Southern Italy, Part V

I’ve seen Italy from all sides.  Places the tourists never see.  I have been very fortunate.  It has been humbling, and eye opening.  I appreciate more deeply now what my ancestors went through to leave it for America.

I think that a part of study abroad is to immerse yourself in a different culture, and open your mind to new ways of thinking and problem solving in a foreign environment.  I imagine that many students choose the countries they study abroad in based on their own ancestral heritage and a desire to connect with that. I imagine this is a big part of what study abroad IS.

I was fortunate to meet a cousin of mine in Rome during our free day.  We had never met before.  Though she spoke very little English and I spoke very little Italian, it is amazing how much you can communicate with a few words and hand gestures.  Somehow, we had a whole conversation and managed to connect as human beings.  It was wild to note the similarities in personality quirks.

I’ve never felt more American, than when I tried to immerse in my Italian roots.  I appreciate both sides of myself now, the American, and the Italian.  As American-Italians, we have clung on to this Old World culture for generations, as I noticed when some things I did at the dinner table closely resembled that of the Italians, and they noticed as well.  But I also noticed the differences, how as Americans we have evolved into something else, and are not this Old World anymore.

It is so strange, to recognize a place, a way of being, as so familiar, and yet to not belong to it.

Reflecting Back on Studying Abroad

It has been three weeks since I’ve been in the United States and coming home has treated me well. I thought that I would have reverse culture shock but I adjusted back to life surprisingly in a matter of days. Of course the glorification of coming home has faded and I find my mind wondering back to the things that I miss about Prague. My family asked me how it was and I just couldn’t answer it because SO MUCH HAPPENED! Where do I start? But I found myself talking about it in casual conversation. Then, they would get sick of it and I found that once I wanted to talk about my past 4 months in Europe, I couldn’t stop. I would just bring something up or something would remind me of that one time in Europe and they would just walk away or roll their eyes. That’s probably the toughest part-not being able to share the experiences with them.

After a week of being home, my mind was distracted from Prague because I was back on a plane on my way across the country for 2 weeks. I was in Washington State, all the way across the country visiting my Aunt and my cousins. It was great to see them. Then, after just getting back and settling once again back into home life, it felt like I never left. Everything looks and feels the same. But I can feel that I’ve changed. And although I’ve missed out on family and friend events while having my own adventures and have a substantially lower bank account, I have taken things with me that I will never forget.

I won’t forget the people that I’ve met on my journey- my friends, my tour guides, my professors, people on the street who saw I was lost and asked if I needed help finding where I wanted to be going. I won’t forget the support that I received from my family and friends who kept cheering me on along the way. I couldn’t have endured homesickness and my own self-doubt without them believing in me.

I won’t forget the places I’ve been and the drive to go to discover more places. Even if I’m driving down my hometown road and see something that fascinates me, I won’t forget that I learned that anywhere we go, even in our backyard can be an adventure.

And ultimately, I won’t forget the friend that I made with myself. On my journey, I learned so much about myself. I became more independent and I relied on myself even when I thought that it was hopeless and I couldn’t do it. I won’t forget to make peace with my weaknesses.

Studying abroad was tough and challenging but it was ultimately rewarding. I definitely recommend it to other students so it can open their mind and allow them to experience the world in a different way. I wouldn’t trade the past 4 months spent in Europe for the world.


A Few Opening Thoughts… (pre-departure)

Today marks the ten day countdown to my study abroad journey to Oviedo, Spain! I am more than excited to begin classes, meet international friends and my host mother, and to explore the city of Oviedo and surrounding areas. I am excited yet slightly apprehensive about this new experience. I know that once I arrive and get settled in with my host family, however, the nerves will pass and I will quickly get accustomed to the new lifestyle. In addition, I have been busy this past week arranging last minute details of the trip before I go. There is a lot of preparation and I know this experience will be well worth it. Overall, I’d like to set several goals that I hope to reach by the end of the program. My first goal is to improve my conversational Spanish speaking skills to a near fluent level. Secondly, I am eager to learn more about Spanish culture and the history of Oviedo. My third goal, though not as academic based as the first two, is to simply cherish this opportunity in every way possible by being immersed in a new culture and by meeting new people. I have a lengthy “weekend” list of places to go and landmarks to see, such as the rugged Picos de Europa and the breathtakingly ancient cathedrals. Obviously there is a lot to look forward to, so stay tuned, reader, as I embark on my study abroad journey to Oviedo, España!

Hasta pronto


Southern Italy, Part IV

We visited the Giulia museum in Rome, dedicated to the ancient Etruscans (indigenous Italians).  The Etruscan culture is so fascinating.  I particularly enjoyed learning about the hand gestures on a particular statue-couple, found on an ancient tomb. They may have been holding small vials, but the Professor indicated that they might also be gesticulating, as Italians do, when they speak.  I like this theory.

In the evening, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. Aside from being beautiful and impressive as I knew it would be, I felt something touch me the moment I crossed the threshold. It was surprising. I’m not a religious person, but I suppose all those years of an Italian-Catholic family environment have made a lasting impression. I was at our “Mecca.”

In the Vatican Museum, my feet hurt so much from walking, all I wanted was to find the Sistine Chapel before I ran out of steam. I was so lucky to get inside while it was nearly empty. To hop around the floor like an excited little kid, “reading” the story of each panel, enjoying all the little brush strokes, reverse-engineering with my eyes the work of this great master. And, laughing at the Renaissance style given to the Israelites.

What makes this work special is the sheer amount of work put into it. The room started to fill after half an hour or so. I was so lucky to have had that time in the Sistine Chapel.

Southern Italy, Part III

I got up early and went to breakfast at 7. I like to take my time in the morning and be on time for class, full, refreshed, ready. I slept well and it’s a good day.

We visited the archaeological excavation of Cumae, today.  It was lovely because it’s the first wooded place that we’ve hiked here.  We saw some smaller temples and the ancient city of Daedalus. Having a lunch-picnic at the Temple of Zeus, under the shade of trees, was very invigorating.

The professor was very thoughtful and generous to buy us food to pack for lunch today.  We were really far from cafes and the like.

After Cumae, some of us walked another mile or so through town and visited a real volcanic crater called Solfatara.  The scent of rotten eggs (sulphur) was strong but it was so cool.

I watched the steam hiss out of the chasm and thought of the Oracle at Delphi, chewing bay-leaves and inhaling the fumes until she was possessed by Apollo, and could give the prophecies.

It is incredible to be here.

Southern Italy, Part II

We have been all through Sicily, moving every 2-3 days or so. Now on the 3rd day in Naples.

My favorite places in Sicily were Agrigento and the Valley of Temples, as well as Castellammare del Golfo, a small coastal town. We also visited Selinunte and saw the ruins there, and the highlight of that day was a swim in the Mediterranean.

Palermo was a bit intimidating, but I liked the restaurants. If you are going to take the overnight ferry from Palermo to Naples as we did, I highly recommend spending the extra Euros for a room on the upper decks, with windows. We were in the cabins down below with no windows, and it was so hot and stuffy I could not stay down there for more than a few minutes. Did most of my sleeping on a bench in the open air.

Yesterday, we visited Pompeii and Oplanis, a nearby city that was buried in mud. The wall paintings were very well preserved and as a painter, it was something special to see the ancient works. The villa of mysteries at Pompeii was breathtaking.

I wish I could upload a picture, but the wifi is still extremely slow and I’m just hoping this post will make it through.

To be continued…!

Expanding our holdings: pushing into the interior

Much like our ancient Greek counterparts, after we spent some time getting comfortable with our new surroundings along the coastline, it was time to explore the hinterland of Sicily. Our charter bus arrived this morning to whisk us off to the site of Morgantina, a city that began as an indigenous settlement, occupied by group known as the Sicels.

Our chariot through Sicily

Our chariot through Sicily

By the 6th century B.C., it began increasingly Hellenized, so much so that in the mid 5th century B.C., it was punished for its “Greekness” by the Sicel patriot Douketios, who sacked the original settlement on the Cittadella Hill. Soon afterward, between 450 and 425 B.C., the city was re-established on the nearby Serra Orlando ridge which commands an extraordinary view over the surrounding hilly countryside.

Heading into the site of Morgantina on Plateia B, one of the original streets of the town

Heading into the site of Morgantina on Plateia B, one of the original streets of the town. Note Mount Etna looming in the distance!

This was our first true active archaeological site in our travels through Sicily, and Morgantina allows one to get a true sense of the layout of an ancient Greek town because it was never built over at a later date, allowing one to explore everything from the remains of houses to major public buildings. The highlights for the students were clearly (a) getting to literally touch the past, rebuilding ancient buildings in their imaginations from the surviving foundations and walls and most importantly (b) being adopted by one of the admittedly slightly mangey dig dogs, who stars in the majority of our pictures (see her following us above).

Learning about Hellenistic Greek houses perched on the foundations of the House of the Arched Cistern at Morgantina

Learning about Hellenistic Greek houses perched on the foundations of the House of the Arched Cistern at Morgantina

Morgantina particularly flourished during the third century B.C. under the control of the tyrants of Syracuse. Its prosperity is reflected in the many elegant homes built at this time that were equipped with some of the earliest surviving domestic wall-paintings and mosaics made of cut pieces of stone (tesserae) as well as indoor plumbing!

The Hellenistic Fountainhouse at Morgantina

The Hellenistic Fountain House at Morgantina

The main public square of the town, the agora (marketplace) that served as both the political and economic hub of the community was monumentalized as well during this period. Stoas (covered porticos, some with built-in shops and offices), a council house (bouleuterion), and an elaborate fountain house providing free water to the people were constructed to beautify and provide comfort to Morgantina’s inhabitants.

Looking at different flooring types in the House of the Doric Capital at Morgantina

Looking at different flooring types in the House of the Doric Capital at Morgantina

Despite its many Greek types of buildings, when it came to sacred architecture, the population of Morgantina chose to follow indigenous traditions rather than construct typical Greek temples with stepped foundations, colonnades, etc. Given the importance of agriculture in region, it is no surprise that multiple sanctuaries were dedicated to Demeter, the goddess who gave grain to mankind. She was worshipped throughout southern Italy and Sicily, alongside her daughter Persephone, the queen of the underworld and the model for girls transitioning to womanhood through marriage. Gods with chthonic associations and those associated with beliefs in the afterlife, like Persephone, were widely popular in the western Greek world, and Morgantina is no exception with its own shrine in a central location of the agora, complete with a sacred well or pit called a bothros into which offerings were tossed to reach the infernal deities, including lead curse tablets.

Visiting the underworld gods at the Sanctuary of the Chthonic deities at Morgantina

Visiting the underworld gods at the Sanctuary of the Chthonic deities at Morgantina

Our next stop was the archaeological museum in the nearby town of Aidone to see the objects that had been uncovered in the excavations at Morgantina. The intent was to focus on the collection’s highlights including brightly painted terracotta busts, bathtubs from the North Baths of Morgantina (the building with the first known domed roof in Greek architecture), and the famous Morgantina goddess, who likely represents Persephone.

Visiting the Aidone Museum

Visiting the Aidone Museum

This limestone and Parian marble statue, sculpted between ca. 420-410 B.C., was clandestinely excavated from a sanctuary at Morgantina in the early 1980s and was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum for a breathtaking 18 million dollars. The piece had always been a point of contention between the Italian government and the Getty, and after it was conclusively proved that the limestone body of the goddess was carved from formations nearby Morgantina, a settlement was reached so that the statue could return back home again, where it is now a major point of pride for the community.

Chatting with the locals in Aidone

Chatting with the locals in Aidone

Our visit to the museum coincided with the first Sunday of the month, when all state-run museums in Italy are free of charge, meaning that they are usually packed with locals taking advantage of the savings. It soon became readily apparent that the main focus of the museum was not the antiquities, but instead observing us exotic New Yorkers. A number of the students were approached by Italians who wanted to take pictures with them or talk to them about their relatives that live in the U.S.

Our final archaeological adventure of the day was a visit to the extraordinary Late Antique villa at Piazza Armerina, which contains over 32,000 square feet of well-preserved figural floor mosaics. It is currently believed to have been the country estate of a wealthy Roman Sicilian family, but some scholars argue that it belonged to the emperor Maximian (ruled 386-205) and his son Maxientius, the rival of Constantine for control of the western Roman empire. The complex consists of a clever arrangement of gangplanks, allowing one to walk high above the mosaic floors to see them better, as well as reconstructions of the walls and roof, thereby giving a true sense of what the original architectural spaces looked like.

The Small Hunt Mosaic from Piazza Armerina

The Small Hunt Mosaic from Piazza Armerina

The mosaics feature a wide variety of iconography from mythological stories to representations of courtly life and favored aristocratic activities. The most incredible mosaic is that in the Great Hall, illustrating how animals from across the Roman world and beyond were captured and transported to Rome to be hunted for public entertainment in the Colosseum.

Gazing over the Great Hunt mosaic at Piazza Armerina

Gazing over the Great Hunt mosaic at Piazza Armerina

After a very long and busy day, I was delighted to introduce the students to one of the more delightful ways to travel through Italy – by staying at an agriturismo, a working farm that offers room and board to tourists. We spent the night at an olive farm, and the students managed to get in a quick plunge in the freezing cold pool before our group dinner. I have so enjoyed watching the students bond together and develop meaningful friendships over the past few days, and I am impressed by how much they enjoy spending time with one another.

Enjoying agriturismo life outside of Piazza Armerina

Enjoying agriturismo life outside of Piazza Armerina

Mangia, mangia!

Mangia, mangia!

A wedding reception was held at our agriturismo on the same evening as our group’s dinner, so we got to enjoy sharing a very formal waitstaff with them, complete with linen hand towels over their arms, which the students thought was very swanky. After four courses (!) of Sicilian specialties, I waddled back to my room to begin reading the student’s journals, which they write in each day as part of their assignments for the program. More than once, tears of joy came to my eyes as I read my students’ utterly sincere and detailed reactions to all that they had experienced since their arrival in Italy. I have been traveling overseas for so long that I had forgotten the feelings of wonder and awe that accompany being outside of one’s own part of the world for the first time. I am so impressed by their resilience and desire to make each moment of this program count. They are fearless in trying new things, which makes my job as a faculty leader much easier. At dinner, one of the students leaned over to me and whispered, “This has been the happiest day of my entire life,” and with that simple statement, a year’s worth of preparatory work was worth it. I think a message in the threshold mosaic of a home in Morgantina says it best – EYEXEI – “All is well.” Yes, truly, all is well.

Mosaic floor from the House of the Doric Capital at Morgantina

Mosaic floor from the House of the Doric Capital at Morgantina

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From Melbourne, to the Gold Coast and everything in between. Here are a few pictures of some of the places I have been too since living in Australia.

I thought the best place to write my first blog about getting ready to leave, would be during my seven hour flight to Ecuador. I am very excited now that I am on the plane, but before getting on I was more nervous. When I arrived home from college, I unpacked my things from college and started to pack for Ecuador. I was running around preparing and going to doctors appointments and calling my bank and my cell phone company. There is a lot that needs to be done so try not to procrastinate too much. However, I know that can be hard to do sometimes. I spend my time with my family and at the beach. When I was at work, I was able to practice my spanish with my co-worker Romi.

The trip did not feel real until three days before leaving, when I realized I will be able to see the Pacific Ocean in about a week. I will see mountains, volcanos, and have the chance to meet many different people. The day I was leaving, I became very nervous about the trip. I could not eat all day. I was not nervous at all until this point.  However, I told myself that this is an amazing experience and I just need the strength to step on the plane. Once I do that I can not go backwards or change anything, but I could look forward and have a great time studying abroad. On the plane I keep trying to imagine what Ecuador will be like. I can not wait to land and walk onto a different, yet amazing land. I will take many pictures and share it with all of you!

Picture: Many websites said to bring your host family candy or a tourist gift. However, I wanted to give them something they could keep and remember me by. I got them a wind chime. They are very common where I live and especially on Fire Island. They are beautiful in appearance and sound.