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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.