Sunday, December 13, 2015

Week 4: Florence!

domenica 27/09

     Finally.. the day had come! Even before I came to Italy, Florence was a place that called out to me, a place that has been on my bucket list since kindergarten. In the morning when I woke I sat down with the family and we ate a large breakfast that lasted more than an hour. I remember going through two cups of milk solely from dipping my biscotti in it, and decided that I should probably stop. I know some people may think the another fat student term is just a joke, but it's a serious problem for us exchange students.. especially in Italy. I mean, we have Nutella, pastas, pizzas, and literally some of the most delicious cuisine on the planet. 

     It was around two o'clock when I headed to the station to catch the train. My friends from class were supposed get onto the train and try to find me on the train in Pontedera. They jumped on and eventually found me. Once we were united, I immediately felt bad for the rest of the passengers on our level of the train, as our octave was definitely not the level of keeping to ourselves. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable train ride.

     My friends first took me by the Santa Maria Novella church and soon-after, we headed towards a gelateria near Ponte Vecchio. When we went inside, being the american that I am, and loving ice cream way too much, I ordered the largest size and dumped six euros into the cashiers hand. I swear, the cone must've at least been the size of my forearm. I walk out with guilt streaked across my face and immediately go to town on it so I'm not the last one standing.

     In normal cases, that amount of gelato would have created a trauma, but let's be honest.. I'm american. We just love our unhealthy foods, don't we? I can still recall during last summer when my mother would bring home a pint of ice cream and I'd eat at least three-fourths of it within twenty minutes of it's arrival, twenty of those minutes being time spent to let it thaw.

     After our overdramatic stop at the gelateria, we headed to Ponte Vecchio, one of the most famous landmarks located in Florence, and probably in all of Italy. Looking back at my post with photos of Pisa, I think I used a photo of Ponte Vecchio in there.. oops! While en route, Matteo volunteered to tell me all about the history of the bridge, and why it is what is. If you aren't already aware, there are only jewelry stores on the bridge. This is due to Medici's displeasure in the smell of butcher shops when crossing the bridge. The views from the middle of the bridge were breathtaking. I was looking forward to going there, but in all honesty, I didn't have many expectations, and boy was I wrong. I'm not sure if a picture would be able to capture the entire moment. The way the air is flowing past you in certain places, still in others. The faint smells of gourmet food just a block away, sunlight pouring onto the street and reflecting off any and every piece of jewelry in the display cases. It just felt so.. different. I can't explain in words the entirety of the moment, but regardless, if you're in town, go there.

     From there, we headed down the street and crossed through the Piazzale degli Uffizi and Matteo broke into a philosophical rant about Machiavelli and the other statues that were located there. In class we are studying about Boezio and Machiavelli, so I guess it was a chance moment. Upon exiting, we were thrust into a beautiful square with a bunch of famous sculptures, and the Fountain of Neptune.

     It was beginning to get fairly late since we were essentially wandering around the city, but we happened upon the Piazza della Repubblica where the Apple store is located, among other shops and also a Hard Rock Cafe. We stopped in to get a quick coffee, and headed to see the duomo before leaving the city.

     It was a little bit depressing, having to take a different train then everyone else on the way home, but the silence was a little surreal. I don't know how to explain it, but it was a mellow feeling that could leave me in tears looking back on it, but this was the first day where I could think to myself and say with certainty, "I'm glad that I am an exchange student."

Santa Maria Novella
Duomo di Firenze
Ponte Vecchio

View from the middle of the bridge
Piazzale degli Uffizi
Palazzo Vecchio

lunedì 28/09

     School was the next day, leaving me with almost no time for rest. It felt different. Somehow, school seemed to become a lot more enjoyable, but hadn't changed at all really. I think that I finally began to feel a connection with the people in my class, after weeks of trying. During class, I seemed to be talking more, participating more, and I officially received my first 'nickname'. Matteo is a little absent minded, so when he realized the connection between Giacomo and James, he shouted during the middle of class, "Giacomo!". I turned beat red as everyone in the class stared at me and I had to refrain from laughing out loud, and buried my face in my arms with my hand covering my mouth to attempt to mute myself. It was great.

     Following school, I started my first Italian lesson with Marzia. I really like my tutor, she is incredibly nice, and seems like she will be a great accomplice in the future. I feel like she will be a great teacher. During the first lesson, she was really surprised by the amount of Italian I had learned solely from living in a house with a host family for three weeks. During dinner, while I was telling the family all about my day, Paolo commented on how much my Italian has improved since I arrived in Italy on the fourth of September. I was ecstatic that it wasn't my imagination, and that I was slowly but surely learning.

martedì 29/09

     During school on Thursday, it was pretty normal, except for the trials they put the poor professor through. After the third period, there is a break. During this time, we have the class to ourselves for about ten minutes for talking, eating, and essentially doing whatever we want. The professor of Latin and Italian is notoriously known for being oblivious to everything. Since this is the case, they put on an Italian cartoon show called Gormiti.

     It literally took the professor ninety minutes before she looked over and recognized that there was something playing on the computer, and the look on her face was amazing. After a moment of surprise, she snapped back to her book and continued reading as if she didn't even care that there were little toons attacking each-other during a serious latin lecture.

     In route to the train station, Francesca and Virginia caught up with me and we talked about how Florence was, and also about tennis. I'm really hoping I can play with them in the future, but that will be dependent on how well I fast I can improve. At home there was fried fish that was really hard to eat, because you had to remove the bones manually. It's extremely different than the states, because everything is either boneless or genetically modified to be superior to their organic counterparts.

     I finished up the day with some studying for the science test on Thursday, and then had my tutor appointment.

mercoledì 30/09

     I went to school as normal today, but there ended up not being philosophy during the fifth period, so our class was able to leave at twelve. I went to the library to study for the science test after that, and then went home.

     I went to my lessons with Marzia again, and we were able to finally start actually doing things. The first day was more of a day to understand what my current knowledge was, and how I would like to pace. I find myself a lot more comfortable to talk around Marzia, and it made it really easy for me to improve my Italian without feeling pressured about messing up. When I don't know a word, instead of explaining in English, or letting me use google translate—as I had been using in the past—she would explain in Italian using hand gestures, and motion queues to help me understand it as a Italian word, not a translation.

     I think she wants me to be able to speak in Italian without having to think in English for the translation, as I'm sure many people do when taking a class in high school. When I was taking Spanish in the states, I would read the sentence but translate each word in my head and then rearrange before writing the next thing. I like the way she teaches because it allows me to skip a few of those steps, and hopefully will allow me to learn at a faster pace.

giovedì 01/10

     I went to school today in eight or nine degree weather (this is about 46-50 degrees fahrenheit) and I only had on a t-shirt and a down vest. When I showed up, my friends were appalled. They couldn't believe that someone would be crazy enough to wear what I was in this weather. I was a little confused, because in San Francisco, this is fairly normal weather along the coast and in the city, and I'd wear shorts daily.

     They complained to me and urged to me to buy a jacket right away after school; I'm sure they were worried for my sake. Four weeks in, I've noticed how stubborn Italians can be, but they are the most caring and hospitable people I've ever met. I headed straight to H&M after arriving in Pisa and bought what I thought was a jacket, but apparently they have different standards. In Italy, a hoodie is called a felpa, essentially a thin jacket. What they meant by jacket, was something more along the standards of a parka, called a giacca. It's pretty easy to confuse the two, since I never really needed anything above a light jacket in the states.

     Following school, I had my first day of tennis. The name of the place is Tennis Club Pisa, which I snickered at a little. Unfortunately, people here aren't too good with English, and in result, the places with English names are pretty bland. I showed up, and immediately met Stefano, Virginia, Pietro, and Francesca. The practice was pretty short by my standards (about fifty minutes), but there was a workout after the practice on Thursdays, so I got to start off with a longer practice.

     Tennis was really fulfilling, and I felt an attachment to it, I could tell from that one practice that this is something I will be continuing for a long time. Once I got home, I noticed there was a new bed in the studio that was accompanied by two filled suitcases. There wasn't anyone at home besides my host mom and two of my brothers, which made me even more curious. Leaving it alone while I went to take a shower, I come out and meet Giulia—the niece of Paolo—which was awkward, to say the least. She was only going to be here for dinner and the night, but it was a nice change of pace.

venerdì 02/10

     I woke up at five in the morning on Friday in order to get in a quick run around the city before I had to leave to catch the train. This was one of the first workouts that I'd done since arriving in Italy, and I honestly felt really unhealthy with how hard it was to do. I definitely want to run more, I just hope I have the opportunity to do so. At school there wasn't really anything of note except that we got our permanent class schedules. It looks like this:


     While on my way to my Italian lessons, it was raining, so I had to walk in the downpour with a flimsy dollar-store-grade umbrella, a thin jacket, and no socks. It sucked, to say the least. From what I've seen so far, the weather here is similar to where I lived in Austin, TX. It's a beautiful day one moment, not a cloud in the sky, and then, out of nowhere, clouds materialize and a thunderstorm is taking place. By the time I got there, I was really wet, and took a few moments to attempt at drying off. About ninety minutes into the lesson, I began to sneeze and get really sick. I ended up having to leave the lesson early.

     Paolo and Giulia went out on a date, or some kind of outing so just us brothers had a meal, which was pretty quick in comparison to the one-to-two hour long dinners that was the usual occurrence here. It was a good day for a short dinner, because I would've passed out at the table had it been any longer. I crashed in my bed with a handful of tissues.

sabato 03/10

     I woke up a little later on Saturday—still feeling sick—but reluctantly still got ready for school. I must've been a pretty depressing sight, face not included, because I was asked by every member of the family if I felt alright. From what Paolo told me later in the day, I was off balance the entire morning. I was all ready, but Paolo and Giulia suggested that I stay home from school, so I crawled back into bed and slept until two in the afternoon, waking to the smell of lunch. Besides studying a little on Rosetta Stone, I resigned myself to my bed and watched some Reign.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Week 3: Late Trains and New Experiences

domenica 20/09

     Sunday was a day of rest. From my experience, people usually don't go out on Sundays, and tend to keep it low-key. I was previously planning with a bunch of friends in class to go to Firenze on the 20th, but Intercultura has a rule that doesn't allow you to travel for the first three months. They were coming to the house in the evening, so I had something to look forward to. I sat in my room and studied some Italian, went for a run, and slept.

     When the people from Intercultura arrived, it was around nine o'clock. First, we sat down as a family and talked about general stuff, and they asked the usual questions: "How is everything?", "Is there anything you need from us?", "How is your Italian coming?". It was pretty nice being able to understand what most of what they were saying to Paolo and what he was saying in return. I am glad that I was placed in Northern Italy because they talk much faster and more articulated, so you have to learn to pick up on the sounds really fast, and in turn, anyone who speaks slower than them is really easy to understand.

     My liaison, Domi, and one of the other volunteers wanted to talk to me alone in case there were any things that I needed to talk to them about, whether it be school, problems at home, transportation, etc. They walked me through the next few months and gave me a calendar that had the upcoming AFS camps, events, and other things, and walked me through some of the AFS packet that had important rules. I really enjoy AFS in comparison to what I've heard of other programs because it really allows you a lot of freedom, as long as you stay within the rules, which is almost impossible to not. There is really three main rules:

  • NO driving
  • NO hitch-hiking / autostop
  • NO illegal drugs
     We eventually came across the rule that AFS has regarding travel: No traveling without your family or Intercultura for the first three months. I was really bummed that this was a thing, because at my age, and in my class, most of us are seventeen, and fairly mature. Also, since I had to travel to Pontedera every single day for school, I didn't have the ability to ever really hang out with my friends, so it was a little bit of a problem. I found out that Paolo and Domi were talking with the higher-ups at AFS and explaining my situation to them. They agreed that I would be given special permission to do traveling at any time, since I have the age, the maturity, and am not a complete idiot. The only condition that they had was that my host family be okay with the trips. The three people from Intercultura left shortly after, and I went straight to sleep.

lunedì 21/09

     Coming back to school after a full weekend made me feel refreshed. I was ready to start my second week of school—my first real week—and was prepared to do so. I catch the early train and make it to school with ten minutes to spare, meet up with some of my classmates in front of the school, and we walk in to class together. When I entered the class, I felt really welcome, almost as if I belonged there.

     During the classes, there wasn't that much going on, but during break Cosimo, Andrea, Salusti, Filippo, and I decided that we would go to Firenze this coming Sunday since AFS gave me the okay. When I got home, I was feeling really motivated, and I ended up studying Italian verbs for hours on end until dinner. At dinner, we had this really delicious dish. I was a lasagna-esque dish with pasta layers, cheese, and other cheese colored items. It tasted pretty similar to fetticine alfredo, and had the perfect consistency. For the second course, there was a regular salad, but my favorite balsamic vinegar was on the table. I am in love with the balsamic vinegar here, it has the perfect consistency and taste. It stings the tongue just enough, and the punch isn't a killer. I'm definitely bringing a few bottles home.

martedì 22/09

     Tuesday was probably the most significant day so far in terms of getting closer with my classmates. I started the day at six, and caught the earlier train, making it to train right on time. We headed to the gym to change for Educazione Fisica, but I was busy thinking about making the early train, that I didn't grab any clothes to change into. The teacher gave me some shorts to use, and shoes, but I ended up having to wear my white t-shirt that I would have to wear the rest of the day. Looking back, I guess I could have gone shirtless. We proceeded to walk over to the stadium, and I talked to Sofi and Filippo quite a bit on the way over. Sofi has been teaching me many words, both in Tuscan lingo and Italian. I think her favorite question to ask me is, "Sei cario?" Cario is a Tuscan abbreviation of the word carico, meaning full of energy.

     Before we departed the class, we watched the 4x100 with Jamaica winning it with Usain Bolt. The teacher really wanted us to try it, so at the track, we began by getting in teams, and then practicing our baton handoffs. When it came down to the actual practice, such as a practice run, the teacher immediately said to go and without any explanation, I ran pretty hard. Everyone else was going slowly, and watched me in confusion up until the moment that I took off. They burst into laughter, and then gave me pats on the back.

     Then, it came down to the actual race. There was a competition between two teams, with the most athletic of us being split. On one side, there was Gianmarco, Andrea, Salu and Banti, and the other was I, Amato, Pagni, and Filippo. With the race beginning, I took off. They wanted me to be the first since I had taken part in many relays due to my track and field background in the states. I passed everyone on the curve, and we ended up winning by around 75m. It was really fun because Noemi took a video of the entire race with her iPad in slow motion, so I could see myself launching in front of the rest of my classmates from the start. I think it's safe to say that my classmates weren't expecting me to be athletic, because, well.. I'm american. I look down at my half-sweaty shirt, and pray to god that my shirt will dry before we reach the school, because I will NOT be wearing a sweaty shirt in class.. I'd rather go shirtless. The schoolday was a blur, but I do recall immediately feeling a stronger bond with the guys in class.

     I return home a little while after school gets out, and come home to find a friend of Pietro eating lunch. His name was Alexandro, and if I recall anything, it's the hair; it was fantastic. They asked me to look over their math homework, and I remember doing it at least two years ago. I explain to them, and we talk it over a little bit. Eventually, Pietro recalls my "amazing" TI-84 calculator, and asks to borrow it. Instead, I recommended Desmos Online Calculator. It's an amazing resource that I've been using ever since it was showed to me. Eventually I wrapped up the day and retired to my room for a long nap, missing dinner and waking up the next day.

mercoledì 23/09

     Wednesday was not an especially eventful day, but during English, the class wanted to go through the streets of San Francisco and see where I lived, where I went to school, the Golden Gate, and notable landmarks in the area. They loved seeing the plethora of skyscrapers and tall buildings and a very different scenery than the norm in Italy.

giovedì 24/09

     I was able to wake up late on Thursday because I had to go to the Questura di Pisa in order to apply for my permesso di soggiorno, or residency permit. I woke up at around seven o'clock and did my usual morning routine. Paolo and I met up with another AFS volunteer at the Questura in order to have her sign off on my behalf for Intercultura.

     I remember vividly the situation that arose where the volunteer from AFS didn't have written permission from AFS that she could sign off on my behalf, and then the people at the Questura apparently did not want to call the Intercultura big-wigs, so I was left there in-between Paolo and the clerk during a heated argument. Since the placement of my location is done by Intercultura, Paolo is not able to sign off on anything, which he didn't take to kindly.

     Eventually, the clerks decided to send us to the police station in order for the government to obtain my fingerprints, palm prints, and everything in-between. As I recall, I can just imagine my father in the states bantering about conspiracy theories and illuminati plots. So far, as I look back at my memories in the states, they warm my heart but haven't yet made me homesick, for which I am thankful.

     It was extremely embarrassing at the police station because the people who were in charge of taking the pictures told me that it was necessary for me to tuck my hair behind my ears.. and for those of you who don't know, it ain't pretty.

     When we returned to the Questura, after going through all of that, we found I still was unable to get my permesso di soggiorno, and they gave us an appointment twenty days later; as if we weren't mad enough. It was near noon at this point-in-time, so Paolo gave me a pass to miss the rest of the school-day. I retired home to find myself weak-at-the-knees and with such a lack of motivation that I laid in bed until called for. I caught on sleep that I had so desperately been needing.

venerdì 25/09

     I went through the day like clockwork. I woke up in the morning at a reasonable hour, missed the first train as usual, and made it to school with seconds to spare. I didn't understand the lectures in the classes, and struggled each hour to put the pen to paper. I ate a nice Nutella sandwich during break, and sighed with relief as the bell rang.

     Although the beginning of the day was like any other, I had things to do after school if I wanted to go to Firenze this Sunday. I had arranged for Paolo to meet some of my friends that were going along in order for him to be rest-assured that I wouldn't get into any trouble, or do anything stupid. Walking from the class to the lot, I was placed in a chat that apparently another girl in my class had a crush on me. It was different. Responding to "do you like.." and "what do you think of.." questions in Italian was definitely something I've never done before, nor did I expect to.

     Jumping on the respective motorcycles, Cosimo, Salu, Amato, and I all took off to meet my host father. I can't say that I wasn't nervous, because Salu and Amato weren't really known as the most responsible peers. This meeting was for my host father to decide if he was able to trust my friends, and frankly, I didn't see this meeting going well.

     It turns out that my worry was all for naught, as Cosimo did most of the talking, and in the end, Paolo seemed perfectly content. In my mind, I imagined the meeting like a thirty-minute-long interrogation, rather than a simple five minute chat. All-in-all, it went well, and we got the a-ok for the trip to Firenze and hopefully in the future. With that, I got a ride to the station and came home to a warm home-cooked meal. I went to my Italian lesson and afterward went for a run in order to clear my head of all the pent-up stress that I'd been accumulating.

sabato 26/09

     During school, the teacher for Art History ended up being sick, or something of the like, and wasn't there. Since it wasn't the last two periods, we had to sit around and find something to do until our final class. The first hour was great, as there was nobody to supervise us, and we were doing whatever, but in the second hour, the religion teacher came in to keep us 'on task'.

     In the evening, there wasn't anyone in the house, so I went out with Alberto, Pietro (not to be confused with my brother), Lorenzo, and some others. I met one of their friends who was a few grades above them while he was still in school. Alessandro looked about twenty or nearing twenty-one and turned out to be twenty-six. I can't say that I wasn't surprised.

     First, we went out to get some Chinese food at Ni Hao in Pisa. It was the first time that I had went out to eat at a restaurant since my arrival in Italy. It was really delicious; I ordered Gnocchi made from Rice and also a steak don. After, we walked around the city and eventually ended up at the lawn of the Leaning Tower and long-story-short, almost got arrested. Once the ordeal was finished, I stumbled home at around midnight or one. I crawled into bed and no later than five seconds after, I was asleep.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Week 2: The First Day of the Rest of My Life

     Ciao! Buonasera! ..or should I say buongiorno for those back home? It's been over four weeks since my last post, and that was unexpected to say the least. I'm sorry for making those who were waiting wait even longer! I had previously expected to not be able to release posts more than once a week, as I had seen on other blogs such as Julianne's One Blonde Loose in Italy that really helped me stay motivated in the months between my official acceptance and my host family placements. Over the past few weeks, I've been caught up between school, sports, studying, and adjusting to my new lifestyle, so this shouldn't happen again unless I procrastinate! The weeks leading up to Week 5 will be coming in a landslide.. so be ready! Without further ado, please enjoy!

domenica 13/09

     Two days before the beginning of school. I can remember how nervous I was at the time, but also how excited I was to begin to sprout from my sheltered lifestyle and meet new people. The family once again had a last trip to the grandparent's house in Crespina. The day before, I had bought new pants at H&M in order to add some variety to my four pairs of pants. They were a little bit too long and baggy at the ankles, so Giulia told me to bring them with me. At the house, they made me put them on and the grandmother made adjustments to them on the spot. When I got them back, they were at a perfect height—riding just above the ankles without breaks—and I was delighted. I am definitely going to get all of my pants adjusted by her before I return to the states; these were literally a game-changer.

     While she was making adjustments to the pants, Alessandro, Paolo, and I all went to take the last swim of the year, since it would start to get cold in the coming weeks. After, we went inside and got ready to eat lunch. One of Giulia's brothers, Giovanni, had studied at Michigan University a while back for a year and could speak English really well. Giulia had told me a week earlier about how he was in love with America. While waiting for the lunch to be made, we talked a lot about mundane things, but gradually moved on to more complex things, such as college, careers, etc. Surprisingly, he kept up really well and seemed to understand everything that I was saying.

     At this point in time, it began to rain outside, so Pietro and Giulio had to finish the barbecue while underneath an umbrella—it was hysterical. At the lunch, there was pasta, ribs, steak, sausage, and much more.. it was like a 4th of July party! In the middle of the lunch, Gio ran over to me to give me his wine glass and poured me some Tuscan wine. After pouring, he asked, "Are you eighteen?" I shook my head. He laughed and said, "Ohhh, va bene, va bene!", meaning "Oh, it's alright, don't worry!" and insisted that I drink. To my surprise, this was the best red wine I've ever tasted. It was hardly bitter at all, and it actually tasted good. After the lunch, we returned home and retired to our respective rooms to rest for the day.

lunedì 14/09

     It was the day before school.. boy was I nervous. I was nervous, yet also eager. I only had a few friends at this point in time, and I yearned to make more; to acquire so many relationships I wouldn't have a boring day for the rest of my exchange. I remember waking up with my whitening strips in and taking out my retainer to find my teeth hurting a bunch. It's really uncomfortable, but it is definitely worth it. After, I proceeded to choose my outfit for the first day of school. Something that'd make a good impression, but still remain comfortable. I ended up going with a staple striped navy blue shirt and my gray skinnys. I think I felt that wearing a piece of American clothing would make me feel in my comfort zone, as I wasn't used to wearing skinny jeans. Before my exchange, I had never considered wearing jeans, let alone skinny jeans. My style consisted of a frat look; shorts above the knee, plain shirts, and Sperry Top-Siders.

     For the rest of the day, I spent a lot of time preparing for my first day of school, and found that my one spiral would not be enough for the nine classes I had. The school had posted the first week's schedule online. This is what it looks like..

     When first looking at a schedule of schools in Italy, it seems overwhelming. Six days of school per week, in comparison to four or five in the United States. At public schools, it is always Monday through Friday, but in my private school, it was Monday through Thursday. In Italy, you have four to five hours per day, coming out to only 24-30 hours of school per week. At my private school, I was at school for ten hours per day, coming out to 40 hours a week. I will write an in-depth post about the school systems in both the United States and Italy, comparing and contrasting them at a later time.

martedì 15/09

     This day was the first day of the rest of my life. I woke up in the morning with my head held high, knowing that this day was the true beginning of my exchange; knowing this could make or break my exchange. I rocked my outfit that I chose the day before, and packed my bag with the respective notebooks and textbooks.

     I woke up at around six in the morning in darkness, having to be weary of a sleeping Pietro who is still asleep. I took a shower and had to use my phone to see in the room and grab my stuff, but I made it out of the house in time. At seven o'clock I left the house and walked to the station of Pisa, and caught the 07:19 train towards Pontedera. Trains are much more relaxing than my usual commute in the states on the bus and ferry. The week before, Paolo showed me the way to my school from the station, so when I got off the train, I hurried to school. Once I got there, it was swarmed by first years and confused students.. none of which spoke very well English. I used my at-the-time broken and shy Italian saying to the secretary, "Dov'è classe 4A?" He replied with a gesture up the stairs and three fingers held up, signaling to the third floor. Good. I can easily find it.. not.

     The third floor was like a mosh pit; there was hardly room to breathe. I make my way around the floor and look at the signs posted on the door with the class. Eventually, I spot a "4A" across the corridor. I hurry over and take a deep breath before entering. I prepare my lines, swallow my fear, and walk in.

     There was no change. The class was abuzz with activity and nobody seemed to care that someone who wasn't in their class (that they knew of) just walked in. I walk up to one of the most friendly looking groups and say to them, "Questo è classe 4A?" It was flawless.. or so I thought. I realized that I said 4A in English, and not in Italian. Immediately noticing that I spoke a moment of English, they were intrigued. Since the "a" in English sounds a little bit like the "e" in Italian, we took about a minute establishing that this was the class I was supposed to be in. At this point in time, I find myself surrounded by about twenty students all hoping to ask me questions. I am invited to sit down next to one of girls who speaks English pretty well. Sofia explains what the teachers are saying as they are saying it, acting like a translator, while sneaking questions in-between.  The first two periods were Educazione Fisica, or PE, and it really allowed me to get close to my classmates almost immediately. We played soccer and a little bit of basketball; neither of which I am good at.

     The rest of the classes passed by in a flash, and after school, I was invited to multiple WhatsApp groups, given numbers by everyone, and asked questions right up until the moment when I had to get onto the train. Putting in my earbuds on the train, I relaxed into a state of half-asleep. I was already exhausted from my first day, but I was content. I would not mind being exhausted after every day if it meant that it wasn't a waste. Upon returning home, Pietro, Giulio, Alessandro and Laura are waiting for me to eat lunch. We eat, and then go to our separate studying areas. The rest of the day is a blur of activities around the house, and unfortunately, I don't remember the rest. Sorry!

mercoledì 16/09

     Going to school on day two was nothing to be worried about. I packed my bag, did my usual roundabout way of getting ready under the dim light of my phone, and left for the train. Arriving at the station at around 7:15, I was all set to be on time to school.. but then I notice that the train is late by twenty minutes. I texted one of the guys in class who seems really reliable and asked him what I should do, and he told me not to worry, since the trains in Italy are supposedly always late. I arrived at school about thirty minutes late, and all I had to say was "il treno era ritardo" and she immediately understood. I walk into class and am greeted by smiles all around, and Andrea slaps the desk next to him signaling me to sit there. In my school, after the third period there is a ricarazione, or break. We go to the bar and all get a pizza, since I hadn't tasted the difference yet between American and Italian pizza. It was leagues above pizza in the states, and I've been told since that the pizza in Napoli is leagues above anywhere else in Italy. After school, I ended up talking with my friends for too long, and my train was ten minutes from then, and it was a twenty minute walk from the school. Cosimo offers me a ride of his Vespa and we are off. I made it to the train with about ten seconds to spare, and hurriedly got onto the train. Having to go to school in a different town than where you live is a little bit unfortunate, since I am not always able to stay in the town for too long, and always have to factor in time for travel.

     I return home, eat lunch, and after about an hour of browsing Spotify, go to the track for a run. Since I live in a fairly large city, I have access to a large amount of activities, and it's really nice. I am able to release pent-up stress, pass time, and maintain my weight all at the same time. In the states, the secondary meaning for AFS is "another fat student", so I'd like to prove that wrong.

giovedì 17/09

     Thursday was a pretty plain day in comparison to the rest of the week, but it was still fun, to say the least. During school, we had two hours of Italian, and it was great. The teacher is really oblivious, so to say the least, we are a horrible class. It wouldn't be an understatement to say that ninety-five percent of the class is either on their phones, working on other subjects, or messing around. There are a bunch of different types of trash cans for different things, all in different locations, so everyone takes it upon themselves to shoot all of their trash instead of getting up and leaving their seats, and makes classes really enjoyable.

     After school, I needed to go and buy a shirt for the birthday of my friend Elena. The party was her diciotto, which literally means 18, but is essentially a Sweet 16 in the states—the Italian counterpart. Once I arrived at Pisa Centrale, I walked to Corso Italia—a very popular shopping street in Pisa. I went into a store Coin, and found a shirt eventually after fretting over what would look best with my gray skinnys. I bring the shirt up and pay for it, only then to realize that the shirt was 89 euro. I was defeated, but it really was the only shirt that would fit. Since I was in a rush, I decided to just go with it. Once I got home, I ate lunch and then immediately left for the track. I rode my bike over there, which was a really bad decision, because by the time I was finished, I had no energy to pedal my bike. I rested for around fifteen minutes before making my return journey back home, and then I immediately went to sleep.

venerdì 18/09

     When I woke up, I was really hyped. I was going to a party, and was almost done with the school week. I catch the 7:19 train to Pontedera, that actually arrived at 7:43. I was late again to school by around forty minutes, and was greeted by a bunch of the slap-and-fist handshakes, and a few buongiorno's. As I was sitting in class, I was told repetitively that it is a "tradition" in Pontedera to not go to school on the first Saturday of the year. I was ecstatic. This was like Christmas coming early. In comparison to the usual four days of school per week, this was a nice break week for me to transition into a six-day school week less abruptly.

     Nothing too exciting happened at school other than the usual except for getting our new school schedule, so after walking with my friends for a little bit, I change directions and half-sprint for the train. I end up missing it, and was forced to wait forty-five minutes for the next one. It was really a bummer, because the one that I missed is a veloce, so it stops in a lot less places, and the first place it stops in is Pisa. Also, since it travels much farther, it's a nicer train. The one that comes after is an old, graffiti-covered, piece of junk. Just like the one that comes at 7:19 (never actually on time), it is slower than a low-powered vespa..and that says something.

     Once I get home, I lurk on the internet and do things around the house while waiting for the time to leave for the party. Pietro arrived around six o'clock and we immediately got dressed and waited around for our departure. I was both nervous and pumped. Even though I'd only met most of these people only once, I'd already felt pretty comfortable with them, more so than it was when I first connected with friends back home, who I spoke the same language as. Of course, when you've only met some people once, you're worried about the impression you left last time, especially if you can't clearly recall everything that happened.. oops?

     We get in the car once dark falls, and I am under the impression that I have around thirty minutes to an hour in order to get all of my emotions in order and prepare. In the past, I had really bad anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, so I was slowly putting my emotions down one-by-one. After a little bit of traffic, we leave Pisa and drive towards Lucca, arriving a few moments later. I was in shock. I wasn't ready.. but it was as if all of my worries just washed away. It is not an understatement to say that Italians are extremely hospitable, making you feel extremely comfortable. Arriving at Locanda Sant'Agata, we exit the car, bid Paolo farewell, and walked towards the venue.

     I'm not yet used to the greetings where you kiss and get kissed on the cheek, but I'm not against it. I only wish it was a custom in America, because once it happens, it's clear that you're an acquaintance of the other person, instead of having to infer and being in the uncertain gray-area. I said my greetings, and immediately fell into conversation with a group. We eventually moved under the pavilion where there was wind protection, food, and champagne. The drinking, smoking, and things that are otherwise forbidden in the states has already sunk in as the norm. As I walk to school, there are at least thirty different people smoking in a half-kilometer stretch. I can't shed light on the entire party, as there are too many things to count, and some are better left unspoken, but I danced, talked, drank, ate, and enjoyed myself with others. I got numbers from the mates who I was looking forward to talking to in the future, and also a few girls that were really nice. At the end of the night, we cool kids used our selfie stick and took a picture to remember.

     I once again wished Elena a happy eighteenth, and a group of us left to catch a ride home with Cardelli's mom. Antonio, Pietro, Pietro "Big Boss", Antonio, Alberto, and I all fit in his mothers small car and we set off to home. While exiting, they invite me to their soccer game the next day. I accept, and we sneak into our room and crawl into bed.

sabato 19/09

     I woke up around eleven and felt like I'd just finished running an 800m dash. Maybe because I'd skipped school within the first week, but my knees buckled when I stood up, and I was disoriented. I decide that it isn't time for me to wake up yet, and go back to sleep until two. At two, I got up again, and had my head on straight. I did my usual morning routine, past noon, and Laura looked at me like I was crazy—drinking milk after breakfast. I retired to my room afterward and studied some philosophy and Italian until the soccer game.

     Apparently, some people in my class were really good at soccer. Those who weren't playing were in the stands or around the field when we arrived. I sat down with Marco and a few others. We talked for a bit before the game started, and then we were cut off by a really obnoxious "fan" yelling and waving his flag at the start of the match. We paid attention from there on. The first half of the game wasn't too bad, but there were two goals scored against them.

     Towards the end of the third quarter—after two more goals were scored against them—the obnoxious child pulled out a flare.. yes, a flare. He lights it and is waving it around, covering the field in a cloud of smoke. In addition, him and some of his peers began chanting the down with fascists chant, for no apparent reason other than to make noise. It was quite hilarious, but the players on the field didn't think so. They yell at him to put it out, so he drops it below the stands. Shortly after, a fire is initiated beneath the stands from a floor of pine needles. It was hilarious to say the least—almost like an SNL skit, but it was actually happening. Four people run over with the flag in hand and their backpacks and stomp it out eventually. I was signaled to go to the other side to watch, and was able to watch the match from inside the field.. it was great. The game ended with a score of 0-9, nine goals scored against them. This year was the first time they had lost against their rivals, so they were pretty bummed, especially Pietro "Big Boss", who was in goal. We share our condolences and walk around town and talk for a good amount of time. I left my bike at the field, so I had to leave them and go fetch it. I retrieve my bike and return to the house.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Week 1: Fish out of Water

lunedí 07/09

     Monday was the first day of the week, and my host parents were at work for most of the day. I woke up at around ten and drank a café au lait for breakfast. Pietro and one of his friends came in and saw my hair before I had showered, all put up and messy.. it was embarrassing! She had no reaction because most Italians have really greasy hair and look like that in the morning.. phew. I took a shower and then about an hour afterward, Alessandro, Giulio, and I went to the piazza venti settembre to buy my mathematics textbook, but all of the stores that we went to were out! Instead, we decided to walk around and gaze at places, and I got a mini-tour around Pisa in the process.

     Shortly after I returned home, I met Laura. She is the maid who takes care of us while Giulia is at work. She does things like make our beds, clean the house, make lunch for us, among other things. I didn't understand too much of what she said since she has more of a southern dialect, which is very slurred. I wasn't able to make out the words as well as everyone else in my family. We had a bit of a conversation, but I was more-so attempting to guess what she was saying, rather than understanding. I got a few words across, so I hope she thought well of me. She'd be coming back on Tuesday anyway. She made this dish with eggs, olives, rice-like things, and tomatoes. It was really interesting because the salad and fresh tomatoes were hot, which is different. Giulio really didn't like it because he kept finding hairs in his salad, it was extremely funny because every time he would pick it up and say "DIO! BASTA!" Alessandro and I would begin to laugh and Laura would tell him to throw it away from the table, probably embarrassed because it probably was her own hair. 

     After lunch, I wrote a bunch of new words and phrases in my journal in order to study them at another time. I studied until around three or four when Giulia got home. We all greeted her, and they invited me to go to the Torre pendente di Pisa, or Leaning Tower of Pisa. I just had to go at least once, right? I mean, I live here. I took some photos and got one of Giulio holding up the tower, and he took one of me following suit. We also looked around at the other buildings, made some conversation, and walked around the streets of Pisa. It was a really nice outing, and I started to notice that I was making sense of the language a lot more, after only three days. I was beginning to understand conversations, local lingo, and being able to respond to questions.

     My photo is really embarrassing because the only one that was taken of me was when I had the sun in my eyes, and I got photobombed. I really laughed hard when I saw it, so I decided to post it.

     On our way back to the house, I saw some grafiti on the wall and laughed. It said "Fuck the Police" with the hammer and sickle, but in English. I took a picture of it, and so did my family. Giulia—who speaks no English at all—asked what it meant, and both I and Giulio responded with "va fanculo". It was a good laugh for all.. cussing doesn't seem to be a big problem in Italy.

     Not much happened once we got home, so I just sat and watched How to Train Your Dragon 2 in Italian with Alessandro and Giulio. We didn't get to finish it before dinner, so it was a little bit of a bummer. At dinner, Giulia served a dish that had whole squids and refried beans. I didn't like it very much. I'm not much of a bean person, but I didn't mind squid.. or so I thought. I bit into it and immediately was about to regurgitate. Being the courteous gentlemen that I am (hahaha), I kept a poker face and scarfed it down, eating bread along with each bite in order to quell the feeling. Today was Pietro's first day of driving practice, so he talked about it the entire night, and it was hilarious. It was like listening to my sisters' and friends' experiences all over again. To finish off the dinner, we ate pears, and I think I've got the art of cutting fruit down after only three days.

     Before going to sleep, I did some more studying, writing, and talking with my father. We talked a lot about the grammar rules of Italian, in Italian. Again, it was weird how I was already beginning to understand Italian already. I was excited to see how well I can improve this year. Pietro invited me to go out with him on nights except for the next two days, since he was going to hang out with his friend Maria and going to a birthday party. This night was the first time that Alessandro and Giulio went out of their way to say goodnight to me. I think I'm starting to be a part of the family. Va bene

martedí 08/09

     Tuesday was a day to remember.. for better or worse. It started out with Paolo and I waking up at around 7:00 in order to catch the train to Pontedera at 7:50. We were able to make it there without a sweat, and the train wasn't packed at all, so we continued our conversation in Italian there. It's really nice to have someone who can work with you and at the same time help you understand the meaning of things. Around thirty minutes later, we arrived and walked around four kilometers in Pontedera to where my school is; it's really far from the station.

     I found out at the school that I would be in Class 4-A, which is all well and good, but I was also kind of hoping I'd be in year five. Oh well, I guess. Here's to hoping this year will be a great one. In addition to doing some documents at school, we went to the post office and police station for my residence permit. It was really cool when we went to the police station because on the train I had told Paolo that I loved motorcycles, and he ended up having one in the garage and gave me a ride on it to the station.

     After the station, we went to the Wind store in order to get my european SIM card. It was a mess at first because when I switched SIM cards, I didn't know my original Apple ID. I ended up having to take home a locked SIM and my phone did not work whatsoever. I honestly slaved over the computer for five-to-six hours trying to contact Apple Support, and any other contacts I had. Eventually, I gave up and used a paperclip to open the SIM tray. I put in the old card and found it by pure chance. I fixed it, and was so relieved. I found that while I was stressed, it made it a lot harder to focus on what people were saying and to understand them.

     While I was home in-between errands, Pietro said that Ginevra wanted me to come to her birthday party, but I was a little hesitant because I hardly knew much Italian. I ended up accepting because I wanted to put myself out there rather than stay cooped up in the house and study all day. Paolo was the one who drove us out to the venue, so we got there a little early, we were one of the first few.

     At first, it was really awkward, because I had to kind of stay by Pietro while everyone was greeting each other, because I couldn't really speak. Soon though, some of his classmates came over and we talked, joked, and laughed a lot. They were practicing their English, and I my Italian. It was a nice change of pace, and we all ate and drank a lot. The waiters kept bringing out different courses, it was overwhelming. First was some light snacks, then salads, fruits, appetizers, dishes, pastas, and pizzas; it was crazy! During the party, there was a DJ and everyone was dancing and having a good time, among other things. I made a lot of friends during the party, everyone seemed to think of me as an exotic or something, haha. I sure hope my school will be that easy to make friends. The people at the table somehow convinced me to stand up and ding my glass with a knife, and say Diamo un applauso per Ginevra. Buon compleanno! to Ginevra in Italian, and everyone clapped while laughing. It was so embarrassing, but Ginevra seemed to love it. I must have a really different accent than Pisans. After, we had cake, took lots of pictures, selfies, drank more champagne, sang karaoke, and danced.

     At the end of the party, I did a duet karaoke with one of the other guys on "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith for Ginevra, and it was absolutely terrible and hilarious. I hope I get to do that again, because even though I'm terrible at singing, it was really enjoyable. Around 1:30 in the morning, I had to leave, and everyone wanted to say bye to me, and Elena invited me to her birthday party on the 19th. In Italy, the 18th birthday is a really big deal, much like a quinceñera in Spanish culture, or the "Sweet 16" in the states. I made a lot of friends, got a lot of Facebook profiles / phone numbers. I hope I can hang out with these people in the future.

mercoledí 09/09

     Wednesday. I woke up at around 11:00 and felt like a bum. I was so dazed, but after I took a shower it went away. I said my good mornings, and went straight to studying in the study. I hadn't studied in the past day, so I had to catch up. I immediately pulled out my book of words and began to write new ones, go over old ones, and repeat phrases. This went on for around an hour until Giulio's cousin arrived and Alessandro, Giulio, and I all played NERF with him, all the while Laura was yelling at us because we kept running in the house and knocking against the walls.

     I ended up taking a nap at around three, because I was still really tired from the party the night before. I slept until five and woke up to Pietro arriving at home. We went out and rode our bikes to the supermarket to buy some school supplies for me and a backpack for him. It was hilarious because the only backpacks that were there had some kind of girly inside, such as polka-dots or rainbow cartoons. He ended up finding and buying a backpack that is pure white, but he didn't see the inside before we exited the store.. it was this—

     After we returned home, Paolo came home. He came in and talked to me and invited me to talk about my day, or yesterday at the dinner. I accepted, but was pretty nervous, because I haven't really practiced much conversational skills, just studying vocabulary and understanding people talk. In these past five days, I have already improved so much, it's crazy.

     At dinner, I was really nervous to talk, but the air is so welcoming, and my family is really nice. I spoke a lot faster than I realized, and we joked about the party that I went to on Tuesday night. Paolo asked me what I thought of the girls at the party. He wanted me to respond with either cesso, which literally means toilet (slang for ugly) or buona, but that is apparently for old people. Italians now say fia.. which means fine. There were a few really beautiful girls at the party, so I laughed while I said cesso e fia. Pietro said a name from the party and we both came to a consensus that she was a 9.5/10. Dinner ended up lasting a really long time so we finished and almost immediately went to sleep, after finishing an episode of Top Gear.

giovedí 10/09

     Thursday wasn't that eventful of a day. In the morning, I did the usual: woke up, took a shower, ate breakfast, and began to study. At around ten, Pietro's friend Tomasso came over to do their Greek homework together, and also to play around. He was at the fiesta of Ginevra—since they're in the same class—so we met there. In Italy, you stay with your class all throughout liceo. If you're class 1-A, then you will be 2-A, 3-A, 4-A, 5-A along with everyone else in your class. They will all be fifth years this year, so the class is really tight. Everyone at the party was from the class, and they were all friends with each other.. if only the states were like that. I ended up distracting them from their homework for a little because he kept wanting to ask me questions that he wasn't able to at the fiesta, even though I'll be at the next one this coming Saturday.. va bene.

     I left to go to the study to do some speech practice, and then we ate lunch. Pasta. Yum. Even though I have been here for almost two weeks already, I have not gotten tired of pasta, just bread. The bread here is all fresh, but very dry. I find myself always thirsty at meals, and end up drinking at least six or seven cups of water. After lunch, we all played some games on the Wii like Mario Party, Wii Sports, and one other that I don't remember.

     Around 5:30, Tomasso left and Giulia came home around fifteen minutes later. Giulio and I went on a walk around the city with her almost immediately after she came home. I think this is mainly because Paolo e Giulia think that Giulio needs exercise, because this is the third time we've gone on a walk this week. When we returned home, I did some review on my words, and we ate soon after. I talked again at dinner, but not as much as I'd have liked to. I am still a little scared to speak, because everyone is so loud and when I talk I am fairly uncertain and quiet, which is unlike me. At home, I'm usually very straightforward, loud, and talkative. I can not wait till I can speak the language proficiently, because I have a feeling that I'll fit in at the dinner table.

venerdí 11/09

     Today was pretty casual. Before lunch, I did my typical routine, everyone was studying, so I did the same. I am studious, but I find it hard to study for three-to-four hours straight. We ate couscous for lunch, which I thought was parmesan cheese at first, due to the color. We had some vegetables and tomato sauce to put on top, and it was fairly good.

     If you haven't noticed by now, I love to talk about food. I am a foodie. I haven't yet weighed myself, but it doesn't look like I have gained any weight. In fact, it looks as if I am getting fitter because I am not drinking milk, and eating any of the processed foods that we have in the states. It is also extremely frowned upon to eat anything else inside the house besides something at the dining table.

     After lunch, I sat in the living room while Giulio was watching the Simpsons. I never realized how much I disliked the show. I apologize to any Simpsonizers out there, but it needs to go.. at least in Italian. It is really funny to watch films that come out in English, and seeing the peoples' mouths move at different times than the Italian dub over it. I am starting to pick up rapid speech. I used to only pick up words here and there, but I am beginning to pick up words faster, and not have to focus solely on others' speech. Since I didn't want to study, and had nothing else available to do, I somehow made it through three hours of the Simpsons.

     I had previously expressed my passion for running, and the necessity of it for me. Alessandro asked me if I wanted to see the track after I dropped off cash to Tomasso for the fiesta di Elena. In Italy, people compile around 10 euro each and put it into a pot and the person who just had a birthday buys the present for the next person with the cash. It's neat, and it eliminates the need for gifts out of obligation. We rode to Piazza Cairoli, dropped off the money, and then rode through the narrow streets towards the sport center. I still do not know when I will start hurdling, but this Sunday, a doctor will be coming to give me a physical and assess whether or not I am fit enough to participate at this sport center. Haha, selective.. I like it.

     On the way to the center, I was following Alessandro and when we stopped, I stepped on the brake a little fast and fell off the pedals. I lost my balance and kept laughing for around ten seconds. When I stood up, disoriented, I immediately crossed the street. I'm not sure if the car was going too fast, but it almost t-boned me perfectly; like bread and butter. Thankfully, I got out without a scratch, and only a temporarily mad Italian driver. I might've made him mad when I laughed when he stepped on the brakes and half-waved while continuing to go forward. I'm not sure what Giulio and Alessandro thought, but Alessandro laughed about it afterward. I saw the center, and then I led us back to home, per Alessandro's command. I think he wanted to see that I could get myself home. I'm not that bad with Italian, am I?

     When we got back home, we had to immediately leave to catch the bus to Giulia's workplace. We were going to her parent's villa again. While we were waiting at the stop, the bus didn't show even ten minutes after the supposed time. Alessandro said under his breath, "Cazzo! Sempre tarde." I couldn't help but laugh. We decided to walk to the next stop in order to pass the time. When we were about three-fourths of the way there, Alessandro began to run. Giulio and I looked at each other confused, but then look back and see the bus. Running to the stop, we hailed the bus. It was packed. Fast-forward to when we were getting off the bus. The drivers in Italy are stupid. He passed the stop even after we pressed the stop button well between stops, and continued to drive even after we jumped up to tell him. We get off and walk about half a kilometer to Giulia's workplace and we drive to the villa.

     At the villa, we went swimming, played soccer, and a few other things. I found out that I was a lot better at soccer than I had remembered, and was really good at shooting barefoot. I accidentally shot at Alessandro in the goal while Giulio had ran in front of me, and it hit him in the pelvis area. He momentarily collapsed and both Ale and I bursted in laughter. Giulio, I'm sorry. We then went to play some tennis, among other things, and returned home to eat dinner. I didn't do anything after dinner but write, and then go to sleep.

sabato 12/09

     Yesterday, a family friend who lives in Florence named Giulia came over. When I woke up at around ten, she had made breakfast for the family.. and it was wonderful! At breakfast we all talked a lot (I think it lasted around two hours) and then we all went about our day. Giulia and Giulia both started on making lunch, while Ale and I went to go shopping for some new clothes, mainly pants. In the case that I haven't mentioned this, you're not allowed to wear shorts to school. It is considered disrespectful and too informal. When we were shopping at H&M, I noticed that stores in Italy are way different. The rooms each have their own style, clothes are set by other clothes that not only match, but go perfectly with each other, and everything just looks wonderful.

     We return home to a freshly made grape pie.. and boy was it lovely. I had never heard of it, nor did it sound very appetizing, but I made a pact with myself to try everything set before me, whether or not I liked the taste. At lunch we had this soup with pasta pieces in it; it reminded me of Alphabet Soup, except they were round balls. I didn't have enough.. it was delicious. Following lunch, Giulio, Ale, and I all went to the store to buy some school supplies and a few other things. I really love riding my bike around Pisa. The city is always abuzz with activity and there's never a quiet moment. There's always something going on somewhere.

     Following dinner, I got dressed and Paolo, both Giulias, and I went to a concert in the Cathedral of Pisa; this is the other building that you see in photos of the leaning tower. The concert was really interesting, and it was performed by the Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, which is really famous. The words were all sang in German, so I had no clue as to what they were saying, but I could follow along in Italian. The concert lasted about two hours straight, so I ended up reading some other things in the booklet. I ended up reading the bios for the soprano, tenor, and bassist with little problem, so I was really happy to see that my Italian was actually improving. For anyone interested, I will put a picture of the program below for those who are interested.

domenica 13/09

If you made it this far, grazie!
I will be posting on Sunday evenings, with Sunday coming first in the future! This will allow me to actually write about my Sundays after they happen instead of cutting them short. Arrivederci! Buona notte! Ciao!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Beginning: Meeting the Family

Friday: Day Zero

     Two days ago, I had my orientation in Rome was very anticlimactic. After arrival, we were put into our rooms, at dinner, sang some songs, then attended the opening ceremony. I think that it was good, but I was also very sleepy during that time due to my near-nineteen hours of travel. The flight from NYC to Zürich was flawless, but after the five-hour layover, we boarded the plane to Rome. This flight was good until there happened to be a storm in Rome. Therefore, we weren't able to land and were forced to make circles in the sky for around sixty minutes. Once the sky cleared, we landed and were stopped in front of the terminal. As everyone is beginning to get up, the pilot announces, "Okay.. um ladies and gentlemen, we do not have anyone to bring us the stairs." After about a thirty minute wait, the guys come to bring the stairs, but the bus isn't there. You can guess what happened next. Anyway, it took a long time to do anything once we arrived in Rome.

Saturday: Day 1

     Yesterday, we woke up and almost immediately had to leave. Leaving in groups every thirty minutes according to location within Italy, we split up. I left at about 10:30 and arrived at the station in Rome at around 11:50. I met a really wonderful person named Maria, who is the only exchange student in Italy from Spain. I also talked with Samantha a lot on the bus ride over and on the train. We both are in love with Sour Patch.. go figure. On the train bound for Genoa, nobody really talked all to much; all of us being anxious to meet out family, but nervous at the same time.

     After about three hours, we arrived in Pisa. Before I had time to prepare and be nervous, I was immediately kissed on both cheeks by Domi, my liaison and my host father, Paolo. Alessandro, Pietro, Giulio, and Giulia were all there to greet me. It was an instantaneous relief, I would not have to be nervous anymore about first meetings. Instead of walking home from the airport, we drove about one kilometer because it was very hot. Let me tell you, drivers in Italy are CRAZY; I like it, I like it a lot. Paolo is a fantastic driver swerving in-and-out of the other lane, almost drifting around the roundabouts and doing it with a manual mini-van-esque vehicle. Once home, Paolo e Pietro gave me a small tour of the house.

     In this house, they take off their shoes at the door like in Japan, but socks and slippers aren't required, nor are they worn. It's perfect! There are two bathrooms, and they call them bano bianco (white bathroom) and bano giallo (yellow bathroom). After the tour around the house, Pietro helped me unpack and get situated in his our room. There was so much space for me to put clothes, I was confused! I had always heard that Italians had lived in very small spaces, ma è molto grande! After we unpacked, Paolo e Giulia took a siesta and my brothers and I played Mario Party on the Wii together, on teams. Having never played it before, and having it explained in Italian made the fact that I was an exchange student set in.

     When Pietro and I were about to win, it was time for dinner. We all went over to the table and sat down. It was extremely different from a dinner in the United States. There were two plates, and three or four separate dishes. First we ate Spaghetti con Pomodoro which was delicious, and then ate salad, plums, and had bread alongside it all. It might just be my family, but they clean their plates with the bread as they go along the meal, making it clear for the next dish. I ate so little and they wanted me to have more, but I was filled to the brim. After dinner, I took my own siesta while Alessandro watched TV and Pietro left to go practice his guitar. I was invited to a concert by Alessandro, and we rode our biked a few kilometers to the other side of Pisa. There, Alessandro and I walked and attempted to make conversation with my broken Italian, and his somewhat good English. After about thirty minutes, Alessandro's friends showed up. I can't remember any of their names besides Giacomo and Maria. Giacomo could speak English really well after only a year of studying it, so I ended up talking a lot in English with him. I guess it wasn't good that I did that, but that was just for yesterday.. it's not going to happen again! We returned to the venue site and joined in the concert. It was so loud. I'd never been to a rock concert before then, and it was different. I really liked some of the songs that they sang, especially the one called "va fanculo", which literally means "fuck you". Aside from the title, it was a really catchy song, and actually had very good instrumentals. In the middle of the concert, song people started to ram into each other and fall that normal?

     Following the concert, we all rode around the streets on our bikes and went to the Piazza del Pozzetto to get some gelato. OH MY GOD. This was the most delicious thing I had ever had. It was real gelato in real Italy! We went our separate ways afterward and soon after we got home, I went to sleep.

Piazza del Pozzetto

Sunday: Day 2

     I got to sleep in until 10:00 this morning, which was wonderful. When I awoke, I had breakfast prepared for me by Giulia, and had about thirty minutes until we would leave for church. Alessandro had something to do today, and Pietro doesn't go anymore, so it'd be just Giulio and I. Before I showered, I sat down in their breakfast room and was offered so many options that I wasn't sure what to do. In the United States, I never ate breakfast since I always woke up so early. I asked for just some milk and coffee, and was fine. It was probably the best I'd ever had.

     We went to church after I got out of the shower, and I witnessed my first ever baptism. There were two going on at once. It added about an extra half-hour to the mass, but it was not bad at all. In comparison to the four-hour long mass in Yamaguchi-shin, I was relieved. I didn't mess up anywhere, and I was able to read some of the songs. We return home afterward and I studied until lunch. Pietro was sitting alongside me while I was doing some Italian and he really helped out. We went to eat lunch—another four course meal—and spend about an hour doing so. I return to studying my Italian until about three, when all of us, besides Alessandro go to their grandparent's house. Little did I know it would be a Tuscan Villa. It was huge!

     I met Giulia's parents and they wanted to speak in English with me, to see how good they were. Everyone in the family wanted to meet me, it was pretty refreshing. We were not allowed to eat until 5:00 because of digestion, Paolo said. Apparently, the Italians believe that you should not do anything after eating in order to properly digest. So, instead we played Dubito. In the United States, this game is known as BS, or Bullshit. I ended up losing, but it passed the time and then we went to swim, and then we followed with a soccer game. We did some one-versus-ones and I beat both Pietro and Giulio! Then again, they don't play soccer. Most Italians are good at soccer—this is true.

     We come home and eat dinner almost immediately, and that brings me to now.. writing this down before I go to sleep. I get to listen to Pietro play his guitar while I am writing, and it is really cool. I actually feel like an exchange student now, but I already feel like a part of the family. I will update you guys next week, and the following week is when I begin school. Ciao! Arrivederci! Buona notte!