Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Katie in Italy!

   Hi! My name is Katie Moffitt and my dragon’s name is Antonio. I’m a junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in ASL/Deaf Studies. I embarked on a six-week, faculty-led summer study abroad trip in Italy this past summer with four other students. I was pretty freaking nervous to study abroad because I had never really been out of the country, let alone for six weeks without my family. But since studying abroad is such a unique experience, I was determined not to let my anxiety get the best of me. People would ask me what I was most excited about, and even though I couldn’t imagine what Italy would be like, I knew that I was extremely eager to see how this adventure would influence my personal growth and development!

St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

Spanish Steps in Rome

We visited about 18 different cities, either living there for several weeks or going as day trips:

Milan, Padova, Bologna, Venice, Florence, Bracciano, Loiano, Verona, Rimini, Rome, Naples, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Ravenna, Procida, Amalfi, Modena, Marzabotto

My professors spoke fluent Italian and have even lived in Italy previously, which was really helpful when navigating the cities and conversing with other people. They taught us some basic Italian phrases, like different ways of greeting someone, and most importantly, “Mi dispiace, non parlo l’italiano” (“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian”). Since Italy is such a tourist destination, especially cities like Rome, the locals are often forced to use the little English that they know to communicate. But if we put forth the effort and spoke the little Italian that we knew, the locals were more willing to speak a little English. In their eyes, there are two versions of Italy: the one that is shown to the tourists, and the real one that is kept private for themselves. We learned that by simply demonstrating some respect and interest in Italian culture, the Italians would often let us in to that private Italy. When I came back to the United States, I thought it was so weird that everyone around me was speaking English!
            Italy is known for its food, and let me tell you, what we call Italian food is not the real deal, nor a copy of the real thing. We were constantly raving about the gelato, cheeses, wines, breads, and meats! Even though my professors did an unbelievable job of scouting out the best places to eat, they also made sure that we knew what average and bad Italian food tastes like. Compared to American breakfasts, we barely had breakfast in the mornings because it usually only consisted of coffee or freshly-squeezed juice and a pastry, Yet, we ate too much at every other meal! We did research and asked for recommendations from restaurant owners to find the best local restaurants and gelaterias. Asking restaurant owners for recommendations is a great example of how our interest and respect for Italian culture let them feel willing to open up, and we were able to experience the authentic side of Italy. We learned how to differentiate touristy places from the places that are local favorites. A smaller menu usually meant more local, fresh ingredients for the few meals that they prepared. We got the opportunity to taste fresh lemons, oranges, mozzarella, olive oil, and so much more! We even attended a wine tasting, where we learned about how different wines are made, stored, and how they’re paired with different types of meals. There were tons of different meats that we tasted (or avoided), including chopped liver, squid, octopus, prosciutto, pork cheek, lamb, shark, intestines, calamari, and sardines. It was so hot that some days we got gelato or a granita two or three times. We also usually got dessert at the restaurant after every meal. We deserved it after all of the walking we were doing! We had wine during every lunch and dinner, at least one red wine and one white wine. It took until the last week that we were in Italy for me to find a wine that I actually liked. We considered it a miracle! 

Teatro San Carlo in Naples

Gondolas in Venice

        One cultural feature of Italy that was very obvious was how and when you ate meals. During breakfast, you rarely ever sat. While one reason for that is that you would have to pay to sit, the bigger reason was that breakfast wasn’t a meal to sit and chat over. You went to the cafe, ate a pastry, drank your coffee (usually espresso), and then left. During lunch and dinner, you had to expect the meal to take at least two hours, if not longer. It was extremely rude to rush any meal other than breakfast. Since Italians usually eat dinner around eight or nine o’clock in the evening, there’s essentially a designated snack time around 5 o’clock, called aperitivo. The purpose of aperitivo was to whet your appetite and hold you over until dinner. Even though we drank at most meals, including aperitivo, I found that I preferred the drinking culture much better in Italy than here in the United States. In Italy, the drinking age is 16 and everyone grows up with wine casually being at every meal. Italians don’t drink to get drunk. An aspect of Italy that I didn’t enjoy quite as much was the transportation. Public transportation in Italy, especially Rome, is a living nightmare! Unreliable, crowded, unventilated...it was rough sometimes. Over the course of the six weeks, I traveled by bus, tram, train, bike, taxi, boat, and my own two legs. But sometimes the worst experiences make the best stories, ya know?
Antonio looking out over Verona
Living in various hostels for six weeks was an experience, and sometimes it kind of reminded me of dorm life. Some of my best memories were from the hostels! Some hostels had air conditioning, some only had AC at night (if you asked for it, until they turned it off at around 5am), and some hostels had no AC at all. There were a few nights when it was so bloody hot, that we soaked our towels in cold water and laid them on our stomachs. Also, some of our hostel rooms were private, in which only our group stayed in the room, and in other hostel rooms we had to share with other travelers. During our one-week stay in Naples, we had three different roommates, from California, Australia, and Malaysia. Since we stayed in some cities for up to three weeks, we learned where the local grocery stores were. We were lucky enough to stay in a hostel in Bologna that had a giant kitchen, so we were able to cook our own meals when we weren’t out eating too much pizza and pasta. We visited so many different sites throughout Italy that creating a list would take too dang long. Not only did we see the most famous sites, like the Colosseum and Michelangelo’s marble statue of David, but we also saw so many more amazing things that weren’t crawling with tourists. We even attended several operas, in Italian of course, in the most grand theatres I’ve ever seen!
If someone were to ask me now what my favorite part was or what was the most exciting thing that I did, I wouldn’t be able to pick just one. By the end of the trip, I had collected a total of 60 postcards that I wrote for family members from every city that we stayed in. Of course I got some for myself too, and yes, I did write on all of them. I took about 4,000 pictures, which made it very hard to pick just a few for this post. There hasn’t been one day that has gone by that I haven’t thought about my trip to Italy. I learned so much about the world and myself while along that journey, and I still continue to learn from it every day. If I had let my fear of what might go wrong get in the way, I would have missed out on one of the best experiences of my life.

Hiking in Marzabotto