Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Time to Say, “Arrivederci.”

Well…this is it. In precisely 3 hours I will be getting on a bus to take me to the Rome Fiumicino Airport to head back to the States. Today has been a long day of finals, walking around Perugia, eating Pizza Meditteranea, shopping the Christmas markets, watching the sunset, and going to the Farewell Festa for the very last time in Italy. While these past two weeks I have been going back and forth on feeling sad or happy to go home, tonight at the Farewell Festa the emotions definitely hit me. It was a time for all of us to get together and say goodbye for one last time. We were all holding up pretty well and were having a great time, and of course I was the first one to crack and start crying (thank God for waterproof makeup).

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A night at the Farewell Festa, with Paige and Hannah – and of course Mauro photobombing us in the back!

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Christina and Cat. :)

But as I was crying I didn’t just feel sad that this was coming to an end. I was also crying because of how happy I was that this actually happened – I actually lived in Italy for 4 months, I actually met and made friends with people all across the U.S. and different parts of the world, I actually traveled to 5 European countries and 13 Italian cities, and best of all I have actually learned what it feels like to put yourself out there and be truly independent.

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Putting the sugar on the Pandoro, a traditional Italian Christmas cake. Photo appearance with Antonella, my Contemporary Italy teacher.

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Last pizza at Pizzeria Mediterranea.

All of the adventures I have had and the memories I have made will be impossible to forget. I remember arriving to Italy – all of us meeting each other for the first time, totally exhausted – and yet being in awe and going through the ‘honeymoon’ stage that everyone experiences when they first arrive to a new city. In the second week, the homesickness kicked in and things got more difficult – there were definitely times of frustration throughout semester. Between the late trains, the strikes, papers and midterms, presentations, or the sketchy people, there were times where I felt so sure that I wanted to go home and coming to Italy was a mistake. However, the weekends of traveling with friends, the great classes with the great teachers, and just allowing myself to realize that I’m living in Europe changed that. I became so thankful for the opportunity I was given. And right when I feel like I finally got the hang of things and have adjusted pretty well, it is time to leave.

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Venezia – what a beautiful city.

If any of you reading this are questioning whether or not you want to study abroad – don’t question it. Just do it. I questioned myself SO much throughout my college years, going back and forth of whether or not I was going to go, even putting it off until my senior year thinking that I was going to eventually choose not to go. Hell, before coming here, I’d barely been outside of the state of Pennsylvania and had never ever flown. But despite this, something in me told me I had to do this. In high school, when we would do “icebreakers” in the beginning of the year to get to know one another, a question that always came up was, “What is a dream you have for the future?” My reply was ALWAYS live in Italy for 6 months. At the time, I always speculated that that was always going to be a dream – one that I wouldn’t truly push to come true because I was scared. Yes, I didn’t live in Italy for quite 6 months, but I think 4 months is damn near close enough. This semester was the scariest, yet most incredible and rewarding experience of my entire life. It has made me become a better person and has changed my life forever. Now I know there is so much more of the world to see than little ole Pennsylvania – so once I arrive back in the States within the next 24 hours, I intend on getting started on planning the next adventure. ;)

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Last sunset in Perugia.

Arrivederci Perugia. Ti ringrazio for the best experience that I will never forget.

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Last photo by Piazza Italia.

The Home Stretch

Ciao ragazzi!

 

I know I have been doing a terrible job over the past month keeping up with blogging – it’s amazing how time gets away from you (hint: it goes even faster when you are in a foreign country ;) ) Hopefully I can make it up to you all by writing a decent post.

 

Since fall break, I have basked in the Sicilian sun, did as the Romans did in none other than Rome, perused through El Museo de Prado with my Greek cousin, Daphne, in Madrid, cheered on Juventus at a Serie A soccer game versus S.S. Lazio (two of many popular high-level club teams in Italy), and spent Thanksgiving in Tuscany with my friend Lindy and her parents.

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Taormina, Siciliano.

My classes have been demanding a lot of my attention too (how dare they?!). I’ll admit, the difficulty level is nowhere near LVC’s classes; however, weekend traveling calls for some serious time management skills during la settimana. You all know how the final weeks of semesters are in college – filled with papers, presentations, and quizzes. Well, my friends, the Umbra Institute is no different. The good thing is, I love my classes. I’ve learned so much about Italian culture in my Contemporary Italy class with Antonella, Italian food in History and Culture of Food in Italy with Simon, the application of creating a fresco in Fresco Painting with Bill, and of course listening and speaking Italian in my Italian language class with Francesco (yes, we are on a first name basis with our teachers here, a habit I will have to break when I return to LVC).

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Il Colosseo, Roma.

Besides all the technical things that these classes in Italy have taught me, I have also learned the beauty of taking a class just because it sounds interesting, even though it has nothing to do with my major. I feel like in America we get caught up in only wanting to learn what we deem “necessary” for our careers in the future. So in my case, as a psychology major, I would only want to take classes that deal only with psychology. But what’s the fun of that? There’s so much more than that to learn! Are you a biochemistry major that also has some interest in art? Then take that painting or sculpture class or whatever aspect of art you enjoy! Now is the time to do it! I have personally found that you can apply the knowledge from your major in classes that don’t directly relate to that. It teaches you to think critically. Have some fun with your education, – you’re already paying bucket loads of money for it. Take advantage of it!

 

Another thing to consider is taking classes that have more of a global base; because guess what my friends – the world is a big place. America is not the only country in the world, nor is English the only language that is spoken. Yes, the United States is a large global power and many people in the world are learning English in order participate in all that is going on – but Americans do a terrible job in reciprocating in learning about the culture of others. We are considered “the melting pot” of the world, yet many Americans have a tendency to be a bit ignorant to all things going on in the world. Right now, only about 2% of U.S. students study abroad in foreign countries. Due percento! That’s it! The learning opportunity of traveling is unlike anything you will ever experience sitting in a classroom in the United States – especially if it is in a non-English speaking country. I think the problem is that there is not a big enough push for American people to travel (which, luckily, is not true with LVC – they definitely promote it). There is a societal expectation that young people are supposed to go to college, establish a career, get married, buy the house with the white picket fence, and have children – all within young adulthood. Also, travel in the United States is very expensive compared to Europe. It is truly quite sad because there is so much knowledge to gain from traveling to new places. Hopefully, something can change to make this more possible for our future generations.

 

I could go on and on about the immense significance of study abroad, but I will save time by simply saying that it is truly the best way to take yourself out of comfort zone, really get to know people, and truly get to experience a culture. I have met some really wonderful people and made some really great friends during my time in Europe. It is so strange to think about the fact that I would have never known them had I not studied abroad. And to think, a week from now, I will be packing my things and heading to Piazza Italia to catch a bus that will take me to Rome to be on my merry way back to the United States. But ‘merry’ is definitely not the right word. The word that will truly describe how I will feel is bittersweet. But that will be discussed next week, for my final installment of my European journey.

Ciao a tutti,

Jessica

P.S. – Sorry there aren’t a lot of pictures – our Internet has been slower than usual lately!

Fall Break in Dublin and Edinburgh

Okay…let’s get the record straight. I love Italy and all, especially in that I’ve really had to learn to adjust to a new culture – but Ireland and Scotland? Wow. By far my favorite places that I have traveled to thus far. The perfect mix of city and country life exists in these places. You haven’t seen the color green until you’ve gone to Ireland. And Scotland? I felt like I stepped into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If I had to choose my favorite country between the two, I couldn’t give you an answer – I loved both places in different ways.

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Outside Corcomore Abbey in Ireland.

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The view from my hostel window in Scotland on our first morning.

Since there was sooo many things that I did, and since you all might fall asleep if I recount everything I did in sequential order, I’ll once again list out the things that I enjoyed the most or interesting tidbits that I learned.

1. The Accents! The Irish and Scots have the accents that we all know and love – it was relieving to finally be able to communicate with people leisurely again. However, I had to sometimes really pay attention to what they were saying, otherwise I’d miss it completely. The Scots, in particular, have a tendency to run their words together – that coupled with the accent can make it a little bit difficult for us Americans to understand. There are also phrases that they use in place of a certain way we say it at home. For example, they say, “Cheers!” – which to us is the equivalent of “Have a good day!.” Also, instead of “to go” (as in food), they use the phrase, “take away.”

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Edinburgh Castle, as seen right in front of our hostel. I was able to get pictures of this castle in multiple different ways – with a cloudy sky, at sunrise, and on a sunny day (as shown here).

2. The Friendliness! Oh my goodness, the people in Ireland and Scotland are sooo friendly. When we first arrived in Scotland, we were unsure of which stop to get off at to reach our hostel from the bus. The bus driver told us that we were technically the last stop, but it would require us to walk up a big hill, so he let us off at ‘unofficial’ stop at the top of the hill instead. Whenever my travel buddy Hannah and I would ask a local for recommendations for places, they would not only point out places but talk about that place and what kind of atmosphere to expect as well. It was nice to have people take the time to help us out. However, it was definitely part of their culture to swear to you, but luckily it was in a joking manner, so we didn’t take it the wrong way.

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This lovely bagpiper was kind enough to let me take a photo with him.

3. The weather! Contrary to popular belief, it does not constantly rain in Ireland and Scotland. What does happen is that you can see all different types of weather patterns all in one day. It is very common for there to be rain, cloudiness, and sunshine (and snow in Scotland apparently) in the same day, each taking turns for the portion of the day. Sometimes, rain and sun occur at the same time, allowing for some beautiful rainbows. Hannah and I must have had the luck of the Irish on our side with the weather – it barely rained in either country during our time in each place.

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The full rainbow that was out by Loch Ness.

4. The National Leprechaun Museum. Yes, you heard it. There is a Leprechaun Museum in Dublin – and what makes it even better is that the staff were amazing and hilarious and super Irish. Hannah and I not only got a chance to tour through the Museum (which was all about the history and specific Irish folklore stories), but we got to be a part of their “Dark Tale,” which was a story one of the staff members wrote incorporating Irish folktales and included the people in the tour. It was so much fun! We were all acting it out and everybody was into it! Here we met a Scottish couple, three girls from New Zealand, and an Irish couple. The Irish couple even bought all of us a drink after the Museum! This was definitely one of my favorite nights in Ireland.

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Dublin Castle.

5. The Cliffs of Moher! What more can I say other than the cliffs were absolutely incredible. So unreal. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. But I will say that the wind was so powerful that at times we thought we were going to be blown off the cliffs! And our tour guide was great – he would tell us about different historical facts relating to Western Ireland and would sing us some folk songs.

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The beautiful Cliffs of Moher.

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Having fun at the Cliffs :)

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Brian’s Tower.

6. Guinness and Jameson. Simply put, the Guinness in Ireland is 10 times better than in the States. And my new favorite drink is Jameson and Ginger Ale… with lime.

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Jameson and Ginger after the Distillery Tour.

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Enjoying a Guinness at the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland.

7. The Scottish Highlands! Once again, nature took my breath away. The Highlands were much different than the Cliffs of Moher. We chose a great time of the year to visit the Highlands – the foliage was in the midst of changing colors for the fall season, which made for an incredible bus trip (we took a full 12 hour day trip through the Highlands by bus, with occasional stops for pictures). Our tour guide, James, also made the trip a great one. His Glaswegian accent was the epitome of the stereotypical Scottish accent – and he dressed the part too, donning a kilt and the complete ‘uniform’ of a true Scotsman. All throughout the drive, he played us some Scottish music on his iPod and told us about the clans of historical Scotland, or anything else that we wanted to know (someone asked about the real history behind William Wallace. Moral of the story? Robert the Bruce was the one that should have earned the name ‘Braveheart,’ if you want historical accuracy).

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Scottish Highlands

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My travel buddy Hannah, our Scottish tour guide James, and me. You can clearly see how windy it is.

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Beautiful Scottish sunset with some of the big, fluffy Highland cows.

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More of the Scottish Highlands – I absolutely could not get enough of this beauty.

 

8. The Ghost Tour! In case you didn’t know, Edinburgh is one of the most haunted places in the United Kingdom – so of course we had to go on a ghost tour. Our British tour guide, Ella, was amazing! She dressed the part (wearing a black cloak and a long Victorian style dress) and recounted stories about the torture and punishments for crimes in 18th century Scotland, incorporating us tourists (since I’m left-handed, I, by default, demonstrated what would happen to the accused witches. Let me tell you, it’s not very pleasant). We were then taken to the Blair Street Underground Vaults, where we were told paranormal stories of things that happened to other tour groups (great thing to hear when you are there, right?). All in all, while it was pretty spooky, the tour was so much fun. I recommend it to anyone planning on going to Edinburgh.

9. Loch Ness! Beautiful loch, complete with a rainbow that day. No, we did not find Nessie, but we did learn that in order for there to be an official monster sighting, 2 people need to witness the monster at the same time, and both people have to be ‘sound of mind.’

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Panorama of Loch Ness.

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Hannah and I at Loch Ness.

10. The Elephant House! As a HUGE Harry Potter fan, enjoying a pot of Earl Grey tea in the same café that J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in itself was quite a treat! In the huge window in the back of the café was one of the castle-like buildings that was said to have inspired the concept of Hogwarts, as well as the graveyard where she was said to have gotten the names ‘Moody, McGonagall, and Tom Riddle.’ But perhaps the coolest part was the girls bathroom. Inside, the ENTIRE bathroom was covered in writing – ranging from Harry Potter quotes to just names of people that visited. There was so much writing that it overlapped with one another. My favorite was the toilet that had “This Way to the Ministry of Magic” pointing downward. I’m now tempted to read the series again for the umpteenth time.

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The Birthplace of Harry Potter :)

 

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My favorite quote in the bathroom.

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‘Dobby has no master…Dobby is a free elf!’

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The graveyard that holds several inspirational names for the Harry Potter series, such as Tom Riddle. This was definitely one of the spookiest graveyards I’ve ever been in.

11. Arthur’s Seat! So there is a huge hilltop in the middle of Edinburgh referred to as Arthur’s Seat (I tried researching why it is called this, but there is no conclusive reason). It sits within Holyrood Park, where the Queen’s vacation castle is located. On our last full day in Scotland, Hannah and I decided to hike up to the top – it wasn’t too strenuous of a hike, but definitely enough to get the blood pumping. The view from the top was absolutely beautiful – you could see all of Edinburgh and beyond. We even got to see a rainbow over the water.

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The view of Arthur’s Seat from Edinburgh Castle.

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Getting started on our hike. Next stop – the top of Arthur’s Seat!

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A small portion of Edinburgh from the top of Arthur’s Seat.

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Said rainbow in the distance from the top of Arthur’s Seat.

 

So there you have it – the highlights of my time during Fall Break. But all of this literally scratches the surface of all I could say about these two wonderful places. I would go again in a heartbeat.

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Last one of the Highlands, I promise! This lone white cottage shows the immense size of these mountains.

Until next time.

Ciao,

Jessica

Halfway Point. Dio mio!

O. Dio. Mio. It’s so hard to believe that my study abroad experience is already half way over. So much has happened in the past month – but there’s still so much that I have planned for my remaining time here.

Over the past month, my grandma visited me for a weekend, I traveled to Siena and Assisi for class trips, and I have gone to Firenze (Florence) on three separate occasions. I also have learned SO much about Italian culture – between my Contemporary Italy class and my History and Culture of Food in Italy class and my intensive intermediate Italian language class, I’m adapting much quicker to the Italian way of life.

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Enjoying a cappuccino while learning about the importance of caffè in Italian culture in my Italian language corso.

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Wine tasting for my Food Studies course. Featuring the great Simon Young front and center.

 

Most importantly, I now feel that my level of independence has completely soared above and beyond what I thought I was capable of. I suppose that being in another country, especially one that doesn’t really speak English, does that to you. While the transition was difficult at first, with frequent bouts of homesickness, I now find myself becoming sad when I think about leaving – and I still have like seven weeks left! If you want to experience a place that is completely different from America, Italy is definitely the place to do it. Italy, while admiring America, does not allow for a lot of outside influence in their modern day culture (this is both good and bad, but that’s another story).

I love Italian culture. I love ‘la pausa,’ the time of day between 1 and 4 pm where the shops close up so that people can go home and have lunch with their families and rest before continuing their work days. I love that people are fashion conscious here, they dress up for EVERYTHING – even if just going to the supermercato. Italians have a reputation to uphold, una bella figura, and they take it very seriously.

Also, EVERYBODY is always outside. Whether they are just strolling through the streets, or sitting in the piazzas, young and old people are constantly out and about, even late into the night. On the weekends, there are more people out at midnight than at 9 pm. That’s just how life works here. While you can have a drink outside (no open container laws here), people don’t get absolutely wasted here. Italians despise public drunkenness, so people don’t typically get too crazy at the pubs and out in the streets. It’s a much more pleasant experience – you can have fun without worrying about other people being too drunk.

Being here in another country, learning a new language and new culture, has given me so much more perspective about life. Life’s too short to allow yourself to be stuck in the same pattern day in and day out, particularly with work. In America, you are expected to get a job and start a family and buy and house and a car and whatever else right out of college. There’s so much more to life than that. While they don’t like to move out of their hometowns, Italians love to travel. They get a month’s worth of vacation days from their jobs, so they actually have time for travel. After being here and spending some time out of the States, I’m going to be rethinking my life plan – in other words, I’m not going to have a life plan. I’ve learned to take things day by day and enjoy myself. Yes, it is still important to be future-oriented with certain aspects of life and planning is significant, but before coming here I was CONSTANTLY planning for the future – to the point where I’d forget to actually live in the present. Truth is, things happen all the time to change plans – it’s just a matter of how you handle of it. When our train to Florence never showed up (and almost missing out on going to Croatia), I could have thrown a fit and let myself get overtly angry – but I didn’t. I understood there was nothing I could really do but try to figure out another way to get there. I stayed calm and it got me a lot farther as far as figuring everything out and keeping my sanity intact. The lessons I have learned here are going to last me a lifetime.

Now, midterms are over and it is time for Fall Break. My friend Hannah and I are heading to Ireland and Scotland for the next week and we are absolutely stoked. Don’t worry, you’ll hear all about it when I get back.

Until next time!

Ci vediamo,

Jessica

 

P.S. Here are a few extra pictures from the past few weeks:

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Grape Crushing with Pinocchio!

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Il Duomo di Firenze. We climbed 414 steps to get this view.

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And this was the early morning view of Firenze from the top of the Duomo – 463 steps at 8:30 in the morning? Definitely worth it.

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The view of Firenze from Piazzale Michaelangiolo with Emily and Mary.

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Ponte Vecchio.

 

Un Viaggio in Croazia

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of spending my time in Croatia. I must say, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen – and I almost missed it.

Let me explain – on Thursday, a small group of us heading to Croatia were to catch the 5:45 pm train from Perugia to arrive in Florence at 7:45 pm. We were going to Croatia through Bus2Alps, which is a travel company geared toward study abroad students (makes traveling a lot easier since everything is pretty much planned). We were supposed to be in Florence by 9 pm.

Well, 5:55 pm rolls around, and the train is still not there. Not very surprising – Italian trains are notorious for being ritardo (late). However, 5 minutes after that, the sign for the train changed to show us that the train would be 40 MINUTES LATE (good thing I had my book). We did not panic – we would still arrive in Florence by 8:30 pm, plenty of time, right? Well, at around 6:15, the sign changed again – this time it was left blank. Now panic was starting to set in. One of my fellow travelers went inside the train station to find out what was going on. When she came back out, she informed us that the train was not coming. The next train was going to come at 7:45, which would mean we would be 45 minutes late for the trip. We called our trip leader right away to inform her what was going on, to which she replied that she could not guarantee that they would wait for us, but that we should still wait for the next train. Great.

By 7, some of us were pretty hungry. There is a large supermarket across from the train station, so half of the group decided to go over to grab food. When my friend asked me if I wanted to come, I jokingly said, “Yeah right! Knowing my luck the train will come while I’d be gone.”

I really wished I hadn’t said that.

Sure enough, while they were at the supermarket, the original train (that was supposed to have arrived at 5:45 mind you) decided to show up at 7:15 with no notice. I couldn’t even believe it. I watched helplessly as the train approached – I couldn’t leave my friend behind, so I stayed back to wait for the 7:45 train while the rest of the group went on that train.

Once Emily came back, we could do nothing but wait for the next train, hope it would be on time, and hope that the bus would wait for us in Florence.

Luckily, they did :)

Once we FINALLY arrived in Florence at 9:50 pm, we sprinted to the huge, double decker coach bus that we were thankful was even there – and then endured an overnight 12 hour drive that was somewhat uncomfortable, but had an incredible scenic view of the mountains the next morning.

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A quick snapshot I was able to get when we were almost in Split. These aren’t even the best cliffs. At one point we were directly within them – so you had to look straight up. It was incredible.

By 10 am Friday, we were finally in Split, Croatia and checked into our hostel at the Diocletian Palace (an ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian, which is now the city center of Split). At 11:45, Emily and I left to catch a ferry for the Brăc “Island tour” (Bus2alps said it was a tour, but a huge group of students essentially just went to the island to swim in the Adriatic Sea and played on a bunch of inflatable obstacle courses, but I’m not complaining too much ;)) We were there for a couple hours before returning to Split in the evening in time for the Pub Crawl (I only lasted at the first bar – I was way too exhausted to be up until 2 am drinking with everybody).

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The center square of Diocletian’s Palace – aka the major tourist/hangout spot of the city.

 

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View of the Adriatic Sea from Brăc Island

The next day, we awoke to pouring rain. While this meant that the Sea Kayaking trip was cancelled, Emily and I made the most of it and embarked on a shopping trip through the stores and the markets with our umbrellas. It cleared up later that evening so we were able to venture around and take some great pictures. For dinner, we went over to Trogir (about 30 minutes outside of Split) where we dined on prawns, mussels, clams, and cuttlefish black risotto (don’t knock it until you try it, it was delicious).

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The bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius

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The view from the top of the bell tower of Saint Domnius Cathedral

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In this spot a week earlier, they filmed a dungeon scene for Game of Thrones season five.

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Black risotto on the left, ‘Sea Fantasy’ (Prawns, fish, mussles, and clams) on the right

 

On Sunday, the final day of our time in Croatia, we left early in the morning and headed to Krka National Park. We only got to spend 2 hours there, but it was definitely my favorite part of the trip. It was so unbelievably beautiful – I could have spent the whole day there admiring the waterfalls and the forest. I had to have taken 100 pictures in Krka alone.

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The main waterfall of Krka National Park – outrageously beautiful

 

While the 12 hour drive back from Croatia felt longer than the first (simply because I was awake the whole trip this time – thank goodness, once again, for books), it was thankfully uneventful and we arrived back in Perugia without trouble.

Croatia was absolutely spectacular – I would go back again in a heart beat. So those of you who are thinking of traveling abroad, I would definitely try to go there if it is in your budget!

Hope you enjoyed this post!

Prima di prossima volta!

Jessica

La Prima Settimana

Ciao a tutti!

Wow! What a week – hands down the most hectic week of my life! After an uneventful flight in Rome (thank god, since this was my first time ever flying) and a somewhat short bus ride (I slept the whole time, so it felt pretty fast), we arrived at Hotel Giò in Perugia for our first night. That evening was a bit of a blur, considering I had gone almost 24 hours without proper sleep. The next day we moved into our apartments and I met my four roommates – Rachel, Katie (from Alaska), Katie (from Michigan), and Melissa.

I could continue to drone on and on about what I did every single day of the week, but instead I am going to give you a list of the top 10 things I have learned in this first week (for those thinking about traveling abroad in Perugia, take note):

1. Packing lightly is the best option. I did this and am so thankful for it. Some girls got stuck lugging two 50 pound checked suitcases and 2 carry-on bags up 3 flights of stairs (due to no elevator).

2. Getting lost becomes a part of life in a new country. My roommates and I couldn’t even find the school the first day – turned out it was tucked away in a small square behind the Cathedral in Piazza IV Novembre (the main square). I’ve learned to role with the punches and not panic about it.

3. Everybody goes out on the weekend, particularly Saturday night. I MEAN EVERYBODY. Young and old – Italians only eat dinner at around 9:30 pm, and then after that everybody walks around and chats with one another. I’ve gotten used to seeing kids asleep in strollers at 1 am while the parents are out and about.

4. There is no such thing as bad food here. Particularly pizza. Even if you don’t know what the menu says, just order it and eat it.

5. It’s extremely difficult to acquire bad wine here. Even the cheap bottom shelf stuff (around 3 euros) is delicious.

6. Don’t get in the habit of thinking of euros as the same as US dollars. It is extremely easy to do.

7. Getting homesick is normal. The important thing is that you admit that you are homesick and feel free to talk about it with one of the new people you meet. This is actually quite difficult to do because you are so used to confiding in your friends and back home. Unfortunately, they are not with you and may not understand how you truly feel. Don’t be afraid to talk to others in the program. I was surprised to find that, after confiding with another girl in the program, I was not alone in how I felt.

8. Learn to love walking everywhere. ESPECIALLY in Perugia. Some of the steep roads (particularly Via dei Priori), make third floor Humanities look like a walk in the park. Despite steep roads or steps to go down or climb up, there is something about walking everywhere that is so calming. I try to go for a walk (separate from the walking that I have to do) at least once a day with my roommates or new friends and we purposely get lost. We are constantly finding new things.

9. Okay, this next tidbit is something I’m still getting used to – the men here are much more aggressive about their catcalling than at home. As Americans, we stick out like sore thumbs – there is really no hiding it. Young Italian women are very unfriendly, so men turn to American women, who tend to be much nicer. And as the Chief Police Inspector of Florence said in our orientation, “Everybody thinks that soccer is the national sport of Italy. For men, women are their national sport.” Being a brunette, I luckily have not run into as many problems as some of the blondes I know. The best thing you can do to avoid confrontation is to just totally ignore them. Don’t look at them. Don’t smile. Don’t acknowledge their presence. They will not persist if you do this. It is extremely important NOT to react. This just antagonizes them.

10. And last, but certainly far from least – DO NOT expect people to know English. Period. In touristy areas like Florence or Rome, you may find more people that do. But everywhere else, there are actually few that speak our language. They know you are American, they know you speak English, but that does not matter. We are in their country and they expect us to learn their language (much like people in America expect foreigners to speak English). The important thing is to try to speak Italian. They are quite patient with you as long as you try. It’s amazing how far you can get with some broken Italian and hand gestures.

There is so much more I would love to talk about, particularly with differences in Italian culture compared to American culture – maybe I’ll save that for next time. But for now, I must head to class.

A presto,

Jessica

P.S. Pictures to come next post!

Buenos Días!

August 28, 2014

Hola from Valladolid!

This week has been packed full of change and excitement for the six of us as we settled into our new homes for the next (almost) four months. We arrived on Sunday morning in Madrid after an overnight flight and we brought a bus to the wonderful city that is now our home: Valladolid. Our respective host families were waiting for us in the bus station and as we arrived, we were assigned our home-stays and then we went our respective ways. Sunday was a day to unpack, eat our first Spanish meal, nap, and eventually tour the city. And what a city it is! After spending the afternoon in our new homes, we met with Alberto, our guide for the day, at 10 pm to get ourselves oriented with the city.

Monday brought our first experience with our school. We did not have formal classes, but we received some materials and we were given a run-down of how it functions. Tuesday was the actual first day of classes and the first day of having homework. Wednesday and Thursday followed suit. Class and work need to get accomplished, but there is also plenty of time to explore and discover the city. We have had beautiful weather here: mid to low 90’s as a high but lows dipping down in the 50’s at times. Thus, the mornings are nice and cool, and so are the nights, which allows for ample time to walk the streets. Where we are staying is the historical center of the city. There are churches on practically every corner and museums are scattered in every direction.

As Thursday has passed, we are done with classes until Monday (perk of being in Spain). This weekend, some of the group is traveling to Santander to stay there for a few days and others are planning on hiking some trails near Valladolid. We are excited about our plans for the upcoming weekend and we are beginning to feel at home here in the city.

Hasta pronto!

On behalf of the students studying abroad in Spain,

Matt

Fine della Strada

Well, it’s the final countdown. This post was brought to you from the comfort of the cathedral steps as tomorrow morning, I will catch the most depressing bus ride of my life as I leave my beloved Perugia.

Today I finished packing and cleaning up the apartment. I also took several last walks down Corso Vannucci, each with a different person – Bri, Kristen, Annie – and each time I came back, I found more and more Umbra kids on the steps. I love that you can pretty much always come outside and find someone you know.

I also got my last hot chocolate (which is like a cup of melted chocolate, it’s so thick), and got my last cup of gelato from that place across from Umbra (bacio & fragola, if you’re curious). Annie and I sat in Piazza Italia for a while talking about the semester, and it took everything in me not to start crying because I’m going to miss it so much.Four months ago today, I texted my friend and told her that I thought I was going to die and that I was terrified of coming here. And now here I am, four months later, wishing I could text her to tell her about how I thought I was going to die of heartbreak, for I fell in love with this beautiful country, and that I didn’t want to come back.

But now, I’ve made a ton of new friends from all over the states that I hope to keep in touch with after we’ve all gone home. I’ve traveled to ≈25 different cities in 3 countries. I’ve tried foods like ox tongue and snails, and even had a “waiter’s choice” meal because I couldn’t decide (I did give him 2 pick from, though). I’ve learned a new language, and indulged myself in a new culture, a new lifestyle – where no one is on time, water and bread at restaurants isn’t free, and stairs are abnormally sized and always in abundance.

I feel like coming abroad was very selfish. I did what I wanted to do, what would make me happy, spent way more money on souvenirs for myself than for everyone at home. But if given the chance, I would do it all again and I wouldn’t change a thing. And I suggest you do the same. Studying abroad is going to change you. The time you take here for yourself is just going to make you grow as a person, and you are going to learn so much more about yourself: who your are, who you want to be, and what you really want out of life.

So if you decide to make the same choice I did – to study abroad, whether that be in Italy, or Spain, or New Zealand, or even Philadelphia - take this advice:

  • Pack only what you think you need – then take half
  • If you don’t speak the language, try anyway, even if you butcher it. You’ll be surprised to find how kind and patient people will be just because you are making the attempt
  • Immerse yourself in culture, no matter how different
  • Open your heart and your eyes to new people, new places, and new things. Take chances. Be adventurous. Push your limits. & get out of your comfort zone.
  • Take advantage of every moment. I can’t stress this enough – when you feel like doing nothing, do something. You’ve been given this opportunity; don’t waste it.
  • Document everything – take pictures, keep a blog, whatever! I’ve got these blog posts to look back on, but I also took a lot of pictures this semester (ask anyone in the program!). I’ve taken about 10,000 pictures this semester, and I honestly wish I took more because I know when I get home, I am going to spend my summer flipping back through them all and remembering what a great experience this has been.

But before I left, I really wish I had known what an impact this place was going to have on me. I wish I’d known that this place was going to make itself my home. Tomorrow, my time here in Italy will come to an end, and I will be coming back to the states. Four short months ago, I was terrified of leaving home; today, I feel exactly the same way.

I’m glad to be coming home and seeing all my family and friends – but these people are my family and friends, too, and Italy is a chapter in my life I will always be able to return to. It’s been real. It’s been fun. It’s been real fun.

But honestly? It’s been something unpredictable, but in the end was right. I had the best time of my life. Ci vediamo, Perugia. Until we meet again.

Buona Pasqua delle Cinque Terre!

Easter morning: breakfast, the view from the hostel patio, & the chocolate bunny which contained a small orange egg with a karate-chopping egg man inside

While I was jealous that some of my friends were going to be sitting front row for Easter Mass at the Vatican, I was still excited to spend my Easter weekend in Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre (or five lands)* is a set of villages in southern Italy that border the Tyrrhenian sea. You are supposed to be able to hike from town to town along various outlined paths, but that’s quite difficult when it’s pouring rain, which it ended up doing on the one day we allotted for hiking.

My first day there with my friends was spent exploring the northernmost village of the five lands, Monterosso al Mare, which turned out to be my favorite town. This was probably the touristiest village, as well as beachiest (since the name literally translates to “red mountain at the sea/beach”). But it was still nice to be back along the water again before the rain hit the next day.

Saturday morning, we caught a train to the southernmost village, Riomaggiore. Because it was kind of cold and rainy, my friends wanted to just sit in coffee shops from town to town. I figured that if I was going to be in these towns, I wasn’t going to let the rain get me down. So, that’s where we split. They went to find a café, and I, umbrella in hand, went wandering through the town. I started in the center and ended up at the train station eventually – but I can’t tell you how I got there. I remember the whole time thinking to myself, “If I don’t like this path, I can just turn around.” Honestly, I couldn’t have found my way back if I tried.

Once I got down to the train station, I caught the next locomotive to the next town up, Manarola. I wasn’t as daring with my exploration here as in Riomaggiore, where it had actually started raining harder as soon as I had started to feel most lost.  I did, however, happen to find what seemed to be an easy path to walk, and I could see Corniglia not too far off in the distance. But before I could decide to try to hike to it, I found a fence that permitted me from doing so., and it wasn’t long before I was on another train.

Corniglia was probably my least favorite of the towns, and this is why: When you arrive in Corniglia, you don’t arrive – like most towns – in the center. You arrive at the bottom. And the bottom is 365 steps below the center; so I was forced to either endure them or wait an hour at the train station for a bus. I wasn’t wasting time, and since I’ve become a stair-master over the past few months, I decided to suck it up, start climbing, and count the stairs in dates to make it more interesting. It wasn’t long before I reached “December 31st” and I’d found the top. Corniglia offered a nice view, but once I got up there, it still seemed like to get anywhere else in town, there were more steps involved. Needless to say, I didn’t do much exploring here.  365 steps is quite enough for me. Cue the next train.

My next town was called Vernazza, which easily became my second favorite town. I think this was due in part to the fact that it was here when the rain stopped and the sun started to come out. But it just seemed cute and quaint. There was a giant clock tower in the center of town, as well as Castello Doria, originally to protect the land from pirates, that tourists could climb. Climbing the fortress was a pain, not because of the amount of stairs, but because of the fact that there was only one set of them, and it was only wide enough for one person. At the top, since I had none of my friends with me, I asked a girl in a purple cowboy hat to take my picture for me, and so she did happily. Her name was Grace, and she was studying in Arezzo (a Tuscan town) from Boston University. I also ended up meeting her friends from North Carolina, Indiana, and California. (It was a very touristy weekend, and there was actually a lot of Americans out and about.) After that, I found a tunnel-like passage that led me to the shore of the beach, but of course, I had to catch my last train back to Monterosso to meet up with my friends for dinner.

Easter morning, as we sat on the terrace of our hostel in the mountains of a nearby town called Corvara, my friend pulled out bags of Easter candy for each of us because “it wouldn’t be Easter without a chocolate bunny!” We spent the rest of our day on the shore of Monterosso in the sun before jumping on yet another train (several actually) – but of course not before I went swimming for the last time.

Though all of our trains back to Perugia were delayed (and we ended up exploring Florence for two hours waiting for one of them), this would be the last time I was ever on a train in which I would be looking forward to coming home to my Perugia.

*Some of the signs there read “5 Terre” and I always read it as “Five Terre” instead of “Cinque Terre.” That hadn’t changed by the end of the trip. #englishspeaker #tourist

Laboratori Alimentari

What I loved most about Umbra was my History and Culture of Food in Italy course. My professor, Simon (we called all of our professors by their first names; it was very informal), really taught me a lot and the whole course was really interesting. One day, I came into class early and he teased me because while I sat there, my alarm on my phone went off, reminding me to be in class. This happened on a weekly basis. I was always early, and I never missed a class (though I had 3 excused absences if I wanted). This wasn’t just because my morals tell me not to skip a class I 1. don’t have to skip and 2. pay for, but also because I never wanted to miss it. It’s definitely one of my favorite classes, period; top 5 at least.

One of the things that made this class so special was the fact that Simon frequently offered food workshops, or food tastings. We tasted everything from eggplant (roasted, fried with bread crumbs, and fried with batter), polenta (two different fried forms), Sicilian cannoli (cannoli is actually the plural form in Italian), and wine. There was even a workshop where we tried to guess between organic and non-organic apples, bananas, carrots, cheese, and jam. My favorite was our last workshop. Simon bought 11 different kinds of chocolate for us to try:

  1. 100% Cacao (very bitter)
  2. Cacao bean
  3. A cheap form of gianduia
  4. A more expensive form of gianduia that tastes a little less hazel nutty than the cheap version; it’s called “vestri”
  5. Chocolate truffle with hazelnuts inside and a coffee powder on the outside
  6. Milk chocolate with jellied lemon inside
  7. Coffee-flavored milk chocolate
  8. Dark chocolate spiced with cinnamon; it has a very interesting grainy texture to it
  9. Simple white chocolate called “venchi”
  10. White chocolate with a colorful decoration on top and blueberry filling inside
  11. White chocolate made with spicy red pepper

But not only were we all on chocolate overload, he also brought in the fizziest water he could find (which I detested) to clean our palates, and he let us try miracle berries. Miracle berries aren’t actual berries; they’re pills that dissolve in your mouth and make your taste buds flip-flop. For example, Simon gave us each a small tablet, and after it dissolved in our mouthes, he offered oranges and lemons which then tasted like lemonade when bitten into. He also offered us shots of apple cider vinegar, and it tasted like just cider (you just have to make sure you don’t smell it or your brain is going to realize what’s going on and it’ll taste like vinegar again).

But because I was not in the Food Studies Program version of this class, there were a lot of workshops I missed out on – but that’s alright because they were often offered by Umbra for a small price. For example, I went to another wine tasting workshop, a coffee workshop (though I don’t drink coffee nor can I stand the smell of it – but I figured it was a big part of Italian culture, so why not), a pasta workshop (at which I got to mix the dough) and a pizza making workshop!

Food was a really big part of my time in Italy. I got to try a lot of really interesting things, like ox tongue and rabbit, and a lot of very simple things with just a new approach, like pizza and different kinds of pastas. And the Italian concept of a meal is very different. They eat at weird hours (like lunch is around 2 and dinner is at 10), their meals are different (minimal breakfast and pasta and meat aren’t usually in the same dish) – and the meals take forever!

But as the semester is slowly starting to wind down, I am at least appreciating the longer meals because they help to draw out what little bit of time I have left here.

Buon appetito.