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Firenze in Primavera

April 17th, 2009 by ceocon10

Florence has become one of the most popular tourist spots in Italy. As much as the economic crisis is still affectingthe traveling industry, the stream of tourists that arrive in Italy everyday shows no sign of these problems. In fact, next to Rome and Venice, Florence is becoming one of the most popular tourist sites in Italy. Maybe that explains why even with the chill in the Florentine air, the line that arrives with tourist season for entering the Brunelleschi-completed “Duomo” is still making its way around the side of the church. As the Duomo reigns as the biggest attraction on the religious front, in sports, “C’e’ calcio!” Or, in sports, there’s only soccer. Not to be confused with, of course, “football Americano.” For the Italians, soccer is referred either as “football” or “calcio” so when we mention Holy Cross’ Crusader football team, for example, tacking on the “Americano” after is of utmost importance to avoid one of those confusing cultural misunderstandings. On Sunday, accompanied by our University director, Elisa, we headed to an exciting afternoon soccer game at “Lo Stadio,” the beautiful stadium of the “Viola Fiorentina.” Interestingly enough, Florence’s colors are also purple, so don’t hesitate to fill up your backpack with some of your Holy Cross attire because you will surely fit right in on a game day. As we made our way around the large complex, we could hear the players’ names being announced, and I tried to perk up my ears to hear the famous Mutu, #10, or Gilardino, #11, my house-sister’s favorite player. Just two years ago, her mini-soccer league was invited to stand on the field during the 15-minute “intervallo” (half-time) and take pictures with the players. She stood next to one of the best players, Gilardino, and so, when she heard I was going to go to the game and I hadn’t bought any proper “viola” sportwear, she gave me her Fiorentina scarf to be a true fan! And to give my best to Gilardino, of course!

Our seats were in the section that received the direct sunlight, and as Sunday was one of the nicest days in Florence we’ve had since before the winter cold, it was prime soccer viewing. Each half runs for 45 minutes with a 15-minute “intervallo” in between. During the first half, I sized up the stadium, which Elisa had explained to us. Although the shape appeared to be an oval, it was designed to be a “D,” representing “Ducce” or the ancient Duke that ruled the city. There were four different fan sections: the “Curva Fiesole,” populated by the “pazza” (crazy) fans that stand on their feet and cheer Fiorentina chats throughout the game; Curva Ferrovia, the somewhat more tamed version of the Curva Fiesole; the Maratona, our lovely section where the fans remain seated; and the Tribuna, the V.I.P. section. In between our section and the Curva Ferrovia was a boxed-in section for the opposing team. What I didn’t realize at first was that these fans were actually locked into this space because of the incredible violence that often results from the crazed soccer fans, particularly because the soccer stadium is rarely a place where you will encounter many women. With “paralacchie” (Italian curse words) flying left and right, soccer brings all of the Italian men together, which made for some amusing eavesdropping on our part since it was just we ladies at the game. The “ghiabotto,” as the caged is referred to as, is the only stand where the opposing team can get seats. If the opposing teams’ fans don’t fit into those seats, they cannot come. Even more incredulous was towards the end of the game, the announcer actually came over the loudspeaker and announced that the doors to the “ghiabotto” would not be opened until one full hour after the game when all of the Fiorentina fans would be safely clear of the stadium and the Senese (from Siena) fans could leave in peace! And this was considered a peaceful soccer game! Mamma Mia! The true action of the game didn’t start until the end of the second half (apparently, from what we overheard from our surrounding male neighbors, both teams were playing unusually poor). But, the famous Fiorentina team didn’t let their fans leave without at least one exciting feat. As the players eased the ball down the field, with their agile feet tricks, Mutu got the ball and made the goal to make the score 1-0 for the Fiorentina! In my excitement, I found myself on my feet with all the surrounding Italians, hooting and hollering “Bravo!” just like a soccer regular. Overall, it was a great day, and another interesting Italian learning experience. It’s a good thing that they don’t include foreigners in the mix of the “opposing team” or else my first soccer experience might not have been so pretty. But then again, we’ve been here long enough to know how to blend in with the Italians. Ed allora, forza viola! (And so, go purple!)

March 20, 2009

March 20th, 2009 by ceocon10

I cannot believe it—March 20th! Where does the time go? Last time I was journaling to you, I was all in a flutter for my first Italian university exams, and looking back now, all that worrying was for nothing (as it usually is). With every new cultural difference that my group here and I encounter, it seems that it is always a bigger deal at the beginning and then afterwards, I don’t even remember what I was so hyped up about. This semester, I went into my Letteratura Inglese class with a positive attitude and knowing that I would be able to understand a whole lot more than I did the first time around. In a way, taking this class makes me feel like I’m cheating the “Italian immersion idea” a bit because some of the literature is in English, like Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe or Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. However, now that I’m really getting into the course, I’ve realized that the Italian professors’ approach to literature is completely opposite to how I’ve studied it at Holy Cross. The actual literature is the least important part of the course, and we, as students, are expected to polish off books in one week’s time so that we can study what the professors actually teach—the criticisms. And after I started reading these, I don’t feel so much like I’m working around the Italian language because all of the criticisms are in Italian; and even moreso, they’re all by professors right from the Università degli Studi a Firenze! It has made for an interesting course considering my professor favors the feminist approach to all of the works that we are covering this semester. I’m enjoying it thus far…and after all, when can I say again that I took a Feministic Literature course taught completely in Italian?

Getting back into the “study mode” was a bit of a struggle because after our university exams, we had three entire weeks off from university. However, we did still have our daily CLIDA classes with our trendy “professoressa,” Maria. Going to the language school does not even seem like school anymore. In fact, as I sit here write now, I’m writing from the “salone” area of the school or the open social area that leads into the individual classrooms. But, aside from the fact that the school is in a beautifully renovated “palazzo” from the times of the Medici and the other art greats, the school has a “home” atmosphere. Sure, we do our studying, our homework, and those ever-popular grammar exercises, but when it’s time to have conversation, we talk about all facets of life: our lives, the difference between cultures, the Italian lifestyle, the food….I can go on and on. It’s funny to say this, but Maria, our teacher, probably knows the same about all of us as our host families do. She is such an incredible woman! None of us can quite determine her age, and I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that she dresses so impeccably and hip or if it’s the fact that she has the spirit of a college student. Whatever it is, we all can’t get enough of her, and even on the days when university is cancelled to another one of Italy’s infamous “scioperi” or strikes, we all make our way to CLIDA at 9 am all the same. At this point, we’re all pretty much into our second semester routines –university classes, occasional weekend trips, and finally, our preparation for our Final Exam at CLIDA! I can’t believe we’re already on our way to wrapping up the necessary CLIDA hours. It’s a little different for everyone because all of our hours at university vary, but around the second week of April before Easter is upon us, we should be just about completed with our owed class time. Although I guarantee you that I won’t be the only one who will still be dropping by to see Maria more than one day a week ☺ Alla prossima!

January 19, 2009

January 19th, 2009 by ceocon10

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 Last Wednesday was one of those days that reminded me of the word I heard so much when I was applying to the Study Abroad program: immersion. After all of the built-up apprehension and pre-exam jitters, I did it. I made it through my first Italian exam! Although it was a written exam instead of the typical oral one that differentiates Italy’s academic system from ours, it was an amazing feeling passing in that test! I’d refer to my post-exam mood as an “Italy high”, or as we say more frequently amongst our group here, “a good Italy day.” I don’t know if I’ve used this expression before, but it’s become a phrase that is very appropriate for my study abroad experience. Now that my everyday routine has gradually lessened the magical awe of Italy from when I first arrived, it’s always very noticeable to me when I’m doing something very Italian. Luckily, our director from the Universita’ degli Studi a Firenze, Elisa, plans monthly cultural events for us where we can have these types of Italian experiences. Our events have run the gamut from a Chianti wine and olive tour to a night out for dinner and a variety show at the famous Teatro Verdi. Last Wednesday, our cultural event took a more artistic turn as we all got our chance to learn the history of the Teatro della Pergola, an ancient theatre right on my home street in Florence, followed by our own workshop time at an “artigianato” (handicraft) typical of Italy and Toscana. Our group was split up into two — one that created their own picture frames and mine that created our own leather-bound notebooks or journals, whatever purpose we would choose for them. Passing by the theatre everyday on my walk to school always made me want to pop in and see the beautiful interior, but I never had a good reason to enter before since I wasn’t buying any tickets or things of that sort. We had a wonderful tour guide who spoke with such a passion for the theatre that even in the overheated rooms, I couldn’t help but to listen as she spoke of the famous ancient families of Toscany that had their reserved viewing boxes, elegantly displayed by each family’s respective coat of arms that are still saved to this day in the entrance room of the theater! We received a complete tour of the theater, including both the back and front stage views as well as a glimpse to the ancient devices used for sound effects such as wind and rain. This upcoming weekend, we will actually be attending a play there so I’ll have to update soon on how one of the theater’s annual 160 plays fares with the Holy Crossers and myself. Chi sa! Who knows!

Right after the theatre visit, we went our separate ways, and with Elisa’s upbeat and energetic assistant, Cristina, we walked to a little artisan store a couple blocks from the Ponte Vecchio called “Il Torchio.” The shop was quaint and exactly what I imagined a traditional handicraft store to be. It was run by a lovely, older Italian woman named Anna, who works closely with a young, Canadian girl, Erin, teaching her the ways of the trade. It was a great afternoon, and I particularly enjoyed watching Erin work with Anna. Not only was Erin’s Italian impeccable after being in Italy for only two years, but the grandmother-granddaughter relationship between the two was simply comical and a pleasure to watch. They instructed us from start to finish on the initial sewing of the pages together; adding the hard covers with the messy and very intense glue; meticulously applying the leather pieces to the spine and the angles for a balanced finish with our personally selected paper designs; and cleaning up our mess with a finisher over the leather. The whole process lasted over 3 hours, but it was a true glance into the painstakingly slow and precise world of the artisan. All of the shop’s books, calendars, agendas, photo albums, and things of the like were handmade. And with a shop being run by just these two ladies, you can only imagine how much time and energy is put into the work! And so, with yet another monthly peek into the secret cultural world of Florence that I hope to continue to unravel, I can only say that it simply was a “good Italy day.”

January 15, 2009

January 15th, 2009 by ceocon10

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 It’s back to Florence for the semester! After quite the extended break of celebrating with my family and friends at home in America, I made my return to Europe for yet another celebration, or should I say two. Along with Whitney, we took a flight out from Boston to meet up with another Fiorentina, Amanda, to spend our New Year’s and my 21st birthday in Paris!!! Arriving on the 30th in the city of love and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, our vacation kicked off with rolling in the New Year just underneath this historical landmark where we three, along with another 15 HC-ers met up together for a true Holy Cross reunion. And even better, just two days later, I was able to spend my birthday walking along the snow-covered streets of Montmartre and sipping “vin chaud” (hot wine) with a view of the entire city at night. It was a vacation to remember, for sure. And now, I’ve returned to my second home — my Florence.

As for the academic life, we didn’t have much time to breathe because the Italian school system, as we’re learning, has many differences from the American universities. Exams take place over a period of two months, offering two “tries” to earn a degree of passing. Obviously, we all opted for the first opportunity to have a break from university before the next semester begins at the end of February. Having two exams in the first semester has proven to be very difficult for me, and I’ve been spending much time studying between lessons with my tutors as well as having our normal lessons at our language school, Dante Alighieri. However, do not be afraid — it is a doable thing. Going into it knowing what you are up against is my best advice for everyone. Matt and I took Geografia, a two-part class dealing with the relationship between the population and the environment, and branching out into a basic economic understanding of the market and general world economy up until this period of time. With this type of course, it requires two exams —a n oral and a written exam. Once that one is finished, it will be just two more to go, and I can say hello to the official start of a new semester. It’s a strange feeling being here and watching all the new students arriving, frantically carrying around their maps and struggling with their Italian. I look at them, and I feel the smile on my face, remembering how that was once me. And now, I’m ready to enjoy myself and take my language level to the top. But before I get carried away with myself, keep your fingers crossed for me for my exams!

A presto!

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December 4, 2008

December 4th, 2008 by ceocon10

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Well, I have some catching up to do! Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, Firenze has never seemed more festive in all of my time here! I cannot even describe how absolutely wonderful it is to be going through the hectic preparations for “Natale,” popping in and out of little specialty shops and walking through the grand open markets of Saint Ambrogio and Santa Croce. Although the Italians surely know how to celebrate their Christmas holiday, it sure is strange how they don’t quite understand the Thanksgiving holiday. Half of them seem to believe that it is just a big eating day once a year, yet they also can’t fathom why we wouldn’t have pasta as our first course and then our turkey afterwards. The other half thinks that we are either celebrating our independence after the war from the British or something about the Native Americans. Either scenario is comical, especially since most of the restaurants attempt to make some close resemblance to a turkey (tucchino) with stuffing (ripieno), and in their valiant efforts, they cook it the day before and the majority of Fiorentini — the people of Florence — were saying “Happy Thanksgiving” on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Despite all of these comical cultural differences, Thanksgiving was a huge success, and I felt completely fulfilled as having a half American, half Italian celebration.

Amanda, one of the other students in our Holy Cross group and one of my good friends from school, went to the English speaking mass at the Duomo two weeks ago and stumbled upon a religious group for American students studying abroad called the St. Thomas More Society. It’s run primarily by students and directed by Fr. Mario, an incredible young priest who is from America but also speaks five languages and is a serious advocate of having active youth in the Church, including while studying abroad! Amanda and I have been attending some of the events that are offered, and we signed up to help with the baking for the big Thanksgiving feast. Most of the weekly dinners are held at this cute little restaurant, “Gusto Leo,” a two-minute walk from the Duomo where the owners always reserve a full room just for our group to meet. For Thanksgiving, we had an entire room with two long tables for almost 30 people, including students from Fairfield University, California State University, and other places scattered throughout the U.S. There were also two Italians interested in having a little English-Italian conversation, Jada and Marco. Amanda and I met up with one of the student coordinators, Jana (pronounced “Yana”), in the afternoon, and together with her friend from the States, Kaitlyn, we concocted our own versions of apple pies, pumpkin pies, and chocolate chip cookies from the available American-type ingredients that Italian supermarkets offer. Quite the entertaining experience! And with a house smelling of all the “homey goodness” of the holiday season, who wouldn’t be in the festive spirit? As we took our many pies and cookies on the city bus with us, all heads turned to what we were holding with complete interest until one Italian finally asked about the pumpkin pie. When he heard that it was pumpkin, he had a look of complete shock and he exclaimed, “Ma come si fa???” In other words, but how can you do that?!

The dinner itself was nothing short of a dream Thanksgiving celebration for me. Surrounded by not only this wonderful group, and with Amanda, Jen, and Jenny’s company from Holy Cross, we feasted like no other Thanksgiving. And I’m being completely literal because we not only had a turkey and potatoes; but we also had pasta, cheese, and foccacia bread due to the Italian chefs’ insistence. As the Italians say, “Sempre cosi,”or,“This is always the case.” We finished the meal with our delicious desserts, and by the end, it was midnight before the chefs were wishing us a good night and a happy end to the holiday. I’ve always said that the Italians know how to enjoy themselves, and after that night, I definitely learned how true I was!

Now, only two weeks before I make my big homecoming to Pennsylvania, I can’t get enough of Florence. I would absolutely love to see all the celebrations here, in the piazzas, by the Duomo…it must be beautiful! As the lights are being strung throughout the streets, walking through the city always feels right out of a movie. I recently had a house change into the downtown area, and although I’m still adjusting, being closer to all the action of the city has been incredible. My new host family, Katia, and her adopted 12-year-old daughter, Ami, keep the apartment alive and hopping everyday. It’s always reminding me of life back in high school where my brother and sister and I were always out and about with my parents going from one event to the next. The only challenge is that I have to keep up with their fast-paced talking! This upcoming weekend is one of the biggest religious festivals in Italy, the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8; many Italian families get their Christmas trees at this time and everyone has school and work off! My cousins from Foligno invited me to spend this time with them and do some Christmas shopping for my family away from the hustle and bustle of the Florence streets. I’m so excited! I’ll make sure to have lots of details about the festival as soon as I get back.

A presto!   

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November 16, 2008

November 16th, 2008 by ceocon10

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It’s hard to believe that so much time has gone by since I’ve last written. Now that Florence is becoming more and more my own, the difference between September and now for me is uncanny. Every Sunday, when my parents and I have our official phone call to say our true hellos–not a rushed phone call during the week to save our pennies or an e-mail update during the day — I always feel like I should be telling them how much I miss America and how much I can’t wait to come home until Christmas. And although living in Italy has shown me an entirely different culture and made me appreciate so many of the things of America, I can’t ignore the fact that the reason why I came to Italy was to be immersed in a different culture. If I wanted to find America in Italy, I wouldn't be here. However, at the same time, it’s going to be wonderful to go home and see my family for the holidays. In my opinion, I definitely could have stayed in Italy and traveled for the holidays with my friends who are staying here, or with my family, for that matter.

After being in Italy since August, I feel like I can look back on the way that I’ve grown with the language since I’ve been here. This past weekend, I went back to Foligno in Umbria, where my family lives. I was so excited because not only was I going to see my cousin Marta and her parents, Caterina and Vasco, but Marta’s sister, Lisa, and her husband, Stefano, were also planning on journeying down from Rovereto in the North of Italy to spend the weekend with us. We hadn’t all been together since I went to visit the second weekend of September for Foligno’s annual festival that celebrates the different neighborhoods or “rioni.” However, plans changed at the last minute and Lisa and Stefano were not able to come anymore because Lisa had a sudden appointment on Saturday to student teach as part of her teaching courses. I still decided to go, and it probably was the best thing for me to keep up my spirits and my perseverance with Italian. Every now and then, I have to admit that the frustration and fear of not improving my Italian comes over me. But then, there’s always moments or things like this past weekend that keep pushing me along. As soon as I got to their house, I felt so wonderful to be with my family that I just relaxed when I spoke, and by the end of our first “cena” on Friday night, not only were the words flowing from my mouth, but I even was using the Italian gestures. I didn’t even realize it until Vasco commented on how Italian I looked. I can’t even begin to express how pumped I was…and still am, obviously! Later, Marta and I were talking about things to do in Florence because she studied architecture there for three years, and we got on the subject of movies. She suggested we go to a late movie in Italian, and even though I had my doubts, I thought, what the heck? The worst that could happen is that I would only be able to appreciate the picture. We went to see Changeling, the new movie about post-World War II with Angelina Jolie and her lost child. When I got into the movie, at first I could feel myself concentrating, but as the movie went on, I forgot that I was even listening to it in a different language. Walking out of that movie felt more of an accomplishment for me than all the Italian language class I have in a day. Now, trust me, it wasn’t always like this. I’ve had some pretty funny and odd moments in my learning of the language. To this day, I still confuse words and accidentally say another word when I mean something completely different…but for me, it’s all part of the experience. One of my first “moments” was the first time I spoke with Irene on the telephone. In front of all of my cousins, I was trying to explain to her that I loved eating everything that I had just eaten for lunch. But instead saying everything (“tutto”), I said, everyone (“tutti”). I don’t think she knew how to respond to hear that I loved eating people. Another one of my favorites is how I was explaining to my conversation teacher during September how people on the bus always laugh at me like I’m such a foreigner when I try to get off the bus. And my teacher asked me what I was saying to politely make my way to the door. I informed her that I was saying “promesso” (I promise) instead of “permesso” (Excuse me), thinking that obviously they were chuckling to themselves about my American-ness. No wonder people laughed at me. I might as well have had my hand up in the air in traditional girl scout style to complete my mistake! Knowing that I can go from these embarrassing moments to listening to a movie completely in Italian helps me to really see my improvement here. This week will probably be the most relaxing week I've had in a while here in Florence since for the most part, there is nothing too major going on except for my studies and the visit of a couple of the Strasburg girls in France, although there's nothing like being able to show the city off to people!

Tonight, we have one of our cultural events with Laura, our young, hip cultural director for a dinner and a night “spettacolo” or show in the downtown area. As always, I'm excited because whenever we go to these events, they are always phenomenal. We just found out a couple of weeks ago that our university director here, Elisa Camporeale, arranged for our visit to one of the most exclusive museum exhibits in all of Florence, the Vasari Corridor. Every year, there's an official announcement to the Florence community about when this corridor will actually open. During the time of the Medici, it was a passageway for the family that ran from the famous Palazzo Pitti all the way to the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza Signoria, one of my favorite piazzas in all of Florence. Needless to say, I'm completely ecstatic! I'll be in touch soon…a presto Holy Cross!

November 12, 2008

November 12th, 2008 by ceocon10

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Hey all.

How is it already the middle of November?! I feel like I just landed in Rome yesterday.  Nothing much new to report…A few weekends ago we ventured up to Verona for a day and had a great time.  There's a Roman amphitheater there that is amazing — it's a little smaller than the coliseum in Rome but is much better preserved; you feel like a Roman just being there.  We also saw the House of Juliet  (made famous by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet).  Although there wasn't really much to see (just a balcony overlooking a courtyard with a bronze statue of Juliet in it), the gateway through which you walk was filled with thousands love letters and wedding photos that people had pinned up on the walls as they passed by.   Classes are going about the same.  Our language skills are definitely improving (slowly but surely), but it's still just as hard to understand what's going on in the lesson. 

That's all for now – I've got to finish packing for my trip to Spain! More to come when I get back…

November 5, 2008

November 5th, 2008 by ceocon10

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It’s Election Day in Florence, and believe it or not, I feel like I might as well be back in the States! For weeks now it seems now that the same thing is on everyone’s mind: Who exactly will win the election, and more importantly for the Italians, who do we want to win as Americans abroad in Italy. Over the past couple of weeks, not a conversation goes by with Italians where I don’t hear the inevitable question: “Obama or McCain?” I never realized how much this election means to the rest of the world until I came to Italy. Even back in August when I first arrived, the updates on the news were always covering the election; and, as I soon discovered, Obama is without a doubt, the desired candidate. As the Italian economy has been suffering, as well as the rest of the economies of the world, it is not just the U.S. that Italians are thinking about. Time and time again, I hear the Italians discussing that they need a president to make a change and to get us out of the war, and in their minds, Obama has the power. Because if America goes down, so does the rest of the world. In the words of the Italians, “che grandissimo!” (similar to, “What a big decision!) Being amidst the Italians and seeing how much they are counting on this election and for Obama to win to save their own economy gave me such an appreciation for our country and its impact on the rest of the world.

This year, there’s been a push to encourage American students studying in Florence to remain active supporters of the American government while studying abroad, particularly with the Democratic Party. At our language school, a woman from the Democrats Abroad organization, Jo-Ann White, put all of her efforts into welcoming the foreign students studying in Florence commencing with a welcoming night at the historical Palazzo Vecchio. She arrived at Dante Alighieri a month ago to help us fill out our requests for our ballots, taking care of all the paperwork to ensure that we would receive our ballots and have the opportunity to vote. The Florence Chapter of Democrats Abroad did not exist in the 2004 election, and so, needless to say, it spread like wildfire to all of the American institutions in town, including St. James Church, universities, social groups and the Consulate. Leading up to the election, the Tuscan-American association (TAA), Florence’s rising organization that works to increase the bond between the Tuscan and American governments, has held numerous events ranging from Obama Pizza Parties at local trattorias to the grand Election Night held last night at Saschall Theatre, the city’s popular venue for concerts and celebrations. Because the group was seeking out support from the local American institutions throughout town, last night, I joined the staff of enthusiastic young Italians with my red Election Day “staff” t-shirt, and I helped to sell raffle tickets for their own lotteria provided by some of the American institutions in Florence, including my own directors, Gabriella and Alberto Materassi of the Dante Alighieri school. The event lasted until 4 a.m. to wait and see the final results of the election. But it was not simply a night of waiting — sponsored by various organizations throughout Florence for foreign students, there was live music, big-screen coverage of the election, an opportunity to electronically “vote” upon entering for a little competition fun, speeches from the Tuscan-American association, including the U.S. Consul General of Florence and Honorary President of the TAA, Mary Ellen Countrymen, and free food and drink, including a special Tuscan dessert of bombolone and café during the later hours of the night. Once midnight arrived, they announced the grand prize for the lotteria which I had been selling for a trip for two to New York City and some other great prizes to “live and spend like a Medici.”

Overall, the excitement was incredible, and I could not believe how excited the Italians were for this American election. Decked out with their Obama pins and American flags, it was a night to remember for me as well as for the rest of the American students that ventured out that night. For me, it was an opportunity to appreciate the ties between my life in the States and my life as a student abroad. As a staff member, I was interviewed by one of the local student Italian papers, Corriere Fiorentina, to give my thoughts on the election as a student in Florence during such a crucial election in U.S. history. Even more exciting for me was my opportunity to meet the U.S. Consul and to hear her own personal words of gratitude for continuing the support of their new organization, the TAA. With the big turnout they had last night, I think Florence is on its way to starting a great Italian-American connection, and I hope to remain a part of that experience for the rest of this year abroad.

October 20, 2008

October 20th, 2008 by ceocon10

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Salve Tutti!

We are now three weeks into the first cycle of the semester (here, depending on the department, a course may or may not be broken into two cycles – the first cycle taking a broad approach to the content and the second more specific – and students can choose whether they want to take both cycles for full credit or only the first for half – completely different than what we’re used to at Holy Cross!) and are finally beginning to get acclimated to taking classes in Italian.  Although we still sometimes struggle to keep up in class, we definitely understand more than those first (stressful) days. In addition, about a week and a half ago we had our first meetings with our tutors (of which we have one for each class) and they have proven to be incredibly helpful.  In one one-hour session, they are able to sum up the past week of lessons in a way that is easy for us to understand.

Travel-wise, the past few weeks have been quite interesting.  The first weekend of the month, Katie and Whitney from Florence came up for a night and we all had a great time showing them around Bologna.  The following Saturday, Kristen, Ryan, and I went to Venice and had a blast.  Having never been, I was afraid that Venice would just be another crowded city full of tourists and although this was true I could not have loved it more.  Piazza San Marco was unbelievable; imagine your typical Italian piazza complete with massive basilica, palaces, and cafés but with a water view – there really is no other place like it.  Venice also has some pretty amazing pastries (appropriately shaped like gondolas), so naturally we had no choice but to indulge.  Most of all, we enjoyed getting lost in the city and walking along the canals. 

This past weekend, a group of us ventured up to Lombardy and spent Friday night in Milan.  Despite the fact that the better part of the evening was devoted to finding lodging after our hostel canceled on us at the last minute, we still managed to have a good time. The next day we saw the city’s gothic duomo and shopped a little before catching a train to Lake Como where we slept and took in the mountain air.  It is absolutely beautiful there and I hope to return in the spring. 

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October 13, 2008

October 13th, 2008 by ceocon10

OconnorspostCiao tutti! I can’t believe how fast time seems to pass here. Even though Firenze is a “piccolo citta” (a small city), time seems to travel a whole lot faster here for a small town girl like myself. I just finished my second week of university classes, and I wish I could say that I’ve adjusted perfectly, but instead, my study abroad experience seems to be following the exact pattern that the study abroad booklet foretasted. Having lessons in a different language has definitely presented me with the most interesting challenge since I’ve arrived here. When classes began, it was one of those moments where I could feel myself saying in my head, “Well, here I go!” From that point on, it’s just been complete immersion into the Italian culture. As scary and overwhelming as it sounds, I have never felt so determined to learn something as I do now because it’s not just my studies, it’s my way of life here. Since we’re attending classes with other Italian students, we might as well be considered like any of the other Italian students. That realization of possibly mixing in with the rest of the Italians here is something that I am taking a particular liking to because who wouldn’t want to be European for a year? As for understanding the actual lectures of the professors, I am excited that I’m grasping the overall theme and ideas presented, although I can’t take all the credit for this success. I’ve learned that I usually just have to roll with the punches and attempt to make friends/ask questions to the nearby students sitting next to me during the lecture. But, I can’t say it’s been a bad thing because they usually smile and respond to my question, and then they start asking me if I’m a part of an “Erasmus” program, the European equivalent to studying abroad. I’ve tried to explain the concept of “studiare all’estero” (studying abroad), but it usually doesn’t translate too well so for now, I call myself an Erasmus student. When all else fails, my philosophy is to adapt to whatever works out best.

The Universita di Firenze setup is a lot different than Holy Cross’ because the university is more like a city school as opposed to a campus, but for me, going to a class in a old “palazzo” only minutes away from the Duomo is like a dream come true for university surroundings. And with our new schedules of both Italian language classes and university classes combined, our days are a lot more hectic, but with everything in such close proximity, it makes for some nice sauntering around and city strolling — one of my new favorite hobbies that I’ve taken up since I’ve been here. At first, my city strolling began as I would get lost trying to find my way to the Duomo to the Piazza della Repubblica, where our language school is located. Then, once I got my bearings with that area, whenever I would have more time, I would try and find different routes from Piazza della Repubblica to the University area, and, of course, if I so happened to find a great gelateria or cute negozio (shop) along the way, there’s never any harm in poking around the newest fashion or having a little cone of pistachio gelato, for that matter! And now, with my newest Italian purchase — a used "bicicletta" (bike) — I’m set to go to ride along the Arno River whenever my heart desires and for riding into “centro” (the center or downtown part of the city) like all the other Italians young and old alike. Now if I can just figure out how the working women work those pedals with their heels! It amazes me how weeks ago I could never picture myself finding my way from Point A to Point B here, and now I’m getting to know the city like it’s my own.

Tonight (Sunday, October 13), I knocked one more church off my list to visit—Santo Spirito — which is the “zona” (neighborhood) a little bit further down from the Ponte Vecchio. There, in the piazza right outside the church, was a huge “mercato” with all different kinds of goodies being sold — jewelry, hats, ceramics, crosses, clothing, art pieces, etc. As Irene (Signora Cappelli, my “nonna,” or house-grandmother for the year) always says, “Ci sono sempre le feste e se non, gli Italiani li inventano!” In other words, there are always festivals in Italy, and if there aren’t any on a given day, the Italians will invent one. Believe me, it is definitely true! I’ve decided that one of my goals for the year here a Firenze will be to visit every church  for a mass either on Saturday or Sunday, which might be a tad difficult since there are so many churches in the most unlikely places that sometimes you don’t even realize you’re standing next to one. But, I will certainly try! I haven’t hit up that many so far so I have a lot of work to do, but I figured I can at least get to the more well-known ones. So far, I’ve done Santo Spirito, Santa Croce, and unfortunately, that’s about it because I don’t think you can call the little church by my house one of the most noteworthy churches in all of Firenze. I’ll keep updating in the future to let you know of my success.

Anyway, I want to end with one more tidbit: Tonight, I decided to walk home from Santo Spirito, because believe it or not, the weather in Firenze is perfect right now. It feels like early Autumn here and I hardly even need a jacket when I go out for the day. And on my way home, as I was walking along the river with the lights reflecting in the water and the sidewalk musicians playing their usual tunes in the background, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself how lucky I am to have this experience and how after already two months in a different country, I still cannot get over its beauty and its culture. I don’t think I will ever get tired of being awestruck by this country’s magnificence. I guess I’ll just have to see if another country measures up when I make my first trip to Ireland in two weeks.

Arrivederci!

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