September 14 Journal
7 days I’ve been here. In this country. And let me tell you this; it doesn't feel like it. Not one bit.
It feels like I’ve been here at least a month. At first I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. Just call it the American Way; we just want to hear our own language and not anyone else's. But don’t worry I got over that real quickly. I kinda had too. My Host Parents don’t speak English at all. And If I really needed to ask for something ,and they couldn’t understand when I said it in broken Italian. They would bring up my Host Dad’s Secretary. At least that's what we did the first day.
Now it’s a week in, and I can understand about three-fourths of what everyone’s saying. Unfortunately I’m still not that confident in my Italian to actually form compete sentences , but I’m working on it. At least one lesson in my Italian workbook everyday and struggling though the Italian version of Twilight. Which I don’t remember as well as I thought I did when I forked over 18 euros for it.
I have actually made a couple friends my first week here. All of them thirteen year old boys. You may be asking yourself why I’m hanging out with all thirteen year old boys and that's a good question. Michael, a fellow foreign exchange student from Florida who has been in Cagliari three times as long as I have (don’t worry, we do speak in Italian unless he’s explaining an Italian word), and his host brother Luca have taken it upon themselves to show me the city. Which according to a thirteen-year-old is taking the bus to the arcade, inviting all his fellow thirteen-year-old friends, and playing there for hours. But don’t worry I have seen other parts of my city.
The police station I live at is right next to a bunch of winding streets compete with old buildings and tons of shops. Yes, that's right, I did just say I live at a police station. And no, it’s not because my visa was denied and I’m waiting for an armed escort to take me back to the United States. I do actually live in a flat on the fourth floor of the police station . My Host Dad is the head of the entire police force in Sardinia (which is a huge island), so he has a lot of power and we get to stay in the police station. If you're thinking the police station is huge, with its own two-story high wall, spikes on the balconies, a huge armored gate where you have to be on camera and buzzed up to get in, and retractable shutters on all the windows ... you’d be absolutely right. It’s pretty awesome.
Anyway so in-between learning every single Italian curse word (and some in other languages), basically a given when hanging out with thirteen-year-old boys in any country, I actually got to see the beach. The beach here is really different from Florida. To start with there is a ton of people there, not so much in Vero Beach, and there is a rock side and a sand side. Of course the boys head to the rock side (where no one is) so they can go catch octopuses. They literally had scuba masks and spent over an hour searching for octopuses so they could catch and eat them. Not Michael though, I don’t think he shares in their passion for octopuses.
I also have been to the mall quite a few times. I know what you're thinking: Is their mall any different from the American malls? A bit...but only a bit. First of all, it’s less formal and clean. Like in American malls you would never find a cart in the middle of the walkway selling kind of explicit t-shirts, and they have giant superstores (think Best Buy only more Walmarty) attached to their malls. There’s also something very strange in the stores that I feel the need to point out: in almost every store there is at least one naked mannequin, even in clothing stores. And no, I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just a stupid native American but until now I was pretty sure the point of a mannequin was to show off the clothes. I guess I was wrong?
I have also experienced the Italian cinema. Which again is pretty much the same as ours only they are only open at night and have assigned seats in the theatre. So yes the Italian movie theaters sell greasy popcorn and cokes just like in the US.
Over this last weekend, I went with my Host Family to see their friends in North Sardinia. I was looking forward to seeing their version of “country” (I live in a big city) and, let's be honest, get away from all the thirteen-year-old boys. Well during this weekend I learned two things. The first thing was, that the Sardinian version of “country” is a Northern-California-like Italian villa on a mountain overlooking the sea and their own personal vineyard and swimming pool. And the second thing I learned was that somehow I can’t get away from these barely teen Italian boys - my host parents’ friends have a thirteen-year-old son.
In the small town about 4 kilometers away, they were having a small festival for the feast day of Santa Maria. The cool part about the town was it has small streets curving around a mountain with a castle on top! A CASTLE! I’ve always wanted to see a castle in real life and now I have! It seriously was an amazing experience. The festival took place in all these tiny streets with people everywhere; there were some flea market type stands set up, and then there were families with huge tables eating dinner right in the cobblestone streets. After pretty much getting lost in the huge maze of streets we went to a pizzeria called Paradise, where I had my first real foreign exchange mess up. Was anyone else aware that in low-light the plural version of man and woman in Italian look very similar so that the I at the end of man could be mistaken for a E? So as you might have guessed I walked into the men’s bathroom instead of the women's, which was a whole lot nicer than the women’s was. I’m just saying. I don’t think anyone saw except of course...the thirteen-year-old boy. Who then pointed it out to everyone at the table. Can’t wait till school starts...I need friends my age and gender.
Yes, school has not started yet. Italian school apparently starts the latest of any school in the world. I start school on Thursday and from what I can tell the Italian school system works like this: school goes six days a week from 8:15 to 1:30. Around 1:30 everything in the city closes down (even most restaurants and the police station) and everyone goes home and has lunch. Quite different from the USA where I would either have lunch at school or just grab a bite to eat at Subway. Then in the afternoon (if you don’t have a job to get back to) you either nap, study, or do an after-school activity with the city. I think I’m going to be enrolled in volleyball but I’m not positive. I’m going to be in level two of the Italian high school located across the street from the police station I’m staying at. It’s a social school, which means I’ll be studying psychology and what not. Due to the subject of the school it does not attract many guys, which means it is an almost all girls-school. Even so I am really looking forward to starting school; weird as it maybe I did really enjoy school in the states and I’m really looking for a challenge. School in another language should be just that.
I’ll update again later. Thank you again Rotary.
September 25 Journal
This last week and a half I have got in trouble with the law, started a trend and watched it die, been stared at, watched about six movies in Italian, seen sights that were built by the Romans, and eaten snails. Basically a normal week for a foreign exchange student. But first things first:
“Then the smoke engulfed my throat sending me on fast-paced race though time and space. The porthole in front of me closing every second I couldn’t breathe. The coughs getting louder and more fanatic until I could no longer speak.”
Okay...so that’s a bit dramatic. Okay...so it could be right out of a J. R. R. Tolkien novel. But that’s what has been happening to me the last couple of weeks. Along with a lot of other less important and less ironic events that I will get to in just a moment.
Now you may think the dramatic paragraph is a metaphor for something like say...not knowing the language. Although I will probably do something like that in a blog entry in the near future, no that’s not it. It’s completely really exaggerated truth. For the past one and a half weeks (I’ve been here about 2 and a half) I have been suffering from a very sore throat, that at times won’t allow me to speak in even the modest Italian I know. Also if you have never explained to someone who doesn't understand you why you can’t speak, let me tell you it’s very difficult and not something I’d like to repeat.
I’ve been doing much research concerning my sore throat and I have come to a slightly concerning conclusion. I seem to have a semi-violent reaction to second-hand smoke ... who knew? Now if you have been to Italy you probably wouldn’t know this (unless of course you watched those slightly popular Mafia movies) but everybody in Italy smokes (except my Host Parents). All the time. We literally have vending machines that dispense cigarettes to any civilian willing to pay up to 4 euros. And I’m here to tell all the people that say the percentage of teenage smokers is going down, to come to Sardinia. Because the only percentage I’m seeing is the 2% of teenagers that don’t smoke in my school. If I wasn’t dying from second-hand smoke I would totally take this time to appreciate this extraordinary slice of Italian culture. But since I am dying, let’s move on to more beautiful aspects of the Italian/ Sardinia world.
Even with the sore throat, it has been an eventful week and a half since I last updated. I have not only watched both Snow White and Harry Potter (1) in Italian, I have watched Shrek (Donkey + Italian accent = Funniest Movie Ever)! I should probably start from a couple days after I last updated though, I’ll get back to Shrek.
Michael, Luca, and I went to the mall last Wednesday to celebrate their last day of Summer (mine was Friday since I didn’t start school till Saturday.) So there I was; a confused foreign exchange student that barley speaks the language, trying to tackle the Cagliari bus system. So I had just got on the bus twenty seconds before, I hadn’t even dug my ticket out of my wallet yet when all of a sudden the bus stopped and the Transportation Enforcers got on. Luca gabs my ticket out of my hand and high-tails it to the back of the bus and forces it in the slot. Then he ran back and gave it to me, sweet innocent me. Remember that...sweet innocent me. Of course the transportation guy who was checking everyone’s ticket sees this, and then like an evil vulture swooping in on his prey, he was at my side in an instant. Then he checks my ticket, his watch, and then pulls out a pink pad. I’ve never seen pink look more intimidating. Then he launches into a hugely elaborate rapid Italian speech that I understood only two words of: Passport or Identification. Hesitantly I hand him my Florida Permit, then without missing a beat he launches into another rapid Italian speech. I just look at him like he’s crazy. Michael then decides to pop in explaining that I’m American and I don’t speak Italian. Thanks Michael for that. Glad you have so much faith in me. So to put a long story short the bus ride was the most expensive bus ride I have ever taken ... 21 euros. And the worst part? I used a whole bus ticket also. Does anyone else find it very ironic that I got in trouble with the law when my host Dad is the head of the Sardinia police department?
I have also met another Rotary Youth Exchange student in Cagliari. Her name is Katie and she’s from Hawaii. It’s great to talk to someone from a far-away place that I’ve never been, it’s almost like she’s from a different country that happens to speak the same language. Michael, Katie, our Host Moms, and I met up at the park last Thursday for some bonding. The park was kind of a cross between a broken down carnival, a central-park want to be, a bird sanctuary, a national-park, and a playground. Yes ... I am still wondering how they managed to accomplish all that also.
Friday night my host parents and I went to what I assume was supposed to be a Dinner Party. But it was at nine o’clock at night (normal dinner time for Italians) and all we had was Italian sandwiches. The party was thrown by a family who I believe works and is friends with my host Dad. Of course all the guests included: their cousins, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandparents, brothers-in-law of their cousins. Basically their whole extended family which again, did include a fourteen year old boy. Seriously ironic? There was also a girl that was my sister in Florida's age who I enjoyed talking to. She wanted to ask me about all the Disney Channel stars and what was Disney World like. When the fruit was served, watermelon and grapes, I made an off-sided comment that in America we have seed-less fruit. Then my half of the room went quiet. Apparently I had just blown everyone’s minds. So, Americans, if you’re reading this, don’t take your seedless fruit for granted, in other countries they can’t just pop a grape in their mouths like you can.
Then Saturday was the First Day of School. I think I was the last person in Rotary Youth Exchange Florida to start school. I showed up the first day in a bright pink shirt, green converses, blond hair, and a purple backpack. To say I stood out in the all brunette, belt-wearing, designer-handbag-carrying, dark-colored-clothing school would be a compete understatement. The first day of school was crazy, I seriously had no idea what was happening. In honor of the first day of school, we sat in a random classroom (that apparently wasn’t ours) for about 3 hours with some random teachers that would come in and ask us about our summer and about the American who could only understand what they were saying when they were talking about her, Harry Potter, or French. Then school was let out. I at least got to meet my classmates though. We have one guy in our entire class - all the rest is girls aged 13 to 17. I still have yet to figure out how that works out.
Second day of school was even more confusing since we changed our classroom and apparently half my class changed some of their style. I walked in thinking I would blend in with my black shirt, white belt, and skinny jeans. It took about three seconds for me to count the number of pink shirts in my class ... six. Safe to say, I didn’t fit in to my own style. Typical. Everything was back to normal by Tuesday of the last week but I’m still confused. Did I start a trend or was everyone just trying to confuse me? These are the questions foreign exchange students must ask themselves.
On either Monday or Tuesday I’m going to start playing Volleyball (or Volly as the Italians call it) after school, which I’m really excited about. I had a very confusing time trying to buy volleyball shoes the other day. Apparently the sizes are really different. Not only does six become thirty-eight but the American sizes on the tag are always wrong. I’m not usually a six in the US but that’s what the shoe that fit is marked as. Strange.
I have tried some interesting dishes lately including pig’s skin, pig head, and snails. Luckily I took a deep breath and tried them. Since I’ve never been that fond of pork (that isn’t bacon or hot dogs) I didn’t particularly enjoy the pig’s skin or pig head, but the snails actually tasted a bit like shrimp. Maybe I would actually eat more than four of them if they weren’t served in a big pot with blood-red sauce and their shells still attached, so at first glance I wouldn’t think “Omg my Host Parents are murderers and they eat their victim's eyeballs.” Okay so I’ll admit to watching a bit too much horror movies in my spare time.
Last Sunday I visited some of the most famous historical sites of Cagliari. We started with the Roman Amphitheater and then worked our way up the mountain. In Ancient Cagliari almost everything was built on a mountain (or I guess you could say large hill) in the middle of the city, this includes the Castello (fancy Italian word for Castle) which is located at the top. The Castello is really a big open area surrounded by large ancient walls and about four towers, then inside it is a mess of cobblestone streets and buildings jutting out of the walls. Just like every single other Italian street, even down to the parking problem. As we were making our way up to the Castello, we passed the Jail, which not only was located on prime real estate looking over a very nice park and a small church on a hill. It had an sea-front view and a beautiful view of all of Cagliari’s monuments and beauty. If that wasn’t enough, your loved ones could drive right up to the church on the hill, honk the horn of their car, and talk to you in your cell (which we saw three people doing) . So it’s safe to say if that fine thing doesn't get settled I hope they put me there.
Well that is basically what happened the last few weeks in Italy. As a send-off I have included a special quote said by someone who I admire very much: “Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and the feel of the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” -Ashley Smith
Hey that isn’t the Shrek quote! Oh well. Thank you so much Rotary for allowing me to live my life to the fullest potential and fight for my dreams.
October 25 Journal
So I haven’t updated in a while, that's probably apparent. A lot has happened... more than I can fit in my humorous pages-long blogs.
On the weekends my Host Family usually travel to North Sardinia and stay with their parents or friends, I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences on these trips so I have decided to dedicate this blog to telling you all about them.
This past weekend we made our way to a small town in the middle of the mountains of central Sardinia. And it’s safe to say that I, the petite innocent Florida girl whose sister wears sweaters in movie theaters, was not prepared for the large drop in temperature between the coast and the mountains. I should be truthful...my host mom had warned me, but did I believe her? That would be a no...just like when the boy cried wolf to many times that they didn’t believe him when it was true. My Host Mom had been making me wear sweaters for about two weeks prior to this in Cagliari, when it wasn’t cold. The good news is I still brought a coat anyway so at least I didn’t freeze to death.
We stayed with my Host Mom’s dad, and brother, and nephew, and sister in law, and a whole bunch of people that I don’t think really stayed in the flat with us but were just around a lot. I seriously couldn’t tell you who exactly who lived in the flat, there were that many people all the time. I heard that Italians had big families but I didn’t know the half of it until we went to my Host Cousin’s Confirmation. If you're not Catholic you might not know what Confirmation is - Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments Catholic’s pass though during their religious upbringing. Usually it takes place when you are 11-15 and it is thought that in this sacrament you receive the Holy Spirit. Also in Italy, it is a very very very big deal.
The day started out at 10 am when mass started. The entire church was packed with people since all the closest family members came to the ceremony (grandparents, parents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles.) I have never been to a mass that long before in my life, it lasted two hours. That's longer than Midnight Mass on Christmas (which isn’t really that long but feels like forever...since it’s at midnight). The bishop (who looked like he could easily be a stand-in for the Pope) insisted on having a nice conversation with every single fifty-something kids, which might explain why it took so long. For the rest of the mass he just sat on the biggest chair in the back with two alter servers that were unlucky enough to be the ones to stand up and hold his hat and gold staff for two hours.
So after his Confirmation I heard we were going to lunch. Lunch on Sunday in Italy usually lasts for hours so I was prepared for a extremely long lunch probably with my host cousin and a couple more family members. But boy....I was wrong.
The family rented out half of this huge restaurant, and then the guests just kept arriving. Family members, friends, cousins, second cousins twice removed; They were all there. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t even imagine feeding that many people much less being related to all of them. There were at least 70 people there, probably more. What was even harder to comprehend was the amount and quality of the gifts he was getting. Designer watches, brand-new digital cameras, high-tech photo frames, more watches. All I got for my Confirmation was two cross necklaces and a couple Christian bookmarks.
Here let's take a few moments to compare our Confirmations. He had all his close family members at his Confirmation. I had: my dad, my sister, and my dad’s best friend. Not exactly killing the seat count. My mom didn’t even come...she was at the first youth exchange orientation, which conveniently was the same weekend. Ironic how it has all come full-circle isn’t it?
So now lets move on to the North-East Sardinia visit that was about two weeks before this:
Before I go on with this blog post I would like to say I knew IT was going to happen. I didn’t know when and I didn’t know in which bathroom, but I knew it was going to happen. If you haven’t guessed it yet I had another bathroom incident.
So it started off as a completely innocent day on a trip to North Sardinia about 2 weeks ago. I mean we got up, ate Nutella on bread for breakfast, and then met about twenty of my host parents' close friends who then hiked up a mountain to a dark scary cave that was at one time filled with Dead People. So all in all a pretty unsuspicious day. Never did I once expect the terror the day would have in store for me.
Before lunch and after we successfully concluded our mountain trek to the great cavemen’s and water-cult worshiper’s dwellings, I decided I needed to go to the bathroom. Italian lunches on Sunday usually last anywhere from two to four hours depending on the amount of talking, so you can see why I would want to go the bathroom before a meal (if you leave right before a course you miss out on all the good stuff since Italian food is served around the table not individually).
So innocently I made my way to the Bathroom following all the other ladies. There were three stalls and I walked into the last one. Italians use keys to lock their doors, so like I have done a million times before at numerous other bathrooms, I turned the key to lock the door. I really should have just held it.
After I’ve done my business I reach for the key and try to turn it, and if you haven’t guessed it already, who's the stupid American that got locked in a bathroom? That's right, Me. Scared I reached for the door handle, which of course didn’t budge. In America this would be no problem, someone would just alert the owner of the house who would have an extra key (or at least tell you what to do with the key jammed). But you see we’re in Italy, where I had never felt the need to learn phrases like “Turn the Key to your right.” Or “Please try to Ninja kick the door with all your strength.” I mean seriously, Rosetta Stone, what gives?
So anyway I was standing behind the bathroom door trying to at least pull the key out of the socket while about 15 Italian ladies are all shouting different things at me from the other side of the door in Italian. All I could think was ‘Why do things like this always happen to me?’ I mean all the other foreign exchange students write about how homesick they are and what amazing things they’ve done, and then I write about being stuck in a bathroom. I think we all know who is really exploring the culture.
To make a really simple story, that I could drag into an entire blog, shorter: I finally got out. Because if I didn’t I would be writing this blog from a small bathroom in North Sardinia, nah I’m just kidding. I would have been lifted out though the tiny window eventually. Finally someone realized I couldn’t understand anything they were saying, and came around to get the key from the small window. Then after repetitively trying to jam the key into the outside key hole, I finally got out. So I didn’t end up like the dead cavemen in the cave after all. Which speaking of, I should probably get back to
The cave we went into used to be an archaeologist site, and way before that it sheltered cavemen type people and served as a hide-out for the water cult tribe (whose village we also visited just a short 15 min walk away). About the whole dead people thing, they’ve found ancient bones in the cave. It’s not a murder scene, even though that cave was so dark it could have been used in a horror movie. It's also up a very steep mountain climb, which I am proud to say I completed holding a glass and can of coke in two hands.
Why did I have a glass and a can of coke in my hands? It can best be explained in the words of Tim Parks in the book 'An Englishman in Verona': "While Italians usually seem to like foreigners, the foreigners they like most are the ones who know the score, the ones who have caved in and agreed that the Italian way of doing things is best...There is an order to follow in all things; follow it, even when it borders on the superstitious and ritualistic." Which means when ever you have a can or a bottle of coke you need to pour it into a glass to drink it. Also whenever you have shrimp pasta, you always put the shrimp in the pasta sauce with the shells still on them. When I asked why you did this the only explanation they could give me was, 'you don't want anyone else touching your food.' So they prefer to get their hands dripping in pasta sauce while trying to peel their own shrimp?
Other than those fun weekend trips, life is slowly starting to turn into...well life. Routine. Boredom. I'm even getting used to drinking coke in a glass and peeling my own shrimp.
But I am having a great time in Italy! Ciao till next time.
December 13 Journal
To start off this way over due blog, I would like to offer a tip of advice to all future foreign exchange students, current foreign exchange students, world travelers, and the like.
You may want to be all adventurous when it's Halloween night, and just decide to order something random off the menu. You know, even though you don't understand what it is because you've never seen the word before. All you understand is that it's drenched in lemon, and that it's slightly cheap. I mean, seriously, it's Italy, how bad can it be?
If you do, I would also suggest not starting by eating 1/3 of it, thinking it's okay, and then turning to the girl next to you (who speaks some English) and asking what it is. Because I guarantee that most of the time, you won't like the answer.
Turns out the yellowish meat drenched in lemon sauce, was actually baby cow meat. I used to have a baby cow, up until my great grand parents sold their farm. Thinking bout eating anything that used to be your pet, much less baby anything, can apparently make you lose your appetite pretty fast, in addition to the optional gagging.
Speaking of appetite, let's cover "Our Merry Foreign Exchange Thanksgiving." We started planning this Thanksgiving about a week before it was going to happen. Wait, starch that, we had the idea to do it the week before ... we never even started buying things till the day before. We somehow managed to get our grubby hands on a HUGE turkey. Let's just say one of our host parents knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone that knew where to get a gigantic turkey, since it only took us about five seconds of goggling to realize, they don't sell turkeys in Sardinia.
Lets see, how can I describe the madness that went on that day?
The Italians weren't too fond of the WAY we were cooking. Although they did think the food was good. As soon as Catie and Michael heard my comment about how I liked the movie 'Julie and Julia' because I often end up on the floor and with stuff everywhere whenever I cook, they stuck me on all the easy stuff. Like cutting up bread for the stuffing and measurements. And by measurements, I mean converting measurements the American way:
"5 grams of salt?" Catie reads off the online recipe. "How do you convert grams?"
Thank gawd for Google. "Um apparently it's 23.42352 for salt," I say before Catie comes over and grabs the salt out of my hands. She pours a handful into her hand, says "This should be about right," and then precedes to just dump it in the bowl. What? It saves me from using the computer's calculator. It's safe to say the Italians just stood in the doorway, their faces in shock. Especially when we used our (clean) hands to spread the oil around the turkey. We foreign exchange students can cook a turkey with no fancy paintbrushes, turkey timers, or other things they market as a must-need for Thanksgiving. AT LOW LOW PRICES.
Actually, it turns out the only thing remotely cheap here is the food. Whenever us foreign exchange kids get together it basically consists of us walking up and down the hills of the shopping streets and then buying a sandwich and a coke. Or you know, we plan to communicate with sprits.
Yep. I just said communicate with sprits.
Apparently the police station where I live is haunted, at least that's what my Host Dad told me during lunch yesterday. I was just sitting there at the table eating my pasta, and my host dad decides to tell me why the doors randomly slam shut and why things randomly disappear from where I put them. I could have gone my whole stay without hearing that someone was shot up here, thanks Host Dad. Like with the dish of baby cow meat, there are some things I just don't want to know.
School has been going okay, well it was going smoothly until my Social teacher decides to show THE movie. Now most of us have seen THE movie, we've watched it in PE class or Health class. I've even seen it at least four times. I used to think it was a good movie. I mean it's interesting that if you eat the most fatty foods at one of the most fatty restaurants you would get fat. I mean who knew? I also thought it was very creative how they interviewed a thousand people and then cut all the people that never eat at McDonalds and who actually know our national anthem. I never even thought that after foreigners watch it, they think all Americans are, well how do I put this, SuperSized.
Insert huge 'Not all Americans are fat' fight here.
It really was insane. The whole class spent the entire English period (the class right after social), arguing with me. Me, the American, who lives in AMERICA, and only knows maybe three obese people. Even calling them obese is really pushing it.
Then they go on to say, like most Italians do with everything, that their McDonalds was different because the sizes were smaller. I've been to Italians McDonalds while I've been here, once in the last 3 months. There sizes are the same, except I don't think they offer a SuperSize menu. Now I'm no expert in McDonalds. I can't even remember the last time I went in there in the States. Thought I'm pretty sure that the BigMacs I see Italians lined up out the door for in every mall have the exact same amount of fat as the ones in America.
Being here has really been my first encounter with racism. I've always have had friends of pretty much every race: African American friends, Italian friends, Indian friends, Mexican friends, German friends, Romanian friends, and Chinese friends. I've never really known anyone that was my age, or even my parents age, who didn't like people just because of their race or their skin color. I've never known anyone who wouldn't go into a restaurant because it was Chinese and therefore dirty. Or really do anything like that. It's been a real eye opener for me. It really really has.
My Italian is getting better and better every day, as I fight the ever looming battle of trying to lose my French. I even managed to have my first dream in Italian, although it wasn't the best first dream. The other person was speaking to me in perfect Italian and I was speaking Italian like a two year old. Who I did actually get to spend four days with this past weekend. That was fun.
So in a break from the constant 13 year old boys, I got to spend a weekend with my host mother's sister's two year old boy. Having never had any brothers, and never experienced living with a two year old (even for just four days), I was completely unprepared.
Of course this was in North Sardinia, where I tend to spend my weekends. This time it was for a wedding. I wish I could compare it to an American wedding, but I've never been to one before. The only wedding I can possibly compare it to is the weddings in 'Wedding Planner' and 'Bride Wars'. Let's see, apart from fact there were no brides having a fight in the aisle and the groom didn't fall for the wedding planner, it was a typical church wedding. Well, a typical gathering for Italians anyway. The reception lasted about 10-12 hours, it took place in a huge restaurant hall, and it was all very loud due to all the second cousins and great uncles that tended to start screaming and clinking their glasses randomly.
It was pretty entertaining. Also during the reception, I figured out that Emily Cadet's (the RYE student from Florida that is in North Sardinia) friend is actually a cousin to my host mom. Small world isn't it? Or, I guess, small island.
Oh and I must report I'm doing better on the whole getting stuck in bathroom thing. I've only got stuck in 2 since I last updated!
Well I must go since it is Sunday, and therefore my only day of semi relaxation and lots of food.
February 3 Journal
Since I've last updated this; trouble-making, edge-of-your-mind-24-7, blog. Stuff. Has. Happened.
End of Blog.
It's unavoidable really; stuff happening, me trying to be funny with only slightly hopeless jokes, some poor misunderstood new outbound student with a broken alarm clock getting yelled at by Al because they were mere minutes late.
Which for the record, only happened to me once. Thank you.
Since I've last updated I've done things you can probably not even imagine. Though that may sound like something right out of the screenplay of the newest James Bond movie (aren't we up to like the 30th?), but in my case it's actually true. That’s right. No Hollywood magic. No special effects. No blue people on an Imax screen. And no English screenwriter telling me what to say.
In the last month and a half, I've changed: I've changed families, I've changed my hair, and somewhere along that way...I've changed myself.
I've stood in front of an angry ocean, only to have it lash back and try to pull me in. I've listened as kids lit fireworks all night long, and I've squealed with enjoyment over the Christmas gifts I receive. I've made pancakes, rode on the back of a moped, won 40 euros just by eating some cake, and held ancient roman bricks in my hands. Then I've watched a friend go home, and willingly throw everything away.
Being here has been the hardest, most difficult, best, most boring, most incredible thing I've ever done (how’s that for a foreign exchange cliché). And even though I may not love every minute, I'm so thankful for all the minutes I spend not even knowing minutes are going by.
Even if the sea tries to capture me again (although you can bet me and the rest of the foreign exchange students are staying far away from rocks next to the ocean right after a storm), and even if at the next big holiday some Italian tries to light me on fire with a firework; nothing will make me give up this experience.
Okay so the truth is, maybe my Italian's not perfect. And maybe I'm not very popular among my class, but that's okay. Because for every second I try, it gets a little bit better. The world gets a little bit brighter. The lock on the bathroom door gets a little bit easier to unlock.
Last year in early 2009, as soon as I found out I was going to Italy: I rushed to this website and read a blog from one of the current outbound students. His name was Tim, and he was also aboard in Sardinia. At the time it inspired me, excited me, made me count down the months till I'd be exactly where he was. Then on December 26th 2009, five days till a year later, I was standing in the exact same spot where he spent the New Years in Sassari. Talk about the world coming full circle.
His journal from last year (January 11 Journal):
So I left a gap didn't I?
"What did you do on Christmas? Why are kids shooting fireworks at you? How did you get paid 40 euros to eat cake (and how can I)?"
And yes...I am getting to all that. I should probably start where I left off, in the middle of December 2009.
So the weeks leading up to Christmas were basically uneventful. They were spent deciding what we should get our host parents, getting together to talk about what we should get our host parents, actually getting our lazy butts away from the computer to buy our host parents presents, and then seeing Beauty and the Beast performing in the middle of street. So, all in all, pretty uneventful.
SO let’s go back to the possible James Bond quote "I've done things you can probably not even imagine." I mean unless you can imagine walking down the biggest shopping street in a pretty big Italian city ,the Saturday before Christmas, and see the musical Beauty and the Beast being performed in the middle of the street in full costume. Yes, that does means people were dressed up as teacups and clocks in the middle of the street singing in Italian. So if you can imagine that, my Yankee's cap goes off to you.
The craziest thing is: they weren't the only ones participating in this huge plow to distract us from our Christmas shopping, THERE WERE OTHERS. Including an orchestra, clowns, face-painters, and mimes. In the middle of the busiest shopping street, on the busiest day for shopping.
The week of Christmas, which in Italy stretches all the way from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, is basically spent doing two things: eating and then waiting to eat again. Did you really expect anything else? We're in ITALY for goodness sakes!
After spending the holidays in North Sardinia (and visiting Sassari to hang out with my host cousin), I headed down to South South Sardinia to spend the New Years with Catie and her family. Although I didn't know the firework battle I was getting into.
There were at least 15 kids younger than us, which basically translates into about 15 pyromaniacs whose parents gave them huge sacks full of fireworks. I don't think I or anyone else slept for days, although it was still amazing. A couple more foreign exchange students were staying in the same neighborhood as us: Max from Germany, Sarah from Germany, and Caro from Bolivia. Along the course of six days we managed to get soaked by a wave, visit Nora (an archeological site in Southern Sardinia), and set off fireworks in water.
Then I had to face my worst nightmare, changing host families. I got about a week's notice before I moved to their house, so I was a little upset. I had never met any of them before, had been told I wasn't changing families, and was moving more than thirty minutes outside my beloved city.
Now I'm used to it; all the waking up early, taking the bus, having to organize plans before hand. It helps that my new host family is very sweet and understanding. I now live in a big house in the mountains with a beautiful view outside my window. A stark contrast to having barbed railings and living in a police station. My two host families are exact opposites of each other, but that's what I love about them. It's the whole point of changing families, seeing things from a completely different perceptive.
So you've read this far and are probably wondering how you too can get paid forty euros to eat a cake. I know it's such a sacrifice to eat cake (why do you think Marie Antoinette wanted people to eat it?), but listen to me closely - here's what the brave of heart need to do.
Step 1. Come to Sardinia (I'm not sure if it's played in other Italian states, although it may be).
Step 2: Be here on the Epiphany (January 6th).
Step 3: Get yourself invited to a typical family gathering (preferably not your own, it's awkward enough taking everyone's money).
Step 4: Then pay 15 euros to the person collecting your money.
Step 5: Do a lucky clap (or whatever luck ritual suits you).
Step 6: Eat Cake.
Step 7: If you find a bean in your cake (similar to the tradition of the Mardi Gras cake where if you find baby Jesus you get luck), you can win a portion of the money people paid to eat the cake. And with 22 people playing, you can win a good amount of money. I won 35 euros by just eating the cake.
Step 8: Gratefully accept the money, then go on to win more at Italian Bingo!
Step 9: Carefully avoid everyone's eyes as you slink to the front door.
Step 10: Then tell everyone you know, that you just got paid to eat cake.
And that, my friends, is how you can earn money by eating cake.
April 13 Journal
I’d like to start this blog off with a little scientific observation.
People that are NOT Rotary Youth Exchange students CAN wear blazers with a number of pins on them. While it is rare, it is not an unheard of notion; and thus should not be treated as such.
This observation should be observed next time you get it in your mind to run though Venice’s streets after a poor-overweight British guy who just happens to have a collection of pins on his blazer.
What? Maybe I should start at the beginning, or summarize everything with a cleverly worded run-on-sentence. Yeah, the second one sounds more “me.”
Since my last blog; I’ve seen Italy, spent -what seems like hours- gazing at the artwork of the Sistine Chapel (which only made me want to go back to Epcot in Florida and ride Spaceship Earth; where Michelangelo is working on the ceiling), I’ve stood on the ancient ground of Pompeii, and looked upon the beautiful Verona where Shakespeare set his scene. I’ve had two gladiators attack my dad and sister, and then ask us to pay them for it. I’ve ate Pizza at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, before racing my sister to the top. Oh and don’t even get me started on gondolas of Venice, coin-throwing in Rome, the tour guide/girlfriend of David in Florence, or the lemons as big as my head in Sorrento. Even that doesn’t even cover the half of it.
I know what you're thinking. How did you do all of that in the 8 weeks it took you to blog again?
The true answer is, I didn’t. That only took less than two weeks. As for the other six; that's another story entirely.
12 Cities, 2 countries, in 12 days. That was our goal, seeing everything in Italy that my family and I had ever heard about or seen highlighted in the travel section of the newspaper. We started in my city, Cagliari- holler! Then we went on to the Amalfi Coast (including the beautiful cities of Sorrento, Positano, Pompeii, and Napoli), to the Eternal city of Roma and the close by Vatican City. Up to Florence where we got another dose of Michelangelo fever, and passed by a medieval city right out of the story books- called Orvieto. Then we continued our journey with tired feet to fair Verona where we “set the scene” by buying up postcards and gazing up at “Juliet’s balcony.” Then in our final attempt to “see everything” we jumped on a gondola in Venice, which then brings us to where I started this blog; chasing after the over-weight British guy who collects pins.
As for the rest of the six weeks, things have retained a certain degree of normal I thought only possible in America. I have a couple Italian friends, a couple American friends, a couple friends from everywhere else. I go to school, and stare at the teachers with blank faces - not because I don’t understand what they’re saying, just because I don’t get it. All this normalcy is broken only by the event of another traditional Sardinian festival where I get wheat thrown at my face for good luck, almost trampled by out of control horses, roped by a costumed “header”, and/or chased after by a “beast/invader.”
So it may not be that normal after all. A lot of people ask me if I love Italy (Sardinia) or America (Florida) more, and the answer one expects usually differs based on which country they’re from. The thing is though, I don’t know. They’re so different, and each special in their own way. Good for some things and terrible in others. I love both of them though, but comparing them is like comparing pasta to beef brisket. You like them both, but sometimes you're more in the mood for Italian or vice versa.
Life is strange that way, and I’m trying as hard as I can to take full advantage of that.
June 12 Journal
This constant loop of saying Hello and Goodbye is about to begin again. As the world turns and time grows shorter and shorter until you can't manage to hold on to it any longer. Then it flies away, like a little kid's balloon, until it disappears behind the blinding light of the sun.
This year has changed me in so many ways that I probably don't even understand all of them or even know what they are. I could chalk it up to age, but I haven't even aged two years since I wrote my bio. So instead I'll chalk it up to experience.
From the wind in my hair as I rushed though ancient streets on a moped, to the bathroom locks that stopped working just for me. To eating fresh pizza in front of the Tower of Pisa, to the shining sun and a mountain view greeting me every morning. To sharing cokes with Italian friends who have to yet again explain that I had mispronounced another word, to watching an Italian soccer game and screaming along with tons of other fans for a team we never cared about before. From the beautiful waves of Sardinia, to the Colosseums in Rome, to the art museums of Florence, the gondolas and sea breeze of Venice, and back to the port of Cagliari the City of Sun; I firmly believe I've done everything I wanted to do... all of which I didn't expect to ever happen.
As I look back at my old journals each depicting my life at that moment (snide remarks aside), I wanta laugh and cry and jump for joy at the same time. And I can't help but feeling like a kid in Kindergarten who is getting his favorite toy taken away because someone else wants to play with it and he has to share.
Back in January 09, Al asked us to write a bio. In it I said my name was Austin. That I was a girl who attended St. Edward's School, was in grade 9. Was 14 years old and living in the Alcatraz of the Treasure Coast. Then at the end I said "A Presto!" which I said meant "See You Later!"
Now...not even 2 years later. Only two of those things are true. My name is Austin and I'm a girl. 16 years old, grade unknown, school unknown, home...unknown. We don't even say "A Presto!" we say "A Dopo!" But even with the unknowns, I now truly believe I know who I am. Not just a mix of music, or a page in a journal, or a video editor, or someone who forgets half the things they have to tell you; like I wrote on that bio so long ago.
So let's look back at that Wicked quote I used in that bio. "They say people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn and we are led to those who help us most to grow, if we let them. And we help them in return. Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for Good."
And because I've done this exchange, and met these amazing people, and shared these amazing laughs and experiences, and really lived. I have been changed for good. And yes, I don't know if it's for the better. But because I've done this, I've changed for good.
I hope you enjoyed my blogs this year as much as I enjoyed writing them and sharing my experiences however insignificant and bathroom related they might be- with you.
So for the last time (and everyone should be crying at this point), Arrivederci.
September 2010 - back in the US
So I’m walking down the hall or buying a sandwich or searching for my keys, and suddenly a person I haven’t seen in over a year is standing in front of me. Like a mind reader I already know the question they’re about to ask. I can already see it forming on their lips as their expression stays vacant, like they were about to ask me how my day was or what I had for breakfast. If I hadn’t heard it a million times already, I would have never guessed that they were about to ask me to summarize my whole other life into one easily transferrable word; but as always, that’s exactly what they did.
“How was Italy?”
In that one, four syllable long question; they manage to unknowingly question an entire county, an entire lifestyle, and an entirely different person than the one standing right in front of them. How am I supposed to answer that off-handed but loaded question? How am I supposed to summarize something so life-changing and difficult and beautiful into one elusive magical word?
After all, I know what they want- what they expect. They want a ‘good’, a ‘fantastic’, an ‘amazing’; but you see the fact is, Italy wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t fantastic or amazing or terrible or scary or any other horribly vague descriptive word I could fill in the blank with. Italy was real. Saying Italy was ‘good’ is just like saying you’re fine when you grandfather dies, it just isn’t true.
‘Good’ doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I’ve yet to find any words that can. I could spend hours trying to explain to you what riding though a medieval town on a moped is like. I could try to make you picture the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or speak to you in Italian and just hope you understand how beautiful it is. I could stand here and dictate to you thousands of stories about my Italian friends and my many adventures of getting locked in European bathrooms, but I know it will never be enough. Unless you were there, unless you saw what I saw and felt what I felt; you’ll never truly understand why my year in Italy doesn’t fit neatly under your prejudged categories of good or bad.
If I caved in and answered ‘yes, Italy was good’; you would never know about the many times I cried myself to sleep or the times when I wanted nothing more than to go home. As much as people always tell me they can imagine how amazing it was, they can’t. Being there for a week on a cross country tour or reading about it in a travel guide isn’t the same as experiencing the culture. It isn’t the same as meeting and living with people whose names and faces you’ll never forget. It isn’t the same as falling in love with everything around you and then having everything you’ve built up ripped from you, as you look on powerless to stop it.
When you ask “how was Italy” a life time of memories comes to mind. I can remember my first word, my first friend, my first Italian coca-cola. I can remember the first time I swam in the sea, my first Sardinian festival, and the first time my classmates called me “una Italiana vera” which in English means a true Italian.
So to answer your question; Italy wasn’t good, but it was the greatest and most life-changing thing I’ve ever had the privileged to experience. And I know that wherever I am or wherever life takes me, I’ll always have a home on the beautiful island of Sardinia- a place that almost seems to be lost in time and will forever be in my heart.
2009-10 Rotary Youth Exchange student from Vero Beach, Florida, USA to Calgiari, Sardinia, Italy