Hello! My name is Jenna Staerkel. I am currently studying abroad in Yamagata, Japan. The other day I went to the Yonezawa Snow Lantern Festival. A snow lantern festival is exactly what it sounds like. During these festivals, large snow lanterns are exhibited along with a variety of snow sculptures.


The northern parts of Japan receive large amounts of snow every year and so there are many snow festivals held each year in these areas. The largest and most famous snow festival is located in Hokkaido.
When I arrived at the train station, I could tell that the whole town was really excited for the snow lantern festival. Outside of the train station, there was even a small stand distributing free soup. After I enjoyed some soup, I climbed up the giant snow sculptures that were built just outside of the station.

I then took a bus to the snow lantern festival. It was very cold and very crowded, but there were so many beautiful snow lanterns and sculptures on display.

Towards that middle of the festival there were many food and snack stands set up. I also came across a very large snow sculpture that was built to commemorate those who lost their lives during the earthquake.
Although the festival was very cold, it was well worth it! The lanterns and sculptures were beautiful and the food at the stands was delicious. Thanks to this snowy and cold winter, I was starting to get really tired of the snow. However, after attending this snow lantern festival, I have come to realize just how amazing snow can be.

[Editor's note: Alexander Anand, our guest writer for this issue, is a National Merit Scholar and a 2012 graduate with dual bachelor's degrees in Russian and East European studies. Anand will travel to Russia to teach English this year with the support of a Fulbright grant.]

When I stepped off the plane on that rainy first night in St. Petersburg, I had no idea what I was doing. Sure, there had been plenty of prep work while I was still in the States, but it flew out the window when faced with the enormity of what I had gotten myself into. When I had been told that the first few days in-country would be tiring, I had underestimated what was to become the most exhausting and enlightening few weeks of my life to date. The cognitive strain of trying to adapt to an alien social climate was unprecedented in my life up to that point. And … it was absolutely exhilarating.

Of course, my experiences overseas “reshaped my worldview” and “expanded my social consciousness” and all the other psychological effects of being a foreigner in someone else’s country for the first time. Even after spending so much time at OU learning about the history, literature and culture of Russia, my time there was still packed with surprises. For the first time in my life, I had to relearn people’s body language, facial mannerisms and tones of voice. Living in Russia also gave me unexpected insight into the dynamics of power and social interaction in my own country, along with a healthy dose of political skepticism.

But when I returned, I left Russia with something more. A fiancée.

I’ve never really been the sentimental type, so my thoughts on marriage when I left for St. Petersburg were not particularly favorable. I was wholly unprepared for what I was about to face. Within two months of my arrival, I was completely entranced by the charm, wit and grace of Nadia, a woman I’d never have met had I played it safe and stayed in Oklahoma. But this is just the most striking example of a wider trend I experienced: I really connected with my classmates and host family in a way I didn’t expect. Even if it took me five minutes to get out a relatively simple idea, my Russian family and friends were so patient and kind that I never felt like a stranger. Thanks to the Russian tradition of “kitchen talk,” sitting in the kitchen for hours and having thoughtful discussions on social, philosophical and even metaphysical subjects, my host family practically poured their collective knowledge and insight right into my skull.

Just talking to my host family, I got a basic play-by-play of Russian society from about the mid-sixties to the present, including loads of delightfully candid political commentary. I was offered an insider’s perspective on everything from the individual leadership qualities of Soviet leaders to the declining quality of Russian romance novels. Russia’s short list of presidents was a frequent topic of discussion, and my host mother took pride in declaring that St. Petersburg State – or, as she called it, “our university” – was the greatest producer of presidents in Russia, since 66 percent of the three presidents had been educated there.

Had I not studied abroad, my life would be very different, and not for the better. Thanks to my two semesters abroad, I am now going on a Fulbright grant to teach English at a Bashkir school for talented students. I’ll be getting married in the fall, and I have uncovered a connection to the rest of the world I would scarcely have believed existed four years ago.

As I promised, I’m going to continue on this idea of “home.” But this is also about my Thanksgiving travels.

A few weeks ago, I did another full week of traveling with two new friends I made at OUA.  We took an overnight train to Vienna, Austria, where we saw some wonderful museums, shopped at the twinkle-light Christmas markets, befriended a nomadic Kiwi, miraculously found a can of root beer (!) to go with our schnitzel, and realized my years-long dream of seeing the band MUSE live in concert. (I could make at least one full blog post about that concert, but it seems kind of irrelevant to the study abroad experience, so we’ll leave it with the commentary that I almost don’t like to listen to their recorded music anymore because it was so much better live.)

One of the highlights of my year–hearing Matthew Bellamy shout out “How are you feeling tonight, VIENNA?”

 

After a few nights in Vienna, we headed up to Prague.  We exchanged our Euros for Czech Krona (1000 krona = $50. It was dangerously like having a pocketful of Monopoly money) and found our beautiful (and apparently eco-friendly?) hostel. 
Everyone has always told me that Prague is “like a fairy tale” … and they weren’t lying.  The whole city was magical, from the river to the “dancing building” to the castle and—my favorite—the astronomical clock in Old Town Square.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was in the UK that I realized my confusion with the whole “home” thing.  In discussions with the other OUA students we had met up with in London, I found myself using “home” in three ways.

  1. (Sitting around the English pub that was the first floor of our hostel drinking Strongbow cider)  “It’s too bad I won’t be able to drink this for another two years when we go home.” (Here meaning the states.  I’m 19, and totally not a lawbreaker, if you need some context there).
  2. (Inside the National Gallery looking at some uber famous super amazing paintings) I don’t want to spend all day here because there are other things I want to make sure we see in London before we fly home tomorrow.  (Home here meaning Arezzo).
  3. (Taking pictures of Big Ben and Westminster) We can head home and check out that Christmas market by the London Eye on the way. (Home here meaning…..wait, a HOSTEL?

Let’s break from this list thing. Did I really call a HOSTEL “home?”

 

You bet I did.

We only stayed anywhere a maximum of two nights.

We never had a room with less than eight people in it.

We kept our bags in locked lockers and had to pull out a slip of paper to remember the combination to get in the front door.

But it was home.

Just for a few days…it was home.

 

That’s completely crazy, isn’t it?

 

-Shelb

Disclaimer: This window has nothing to do with this post. I just really love it.

Despite my best efforts, the thing most on my mind lately has been this concept—home.

I say “despite my best efforts” because the last thing I want to be doing in my final ten days in Italy is thinking about leaving it. But in my studies and in my travels I keep coming back to this idea—home. I consider and I wonder (like the over-analytic freak that I am)…what is home? What does that mean to me anymore? I call myself a global student; I call the world my classroom. But am I a global citizen? Is the whole world also my home? I can’t seem to escape the question.

It doesn’t help that I have six songs on my iPod all dealing with “home” (three of which are literally titled “Home.” I don’t have any other repeats that dramatic—maybe this concept has been more important to me in the past than I knew?).

 

To share these thoughts with you (and of course give some updates on my time in Italy as it comes to a close) I am going to make a series of blog posts, starting now and ending when I fly back to the States, about this idea of home. And I’m going to share some of these songs. Hope you enjoy!

——————————————————————–<3————————————————————–

**Gabrielle Aplin- Home** - this is my most recently-dicsovered (and favorite) “Home” song that I have.  My friend Ashley shared it with me a few weeks ago, and it’s quickly become the theme song of my semester.

————————————**———————————————————————–**———————

We learned in Immigration Class that the Italians in the days of their mass emigration (1800s, mostly) had a sort of catch phrase with which they consoled themselves – tutto il mondo e’ un paese. Or “all the world is a home town.” Through the generations they had learned that they could bring their culture with them wherever they went and be happy anywhere in the world.

Before I had ever heard this phrase, I made a similar comment.

This summer, my best friend and I backpacked around Europe for a week before our semesters started. We traveled through Edinburgh, Sheffield, London, and Luxembourg, and by the end I decided that the lesson I learned (and I pull this from a travel journal, I’m not just conveniently making this up) was “With good friends, good coffee, and the good Lord, you can feel at home anywhere.”

(Edinburgh especially felt like home becuse we found my new favorite coffee shop ever)

Guess I was already more Italian than I thought.

 

Read more

A week or so ago, I made the quick comment on Facebook that “it’s impossible to be upset about being so overwhelmingly busy when all the things competing for my time are so amazingly awesome.”  I didn’t go into details at the time—because I was just too busy.  But now, as I have hit a rare relaxed weekend, I would like to elaborate.

 

Here is what the past few weeks looked like for me:

 

One of these days, I’ll get the Facebook/selfie picture-taking thing down.

Wednesday, October 17th – Finish up midterms

As I believe I have mentioned before, we actually take classes here.  And while I personally adore all the classes—and the fact that there are about 15 students in each one, that the professors are so passionate about what they’re teaching, and that we’re actually learning about things in context of the place where we’re living—midterms are never fun.

 

Friday, October 19th – Monday, October 29th –Parents Visit!

Yes! My parents got to come visit me in Italy! It was something I never thought would actually happen.  My parents, who hardly ever travel, took off work for 11 days to come halfway across the world to see me.  I took a 4-hour train to meet them in Venice, and over the course of the 4-day weekend we explored Venice, Riomaggiore, and Pisa.  I left them in Florence on Monday night when I had to head back to Arezzo for classes.  Our Art History class was in Florence on Wednesday, so I met up with them at the Academia Museum (where our class was learning about Michelangelo’s David).  They came back to Arezzo for a tour of the town, our school, my apartment, etc. (and they later declared it their favorite city in Italy), and by Friday, when I was done with classes for the week, we were heading to Rome for the last four days of their trip. Daughter, Student, Tour Guide, Immigrant

As the middle child in our family, it’s been rare for me to ever have one-on-one time with my parents.  Add to this that I truly feel in my element while I’m traveling, and this week was really something special. It would even have been completely stress-free…if life could have stopped in the mean time.

 

Meanwhile….

Tuesday, October 23rd

My Tuesday classes run from 9am to 4:30pm.

In a break between classes, a few of us went to a coffee shop to meet some local college students who are about to graduate with “American Studies” majors and need conversation partners to help them with their final film projects. …My academic tracks at OU are International Studies and Broadcasting and Electronic Media, so this was absolutely an opportunity I couldn’t turn down! (not to mention that I’ve been dying to hang out with local students!)

After classes, our Student Advisory Council had “training” for our biggest event of the year—a Halloween “Fright Fest” for local children.

After that, I went all around town with a woman from OU’s College of International Studies who was visiting OUA to work on some amazing publicity materials for the program here.  Again, a fantastic combination of International Studies and Broadcasting/Electronic Media that is exactly up my alley.  I was fortunate enough to be recommended to work with her, and we spent the evening walking around town getting pictures and videos of Arezzo for an upcoming coffee-table book and iBook.

Then I got home in time to read up on Michaelangelo’s statue of David, which we were to see the next day.

It was one of the most overwhelmingly awesome, custom-made-for-Shelby, miraculous kind of days…could I seriously complain that I was tired as I collapsed into bed? Absolutely not!

 

Saturday, October 27th

While sitting on the hotel bed after a very long day in Rome (and anyone who has been to Rome knows that any day in the city is a long one—it’s just so overwhelming! Again, in an awesome way.  Can you seriously complain that St. Peter’s Basilica is simply too magnificent or the Colosseum too historical?) I remembered that my enrollment time slot had opened up…and I was still somewhat indecisive about what classes to take.  I’m looking at trying to do another semester abroad before I graduate, and depending on if I want to go to South Korea or Romania or on an OU Journey summer program etc., everything changes. But seriously, could I complain that there were too many exciting options to choose from? Of course not.  But it was still a bit stressful.

 

Tuesday, October 30th

My parents caught their 6am flight!

After another 9am-4:30pm day of classes (wait, has it seriously been a week since the last crazy Tuesday already?), some of us from the Advisory Council ran over to one of the apartments and began turning it into a haunted house for the next day’s festivities.

At 5:30, a group of us went up the street to the Children’s Library to do a Halloween story time and monster-balloon craft with a handful of local elementary school kids….or we thought we were going to have only a handful.  …The library was overrun. We prepared fifty balloons for the craft and didn’t have enough for all the kids until we made some more.

…More than fifty kids to listen to us read “Go Away, Big Green Monster” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” and to sing “the head bone’s connected to the neck bone…” ?! It was OVERWHELMING…and AMAZING.  What a cool show of what awesome community support we have here in Arezzo!  I suppose we should have taken it as foreshadowing of what was to happen at the Fright Fest the next day…

And from there it was back to OUA for a festive, good old American pumpkin carving!

The logo for a Canadian travel show I adore! …only one person understood the reference, so I’m planning a watch-party. :)

 

Wednesday, October 31st

Florence for class again!  This was one of the most overwhelmingly awesome “classroom” experiences of my life—as we got our lecture on the architecture of the Florence Cathedral from the special-admission-only balcony on top of it.  400+ stairs to the top of the duomo, a baptistery from the 11th century, and a Medici-commissioned church later, and we were on the 3:00 train home. 

As soon as we got off the train, we dashed to our respective apartments to grab costumes and a bite to eat, and then we headed over to OUA for the party.
OU does nothing halfway, so we had plenty of things to occupy the six-and-a-half trillion children (and their parents) who showed up for the duration of the party—thank goodness!  Mummy races and face-painting, coloring and cookie decorating and, of course, the haunted house were all smash hits.

 

Dirt ‘n’ Worms…cider…such lucky kids. :)

 

And now for the self-analytical part of this blog (you can’t escape it with me!)

I have found myself caught in a dichotomy here. 

On the one hand, I want so badly to make the most of this experience, so I have been volunteering myself for any and every opportunity that arises.

On the other hand, I want just as badly to get a chance to live the Italian lifestyle…which with its slower pace and emphasis on “tranquillati” (relax yourself), doesn’t mesh well with day calendars packed and color-coordinated.

 

Regardless, I have now had five much-needed days of alternating hibernation and study time, and only just found the energy to write this very long, drawn-out blog post.  But I re-iterate: I am not complaining about any of the things on this list.  How could I?  Everything that has happened in the past few weeks has been something so far beyond good.  I have been overwhelmed, but overwhelmingly happy.

 

My solution: discover the cure for the necessity of sleep.

 

A dopo

-Shelb

 

We finally found someone to get a picture of the three of us!

 

 

Oh yeah, can’t forget this thing…

One thing I learned about Italy – Until you can no longer physically jam the doors closed, it’s acceptable to squeeze more people onto the bus…at least in Rome, and at least when the Blue Line of the metro is down.

 

One thing I learned about myself – I’m not incapable of speaking Italian…I’m just a chicken.  When placed with people who know no Italian at all, I gladly rose to the occasion and managed to have a ton of conversations in Italian.  I’m sure I don’t sounds like a poet, but as far as I could tell I didn’t mortally offend anyone, and we always got where we needed to be.

 

Best thing I ate – It’s a toss-up.  It is either 1. The three-course dinner of pear risotto, roasted potatoes, and lemon chicken that my parents and I had at a local trattoria or 2. The BBQ Burger with caramelized onions and bacon that I had at the Hard Rock in Rome (hey…after 2 months away from the states, I’m allowed to enjoy a nice burger and free drink refills).

 

Italian Word of the Week: “Spaventoso” – meaning “scary” or “frightening.”  I.e. Are you sure it’s a good idea to come in?  This haunted house is molto spaventoso.

 

Travel Quote of the Day

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

 

 

13:42. train to Pisa: €12,40

18:25. plane to Seville: €22,00

21:00. bus to Seville city center: €2,40

two nights at a hostel down the street from the cathedral: €22,00

08:00. bus to Seville airport: €2,40

09:20. flight to Milan: €29,99

12:30. metro to the Duomo and back: €3,00

15:30. train to Arezzo: €39,00

Total transportation and housing cost for a trip to Seville (1550 km away from Pisa) with a mini side-trip to Milan on the way back:

€133,19 after being had for €30 by Trenitalia

One-way flight from Oklahoma City to Cleveland, OH (1535 km away): $216 or

€166,71

 

One of the most singularly compelling reasons to live in Europe for an extended period of time is the price of travel. Seriously, mass transit here is excellent and cheap, thanks to the population density of Italy been equivalent to Oklahoma’s, if everyone in Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas moved to Oklahoma. This semester, I have come to realize how much I love taking trains. Ryanair is scary cheap, but more than 90% of their planes land. Ahead of schedule, that is.

Anyway, this past weekend I and a couple of other students headed out to Seville, Spain to take a break from mangando la pizza to try comiendo las tapas. We successfully navigated trains, planes, and buses to get to our destination with only our wits and a couple of years of high school Spanish class to guide us. High school was almost four years ago for me, and if you know my wits, you’ll understand that we spent those few days flying by the seat of our pantalones.

Two of my favorite things: talented dancers and iPad photographers

I loved Seville. I love walking around old cities and seeing the layers of time on every brick of every building, every cobblestone of every street, and every flying buttress on every catedral/duomo. But maybe the most memorable part of the trip was the feeling of adventure that comes from being 1500 km away from the nearest people you know. Maybe it was getting kicked out of the Cathedral of St. Mary, the largest cathedral in the world, (for what we still don’t know; they just got really sassy) or maybe it was getting kicked out of the health food shop’s outside table area for bringing Burger King over from next door. Maybe it was the time we got off the train right before it left because we thought we needed to validate our tickets (hint: we didn’t need to, and some nice loiterers let us know in time to get back to our seats).

“We were wide-eyed with everything, everything around us”

There’s something marvelous about walking around an old place like Florence with someone as knowledgeable as Dr. Duclaux to help us on and off trains and buses (and Dr. Fagan to generously volunteer to pay our fare sometimes). But it is a truly liberating feeling to successfully travel around three unfamiliar cities (four if you count Bergamo) armed with nothing but “¿donde estamos?” and some offline iPhone maps.

And I still remember when I was afraid to walk anywhere in Arezzo by myself.

Okay, I realize I hit it kind of hard in that last post.  I promise this one is much less self-analytical and grandiose.  It is, in fact, just a simple recounting of my day.  It’s not even very detailed because I wrote it on a train.  So just in case you were wondering, here is what a Wednesday in my life looks like…

 

I was almost late for class today

but I broke into a run through the cobblestone streets and across the piazzas full of Italians confused by my rush, so I made it to class before the bells started ringing……and by “bells” I mean church bells from the bell tower at the top of the hill, and by “class” I mean the train station.  Today we were going to Florence again.

We crowded onto the train and sat back to watch the bright green hills and blue sky of Tuscany pass by for the next hour.  I pulled out a notebook and my degree sheets to try yet again to pick my classes for next semester.

Just another day.

It was “business as usual” when we got off the train–a 15 minute break to use restrooms and get cappuccinos and fresh croissants from a pastry shop near the piazza where we would later meet up.

Fifteen minutes never feels like enough when running on Italian Time, as we have all come to refer to the pace of life here, but eventually class has to start–which today meant going into the Santa Maria Novella, a 576-year-old church that saw the beginning and end of the Black Plague, in front of whose doors hordes of worshippers once whipped themselves in hopes of gaining favor of God, the church featured at the beginning of Boccacio’s Decameron…. Today, it saw a line of students and tourists.

Light shone in on us through huge stained glass windows as we listened to and took notes on Kirk’s lecture, while viewing in context a piece we all expect to be on our midterm next week.  We had walked through the cemetery courtyard outside, through the “valley of death,” and seen it straight ahead of us–a Holy Trinity, signifying life after death–in the way the artist intended (plus or minus the sounds of some people working on restoring another nearby hundreds-of-years-old fresco).  We complained when the lesson was over–we wanted to stay longer.

However, our next stop was certainly worth cutting short our time at SMN.  The “Uffizzi Gallery” is a name anyone who has taken an art history class is somewhat familiar with–only today, about 20 of us became quite personally familiar with it.  The building itself is incredible, and was once the location of the offices for the Medici Dukes.  Today, it is packed with famous art.  From incredible work to incredible work we made our way through the gallery, and I kept having to remind myself to take notes on Kirk’s lecture–the setup is one I’m used to from touring exhibits on vacation, not from an upper division humanities course.  It wasn’t until we had seen Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (yep, wasn’t expecting it, couldn’t believe I was seeing it.  Oh right, take notes…) that we took a break to get something to drink and to look out at the famous Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and the countryside on the outskirts of the city.  And after that, we powered through a Michelangelo piece and a controversial Venus from an artist in Venice.  And then we had two hours to explore Florence. 

It’s a pretty recognizable piece.

The city is full of things to do, but since our feet were tired and we know we’ll be back at least twice more for class, a couple friends and I decided to pass our time with a classic Italian “slow lunch.”  For 12 euro, we each enjoyed a pasta dish, a main dish (mine was grilled Italian sausage), and a side of roasted potatoes, as well as a glass of wine, great service, and a cup of gelato (which, for those people whose lives have tragically not been graced with gelato, is like ice cream…but better).  Everything was homemade–no microwaves, no preservatives–and locally produced, and it came out course after course after course for a good hour and a half. (Note to self: I need to write down my glass of chianti in the wine diary I’m required to keep this week for another class).  

  And now I’m on the train home, 15 minutes out from Arezzo, watching my exhausted classmates, who have finally all found available seats, fall in and out of sleep as I write and the hills and five-hundred-year-old villas pass outside the open windows.  As I finish this entry, I’ve started making a to-do list for tonight.  I need to type this journal entry into a blog post, I need to study for my Immigration in Italy midterm, and I need to pack my suitcase so I’ll be ready to catch my flight to Seville tomorrow after class.

Yep.  Just another day in the life of a student abroad….

The setup for the wine tasting we attended the other day. It’s a little odd that I’ll be 19 when I get home, and still unable to drink for 2 years. it’s such a no-big-deal thing here.

 

One thing I learned about Italy
Trains are “deletable.”  …It is really important to always book in advance…and be flexible since nothing ever seems to arrive on time.

One thing I learned about myself
I’m still not over my claustrophobia…as glamorous as train travel can sound, when you end up standing in the aisles sharing air with too many people, it’s not all fun and games.  So I’m going to keep working on that fear.

Best thing I ate
Lane and I won a “Buddies” cooking competition with our amazing “Nutella Ravioli” — shortbread pastries filed with hazelnut/chocolate creme and coated in cinnamon sugar, with strawberries–so let’s go with that.

Italian word of the Week
“Sperare” meaning “to hope”

…I just think it’s a good word. :)

Travel Quote of the Day

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Will write again shortly,

Shelb

I’ve already noticed on this trip–I’ve had a lot of photos of sunsets, but just as many sunrises.

The day before yesterday, our Student Activities Council (of which I am Vice President) put on a 1990’s-themed dinner/movie night.  This event, if I recall correctly, was originally inspired by the…eclectic music taste of shops and restaurants around Arezzo (one night, we legitimately heard Bye, Bye, Bye; I’m Like a Bird; and I’ll Stand by You back to back to back), and ended up including a scrumptious 1990’s-themed dinner, a sing-along of The Goofy Movie, and a viewing of the classic and often-forgotten Disney Channel Original movie Brink! 

When the chicken nuggets were all ready, we shuffled through the food line, bobbing our side ponytails to the Spice Girls, scooping mac and cheese and PBJ sandwiches onto our plates.  Between bites of grilled cheese, someone commented that the night seemed less representative of the decade, and more like re-living our childhood….

Well duh, I argued.  It made sense, since we all are definite 90’s kids.

Photo credit Kaydee Dyer

So the night mmm’bopped on, but of course–being me–I couldn’t really get this thought out of my head. And by “this thought” I mean

**Am I seriously already old enough to be feeling the need to “relive my childhood?” **

I mean, last I checked, my childhood had not yet ended (though the premiere of the last Harry Potter movie felt like it at the time).  But now, standing in a kitchen 5,000 miles away from my old playground, in a place where my wifi connection only sometimes allows me to talk to my parents (Hi, Dad!) there was no denying even to myself—I’m not a kid anymore.  Even if I never technically “grew up” (at 5’2” most of the middle-schoolers I tutor are taller than me), I definitely became a grown-up somewhere along the line.

Okay, I’m nineteen years old, so this really isn’t news to anyone.  But I’ve claimed to “feel like I’m thirty” since I was about fourteen, and never had a clue what I was talking about.  I was petrified when I turned eighteen, because it was no longer acceptable to be the “kid who acts like an adult.”  I was suddenly legally an adult, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

I had been conscious of this concept of “adulthood” for a while, but only the other night did I finally feel it, and even more than that, I finally feel happy about it.

I started thinking back to the past month here, and all that I have seen and done…

Before I even arrived in Italy, I backpacked through Scotland, England, and Luxembourg with only my best friend (and I made this

snazzy video about it).  We navigated train systems and flight delays, language barriers and hostel rooming issues without any parents or teachers holding our hands.  Once I arrived in Italy, alone, I started using a language other than the one I had grown up with. I moved into my first apartment.  Then, a few weeks in, a couple friends and I decided on a Thursday to go out of town that weekend.  We booked everything, made the four-hour journey, and then spent two days of total freedom in Cinque Terre—choosing where we ate, who we talked to, how far out we wanted to swim…. By day two, we hiked nine kilometers up and down a monstrous hill and through some scenic vineyards from one town to the next.

I still can’t tell for sure where the water ends and the sky starts.

By the time we got home, nothing seemed impossible anymore.

In the past few weeks, I have started innumerable lists of road trips and vacations I want to make once I get back to the states; in the meantime, I’ve booked a trip to Spain and planned a trip that involves an overnight train to Vienna to see my favorite band over Thanksgiving break; I’ve accepted that I’m just on the tip of the iceberg of things I can do in my lifetime. I can really do these things.  In the past month, I have passed out of the realm of “when I grow up, it’s my dream to…” and into something far more exciting. I am grown up now.  And I have started watching in amazement as those dreams I used to talk about have started coming true.

 

Forgive me for the overly-sentimental self-analysis! Now onto the corny stuff!

 

One thing I learned about Italy – We are stuck in a Dr-Who-eque time warp.  Music from the 1990s, festivals from the 1600s, and spaceship motorcycle cars of the future.  When am I??

One thing I learned about myself – See the 600-word composition above. Also, I love hyperlinks; this is a new discovery.

Best thing I ate – No competition.  Craig’s masterful macaroni and cheese, which he amazingly managed to create senza cheddar, as this country apparently laughs at such mainstream formaggio.

Italian Word of the Week: Well, technically it hasn’t been a full week since my last post, but what the heck?  Today’s word of the week is “cervicalgia,” meaning “neck pain.”  One of my roommates was using this word repeatedly, and I was quite baffled until I had the sense to pull up Google translate.

And finally,

Travel Quote of the Day
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

“Follow your feet,”
(name the movie for brownie points!)
 

Hi!

As promised in my last entry, I’m going to do a bit of catch up and move forward at the same time…as best I can.

I know I’ve thrown around the enticing word “joust” at least once.  And yes, I have been literal this whole time—Arezzo is host to a bi-annual jousting festival, which has historical roots as far back as the days of Dante.  (see picture below)

See Prof. Houston! I have been paying attention in class!

The town is divided into 4 competing neighborhoods or “quarters” who all submit 2 horsemen to ride against a mannequin with a target.  There is a points system, and a golden lance trophy that everyone makes a huge deal of.  I have never seen such community togetherness as in the entire week of parties, parades, and banquets leading up to this tournament.  Here is my album from the event, if you’re anxious for the flashy pictures and exciting stuff…and now for the boring (except I don’t find them boring at all) details!

Jousts pretty much went out of style after the 1600s, but in the 1930s when the Fascists were trying to get Italy all excited about being a united country, they went around arranging a bunch of events to unite the community under the banner of their rich history.  One of these projects in Arezzo was to re-instate the joust.  So, one thing I have learned since coming here…

Italy has a lot of shady history

I’ve always known that Italy was one of the Axis powers, however…I don’t think I had ever really processed the way that World War II affected individual communities here.  You think about WWII and what are the topics that come to mind?  Germany? Nazis? Jewish holocaust?  Maybe Japan and the A-Bomb?  Italy gets forgotten, but in the past few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed to think about these little things, like the joust being a fascist installation, or half of the city being newer than the rest because it was bombed to the ground seventy something years ago.

We watched the extremely poignant movie La Vita e Bella, which partially takes place in Arezzo, and this fact finally—and painfully—hit home.

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Ciao a tutti!

My name is Lane and I am studying abroad in Arezzo, Italy this semester! I have officially been here in Arezzo, Italy for over a month now! I can not believe time is going by so quickly. I am completely in love with this place, it’s people, and it’s culture. I can only imagine what the next few months will be like!

If any of you have seen or read Eat, Pray, Love then you may understand the title of my first post! Eat Pray Love is one of my very favorite stories and I watched it right before I left to begin this great new chapter in my life. Throughout the story, the Italian phrase “Dolce far niente” is mentioned multiple times, it means “The sweetness of doing nothing.” and it’s a phrase that has really begun to make sense to me during my time here. At home in the US, for me especially, it is so easy to get caught up in watching my favorite TV shows or seeing whats new on Facebook every thirty minutes. My life at home is busy and chaotic and very technology oriented. But here, my life has dramatically changed. Lack of a television, and wifi outside of my apartment, has changed my perspective on my days and requires me to do things other than what I’m used to. Often, this free time includes “Dolce far niente”.

In the past month I’ve spent my time getting to know this place I now call “home”. I’m comfortable with my whereabouts and know how to get around, have small (very small) conversations in Italian, and most importantly, I’ve located the grocery stores! Arezzo is a beautiful city in the hills of Tuscany, literally. Here is a view of the hills from my kitchen window.

View of Arezzo from my kitchen window

Sitting on the wall that surrounds Arezzo!

 

My apartment is inside of the city walls, which adds to the feeling that I’m truly living the “Italian” way of life! I am a block away from Piazza Grande, which is a beautiful piazza with restaurants, shops, and of course, gelaterias! If you’ve seen the movie “Life is beautiful” it’s based here in Arezzo, and many of the beginning scenes take place in Piazza Grande!

Piazza Grande

I have already been able to travel outside of Arezzo a bit! A few weeks ago, some friends and I went to Cinque Terre, which consist of five villages connected by hiking trails! It sits on cliffs that overlook the Italian Riviera! This was by far the most beautiful view of the ocean I have ever seen.

I have also been able to go to Florence twice, once at night and once for the day! We saw many of the famous sights to see, they were all stunning. The Duomo was my favorite! We also shopped at the Italian leather market, which was incredible, and I bought my first purchase since being here in Italy..an Italian leather purse!

 

My classes here are going well, so far I am really enjoying all of them. My professors are passionate about what they’re teaching us, which makes class much more interesting. In a few weeks we are taking a trip with OUA to Pompeii, Sorrento, and the island of Capri for a few days! I am excited to begin traveling as it’s a major passion of mine, and I can’t imagine what the rest of the world will be like if this small piece of Italy that I live in has already captured my heart!

Alla prossima!

-L

 

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