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.

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.

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.

Ciao Milano!

I landed in Milan bright and early on a September morning. It was chilly and sunny, which is the perfect weather for me. It had blown my mind that just 8 hours before, I was in NYC, in my home, with my parents and my pets, all of whom I hold close to my heart. I was excited, yet super nervous to start this journey, especially without my parents, siblings or even best friend to hold my hand through it all- literally.

When I stepped off the plane and into the airport, everything felt normal. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary or different; people in the airport spoke English, and there were other Americans in close proximity considering we had just gotten off of a plane that departed from JFK- my main concern was getting from the airport to my apartment which was an hour away. I made it to a train called the ‘Malpensa Express’ which connects you from the airport to the central train station in Milan. My 5 foot 3, 135 pound self trucked my 80 pounds worth of bags and luggage across towns, transferring from the airport, to the Malpensa Express, to the metro. What an experience! I was so determined and focused on getting from one point to the next that I couldn’t even think about anything else.

However, when I got to my apartment, that is when reality set in. I am here. IN MILAN. WHERE I WILL BE LIVING FOR 3 MONTHS. Is this real life? I couldn’t believe it. I felt so overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn’t help but cry. I knew that these next couple of months would bring intense change for my life, and although I knew that it was necessary for this change to occur at this point in my life, I wasn’t exactly ready to step out of my comfort zone and accept that it was going to occur starting now.

Arrivederci NYC!

Since my summer began, all that had been on my mind was my countdown until I would be in Milan, Italy. The range of my emotions were quite extreme- I was excited yet nervous, curious yet anxious. I had no idea what I would be flying into, considering the farthest I’ve been from home is to Hawaii- and that still is part of the United States! I’ve always had a desire to travel elsewhere, out of the United States and dive into cultures where I could only daydream what they were like. Yet here I was, about to travel to Europe for the first time, and completely immerse myself in Italian culture.

When choosing where to study abroad, Italy was on the top of my list; the Italian diets consists mainly of carbs and fish (both of which happen to be my faves), the Italian culture is so rich with history, and the university I will be studying at had courses that both sparked my curiosity while fulfilling my major requirements here at New Paltz. Day and night I would think about Italy- what I would eat there, who I would meet there and what I would learn there! Questions started to arise in my mind: Would I come back fluent in Italian? Would living in Milan make me more fashionable and push me to experiment with my style? How much pasta can I eat that is humanly possible? It all felt so surreal that I was going to actually be living there for an extended period of time.

As my summer dwindled to an end, and saying my farewells to family and friends, I couldn’t help but be ecstatic to embark on a new journey that would hopefully be a transformative one. Saying goodbye was definitely hard and tears were shed, but I knew what is to come will surely be amazing.

Breaking stigmas about traveling alone & making friends abroad

Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.

You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.

Study life

The semester has been going for about a month now and things are falling into place. Luckily I got into the classes I wanted and I’m thoroughly enjoying the material I’m learning as well. My classes are relatively small and we meet for 3 hours once a week. Because it is so long and full of information we take a small break. We are all foreigners in the classes, but most of the people are American. In New Paltz, there is a comfort that I know what is expected of me and that I can reach it. Here, I feel like I don’t know what the professors expect or want, I’m doing all my work but I’m never sure if it’s any good. I only have class Tuesday and Thursday so it really isn’t bad. For every class, we usually do a part of the day’s work outside in the field which is really nice. I feel like I’m learning the information differently; I supposed that’s possible because of the location. I’ve been going to museums and famous, historical locations. I’ve been learning about the time and history preserved all throughout Prague.

And the cherry on top of it all is the constant view I have from anywhere I turn.

FOOD! Isn’t it the best?

If there is one thing to know about me, it’s that I absolutely love to eat. I am a picky eater, but in the last year I have become a cook and decided to grow up and try foods that normally I would say no to. Well, to no surprise, Prague has a lot of amazing, quality food. Most of my money probably goes to the food here. If you travel anywhere, I would say that it is a rule to have to signature dish of the country in a local restaurant. The first night here I tried goulash with bread dumplings, a classic Czech dish. It was really good, but extremely heavy. The breakfast here is very different; in America we have a mixture of carbs, sweets, and meats. In Europe, it’s meat, meat, vegetables and yogurt. Breakfast here hasn’t been my favorite since all I tend to have are the pastries, but wow are they good. Other than breakfast, I find the meals here to be amazing and Prague has amazing variety in all honesty. My favorite cafe, U Zavesenyho Kafe (where I am currently writing this) has casted a spell on me. From the sausages, chocolate tarts, and classic pivos, I think about visiting almost every day. The staff gives this charm where you want to become a regular, I hope I do.

Kolej Komenskeho is a great dorm! From the pictures that I saw and the descriptions I read, I wasn’t really excited to live in a communist style building. But when I first arrived, I felt this charm I couldn’t kick. My room is huge, I am in a double bedroom dorm where there are two single rooms with a little outside/kitchen area. It isn’t a full apartment, but for some reason it feels like an apartment that is yours. My windows are huge and fully open to reveal the cutest view. My room mate is sweet and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. The staff in the building is also interesting, they are helpful and nice, but if you treat them badly, don’t expect any kindness in return. The weekly breakfast we get in the dorm is different, but it makes it feel more like home. And one, if not the best part about living in this dorm is the dorm mother, Zuzana. This woman is so amazing, influential, so full of spunk that I feel it is impossible to write about her. She goes out of her way every day to make our experience the best it can be. Because of her I have signed up for volunteer work, I’ve gone to the Opera, I have gotten to meet Czech people, discovered amazing places, and learned wisdom that could only come from someone who has lived through enough. The building might not be modern in the slightest, but it does have it’s charm.

The food in Prague can also be bad, in a sense. There are these famous desserts called “trdelnik” and boy is it a CON. A good con at that so my advise is yes have ONE, and don’t pay over 60 crowns for one either. It isn’t Czech in the slightest and it is just a capitalist scheme that someone came up with the idea of and has become rich off of it. If you do any research, you will find that this treat has only become popular within the last couple of years and that it has no ties to Czech culture at all. I tried one because hey it’s food and I’m curious, $2 is worth my curiosity. I personally enjoyed it the first two bites and then it became “too much”; it had way too much of well everything. Try it once, but don’t try it again. Instead try the honey cake, a original Czech dessert that will honestly be 200% better than any trdelink.

One more note, everything in Prague seems CHEAP. And it is to Americans, but ask the Czech questions. When you do, you will begin to realize that truly amazing food can be even cheaper. Czech people live differently than Americans do. Where $5 to Americans is nothing, especially if you are from NYC, it can mean the world to a Czech. This isn’t bad, if you ask around you will find places where you can get a spectacular Czech meal for $3 (like the cafe I am currently in). A great pivo can only cost you a single dollar if you go to the right place. If you stay in the tourist areas and where there aren’t any Czech people, expect to pay A LOT more than you should for anything.

Have the beer, it’s the culture and a given, have the goulash it’s also a given. There are many other Czech traditional dishes like fried cheese and hot wine, but my advice is give everything a try at least once. Coming from a picky, cheap eater; I must say that food is one of the only cultural doors that are always open.

Getting Familiar With The Unknown

It’s now been three weeks, almost four since I moved to Prague. Researching culture shock and reading all the charts can’t really prepare you for it. Writing this is weird and I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just that I’m trying to reflect on things that just happened but feel like a lifetime ago. Getting used to Prague isn’t hard or bad, it’s absolutely beautiful here. The amazement hasn’t really passed either, I continue to be amazed at the history and beauty that I discover every day. The hard part is home: thinking about how it is back home, what your friends are doing without you, what your family is doing, what your significant other might be feeling and not telling you. It has been hard. I try to not to sit in my room because when I do I just scroll on social media waiting for it to update. Thinking about my parents at home working for me to be able to do this makes me sitting in my room even worse. I’m not sure if there is a way to break the shock or not feel it, but whenever I find myself sitting at home sad, I just put my jacket on and walk out the door and go anywhere. Sometimes, i’s better to be alone in public than at home.

I feel like the first two weeks, everything felt magical and unreal. I had no actual concerns and then reality set in. I’m surviving in Prague alone. I have to be smart, I can’t spend crazy amounts of money because everything is cheap, it adds up. I can’t be alone nor can I be surrounded by people all the time. I haven’t been able to find a middle ground. I’m constantly thinking about when I get home how life will be so odd and there’s this thought that maybe I don’t have to go back home. Maybe I can find happiness here even though “it’s not a destination”. And as sad as it sounds now, almost all of the times where I have felt so lucky to be here is when learning about the tragic history this country has. Last night I saw the film Anthropoid, it was so moving and it’s hard for me to believe all those events happened where I walk by every day. It really puts things into perspective.

Adjustment is hard, I would be lying to you if I told you I haven’t spent nights lying in bed unhappy and being unhappy because I am unhappy in such a beautiful city. It’s a paradox I hope to break soon.