Archive for November, 2008

November 24, 2008

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Today Maria and I went with my host family to a 21st birthday party. I know the connotations any American would make with a 21st birthday party which is what makes it so funny. Every year for my host mother's nephew  birthday they hold what she refers to as 'little monk danne.' There is most likely an official name for this but I have no idea what it is.

We went to what looked like a boarding school but it was for monks between the ages of 8 and 16. When we arrived all of the guest were seated on mats in front of a Buddha shrine and to the right of the shrine sat this monk that couldn't have been over 14. He was belting his heart out and all the adults had their heads bowed in respect. Maria and I stood awkwardly in the back, because we can't really sit still like the Sri Lankan women, or at least I can't, and I can never get my hands in proper prayer position.

After the prayer the room filled with over 100 child monks. They were silent and respectful; which was flat out shocking as there weren't any grown up monks around to keep them in line. They all had their little alms bowls and cups in front of them and all of the guests gathered up the food and had to serve them. Maria and I were given the task of handing out small fried vegetable things, most likely because Sri Lankans are very generous with the rice and curry so they probably figured Maria and I might starve the monks if we didn't pile their bowls sufficiently.

Shortly after eating all the monks shuffled out and then all of the guest ate. This may have been the funniest part of the day owing to the fact that my host mother is still under the impression I hate rice. I don't hate rice but I really don't mind not eating it, so she packed a bun and a cupcake for me to eat. I was happy, but I got some pretty weird looks

Little boy monk

November 22, 2008

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

Lately I have been unable to write because independent study has allotted me some free time to travel and get to enjoy a little bit of Sri Lanka with out the limitation of classes. Not having classes is very awesome because for most of us this will probably be the only time we are in Sri Lanka so its been really nice to have a little free time to enjoy it. Now of course free time is over because I have a 20 page paper to write on the poet I've been meeting with over independent study. She has published something like 40 books and I have at least half of them in my room, so as I said play time is definitely over.

I'll relive some of what I've been doing over the past couple of weeks because it was pretty fun. Everyone's independent study took them out of Kandy, but my poet lives about two miles from the ISLE center so I was left behind.

Everyone in Sri Lanka talks about how beautiful Nuwara Eliya is, it's mountain covered and touristy and when Sri Lanka was a British colony it was called little England. All though I don't personally support colonialism I decided to pay a visit to Nuwara Eliya anyways. It was gorgeous and kind of cold, which after being on a tropical island for three months is actually an added bonus. So for a few days I took hot showers and ate huge buffets filled with Western food. I had a blast even though I had never eaten at a restaurant alone before, but I quickly got over my fear and embraced the buffet food.

While I was packing up to leave Nuwara Eliya to head back to Kiribathkumbra Maria called.  She asked if I wanted to spend two nights in a hotel in Kandy with a few of the other ISLE students that were back from independent study. The day after I returned home Maria and I headed into the 'city' to meet the others. They all raved about how awesome it was to get a vacation after what sounded like some stressful independent studies. I bite my tongue and didn't rub in the fact that my poet who is something like 78 was anything but stressful. We all had a greet time in Kandy and as an added bonus I got to eat more western food.

Now we are down to almost the last two weeks in Sri Lanka. The fact that we've been here since August is surreal, in some ways it feels like we've been here forever and in other ways I can't believe how quickly time passed. I know that didn't make that much sense but it is the best way I think any of us can explain how we feel at this point.

November 16, 2008

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

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

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

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 9, 2008

Sunday, November 9th, 2008



noticed a reoccurring theme in my entries of dogs and insects and what not.
After this past week or so of creature mishaps I have to say that the rest of
my time in Sri Lanka has been virtually creature mishap free, well minus my
host mother getting bitten, that was pretty bad.


guess I can start with the newest addition to our family, this cat, notice I
didn't say kitten, indicating clearly that my host family and I chose not to
learn our lesson about adopting full grown animals after my host mother was
bitten. Though, I can't really say we adopted this cat I'm not sure where it
came from but one day it was outside the door crying we feed it and now it
spends every night and morning at our house, I have no idea where it goes
during the day. The cat won't eat anything it doesn't kill which is awesome
because it kills everything that grosses me out like giant spiders and
cockroaches. The cat now has taken to breaking into the house. The roof is made
of wooden planks covered with tin. The cat slithers its body in between the
wood and the tin and then keeps finding holes big enough to leap through. I
find it entertaining but my host parents seem displeased with the cat. There
not that displeased though because they too appreciate its service of killing


the other day when I was leaving to meet the lady I'm doing my independent
study on, it's a cool independent study I'll write about that later, the cat
was engaged in hand to hand combat with a lizard. If the cat wasn't enough I
had been warned that I was about to encounter some very vicious dogs. The woman
that I'm doing my independent study on had invited me over, insisting though
that I came on a day that her husband would be there to control the dogs.
Rosemarie who works at the ISLE center had warned me never to touch Jean in
front of the dogs otherwise I would be in trouble. I made my way to the gate
where I was greeted by two of the angriest looking lab mixes I had ever seen.
One of her daughters wrestled them into the house, then came back to get me.
She told me to sit still in the chair and then her mother accompanied by the
dogs would come out.


mother and I have a slight addiction to the Dog Whisperer so I kind of knew how
to act. I sat really still and refused to speak or look at the two dogs as they
rushed at me barking. I could feel their breath on me but I did my best to stay
calm while finding it hard to forget the damage one bite did to my host mother.
The women I'm doing my project on is a very gentle lady who could be heard in
the background scolding the dogs by saying, "Oh really, that’s enough now,
that is very, very bad behavior." Her husband came in and jostled the dogs
and eventually they must have decided that I was boring and they lay down at
her feet. She then turned to me saying, "I hope they didn't scare you. Not
so long ago we had a BBC reporter here who just left and refused to do the
interview." I had to laugh because she seemed totally in the dark as to
why the BBC reporter left.

following night I'm eating my dinner when my host father said awkwardly,
"Michelle don't get excited."

could not figure out what he was talking about as he repeated his sentiment
this time staring at the wall. I look at the wall and screamed on the top of my
lungs running to hide behind a chair. A giant spider was on the wall, it wasn't
a tarantula but it was as big as one.

host father shook his head and said, "Really they are harmless

problem is that everyone in Sri Lanka declares everything harmless without
discrimination. They go as far as to describe bomb blasts as harmless so I was
not buying that this spider was harmless.

host mother popped in, apparently she was reading my skepticism because she
said, "It’s true very harmless only the spiders with hair are bad the rest
are harmless."

said that I would rather find Osama Bin Laden in my room then that spider. That
may have been an exaggeration but at the time it seemed the logical way to
stress the dire nature of the situation.

host father said regretfully, "Poor fellow," then he smacked it with
the broom. I screamed as the dead spider fell from the ceiling. They laughed at
me and then searched my room for fear that I would actually have a heart attack
if there was a giant spider in there. I probably would, but at home I used to
be scared of tiny spiders and now I only scream when I see ones the size of my
hand so that’s a step in the right direction, right?

November 5, 2008

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I can say without a doubt that today is a day I will remember my entire life. It’s important to remember that Sri Lanka is nine and a half hours ahead of Massachusetts. This morning Maria and I woke up early to join the others at the ISLE center. We all huddled around the small antenna TV and glued our eyes to the TV until about 11:00 a.m. when Obama was declared the future president.

At first I was really sad that I wasn't in the US for the election. However, soon we all realized how cool it was to be out of America today. After Obama's speech one of the students asked if we thought that people would instantly think higher of us as Americans. We all joked about it until we went for a walk about an hour later.

Maria, Jared and I take the same walk almost every day, we pass a lot of the same people, but we've never really talked to them. We weren't even sure that they knew we were Americans. Today as we were walking by this man cheered for Obama while we passed.

Then when Maria and I got home members of our family were waiting there to congratulate us as if we personally had one some great victory. When I got into my house the first thing my host mother said to me was, "Now people will like America much more."

What made today so amazing was that I got to see firsthand an instantaneous change in the view of America and of Americans. Of course, I'm speaking with a strong third world bias. After all the first time I thought that people might like us an awful lot more if Obama won was in Tanzania when some people chased our van shouting, "Obama's a prize." I have no way of knowing if the new positive way of looking at America is a third world phenomenon. I'll have to wait until I hear from my roommate Maggie who is in France, and my other friends who are scattered around Europe to see if people like them more now too.

November 5, 2008

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

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.

November 3, 2008

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

The past week has been insane. It is remarkable how much harder it is to accomplish academic tasks when you’re abroad. A couple papers and exams that would have been no big deal at Holy Cross, were an ever looming presence for the past two weeks or so. Luckily that’s all over with now. We’ve finished session 2 which was all our academic classes and now we’ve moved onto the final session independent study!

Our Sinhala exam was the final thing we had to do for session 2 and that was on Halloween. The exam was really tough and we all had wasted a ton of study time by fretting over how hard it was going to be. However, when the last student had finished their oral we all were ready to celebrate Halloween.

The people who run the ISLE center had organized a party for us, which was pretty awesome. It was funny though because it was the antithesis of a college Halloween party. Instead it was very reminiscent of the school sponsored Halloween parties we had in grade school. We all wore costumes that our host mothers had prepared for us and then we had pizza, ice cream and soda. Like I said it was pretty awesome, as the past few months have been very limited on pizza, ice cream and soda.

The seven students are divided into three villages, and so each village had matching costumes. Maria and I representing Kiribathkumbra, came dressed as our host mothers, which meant we looked lovely in nightgowns, house coats, and aprons. Plus, we got the added benefit of scolding everyone for not eating enough and being too skinny. Chris and Kristin representing Kandy town came as Pretas, which are the Buddhist hungry ghost that eat and eat but their appetite can never be satiated. I think the best moment of the night is when Kristin turned to us in her Preta costume and said, “I’m so full I didn’t know that was possible.” We reminded her that she wasn’t actually a Preta. Then Jared, Sarah and Sheila from Anniwatta probably had the most creative costumes. On the northern tour we climbed Sigiriya rock and on the climb up there were all these warning signs saying that noise would provoke the bees to attack. Now we’re not talking normal bees, these were some huge deadly looking bees, and when we got into Sigiriya there were ancient frescoes of very voluptuous women holding flowers. Jared was one of the women from the frescoes and Sarah and Sheila were the bees. We had a fun night.

Saturday night also was really fun because we had the Kandyan dance performance. Nancy, Jared, Maria and I couldn’t hack the dancing or the drumming so we weren’t in the performance, Sarah, Sheila and Kristin were pretty much the whole show as they did three dances and then Sarah and Sheila drummed with Chris. Our assistant director Dan even got his own solo dance. All of us in the audience were highly impressed by how far they had come with the dancing since we had been spinning in circles alongside them.