Thursday, April 18, 2013

I'm doing Italian, and I'm still alive!

I'm sorry. I'm such a terrible blogger. I should have warned you dear readers in my first couple of posts that I am NOT good at keeping a blogging schedule. I have tried blogging once or twice before in the past just to try it, and I failed even worse at that. Which is strange considering I've "won" NaNoWriMo twice, but that's another story... No pun intended.

Okay, so I feel I should put it out there better that if anyone has questions about the trips and the program (especially you Villanova students considering doing this program), please, feel free to ask them in comments. Although I am bad at my current blogging schedule lately, I will answer questions quicker. You deserve answers and an honest opinion on the program, so, if you or your parents, &c. have questions, post them if you wish! :D

And now for the excuse as to why I haven't written anything in a month and a half: I fell really far behind in my readings/translations for my classes, and just couldn't justify to myself working more on this blog before feeling like I made a greater dent in my class material. Granted, I am still behind in my work, but it is getting a bit easier to catch up.

What was going on was this: As you know, in addition to my Italian language class, I am taking two classes through the university in Italian: sociology of culture and social psychology. Registration and scheduling was a hassle, but it finally worked itself out, and I dove into my classwork. In the beginning, even with my 5 semesters of Italian at 'Nova, I couldn't follow my lectures very well. Luckily, though, my professors and their TAs use PowerPoint slides during their lectures, so following along with the topic isn't bad. The TAs talk a mile a minute and go through their slides even quicker (don't worry, the professors themselves, when they teach, actually keep them up long enough to copy it down in full, or at least something coherent when they don't), but translating the slide notes later in the day is a great help. My troubles, however, were in reading the books for the classes.

Surprise, surprise, translating Italian textbooks is challenging. Especially with my sociology class, which has 5 books for the course. Thankfully, though, I spoke with my professors early on, and we worked out a system in which for sociology, I can read any English intro to cultural sociology book I want. (FYI: the libraries here have nothing good in English, so I am still on the look out online for something better... But there is a decent English literature selection in the sociology department's library, which, even though I don't have the time to read them--I'm still working my way through Atlas Shrugged [only 300 or so small-fonted, small spaced pages to go!]--is a supreme delight for my inner bookworm. To put it short, there are no good bookstores here, so I'll take what I can get... But I digress.)... Anyway, my professors let me take on a lighter load for their courses: my sociology prof (who doesn't check her email, btw) says I can read any English intro book, one of the books is translated in English (which reminds me, I still need to get that...), and I still have to read 2 of the books in Italian. Which just so happen to be her own and have not been translated into English. But that's fine. I am in Italy, after all, and those two are short. Getting through them takes forever (translating one chapter takes me a couple days, to tell the truth), but I am slowly making my way through the material. With my psychology class, my professor lets me use the textbook she uses for the English version of her course, and I must also read a book on the Stanford Prison Experiment in Italian. (I still haven't bought that either... I swear, I'm studious.) The English textbook was painfully simple. I swear, the book could have been just a list of glossary terms (which it has), and it would have been just as helpful. Now, I'm sure many of your are thinking, Katrina, what's wrong with that? What's wrong is that I have higher literary standards. I'm sorry if that sounds snobby, but I haven't read a textbook this simple, I think, since middle school. It's just really surprising that a college level class would use this type of textbook.

But, then again, considering how unstructured this country is, I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised.--Readers, Italy doesn't even have a government right now. They had elections last month, no one won, they have no president, no one knows when the next election will be, and I have gotten no straight answer in trying to find out who's running things right now. Keep in mind, too, that their elections happened before the Pope Benedict resigned. The Vatican chose the leader of the Catholic world before Italy could pick a president / substitute after their failure to do so.

I may be sounding harsh on the system and on Italy, but this disorganization has been the cause of much of my stress for the last month. I love Italy. I do. The country is beautiful, the people are nice (even if they do think it's polite to stare intensely at strangers... To "counterattack", I have recently gotten into the habit of glaring back at them, and it works most of the time), and the language is a joy, even if the grammar is as unstructured as the policies at times. Who knows, maybe the freedom in the format of coherent thoughts is partially to blame. Language does shape thoughts after all, so I think it partly reinforces the behavior I've seen and experienced while here. Italy's an interesting place, and while I enjoy it, I would lying if I said I wasn't missing the US. I miss it's efficiency, it's need to get things done, and, of course, being able to understand everything people are saying. To be perfectly honest, I don't feel like I've caught on to the language as well as I should have by this point in the program. But that is, in part, to blame for my being on my own a lot, instead of talking more with my roommates or the people I've met in class. I do talk to them, of course, but since doing my homework, a solitary action if I am to get things done (I'm not a fan of group work), takes me so long, and since I need the web most of the time for it, I am out of my room and on my own in study lounges a lot. Which, of course, doesn't really help with learning a language. So readers, future travelers, this may sound like obvious advice, but really make the effort to talk to people while you're here! I felt like I was learning the most in the beginning of the program, before my classes started, and while I was around my block more. I know classes are a lot of work, but make that effort to speak. It's the "easiest" and best way to learn.

It was also in the beginning that we had fewer trips. Now, I'm saying I don't enjoy them, because I do, but all this traveling and train and bus rides are really tiring (or so it was for me, which also, I'm sure, affected how well I was catching up with my work). In the 3 months we've been here, we have gone to: Lecce, Rome, Rimini, Perugia, Assisi, Gubbio (the last 4 were day trips), and Florence, and on my own, I've gone to Genoa and Pisa (I used my downtime in Florence to go, since it's only an hour away by train), and a group of us went to Venice, as you know, for Carnevale. This weekend, through Villanova, we will be going to Venice, and in May, we will end our tour of the country with Milan. I know what you're thinking: where are all the posts from these trips? Those will come next. I swear, once I'm back from the Venice trip this weekend, there will be a few short bulk posts, or one big one with blurbs from the trips, complete with business excursions (since the VSB group has some, and since there are only 2 of us liberal arts students, we get to tag along sometimes), wine tastings, good food, tourist sites, and wayyyy too many churches to count!

Monday, March 4, 2013

“I’ve got a wonderful feeling everything’s going my way…”

           Or not.
My apologies for another delay in blogging, but, once again, I have had to deal with the red tape and bureaucracy of the Italian ways.
            First off, registration for classes is almost done. Originally, I was planning on taking two sociology courses while I was here through the university, and in the process of applying for these courses, our program director, Pete, made it a point of explaining some of the problems Marti and I may and did encounter for registration. But before I explain those, I would like to take now to inform you all—to give you an idea of how behind Italy is technologically—that everything we’ve had to do for registration or immigration purposes has all been done on paper. And it is because of this that we may face the first of the two issues: that no one can tell us any details about the courses, even in the buildings dedicated  to that particular area of study. Upon handing in the forms, Pete inquired for us about the starting dates of our sociology courses. Despite these people having worked in and with this department for years, they could not even tell us that. Additionally, the website for the sociology department—which was supposed to be updated, up, and running by mid-January—was still not functioning, when we asked about two weeks ago. Since we could get no answers to the most basic question, we were referred to another building. I forget the name (it was some sort of general registration department), but supposedly the paperwork explaining class details could have been there. In addition to basic class details, we wanted to double check with somebody that Marti could take classes in two separate university departments (which apparently is not something one can normally do, although, I believe she has since been granted permission to do so, and will be taking a class in Pesaro, the nearest city to Urbino where the train station is (it is from here where we travel to the cities we’ve visited)). So off we went, and still we got no answers. Instead, we got referred back to the building we had just been to, where we finally did get confirmation. I don’t remember what info was dropped the third go around, but we finally we get answers about when classes were starting: two days prior to our inquiry.
            For me, this meant that I already missed the first day of lessons for my “Sociologia della cultura” class, and would have my first official lesson in about two hours after these meetings. I also learned that my classes would overlap, but that I would still be allowed to partake in both. Personally, I’m not a fan of the practice, but it’s commonly done here—actually, it appears to be even more common not to go to class, in some cases, causing the classes to seem more like supplements to the reading instead of the other way around.
            As I understand it, the Italian government implemented this mandatory teaching program a few years ago, but decided about four years later that the program was not something they were longer willing to accept. So, what this means is that there are thousands of students who completed the program, who are technically trained for it, but are not qualified to teach, according to new government regulations. Because of this, many have to go back to school (in addition to those who were in the middle of completing the same program), causing influx of students and a shortage of qualified professors, who must then establish odd times for their lessons. In Marti’s case, she is signed up for a class that won’t start until April, completed in May; I am in a class that started at the usual time, but will be done at the end of March, if I remember correctly (we are both taking 5-week classes).
            But anyway, to get back to the issue of overlapping classes, I wanted to let my professors know about my situation, so I emailed both about missing some classes to alternate which one I would attend the days of overlap, about why I missed the first lesson (I had found out just that day they started), to ask for a syllabus, and to confirm I could take the exams in English. (The University of Urbino holds English-supported classes, which means I am allowed to read the material and take the tests in English). Since I attended my sociology of culture class, I tried talking to that professor during the halfway break with little translational success, so she told me to email her, and, to me at least, implied that she would get back soon.
            She didn’t.
            In fact, it took her an entire week to respond to my emails. And even then, her information wasn’t particularly useful, to be completely honest. I got the syllabus, but the syllabuses in Italy are nowhere near as detailed as American ones. All they provide really are summaries of what each class day would go over. There’s no mention of textbooks, readings, or even class times.—Everything else is online, and it’s all extremely confusing to find, since: a) the university website is in Italian (duh), which makes navigating an already confusingly constructed website more challenging; b) each department has its own way of setting up and organizing their information, so no two departments are the same; and c) the university site still wasn’t updated completely for that semester, so, even if you could manage to navigate the site, the information wasn’t necessarily up there.—The only “useful” piece of information on the syllabus was the professor’s email address. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that there are class summaries is useful, but, for most of the blurbs, there’s no mention of what you’re supposed to be reading to prepare for the lecture. . .
            But, despite all this, at least I have no real complaints about my second class: a psychology course about behavior in group dynamics. The professor’s Pajardi, whom Pete speaks highly of and has been trying to get students eligible for her classes for years (normally she doesn’t offer classes during the fall, when the VU program has taken place for the last couple of years), and—thankfully—she speaks some English. She actually does offer this class in English, which I tried to take, but couldn’t, due to time constraints. However, I spoke with her, explained I’m an ERASMUS (foreign/international) student, and asked if I could do the work in English, to which she readily agreed. So far, I like both my classes; however, I am biased toward preferring my psych class over my sociology one.
            Would you believe there’s still more to the red tape issues though?
            Since we Villanova students are here for more than 3 months, we have to fill out a “permesso di suggiorno” form, which basically states we have the government’s permission to be here and that we’re enrolled for school (in other words, we’re here for a point, and not to be extra burdens on the government). Well, this process, too, has taken near a month to complete. What can I say? Italians really like paperwork. Anyway, to apply for this form, we had to provide some of the same forms we applied to get a visa: passport, photos (which you get done here for various other documents), a letter proving we have health insurance, and a letter from the university confirming we were accepted into their program and will be living on campus for the time we are in Urbino, in addition to two other forms that more or less say the same thing as the previous one.
            Those who know me know I have little luck when it comes to getting this type of thing done. There’s always an underlying issue. Always. This time around, it was the health insurance letter. They wouldn’t take it! And all because it was in English. Who would have thought documents from an American would be in English?! It’s shocking. Truly. On another note, I wish the interrobang would catch on as an acceptable piece of punctuation. . . (? + ! = )
            Anyway. So. Since the police station (that’s where all this gets done) wouldn’t take my forms after already taking other forms, seeing my passport and my visa, taking my fingerprints, and documenting my Italian phone number (and recording it by hand in a big, old registration book of sorts), they halted the process at my health insurance letter. To rectify this, Pete assisted me this morning in translating my letter and giving the police a copy of my health insurance card. He also said, that, lucky me, I am the first student he has had this problem with (although, he is expecting to see similar problems with Marti)! I’m getting a little tired of being the first for these little problems along the way. First it’s my visa, now this. What ended up being the problem was that the letter from the university stating I was accepted and dorming there states I have to buy insurance through a certain program, despite this not being a legal requirement. Pete assures me my coverage is enough, so I guess we shall see, once we hear back from Pesaro about the status of my paperwork.
            Oh, what a beautiful day, indeed.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Carnevale in Venezia

So the weekend before my Roman holiday, some friends and I decided to spend Carnevale (the weeks-long celebration leading up to Lent similar to our Mardi Gras) in Venezia. As one of the two humanities students here, I have a trip planned for Venice through VU in a few weeks; however, the VSB kids do not, so one of them proposed the trip. I figured this may be my one and only chance to visit Venice during this particular celebration, so… Why not?

Considering the up-coming holiday and on-going celebrations, the trip was relatively cheap. However, the train rides filled up rather quickly. There were about nine of us going, and we decided we would buy our train tickets together. And, naturally, by the time we got around to purchasing my ticket, all the seats on the train everyone else was able to book was filled up, so I ended up traveling alone (which wasn’t a big deal at all, as I already had to do so for my trip to Genova to visit my cousins).

Less than fifteen seconds off the train, I could already see people dressed up in costumes for Carnevale. There were even people dressed up specifically to take pictures with tourists (as was the case in Rome, too). When my friends finally arrived, a few of them commented during our sight-seeing that they were surprised that people of all ages were dressed up—and so elaborately. Mainly people were dressed up like the old royalty and aristocrats of 17th/18th century Venice or Il Dottore, or in the plain white Luna mask and long, colorful, flowing cloaks, but there were plenty others who dressed up as film characters, including Cpt. Jack Sparrow and the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter from the recent Alice in Wonderland film. Some kids were even dressed up as their favorite superheroes or Disney princess. One little girl, though, who couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 years of age, had this elaborate Scarlett O’Hara-type red dress! I wanted to sneak a photo, but decided that probably would’ve been a little weird ahaha To fit in a little better / be a total tourist, my friends and I all bought some Venetian masks from local vendors (they sell much better ones in stores, of course, but, if you’re on a budget—like most of us were—you can still find some really nice, cheap (€5-15) masks on the streets and along the canals of Venice).

Speaking of the canals, no trip to Venice would be complete without a gondola ride. Which is pretty expensive, fyi, so make sure you go in a big group if possible (they can cost up to about €80, so try to go in at least a group of 6-8 to divvy up the price). Our gondolier didn’t sing any traditional Italian music, as they are famous for, but it was amazing enough just to see the city, churches, bridges, and architecture of the old buildings (many of which are four or five hundred years old) straight from the canals. We ended up in lot of other tourists’ pictures, and took many ourselves of the city and the people we saw dressed for Carnevale. It was a ton of fun, but my friends were nervous about the gondola tipping over (we were an odd-numbered size group, so the boat was clearly tipping to one side), so I had to “brave” being the first in and last out haha

After our boat ride, we did some more walking, sight-seeing, souvenir shopping, and had some really bad service at lunch. We split up for a while after lunch—even more than we already were (three people from the VU group who came with my group never ended up going out with us, as they slept through their alarms until two hours after we left having not gotten an answer on their hotel room when we knocked)—and one group had something very weird happen to them: They got lost after visiting some churches, and while they were looking at a map to find their bearings, they were surprised to hear the “Ghostbusters” theme song playing from behind them. They turned to see a group dressed up as the trio for Carnevale approaching them, who then proceeded to blow their map of the city out their hands with leaf blowers they were carrying around as part of their costumes.

No, seriously.

You can’t make this stuff up. It’s too weird.

Anyway, when we finally got reunited with them after dinner (they were wandering around and lost for a few hours), we got ready to go out for the celebration. However, we didn’t stay out very long, because, as it turns out, most of the parties end right around the time most college students would decide is the time to leave (a lot of the parties start in before 8 or 9 and end by midnight). Personally, I didn’t care we missed it; I don’t much care for party scenes in general, and I was finding the Carnevale nightlife creepier the longer we stayed out.

Overall, it was a pretty good time, though, I’m glad one of my friends proposed the trip, and I’m looking forward to seeing how different the city is when I go back to Venice in a couple months through Villanova as part of the program.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Catching Up on 4 Weeks of (Blogging) Nothing: Part I: Roma, la città eterna

Okay, okay. I know I am well over due for another post. I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since my last one; my only defense is that four weekends in a row of traveling is rather tiring… All right, so that’s a bad excuse, but I at least my blog hasn’t been abandoned completely (for whatever that’s worth)!

I guess I’ll work my way backwards with the trips, so over the next week or so, you'll be updated on my trips to Venice, Lecce, and Genoa. (Also, classes started this week, but I already have too much to catch up on with the trips, so my new classes will be in a later post.)

Most recently, the VU group traveled to Roma, la città eterna! (… For you “Lizzie McGuire” fans out there: “Rome, the eternal city. Did no one read the info packets?”) I’m not sure if any description can do it justice, but Rome is beautifully splendid and full of history. I jam-packed a lot of sites in the four days we were there, and, except for one church, la chiesa di San Bartolomeo, I saw everything I wanted to see. Between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon, I saw:

·         The Colosseum
·         Palatine Hill (a ruin site for what’s left of some temples and legal buildings, a church, a building constructed by Caesar (religious sites and buildings constructed by the infamous emperor are the only buildings left completely in tack out of respect, as other buildings were literally taken apart stone by stone to rebuild the city elsewhere after the fall of the Roman Empire), and where Caesar was cremated (it’s a little hidden in a small cave area, but, even today, people still pay their respects and live flowers for the fallen emperor)
·         Where Caesar was assassinated (Et tu, Brute?)
·         The Vatican (climbed all the literal hundreds of stairs to the top of the Dome!) / La Pietà (which is a lot smaller than I expected, although, that may be due to the fact that no tourist is allowed within about 70ft of the statue) – Fun Fact: Those who went Sunday saw the Pope! (Didn’t click with me that he might be there, so I went Saturday morning D: )
·         The Vatican museums / The Sistine Chapel (which is also a bit smaller than what I expected, but still marvelous to see) – Side Note: The Agony and the Ecstasy, a film from the 50’s starring Charleton Heston, is a good old flick about Michelangelo painting the ceiling, for you film buffs out there… :D
·         The Trevi Fountain (tossed a coin, so hopefully I can see that church one day after all!)
·         The Pantheon
·         Piazza Navona
·         The Spanish Steps (had some great gelato here)
·         The meridian line in la Chiesa di Santa Maria
·         The statue of Moses, also by Michelangelo
·         Il Museo Centrale di Risorgimento, a military history museum and national monument constructed by and dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II (my personal favorite because of this disturbingly amazing exhibit by Ali WakWak that was inspired by the Libyan conflicts in 2011. In this exhibit, all the works were constructed out of war materials, e.g. rusting helmets, guns, and ammo)
·         And a million other churches lol
·         I also briefly saw the planetarium, but didn’t have the time to / didn’t want to pay for the ticket to properly see the one-room building

Would it surprise anyone to know that I literally took hundreds of pictures while I was there? No really. I watched the countdown on my camera. Obviously, I consider Rome an experience I hope to relive someday, and, if there’s any truth to the Trevi Fountain superstition about tossing a coin, I will.

Next entry: Venezia!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Getting Back into the Groove of Things

After a few days of what I can only guess to have been something like dolce far niente, complete with lazy afternoons and nights out to local discoteche, yesterday the VSB kids have started their business classes, and all of us have started our pre-semester Italian courses. We are divided into two groups: intro for those who have never studied Italian prior to this program, and intermediate for those of us who have. There are four of us in my intermediate class, our experiences ranging from 2-5 semesters of Italian classes. Our professoressa, Silvia, is young, speaks very little English, and gave us the lovely task of taking a quiz so that she would know how well we understand the Italian language. I don’t think anybody finished the entire thing, as it covered everything from presente to future semplice to congiuntivo presente tense (which I don’t think most people know what that is in English, let alone Italian!), so the test served its purpose. Our class is taught entirely in Italian—as it should be—and Silvia is very patient with us and our questions, and we all help each other if we still can’t understand her explanations during group discussions and activities.
In addition to starting our language class, Marti and I have been discussing with Dr. Cullen what classes we will be taking through the university this semester. We are both looking into sociology classes, and are now waiting on the professors here to obtain more information about them before officially registering. Furthermore, we used today to discuss an art studio class we’ll be taking while we are here. I don’t remember the name of the artist we will be working with, but it looks like we will be having about seven workshops with him, and we may have to travel to Milan or Bologna for some of our workshops; however, we are trying to see if they can be taken closer to the university.  To give us an example of what we will be learning about, Dr. Cullen showed us works from The Americans (1958), a collection of photos by a Swiss photographer, Robert Frank, who spent two years traveling across post-war America, and this book is a depiction of his impression of the States. I really liked what I saw, but, according to Dr. Cullen, the collection was unappreciated and criticized in its time for its somewhat negative depiction of America (the country came across as unhappy, divided, and confused about our identity as individuals and as a country in several photos). Frank couldn’t even publish it through an American publishing company at first, and had to do so in France instead. However—and this will be part of the focus of our course—one must keep the artist’s frame of mind and intentions behind each photo, each piece of art. In this case, the artist was Swiss-born, so his photos reflect the impressions he made during his relatively short stay in Cold War-era America as an outsider of the culture. In this art studio, we will be learning about how to use our chosen media to best convey our meaning and how to recognize why we are inspired by what we observe and will depict in our art pieces.
Before the weekend, Dr. Cullen also mentioned extra activities the group may do here: a cooking class, jobs, and volunteer work. A friend (I think) of Dr. Cullen has expressed a willingness to teach a cooking class to us while we are here since it was a success the last time it was carried out, so once or twice a week starting in a few weeks, we will have the opportunity to partake in it. Almost (if not) everyone showed interest taking it, so this should be fun J Dr. Cullen also mentioned that our visas will permit us to work about 20 hours per week during our stay here. So, some of the VSB kids have expressed interest in finding jobs, and Marti and I asked about volunteer work.  Dr. Cullen offered to look into a program he knows of for which we would have the chance to teach English to elementary school students for a few hours during weekends, so we are still waiting on an update for that.
                On another note, I feel as though I had two personal successes today. Firstly, with the help of Lucia Bartolucci, who works in the Servizio Ricerca e Relazioni Internazionali department at the university, I was able to finally navigate the bus and train systems. For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to visit relatives I have in Genoa, but couldn’t quite figure out how to go about it. However, now I see that the systems really aren’t as tricky as I originally thought, so now all I can do is hope transferring trains goes just as smoothly ^_^ And second, on a more trivial note, I got two answers right in a round of the board game “Taboo” with my flatmates. Huge success!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Education, Communication, and Exploration

                We’ve had a pretty lax few days when it comes to the program. Mainly we’ve been focusing on completing forms permitting us students to stay in Italy for our academic programs and determining what level of Italian classes we will be taking before and during the spring semester. I, alongside Marti—the other student in a humanities program—will be taking an intermediate level, whereas the VSB group will be taking an intro level. Most of the VSB group hasn’t taken any sort of Italian language course, but are showing enthusiasm to learn, much to Dr. Cullen’s delight. We’ve also been discussing the additional classes we’ll be taking when the semester finally does kick in: The VSBs have a set schedule with the choice of 1 of 2 electives (an Italian culture or economic history course); Marti and I have 3 set classes (2 language classes and a culture course) and have the choice of any two additional electives to take while we’re here through the University of Urbino itself. Most likely, these electives will be taught in Italian with English assistance (although, some courses here taught entirely in English). I think we’re all starting to look forward to starting up classes. Although the free time is ideal to explore Urbino, observe the culture, get some much needed rest, and get to know some of the students we’ve met and each other, a set routine is somewhat missed.
                To get to know the people and the area a little better, some of the group has gone out to local bars and discoteche. I was still recovering from a cold the night the group went clubbing and couldn’t go out, but those that did ended up meeting not only Italians but also some English students here for study abroad, as well as a small group from Texas. I don’t know these people well myself, but I have been using the last couple of days to get to know the girls in my “block” (it’s a bit difficult to describe, but basically my dorm area is set up in a way that I share a kitchenette/living space with seven other girls, one of whom lives about 10 minutes from San Pier Niceto, Sicily, and has said I can visit her when I travel down there this July J ) and a couple of their boyfriends and friends. It’s been an overload of new faces in an out of my block (for a couple of days I don’t think I saw a face twice!), but I finally have everyone’s name down, and have been able to converse and hang out with them in the evenings. Most of the group knows some or is learning English, so we’re quite able to break the language barrier (what a relief!). Mainly we just speak in Italian, and they’ll try to translate what I can’t understand, but at least one, Paolo, has insisted that I speak in Italian to him while he responds to me in English. He and another, Eugenio, take English and had their final today, so Paolo insists I correct his grammar when we talk to improve, and vice versa.
                Speaking of their finals, I’ve been finding out that their exam time lasts about a month here. And despite that—despite all the days her finals could’ve been scheduled, one of my flatmates, Michela, a law student, has four exams this giovedì, poor thing. Exams here are mainly oral exams—as mine will be when it comes time to take them (although, if it is an English assisted class, I should have the option to take it in my language)—and will be taking place until the first week or so of February, with the second semester starting mid-February. Another thing about exam time that I found interesting: many students choose to go home to study and come back the days they have exams. Personally, I think I would find that rather counterproductive, but I guess it works for them.
                But anyway, some of my friends from VSB and I have also been introducing ourselves to this culture by, of course, exploring the city itself. On the first sunny day we had since our first full day here, we took advantage of the sunshine and weather to pick a direction in the piazza and see what’s where and where the road leads, and ended up on the far outskirts of Urbino. Along the way, we passed a number of the university’s buildings, including the Sociology and a registration building, and a couple small university librerie. And, oddly enough, at what we perceived as the end/edge of town, we came across Canyon, a Texas-themed restaurant. It’s cool to know I can get American food while I’m here, but at the same time, it’s strange to see how they perceive Americans here in Urbino (assuming, of course, that the owner was not from Texas himself). The image of the stereotypical American culture/cuisine seems to be cemented in Spaghetti Western films. There were images of cowboys, cacti, horseshoes, and Hispanic-influenced objects all over the walls of this tiny restaurant, complete with country music playing in the background. Aside from that, the long walk was definitely well worth the distance for the view. Past the long line of homes, bars (cafes), and pizzerias, and down the extremely steep hills in Urbino, there is a lovely little recreational spot with a breathtaking view of what I believe are the Apennine Mountains. You can see miles of undeveloped land and hills, some secluded homes, and even the university itself. Walking from the piazza, taking the steeper road, it probably takes almost an hour to get there, but only about 20 minutes if you take the leveled road, which passes the duke’s palace and oversees the once Jewish ghetto, and also leads you directly back to the piazza, making a convenient afternoon walk for the next pleasant day.
                Which probably won’t happen for a while since snow is on the way! Huzzah!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

First Impressions

First, please allow me to say that I do not apologize for this or any future excessively long posts ^_^

I’ve been in Italy for three days now, and so far it’s been fantastic! Those who know me know that I’ve been waiting for an experience like this for years, and am ecstatic to be here. However, that’s not to say there haven’t been a few minor mishaps these last few days.

For me, as I already mentioned before, I almost got denied my visa. When we got to Bologna, one of the business students from ‘Nova here for a new VSB program temporarily lost her luggage. (I should explain that there were 2 recommended group flights for this trip: one from the US to Frankfurt, Germany, and another from Frankfurt to Bologna, Italy (the view of the Alps during this flight was breathtaking! Once I better figure out the Internet access technicalities here, I'll include photos). From there (Bologna) we took a 2 hour bus ride to the university.) As it turns out, her luggage—two large suitcases, mind you—got stuck in Frankfurt, so they took an extra day to arrive. Luckily, though, nothing was permanently lost or stolen. Meanwhile, I thought I was going to get stopped in Frankfurt. During what was apparently customs, everybody else from ‘Nova was whizzing through this portion of the airport: They just had to say they were going for study abroad after handing over passports/visas, and off they went. I, of course, got questioned about where I was going, for what, how long, and the employee checking my documents made it a point of sternly telling me he observed I have a German last name, to which I briefly explained I am of German heritage. Given my issue at the Italian Consulate over my family heritage, I thought I was going to face a similar problem in Germany, but I guess it was just a failed attempt at small talk, in which case a friendlier tone would’ve been much appreciated. Also, my first full day here, I accidently locked myself into my room and a bathroom within a span of five minutes. The doorknobs on this campus are weird. I don’t know why, but instead of turning the knob, you turn a lever and press a button. My door and the bathroom door I used were, of course, broken. I had to slide my room key under the door to one of my flatmates—this one, by the way, made a Hurricane Katrina reference upon introductions! Even here in Italy I can't escape it... >.<"

There are about 17 of us from Villanova here at the University of Urbino: two of us are in the humanities, the rest are sophomores in the VSB program. Only three of us speak any Italian, and, much to my surprise, I’ve been the most “fluent” out of all of us (although, two students fluently speak Spanish, so I don’t expect to hold this title for very long once the VSB intro Italian class starts). I was even able to quite easily converse with my flatmates the day I arrived for well over an hour. The language barrier is still there, of course, but they and a lot of the locals we have met so far speak some English. When it comes to my flatmates, we’re helping each other improve upon the language we speak and the language we are learning. (That, and having 3 dictionaries on me at almost all times helps haha Obvious tip that isn’t quite so obvious with our group: Keep at least one dictionary on you. I make sure to keep my general Italian to English dictionary with me, and I also have a phrasebook and the travel guide book I received from the OIS, which has a brief glossary of most-used/helpful words and phrases toward the back  (honestly, I don’t think many people read through it much, as they didn’t know about this feature ^_^;). I also brought my intro textbook with me, as it was the most useful and clearly explained textbook I’ve had in my 5 semesters of Italian classes. Obviously, you don’t need to have everything on you or even bring this many, but...

When it comes to the business students, at least four or five people used Rosetta Stone or some similar program before coming, and I’ve mentioned a program called ItalianPod101, a free program you can download online to use in iTunes, to them. Mostly, everyone else is just winging it, though, picking up what words they can during outings, which, so far, seems to be serving them well!

In the three days we’ve been here, we’ve mainly been exploring the “city” of Urbino. It’s small, but quaint. The buildings are charmingly constructed, and—this being the only downside—everything is a very steep uphill climb. I suppose after a couple weeks, we’ll get used to it, but for now… Also, a lot of people smoke here. In fact, so many do that I barely notice the cigarette smell anymore. It’s not that they don’t fear the health repercussions like we Americans do, but, as one of my flatmates’ friends has explained to me, it’s a need for the Italian people as a way to unwind and relax (especially now that finals are approaching for the regular students here!). But I digress. Urbino is a small town on a mountain that was built centuries ago that has become, more or less, a college town, but has also been shaped by over two thousand years of culture. On the edge of the town is the castle of the Duke of Urbino that--due to its age (built c. 1370), value, and history--miraculously survived the German invasion of WWII. We students are hoping the building now serves as a museum so that we may see it inside. Much of the city has preserved its ancient history through the preservation of the architecture of homes, the lack of road expansion and urban development (even the alternate route to this section of town still has not expanded the paths once used for walking or riding mules for modern-day cars), &c. But even its modern history can be seen in one of the elementary schools in town. Saturday morning, after passing through a small mercato, we came across a school that had been dedicated by none other than Mussolini himself. The front of the school has whited out a fascist creed declaring the education plan to indoctrinate its students, but has not removed the fascist seal from Il Duce. The colors have been washed off, but the seal itself is still there, giving out "mixed signals" about the school's views, as Dr. Cullen, the program director, put it. Fascism itself was never fully accepted in Italy, but the effects are still present it seems.

Town is just a quick walk away--maybe half a mile--and there is still much to be explored. Some of the VSB students who went out to find clubs have especially noticed the difference in the town between day and night. Being that it is an old city and not a touristy area, the town has a relaxed, slower paced feel during the day, but is much more alive at night.--It is still a college town, after all.