Archive for the ‘Meghan in Italy’ Category


Meghan: 12 year olds & Thanksgiving

November 29, 2010

During high school, I would spend hours imagining what my life would be like in the future. Just as, I’m sure, almost everyone reading this blog has done as well. I feel like a different person, from those days when all I wanted to do was work with animals, or travel the world as an anthropologist. I am a different person. I never would have imagined that during my Junior year of college I would be sitting in a comfortable, yet bare bedroom on the third floor of an apartment building, overlooking an ancient and unique city, reminiscing about the previous week as my pumpkin pie takes its precious time baking in the oven.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I don’t think I could have had a better one, aside from being home with my family. Each day leading up to Thursday seemed to drag on, as I monotonously went to class…too excited for upcoming weekend full of celebrations, food and friends.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday I willingly set myself up to go slowly insane…via twenty-five extremely curious, and outright hilarious, Italian twelve year olds. For the last couple of weeks I have begun working at The Scuola Media Gandino, and Italian middle school about twenty minutes from my apartment, teaching English… or really, facilitating any form of conversation from the rowdy kids. The first couple of weeks were more than entertaining: filled with “getting to know you” games and hundreds of random questions about my personal life. Typically, the class begins with a simple “what did you do this weekend?”, followed by a serious interogation of their new American teacher. Here are some examples, in order of importance (according to them):

  1. “How old are you?”
  2. “Are you from Scotland?” No. “London?” No. “Australia?” Do I sound Australian? “New York?” Nope. But you’re closer! “Miami!” “California!” Too far! “L.A.!” I wish. Oregon!” Oregon? Really? “Texas!!” God, no.
  3. (Naturally, I had to tell them. Who knew that no one in Italy has ever heard of Milwaukee, or Wisconsin for that matter.)
  4. Have you Facebook? Yes. “What is your second name? How do you write your names?” (These are normal sentence structures for Italian kids…quite entertaining! Also, they only want to know how to spell my name in order to become my “friend” on Facebook. Pigs will fly before I “friend” 70 Italian twelve year olds!)
  5. “Do you have a boy?” Translation: Do you have a boyfriend? No.
  6. “Is your boy the boy of your dreams?”(All the boys look up expectantly. The girls all giggle. This is only proof that Italian’s are all romantics at heart—even if your only in the 7th grade. They need to time to hone their skills. Why not on an American teacher? Also, this is proof that they don’t listen.)

I could go on and on with the most ridiculous questions possible from 12 year olds, but I’ll let you use your imagination! Every hour that I spend with them brings not only new insight into the world of teaching (and discipline, for that matter) but the feeling that I’m doing what I love and feel passionate about! Be it lessons on movies, Thanksgiving, or the meaning of the American flag and the Thirteen Original Colonies (try to ask a 12 year old American today if they can list all 13 without looking… My Italian kids can!). I always leave the school happy and confident.

Now, to round things off because I’m tired and need to finish the never-ending blog post. This weekend I :

  • Had an amazing Thanksgiving meal at a local restaurant and ate so much food I pretty much had to roll myself home;
  • My friend Miche, from Tuscany, came to visit and we had an amazing time doing the following:
  • Going to three different markets, both normal and Christmas
  • Ate delicious Indian food
  • Watched three episodes of “Are you Afraid of the Dark” and “Monsters Inc.”
  • Had an American “Home-sickness Party” with the necessary Hamburgers!
  • Ate my weight in chocolate at the local chocolate festival!
  • Wandered around Bologna admiring the beautiful Christmas lights!
  • Pumpkin Pie!!!!
  • and finally: Played in the SNOW!!!



Meghan: Knock on wood

November 2, 2010

Today is All Souls Day, a holiday almost entirely overshadowed by Halloween and All Saint’s Day, that commemorates the dead. Being in a very Christian country, “The day of the Dead” is definitely not something to be taken lightly. My curiosity has gone into overdrive these last couple of days, and I was especially curious on how Halloween was celebrated in Italy. The idea of “Trick or Treating,” or as Italians like to call it “Dolcetto o Scherzetto” has just recently become popular, mainly in the bigger cities; and trying to find adult sized Halloween costumes is almost impossible…not that I tried very hard. Considering the fact that seeing adults dressed in ridiculous outfits has been, until recently, reason to send them to an Asylum, we expected quite a few comments.

So when Britta and I walked into a small tabaccheria before a “pre-Halloween” party from fellow classmates, the barman couldn’t help but tease Britta, who had drawn cat-whiskers, and promptly quizzed her:
Come si dice dolcetto o scherzetto in Americano?” “How do you say ‘Trick or Treat’ in American?” Naturally, we were able to answer, and got free chocolate! I have to admit, it’s my fault that the tabacchaio started to tease Britta. She came into the tabaccheria (a place where they sell everything, from phone cards to cigarettes, to candy and coffee) with a scarf covering her face to avoid that exact situation. So when the worker looked at me with a raised eye-brow, I couldn’t refrain from explaining that she drew whiskers on her face for Halloween and didn’t want people to see. Laughing and teasing ensued, along with the aforementioned free chocolate.

Maggie, the hostess, pulled out all of the stops, with help from her roommates and other friends from the program, serving chocolate cupcakes with amazing orange colored frosting, PB&J, and other delicious treats. It was definitely a Halloween party, American style. Another party, on the day of Halloween, was just as American, or Midwestern to be more precise, with a scattering of students from all around the world, and our wonderful Italians. The most interesting part of Halloween, for me, was learning all of the different superstitions and myths found in Italy. Here are some of my favorite:

Black Cat: Of course, the black cat is a very prominent superstition in America as well as in Italy; however, have you ever heard of someone while driving, saw a black cat cross the road in front of them, and subsequently stopping and waiting for a car to pass them so that they wouldn’t receive the bad luck caused by the cat?! Ridiculous…but a true story from a friend in Florence.

Toasts: You must never toast with a glass of water, and you must always look in the person’s eyes or else you’ll receive 7 years of a bad love life.

13: The number 13 is actually lucky in Italy! 17 is bad luck! Supposedly, and I have only heard this from one person, but 17 written in roman numerals is XVII, and rearranged it is VIXI, latin for “I lived,” which was commonly written on tombstones.

Shoes or Hats: You must never put new shoes on the bed or table. It brings back the idea that in the past, the dead used to be laid out on the bed/table in order to pay respects, and they would be dressed in new shoes. Doing so will bring bad luck for it is said that “you are tempting death to come over.” (In some places, it goes for hats as well.) So don’t tempt death and keep your shoes off of the table!

Nuns: Supposedly, if you seen a nun you must quickly ward of bad luck by touching iron: the italian version of “knocking on wood” or “touching wood” for you Brits! You can also yell “Your Nun!” to a person nearby and thereby pass on the bad luck to them.
The reason being, nuns were normally only seen at funerals and hospitals: two places you do not want to be.

Finally, and most interestingly, is the “Malocchio.” The “Evil Eye,” can be anything from giving or receiving a dirty look, or sometimes, a compliment that shows jealousy. It is said that giving a compliment is a way of tempting the spirits, and either you must wear the “corno” a horn-shaped charm, or perform the typical hand-gesture by pointing your pinkie and index fingers downward as you “push-away” the bad luck. Make sure that your fingers are facing downwards, because if they are facing up, it means that your significant other, has or is cheating on you.

I could go on and on, but should end this entertaining form of procrastination.


Meghan: Cookies & pancakes

October 24, 2010

Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in my overlarge sweatpants and a tank top sipping away on extra strong espresso, curled up in a blanket and watching The Simpsons. Indeed, it has been a perfect afternoon. I wanted nothing more than to return home after two hours of class, unfortunately in the early morning, and just relax. A tentative schedule has finally begin to form; a quick breakfast with the necessary cappuccino, a brisk walk to my Italian Literature class followed by Romance Philology or Contemporary Italian History, depending on the day, then back home for a quick lunch and study session. Some days, I take my habit of procrastination to heart and give in, preferring a leisurely walk around the city or spending some time with friends; until it comes to that point where you can no longer put off your readings or lesson planning, unless you are prepared to really regret it in a few days.
In all, my life has finally begun to be ruled by a comfortable routine, still flexible, but established all the same.

Speaking of lesson planning, I finally feel at ease planning and executing lessons that are effective and interesting, at least for the nine and ten year old boys on Thursday evenings. Let’s see if I feel the same way once I start teaching their Mom and Aunt in the near future.

At times I feel like I’m really on track, things seem to be going perfect; the way they should be in any case. Then, one of those moments arrive when you realize you were missing something huge; for example the small fact that I have about 12 books to read by January, meaning at least a book a week, before exams. Surprisingly, I’m not as stressed as I should be. Perhaps it’s the cool breeze in the apartment with the distinct smell of fall that has finally arrived in Bologna; the few trees changing colors and losing there sparse leaves. Perhaps it’s the calming effect of writing and contemplating my day-to-day life; something I’ve truly been neglecting do. I’ve come to the point now where things seem normal; the beautiful porticoes have become just regular streets that I numbly walk by everyday to class…even eating gelato has lost its shine! The thought that I am taking the absolute beauty and unique life in Bologna for granted by slowly becoming numb to it isn’t have as disturbing as the fact that I’ve done the exact same thing, for longer than I can remember, at home, in the Midwest. How many times have I walked around my block wishing that I lived somewhere else; somewhere warmer, somewhere interesting and lively? How many times have I taken for granted waking up in the morning with birds singing outside my window instead of the loud scooters speeding on their way to work accompanied by the sounds of construction workers clanging away in the early hours of the morning instead of the pesky squirrels dropping black walnuts all over the yard and patio; little bombs slowly destroying our yard. It makes me wonder how much I’ve taken for granted; how numb have I become to the world around me in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Will I do the same here? Now that I am aware, will I be able to take a step back often enough to never lose sight of the wonders around me?

Italy has made me appreciate a lot of things that before, I took for granted; such as chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven and pancakes. I never thought this day would come, but I can honestly say that I am dead sick of pasta, and pizza is on its way. So to appease this annoyance, cookies and pancakes went on our list of things “all American” things to do. So, Marta (a friend and intern at the school) as well as Kylie and Britta came over and we got to work making some of the best cookies, and slightly not the best pancakes, ever. Having such an American dinner, Marta thought it necessary to buy a bag of chips, and a huge bottle of Coke to seal the deal. Lets just say that our food choices that night were not the best we’ve ever made—our stomachs definitely let us know that later on. I don’t regret a minute of it!


Meghan: my mornings & my trip to Venice

October 10, 2010

The Piazza is a different world in the early morning. The fountain of Neptune is empty, with only pigeons keeping him company instead of the usual students casually leaning against its steps waiting for their friends for a night out. Nor are the cafés overrun with people, leisurely enjoying there cappuccino and brioche with the local paper in hand. I walk by, dodging the occasional business man, his phone glued to his ear, or the those daring rats on wings searching for food, heading towards my early morning classes. Of course, everyday I am early to class, and everyday my professors are late.

I won’t begrudge the lost class time, because frankly two full hours of lecture on Romance Languages and their origins and Italian literature is quite enough for one day. The lecture hall is cold, and packed with 40 or more Italian students from all over Italy—which naturally led to quite an interesting and heated discussion on Italian dialects and their origins both assumed and true. Each day I sit near the front, pen ready to copy every mumbled or slurred word, understood or not, the professor says. My notes are obviously a mess, following the erratic pattern of the professors lecture, with unfinished sentences and random dates scribbled in the margin. I’m trying to convince myself that it will become more clear in a few weeks, but for now, my only hope is to write down as much as possible and to not start daydreaming, for a stray thought on what I will have for lunch will set me back about five minutes.

Aside from the extremely new way of teaching and learning in Italy, I can say that I am absolutely in love with my classes and actually want to do more in the class then just get by with a good grade. I can’t even explain how exhilarating and interesting it was when we began comparing latin based languages to Sanscritt and it’s origins! I just hope that I will stay as interested as I am, and will pass my oral exam a few months from now. The dreaded oral exam, that all foreign students along with most Italians, fear more then anything. After a semester worth of lectures, almost 60 hours worth, our only and final grade is based on our “interview” of sorts with the professor. The prof. can ask us anything and everything about the course, so you truly have to know and be able to explain, not simply regurgitate mindless facts, in order to pass. Yes, I’m scared. But all I can do is take it one step at a time.

* * * * * *

Kylie and I decided to spend our Friday afternoon in Venice, before classes truly started to become difficult and time consuming. To start, the weather was absolutely perfect. A perfectly blue sky with a cold breeze off of the sea made Venice one of the most pleasant trips so far. As we walked out of the train station we were greeted first thing with one of the main canals of the ancient city. With no map, and no desire to find one, we quickly found something to eat (of course, cheap pizza) and started our wandering: an activity I have truly become an expert at. We zigzagged our way over bridge after bridge, through streets only big enough for two people side to side. Best of all, I didn’t see or hear one car!

I’ve heard mix reviews on Venice, but in my opinion, I haven’t been to a more beautiful city. It probably helped that we went in October, where there was almost no tourists and the weather was amazing and the air fresh and exhilarating. It was an extremely relaxing afternoon of sightseeing and window shopping; admiring all of the handmade masks prepared for Carnevale (Italian Mardi Gras). In all, it was a great and cheap day trip. I really can’t wait to go back sometime soon! But for now, classes come first.


Meghan: Living away from home/classes start

October 9, 2010

Although I’ve been in Italy for more than three months now, I’m definitely at the point where you begin to question your motives, which in and of itself, is extremely disheartening. Living away from home isn’t a new concept for me. It was something that I was always excited about, something that my friend Amanda and I would stay up late into the night imagining and dreaming about. You could say that this is my fourth year living away from home, one year in France, two in Minnesota, and now a full 12 months in Italy. Does it feel like I’ve been away four years of my life? No. Plain and simple. France was definitely a hard change, but I had an amazing host family and friends to help me through it. My years in Minnesota were more like discovering a new home, and to be frank, when I think of home, I think of the beautiful Minnesota campus during the fall, and my friends, movies at Coffman and the beautiful Mississippi. Home, of course, will always be my family, and my house in Milwaukee, but Milwaukee itself? It took me 4,722 miles to realize how much of my life is back in Minneapolis and how much I truly miss it. I told myself that I would be as frank as possible when writing this blog, and I am.

Studying abroad is truly a beautiful thing and I will never regret the choice of coming here, but it is also one of the hardest choices a person can make. Not everything is fun and games—sure I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve loved it, but with new experiences come hard choices and difficult situations that are impossible to foresee.

Everything I’ve done so far has been based on spontaneity, and I love it. A few days before classes started, a friend, Kylie, and I took the slow train to Rome for a few days. (There was a strike going on at the University so classes were postponed.) Naturally, many of us took advantage of the free time and went on a trip. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and literally dropped our bags off at the hotel and hopped on the subway towards the colosseum and after, pretty much wandered to all of the major sites that Rome has to offer. The best day, however, was the second day, where we spent 6 hours at the Vatican exploring the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica and Square. As we liked to put it, we conquered the Vatican. The next trip there will be even better, seeing as we are planning on making a reservation to tour the Necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica!

On another note, classes began last week, and although I like having so much free time, I’m ready to settle down and start to have a routine. For the moment, although things may possibly change, I’ll be taking a grammar and Communication course through BCSP and at the University of Bologna I’ll be studying Italian literature (Machiavelli, Petrarca, Dante, Boccaccio, etc.) as well as French Linguistics. Hopefully, I’ll be teaching English as a side job to two little boys and possible another woman which could pay for rent! (Not a bad deal, really.)

Sunset over St. Peter's Basilica

Ancient Ruins on our way to the Catacombs of St. Callisto.


Meghan: long hike & apartment issues

September 15, 2010
A few Sundays have come and gone, those lazy days where you catch up on life and get yourself back on track for the rest of the week, and last Sunday was no different… if only a bit more adventurous. The Basilica of San Luca looks over Bologna from high up in the Southern hills—easily seen in those moments when you are daring enough to leave the shelter of the cozy center city and its porticoes. After the previous week, I desperately needed a calm and relaxing atmosphere that only going into a green, picturesque area can give and San Luca seemed to be the best option. So naturally I grabbed a friend who had the same idea in mind, and we set off to conquer the 666 porticoes that would lead us there. (Yes, there are 666 porticoes.)

The residential and busy street of Via Saragozza lead us to the outer ring of the city and to the path once used for the pilgrimages to the basilica—yet a sign threw us off track…naturally. Who would imagine that a sign saying “San Luca this way!” wouldn’t lead us straight there? This is the classic example of why you should always read the small print. We found out too late that we had taken the tourist bus route, which literally zigzagged through the hills of Bologna.

I seem to always put myself in a situation where I feel as though I might have made the wrong choice, yet I stick through with it, always looking towards the reward at the end. I tell myself “Oh, you’re almost there,” or “we’ll just try a different way, it couldn’t be that bad…” yet sometimes, it really is that bad. The trip to San Luca, as my friend and I have decided to call it, was just a training session. The hour walk uphill didn’t lead us to the basilica, and I truly don’t know how much longer it would have taken… most likely one or two more; yet it did bring us to one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever been too, with a view that could possibly beat that of San Luca.

Things looked bad for a while when we were making our way up the narrow road, and for a while we wanted to turn back. Of course I’m happy that we didn’t because if we would have, we never would have reached such an amazing place. So in hindsight we made a good decision because the outcome was great. I can’t say the same thing about the situation I’m in at the moment regarding my apartment. I keep telling myself that better times will be right around the corner, just as I would tell myself that San Luca will be just around the bend up ahead…but really, its much harder then it seems. You can’t just tell yourself things will be better in a few days, because there is no way for you to know.

Saturday had to have been one of the worst days so far. It was the 11th, the day we had to all check out of Hotel Holiday, our makeshift home for the last 2 weeks in Bologna. Normally, I would have been moving into my apartment that I found quite early in the program, but I had to wait until Sunday. To save you all from meaningless details, things went from a slight discomfort to a huge problem: that of me being homeless until the 20th of September. Not only did the problem with my apartment put me in a horrible situation, so did my inability to ask for help. Call it a major fault of mine, one that I’m slowly trying to overcome. I know that I can be so hardheaded sometimes as to not ask for help when I know I really need it. Thankfully I had some great friends that were there for me and helped me figure out what to do. To have waited two entire months to move into an only semi-permanent home in Bologna to only have it pushed back 10 more days threatened to push me over the edge and back on a plane home.

Those who know me should have guessed that there was no way that I would have gotten on a plane, no matter how unpleasant a situation, unless absolutely necessary. Thankfully, I knew it was a situation that I could handle—especially because it could have been much worse. I like to think that I’m a strong person and that something like not having a place to stay until the 20th wouldn’t and couldn’t effect me too much…And it really wouldn’t have if I had expected it. There’s the rub! I didn’t expect this, and I have to stay I’ve never had such an unpleasant curve ball thrown at me. I was scared that after this situation I wouldn’t have gotten along with my future roommate, and that I would have to start the search all over again.

I had to keep reminding myself that things will be better soon; I’ll just have to keep going; that there is a beautiful park waiting for me just around the corner.
Obviously since finding out that I had no home until the 20th, I have found a solution—which is staying at different friends apartments from BCSP. Things seem to be looking up, although I truly can’t wait to be able to unpack my bags for the first time since July. I only have a couple more days to go; a few more miles to San Luca; until things will be alright.


Meghan: La Dotta, La Grassa and La Rossa

September 11, 2010

Something my professor told me in class really rang true for me, and inspired me. She said, grosso modo, that Bologna is like a mother, her porticoes protect you from the world while her beautiful red-tiled roofs welcome you into a warm and inviting city whose history and culture creates a place where you can feel at home and safe. Everything in Bologna is in walking distance and the small narrow streets create a sense of closeness that you don’t get in the U.S. I definitely feel at home in one of the most influential cities in Italy. Bologna is known by three names: La Dotta, La Grassa and La Rossa. La Dotta, meaning “the learned one” refers to its history of being home to the oldest university of Europe, dating back to 1088. La Grossa, “The Fat One,” refers to Bologna’s absolutely amazing cuisine! Yes, the have what American’s like to call ‘baloney,’ but here it is called Mortadella, and it tastes much, much better. You also will never, ever find what we call “Spaghetti Bolognese.” Try to order that in a restaurant and more than likely they will kick you out. Another no-no? Ordering tortellini al ragù (with meat sauce.) We read an article in class that gave us a great warning. It says: “Mai contradire la tradizione. Per un bolognese è come insultare la mamma.” Translation: “Never go against tradition. For a Bolognese, its like insulting someones mother.” And in Italy, you never insult someones mom! “Yo mamma…” jokes do not exist here. So basically, tradition here is very important in every way… but particularly when it comes to food.


Meghan: La Città Rossa

September 2, 2010

No matter what city you’re in, your first impression is more often than not the first steps you take out of the train station. First, before you are even close to seeing the city, you must prove that you are worthy. The fight for you life on the stairs leading to the main atrium is an adequate challenge. You will most likely suffer a few casualties, your toes and patience, for example, but it will be worth it. The feeling of accomplishment is worth it as you find your necessary map and step into the bustling crowd that seems to always gather in front of the station. Bologna is no different.

When you succeed in making it out of the station, Bologna seems to look like any other metropolitan Italian city. A few minutes down Via dell’Indipendenza, however, opens you up to the true Bologna. Miles upon miles of porticoes stretch out across the ancient Etruscan city, almost 38 miles worth of them. Needless to say, I absolutely love it! First impressions can be everything, and I had a great first impression of Bologna, the città Rossa.

After spending about 5 days in the city with a few friends from Minnesota, it was finally the day I had been waiting for since I walked into my advisers office Freshman year. So far, the staff have been absolutely amazing which makes the entire process of finding an apartment in a foreign city and in a foreign language all the less daunting. Searching for apartments in Bologna is definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done. Putting aside the significant fact that I am just now becoming comfortable and confident speaking the language, I have to take a lot into consideration. How much does it cost? Do I like the people? Are they open to having an American student living with them for a year, and are they willing to suffer through my stuttered language skills and constant “come si dice…?” Is the apartment big enough? Clean enough? Is it in a safe area of the city? Can I walk to class from here and where is the nearest grocery store? Question after question goes through my head when walking to the next apartment on my long list of “to-see’s,” hoping that I won’t forget anything important. Let’s just say that searching for an apartment is like trying to pick out the best school to go to because essentially, it will be my school, my home, and a major part of my year abroad in Bologna.

So of course, I’ve procrastinated writing this post… and therefore I have more than a week’s worth of adventures and experiences floating around in my head and sadly not enough patience to write down every single event. So I’ll try to make a long story short: I arrived in Bologna on the 25th of August and met up with some girls from Minnesota, and the next day, completely out of the blue, I ran to the university district to see my first apartment. In just 7 days, I saw a total of 5 apartments, all with good and bad qualities, a few leaning more towards the bad then others. It was either a bad area, a dirty apartment or awkward roommates that made my apartment search more and more frustrating after each passing day. This last Wednesday, however, almost pushed me over the edge of frustration. I scheduled three appointments for that day, and two of them canceled on me. One waiting until 15 minutes after the start of my appointment to actually tell me that they had already found someone.

So when I got a call from the third apartment of the day, I was in a horrible mood and tired. I went anyways, and am so glad that I stuck through and didn’t just cancel the appointment. Walking from the main Piazza (Piazza Maggiore) I headed straight down Via D’Azeglio passing beautiful and expensive boutiques and cafés until I finally reached a beautiful apartment building whose main floor housed a few different law firms and private companies. I was early, as always, and decided to check out the surrounding area and absolutely loved it. Then, waiting at the front of the apartment until my appointed time I saw a younger woman, in her mid-twenties, carrying a load of groceries into the apartment building, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was Serena, the girl I was meeting for the apartment. She didn’t say anything to me, so I assumed it wasn’t. To my surprise, when I finally rang the bell and made my way up the two flights of stairs to the apartment she was there to open the door! Let’s just say that we both got a big laugh out of it and hit it off right away. The apartment in itself was exactly what I needed. You walk in to a cozy living room that leads to the three single bedrooms, all fully furnished and a perfect size, with 2 very nice bathrooms and a large and comfortable kitchen. Needless to say, I really liked the apartment and its locations, its cost was very reasonable for a single in the center, and the people so far are amazing. I’m going back today to seal the deal. It is definitely about time to have some sort of permanent place to settle down.

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