year 1000. Yes, 1000. Even though it’s not a center of culture and art, it still has its own museum and historic buildings filled with: you guessed it, artworks and frescoes from centuries long past. I find that pretty incredible.

Anyway, I don’t want to go on forever, so I’ll just include a few pictures and then be on my way.

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A library that just HAPPENED to be a cool church in a previous life.

 

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Her name is Pesca. She’s no Apollo, but she got the job done.
A Treviglio sunset.
A Treviglio sunset.

Well, that’s all for now. See you next time!

-G

Back again

Ciao readers,

Today I’ll be heading to Italy for the third time to teach at the Zenale e Butinone school in Treviglio, Italy! Tune in for some of my random musings, photos, and updates.

Un abbraccio, (A hug,)

Grace

The Misadventure Trips, Part 1: Cinque Terre

Ciao, lettori. (Hi, readers.)

I’m leaving Italy in two days, but instead of doing anything productive, I’m instead going to write about my trip to Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast. This is the first installment, documenting just Cinque Terre.

As far as trips go, these two were really special, mostly because they were chalk-full of the most laughable and downright bizarre moments possible. Buckle in, ’cause this will be a bumpy ride.

CINQUE TERRE

Cinque Terre is a strip of five towns on the coast of northern Italy. The first thing people think of when they hear Cinque Terre are the beautiful, multi-colored houses. They’re actually cool in real life, too. There are hiking trails in between the towns connecting them together, so you can see them all if you’re feeling daring. (Or, for the faint of heart or less physically inclined, you can take a train. Or a ferry!)

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We went by bus to a town near Cinque Terre and then had to get a train from there. Unsurprisingly, there was a train strike! The trains were running intermittently–not completely stopped, but not running according to schedule–so you could either test your luck and try the train, or find a new way.

We decided to get back on the bus, but because it’s mostly winding roads hills, the bus had to let us off at the top of what seemed to be a mountain. I swore that we were perched at the top of the earth. And naturally, from the top of the earth, we had to walk down.

This wasn’t actually too bad. However, we realized after that we would have to walk 30-40 minutes up this massive hill to get back on the buses. Some of us almost didn’t make it, and I pictured all of us trudging through the desert, falling down with exhaustion, gripping walking sticks and constantly seeing a mirage of buses in the distance. I forged ahead, because apart from enjoying your trip, there is nothing as important as having a decent seat on the bus. Thankfully, we all survived.

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We only visited two towns because the trains were on strike and the hiking trails were closed due to bad weather. To get to the second town, we took a ferry, which was a relaxing boat ride with a lot of pretty views.

Yet at the end of the day, while my naive friends and I stopped to get gelato, we didn’t realize that the ferry we had to be on was leaving. We had to meet in the first town at 5:30 to return to the buses, but the next available ferry left at 6. *cue panic*

Let me take this opportunity to say that yes, most people speak English, but it’s damn useful to talk to people in their native language, especially when you really really really really need their help.

My two friends and I ended up learning of a “water taxi” service that would transport us to where we needed to go for 10 euros each. It was a small price to pay, but necessary since we had no other options. Little did we know this water taxi was a minuscule motor boat that nearly tipped over every time it hit a small wave. *cue second wave of panic*

ImageIt was actually a really beautiful way to travel, and despite almost capsizing a few times, we got to see a lot of the coastline that our ferry didn’t get close to. And we got close, all right. At one point, our boat driver (boatman? captain? sailor?) turned the boat straight into the cliffs, and we were sure that he was either a suicidal pirate, or wanted to steal all our crap and then dump us overboard. *third wave of panic ensues*

In reality, he was just a nice man who wanted to show us the little grotto above. It was awesome, and I feel bad that my friends and I were giggling uncontrollably with nervousness.

Despite some pretty intensive walking, a bit of bad weather and a missed ferry, Cinque Terre was still really beautiful. So, the verdict: some misadventures, bad weather and sweat, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

Tune in next time for the second installment: The Misadventure Trips, Part 2: Amalfi Coast. You won’t want to miss it.

-G

SOS

SOS. The unthinkable happened. Seriously guys, the most unexpected thing. It’s pretty freaky. (No, it’s not that I have a boyfriend. HAHA.)

I have come to the realization that I don’t want to leave Italy.

Now, for some, this is like a smack on the forehead, should’ve-had-a-V8 moment. Duh, why would you ever want to leave il Bel Paese? Especially you, little miss Italian major?

Well, for those of you who may not know me well, I am the definition of a homebody. Last time I was in Italy, I had homesickness out the wazoo. I love being home–I love everything about it. You know me, the one who would go home from Penn State on the weekends just to hang with my dog and my little bro?

And just because I study the language and literature, it does not necessarily mean that I want to spend my twilight years in this moldy apartment as the next door neighbor of Michelangelo. (Who was a total jerk in real life.And my apartment is actually really nice and I’m being dramatic.)

But recently, I’ve noticed this creeping feeling. Everyone keeps talking about how the end of the semester is coming up. A lot of my friends are sad to leave, but a surprising amount are ready to get the heck out of here. Some might even classify themselves as ‘miserable.’ And for good reason…for the most part, we’ve been without our family for months. Without American comforts and commodities, real American foods, etc.

But for about a week now, every time someone mentions how excited they are to go home, I feel an overwhelming urge to chain myself to the nearest immovable object in my apartment so that I will have to stay forever. Which is interesting, because if you had talked to me two weeks ago, I would have said that I was ready to get home, too. I was never miserable, but definitely ready. I’m not sure what changed.

I guess it’s just the idea that this experience is coming to a close. This semester that I had anticipated for years…it’s over. And I guess I don’t want it to end. Taco Bell has lost some of its appeal. (Major plot twist. Jeez, how many times have I mentioned Taco Bell on this website? Forgive me.) I’m not really interested in seeing the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Maybe I’ll change my mind again, but to be honest, the thought of home right now doesn’t really leave me feeling elated…it leaves me feeling ‘meh.’ Florence is just too charming. I feel so at peace here.

Hey, to all you peeps at home, I still love you and I can’t wait to see every single one of you. And to give you your gifts. (Which currently occupy a whopping 3/4 of my suitcase.) But I just felt the need to write about this because it’s unexpected.

I thought I knew myself so well. But as Kevin Spacey says at the end of the film American Beauty, it’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself.

I will get around to writing about my day trip to Cinque Terre, but another time. Now, time to get back to work.

And by work, I mean more procrastination.

-G

Grace Kelly Weekend

Hello all! I’m back from another magical weekend traveling around Europe. This time, it was the French Riviera.

I saw Nice, the village of Eze, Monaco and the beach town of Antibes. It was probably my favorite trip so far because there were beautiful things to see and lots of history to learn, but it also felt like a real vacation because we got some beach time in under the palm trees.

Nice was our home base. I’ve actually been extremely lucky so far because all the hostels I’ve stayed in have been really clean and comfortable. The one in Nice, the St. Exupery Villa Beach Hostel (say that 10x fast), had Tempur-Pedic mattresses. And I believe it. It was some of the best sleep I’ve had all semester. Definitely better than the bed I have in my own apartment here in Flo. (Which I’m currently in since ONCE AGAIN I’m sick with what seems to be the flu. The amount I’ve been sick this trip is madness…must be these foreign Italian germs.) But alas, let’s not worry about my ailing health, and instead look on to my magical weekend in the South of France.

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One of my first meals was mussels in a cream shallot sauce. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I usually don’t order mussels ever, but they were really amazing. It was worth the effort having to peel the stuff out of the shells.

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A lovely waterfall at the top of Nice. It was cooooooooold.Image

This place, Fenocchio, has like 65 flavors of gelato. The white one was Kinder Maxi flavor, one of my favorite chocolate bars over here. The pink flavor is ROSE. And it was delicious. Fenocchio also had lavender, tomato and basil and avocado flavor, among others…Wild stuff.

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The views were absolutely incredible.

1463545_10153247393272588_8102189562878726794_nEze was this incredible medieval town, 20-40 minutes away from all the other cities we visited. We went to a profumeria, then hiked to the top of the village. After seeing it, I really understand why the French Riviera is the playground of the rich and famous. If I had enough money, I would want to travel there all the time. It was really one of the most breathtaking things I’ve ever seen.

10154394_10153247391997588_699380226790058398_nThe top of Eze.

IMG_4967I had to take a picture of some Grace Kelly stuff in Monaco. It was surreal being there. Beautiful stone beaches, great sights, yachts EVERYWHERE. I can definitely see her fitting in there.

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Near the Monte Carlo casino, I ordered this French dish: a croque monsieur. It’s ham and cheese baked into a sandwich. I wasn’t even that hungry at this point, but I had to do it. And it was worth it. I also had a crepe of course! (Not at the same time. Otherwise I would have been wayyy too full.) The crepe was cheese, tomato, chicken and avocado. Woah.

Like I said, I think to date it was the best trip I’ve been on. Every trip was different, and I loved all of them, but there was something special about these places in “the French Riv,” and my roommate and I call it, and the way they made me feel. It was so relaxing and so incredibly beautiful. The only place that has a chance at topping this trip is the Amalfi Coast weekend, which I leave for one week from today!

The time is just flying. I have three weeks left in Europe, give or take a few days. And that’s just crazy. I can’t even imagine how I’m going to feel once I’m home…I imagine some intense, backwards culture-shock. On Sunday, I’m going on a day trip to Cinque Terre, so look out for my post about that!

Love,

-G

34/20/28/29

34/20/28/29. I have 34 days, 20 hours, 28 minutes and 29, 28, 27…. seconds left in this country. This much time until I go back home, turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, and all the other sad, annoying allusions I can’t think of right now.

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I have a countdown of it on my phone with a dopey picture of my dog Kota as the background for it. Some probably have a similar countdown on their phones, others would probably yell at me, saying “You’re happy to go home?! Why???”

I have it on my phone for two reasons.

REASON ONE: I’m THRILLED to be going home. The amount of times I’ve cried over my dog is borderline unhealthy. If the shower in my apartment were a person, I would have punched it in the face by now. Multiple times.

I am looking forward to: grocery shopping in my hometown grocery store–the one that has so many food choices. Here in Florence, I love grocery shopping in order to cook, but my options are limited. To be able to grocery shop at home…the meal possibilities are endless. And in that vain, I’m looking forward to cooking for my family more than I did before. I’m looking forward (yes, seriously) to going home and helping my mom clean the house more….because after doing it for four months here, I realize it’s not so terrifying, and it’s kind of relaxing, even.

And I’m excited to do things. Fun things. Many fun thingsI want to walk to the farmer’s market, and actually, finally get to the flea market. And the movies. And shopping. Hiking. Exploring Easton’s historical landmarks. Whatever. Listen, if I could fly to a foreign country by myself multiple times, and jet-set every other weekend, I can sure as heck make it to the Jersey Shore for a day trip or go to NYC for the weekend no problemo. It’s put everything into perspective.

REASON TWO: The second reason I have the countdown on my phone is because….HOLY CRAP I ONLY HAVE 34 DAYS LEFT HOW AM I GOING TO FIT EVERYTHING IN I STILL HAVE TO DO OMG I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME.

It is a reminder that the time is ticking away, and I have to buckle down! There’s still so much to see! I want to:

-Try a few more restaurants
-Climb the duomo at sunset
-See the Medici Chapel
-Spend meaningful time at the Uffizi without leaving because my feet hurt
-A million other things

It’s nearly April, and between the beach trips I’m going on, the friends I have visiting and the schoolwork I’ll have….this is the beginning of the end. It’s so bittersweet, because this last month is filled with some of my most anticipated trips, like French Riviera, Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast, but it’s also going to go by so quickly. Yikes.

So, that’s why I have a countdown. Future study abroad-ers, as if you haven’t heard this enough: IT’S GOING TO FLY BY. So make every second count. I turned around, blinked once and suddenly it wasn’t January anymore, but basically April. My countdown is to remind me that I need to make the most of what time I have left.

It’s going to be such a crazy moment when I watch it hit zero.

Until then,

-G