Monday, October 28, 2013

The Only People I Can Relate To

The beautiful hotel

So if the title wasn't enough info for you I was talking about AFS kids. It's hard to describe, but once you become an exchange student, you automatically connect with all other exchange students on a whole other level. It's insane actually, like I've known most of these people for a couple days but we all love each other anyways.

Last Saturday I hopped a 4 hour bus ride to Palermo with two other AFSers in my local chapter. We were headed on our way to a 4 day "entrance camp" at a hotel with 75 or so other kids who are currently in Sicily. I had mixed feelings as we first drove up... Yay, I'm missing school! Wait, who are all these people? I don't remember anyone.. Will I be the only one with any problems? What if everyone else is having a perfect time??!??!?!

My favorite people(:
Well this camp beat any mixed feelings I had out of me because it was AMAZING. It's indescribable. To boil it down:
1. No, I am not the only one with problems. In fact many people are having a much harder time than me. The good thing about this is I appreciate my amazing host family and friends much much more.
2. My Italian is quite good; there are a lot of people (most asian, but it's more excusable for them because their languages are SO much different) who can't speak a lot more than "ciao".
and 3. AFS students are awesome.

Okay so basically this is what the weekend looked like:

Saturday: We all arrived and then had a group meeting where we talked about expectations and rules and such. After that we switched into our smaller groups for the weekend. I ended up getting the best group in the whole camp (in my opinion ;) ). Most of the people were spanish-speaking and were very good at speaking Italian, which was great because we almost always spoke Italian, and I found out that I'm actually good at speaking it! Anyways, after our first group activity we ate dinner and then split into countries to make a poster representing our culture. All of us US citizens (everyone at the camp refused to call us Americans because, and I quote, "the USA is not the only country in America") got together and drew the US and our respective states.
Mai (from Thailand) in her Thai
Boxing outfit and me 
Sunday: We woke up and had breakfast, then split into groups and did some activities. After that we had lunch and then more group activities. And then the rest of the day we had personal interviews. A personal interview is when one AFS volunteer sits down with an AFSer and talks about what problems they may be having and if they like it here. I was lucky to get Carla, the head of the camp. She had previously told us that she went to the US 16 years ago, but only after sitting down and saying "I'm from Minneapolis, Minnesota" did I learn that she had gone to Mankato, Minnesota! So we had a lot of fun talking about Minneapolis and snow and that I miss my dogs and parents a lot. She was so understanding but also helpful; giving me tips and ideas to make my stay here better. My interview was probably the highlight of my weekend. After that we just had dinner then hung out.
A girl from China in the talent show
Monday: Monday was great, basically free time all day to hang out and be crazy. I really got to know a lot of people that day. Then at night we had a talent show, where almost everyone participated by doing something (like dancing, singing, painting) that was part of their culture. This was so much more fun than anyone expected it to be and we all danced and sang in all different languages which was crazy fun.
Tuesday: Departure day. Very sad. Not much happened, just ate breakfast and then took the bus home.

I think I learned a lot from this camp, in fact I know I did. Now I am so much more confident in speaking, and it's made an impact on my life. It's easier to hang out with my host family, in school I'm always laughing and talking with friends, and I feel better in general. Turns out, no one is going to laugh at you for not knowing how to say something (I know, crazy right?).

Anyways, that's the update! Right now I'm writing this before starting on some homework. This week we only have 4 days of school because of All Saint's Day. Also on Thursday night I'm going to a Halloween party that STARTS at midnight. I'm becoming a normal Italian teenager :)


Monday, October 7, 2013

La Vita e La Scuola

Ciao ragazzi!
(or for you non-Italian speakers: hi guys!)

I realize that I haven't posted anything really long or that actually describes my life here at all, so I'm going to write something about school and my daily life here.


Here's a basic description of school in Italy. Almost every school is Monday-Saturday, which may seem like a bad thing, but I've come to appreciate it a bit more than I originally thought I would because school is 8am-1pm, with many random early releases. So yeah, I have to get up early another day that I normally would be sleeping in, but I have so much more time in the afternoons to do things, including taking a much-needed nap. Those schools that take Saturday off, like my youngest host sister's (whose name is Beatrice- pronounced bay-uh-tree-shay), have school until 4 on Fridays. So, I'd rather take the extra morning.
The class setup is much different than that of American schools also. Instead of getting up every time the bell rings to rush to the next class, the teachers are the ones who switch. The students are put in one class and stay with that class for their entire 5 years of "high school" (that's another difference). I'm in class 3C this year, and I love everyone in it. They become your family after spending all that time with them, and I can already feel myself falling in love with my little family.
The school I'm attending would be considered a "public school" in America (although I'm not sure there are many private schools here), but there's definitely a dress-code. I have no idea if it's actually enforced, but I'm choosing to fit in rather than stand out and possibly get in trouble. Everyone wears jeans or leggings, shorts for girls are a no-no, while if boys choose to wear them they have to be long. On gym days, you need to wear or bring sweatpants or leggings. Tennis shoes are basically required for everyday, but sometimes I see the occasional sandal. I personally stick to my trusty Birkenstocks on non-gym days.
The classes I am taking this year are:
  •  Italian/Latin- luckily, being an exchange student, no one expects me to take Latin. Thank god, because the first time I heard my fellow classmates reading in Latin, I honestly thought they were speaking an alien language that hadn't been discovered yet. My friends, who've been taking it for several years now, are even confused by it. So, I'm off the hook on that, but my teacher recently gave me an Italian grammar book, so I've been doing some exercises with that. It's a bit of a throwaway class because the real Italian lessons come from everyday discussions with family and friends. Think about it, you can study the verb endings of a language for a year, but you won't be fluent unless it's the only thing you hear all day!
  • Math- UGH. I already didn't love math, but now I dislike it even more. Everyone says that math is a universal language, but let me tell you, I can't just look at a math problem and automatically understand it, and unfortunately, explaining it can't be done without Italian. So I've been struggling a bit, but I just recently bought the math textbook so hopefully with a little luck (and a lot of Google Translate) I'll be able to understand the lessons more.
  • English- by far my favorite class (I wonder why?). Instead of solely focusing on grammar or sentence construction, we're actually learning British and English history, which may sound boring to some, but because it's my only class where I don't have to focus on translating, I really love it. I also enjoy history so it's a good class for me.
  • Which brings me to History- to contradict my statement about enjoy history, I do not enjoy this class. And it's not because of what we're learning (not that I really understand what we're learning), it's because of my history teacher's tendency to go "uhhhhhhhhhhhhh" after EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE. Even though I can't understand the other things he's saying, hearing "uhhh" over and over makes me ready to jump out of the windows of my classroom. And I'm on the second floor. So you know I'm being serious here. 
  • Physics- I've always liked physics, and my teacher is really nice and wants to help me, so this class is up there on my list. Just recently she set me up with a laptop and gave me a list of things to look up on Wikipedia and other websites so I'd understand. 
  • Chemistry- I know, crazy, right? I have two science classes! Luckily both of these are my favorite science topics and are things I've studied before, so I don't think I'll have a huge problem with them.
  • Art- Italian art class is a lot different than American art class. Sure, we learn art history in America, but art history in Italy is much more focused on Italian artists (uhhh duh, because they're some of the most influential artists ever). Also the drawing part is different. Last year I took a painting class in America, and it was all about free painting and creativity. Not the case here. Actually, it's more of an architecture class than anything. Very focused on angles and lines and perfection. I kind of love it. 
  • PE- turns out physical education is even more of a joke here than in America! The teacher for this class is BY FAR my favorite, and everyone else's as well. He's hilarious and fun, and basically lets us do what we want. Most of the time we (the girls) do some half-hearted stretching, then pretend to jump rope for bit, then finally end up sitting in a circle on the huge mats and talking for the whole hour. It's really fun.
One more difference between Italian and American schools is that you don't have the exact same schedule everyday, which I actually enjoy a lot because it mixes things up a bit.

My everyday schedule:
6:45 am- the first alarm goes off, which I quickly silence
7:05 am- I finally roll out of bed and get myself into the bathroom
7:30 am- I head out to the kitchen for breakfast (which usually is cereal for me, because I tried but I can't stomach cookies for breakfast) and to watch tv
7:55 am- my host sister (Lucrezia) and I drive with my host mom to school
8:10 am- school starts
11:00 am ~ 11:10 am- quick break for a snack and talking with friends
1:00 pm- school ends
1:30 pm- the bus comes, also bringing the daily violent struggle with 40 other teenagers to secure a seat on the tiny bus
2:10 pm- Lucrezia and I arrive home after the short walk from the bus station
2:30 pm- we're both usually starving so we eat lunch
3:00 pm ~ 5:00 pm (on Tuesdays and Fridays)- Italian lesson with two other AFS-ers in my area

Then the rest depends on the day! I mostly have a lot of free time, which I try to fill with things to do. It turns out that being alone for a long time doesn't help with homesickness, so I've been really working on keeping myself busy!

Well, there it was! My first reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaallllly long, in-depth post.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to read it!


Thursday, October 3, 2013


Time is really strange.

Yesterday marked 4 weeks since I left Minneapolis. It's hard to explain, but while it feels like I was sitting in my kitchen eating breakfast this morning, it also feels like it's been about 10 years since I've seen my family and friends. Time is moving remarkably fast, which makes me realize that I can't waste a second of my ten months because, after all, it's only ten nine (!!) months out of my life..

Life is starting to feel more normal in Italy. I've established somewhat of a schedule, I'm trying to keep my days busy, I've made a lot of friends, and I love my host family. I definitely still have "homesick days" every once and awhile, but overall I'm doing well. I love the people here.

Some of the things I've noticed since my last post:

  • Talking with your hands really is an Italian thing, although more Sicilian. And since I'm about as South as you can get, the conversations generally consist of a lot of flailing limbs and me attempting to dodge a slap in the face while also trying to keep up with the extremely fast garbled Italian. I think this has helped me though; my Italian is improving IMMENSELY. I'm actually glad my host family really doesn't know much English, I think I'll learn so much faster.
  • When one Italian get sick, everyone gets sick, not only just because of their lack of normal medicines like DayQuil or their tendency to go to school every day unless they're dying, and not even just because they insist on using the same tissue over and over until it's so disgusting that they have to throw it away... No, it's because THEY DON'T COVER THEIR MOUTHS WHEN THEY SNEEZE OR COUGH. And when they do, they do it with their hands, then don't wash them. It's hilarious, but at the same time terrible because of my weak immune system. Oh well :)

I'm sorry this post isn't very long... Anyone who is reading this and wants to know more please feel free to email me!

One day at a time..

Love always,