September 30, 2013
August 30: Today I embarked on my yearlong journey. I had been waiting for this day for over half a year. After saying all my goodbyes to my family and taking pictures, I departed Fort Lauderdale airport for my two hour journey to JFK airport in New York. While going through security and arriving in my terminal, I swarm of different emotions buzzed around in my head. However, the prevailing emotion was excitement. In the plane, I slept the first hour due to my lack of sleep due to last minute packing the night before. The second hour, I began to feel guilty so I began to study some Italian. When I took out my workbook and notes the woman next to me excitedly told me how she was Italian. It turned out that we actually would be on the same flight to Milano. The woman, Ana, was able to help me with my grammar and the meaning of some verbs and nouns. After what seemed like ten minutes, the plane touched down in JFK. I hurriedly gathered and stuffe d my papers and workbook in my backpack, found my boarding pass for the next flight, and stuffed that into my pocket for easy access. I stood up and my legs were shaking with energy. I felt like I had to run a few laps due to being crammed in my seat with very limited legroom. It took quite a while to finally get off the plane. I stepped in to the airport rolling my carry on behind me. I scanned the crowd for Ana or a screen with the departure and arrival terminals. Luckily, I found both of these at the same place. Ana had already found where our plane was so I decided to just follow her. I had to board a shuttle to get to the right section of the massive airport. Eventually I was successfully aboard the plane and took the eight hours to eat, watch movies, listen to music, and try to study Italian. In no time, the plane touched down and I realized I had gotten about three min of sleep. With my half functioning body, I stumbled off the plane and quickly passed through customs . I easily found my way to baggage claim and made my way to the exit where I found my older host brother and host mother waiting. We greeted each other and made our way to the car. The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the airport was how much colder the temperature was compared to Florida. Additionally, I felt just about no humidity. I was already in love. As me and my host family walked to the car, my heart started to race when I saw the small Fiat parked in front. I didn’t think my suitcases were fit. Rotary had told me enough horror stories of people over packing and not being able to fit all their luggage into the car. However, everything ended up fitting with the help of the open back seat. On the two-hour car ride from Milan to the city of Brescia, I talked mostly to the host brother, who spoke excellent English due to his exchange in Florida, and went over the first night questions. I then tried to accept the fact that I was in Italy, and this would b e my home for the rest of the year.
As of today, Saturday the 14th of September, I have been in Italy for exactly two weeks. Time has flown by faster by the day. Throughout the past fourteen days I have experienced many new places and things. The first was jetlag. After a smooth, yet tiresome journey, I was welcomed to Italy by my host mother and brother. I have a twenty-one year old host brother, Fillipo, currently in Scotland, and a fourteen year old host brother, Davide. There is also a sister, but she is currently studying abroad in FL for a year. Therefore, I have been spending most of my time with my Davide. During this time we have gone to the church for about a week volunteering. The church hosts a book buying and selling opportunity for old books, so students are able to buy books for half the price. This gave me opportunities to meet other Italian teenagers also volunteering there. It also gave me the opportunities to have extremely awkward semi-conversations with people. I used a combination of my li ttle Italian knowledge/Spanish/English/my translator. I would literally give me translator to people during my most desperate moments. I spent most time helping people carry their books, but throughout the weeks, the amount of people slowly dwindled down. This gave me the opportunity to play soccer and basketball on the field and court within the facility. So far, from everything I’ve witnessed, every single Italian is amazing at soccer. Additionally, in Brescia, I have done much sightseeing. This includes the Castle of Brescia, and the many beautiful squares. From the castle I was able to look out over all of the city of Brescia. The scenery seemed unreal with the mountains and mist in the background with terraces on the sides of hills. Additionally I have visited the beautiful town of Salò on Lake Garda about 45 min from my house. I experienced the freezing lake water and rocky beach, experiencing multiple small cuts on my toes. I’m sure the others on th e shore, who all had water shoes, were entertained watching my hobble along into the water. And the gelato there was amazing. Gelato pretty much everywhere here is amazing. This transitions into my next topic. Food. The food here is amazing. I want more of everything I try. Additionally, the food here seems so much healthier! Less greasy and more tasty than American Italian food. The pizzas are perfect. Unlike the US, people here usually eat a whole mini pizza for themselves. This is also possible due to how thin the pizza actually is. But actually, I’ve mostly have eaten pasta here; numerous different kinds of pasta, sauce, and meat. I’ve actually also recently ordered Chinese food here. It was an interesting experience. Even the Chinese food felt healthier! I was also able to experience two three-course meals at two different rotary club meetings. Here I was able to meet other Rotarians and meet new people. Me and the other two exchange students were luckily pl aced at tables with younger people who knew a good amount of English. So awkward silence and smiling were thankfully avoided. I have also had a Rotary Youth Exchange meeting. I got to meet the other exchange students from around the world that are staying here in Northern Italy. In total it was probably a group of a little less than thirty students. From what I remember, most were from the US, two from Canada, one from Finland, one from Germany, one form Mexico, one from Thailand, and one from Argentina. We were all able to relate to each others problems and challenges and finally speak in coherent English sentences. It was a fun and relieving being able to spend a day speaking without having too look up a word every three seconds. With the group we explored the city center (the third time for me) and went to a nearby city for an amazing four course meal. Unfortunately, almost all of them were living in Cremona (about an hour south of me), but I was able to discover the othe r four students who also lived in the city of Brescia. We actually have all hung out already once at the mall where I bought some warmer clothes for the upcoming winter. It was entertaining watching each other purchase food and clothes due to the fact that none of our Italian was up to par.
Now vacation was over and school was finally starting. It was September 12 when I first started my school year. This year I am attending a private Italian high school with about 200 students total for five grades of liceo (high school). I also get my own tutor, Steven, for three hours a week. I am attending a scientific school with emphasis on sports. Instead of a normal two hours a week of sports like other schools, I have to attend six hours of sports a week. The sport varies throughout the year from rugby, swimming, volleyball, and basketball. So far school has been interesting and I have experienced many differences. First of all, you stay in one classroom the whole day and the teachers switch rooms. Secondly, You don’t eat lunch at school. You are able to buy snacks but most kids go home for lunch. Also, teachers here don’t threaten students with detentions and referrals, but usually just end up yelling really loudly. Most of the students here have been nice to me so far and try to talk to me. Its been a challenge learning all the names but I think I’ve gotten it down. Many of the students have the same first names so many students are called by their last name instead. As of now, talking to my classmates is extremely difficult due to the fact that almost all of them speak just about no English. However, I have been able to find a couple friends that I’m able to talk to or hang around during breaks and other talking opportunities. In class I’m not able to understand most of what the teacher is saying so I study Italian in all but three of my classes; math, Spanish, and biology. There is no possible way, currently, that I could comprehend and keep up with the other students in history, economics, Italian, Physics, etc.
Additionally, another major different thing that I’m experiencing here is the public transportation. I use the buses and trains to go everywhere, including school. Due to my inability to speak Italian, the first day of school I ended up boarding the wrong bus and sprinting 4.5 km with my backpack full of books on my shoulder. I ended up only being 5 min late for class. The teacher didn’t even ask where I was or acknowledge the fact that I was late.
1)The driving laws here are much more relaxed and people drive very sporadically. Cars pass when they want and scooters pretty much go wherever the want.
2)The shopping carts here have swivel wheels on all four wheels.
3)In the supermarket you have to put on a glove before grabbing the fruit.
4)Cars are all small.
5)You can start driving scooters when you are fourteen.
6)Almost every dinner is accompanied with bread and cheese on the side.
7)Phone numbers are really long!
9)When Italians talk, their hands move more than their mouth.
10)Most of the songs on the radio are American. #murica
11) Some bathrooms cost money.
12)Some bathrooms are holes in the ground.
13) You answer the phone with “Pronto” which means “ready”.
14) When the teacher walks in everyone stands up.
15)Everything American is extremely expensive.
16)No BBQ sauce.
18)No Peanut butter
19) Lots of pasta and not a lot of steak.
20)Italians (at least here) all drink bottled water.
21) Not much online shopping really available to you.
22)When eating keep both hands on the table.
WEEK 4 (9/28/13)
So I have finished my third week of school and I now have established a normal rhythm. I wake up at 6:30, take the bus at 7:20, arrive at school at 7:55, and begin school at 8:10. On three days of the week I end school at 3 and two days of the week I finish at 2. On Thursday I Stay until 4 for a sport with my class. Things are slowly moving forward and I’m putting in more effort to talk with my classmates. Additionally I have gone out with some other rotary exchange students here. We’ve gone to some small places to eat or shopping. It’s a relief to just speak some English with others. Additionally there has been a Rotary meeting in Fognano where all rotary students in Italy met, with the exception from some in Sardinia. During this weekend I got to meet some amazing people and fill my Rotary jacket up with pins. We went over basic things just like before I departed the US. At one point everyone was singing Queen in the auditorium. My Italian vocabulary conti nues to increase and things are looking positive.
So I’ve now spent a good amount of time in Italy. I’m about halfway, and right now the exchange is probably the hardest. After all the holidays without my family and friends its impossible not to feel a bit of homesickness. However, my time with my host family here has been great and I got to meet the whole family for Christmas. During New Years I spent it with exchange students in the city right next to mine. It was a good time with much energy in the piazzas.
Also, I have moved on to my second host family. Again I have the familiar feeling of not being comfortable. I have to get used to everything again and get familiar with the ways of my new family. However, I am excited to get different taste of Italy. I also mean that literally because the new family gives me plenty of delicious food every day. Finding my way to school was much easier than my first time due to the fact I can function with the Italian language now; enough to survive on the street. This leads me to my next topic.
Italian. Over the course of the past two weeks my Italian has been increasing at a rapid rate due to the fact I never speak English in this family. The downside to this is that now I have to participate fully in school. This means studying for tests and interrogations as well as homework. Lucky for me all this takes 10x longer for me than Italians due to the fact I have to mentally translate, then memorize the material in English mentally, then translate my English memory to Italian so I can spew it out on my tests correctly.
Another thing that’s happened since my last journal, is traveling. I’ve gone to Verona, Como, Milano, and skiing in the alps. I’ve taken many pictures and enjoyed being a tourist. These are tourist places, so many of the stores and such speak English. But I am happy to say I can smugly respond to them in Italian when they approach me speaking English (or when they try saying hi in Japanese or Chinese (for obvious reasons)).
All in all, my experience has been pretty great and extremely accurate to what Rotary told me in terms of emotions. My time in the beginning was amazing, and it still felt like a dream, but now it feels like I actually live here. During the holidays I was a bit down, but now as time progresses everyday keeps getting better and better. I’m extremely eager for what the next months hold in store for me.