University of Minnesota Scholarship Winner Magdalena's blog
Week 1 (29.08.2016-07.09.2016):
My first glimpse of Bologna was from the airplane, easily recognizable with its red brick and its iconic Due Torri, the two towers that stand in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. On the bus from the airport to the hotel, all I could do was turn my head constantly to try to take in everything on both sides fo the street. Bologna is a city of portici, covered sidewalks that are built underneath the first floor of their buildings, and each portico is unique, whether it’s the style of the arch, the pavement, the coloring, or the columns, although they certainly could be cleaner.
In my program (Indiana University- Bologna Consortial Studies Program), we stay in a hotel for the first two weeks while we look for housing ourselves. Some had managed to find an apartment prior to their arrival, however I was not among them, so I spent the first week searching housing websites, contacting people, and setting up appointments. After seeing several, I found an apartment outside the centro storico with 4 Italians in a quiet neighborhood benservita.
The fall semester of BCSP begins with a presession course designed to introduce us to Italian and bolognese culture and to catch us up to speed linguistically. We take 4 cultural excursions, go to class daily, and read a short novel. We started on the 6th, and it’s honestly nice to have something constructive to do instead of wandering aimlessly around the city every day.
During the first week, we had meetings about safety and the university, but we also took a walking and a bus tour of the city to begin to familiarize ourselves with the city. Apart from the program activites, I hiked to San Luca, the monastery southwest of the city, with three friends from the program. The views of the hills and of the city are gorgeous. Later that day we went to the MAMbo (il Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna) because the public museums are free every first Sunday of the month.
In Bologna (and throughout Italy), a very common social activity is going out for an aperitivo with friends in the evening. At an aperitivo, you buy a drink and then eat at the buffet. Most restaurants and bar offer them every night, and it is a very nice atmosphere in which to relax with friends and enjoy the evening.
Week 2 (08.09.2016-14.09.2016):
I moved into my apartment on the 10th, but since university classes don’t start until the 26th, my roommates are still on vacation. This means that I’m not really exposed to as much Italian as I would like to be at the moment, but that’ll come.
I have 5 friends that live in Italy that I met while I was working at Concordia Languages Villages this summer, and two of them actually live in Bologna. This week I met with one for gelato and had lunch with the other. Since school hasn’t started yet, I haven’t had the chance to make friends with Italians, so it’s really nice to have some contacts already. The other three are from Bergamo, and I’ll go north to visit them at some point during the year.
One thing I really love about Europe is the street music you find everywhere. Last week there was a group from Germany that tours around Europe, and this week there was another- again based in Germany, but the members come from all over the place. But it’s not just fairly well established groups, there are locals playing the violin, or the guitar, or the drums, etc., all over the city which makes the day so much more pleasant.
The center of the city is Piazza Maggiore, where people meet, street musicians play, and you can find free WiFi, all great things. The piazza is created by the Basilica di San Petronio (Bologna’s saint), the Palazzo dei Banchi, the Palazzo del Podestà, and the Palazzo Comunale. Every big event in Bologan takes place in Piazza Maggiore: outdoor concerts, the festival of San Petronio, strikes, anything.
Our first excursion with the program was to an agriturismo 25 minutes outside of Bologna by bus. This was an increedible experience all around. It was my first time being outside of the city, and we drove through such beautiful hills. Bologna is not a green city- there are some parks, but in the centro it’s virtually impossible to find nature. And being from Minnesota and not having seen hills or mountains for five years, it was especially impressive. Here we learned how to make pasta by hand, which looks easy when you’re watching the owner do it, but is so difficult to get the right consistency and to roll the dough thin enough. Afterwards we had a tour of the agriturismo and a delicious dinner. This particular agriturismo biodinamico, so all of the food was made from ingredients produced on the property and the buildings were made out of sustainable materials.
On the 11th, I went to Firenze with three program friends for the day. We walked around a lot, gazed at the Duomo in awe, crossed the Ponte Vecchio several times, ate delicious gelato, and went to the Museo Galileo, which was very interesting. The best part of the day though was definitely when we left the centro storico and hiked to Forte di Belvedere. From there you have the best view of the city and of the hills outside the city. There also weren’t very many tourists, which was great because Firenze is teeming with them otherwise. It made me very grateful to be studying and living in Bologna, which is not a tourist city by any means.
The third and final incredible experience from this week is a trip up the Torre Prendiparte, one of the remaining torri in Bologna. It is now a bed and breakfast, but the owner hosts nights in which people can go to the top and view the city at night. I went with my 3 friends (whose names are Laura, Regan, and Henry, by the way- I will be referring to them a lot), and it was by far the best view of Bologna. From the top you have a 360° view of the city with all the lights, and you really get an idea of how complex the city it. It was unbelievably beautiful.
Week 3 (15.09.2016-21.09.2016)
Another week of excursions. Saturday the program took a trip to Ravenna as part of the culture section of our presession course led by a professor from the Museo Civico Mediovale. The focus of this excursion was to see examples of art and architecture from the Late Antiquity period. We saw the Basilicia di San Vitale, the Battisteri degli Ariani and Neoniano, la Chiesa di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, and the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, all of which are striking beautiful and fascinating. Ravenna is the city of mosaiacs, the most famous of which are those of Giustiniano and Teodora in the Basilica, two works of art I have been wanting to see in person since I saw them in my World History textbook in 10th grade. They are so complex and intricate and wonderful, it was really quite incredible.
Then the next day Henry and I went to Modena, a small town 30 north of Bologna by train famous for balsamico. We visited the Duomo and got to climb the campanile for free because there was a festival going on that weekend. We were only there for the afternoon, but we still managed to see a good part of the city and eat gelato, so we’ll call it a win.
The third cultural excursion with the program was a visit to the Museo Civico Medievo, which is housed in the Palazzo Ghisilardi, to learn about medieval art in Bologna. It was probably my least favorite of the trips if only because we didn’t get to travel for this one. I’m not very much of an art person. I can appreciate it, but understanding it tends to be a bit beyond me. Still very interesting though.
We have picked our classes for the semester. The process was definitely a little overwhelming because there are so many courses offered, many more than are available at the U. Also my goal here this year is to study Italian, I’m not taking anything that counts towards my math major. That means I could take absolutely any class and still be fulfilling my goal. But in the end, I chose linguistica italiana, storia della matematica, and epigrafia etrusca from UniBo (Università di Bologna) and the advanced language course offered by BCSP that we are recommended to take. Classes start the 26th.
In other news, my roommates have arrived. They are all very nice and are willing to talk to me. I do wish, however, that there was a common space other than the kitchen because I don’t see much of them other than meals.
Week 4 (22.09.2016-28.09.2016)
And the travel log continues…
Thursday the four of us went to Ferrara. The city is small but well-known for its castle in the center. The only thing that was missing from how I imagined it was a hilltop. There was a moat, a drawbridge, dungeons, towers, an orange garden, and beautiful ceilings. We spent all afternoon at the castle wandering around.
Our final excursion with the program was to Urbino to learn about Renaissance art and architecture. Urbino is a small city in the mountains of Le Marche and takes 2,5 to reach by bus. The palace constructed by Federico III da Montefeltro was the main point of our focus and was incredible. It was built with defense in mind, so the tunnels underneath the castle are more like giant caverns big enough to park tour buses because they were meant to let horses pass through them. The city itself looks like a scene from a fairy tale or a Disney movie with winding streets and hills and purple-ish brick. To get a good view, we climbed to the park that overlooks the city and just sat there for a half hour basking in the sun.
My courses have started. The first one was Monday morning, Storia della Matematica. I have been wanting to take a similar course for a long time, and I was not disappointed. Not only was it as interesting as I hoped it would be, but I was also able to understand almost everything- a very rewarding feeling. That wasn’t necessarily the case in my Linguistica Italiana class, but it’s going well enough so far. I made my first friend in class; she is Dutch but speaks very good Italian. Still looking for the first Italian friend.
Week 5: (29.09.2016-05.10.2016)
The wait is over: I have my first Italian friend! We exchanged numbers and have plans to go out next week together. This is one of the things I’ve been most excited about because it is almost impossible to really know the culture without having people who can teach you about it on a microlevel: where to eat, what to eat, what to wear, idiomatic expressions, etc. None of that gets taught in a classroom. So now the immersion really begins. Finalmente.
I was travelling again. This weekend I went to Lugano with my usual three travel buddies. Henry has family friends and Laura has family that live there, so it was a much different experience than our other adventures because it was much more personal. Regan, Henry and I stayed with the family friends, who were some of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met. They put us up for the weekend, made us unbelievable food, gave us advice about where to go in Lugano, and shared a lot about the culture of Lugano and of Switzerland. Lugano is absolutely beautiful. It’s in the middle of the mountains on a gorgeous lake, which was such a change from Bologna. It honestly would have been nicer if it hadn't rained all Friday and Saturday, but even that wasn't terrible. We spent most of the weekend with the family, but we also got to go downtown to the autumn festival that was happening, where there were tents with live music, beer, and food and stands on every corner selling roasted chestnuts. All in all, it was the best weekend I have spent since being here and one of my favorite experiences thus far.
Tuesday was San Petronio Day, the saint of Bologna, and therefore a holiday warranting the cancellation of classes. Besides not having to go to school, it was really nice to be in Bologna for what felt like a weekend because the streets were closed to traffic and everyone was out and about.
Week 6 (06.10.2016)
This weekend I made le lasagne alla Bolognese with Henry, which took a lot longer than we expected it to. We made the ragù and bresciamella from scratch, and it turned out wonderfully. I was eating leftovers 4 days later, and it was still great.
Later that same day, I went out with my new Italian friend and her roommate. We walked around the centro, went to a couple of bars, and just talked, which was great. I spent the entire evening speaking Italian, completely immersed in the cultura Bolognese and loving every minute of it. It’s moments like that when I really how much I have improved since being here, which is really nice to see.
I’ve started studying for exams. Italian universities are much different from US ones in their structure because they require a much more disciplined course of action by the students. There are no midterms, no projects, no papers- just a final oral exam at the end of the semester with the expectation that everyone has been to class and has studied the materials. This means I can read a chapter from one of the books for my linguistics class and say that I have started studying for the exam that will take place in January. A terrifying yet oddly gratifying statement, since that would not be the case at the U. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I understand- I expected to have a much harder time with it.
My last and most exciting update for this week is a volunteer opportunity I’m going to take advantage of. Lots of elementary and middle schools here loving having native English speakers come in and help in classrooms. I am going to be volunteering in math classes at the International School of Bologna, hopefully with both younger and older kids to give me an idea of what it’s like to work in a classroom. I’ve worked with kids in immersion in afterschool and in camp settings, but this will be my first time in a classroom. This will be especially helpful since I am exploring becoming a teacher. I’m really looking forward to it.
Week 7 (13.10.2016-19.10.2016)
I finally bought a bike! I had to wait for the shop to finish fixing it up, but it was completely worth the wait. I have so much more freedom going around the city. It’s not all positive though. Biking here is pretty dangerous because bikers and pedestrians don’t seem to follow any traffic rules. This only works because cars anticipate all of the craziness very well. I still wear a helmet though, which marks me immediately as an outsider since Italians laugh at the idea of wearing one within the city. Also the streets aren’t the best for biking because Europe=cobble stone, but you just get used to it and try to pay attention to the holes in the street and the everyone moving around you all at the same time.
In other exciting firsts, the first choir rehearsal was on Monday! I haven’t sung with choir since junior year of high school (I sing a cappella at the U), and it felt so nice to sing with a big group of people again. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that. For those who are new to the university choir, the first five rehearsals or so are separate from the rest of the choir to work with specifically with us and probably also for us to see if it’s something we are actually interested in. I met quite a few Erasmus students (foreign students) who don’t speak any or very little Italian, so I got to play translator, which was neat. I realized, while all this was transpiring, that I understand that’s being said without even thinking about. Half-listening I hear the conductor make a joke under his breath, and I chuckle along with the Italians. I think that’s a pretty good measurement of my improvement.
I was travelling again this weekend to another new city but not an Italian speaking one. Laura has grandparents that live in Zurich, and she invited me to go with her to visit them. It was an incredible trip all around. When we arrived Friday night the first thing we did was go down to the lake and watch the sunset while eating Paprikachips and drinking Rivella, two very Swiss things I’m told. We took the train to her grandparents’ house after that and were welcomed with spaghetti alla bolognese for dinner. Her grandparents don’t speak English, so we spent the whole weekend speaking German with them, which was refreshing even though I found myself trying to use Italian words occasionally. All of Saturday was spent walking around the city, seeing the sights. We climbed the tower of the Großmünster and got an incredible view of the city and the lake. We rode four different types of transportation: a bus to the train station, a train into Zurich, a streetcar just for kicks in Zurich, and a boat back to the house. There is a boat that goes around the lake like a bus, and it was included in our tickets so we couldn’t pass it up. Sunday morning we hiked through the woods that are nearby up a hill where there is an observation tower. From there you can usually see all of Zurich, but it was so foggy none of the city or the lake was visible. Instead we go to see the mountains for the first time since we were above the fog. It was one of the most serene and awesome sights I have ever seen.
The last thing I would like to share this week is a quick anecdote I posted on Facebook. It’s about an experience I had with the languages I speak and how I have changed how I interact with them. These last two months have really had a profound effect on how I think about language and what language means.
I would like to correct the response I used to give when people ask me, "Do you ever get Italian and German mixed up??"
I have always answered with a firm "no, they're different enough, so it doesn't really cause any problems." That was the response I gave before I was ever in a position to really use the two languages together.
My first experience in such a situation was at Concordia Language Villages, when the Italian camp I was working at did an exchange with the German camp and I acted as a translator for most of the day. It was a crazy experience, and in the end I was exhausted from trying to communicate between my 2nd and 3rd languages and the frustrating lack of vocabulary I possessed in the latter at the time. Nonetheless, it was one of the most rewarding days I spent this summer and gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.
Fast foward to today. I was walking back from class when I saw a group of students performing on the street, getting the word out about a orchestra concert happening tonight. The visiting orchestra is from Hamburg, Germany. Hearing a couple students in front of me speaking German, I struck up a conversation with them and was definitely struggling to find the words in German perché ho appena passato tutta la giornata a lezione ascoltando e parlando l'italiano und musste auf einmal Deutsch reden. Then throw in a trumpet player who happened to be from Minnesota, and now there are tre lingue e non so per niente welche Sprache ich jetzt sprechen soll and which parole gehören to welche lingua.
So, my new answer is yes. Yes, I get them confused. It is, however, the most exhilarating and beautiful confusion I have ever experienced, and I intend to bask in it.
Buon day noch :)
Week 8 (20.10.2016-26.10.2016)
I finished my first Italian book! (Or at least the first one I read by myself. We read Pinocchio with much handholding in the last Italian class I took at the U.) It’s called In Altre Parole, or In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri. She’s actually an American author writing in Italian about her experience with the Italian language, so I really identified a lot with what she was describing. Having finished that last night, I went to a bookstore this afternoon to get more to read. I think reading for fun can count as homework now because I’m certainly learning as I’m reading, so I’m technically not putting off studying.
This week was very chill. I stayed in Bologna this weekend. Two friends of Henry who are studying abroad in Budapest visited him, so we got to show them around the city, had them try the classic Bolognese food, really good gelato, etc. It felt like we were showing them around our city. Bologna has become our city. I guess that’s not too surprising after being here for two months, but that’s not really something you notice until it appears in front of you in the form of a person.
This weekend there was also the Mortadella Festival, which I attended for about 20 minutes (only because I was going from the library to dinner with friends). There were stands set up all over Piazza Maggiore, and you could go from booth to booth sampling mortadella. It was quite the affair.
On Saturday morning I made pancakes for my roommates. Three of them lived here with an American last year who made them pancakes from a box, so they had already experienced them (to an extent…). Pancake brunch is always a big deal at my house. We always make them from scratch with chocolate chips and make smoothies to go along with them. I don’t have a blender, but there was fruit. It was an impulsive decision I made when I woke up, so they were all thrilled when they walked in the kitchen. It was the first time we’ve all sat down together and hung out, something I find really strange and wish were different, but I guess that just means I have to make pancakes more often, and that is totally okay with me.
I start volunteering at the International School of Bologna in two weeks! I’ll be working in a 4th grade and a 9th grade class, both in math. I’m very excited about it; it’ll be really nice to be working with kids again!
Week 9 (27.10.16-03.11.16)
This week has very little to do with Italy, I’ll be perfectly honest. This week was about me going back to my roots and revisiting a part of me that usually seems very far away. This week I went back to Salzburg for the first time in five years. I spent a good chunk of my childhood there because my dad directed a study abroad program four times, and it has always remained a second home to me. We had a long weekend because November 1st is a holiday and my Monday classes were cancelled, so I was able to leave Thursday and come back Tuesday night.
I’ll try to focus on the few things that could be considered Italian—otherwise I could write a book.
I know it may seem like I’m not spending a lot of time focusing on Italy or on Bologna, but that might be because Bologna is becoming more like home and doesn’t seem as exciting as it once did, which I consider to be a good thing. Wednesday night I was in the centro for the first time in a week (I also hadn’t been there at night in a couple weeks), and I realized how good it was to be back, even though I basically have a home in Salzburg.
Here is the Palazzo del Podestà (on Piazza Maggiore) lit up at night.
Week 10 (03.11.2016-09.11.2016)
So this week I was back in Bologna again, which I was very glad of. As wonderful as it is to travel all over the place, it gets exhausting, and I am really in need of a break.
Over the weekend I had dinner with a friend from the program. We found a new restaurant called Il Bass’otto, which was delicious and very classy, and just caught up on life. As the semester goes on, it gets more difficult to keep up with program friends because we are continuously branching out, which is great, but it’s always nice to see everyone once in awhile. I also found this neat little bar that has board games painted on the table tops. Bologna is filled with so many quirky places, you just have to wander around a bit to find them, and that really gives you a chance to see Bologna at night with its vibrant student life. Studying at the University of Minnesota within Minneapolis, I always thought campus was part of the city itself. Being here makes it obvious how much of a bubble the campus can be if you don’t make an effort or don’t have the time to leave it. Here the city is the university and the university is the city—at the very least, it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins—which is part of what makes it such a great place to study.
Now on to the difficult part of the week. The Italians were also following the elections. Of course they were—our elections affect everyone. The public library hosted an event Tuesday night with the CNN livestream playing and panelists from the university, from political groups, from American exchange programs, from the International Women’s Forum, etc. discussing the election and the consequences and their perspectives. It was definitely an anti-Trump crowd in terms of rhetoric from the panelists and conversation topic amongst the individuals. My roommate and I left around midnight, but the event lasted all night (we are seven hours ahead of Minneapolis) until the results were called. I don’t know if the Italians understand the implications of a Trump presidency, especially in terms of the impact on individuals belonging to groups he has attacked over and over again. I’ll read a horrifying article about the spike in sexual assault in the last 24 hours, and then I’ll hear someone laughing about something the media said about Melania. It makes it all the more surreal. I have to say I’m very grateful to be in Italy at this time—at least that I’m not in the US.
In happier news, I started volunteering at the International School this week. I was in a 4th grade classroom on Tuesday working on multiplication, and today I sat in on a 9th grade class reviewing expansion in algebra. I preferred the 4th graders because I got to walk around and interact with them, whereas the 9th graders had more of a lesson/lecture day, and I was mostly observing. These are the two classrooms I’ll be in for the next little bit, and I’m very excited about it! The kids are so quick to pick things up, and their English is incredible (which you would expect at this point in an immersion education, but still impressive).
Lastly, my fourth class (Etruscan Epigraphy) starts on Monday. It seems odd, but it’s actually very common for classes to be offered for half the semester at a time. I’m not sure how much you can learn in a five week course, but at least it’ll be interesting. My linguistics class is still dragging on about dictionaries…
Week 11 (10.11.2016-16.11.2016)
My friend Greta from linguistics invited to a party at her apartment this week! There were probably 20 of us all together, with her roommates and their friends. It was probably the immersive experience I’ve had since here: being in and interacting with a giant group of Italians. I didn’t feel like an American outsider; I felt like one of them. I brought chocolate cupcakes, and it was hilarious watching their reactions as they realized how much butter was in them. I did get asked a couple times about the elections, which isn’t surprising, but the evening itself was a great distraction from all the crap that’s happened in the last week.
Henry’s parents were in Bologna visiting him for a bit and his friends from Lugano (the ones we stayed with in October) came down as well, and they invited us all out to dinner. We talked a lot about the election, but it’s different discussing it with Americans because we have a better idea of what’s going on and we’re more invested, obviously.
I did some more baking this week. One of my mom’s specialties is Harvest Squares, a pumpkin bar with chocolate chips and cream cheese frosting, and it wouldn’t be Fall without them, so I had to make them. Pumpkin isn’t used very often in Bologna, so my roommates were a little perplexed, but definitely enthusiastic. The running joke now is that I am always baking, which is fine by me. The apartment smells delicious for two days every time.
I went back to San Luca for the first time since September over the weekend. It was a beautiful day- perfect for gazing into the hills. I need to go more often, it’s a great workout with all the stairs and the incline. Plus it’s gorgeous and tranquil at the top.
Week 12 (17.11.2016-23.11.2016)
We had another program excursion this weekend. This time they took us to Mantova, which is in Lombardia, to see the Palazzo Ducale. It was a very gray day, but the city is lovely and the palace is very impressive. It’s famous for the Camera degli Sposi,“the bridal room,” a stunning room with all four walls and ceiling very elaborately painted. Infact the entire palazzo was very elaborately painted. Walking through, you’re entirely surrounded by incredible art, whether it’s a tapestry or a fresco or the ceiling painted to look like the night sky or the ballroom with its optical illusions. The ballroom was my favorite because it was so bright and colorful, and I could just picture lavish parties filling the room.
Program meals are always the best part though. They always last two hours, and we always eat food typical of the region. And always really, really well. In Mantova our antipasto was a plate of affettati misti (cold cuts) and a portion of polenta ai funghi(polenta with a mushroom sauce), followed by two primi piatti, some type of risotto and ravioli alla zucca (with pumpkin) that sort of tasted like a cinnamon roll. But we’re not done yet as the second arrives: stracotto (beef) and patate al forno (baked potatoes). The dolce was sbrislona, an almond-based, crumbly cake. Like I said, we ate like kings.
The big-to-do in Bologna this week was the Cioccoshow, a giant chocolate expo that lasts five days and takes up the entire Piazza Maggiore and spills into surrounding piazze. I went everyday to walk around, breathing in chocolate and looking at all the incredible artisan chocolates. There were truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries and Sachertorte and molds of any shape/object/character you can imagine and hot chocolate. So much hot chocolate. I’m pretty sure I had one every day. It was cheaper than at a café, so I had to. It was always really crowded but always worth walking through. One night I went out my roommate and her friends for a few hours, and we got Sicilian cannoli as they taught me random words in their Salentino dilalect.
Week 13 (24.11.2016-30.11.2016)
Thursday was Thanksgiving. It was very strange not being with my family. I’ve celebrated it in Europe before, but even then I wasn’t the only Schroeder. This year I got to celebrate it with my new family of Americans who all found themselves a little stranded. The program arranged a very nice dinner for us at a fancy restaurant with all the traditional dishes: turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, some sort of apple pie, etc. It was all absolutely delicious. Everyone who takes part in the program was invited: the professors that teach the courses offered through the program, the director of the International School (where I volunteer), the people that have offered our students internships, and all of the staff.
I also introduced my roommates to some of my family’s Thanksgiving traditions. I put a poster in the kitchen for everyone to write what they are thankful for and three of us watched King Kong, which we do every year. Italians love Thanksgiving. Everyone tells me he/she wants to do real American Thanksgiving dinner and asks me to describe what it’s like at my house.
I went to friend’s house to make risotto alla zucca Friday night. Risotto is quickly becoming one of my favorite dishes because it’s so easy and versatile- you can make it with practically anything. It’s nights like these that make me very grateful that I’m here for a year because I get to continue strengthening all these friendships, something that semester students won’t get to do. To finish off the night, we watched La vita è bella, which I had never seen before. It was very sad, but very beautifully done and very touching.
Week 14 (01.12.2016-07.12.2016)
They announced in choir that our concert would be in two weeks, which shocked us all, especially when they told us we would be singing almost all of the repertoire, which includes around 15 songs. A lot of the singers have never sung in a choir before or they are just doing it to meet people, which is fine, but it means we aren’t particularly good. Hopefully people will realize they have work to do, and we’ll be fine by the time we get to the concert. There are actually two groups I’m a part of. The first is the mixed group that everyone in this particular choir sings with, and the second is the women’s group, which is basically a women’s chamber group made up of female voices from the mixed choir. People are more serious in the second one, and I enjoy the music more. Singing with these two groups has been great for meeting new people though. I have made a bunch of friends, Italians and Erasmus students, that I might not see or talk to again after the concert, but that have been great company during this semester.
This weekend I went to Verona! Lan, a friend from the program, and I went for the afternoon on Saturday to see the sights and the mercatino di Natale. We really only spent about five hours there, so there’s still a ton I didn’t get to see, but that just gives me a reason to go back. We saw the Arena from the outside and walked down to Piazza delle Erbe, where there was a weekend market. For lunch we found a place with typical cucina Veronese; I had gnocchi al gorgonzola for the first time. It was delicious.
Of course the main tourist attraction in Verona is Juliet’s house, which we found eventually after turning ourselves around a couple times. There actually weren’t as many tourists as I expected, but that might have been because it was a pretty gray day. Unfortunately you can’t leave notes to Juliet on wall, like in the movie, but you can take pictures in the archway that leads into the courtyard, which is full of graffiti. There really isn’t much to see, but it’s the idea that sells.
After Casa di Giulietta we went back to Piazza delle Erbe to climb Torre dei Lamberti. Even though the weather wasn’t great, the view was still incredible. You can see the entire city from up there, which at first glance, just seems like red roofs, but it really is beautiful.
The last thing on the agenda was the mercantino di Natale. It was spread over two small piazze and full of stands with artisan crafts and delicious food. I had my first vin brulé, mulled wine you can find just about everywhere in December. Then we just walked around, taking in all sights and the smells. I did a bit of Christmas shopping for my family.
Things got political here too. The referendum on changing the constitution was held on Sunday. It seemed like kind of a mess. A lot of the Italians I spoke to said they were voting No because they didn’t believe in the proposed changes but wished that Renzi hadn’t tied himself to the result. Monday night, I went downtown with my roommate to a rally that was celebrating the No win. There were lots of people with sheets painted with slogans in classic Italian rally/strike style. Now I guess we just wait and see what happens.
Week 15 (08.12.2016-14.12.2016)
This weekend I went to Bolzano for the sole purpose of seeing the mercatini. Bolzano/Bozen is in Alto Adige/Südtirol, the German-speaking region of Italy, and is very much culturally influenced by Austria. For this reason it’s supposed to have the biggest and best mercantino in Italy, and while I have not been to every single one in Italy, the trend seems to be increasing quality the further North you go. I went by myself (my first real solo trip) and stayed in Bolzano for two days in order to see as much as possible. I went to two museums and a castle, took a hike, ate incredible food, and bathed myself in Christmas cheer. It was a great weekend.
The museum to go to in Bolzano is the Archeology Museum, where they house Ötzi, the Iceman. The exhibit was very interesting and informative: it’s amazing how much they are able to learn from his remains. I also went to the Civic Museum, which wasn’t particularly thrilling, but still neat to see things specific to the region. The second day I walked/hiked (it was pretty uphill, I was very sweaty) to Castel Roncolo along a beautiful promenade from which you can see the whole valley and all the mountains that surround it. It would have been nicer if there had been snow, but it was still beautiful. The castle was great. Very simple as far as castles go, but full of gorgeously painted rooms. The walk back was down along the river. All very calming.
As to the food, I stuffed myself with as many Südtirolean dishes as I could manage, from Käseknödel to Spinatspätzle to Brezen to Gulaschsuppe to Strauben. It was culinary heaven. And the vin brulé/Glühwein was scrumptious. Much better than that in Verona. I didn’t go into a single restaurant while I was there because I could just eat at the mercatino and be sure to find the best food there. The rest of my time was spent there, listening to the music, looking at the stands, and enjoying the Christmas spirit that was so thick in the air, you could cut it with a knife. It was grand.
On top of this grand adventure, we had a four day weekend because Italians celebrate the Immaculate Conception, which I had never heard of. Three of my roommates went home for the holiday, so Ale and I had a lovely lunch together. She showed me how to make risotto alla milanese, which is risotto with saffron and delicious. Other roommate adventures this week include baking chocolate chocolate chip cookies (and burning half of them because our oven is terrible) and playing scopa, an Italian card game. Another reason I am very glad not to be leaving is that I am finally getting closer to my roommates. It’s taken us a while to warm up to each other, but I think we’re getting there J
Week 16 (15.12.2016-21.12.2016)
This week brings three big things to an end: classes, choir, and the program. We had the final exam for the grammar class on the 14th, and my last lectures for math history and linguistics finished up on Friday. Now it’s time to study. Both those exams are in January. Math history is in the traditional, oral format, while linguistics is done on a computer. Although it was nice to not have to stress about exams right before Christmas, I kinda miss being done with everything before going on break.
The choir is also done for the semester now. We had our concert the 15th after nine hours of rehearsal within the three days leading up to it. It actually went really well, and I had a bunch of friends that came to listen, so that was really nice. If I want to continue with the choir in the spring, I have to audition for the cori “fissi” (the permanent choirs) in January.
And the program closed up for the semester. This was definitely the saddest part. All the semester students will have returned to the States very soon, and I will probably never see most of them again. Kind of a weird thought after such an intense shared experience for the past four months. The staff threw a goodbye party at the office on Thursday; we played tombola, an Italian Christmas game similar to bingo, and ate lots of cookies, panettone, and pandoro. It was really nice. The new students arrive January 9th, none of them from Minnesota.
So with Christmas coming up and all my American friends going back to the States and all my Italian friends going home for the holidays (somehow I haven’t really made any friends from Bologna), I have a lot of goodbyes to say. Henry, Regan, Laura, and I had our last meal together at Osteria dell’Orsa, I made Christmas decorations and watched Gilmore Girls with my roommate, went out for the last gelato with Lan, went for tea with Nadine, and went to Greta’s for a last evening together.
I leave the 21st to go to Bergamo. Well technically I’m going to Pisogne and then to Costa Volpino, two villages in Valle Camonica, which is half in the provincia di Bergamo, half in the provincia di Brescia. Two of my friends are hosting me for three days each, so I’ll get to see them and have some company for the holidays, for which I am very grateful.
Week 17 (22.12.2016-28.12.2016)
Christmas in Italy. What an incredible seven days. I got to see Bergamo, Bresica, and Valle Camonica and spend time with incredibly kind and hospitable people. The first three days were spent in Pisogne with my friend Aria. We walked around the village, made pancakes and risotto, I met a bunch of her friends, and she took me to see two incredible sights: Lago Moro and San Giovanni. Lago Moro is an alpine lake, very small but beautiful and very peaceful. San Giovanni is a small church overlooking Lago d’Iseo (the lake the of the valley) partway in the mountains. From there you have a spectacular view of not only the lake, but also of the mountains and all the little villages that make up the valley. It was stunning.
On the 24th I house-hopped to Costa Volpino to stay with my friend Neva and her family. That evening she took me to a house party with a bunch of her friends where I mostly just listened, trying to soak up as much Italian as possible and trying to keep up with all the colloquialisms. Then the 25th all of her family came over (her parents are incredible cooks), and it was great because everyone was so nice. There was a stranger sitting amongst them during this very family-oriented time, and I might as well have been a cousin. I ate soooo much. Insalata, lasagne, ravioli, polenta, pollo, maiale ripieno, and panettone, all in one sitting. I had to take a nap afterwards. Like mine, Neva’s family isn’t religious, so it was really nice to be in authentic situation in which I could be completely comfortable. I also skyped with my family.
The last full day was certainly well spent. Neva’s father, she, and I climbed a mountain. We took a 2-hour hike through constantly changing scenery with a dog that followed us to get to what felt like the top of the world. You could see for miles and miles. So many mountains. Absolutely breathtaking. I realized I need mountains in my life. Sorry, Minnesota. (Trying to explain to these people that you have to go hundreds of miles to get to real mountains is kinda funny.) In the afternoon after more incredible food, we made cookies to bring to another party full of more great people (what is it with Italians??).
The last day was spent actually in Bergamo, where I took the train. We met up with my third (and last) bergamasca friend, and we walked around la Città Alta, which is gorgeous, before going to get sushi.
And now I’m back in Bologna, missing the mountains and the incredible company. It’s time to bunker down and study.
Week 18 (29.12.2016-04.01.2017)
Back in Bologna I’ve stayed mostly at home. I was in downtown in the library studying once or twice, and I go running, but otherwise I stay in the apartment going over notes. All of my roommates are still at home, so it’s very quiet and perfect for studying.
New Year’s was interesting though. I got locked out of my apartment without my phone during the day and had to go through a lot of people to call my landlady, and then I went to Piazza Maggiore in the evening to see what was going on. There was a huge crowd with music and a giant, nutcracker-looking solider puppet thing, called il Vecchione, is burned. The symbolism was lost on me, but it was cool. And then there were fireworks.
And that’s all. Everyone is gone. I have a lot to study. Not much going on. Buon Anno!
Week 19 (05.01.2017-11.01.2017)
The studying continues. My first exam is on the twelfth, quickly followed by the second (and final, if all goes well) on the seventeenth. I stayed mostly at home this week, emerging only to meet the new students that arrived on the eighth. We had a program welcome dinner at the same restaurant as in September. It was really strange being with all these new people. I had an idea of what the program was and of whom it consisted, and now it’s all shaken up. They seem like cool people though. Those I sat by were making an effort to speak Italian for most of the dinner, which is promising. I’m trying not to be snobbish though. We also had a pizza party at the office as a more informal get-together with some ice breakers so we could get to know each other a bit better. It was a nice evening, and I’m never saying no to pizza.
In other news, I found a baby-sitting job. Laura from the first semester left, obviously, and is handing the job over to me. It’s with two girls, 3 and 6, whose parents are doing their best to expose them to as much English as possible. So I’ll be with them 2 or 3 times a week, speaking English. The girls are adorable, and I’m excited to see an Italian family from the inside.
Week 20 (12.01.2017-18.01.2017)
Well I had both my exams. The first one was an oral exam, and it was a disaster. I already thought the Italian system was disorganized and inefficient. Now I am convinced. The professor was an hour late, there was a lunch break (after which he was another half hour late), and I was ninth in line, all adding up to 5 hours of waiting in a room listening to Italians take their exam and being much better prepared for it than I was. So with high anxiety, my ability to speak Italian abandoned me, as did most of what I had studied and I stumbled through my first oral exam trying not to cry in front of the professor. I did pass, but I will be retaking it because I know I can do a lot better now that I know the expectations. The one nice thing about this system is that you can retake the exam if you aren’t satisfied with the result. That is the only good thing I have to say about it.
My second exam was on the computer, with multiple choice and free response questions, which is very unusual here. I think it went alright. For this one, I actually left the house to study because I have a friend from the Netherlands in that class and we studied together. We had to get to the library before it opened though, so we could be sure to get seats. Every day there is a crowd of people waiting to get in to study, and it fills up pretty quickly. If you arrive at any other time of the day, you need some luck to find a spot. This is how you know it’s January: everyone is studying all day, every day.
I also had my audition for the choir. Everyone from the fall semester had to reaudition to get into the “real” choir, the one that is actually serious and has good singers. It went well enough, and I’m in the mixed choir, along with a bunch of girls I made friends with last semester and two people from my program. It’ll be really nice to keep singing.