Archive for October, 2008

October 23, 2008

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

A former ISLE student said to us before we left, that our host parents would actually treat us and think of us as their own children. At the time I doubt that would be the case but after being here for a while I’m pretty sure my host family has forgotten that I am not their actual daughter.

We went out to dinner the other night with most of my host mother’s side of the family, because her older brother and his wife were visiting from the U.S. When we got to the restaurant my host father said to some of the other men, “mage dua,” which means my daughter. They looked at him because obviously they knew he didn’t have a daughter. Then he said that I was a student from America but that I was still his daughter.

Maria, who had been to a similar dinner early that week said that the table was divided by gender and age and that she had to sit at the children's table. I said that if we were in that situation I wouldn’t sit at the children’s table because I was certain my apache (father) would sit me with him at the older men’s side of the table. I said this because at my home it is always my host father and I joking around and hanging out, which is not exactly to be expected because Sri Lanka is still a very patriarchal society, but I think my host father really wanted a daughter. I was joking, but that was exactly what happened. He told me to sit across from him, which was funny because all the women were to my right and all the men to my left and I was dead in the center of the table. 
The dinner went well, but my host father has taken to use me as his excuse when really he wants something. At home he is always saying, “bade ginne,” which means I’m hungry, but at dinner he just kept saying that I was hungry so we would have to eat right away, then he announced that I was tired. Which was absurd because there were children there that were under two years old that weren’t tired yet.

Most of the evening was interesting though, because everyone I was with spoke English and Sinhala, even the small children. Still when everyone got comfortable they started speaking rapidly in Sinhala on all sides of me. I finally understood what it must be like to come to America, and try and learn English. I made a mental note to be exponentially more considerate towards people in America who had yet to master the English language.

Now, if it isn’t obvious, my host parents love children, and they were very happy to play with all the babies. However, in Sri Lanka you are still a child until you are married then instantly you’re an adult. My host brother is 26 but as he is not married my host mother still refers to him as “baba,” which means baby. I knew that it was coming because everyone was dotting over their children so I knew eventually I would have to swallow my pride and be dotted over. Then after I had finished eating my Amma, swooped in behind me and she said it in Sinhala but basically, she said, “Baby, please eat some of mother’s fruit.” Everyone looked at me as if this was a test of whether or not I was really their daughter. As my host parents are so insanely kind to me I consented and let her feed me. It was hilarious because I can only imagine how hard any of my friends would have laughed at me at home if my actual mother had tried to feed me.

October 20, 2008

Monday, October 20th, 2008

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. 


October 13, 2008

Monday, October 13th, 2008

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.



October 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Ciao Tutti!

A lot has been happening on this side of the Atlantic.  Two Saturdays ago we went to Ravenna for the day and had a great time.  After eating an amazing lunch at this really cool enoteca Ca’ di Vin (an enoteca is kind of like a neighborhood restaurant that specializes in serving local wines) and spending the day checking out dozens of perfectly preserved Byzantine mosaics, I parted ways with the rest of the crew and took the train to Florence to visit the Holy Cross group there.  Traveling here is so easy (and cheap)! For less than 20 euro, I was able to wake up in Bologna, have lunch in Ravenna, and spend in Florence.  Getting in at about 8 at night, I checked into my hostel, ate a quick dinner of ossobuco and rice at a street side trattoria, and then met up with everyone on the steps of the Duomo to enjoy the local nightlife.  It was really great to get together with the other kids and having the chance to spend some time with my good friend Whitney made me feel a little less homesick. 

This week our hours at the language center were cut back to coincide with the start of our university courses (which begin on October 1st), so we only had two hours of class a day opposed to the usual four.  On Friday Alessandra met with us to discuss our schedules.  Because of the novelty of the program in Bologna, we really had no idea what to expect.  Most study abroad programs at Holy Cross require students to take a lighter course load the first semester (because the language programs are more intensive); however, because we are still working out the kinks here, Alessandra was only able to get us into the classes we need this semester so most of us will be taking the bulk of our course load this fall (seeing as everything is in Italian, the prospect of this is incredibly intimidating!).  Alessandra assures us that although it will be difficult, we will not be overwhelmed and that our tutors (of which we have one for each class) will make sure that we understand the material.  I will be taking two-sixty hour Italian literature courses, so I am sure that by Christmas I’ll be so immersed in the language that I’ll be speaking it in my sleep. 

This past Saturday, following our weekend routine, we went to Ferrara (a small city about thirty minutes north of Bologna) for lunch. I ate Pumpkin Tortelloni al Ragu, which sounds odd, but the sweetness of the pumpkin filling perfectly complimented the meaty ragu sauce – absolutely amazing on a fall day.  After eating, we walked through some of the local marketplaces and saw this pretty cool castle complete with a moat and drawbridge.  We’re definitely not in Worcester anymore!