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,