Archive for August, 2008

Phew!  It has been a non-stop couple of weeks and I have done and seen SO much.  This next week will be my last and final week of intensive language immersion in Lido di Camaiore and then I move in with my host “family”, which as it turns out, is a single woman in her sixties by the name of Franca Spinelli!  I move in next Saturday and I couldn’t be more excited/nervous.  Supposedly, she speaks a little English, which will be fairly helpful during those first few awkward days of living together.  I have a feeling that my nonverbal communication will be put to the test a great deal at first.  More about Franca…she is an architect, owns a small boutique in Firenze, has a cat, and loves to read.  I saw pictures of her and her house, both of which are adorable.  I get my own room, access to the washing machine and kitchen, AND she cooks me dinner every two weeks…suh-weet!  While it may be a bit uncomfortable at first, I know that this will be a great experience and that my Italian will improve tenfold.

I always thought that I wouldn’t experience “culture shock”—I assumed that it was in some way synonymous with homesickness, and that I was well “beyond” all of that.  Well, I was wrong.  In the last few weeks I have experienced a wide range of emotions, from pure and unadulterated joy, to a sort of lonely panic.  A few days ago, I was sitting on the beach and as I looked up from my book and around at all the people soaking up the sun around me, a cloud of panic seemed to encapsulate me as I realized that I was completely incapable of interacting with any one of them.  I suddenly felt like all eyes were on me—like I was doing something wrong.  Then, just as quickly as my panic seemed to knock the wind out of me, my eye caught a mother and daughter lying together in the sand.  I watched as they giggled together and chatted away, and finally as the daughter (I assume) cuddled up to her mother and kissed her on the cheek.  I, of course, felt my eyes well up with tears as I realized that while the world is filled with people who speak many different tongues, we all really share a sort of “universal language” when it comes to family, friends, and our emotional expression.  In that moment, I felt comforted.

In other news, I’ve finally worked up the courage to go into restaurants and order food!  Funny how something so simple and easy for us at home (like ordering a cup of coffee), turns into a huge, stressful ordeal…well, at least for me.  I still feel self-conscious speaking Italian to the locals around here, but hey, I’m trying.  I don’t want to stick out as an American, but the reality is, I am an American (I know, this may come as a shock to some of you).  I realized that I can own that fact without being disrespectful or ignorant—like certain people I’ve met in my program. 

Alright, I’ll stop yacking.  I’ve finally figured out how to set up a Flickr account so you all can see some pictures.  I have taken SO many pictures, it’s kind of disgusting.  I get so frustrated when I take pictures because they never seem to capture the grandiosity of what I am seeing with my own eyes.  Guess you’ll all just have to come visit me and see for yourself.  These are obviously not all of my pictures…I know you all have lives.  Just click on the link to the right that says “My Pictures” underneath the heading “BLOGROLL”.  Enjoy!


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Finally in Italia!

I’m heeeere!  Well, actually I’ve been here for about two days now.  Mi dispiace (that means, “I’m sorry”), but I have to pay to use the internet here which explains why I’ve been lagging on my blog posts.  Unfortunately, that also means that I’ve got to keep this short and sweet.  It’s going to be hard to summarize everything that I have done over the last 4 days….here goes my best shot…

London was amazing.  We really only had one full day there (so much for the “3 Day London Stopover” that AIFS boasts about) but we tried to see as much as we possibly could and were actually able to cover some serious ground.  I also made sure to have fish and chips while I was there (a typical English dish, apparently).  It was really good…I took a picture, so you can see for yourself soon. 

Our flight for Pisa was at 8:10 in the morning, which meant we left our hotel in London at 4:15 in the morning (and yes, it was painful).  After landing in Pisa, a bus took us to straight to Lido di Camaoire where we checked into our hotel (sorry Mike…these hotels were prepaid.  I promise I will have good hostel stories for you as soon as I start traveling).  Our hotel is right across the street from the beach with a beautiful little courtyard where you can sit underneath the trees and read a good book.  Although our bedspreads reek of mildew and our shower floods the bathroom every time we use it, I couldn’t be happier!  Anyway, after arriving here the first day, we were treated to a delicious three-course Italian dinner at a nearby restaurant on the boardwalk.  Words cannot even begin to describe how gorgeous it is here.  Again, pictures will be coming soon. 

Yesterday we began our Italian language class located in a rustic old building covered in Italian graffiti down the street from our hotel.  For the first time ever, I am actually really excited to study this language.  I never felt that way when I was studying Spanish all those years in high school and even into college…maybe because it was never as much a necessity to learn it as it is for me to learn Italian now.  Lido di Camaiore is a beach town near Firenze (about an hour away) that is frequented mostly by local Italian families–in other words, not many people hear speak English–unlike in Firenze, where almost everyone speaks it.  One of the reasons we are living here for three weeks before we go to Firenze is because they want us to get as familiar with the language as we possibly can and unfortunately, we will not have as many opportunities to speak Italian with locals in Firenze because of the number of tourists and American students there.  Needless to say, it has been challenging…but it is really motivating me to crack down on my studies of this language!  I walked up and down the boardwalk this afternoon by myself for 30 minutes trying to work up the nerve to go in to one of the cafés and order a cup of coffee (“Vorrei un caffè, per favore?”).  Instead, I ended up sweaty and thirsty…I’m not quite there yet 🙂 

I signed up for a few of the different field trips and activities the Richmond staff has planned for us over the next three weeks.  I will be doing a variety of awesome things from wine tastings, to a hike through Cinque Terre (a series of five fisherman villages located in the beautiful hills of Tuscany), and of course a visit to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower where I of course plan on having my picture taken as I try with all my might to hold it up.  You all know the picture I’m talking about.  Maybe all my weight lifting will pay off because I have a feeling that if I let the tower fall, people may be pissed.   HA!  Sorry, it was funnier in my head…I know Mom’s laughing right now 🙂

Next Tuesday I will find out who my host family is!  I can’t wait and for all of you who know how worried I was about living with an Italian family given my limited knowledge of the language (and when I say limited, I mean I knew nothing before I got here besides how to say my name), I’m SO happy I chose to do it anyway.  Living in student apartments would have been very similar to living on-campus at USF…and we all know how much I thoroughly enjoyed that–NOT.  Needless to say, I know it will still be quite a challenge at first, but a couple members of the Richmond staff have assured me that all the families are extremely nice and that I will get along just fine.  Plus, I know it will do wonders for my Italian.

Alright everyone, there is much more to write about but unfortunately for all of you, I have to get back out there and start living it!  Thanks for reading and I will try to blog once every three or four days, so check back often.  Miss you all like crazy!  Ciao!

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A piú tardi…

Well, the day has finally arrived and as you can probably guess, my stomach is in knots.  It seems like just yesterday I was riding BART on my way to work in San Francisco, reading about AIF’s program in Florence and promising myself I would do whatever it took to go.  In just twelve hours I will be on a plane destined for Europe.  I’ll be stopping in London for three days and then it’s off to my new home in Firenze.  My emotions are all over the place right now and I woke up about an hour ago and immediately burst out crying…mostly because I am so grateful that I am about to embark on what I know will be a life-changing endeavor.

I went out with a few friends last night to say goodbye and of course, what was supposed to be an “early night” for me turned in to me not getting home until 2 am.  But it was worth it.  To be with people who I care about and share such an extensive history with, is worth a couple of puffy eyes this morning–hey, I may actually sleep on the flight today.  I got to hear my friends’ experiences with traveling and studying in foreign countries–and I got to see that I’m not crazy and that it’s just my anxiety that is discouraging me from doing this.  I have no doubt that it will be an amazing experience that I won’t even be able to describe to people.  

In other, even more exciting news, my grandma got in touch with some relatives of ours who live in Greece (my mom’s aunt and my second cousin).  Well, long story short (since many of you already know the long version), I’ve been in touch with my cousin and I am going to Greece to stay with him and his family!  And here is the real kicker–my mom extended her trip in September so she can come with me!  Words cannot express how excited I am!  This is family on my grandfather’s side; my grandfather passed away almost 13 years ago and I know he would be beyond ecstatic to know that one of his granddaughters is going to visit his family and see a bit of the country he grew up in.  I was really close with my grandpa (“papou” in Greek) and I know this will be an emotional experience.  All I have to do is picture his beaming eyes and boisterous laugh as he used to clap his hands and open his arms wide for me to jump into…aaaand here come the waterworks.

Alright, so here is the agenda for the day:

  • Finish packing
  • Cry and listen to sappy music (Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” is my anthem right now)
  • Spend time with family
  • Cry some more
  • Try to stay as relaxed as possible
  • Head to the airport around 3 pm
  • Cry, cry, cry
  • Board my plane
  • Prepare myself for an incredible next few months…

Just for shits and giggles, and since I owe you a few dozen factoids, here is one for the road:

Firenze Factoid Numero Sei:

The most famous main course in Florence is the “bistecca alla fiorentina” which is basically a large (the customary size should weigh around 600 grams) T-bone steak of Chianina beef cooked over hot charcoal and served very rare with its more recently derived version, the “tagliata”, sliced rare beef served on a bed of arugula, often with slices of Parmesan cheese on top.  Is your mouth watering yet?  I’ll be sure to tell you how it tastes…

I’ll end it there.  Sorry for being such a sap but…I’m a sap.  I’ll blog and/or email as soon as I’m able, to let you all know I landed safely.  Thanks to all my friends and family who have been so supportive–I can’t wait to come back and see you all again!  


…and I’m off!!

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12 days until I leave and everything changes…and the anticipation is KILLING me.  I really wish that I could just leave now and not have to think about leaving every five seconds.  For me, that’s when I start to worry, obsess, and freak out.  I’ve always been afraid of change–since I was a little girl.  I don’t know, some people handle change well–even welcome it.  Not me.  I tend to hold on to what is familiar.  It’s comfortable.  I just have to keep reminding myself that 99.9% of the time that I’ve been confronted with change, it has resulted in something better coming my way…something I never could have even imagined for myself.  While I definitely believe that “everything happens for a reason”, I also believe that we can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen to us.  We have to learn to take things in stride that seem to just “happen”, but we also have to be instruments of change in our lives.  I came across a quote by Winston Churchill recently that says, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved”.  That really resonated with me because while I don’t believe that we can control every aspect of our existence, our lives should be so much more than simply learning how to cope.  We should be learning how to create.  

Alright, so I obviously have too much time on my hands (hence the philosophical reflection above).  Better get crackin’ on that “To Do” list…

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Arrivederci Chena

Well, it’s 11:30 on Saturday night and I’m…blogging.  I stayed in to help my mom cook for my “Goodbye Dinner” tomorrow night…ok, that’s just an excuse for the fact that I was too lazy to get on the ball and find something fun to do.  My mom made her delicious lasagna–a childhood favorite of mine AND a tribute to the country where I will be living in just twelve days.  My family will be coming over tomorrow and we’ll round out the meal with some red wine and garlic bread–delizioso!  I also finally sat down and wrote out my “Italy To-Do List”.  I swear I’ve said “Oooh, I gotta do that before I leave” about 50 times in the last two days and of course, when I actually sat down to write it out, I was only able to remember four things that I actually have “To Do”.  Why does that always happen?  I tend to get frazzled very easily, so my list is intended to make this a smooth transition.  Although, friends have cautioned me to prepare myself for the occasional blip in my traveling plans.  Apparently, that’s all part of the excitement and something my anal-retentive self should learn how to take in stride.  Speaking of excitement, check this out:

Firenze Factoid Numero Cinque

The great tradition of working marble began in ancient times in the Apuan Alps, a range of high mountains with steep, rocky peaks located near the town of Lucca and known by many as “marble mountains”.  It was hidden within the marble quarries of these very alps that Michelangelo extracted the white marble with which he sculpted many of his famous works of art.

Again, not a direct Florentine fact but an important one, nonetheless.  Plus, Michelangelo is one of the most famous Florentine artists of all time…I mean, hello?! Statue of David anyone??  

Alright, I’ve got to rest up for my big Italian dinner tomorrow night.  Buonanotte!


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