A foreign experience

Loan Le

By the time you read this I’m on a plane sleeping, watching a movie, or reading – all distractions necessary to forget what I am moving away from.

I didn’t get a chance to study abroad while in college, and though I never regretted it afterwards, I did feel bereft of a unique experience as I was exploring Firenze with two of my best friends.

I think I needed this vacation away from the ever bustling New York. Not to say that Florence was not busy – it’s simply impossible. But the rush and the crowd felt different here. People walked along the cobblestone roads only to move aside when taxis trailed behind them.

I needed this time to sort out the mess my brain has been in since graduating from college. I thought I’d stop thinking about my time as post-grad and just label it as the rest of…

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Czech Republic: Land of Stories: My and Erin’s Trip to Prague

Last weekend my friend Erin and I went to Prague. It was one of the most amazing trips I have ever been on. The actual city is so beautiful, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been which considering the many beautiful places I’ve seen, says a lot. On our first night, I had multiple moments during which I was stunned by the beauty I was witnessing. Erin and I turned a corner while we were taking a walk and saw this. For obvious reasons, I audibly gasped.

prague castle at night

This is Prague Castle complex, which at the time we didn’t know because I went to Prague having absolutely 0 knowledge about the Czech Republic or the city of Prague itself. The amazing beauty spoke for itself even without context, but my favorite part about the trip was being enriched by the history of this truly timeless city (and trying as much beer as possible). 😉

We landed in Prague around 3 pm and when we first went outside from the hotel to see things, it was starting to get dark. It was kind of interesting to see a city first in the dark rather than during the day. It made the experience of getting to see it during the day really special. It also enhanced the constant feeling I had of being in a dream. Everything is so beautiful that it doesn’t look real. Prague is the city where Walt Disney got his inspiration for the parks so it was jarring to see these beautiful castles and churches that looked for some reason familiar (thanks Disney) but were entirely their own. It was also a weird cultural moment to think about how as Americans we have more experience with the fake reconstruction of the city’s architecture than the real. I think that this is a common theme for any Americans who visit Europe. Things feel vaguely familiar because we have so many replicas but let’s be honest, nothing tops the real thing. After taking our first walk around the city, we went to get food. I tried my first beer which ended up being my favorite kind for the whole trip — Staropramen. It costed 32 crowns (koruna in czech but pronounced crowns) for a pint which is the equivalent of about 1.5 Euros (plz don’t make me do the precise math) which is needless to say EXTREMELY CHEAP. On average Erin and I ate out for about 10 euros each meal which included both of us getting a beer, water, an appetizer and a dinner. Prague was definitely easy on the wallet which was a really really nice change from Florence and the euro!

me and staro

We went back to our hotel to sleep and get ready for our complimentary walking tour of Prague from Prague Airport Transfers! We booked a car to bring us back and forth because it was really cheap and we figured it was the easiest, most convenient ways to do things. We got this complimentary tour out of it. At first, we didn’t know what to expect because well, it was free so I was skeptical. However, our guide, Ross was amazing. He was Czech and knew literally everything about the history of Prague and the Czech republic. The tour was 4 hours but I was completely engaged for all of it. This is saying a lot because I usually get really bored on walking tours or anything like them, but on this, he had me at “You can call me Ross.”

We started in Old Town Square which is the large main square in Prague. He encouraged us to watch the clock tower show. The clock tower is so amazing because it has a clock not just for the time of day, but also the zodiac, the moon, the sun, and probably a bunch of other stuff I forgot. It is amazing to see this thing that was made all by people and works totally on it’s own without any computers!!

clock tower

During our tour, Ross gave us the highlights of Czech history. All of Czech history is amazingly interesting and a history I barely knew. We learned that the Czech republic was the first European country to break away from the Catholic church even before Martin Luther and the Reformation. They broke away in the 1400s because of Jan Hus who was the founder of the Hussites. Eventually he was tried by the Catholic church and burned at the stake because he wouldn’t recant his views. This story started the history off nicely because it became a theme throughout the history of the Czech Republic up until Communism. The Czech republic has been beaten down upon by so many different groups, but in the end it has always persisted.

Ross took us all around the center of Prague. We learned about how important hockey is to Czechs and how important it was especially when Russia took over after WWII. We learned how the Czech Republic and Slovakia made a peaceful split after the communist regime ended in 1989 because Slovakia had always wanted to be independent. We went to the national library which was absolutely amazing because it included this beauty.

books prague

All of those books are 100% real which is the best part.  The fact that these were all real is just mind blowing and if you know me you just understand that like I would live inside of this and never come out if I had the choice (Probably the library security would find me and force me to leave at some point so I didn’t try). At this point in the tour, Ross explained that the Czechs have kept their own currency because it is actually really beneficial. Most of their economy survives on exports. 1/3 of their exports go to Germany who pays in Euros. It makes sense that this works because the Czech crown is not as strong but if they get euros they are getting a ton of crowns and they set the export price so like yay for the crown! This trip kinda just made me wish I was always on the crown because of how cheap it is :/// However, Ross estimated that in about 5-6 years the Czech Republic will convert to the Euro because having standardized currency with Europe will be beneficial for them later on. As a country, once they joined the EU they became more politically fortified which was an extremely important step for them especially after being forced into communism for so many years. Being part of the EU gives them military security, political security, and a strong voice on international issues. Once they unify economically with the EU, they will also be backed by the EU financially which will be another bonus although Ross mentioned that Czech banks are also very stable.

We then headed over to the Lennon wall which honestly wasn’t on my list of top things to see. However, once I did get there I was again stunned and shocked by my own emotional reaction. Once we got to the wall, Ross explained how he grew up in the 80s during the communist regime. He said his childhood seemed normal but there were always protests happening and eventually in 1989 the regime completely fell apart. It struck me that it wasn’t just the older generations who had lived through this occupation, but most of the Czech population. The republic is only 25 years old which is a couple more years than my own age. This concept seems inconceivable to me since I’ve only ever lived in what we call “Democracy” and never had to question whether or not I had my own individual rights such as traveling to other places which was forbidden during the communist regime. Seeing the Lennon wall showed an example of the resilience of a people who were taken over by the Nazis during WWII and directly after, Russian Communism. Even in the midst of these two back to back totalitarian regimes, they survived and after 25 years they are a thriving country. That’s pretty amazing.

lennon wall

During the tour we also visited Klementinum which was a castle complex that became occupied by the Jesuits when they came to Prague to re-catholicize the area during the Hapsburg rule in the 1500s. Erin and I decided to take a tour of the place the next day where we got to visit the library which is totally exclusive. We couldn’t take any pictures but it had amazing books and clocks and instruments that the Jesuit scholars used to study the moon, temperature, and the stars. One of the coolest things I learned while there is that Google just began an initiative in collaboration with the EU to digitize everything in the National library that has been there since the 1400s. Soon this amazing content will be available to everyone. This initiative was so important to hear about because even though the Jesuits did burn all Czech books when they came to re-catholicize Prague, I think that the idea of making knowledge accessible to everyone strikes true to the Jesuit Ideals and to St. Ignatius himself. Even though the world is turning more and more to the internet and computers and social media, it was really inspiring to hear of a project that plans to make old knowledge new again. According to our guide, the project just started and will take 6 years to complete.

Prague Castle

Our tour ended at Prague Castle which is just an amazing site to see. It is the largest castle complex in the entire world which is easily believable once you make it up there. It features a huge and amazing gothic church right in the center. Most churches in Prague are Catholic churches. Some of them are just not active anymore and some of them are. Ross informed us that in terms of religion, 80% of Czechs identify as Atheist or Agnostic with the remaining 20% identifying as Catholic or Protestant (15% Catholic). In my interpretation, this fact speaks to the psychology of the Czech Republic who removed themselves from the Catholic church early on and were then violently re-catholicized by the Hapsburgs and forced to lose their language. Later they were occupied by the Nazis and then re-occupied by Russian communism. After years and years of continual trauma, I can understand why many people decided to turn away. However, even if they don’t find spiritual significance in their churches, they are all deeply embedded in the rich history of the Czech republic.

gothic church

This is a picture of the Gothic church in the Vysehrad castle complex which was a little outside of the center. One of my friend’s who studied abroad in Prague suggested that we check it out and it definitely didn’t disappoint! All of the grounds were so beautiful and I just couldn’t believe that so many call this place home…Erin and I lamented how unfortunate the people who live in Prague are for having so many castles to look at (lol) but then we remembered that we live in Florence and brought ourselves back to reality.

view vysehrad

We also visited the New Town, Wecenslas Square, the Heydrich memorial, the Alphonse Mucha exhibit, the National Theater, and many more. We really made use of our time!! I also did a short study in Czech beer which I found out was really amazing. There is no tax on beer there which makes it so cheap. I also tried unfiltered beer which is something you can’t typically find elsewhere because food and beverage laws in other countries require beer to be filtered. Unfiltered beer is essentially beer in its purest form. It is brewed and left unfiltered (you can think of it as like unpasteurized milk) and is a pretty orange color. We also tried Czech food and let’s just say that one Czech meal was enough. All of their food is super heavy and features sausages and goulash and fried cheese which was really good but also like, not a light snack. I tried steak tartar which tasted good but like…I think I’m good for the rest of my life on that one.

Unfiltered staropramen

On the last day, we climbed the astronomical tower in the Klementinum complex. It was a great way to top off our trip. I feel so lucky to have been able to experience such an amazing city. The Czech Republic dons itself as “The Land of Stories” which is certainly an appropriate title. I hope that I am lucky enough to visit again one day!!

old town square from ast. tower

There’s Something in the Food…

At first I thought my overly intense love for the food here was just part of the whole “Living in Italy” cliche. There are a lot of interesting stereotypes from my American counterparts about what it means to live in Italy. Inspired by Hollywood films like Eat. Pray. Love, Under the Tuscan Sun, and The Lizzie McGuire Movie, they include things like:

  1. Becoming an international pop star simply by entering the country and claiming your in-born right as an American to do whatever you want
  2. Getting simultaneously amazing and comical life advice from little old ladies
  3. Falling irrevocably in love with a gorgeous Italian man and never coming back, or something simple like
  4. Eating pizza, pasta, and gelato everyday and never getting tired of it.

Like all stereotypes, not all these things are true. However, since every American girl in Italy’s goals are to fulfill Hollywood stereotypes in order to feel like a successful member of society, let’s map my progress!

  1. The search for my unknown twin sister who will turn me into a pop-star got pretty exhausting right at the beginning so I sort of gave that one up
  2. I am constantly surrounded by American college students and I also look like one so the Florentines tend not to always offer me welcoming smiles
  3. LOL so many stories so little time
  4. ….ok this one is true tho

Looks like I’m not doing too hot!! Oh well. Now that I’ve broken the American stereotype of life in Italy, let’s talk about one of the most important parts of life in Italy — the food.

At the end of the day, food is the reason that all of us are on this earth breathing and doing our human being thang. I have always felt a special connection with food. At some points in my life, that connection turned into an unhealthy habit— including a period in college when I was so stressed I had to turn to 1 buffalo chicken pizza/day just to get myself through an LSAT prep course. However, fluctuations with your life partner are normal and healthy and if it’s meant to be, you always get through those tough moments! But here, food means something different to me because I’ve decided to invest my time and money into tasting it, enjoying it, and appreciating it for what it is in Italy and in my opinion, what it should be period.

As many people know, food is at the heart of Italian culture. Meals are not just meals, but rather times for families and friends to celebrate life together. Whether it’s a night out for dinner at a restaurant just to celebrate the end of the week or a full 3 course meal cooked together with friends, the food brings us together in an almost transcendental way. We are all together, enjoying each other’s company as a unit and at the same time enjoying what we are eating both together and as individuals. In my opinion, the shared experience of a meal is one of the most profound ways to be together with others. Of course, you can eat food anywhere in the world, but there is something here that makes it really special and after almost 6 months of evaluation, I finally have somewhat of an idea why:

  1. Everything is REAL. When you bite into a ball of mozzarella cheese that you bought at the grocery store for 1 Euro, you can bet that the only ingredients written on the back of the package are acqua, sale, e latte (water, salt, and milk). There aren’t preservatives and in fact, milk is not half as pasteurized in Italy as it is in America so you are pretty much as close as you want to get to its purest form. Even more strange than the product simply being real is that…
  2. Everything is LOCAL. Most food I buy is grown in Tuscany unless otherwise specified. Sometimes going into the grocery store you notice that there aren’t as many options for fruits and vegetables as you might see in Stop n Shop. However, almost all of the fruits and vegetables are grown in Tuscany. The tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, etc are all grown right here in the region and brought daily straight from the farm to the grocery store. Of course specialty things are gotten elsewhere, but all the basics come from the ground we stand on and honestly after eating this way for 6 months there is no other way that seems right.
  3. Europe has STRICT regulations on Food and Beverages. Even more so in Italy which houses the gastronomic capital of the world, Bologna. At home products are made with additives and preservatives (which we all know). These things are put into foods to color them and make them more marketable or to grow them at a faster or larger rate in order to meet economic demands. Obviously each country has its own conditions to adhere to, but the food in Italy is even more special because it can only be sold in an extremely pure form. You will never find a white egg in the supermarket because the eggs are simply not allowed to be colored. There is only a very small section with brownie/cookie mixes because people know how to make their own and processed foods like this require additives and preservatives that simply aren’t good for us and simply not allowed to be added to the food here. Most importantly, the sulfites added to wines bottled in America are not allowed to be added in Italy and therefore, you are less likely to have a bad headache the day after you’ve consumed a bottle or two (with friends!).
  4. (In many cases) The worker is NOT alienated from his/her creative labor. Of course there is capitalism in Italy and of course there are big producers that sell to big supermarkets, but one of the most exciting/inspiring things about eating food here is when you get to eat it straight off the table of the person who made it. This weekend I organized a trip to a cheese factory in Pienza where we tried 9 different cheeses all made directly at the factory, touching only the hands of Beppe the cheese man and then our own before we gobbled them up. It was amazing to see the farm that the sheep grazed on, the room all the milk was brought into to be converted into cheese using only yeast and salt, and the storage areas where the cheese ages and ferments. This experience totally blew my mind because I saw that the product I buy in the store has behind it an artist who creates this product because he loves it, knows how to make it properly, and wants to share it with as many people as possible. Beppe’s cheese is sold in local stores though he prefers if buyers come directly to his factory to pick out individual wheels of pecorino. Like a good Italian, he made constant jokes about how his cheese was way better than anyone else’s. However the simplicity of his production and his strong tie to what he produces with his own hands makes this true because there is nothing better than creating an authentic product that people don’t just consume, but instead experience. This experience means something and even though there may not be any more cheese on the plate, it’s kind of hard to forget.

At the end of the day, this last message is the most inspiring to me. It reminds me that while the part of the world I come from is caught up in the capital the product produces rather than the product itself and while it seems like we are becoming more and more disconnected from the things we consume and produce, there are still places where these connections between creation, creator and appreciator are being made. I believe that the Italian creator’s loyalty to the authenticity of his or her product is what makes this place so unique. And on days when I’m particularly annoyed with the 200 person cruise ship group walking in front of me, this is what I’ll try valiantly to remember.

http://www.fattoriapianporcino.it — Beppe’s website!

The Cheese Room at Fattoria Pianporcino, Pienza, IT

The Cheese Room at Fattoria Pianporcino, Pienza, IT

My Tribute to 9/11

I don’t know why in all the years of memorializing this day, I decided today to write this. We all have our personal accounts of what happened on this day 13 years ago and this is mine:

It was lunch time on September 11th, 2001. We were all in fourth grade sitting at the brown-foldable lunch tables in the West End Elementary Gymnasium. Mrs. Reichenberg’s class, my class, sat towards the back of the gym. There were two rows of tables. We were one table up from the last table on the left. I was wearing my floral grey-black leggings and a shirt I can’t remember. I just remember the leggings because I was looking down when we heard them say “Attention West End: We will not be having recess today due to Mosquito spraying. Thank you” Speakerclosingsound

In fourth grade we were 9 years old. We were 9 years old, but we knew something was wrong.

“Mosquito Spraying? But there aren’t even any mosquitos!”

We yelled indignantly to each other across the table. We were angry to have been cheated out of going outside on what was a beautiful, clear day. I remember my black floral leggings and the feeling of something that was not quite right. For the rest of the day, the feeling grew stronger.

When we came back to our classroom, all of the windows were closed. Mrs. Reichenberg didn’t look her cheery self anymore. Her long blonde hair that went past her shoulders, her bright blue eyes, and her small facial features did not hold the animation they always did. It was like someone had sucked her out of her body and left her sitting in the seat. Her face was panic-stricken. We told her about the mosquito spraying and how ludicrous it was that we couldn’t go outside on such a nice day. Mrs. Reichenberg didn’t much respond to us and continued about class. She didn’t smile again that day.

It was an hour before class was supposed to end and Joe P was called out of the classroom. The loudspeaker in our classroom spoke:

“Mrs. Reichenberg, can you please send Joe P down to the main office, his mom is here to take him home.”

“Joe why are you going home? Are you sick?” Some of us asked him. It wouldn’t have been unlikely considering Joe was one of the class crybabies and this was something he often did anyway.

“No! I don’t know why my mom wants me!” He cried back to us angrily.

Now we knew something was wrong. Joe’s mom had popped the ballon of logic that was growing thin all day. An unseen and indescribable tension built underneath the class. We looked to Mrs. Reichenberg with expectant eyes, hoping for any kind of explanation, even hoping to hear more about the mosquitos. She held her ground until it was 15 minutes before class ended and time for the end of day announcements.

“Something happened today class.”

She said in a quivering voice that held back tears. Her eyes darted across all of us and it looked like she was searching inward as if to find the right way to explain to 20 nine year-old kids that two planes had flown into the twin towers in New York City, 30 minutes away, and that thousands of people had been crushed by the weight of what were the tallest towers in the world. That thousands of people ran screaming from a burning building and that many people who were there who either escaped or didn’t were our friends’ fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles.

“It is something too big for me to tell you, but when you get home, talk to your parents, you should hear it from them first.”

It was Tuesday so my mom picked me up from the front door because today we weren’t allowed to go out any door but the front. I usually went out the right side door that lead easily to Burtis Street, my street. I don’t remember the walk home other than my usual excitement to be with my mom on her day off. It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky and a smothering heaviness. A heaviness I still feel in the air every year on this day.

I don’t remember exactly how my conversation went with my mom. Of course I asked her what happened and of course she told me there had been a terrorist attack. Instead of having me do my homework right away once I got back from school she lead me into the living room to watch the TV. At first I was excited because I was never allowed to watch TV until after dinner. But then I saw a screen filled with Red and Black. Red because of the blaring letters with the red banner below them that read “Terrorist Attack on NYC Twin Towers” Black because the smoke coming off of the towers was sinister and unnatural. There were pictures of airplanes that had flown directly into the buildings. It was incomprehensible and the only thing I remember saying to respond was, “I don’t understand.”

My mom took me up the stairs, one flight to where our bedrooms were, and the next flight, which we rarely took, to the attic. We walked across the creaky floorboards and were engulfed by the smell of sawdust. We walked to the window at the highest point in our house and in the distance we could see the billowing black smoke.

We waited for my dad to come home because he was stuck on the Throgs Neck Bridge. He had never even made it to work in White Plains since the first tower was struck at 8:46 AM and he was still in the car. As soon as he heard what happened on the radio he turned around to come back home. But he sat on that bridge watching the smoke and listening to the radio for any signs of Peace. My mom had a hair appointment. She heard that the tower had been struck by a plane and then she came home and watched it fall.

I remember eating dinner that night, but I don’t know what happened. I remember hearing from neighbors who came over and people who called my house. I remember that my Uncle was for some reason in the city and that he had been helping people get computers working so they could have access to information. He was stuck in the city and he couldn’t come to our house because there was no way to leave it.

The city, my city, was isolated to the island it really was. All by itself with 8 million people – screaming, scared, running. Sirens. Smoke. The planes stuck in the towers.The image on TV that burned itself into my consciousness, into ours. Mosquito spraying because we were only miles away from where this all happened and they could’ve come for us next. My mom telling me that something terrible had happened. That today the world had changed and that things would never be the same. That this was bigger than anything before. That she didn’t know what would happen next. Planes crashed into buildings and then made them fall. There once were two towers and now there were none.

***

Last summer my family and I went to visit the 9/11 memorial. We got on the train and then took the subway from somewhere around Penn Station (I still have yet to master the subway) to Fulton Street. We passed St. Paul’s Chapel, which was left untouched through all of the destruction that occurred just footsteps away 12 years before then. The excitement I feel whenever I go to the city filled me like it always does. I walked bouncily taking in everything I could see. Fulton Street is a nice part of the city, I thought. There was Pace University and a bunch of nice restaurants. We made it to the line for the memorial. The signs with instructions to get in were written in many languages, 5 that I remember. English, Spanish, French, German, Italian. I read the sign in Italian over and over as we waited. We walked inside and were greeted by the serene quietness of the open area that once held the world’s largest skyscrapers. There was the steel cross that they had kept, symbolizing whatever in the world it is the cross symbolizes these days.

There was a pretty grass area surrounded by cement and so many trees. There were the two pools. The stone on top that read everyone’s names was cool to the touch. Cool dark grey stone. The names of people who died 12 years ago. Cut into it like it was all still fresh. Their names that told their stories without saying anything because we all knew what happened. Names of people that we recognized because we knew people in their families. Last Names. Names of people who I recognized at Fairfield who I did not realize until that exact moment had lost a family member in the attacks. A pool with water that seemed to carry itself down simply by gravity. Re-demonstrating in each second what happened that day, but reminding us to prevail nonetheless. Water splashing to cool the burns, to remind us that wounds can heal.

The pools were so loud you couldn’t hear anything around you. I was sucked in by the magnitude and mesmerized as I watched the water fall. Water to replace smoke. The coolness of the stone to replace the heavy, hot soot that filled the city for months afterwards.

We walked around the memorial for a while. The memorial which is this place where you can see people become physically affected by the heaviness of a tragedy, preserved. A heaviness that has never physically left us for now 13 years. A heaviness we won’t ever stop feeling because even when you’re thousands of miles away you are still an American, still a New Yorker, still were wearing your black floral leggings when they told you there was a mosquito spraying, still knew it wasn’t true.

College and Change Pt. 2 (What We Wish We Knew/General Advice)

Firstly, this post is an add on to my nonbiological sister @LoanLe ‘s post about what she wishes she knew going into college and some friendly advice for those of our friends who are so lucky as to still be there or other people like us who are depressed we’re not students anymore and spend our afternoons crying in the back rooms at work (we’ve all done it) which can be found here : http://wp.me/p1vKrd-Eq

Pretty much I suggest you read it because it contextualizes my post and provided me with the inspiration to write mine and who doesn’t love a little context or a little inspiration?

Ok we’re just gonna jump right in…picking up where Loan left off at Number 5:

5. Making Friends is the Easy Part

Before I left for school, I was the most nervous about making friends. I knew I was capable of making friends, like duh, I was funny and cute—and let’s be real I was only going to get better looking with age. However, I wasn’t looking to make just any kind of friends. I wanted to make those friends. The friends who would stick with me for the rest of my life and the friends who would sit on cotton candy clouds with me while riding through rainbows. Lucky for me, this did happen, although without the cotton candy and rainbows. Instead, I met people who challenged me. People who I stayed up late with having conversations about social injustice, the state of the economy, and what it means to be a man or woman growing up in the post-modern age. Maybe we never really used any of these words in our conversations, but it was happening! Of course, we tended to do some fun things like movies, parties, eating our way through Fairfield county, etc. But the important thing is that our friendship was based not just off of the convenience of the moment (i.e. all being college students together), but rather an authentic interest in each other and a shared desire to carve out our own path in the world. Of course at the end of the day, maintaining friendships takes a lot of effort, but becoming friends with a group of people who challenge, support, and strengthen you is natural and as an old chem teach used to say “like attracts like.”  

6. Piling too many things all on one plate

I am famous for doing this. Whether it is with social activities, work responsibilities, or literal food on a plate, my plate is always full. That being said, one of the my greatest challenges in college was learning to manage my time. There was a moment Sophomore year where my plate was so full with things to do that it started to overflow. Food started falling off the sides and onto the very dirty rug of my Loyola dorm room. At first I didn’t notice because the rug in my room was the kind that hid all dirt (hence why I got it), but then it turned into something I could no longer ignore. The 3-second rule had passed and I couldn’t turn back. I had to make adjustments. Sophomore year academics began to pick up. Classes were actually *gasp* hard and I couldn’t get by anymore by simply skimming the readings and writing down whatever came to my head. I was so excited to have so many friends that I spent all of my time investing in my social life. Eventually I was up to my chin, drowning in work that I could not get done and social events in which I felt obligated to participate. It was my fault and it had to be fixed. So first I called my mom crying and then I pulled out one of the 500 notebooks I never actually used and started to write down what I needed to do. For me,  this method of problem-solving yields the greatest results (thanks mom!). From that moment on I had to decide that it was sustainable to only go out one night of the weekend if I wanted to stay on top of my work and that *GASP again* I would have to start starting assignments ahead of time to keep on top of my schedule. Getting into a groove took a little time, but by the second semester, still arguably my most academically challenging semester, it started to feel easy. Of course, I liked to keep a full plate when I was able to, but I learned how to put on just enough to hold it steady.

7. If your pay $55,000 a year for a school to offer you services, utilize the shit out of them.

My theory about paying for college is that if you’re paying to go to a certain school, do not just go to said school. Go to said school and annoy the shit out of every office on campus until you have everything you need without compromise. I know that Loan mentioned something about not aiming for academic perfection, she was right, but in the case of paying so much for a college education, you need to DEMAND perfection and settle for absolutely nothing less. This way, when you leave, you can feel like the American Higher Ed system didn’t cheat your parents out of their hard-earned money and you can hope that maybe they might feel that way too (Thanks Mom and Dad!). Utilizing your school’s resources will be one of the most important things you do in your four years. The reason that we decide to pay so much for education is because your education doesn’t offer you simply an education, but also the opportunity to grow as a person and hopefully have the resources to pursue a fulfilling career after college. From day 1 at Fairfield, I badgered every person I could find to help me get what I needed. Whether it was seeking out my Italian professor to help me declare my second major freshman year, enrolling in the Education program Sophomore year, un-enrolling in the Education program Junior year (lol), or simply asking for resume advice at Career Planning, I did everything I could to utilize Fairfield’s resources. These choices are what got me where I am and you bet your bottom, middle, and top dollar that I will continue to utilize Fairfield until I no longer exist. (lurv u fairf!) But really, your school depends on your money and your money’s worth depends on your school. Take what your school offers and if they don’t offer what you need, find a way to make it happen. This means that just as much as your school needs to work with you, you need to work with your school. If something is wrong, speak up. If you don’t seek answers, you’ll never find them and in that case, it’s your loss.

8. Surprise Yourself

Fall semester of Junior Year I sat in EN/W 203 Creative Non-Fiction with Prof. Sonya Huber. I had no particular desire to be there. I took the class because “it was the only one that could fit into my schedule” and “I heard the teacher was good” but, “I’m more of a reader than a writer so I guess we’ll see.” Day 1, Sonya asks us to do a writing sample and share. I’m in full judgement mode looking around at all the eager people who probably think they’re such good writers (spoiler, they were such good writers). I’m also insecure because I’ve never shared any of the things I’ve written in the dark in the middle of the night on my laptop with other human beings and I don’t know why I should right now. But then something happens. We are all sharing and something is happening because not only are people reading things, but everyone is listening. It’s like that thing that happens when you are out in some nature-y kind of place and all of a sudden everyone just KNOWS. That cricket sound is not just a cricket sound and the cicadas buzzing are not just cicadas buzzing. There is something deeper underlying all of us, there is something hidden, and for me, there is something being unlocked. Day 2, I’m a writer and Day I don’t know what day it is, I’m still a writer. I have always been writer even when I didn’t think I was a  writer and I will always be a writer until I no longer exist. I guess you could say I surprised myself. Be open to this experience in college because if it happens to you (it doesn’t have to be with writing) then you are succeeding at what you payed 55,000 dollars a year to do and making those countless bouts of anxiety diarrhea in a dorm bathroom totally worth your time.

 

 

Long Island v. Italy pt. 1

After my two months in Italy, I’ve started to notice a personal trend where I compare many of the things I experience here to things I’ve experienced at home on Long Island. You could call this anthropological research for my future memoir, but it’s actually becoming a thing since every day I continue to be surprised by how similar the cut throat environments of Lynbrook and Florence can be. Of course, I’m exaggerating when I say cut throat, but when it comes down to it for those who know both places, am I really??  

1. Up and Downs and The Look

Seriously, in both places, everyone can be so mean! On LI, nobody is openly nice. Maybe I’m exaggerating: there’s me and my family and the few people I like, but beyond that, no and even sometimes we aren’t that nice! How does one survive in such an environment?! If you don’t believe me, you can see for yourself by walking down any street in Lynbrook and getting full on up and downs from judgmental 7th graders and their moms. In Florence, everyone is mean too, but in a different way. When you walk into a store speaking your best Italian in what you never realized was a very obvious American accent (no matter how freaking hard I roll my Rs!), you get the look. The look is best described as a direct gaze from one person’s eyes into another’s where the distributor of the look emanates feelings of hatred and disgust. The look is usually received after the recipient begins speaking in Italian in an establishment that is simply tired of seeing foreigners.  

The difference between the up and downs you get on LI and the look in Florence is that in Florence, once you prove that you are worthy to be in the look distributor’s country, their icy facade begins to fade away, leaving you with what turns out to be a relatively pleasant conversation and even sometimes a peppy buona giornata! when you leave. On LI, the up and downs are a lifetime guarantee. The only way to evade them is by acquiring overly expensive brand-named clothing and a permanent bitch-face (applicable for both men and women) and in today’s generation specifically, something hipstery preferably paired with brand-named sunglasses. In Italy, nobody gives a shit what you’re wearing unless you’re wearing shorts in which case you may as well just find yourself back on the streets of LBK with the 7th graders and their moms. However, this issue is easily fixable by choosing to sweat to death and nearly pass out in your best pants. A smaller price (literally it’s less expensive to just buy pants) to pay for social acceptance! 

To be honest I didn’t realize how long that explanation was going to get, though knowing myself, I should’ve anticipated it. I think it would be fun for us to make this a regular thing so I will think of more ideas and keep going. Also if you, like me, have spent time in the mystical cultural terrains of both Italy and Long Island, please feel free to let me know about your own experiences or suggestions I could write about. I imagine that this could become a long list (also like it doesn’t really have to be Long Island since there are probs like a lot of places in our country that boast similar traits i.e. northern NJ and I’m not sure where else). 

Also, for those of you checking my blog to make sure I’m in a proper mental state: I am actually starting to really love it here and all of the stuff I’m saying in this post is all in good fun (except for the parts that I’m just couching in humor to express the post-trauma of growing up on LI lolol)! hahaha ok jk see u all soon, alla prossima!

 

On the way to functioning human being-ness…

Guys!!!!!! I’m sorry that it’s been so long, but I think we’ll all feel better by the end of this post knowing that I am no longer (necessarily) in a state of complete culture shock or total post-grad depression. I would say I survived, but I think using the gerund form of the verb, surviving, is still more appropriate since I definitely don’t feel like my period of discomfort has passed me, nor am I totally sure it ever will. But, I think the point of this is that I’m actually really 100% okay with that because I am learning some truly indispensable things and I don’t want to stop learning since learning is my favorite!!!! I don’t know why but I feel a little like I’m on writer’s speed aka so many thoughts in my mind and they are all just falling out of my brain onto the keyboard and into this neat little white box that will later turn into my blog post. I am also using way too many adverbs but I think that’s what happens when you’re two months out of the the torture that was Grammar Class. Anyway!!!

So since I last talked to you all, some fun things have happened. Firstly, my friends Mandy and Michelle came to visit. No one else calls Amanda Mandy but me so I will call her Amanda for clarity purposes. They were doing a post-grad eurotrip and decided it would be wort their time to visit me in Italy. I think they made a good choice! The first day we met up in Rome and I got to visit a new part that I never went to before: Piazza del Popolo

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Mandy and me at the fountain where the lady dipped her legs in like it was nbd…

This was really exciting because it was such an amazing Piazza and Piazze are my fav and Rome is my fav so everything was my fav and I was loving it. We also had this really hilarious experience of watching a random woman casually dip her legs into the fountain behind us. I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed, but she did it so conspicuously and to be honest Mandy, Michelle and me were really jealous. She didn’t even get her skirt wet! Obvs we laughed about it for the rest of the time and I’m pretty sure she heard us laughing but like whatever, in the end she won since it was approximately 95 degrees out and I was wearing pants.

I was so happy that I got to see Amanda and Michelle because it was just really relieving to see other Fairfield people and realize that we are all in this weird post-grad in between where nothing makes sense and confusion = daily life. It was also fun because like they are my friends and I was happy to see them. We had some truly hilarious times that I probably won’t ever forget and we met some very interesting people (including fellow random stags that graduated a couple of years before us! soo crazy!). We also took this cute pic as stags at Piazzale Michelangelo:

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Amanda, Michelle, and me at Piazzale Michelangelo with our stags up 🙂

It was sad to see them leave, but it was also exactly what I needed to have them visit me and I’m so happy that they came!!

Next, Summer II started which was a hugeeeeee relief from summer I. We have Australian students from ACU in this session and they are awesome!! It has been so much fun getting to know them and going over the nuances that differentiate Australian English from American English. I’m starting to get really really good at my Australian accent which I’m pretty excited about. This session has been extremely busy because there is an event almost every night of the week after work, but they are all really fun so that’s okay. I also moved buildings which is really nice since I’m in a more familiar area and I have my own apartment.

Something exciting is that I’m really starting to feel more like a self-sufficient adult now! This weekend I fully cleaned my apartment without anyone prompting me to do so and I felt so accomplished. Of course, the prompting came more directly from me being grossed out by myself, but hey! Whatever gets you to do it right?? I also made plans for like budgeting my money and other boring things that are actually important. Even though they are boring, it’s good because then at the end of the day I feel like I somewhat have my shit together and the feeling of “having one’s shit together” is pretty incomparable to anything else. Ultimately, I feel like I am getting on track to normalcy/functionalness and though these are not my only goals in life, they are very much my present goals and I’m really excited to be achieving them! Especially in Italy where Normalcy/functionalness are not exactly cultural values.

I’ve also started to meet more people and have a more steady network around me. This makes such a huge difference to me because I am 100% a people person and one of the most important things to me at Fairfield was knowing that I was always surrounded be a community that would support me no matter what. I know it will take a while to feel this way in Florence, but the fact that I finally feel like I’m on my way there just makes everything so much better. It’s also really different because I am now an American expat in Florence so the community is a lot smaller and everyone seems to know each other. I like this because there is both the opportunity to seek out people who are like me and to seek out people who are different. I know that this is a comfort very specific to Florence but I’m really grateful to have it.

I’m going to end with some pictures of my trip with Fairfield to Lucca this past Friday because the town was absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to go back whenever I get a chance!! I miss you all and will write again soon. A presto!

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A pic I took of the Duomo when I randomly woke up at sunrise one morning!

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I forgot to mention we also went to Pisa this Friday… Casually got a pic of the Leaning Tower when the sun was positioned perfectly behind it…

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A beautiful church in Lucca! (And that’s about all I remember from the tour which shows just how great of a role model I am lol…)

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Piazza del Anfiteatro in Lucca– a totally circular square (haha that’s punny) aka Piazza in Lucca– so cool!