29 October 2009

Apologies for the delay... Weeks No. 6 & 7

First things first. I would like to apologize for not updating last week; I got sick with the flu or food poisoning or something on Monday, and stayed home from school all week. I didn't leave the house until Saturday night, therefore, I didn't have anything interesting to share (I slept for at least sixteen hours every day and watched a lot of Youtube videos during that week of being stuck at home).

The Friday before I got sick, Giorgio and his friends Massimo, Claudio, and Dario took me to that Italian rap concert, which was actually surprisingly good. We had a lot of fun; Claudio attempted to speak in English all night, but he just sounded like Borat and I kept laughing hysterically and then they would all start laughing too.

(If you're interested, here is a link to a video of Inoki, the Italian rapper we saw: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00nGkMVFxcA)

Sunday morning, my host mom Miriam and I went to Kylie's host mom Conci's photo exhibit. The theme of the exhibit was "Acqua Aria (Water & Air)"; gorgeous photos of aqueous settings, i.e. pools and puddles and the Mediterranean and glasses of water, etc.

Sunday night, Ambra, my host dad's niece, had a birthday party; she would turn eighteen at midnight. I met almost all of my host dad's extended family, including Carlo, my host dad's nephew, who I will mention later. It was very fun and of course, there was lots of really good food; my favorite dish was the couscous. However, we didn't get home until about 1:30am and I was very, very tired... I went to school the next morning, but felt really ill after about two hours, so I had my host dad come pick me up. I ended up being sick for the rest of the week. No fun at all.

However. Saturday finally rolled around, and after starting to take some medication a few days before, the bug seemed to go away and I started feeling a lot better. Giorgio insisted that I should go out that night, to get out of the house and have some fun, and after much convincing, my host mom finally gave in. He and his cousin, Carlo, who is eighteen and has a car, picked me up at 12:30am and we went over to Carlo's for a small get-together. It felt like the first day of school again; everyone there stopped what they were doing and stared at me as I walked in, and then rushed over to introduce themselves and ask me a million questions about America. I actually met a lot of really cool and really nice people. They almost had me make them pancakes, but decided to make me Nutella crepes instead! We sat outside and talked and joked and I watched them play a Sicilian card game. It was a grand ol' time. Giorgio and I didn't get home until 5:00am, but because our time zone was set back an hour due to Daylight Savings Time, we were technically out until 6:00am... Whoa!

I only got a few hours of sleep that night because we were going to Calabria in the morning for Giorgio's friend's eighteenth birthday. Calabria is the "toe" of the "boot" of Italy, so we had to take a ferry boat across the strait to get there! It was my first time off the island since I first arrived on September 7th. I felt really strange at the party; no one, except Giorgio and his friend Mattia, talked to me. They all just stared and whispered to each other. The police came at some point, though I'm not sure what for; a noise violation, I assumed, because the music was playing very loud and the party was in an apartment building and it was very late on a Sunday night. We didn't get home from Calabria until 4:30am... After two nights of being out very late, I was nearly dead from exhaustion. Luckily, there was no school on Monday, due to yet another protest, so I got to sleep it off.

Unfortunately, I was not able to be a part of the university choir because I am a minor; the director listened to my audition, and told me to come back in March, when I turned eighteen. Conci talked to a friend of hers, who is the director of a church choir; I am now a part of that choir. I went to rehearsal on Tuesday; we are working on Christmas music, and a lot of the songs we're doing are traditional Sicilian songs. I am by far the youngest in the choir, and the others' voices are very mature and good. Our next rehearsal is tomorrow.

Saturday is Halloween and I am experiencing a bit of nostalgia for Halloween in America; people in Italy, and probably the rest of Europe, don't really dress up or make a big deal out of Halloween. We'll see how it goes...

Ciao for now!


14 October 2009

Taormina & Militello... Week No. 5

So when I said that Monday, October 5 marked my month... I was lying. I forgot that months are not measured by the passing of four weeks, as they should be. Wednesday, October 7 was the real anniversary of my first month here in Sicily. Sorry about the mixup.

The orientation wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Kylie and I finally met Lena, the other exchange student on the island. She is staying in Palermo, and it turns out that she is from Colorado! Obviously, the two of us bonded immediately; partly because our states are neighbors, and partly because we have a lot in common. Since meeting, we've kept in touch via Facebook. She's great and she's getting along really well on her own in Palermo! I'm impressed. I think I would've felt lost and alone without Kylie... But you never know, huh?

We changed classrooms and switched to full school days on Wednesday... It was a strange transition. Nobody told me which class I was supposed to go to so I kind of just wandered the halls, looking for a familiar face, for about an hour on Wednesday. I tried to find my tutor (counselor) on Wednesday and Thursday so we could choose my new classes, but she was nowhere to be found. I finally found her on Friday and we picked out the classes I will switch into, hopefully this week.

I went to Taormina with Kylie and her host mom, Conci, on Saturday... And oh my god, I absolutely fell in love. Everyone had boasted that it was the most beautiful city on the entire island, but I never could've imagined... Words cannot even begin to describe the magnificence that is Taormina; you honestly just have to see it for yourself (though I will post some pictures that Kylie took so you can at least get an idea; I broke my camera a few weeks ago). And because it is the most beautiful city on the island, it is a tourist destination if I ever saw one... I think I heard more English spoken that day than I did Italian, which was strange and kind of a relief. But being around so many tourists who would only be there for a few weeks at most and knew only a few Italian words made me feel more like a native... It was awesome! It really put this whole exchange in perspective for me.

On Sunday, my host family and I headed to a small town called Militello, where there was a huge mostarda festival; apparently, people from all over Sicily and Europe and the world come for this festival! It was very cool... Oh, by the way, mostarda is an Italian specialty, made of candied fruit and a sort of mustard flavored syrup... I don't really like it, but it's very popular here. Fichi d'India (prickly pear) is the most common type here in Sicily. There was a Native American band playing traditional Indian music; I couldn't believe it! I automatically assumed there were from North America, but upon asking, it turns out they are from Bolivia... Either way, the music was good and they were very friendly. After a very long day and an even longer weekend, we went home and ate dinner, but were constantly startled by the sound of fireworks... There was apparently a celebration of the Madonna in a nearby neighborhood. After dinner, we watched through the window... An incredible weekend, no doubt!

My homesickness has subsided, for the most part. I feel a lot more at home here than I did a few weeks ago; I think it was just a matter of time and adjustment. I am having a wonderful time, meeting incredible people and seeing unbelievable things... I have a feeling this exchange will go by really fast, once the ball gets rolling!

More later,


03 October 2009

Lei piace la lingua italiana... Week No. 4

Monday, October 5th will mark my first month of being abroad. Granted, it has been a rocky first month, in terms of homesickness and such; about once a week, I would get really homesick and bawl my eyes out for three or four hours... But other than that, things have been great. I am still adjusting to the city life, but I think I'm finally getting a hang of it. I've ridden the bus several times, have begun to navigate my way around the city on my own, and am proud to say I am gaining proficiency with the language more and more every day. My grammar is far from perfect, but I can piece sentences together well enough to be understood by almost anyone I come in contact with. I've received praise from many natives on my Italian, and I am attributing it entirely to the fact that my host family speaks hardly any English, which has forced me to pick up the language. I admit, their inability to speak much English was incredibly overwhelming and often frustrating for the first couple of weeks, but I'm finally realizing that it has benefitted me immensely.

That being said, I must also admit that, despite my ever-growing vocabulary and understanding of the language, I still don't understand the lessons in school. But that will come eventually, I've been told. My classmates are great; they are very friendly and helpful and they look out for me. From my experience, I've noticed that for the most part, students treat each other differently here than they do in the States. Everyone in my class gets along, regardless of cliques and different social circles and such; unfortunately, the same cannot necessarily be said about high schools in America. It's a really great atmosphere, because from what I have seen, there's a pretty evident feeling of acceptance.

In the past week, I have spent a significant amount of money... But I think such is justified because I hadn't spent more than fifty euros during my first three weeks here. And since the one-month anniversary of my stay here is coming up, I felt it only right to treat myself! I bought the Hobbit and read it all in about five days... I also bought the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD in Italian (it's called "Signore degli Anelli" here); is it even necessary to say that I'm ecstatic? I also found my new favorite store, INTI, where there is plethora of one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry (my favorite!); I bought a few necklaces from there, as well as some rather comical pins for my Rotary jacket. And then, of course, I finally bought shoes... Two pairs of boots, to be exact. I am determined to save up a few months of Rotary allowance to buy a really incredible pair of genuine Italian leather boots... Perhaps I'll treat myself at Christmas or on my birthday. I suppose we shall see. And while we're on the subject of boots, I have a story. Kylie and I went into a very expensive shoe store, knowing we couldn't afford even a shoelace from there, but just wanting to take a peak around... I started to pick up this gorgeous pair of suede ankle boots, when suddenly, this sales lady runs up to me and starts waving her arms and saying something I didn't understand... Finally, she pointed to a little sign, which I then noticed sat above every pair of shoes in the store. I had thought it was a price tag or something upon first glance, so I didn't bother reading it. Turns out it said "Please, do not touch" in at least four different languages. You know you're out of your league when the shoes have their own "do not touch" signs... So we booked it outta there pretty quick.

Today is Saturday, and normally, I would have school today... But there's a student-teacher protest today. Apparently, the head of education in Italy wants to cut the three-month summer vacation down to one month. So while I could not attend the protest, I did get to reap the benefits and sleep in. Awesome much? I sure think so. Kylie's host parents are out of the town for the weekend, so she is staying with me. I can already tell this will be a very fun weekend. Our orientation is tomorrow- unfortunately, this consists solely of the students in Sicily (that is Kylie, myself, and one other girl in Palermo) and our host parents, having lunch with some Rotary people. We're pretty disappointed because everyone in other countries got a really fun orientation, with at least twenty other students and a weekend of fun. We island-dwellers are certainly getting the short-end of the stick in terms of Rotary events, but I guess we are lucky to be on an island for the next ten months... You win some, you lose some! We'll make the best of it, regardless. And we're really excited to meet the girl from Palermo; I can't imagine how lonely and homesick she must be. Kylie and I were really lucky to end up in the same town, because we have become a sort of safe haven for one another, when we get homesick or whatever.

Lovin' life on an island in the Mediterranean! Will be writing more updates soon.

Ciao ciao!


24 September 2009

As of late... Week No. 3

I started school last Friday. I was really nervous, butterflies in my stomach... I think I was blushing and had a deer-in-the-headlights look all day. I felt like a lamb being led into a slaughterhouse. No one paid me much mind at first, though, which I think is a good thing. My host brother Giorgio and I didn't know which class I was supposed to be in, so he told me to just sit in his class with him for that day. I was doodling and about to fall asleep when my tutor found me and took me to the class I was supposed to be in. As soon as I walked in the door, everyone in the class turned, all eyes on me, and began to whisper incessantly. I'm pretty sure I almost peed my pants. A few of my teachers spoke English and asked me about where I was from and why I was here and what I wanted to do as a career later on. During breaks, everyone rushed to my desk and started introducing themselves... I said "Ciao, piacere" ("Hi, nice to meet you") about thirty times in less than five minutes. I came home and passed out for a good three or four hours... Needless to say, being a foreigner is exhausting.

The "Light Party" for Kylie and I was also on Friday. We went together, with Giorgio and Claudio. It was a bit boring at first; just mid-twenties Italian people mingling with each other and taking lots of buddy pics. The music was all American, and at least two years old. Kylie and I had good laugh about that. Eventually, the four of us just decided to have fun and started to dance. It turned out to be really fun. We danced and goofed around for a couple of hours, then decided to sneak off to the actual beach to walk around and dip our feet in the water... Absolutely amazing, and terrifying, at the same time. It's scary to see all that water and not know what may be lurking beneath the waves, but it's also awe-inspiring to look out and find it difficult to distinguish between sea and sky.

Saturday night, I went to Piazza Duomo with Miriam, Roberto, and Giulia. We walked around, passed Teatro Romano (I think?) where a live opera was being performed (part of the Bellini Festival), down to the square, and had a small dinner. The piazza was PACKED. There was to be a concert later that night; it was to start at 11pm (isn't that when most concerts END in America!?). We met up with Kylie and her host parents, and went to a pub / restaurant so they could have dinner; I nibbled off of Kylie's couscous con carne and had some dessert- white chocolate and mint ice cream with whipped cream. It was delicious.

The next day, Kylie's host parent took Kylie and I to their house on the beach in Bruccoli; undoubtedly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. The house was enormous, very Mediterranean, and right on the beach... Now, this is very different from any beach I've been to previously. This was a rock beach. The water was clearer, but I am terrified of sea critters and algae freaks me out, so hopping from rock to rock and then into the water where I am surrounded by rocks really freaked me out... But eventually, I calmed down, closed my eyes, and just floated for a while. It was very serene. After splashing around in the Mediterranean for a bit, we went up to their huge pool... I can't believe they have beachside property AND a pool. It was like a spa vacation. It was starting to get cloudy and a bit cold, so we went upstairs for some lunch (pasta pomodoro and pesto pasta), then back down to the pool for some sun.

Then, as always, Monday came... Second day of school. I didn't get enough sleep the night before, my alarm didn't go off, and I went to school looking like a total wreck. During math, which I didn't understand because it was in Italian, I closed my eyes for a few moments... Bad idea. My fiendish teacher slammed her hand down on the desk and started yelling in Italian; I only caught "Americana dorme!" which means "The American is sleeping!" but she definitely said more than just that. Everyone was staring at me, and the next thing I know, she's forcing me to go up to the board to solve equations... This is a problem. First off, I didn't understand any of what she was telling me to write, because she was telling me in Italian. I tried to explain that I didn't understand, but she just got more frustrated and obviously thought I was an idiot. Second off, I couldn't remember for the life of me how to solve the equations, which I also tried to explain, but she would hear none of it. The other students that went up to the board before me only had to solve one equation; she made me do five. I don't think I've ever been so mortified and humiliated in my life. I will definitely be getting more sleep on school nights, and remember to be very cautious in her class...

I rode on a motorbike for the first time today! We couldn't find Giorgio's friend Angelo, who is the only one of us that can drive a car, to give me a ride home... Giorgio decided to just give me a ride home on the motorbike. It was absolutely, positively exhilarating. I was holding onto Giorgio so tight, I probably left marks on his abdomen. However, I was wearing probably the most dangerous dress for the occasion... A long, flowy dress that got a wee-bit caught in the back tire... Luckily, it didn't cause any problems whatsoever during or after the ride, and I managed to rip my dress free from the wheel, but next time, I will definitely dress more appropriately!

Ciao for now!


16 September 2009

Week No. 2

So much has happened in the past week... I meet lots and lots of new people every day, and I must admit, it's very overwhelming. Some get offended because I don't remember their names, but it's hard, because everyone's names sound similar and there are so many to try to memorize! Most are understanding, though.

I've watched several American movies in Italian, such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as well as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Orange County. Luckily, I know Orange County pretty much by heart, so I knew exactly what was going on and still found it hilarious. I do miss watching movies in English, and hearing native English speakers... The language headache has only gotten worse, but I'm learning more and more each day.

I don't like fish at all. Being on the coast, everyone here thinks I'm weird because of it. I've tried to eat it on a few different occasions, but it just makes me nauseous... I feel bad because they often have to make a separate meal for me, but they don't seem to mind. I hope it's not too much of a nuisance. Driving by the fish markets also makes me nauseous... I usually hold my breath until we've passed. We had lamb and potatoes for dinner last night. I figured that lamb would be fine, but oddly enough, it seemed to have a strange taste that I couldn't get over... I tried to eat it, but wasn't able to handle too much of it. Hopefully, I'll be able to adjust to all this new food very soon.

I start school on Friday; I am both excited and nervous. My host brother Giorgio and my host sister Giulia and some of their friends will go to the same school as me, which will be nice. I think going to school will improve my Italian immensely, because I will learn verb tenses and grammar and such... But I'm afraid to take courses such as science and history in Italian... I adore history, so I think that will be enjoyable, but I will be sad to not understand most of it at first. Science will probably be a lost cause... I don't even understand it in English! Oh well. We'll see how that goes.

I've made a few new friends. Ambra is my host siblings' cousin; she's almost eighteen and she lives right next door. We've hung out a few times in the past couple of days. She's wonderful. She speaks English very well, and we have a lot of similar interests. Kylie is another inbound student from Vancouver. She just arrived on Saturday, so she is still struggling to adjust... I hope I can help her out. I think we'll be a good support system for one another, because we are going through a lot of the same emotions. It stills feels strange to both of us to be away from home in a country whose language we still do not quite understand... But I'm sure we will get along fine in time.

Ciao ciao!


10 September 2009

The First Few Days

I slept for seventeen hours on Monday night, after almost twenty-eight hours of traveling and waiting in airports. My host sister, Giulia, and her best friend, Francesca, woke me up so we could get some lunch and find a gift for Francesca's boyfriend. I had my first arancione; a breaded ball of rice, tomatoes, and peas. It was very good! It's so strange, because I am always thirsty, but rarely am I hungry... I eat at every meal, but never very much... I am always full after a few bites. I think I am still nervous about being in a new place. Everyone always asks me "Do you like it? Is it not good?" and I feel bad, but I physically can't eat more! I made the mistake of eating too much on the plane from Detroit to Rome, and instead of sleeping, had to concentrate on not throwing up for about two hours.

We went to the beach on Tuesday; it was only my second time in the sea. My host family couldn't believe I'd only been in the ocean once before. My host father waded into the water and collected three sea shells for me, and my host mother found a small shell with a hole in it, and told me to make a necklace with it. My host family is wonderful. They are very nice and always understanding, even though we often find it very difficult to communicate. I think I say "thank you" about a hundred times a day. I'm sure they are getting tired of it already. 

It apparently never rains in Sicily, but it rained yesterday morning before I arrived, and it rained again all of last night, after midnight. How strange! The smell of rain reminds me of home. I was awoken this morning by a loud, booming voice outside my window (which I always keep wide open), repeating the same thing over and over again. I was concerned it was some kind of uprising... Turns out it was just a fruit vendor, trying to make some sales. The traffic here is crazy and makes me very nervous; everyone drives with a kill-or-be-killed mentality. And no one wears seatbelts... Ever. It is very different, but I really do love it here.

I find myself trying to think of Italian words for everything in English, and I think I am beginning to forget some English already... It's the strangest thing; I seem to be in some kind of "language limbo". And when I do speak in English, I accidentally pronounce everything with a slight Italian accent. English sounds so strange, because it is so guttural and ugly in comparison to Italian, which is very smooth and rich. Manuela and Lia (Rotaract and Rotary officials) took me to dinner last night, with Giorgio, Manuela's friend Gei, and Lia's two daughters. Manuela, Gei, and Lia speak English, more or less, and insisted on speaking mostly English all night. It was sort of refreshing, but I can still feel the language headache coming on...

In other news, pistacchios are apparently native to Sicily. I had pappardella pistacchio, which is a pasta with pesto and crushed pistacchios. It was phenomenal. And for dessert, Manuela and I split a chocolate tortellini with melted chocolate in the center and pistacchio gelato... Again, phenomenal. The food here is unbelievable; I mean, I'd heard but I never could've imagined. Claudio and I had an afternoon snack a few hours after lunch- milk and a glazed donut, followed by a cup of Coco Puffs. 

I am so thankful to have been placed in a family with two brothers... It has made things a lot easier, because I can always have a laugh with them. Despite the language barrier, we joke together all the time. Claudio was telling Giorgio and I about a pizza parlor in Boston called Papa Gino's... The slogan is "If it's party time, it's Papa time"; Claudio kept whispering "It's Papa time!" and I couldn't stop laughing. We informed each other of slang words in our languages, and watched some really awful Youtube videos together. Giorgio and Claudio are going to Rome for a few days soon, and they wanted to take me with them, but apparently, I am not allowed to go unless my host parents are with me... Rotary's youth exchange student rules. Of course, they are no replacement of my real brothers, but it feels more like home than any other host family would, I'm sure. Having a family similar to my own has made for a very smooth transition.

More later!


08 September 2009

Finally Arrived

I left my life in Kansas on Sunday, shedding my old skin, setting our for bright and distant horizons; not to mention a new life, full of unfamiliar faces and situations. The last twelve hours I spent in Manhattan were the hardest yet; I felt sick to my stomach, and at times, I found myself questioning the decision I had made to leave this life behind. It seemed the dark, uncertain night would never draw to an end, and yet, I feared the light of morning and all the changes it would bring. But when the day broke, and we loaded my luggage into the car, we were met by a thick and somewhat foreboding fog... After many more tears and last goodbyes, my fear and despair finally subsided, and I was once again filled with excitement, thrilled to meet my new family, and to start fresh in an unknown land. Let's hope it lasts!


I arrived in Catania at about 2:30pm Monday afternoon local time, which equates to 7:30am Monday morning Central time. It is absolutely beautiful. Even the poor parts of town have enough character to be considered beautiful, in their own way. The streets are always busy, even at 4am local time (9pm Central time), at which time I am writing this. My family is amazing! They are so nice and welcoming and understanding. I am still trying to adjust to my new surroundings, to not feel like a burden or an intruder; I imagine this will take some time. My family has reassured me several times that this is my home now, and to make it so. Did I mention the almost hilarious language barrier? My oldest host brother Claudio and I have decided to make an English-Italian word and phrase book, consisting mostly of foods, household items, and random words, at the moment. There was a lot of confusion followed by hearty laughs and utilization of Google Translator, after trying to understand / translate the old fashioned way would prove faulty. We are all trying, and I am certain that in time, we will understand each other much better.

Also, their house is unbelievable... Both of my host parents are architects, so of course, I expected an interesting house. But I never would've imagined this! Every room is painted a different vibrant color (my host father's study is lemon yellow and verbena green, my host sister's bathroom is stop sign red with turquoise mosaic tiles, etc.) and has a very interesting structure. Everything is very modern, and by American standards, very small. I had a difficult time figuring out how to flush the toilet this morning... And apparently, Italians don't use towels to dry themselves off after showering? They kept asking if I had a robe, and I would ask if they had a towel, and they would point to my robe and mime drying off... It's been interesting.

More later! A presto,


30 August 2009

Almost There...

I have exactly one week left before I step onto the plane that will take me to the next chapter of my life... The anticipation is probably the hardest part.

I fly out of Kansas City next Sunday, 06 September, to Detroit, where I have a 5-hr layover... From Detroit, I fly directly to Rome and then from Rome to Catania, my destination.

Today marks the beginning of extreme packing at its finest. I've already begun to stow away clothes and other things that I'm not taking with me, which has made it a lot easier to see what I would like to take.

I received an email yesterday from Manuela, the president of Catania's Rotaract (former exchange students); she and others will apparently be meeting me at the airport, and they've already started planning my welcoming party, which will be on Thursday, 10 September. It will be on the beach, a "light party", where everyone will bring their own lights and there will be candles all over the beach... I'm so excited! I can't wait to meet everybody.

California was great, a nice getaway... It was really wonderful to be able to visit my family there. I had a great time with them! I can't thank them enough for that week-long escape. I also discovered a profound love for the desert, and was always pleased to see mountains on almost every side of the city. Life in California is busy and fast-paced, but also very relaxed at the same time... It's the oddest thing.

I'll be sure to post links to pictures of California, and hopefully Sicily very soon!

Ciao, a presto!

11 August 2009



It’s getting really close... I don’t leave until the first week of September, but until I get my visa, the travel agent can’t book my flight, which means I don’t have an official departure date yet.

There’s an orientation for inbound Rotary exchange students this Saturday; I can’t wait to meet everyone! This will also give the outbound students (myself included) a good idea of what to expect when we arrive in our destination countries... There’s a boy from northern Italy, so perhaps I will be able to practice my Italian a bit!

Also, I’m going to California for a week on Sunday to visit family and to gain experience flying alone. I’m really excited for that; I haven’t been to California since I was seven-years-old. Whoa... I’ll come back from California the following Saturday, leaving only about a week or so before I depart for Sicily.

I’ll post photos from California once I get back, and maybe a few of good ol’e Manhattan, just for nostalgia’s sake.