A Milano Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday- it’s a holiday that my family goes all out for. When I was younger, we would sit around the dining room table on Thanksgiving eve and write out gratitude leaves. My mom would make so many dishes- main and side- all from scratch! I always admired her hard work on this holiday. Then, on Thanksgiving day, my grandma, aunt, and cousins (all 20 of them), would come in the afternoon and we’d spend the day eating delicious food and watching Star Wars. Being away from home on Thanksgiving was going to be tough, so I decided to throw my first Thanksgiving with my flatmates and friends who I made abroad. Half of us are American, so we celebrate Thanksgiving every year. But for the other half of us, this was their first Thanksgiving! It really was special to me that I got to share one of my favorite holiday with people of all different backgrounds.

Another thing about me- I L O V E cooking. I made chicken cutlets (because here in Milan, turkey is REALLY expensive), corn, green beans, gravy and an apple crisp. Others brought mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, veggie lasagna, tiramisu, chocolate cake and lots and lots of wine. It definitely was a Milanese Thanksgiving haha.

We spent hours playing card games, eating good food, chatting and more! It was one of my favorite Thanksgiving’s that I’ve spent so far. I am so grateful for all of the people who came- and some who couldn’t make it 🙁 These people are unapologetic and kind and intelligent. I’m so glad I had this opportunity to be here in Milan. I don’t want to leave just yet!

Traveling on My Week Off

Half way through the semester Kingston has what is called Enrichment Week also known as Reading Week. This week is supposed to be where you get ahead on the work for the next half of the semester, but no one does that obviously. It is like spring break at New Paltz. People are supposed to do work during it, but that barely happens (unless you have a paper or test right when you get back). Since they barely give work here most kids either go home or go on trips. As a study abroad student, I obviously made plans to go somewhere during this break.

My first stop was to see my friend who is studying abroad for the full year in Munich. She was kind enough to let my friend and I stay in her apartment the few days we were there. She was a huge help in showing us around and the fact that she understood the language really helped. She was a great tour guide and showed us everything we wanted to while we were there. We even were luck enough to see a Russian opera in Munich. It was so nice to catch up with her and talk about everything and anything with her. Munich is such a pretty city and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about going.

My next excursion—after a day or two of rest and exploring London—I was headed to Amsterdam with a tour group. We didn’t have much time in the city itself, but it was still a lot of fun. We had two nights there and the days were either traveling or seeing some of the cities around Amsterdam. We saw Edam and Volendam, which were both beautiful and worth the visit. I also got to go to Anne Frank’s house. That is definitely something you want on top of your list when you go to Amsterdam. You do need to get tickets ahead of time, but it is worth it. You walk through their hiding space and walk in the same space they lived in for two years. It is a moving experience and is definitely a must see.

I had a great time seeing different countries during my week off. I wish I had more time to explore more countries, but that just means I need to return to Europe in order to see more countries that I wanted to see. The week was a lot of fun and made me want to travel more. I highly recommend traveling to as many countries as you can while you study abroad because it is so easy to get around—as well as is very cheap to travel.

A Weekend in Sale

This past weekend, my good friend Christine (who attends my Italian university full time), invited me to spend the weekend at her family’s home in Sale, Italy!

About an hour outside of Milan, Sale is in the Piemonte region. Compared to Milan, Sale is completely rural- there are huge masses of land where people tend crops, raise chickens, goats and other farm animals, with only 4,000 inhabitants. For my whole life, I’ve lived in an urban setting. I’ve visited rural parts of the United States but never had a experience actually living in a setting like that- the closest I’ve gotten to living in a rural setting is by being a student at New Paltz. But even then, I still never experienced living on an actual farm.

I was thrilled when she extended the invitation. In the past year, I’ve grown a huge passion towards agriculture and living a sustainable life. Farm life has begun to intrigue me and I felt that going to Sale- even if its only for a weekend- could give me a tiny glimpse onto what it is like in a pastoral landscape.

It truly felt like a home away from home! Her family was warm and inviting, and it was nice to be somewhere that was so opposite of what I’m used to- not only in the states, but here in Italy as well!

Sale will always hold a place in my heart- and I’ll definitely be back at least once in my lifetime!

London, Venice and More Oh My!

While studying abroad, I have been fortunate to do a ton of traveling- both in and out of Italy!

My first trip was to Cinque Terre. It was my birthday weekend; my friends and I visited each of the towns in one day! Each offered a different experience but they all had one thing in common- an amazing view. Cinque Terre was only a 2 hour train ride from Milan, making it a super accessible but fun trip!

After that, I flew to Prague and London! My sister had planned to travel to Prague coincidentally during the time that I’d be in Italy, so we thought it was a perfect weekend to meet up. My sister is 6 years older than me and lives in another state, so seeing her had made me so happy- who knew we’d be in Prague, TOGETHER?! It truly made my heart full.

London has to be one of my favorite cities I have ever visited! It was so metropolitan, and nostalgic. Everywhere I went felt sophisticated and chic. There, I visited shops and pubs, walking along townhouses in Notting Hill, while stopping to drink tea or eat falafel pockets (which were SO yummy). Being in London made me SO happy. I definitely will go back to visit one day.

And lastly, my most recent trip that I did happened to be with my dad! At my university, we just had our mid-semester break and my dad was lucky enough to get some days off so, he flew all the way to Milan and we took a “road trip” of Italy. We went to Lake Como, Venice, and Florence. All of the places were so different from one another; it is mind-boggling to me how you can be in the same country yet certain parts are so vastly different from each other! All were beautiful in their own unique way. Visiting all 3 places were truly enriching, especially with my dad by my side.

Citizen of the World

I have not written a blog post since I have arrived. Why you may be wondering? The experiences I have been through in nearly the two months I have been studying in the Czech Republic have been so incredibly life-changing that it’s evoked a feeling of lethargy. Thats weird isn’t it? I expected the opposite to occur; I thought I’d feel alive, empowered, ready to overcome procrastination, and be the best most productive version of myself. But the truth is that it has taken some time to process everything I have been living day in and day out while abroad. I had to give myself time to truly reflect on my experiences here before being able to write about them. So without further adieu, I share with you the insights I’ve gained from my journey here.

 

For starters, arriving in Prague was like a fairytale. This is one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world. The architecture, the history, the theatre and arts are only some of the various things Prague has to offer. Don’t take my word for it see for yourself:

Brunch in the sky

 

 

The view from my classroom makes it hard to focus sometimes

In the beginning, everything was so fast paced it was truly hard to take it all in. One day I’d be visiting Terezin, the former Jewish ghetto where terrible, horrible atrocities occurred, and the next day I’d be hanging out at a pub with people from all around the world. Now that I have a firm grasp of my surroundings, I have finally been able to settle in and reflect on my experiences. I travelled pretty much every weekend since late September up until late October. I visited Germany, Holland, Greece, and Poland. Each and every single country I’ve visited has somehow taken a piece of my heart. The history I’ve learned and the people I’ve met have undoubtedly changed my perspective on life. I no longer label myself as only being Colombian or American but rather a citizen of the world.

My point in saying this is to emphasize that we are all one human race and identifying ourselves with being of a certain nationality, many times creates a division to understanding people from other backgrounds.

Let me ask you something. What do you see in this picture? Look closely… You see a group of women of different ethnicities and even ages. The woman all the way in the back was my Airbnb Dutch host in Haarlem, Holland (right outside of Amsterdam), which I learned as I arrived is a rich white neighborhood. Now I don’t know how a group of six very different women were able to break the walls within us all, but the openness of our conversation was truly something beautiful.

Our Airbnb host opened up to us about the preconceived stereotypes she had of us when we first walked in. She wanted to express to us the shame she felt just because she was experiencing something she wasn’t used to. We spoke for what felt like hours about racism and thanked each other for destroying many stereotypes our very different societies had instilled on us. Connecting with people in such a raw and real way is what makes traveling so worthwhile.

 

Hiking For The First Time

Hello all! I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post. Assignments all started piling up on top of each other. But now that a bunch are done, I can finally get back to blogging. Since last speaking, I have officially hiked. I hiked in the Comeragh mountains. I’m not going to lie, it was actually really difficult. I had never done an actual hike before. Or, one that was that challenging. We walked through a lot of grass and mud, I learned. My timberlands went through a lot that day. The views are beautiful. The mountains overlook green pastures and see a lot of sheep. The sheep are dyed a bunch of different colors. The ones I saw were either blue or pink. Then we got to a spot for lunch. There was a pond and the mountains were in front of us, and they were covered in patches of fog. It was really cool to see, and pretty unlike anything I’d seen before coming to Ireland. By the end of the hike, I was exhausted, but I am really glad I did it. It was really hard, but I have to admit, looking back, it was rewarding.

Academics

Now that midterms are over, I finally feel like I can give you all a clear view into what I think about the courses I am taking here!

At SUNY New Paltz, I am quite ahead of course requirements. Because of this, my advisor gave me the freedom to take what I please and of what piqued my interest. So, here at Cattolica in Milan I am taking four courses: A Mafia Story: Its Representation in Literature, Cinema, and TelevisionFashion Images and the City of Milan: A Sociological Perspective on Modern Italian FashionCitizenship and Religion in a Multicultural Society: A New Clash of Identities in Italy and Europe? and The Female Character in Italian Contemporary Literature and Culture. All are vastly different from each other, and don’t necessarily have a correlation with my major and minor at home (which is Sociology with a Human Services concentration, and a minor in Deaf Studies), however, I do really enjoy them.

A Mafia Story: Its Representation in Literature, Cinema, and Television would have to be my favorite. In my Sophomore Year of high school (5 years ago) I was introduced to American mobster movies: Casino, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale… you get the idea. I was always fascinated on the topic, but only got my information about the mafia solely through these movies- I had no other outlets. In this course, I learn about the history of the ‘mafiosi’; how it originated, where it originated and how it is represented in both Italian and American media platforms. I even watched The Godfather for the first time as one of my homework assignments! This class has truly opened my eyes into a huge and important part of Italy’s history: specifically in Sicily. My professor is knowledgable and passionate about this subject, and it truly has rubbed off onto me.

Fashion Images and the City of Milan: A Sociological Perspective on Modern Italian Fashion is the only class that I’m taking that will give me credit towards my major (elective). Since becoming a sociology major, I can’t help but think of everything from a sociological perspective… its in my nature. However this class does more than that- it has taught me about important fashion designers, and how moments in history really affect the world of fashion. When I was little, I dreamed of being a fashion designer. I never really knew why but this class brings me back to that dream, but in a different way. I would never really consider myself stylish, but now I find myself wanting to express in the form of fashion and style, and help others too. It really is enthralling.

Citizenship and Religion in a Multicultural Society: A New Clash of Identities in Italy and Europe? is a class that took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to take it, and to be honest, it was sort of a last minute resort. I didn’t know what I was going into but it has been a pleasant surprise. In this course we look at the history of citizens and societies within Italy and Europe from a philosophical and anthropological perspective, and how these factors have changed over time with modernization. Its very complex, and I often fumble with my words, so I’ll spare you the details 😉

And lastly, The Female Character in Italian Contemporary Literature and Culture. I am lowkey, a literature nerd. I took two AP English courses in my high school, and a few at SUNY New Paltz- including The Novel and Women in Literature (which I highly recommend). The Female Character in Italian Contemporary Literature and Culture is another course I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to. We analyze female characters in books, operas, and movies written by both male and female Italian creators. Like I said, I love literature, and since I’ve taken a Women in Lit course at New Paltz, this class has been nothing but fun for me. I’ve found so many books outside of American and British literature that I now want to read.

Not only are the classes intriguing, but the professors are all super sweet and compassionate. I express my worries to them, or even my curiosities, and they are always there to help and engage.

Overall, I appreciate Cattolica for providing us international students with interesting courses I could never take elsewhere, and for sparking a newfound curiosity within me.

0-100 Real Quick: Dealing with Culture Shock in Milan

This post is loooonngggg overdue. I’ve been caught up with traveling and assignments and just living my life that I haven’t had much time to sit on my computer and be consistent with this blog (which I will work on from here on out). However, tonight I am feeling motivated! I went out to dinner with my close friends that I’ve made here; it was the first time I stayed out past 9PM here in Milan. Being out late made me realized how living in Milan no longer feels like a foreign feeling, but like second nature to me. So, I thought, why not use this time to reflect on the changes and differences in cultural norms I experienced during my first weeks here in Milan.

The food here is all pasta and cheese and meat! Sounds like a dream to most right? As a vegetarian/vegan, I actually found it quite hard to go out to restaurants and find a vegetarian/vegan option, let alone find a vegetarian/vegan restaurant. However, I did make friends (unintentionally) who all happen to be vegetarian! We make it our mission to find good vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and we’ve stumbled upon a few so far.

Dress here also happens to be completely different than what I am used to. After all, I am in the fashion capital of the world! At home, I am used to wearing off-the-shoulder tops, jeans and my vans or boots everywhere I go- overall, super casual. Here, you are expected to be more modest yet still fashionable. Exposed skin definitely gets you some glares but it is something I’ve come accustomed to- my collar bones are my favorite feature, how can I not show them off? Another thing I noticed is that women wear sneakers with EVERY outfit which I’ve come to love and be inspired by. Women wear sneakers with slacks, jeans, dresses and so much more; I never considered sneakers fashionable until this point and now, I can’t stop wanting to buy them! I have a pair of Nike Cortez’s waiting for me at home 😉 Overall, being here makes me that much more into fashion and style; not to mention I’m taking a course titled Sociology of Fashion in Milan at my university here.

A social interaction I wish I could bring back to the states with me is aperitivo! Aperitivo is basically like Italians happy hour; you buy a drink (which can range from $8-$12) and then you either get chips, a meat and cheese platter or even a buffet depending on the establishment. Aperitivo is a great way to socialize with your friends after a long week of classes and have a good time.

I’m not going to lie and say that it was an easy transition coming to Milan- like I was warned by the study abroad advisors, I definitely did get frustrated about certain things not being as convenient as they were in America. However, it is safe to say that I finally am in a groove here in Milan, and I am really enjoying my time here.

Being Comfortable Across the Pond

I have now been in England for a little bit over a month and the more time that I spend in England the more I love it. Everyone is very accepting. On my campus there are people from all over: study abroad students (for one semester as well as the year), Englanders, and people who are studying here for the full three years to get their undergrad. The campus also has a club called Connect UK where they give free lunches every Tuesday and anyone who wants to talk to international students can come! I go every Tuesday to talk to other study abroad students as well as the free meal.

As I got more comfortable here, I started to plan more trips out of the country. I am seeing my friend in Germany who is also studying abroad as well as traveling to Italy with my family when they come visit me. I also have people visiting me whom I can show around and act like a real Londoner. I really do feel like I am from here. I go into London at least once a week, so once I take the twenty-minute train into Waterloo I know exactly where to go and how to travel around.

Not only am I getting more comfortable with the towns, I am also getting comfortable with the classes. The teachers are all very nice and I feel comfortable enough to go up and talk to them if I have an issue. Students’ attendance is very different from New Paltz though. Some students leave after they have signed in or leave during a break and have another student sign them in or just have someone else sign them in. I, personally, do not do this because I am paying for the class as well as the classes only meet once a week, so if I do not go to the class then I am not attending the class for the week.

Window to the World

This evening the sky is shades of orange, and of purple and blue. I can’t help but think about all the time I wish I spent with you. In my mind, collecting the things I want to say. Wait a lil while longer and you’ll hear on the 53rd Sunday.

Since coming to Milan, I’ve grown an attachment to windows and the sky, specifically to the colors the sky makes when the sun is rising and setting. This fixation on color and windows and the sky has followed me to wherever I go.

When I visited Prague, my accommodation had a beautiful window that I would sit next to at night and listen to the chatter out on the streets.

When I visited London, I visited a bakery which was strictly decorated in pastel colors: pinks and blues and greens and purples! It was visually stunning and gave me a sense of joy (not to mention the food was delicious.

 

When I’m in Milan, my favorite time of day is when the sun is setting; I am making myself dinner while the windows are spread open. I hear the sounds of garlic sautéing, families and children playing, or nothing at all. The sky turns into hues of orange and pink and purple and sometimes blue. That is when I’m happiest. That is when I am at peace.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During this time, I sit and reflect on a lot- the universe; my life; the people I hold dear to my heart; the world and how many people inhabit it, who have their own thoughts, dreams and aspirations; how there is so much this world has to offer. This is something that I will forever cherish and will use to ground me wherever I go. The feeling inside of me when I get to see such a sky, or such a vast amount of color, or an excellent unfurled window, is truly unexplainable. It makes my heart warm and sometimes like my heart is going to burst- that’s how intense it can get. Some people don’t understand why I feel this way, and some people do; the optimal thing I have realized from this is that not everyone needs to understand- if it makes me feel good and content, then I don’t need to prove it to anyone else.