The Year Without a Turkey

This morning I spent some time reading and not immediately reaching for my phone to scroll through instagram or Tik Tok as soon as I wake up. Because I do have to spend a lot of time traveling on the metro to and from school everyday I definitely more time to read on the ride. I love Mondays because I do not have any early classes. I got a chance to take my time when getting ready while I debrief from whatever crazy adventure I went on that weekend.

This past weekend I stayed in Milan and decided to check some of the different areas for dinner and aperitivo that I have no been to yet. I had a great time catching up with some friends from France and some of my friends from school. I really did enjoy my company with my friends from France, they are actually from New York but I met them in France which was so odd but I am so glad it happened. I was at a hostel joining so group event to make friends and a random man from Belgium came up to me and said “Do you know that girl over there? She talks funny just like you”. At first I was very confused and had no idea what this man was talking about but I went over and said hello. As soon as the girl said hello back I knew exactly what he meant, we both have strong New York accents. We ended up laughing about it and introduced each other to our friends. We come to learn we are both studying abroad and planning on traveling as much of Europe as possible. I was so happy I got a chance to see her again in Milan this weekend. I am hoping I will catch up again with her soon in New York.

However, multiple dinners in one weekend means a lot of outfit changes and makeup being applied while always results in a trashed apartment. Sometimes I feel like if I lived at home with my parents yelling at me to clean because at least I would keep my room clean. So, I spend the morning giving my apartment some love and care before I headed to the center of Milan. 

When I first got to Milan it was hard to have free time with no plans because it feel as if time was being wasted. I only have such a short amount of time abroad I wanted to fill it with as many planned things as I possibly could. Now I realize I like days where there is no plan just see where the day takes me. Once I got to the center of Milan I walked past the Duomo di Milano, which I do almost everyday. And every single time I stop and smile because it never gets old. I truly can’t imagine walking past it on my phone without looking up to admire its beauty. I actually think my next tattoo is going to be a small sketch of the duomo. Similarly to New York there is always someone playing some type of instrument or singing or dancing. Today someone was singing this is This is me by Kesha. I admire the talent that fills this city as I throw a few euro in the singers cup and smiled. There is something that never gets old about it. 

I did a little window shopping for things I will not be able to afford until I am about 30 years old. I looked at all of the pretty displays of the windows of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Montclair, Chanel, Tiffany and a million other brands I don’t even know the names of. I picked out the bags I will eventually buy myself maybe by then they will be considered vintage. I even sat down for a cup of coffee in that area just to watch all of the tourists walk by and take pictures in front of the duomo. I drank my boiling hot Americano just admiring everything this city has to offer. I did have to cut my coffee short because I had class this afternoon. 

I was super frustrated with my class this afternoon solely because it is so different then class in America. I am really not used to being graded on group presentations rather than just exams. When completing a group prevention so many things can go wrong and for so far they have been. Oftentimes you are places in a group of students who are from all over the world which is really cool to learn about different cultures but this also means students have a different system of grading and expectations. The expectations from the students in America and in Italy are fairly similar but they are waaaaay higher than the expectations in other countries. So when working with other students it is very difficult to make sure all of the project gets down on time when most of the other students do not care. I was going to present my presentation and one of the members just didn’t show up because she “felt she was ready for the presentation” it is crazy to me how little grades effect students of other countries. At the end of the day it is only just a minor inconvenience and my professor did work with me to ensure I get the proper grade that I deserve. 

As much as I love studying abroad and living in Milan, this experience has taught me to be grateful for every simple things in the states. I was complaining about the minor inconveniences to my friends at home and after every complaint I would get the same response “You’re in Italy suck it up”. My Grandma’s advice was to write down all of the silly things that bother you I decided to keep a list so when I come home I know not to take things for granted. Looking at it today really made me laugh because they really are such minor inconveniences. Some examples are people don’t say God bless you, metro strikes, no ketchup, every airport in the world having different rules for airport security, all of the doors here are push not pull, the hairspray is watered down and like 30 more other things so far. Again I understand how in reality it is so minusclue and I really am so lucky to have this opportunity. Some people in my immigrated to New York when they were 10 and have never had the opportunity to leave and travel again. I have learned so much about myself and about how other people operate while abroad I truly wouldn’t change it for anything. Maybe I wish my family was here or that I could go home and see them for Thanksgiving. I will never take the trek back from New Paltz to long Island (usually in the snow and traffic) from granted. But I think this truly puts a new meaning to “The year without a Turkey”. My best-friend from New York is coming to visit me and we are planning on keeping one of our thanksgiving traditions alive….Black Friday shopping. There are still sales in Italy but they are way less than the ones in America. We are also planning on making “struffoli” which is a tradition Neapolitan dessert that is typically served on Christmas. One year when we were really little her grandfather was sick and we were afraid of losing the struffoli recipe and didn’t know if he was going to make until Christmas. So, we started a new tradition and made our favorite dessert on Thanksgiving.

Another thing that is hard when abroad is when family members get sick. Even though it feels as my old life in New York is on pause everyone else is still living there day to day life and things happen. This month my dad got really sick and it was super scary not knowing what was going on. It was truly really making the decision on if I needed to leave the program early. Thank god he is now out of the hospital and getting better everyday it is still unsettling that I am not home making chicken soup and tea while he’s sick in bed. 

I am about to start cooking a meal I learned to cook in class for my friends that live in the same building as me. Even though this sounds silly that we are 20 years old and still just cooking and hanging out at home it truly is my favorite activity. We can all wear sweatpants and slippers without being judged we can laugh over card games or a movie. I get to learn about their lives they used to live before being abroad and talk about mine. These are friends that I hope to have for a lifetime although we live all around the world we have created some of the most amazing memories together. I feel like I have my Long Island friends, my New Paltz friends and my study abroad friends. I do think I can explain how truly grateful I am for the new category of people I will now have in my life forever.

Ciao,

Gianna

Some of my friends I have made a abroad 🙂

The studying part of Studying Abroad

Studying in another country is really different than studying in the United States. I was very comfortable studying at New Paltz and I have a work a little harder to succeed in my classes abroad. 

One difference I noticed immediately is the attendance policy that is put in place. Similarly to New Paltz there is a certain number of unexcused absences before it starts to effect you grade. Expect for at the University in Italy if you miss a certain number you automatically fail the class. If you have a valid reason for missing class its required you have documentation stating your reasoning, it is not up to the professors discretion like it is at New Paltz. I have not missed many classes at all and its not an issue but it is just different from the States. Took a little while to get used to rather than just speaking to the professors about whatever issues you were facing that hindered you from attending classes.

Something else that is super confusing to be still is the grading system. Every country has a completely different grading system from each other and Italy’s is very strange. The Italian grading is out of 30 points but not out of a 100. At the moment I am not sure how my grades will transfer over at all. I know I am doing very well on the Italian scale but I couldn’t tell you what letter grade that transfers over too. 

Italians have a very strong separation of work life and home life. I have not seen a single nurse in scrubs on the subway, or a store clerk in uniform after their shift. This holds true for professors as well, they are very willings to help but it is not uncommon to wait days and days before getting an email reply. Very different from New Paltz, I am used to getting responses back within an hour no matter what time of day it is. In the past I took that for granted. I would like to think I have a good relationship with my professors but only because I have tried to have a good relationship. I participate in class and greet them before and after class which I’d consider a good relationship in Italy. It is not like in New Paltz where I ask my professors how their kids are and what they did over the weekend. Nonetheless, all of my professors know my name and are passionate about the subject they teach. I do not feel like I am just a number in there grade book, which I was concerned about because this school is a lot larger than New Paltz. 

Workload and exams are completely different as well and I am not really a fan of the Italian system. In the states I feel like there are a lot of assignments, projects, homework, quizzes and at least 3 exams. In Italy each class has a midterm, a final and one project. So yes, I do enjoy not having to hand in an assignment everyday however with more assignments it is easier to do well. 

Something I did not thing that I needed to adjust when I was here is the way students from other countries are used to going to school. In the states school is a lot more formal that It is in countries where school is not prioritized. I have never been in a class where young adults where speaking directly over the professor, or a class were students leave the class four or five times every class until this semester. At the same time students here dress a lot more formally when attending class, which is extremely different than New Paltz. I’m used to my fun colored sweatpants and black tank top with a huge jacket, scarf, hat and fuzzy socks with my crocs. In Italy, a majority of the girls where a blazer, heels and a full face of makeup everyday even when just attending class. After being here for sometime I realized that I do actually enjoy get dressed nicely everyday for class. I think the saying “dress to empress” does prove to be true.

One thing I really take for granted at New Paltz is the amount of study spaces that are available on campus. I love studying at studying in Science building by the windows where its not to busy to focus but you are still about to see the street and watch the cars go by. I never thought I would say this but I miss the New Paltz campus library. The comfort of knowing there was always someone where to sit and someone to help with whatever random question I have about campus or just live in general. At my university in Milan there are very little places to study on campus. I think it is solely due to the fact that I go to a computer school and that students do not live on campus. I tend to do a large amount of studying in my room which is hard to focus.

I do enjoy all of my classes but my favorite class is Italian cultural and traditions through food. The class is considered a lab. The class meets twice a week once where the professor teaches about typical Italian dishes and one where we cook with a chef. My chef’s name is Chef Tito who does not speak any English and has lived in Italy all of his life. We have a TA for the class who acts as the translator which is very helpful, although I do feel my knowledge of the Italian language is growing. Tito has taught us how to make his favorite Italian dishes which is really cool because I can make all of these dishes for my friends and family when I get back to New York. So far my favorite dish that chef Tito has taught us how to make was Risotto alla Milanese. 

I will add some pictures from my cooking and culture class.

Ciao,

Gianna

Not so sad that I missed Halloween

When we think about October in New York we think pumpkins, leaves, cold, football (the real football), sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, and most importantly halloween. These almost all October traditions that are celebrated in America. I had an opportunity to promote SUNY New Paltz and the October activities were actually one of the things I was suppose to promote. Something we celebrate every year and most of us just assume the rest of the world celebrates halloween and autumn the same way.


October for me this year did not include any of those things and I can truly say it was the best October yet. I have finally started to feel comfortable navigating Milan as far us knowing where I am and knowing my surroundings. Which is making Milan feel more like home. With that being said I am not sure if I spent more time in Milan or more time traveling in this month. This month I’ve been to Florence, Pisa, Nice (France), Palermo, Cefalu and London. I also took midterms this month and I did well on all over them. At New Paltz I find myself reluctant to take on so much but being in Europe is teaching me how to balance my time. It is really something special to say I was able to manage making friends, traveling, and succeeding in school at the same time. The balance is something some people never find, I feel lucky to be able to manage it all. 

In Nice I stayed at a hostel for the first time and I think I prefer it rather than a airbnb. There are always people around and everyone has the same goals as me, to travel the world on a budget. This hostel had a restaurant and events that led me to meet some many new friends, even some people from New York. Went we to dinners together, and the beach was a super unique experience especially because I was feeling a little homesick. People to relate about missing a “BEC” on an everything bagel and people who have the same funny New York accent as me. The French Riviera was super clear but I wasn’t expecting the beach to be entirely full of rocks, it was worse than the rocks on the north shore beaches of Long Island.

When I traveled to Pisa I went alone and it was an experience I will never forget. I have always been independent, self sufficient and out spoken but traveling alone brings it to a whole new level. Weather that be trying to navigate the train/metro system, deciding which tour interests you, buying souvenirs for family and most importantly taking a picture in front of the famous monuments there is a sense of confidence required and this gut feeling that you know you can do it. There was almost this sense of accomplishment that I was able to do something amazing that I really wanted to do no matter what even if there was no one available to go with.

Sicily was definitely top three places that I traveled to, mostly because of the food. I travel to Sicily with two other friends, Ben and one which had lived in Sicily. It was really cool experience to see a tourist city in the eyes through the eyes of a local. Of course we stopped at all of the tourist shops and spent most of our time on the main strip but were also avoided eating at the tourist trap restaurants and went to the down the coolest streets filled with bars and music. My family family is from Sicily and being there was the first time I truly felt that I have Italian roots. In the northern parts of Italy where I live everyone has super light hair, skin and eyes which is not what me nor my family looks like. In Sicily a lot of people have an olive complextion and dark hair which is what my grandparents look like. There was finally a connect for me in the sense that I am American but I have Italian roots. A lot of the Italian American food we eat comes from Sicily as well. When ordering the best cannolo of my life I realized that Americans say cannoli but that is really just the plural of the word “cannolo”.

Lastly, I visited London and I have to say I think London has my heart. This trip where I decided to meet my friends at our accommodations which meant I navigated the airport alone. It turned out to be the easiest airport experiences ever, easier that traveling to Florida from New York. The weather was not so great in London but I did not let that stop me from enjoying myself. I saw the Buckingham palace, the London eye, Big Ben, the London bridge (which is nothing special apparently) and the tower bridge(this is the really pretty one). We all grow up hearing the song about the London bridge falling down so we assume that the London bridge is the pretty one, it is in fact not. The actually London bridge was beautiful but fell at some point in the early 1800’s. I mapped out to the London bridge and once my friends and I arrived were we super confused and disappointed by the bridge after some research we foundMy friends and I walked over London which is a huge city. It was so interesting people so many people from the United Kingdom everyone was very friendly. We were even able to find people to critique our British accents and they show us their American accents. 

Overall, there has not been one place that I didn’t enjoy. I’ve created memories and made friends during each trip. I have also had no so great experiences during each trip but far less than the good memories. Whether it be missing a bus, not being able to understand the street signs or something as silly as not being able to charge my phone in another country. That was actually a scary and a huge travel flaw that I completely forgot about in London. Now I know to be sure I have the correct adaptors and wires before I travel. 

On Halloween this year I was on a flight back to Milan and spent the day doing laundry from my past trips. In the moment I was upset I didn’t dress up and I wasn’t at a party with all my friends in New Paltz. In reality I will most likely be doing that every halloween for the rest of my life. What is one halloween missed due to traveling Europe? Absolutely nothing.

For now, I am staying in Milan to new few weeks because I feel like I haven’t had a chance to explore my home city. There are so many coffee shops, flower stands, thrift stores and many more little things I have yet to explore. 

I have about 300 pictures from this month, I’ll add a few of my favorites!

Ciao!

Gianna

When Reality Sets In

While the last month has been a dream come true, the concept of studying has finally started to set in. Since I’ve made it this far without suffering the wrath of academia, a part of me felt invincible and almost exempt from the whole thing. But it was too good to be true. Now, as assignments pile up and group presentations approach rather quickly, I am reminded of why I am here. Not only to travel, but to get an education!

College in Italy has been quite different from college in the states and to be honest, I think I prefer attending school in the states. Even though they are incredibly subtle, I can still decipher differences between the two entities. First off, the courses are challenging here! I have taken upper division classes before but never felt this degree of difficulty. There are probably a few factors that contribute to these sentiments, one being that most of the professors speak Italian as their first language and all of my classes are taught in English. This poses an immediate challenge even before thinking about the contents of each course. Another reason why I am not loving class here is the emphasis on lectures. This is a bit of a controversial stance, but I thrive in classroom settings that do not revolve around two lectures a week. I was never that type of student and always benefited from more creative atmospheres. I am way too social to sit in a classroom for an hour and a half and listen to someone speak about a specific topic. I get distracted easily and my mind starts to wander. Thankfully, I chose classes with some variety and am taking a film course that has one lecture style class and one discussion style class per week. In fact, I notice that I retain a lot more information this way. Certainly my studies in theatre have turned me into this kind of student; one that prefers a non-conventional approach to education. All I can do now is alter my expectations going into each lecture and keep an open mind.

Another unexpected and certainly laborious element of university life is the amount of homework I have been receiving. I know, I sound like I have never taken a college class before but, I did not expect to be completing this much work. In the grand scheme of things, it really is not that much. But let’s not forget, after all, I am in Italy! Even professors stress the importance of traveling on the weekends. Therefore it seems almost contradictory of them to assign so much homework and then encourage weekend travel. My classes are not extremely hard either; and consist of a cooking class, a film class, a theatre class, and a class that discusses the mafia. It really doesn’t get much easier than that! Nevertheless, it is difficult to focus while living in such a beautiful place and I suppose I get distracted a lot easier here. How could I not? This in conjunction with a shortened school week has made completing homework burdensome. In no way am I complaining about the four day school week, it just realistically limits the amount of time I have to complete assignments. Besides this one downside, it is quite lovely. I have the freedom to take an extended weekend or relax, if I so choose. All I’m saying is that instead of doing my homework in a leisurely manner I have to complete my work as soon as it is assigned. It’s like going to war. Soldiers would not stroll around their enemy for a week, attempting to make small attacks here and there. Instead they would gear up and go right in, in an attempt to get it over with. I am now adopting this mentality and in an effort to stay on track, I am abiding by a very strict schoolwork schedule. However, not all homework is bad and there are some assignments that I am enthusiastic about, like cooking for my cooking class. All I have to do is literally recreate the dish that was made in class and eat it after, obviously for quality control. I could definitely be in a much worse position and must keep in mind how incredibly thankful I am to be taking classes in a foreign country.

Not only are individual classes different, but so is the magnitude of campus. There are always so many students around that each day it feels like I am walking into Grand Central Station. If I have to go to the main building to print out documents, I need to gear up because navigating the various hallways and crowds of people should definitely be considered a sport. In the past, I always critiqued New Paltz for its size. Yet, through studying at a large university I realize that I actually prefer a small to medium sized school. I prefer to stand out and here, it feels too easy to fade into the background. What can I say, I guess I crave attention. Also, in the states I do not remember college campuses being so cliquey. Here, there are so many different groups of friends. Obviously this is unintentional and I am sure that American students are just as bad, if not worse than Italian students. If I really wanted to converse with any of these groups I am confident that they would entertain me. I only feel like this because I am an international student and have a fresh perspective on a new environment. Nonetheless, the students and staff here are welcoming and are by no means intimidating or unsupportive.

Overall, my interactions with the professors have been good. However, the dynamic between students and professors are quite different than in the United States. Italian professors are more reserved and seem authoritative and formal. Whereas, in the United States most of my professors are open and down to earth regarding students’ needs. After class, I usually want to converse with professors about their professional experiences within a specific industry. But here, conversations seem to start and end within the classroom. Despite the different vibes, professors across the board are genuinely interested in hearing what students have to say and would not have chosen this career if they were uninterested. Since I have not been in class for that long, I wonder if this will evolve overtime as I become more acquainted and them.

Lastly, I am taking a particular class that stands out from the rest because I think it provides students with a wonderful opportunity. The class I am thinking of is called The Discovery of Italy Through its Culinary Traditions and is the cooking class I was referring to earlier. This class is held twice a week, once in a regular classroom and once in a kitchen on campus. When students are in the classroom they learn about various dishes and ingredients from specific provinces, as well as discuss a more in-depth explanation of Italian culinary practices. Now here is where the fun comes in! When students are in the kitchen, they cook a different traditional Italian dish each week alongside a chef that works for the University. When I decided to study abroad I never thought that this would be a possibility. But here we are! While I probably won’t be receiving any credits from New Paltz for it, I am absolutely enjoying myself and that is all that matters. It is always interesting because the chef does not speak any English and another professor has to translate what he is saying. Still, I try and listen to the chef while he explains directions because it is the perfect opportunity to sharpen my Italian skills. So on second thought, New Paltz should actually give me credit for this class and maybe even count it as a language course!

Overall, I am very lucky to be studying here despite the differences from my home university. One thing that New Paltz and Cattolica have in common is that they both are very beautiful in their own unique ways. This campus is absolutely massive and incredibly historic. All of the buildings are very old and I will attach some pictures below for reference. Every day I walk onto campus and am shocked that I get to call this new place my school. Hopefully, I can fall into line and get myself together for midterm exams in two weeks.

Happy Studying,

Ben 🙂

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

I have definitely said this about a thousand times over the past three weeks, but I absolutely love Milan! I’m sure my family is growing tired of the repetition, but it is true! I never take my days here for granted and try to make the most of every moment. Prior to living here, when I thought of Italian cuisine, great wine and fresh prosciutto came to mind. While I certainly am indulging in my fair share of Italian wines, meats, and cheeses; there are a few food related differences in comparison to the United States.

First off, the quality of food here does not even compare to the United States. I have never tasted lemons so vibrant, tomatoes so juicy, and bread so soft. I don’t know what the United States adds to their food, but they should take notes from Italy because Italians know how to do it. A perfect example of this is the gluten in Italy compared to the gluten in the states. In the United States my body cannot process gluten containing ingredients and foods. While I do not have Celiac, I do have a mild intolerance and, thus, eating a slice of bread would leave me bed ridden for at least a few hours. I am unsure what the exact differences are, but here I am able to eat a brioche in the morning, pasta in the afternoon, and bread in the evening. I really cannot complain! I saw on TikTok that Italian products are more locally sourced and less processed than products in the United States. I truly believe this because, in the past, if I even so much as looked at gluten the wrong way, there would be a full on war in my stomach. For all those who have a gluten intolerance, have no fear! Make the journey to Italy and eat all the pasta to your heart’s content!

Not only is the gluten game impressive, but so is the coffee game! Italians take their coffee very seriously. I thought the states have a big coffee culture, but boy was I wrong! Italian coffee makes American coffee seem like a joke. I’m embarrassed to even admit that I used to indulge in the occasional Venti Brown Sugar Shaken Espresso with Oatmilk. Here, I strictly have a cappuccino with soy milk in the morning and plain espresso throughout the rest of the day. One crucial element of Italian coffee culture that is different for me, is the utilization of bar counters. When Italians have a quick coffee in between their daily tasks, they usually order a single shot of espresso, stand at the bar counter, finish it within three to four sips, pay, and then leave. To-go cups are much less popular here than in the United States, which I suppose is a good thing considering the current pollution problem. Also, as someone who regularly spills their coffee, the lack of to-go cups keeps my clothes and belongings stain free! In all seriousness I do prefer to drink my espresso standing at the bar counter, and do not plan on reviving my old coffee order upon returning to the states.

Another important element of Italian cuisine that I have been taking advantage of is Aperitivo. This is to Italians as Happy Hour is to Americans. However, there really is no comparison between the two because Aperitivo is much better than American Happy Hour. Aperitivo usually takes places between 4:30pm and 7:30pm at most restaurants, just like American Happy Hour. But, when you order a drink during Aperitivo, customers usually get free potato chips, olives, and maybe, if you are lucky, some circular crackers! No but seriously, these crackers are delicious and I cannot even describe how good they are. Also, during this time most restaurants have stuzzichini or “small hors-d’œuvre” that one could order for a special price. In my opinion, a glass of wine and light snacks are all I need to survive. So typically I am content! But the good thing about Aperitivo is that the possibilities are endless! If snacks simply do not suffice, some restaurants offer Apericena, which is similar to Aperitvo but with a dinner buffet instead of nosh. What makes Aperitvo so special are the intentions behind it. Happy Hour in the United States attracts a lot of people because it is an opportunity to pay less for more booze. Conversely, one does not pay less per drink during Aperitivo. Instead, one pays a little bit more, in order to get stuzzichini or buffets. Consequently, Italians do not view Aperitivo as a time to get wasted, like the drinking culture in much of the United States. Rather, Aperitivo is more wholesome. It is a time to meet with friends or coworkers and converse for a couple of hours. The Milanese tremendously value this time together and is, by far, one of my favorite ways to socialize in Italy.

The final food adjustment that I’ve had to make, thus far, was grocery shopping. Let me set the scene. It was my second time at the grocery store. The first time I was completely unprepared, with no list, meandering down the toiletry aisle trying to differentiate between shampoo and conditioner. I must have spent twenty minutes testing the viscosity of various hair products. I without a doubt looked insane. For my second attempt, I still had no list, but at least I knew my soaps! Hey, progress is progress! Anyway, growing up my mother always went to the grocery store on Sunday mornings. She would have an idea of what recipes to make for the week and would spend accordingly. I am aware that not everyone grocery shops this way, but this is how I was raised and I’ve gotten this far shopping with this mentality. Where my mother and I differ is that I do not exactly know what I want to make. On my second attempt, I knew I needed some sort of chicken and pesto, but that was about it. The rest was up to spontaneity! But as one could imagine, spontaneity gets you in trouble at the grocery store. The next thing I know, I am pushing the shopping cart up and down the aisles grabbing anything that looks somewhat appetizing. Reflecting back on the situation, I wish I had been more mindful of my surroundings. No other customers were pushing a grocery cart or even carrying a basket in their hands! I eventually moseyed over to the checkout line, where I was greeted with wide eyes, staring at myself and at my grocery cart. As the stares intensified, other customers kept joining the line with only a couple of items in their hands. I am not an unreasonable person and kept letting them cut in front of me because I had a huge cart-full of groceries. At this point one would think that the sirens would start going off in my brain, but instead there was only radio silence. After about 10 minutes of waiting, it was finally my turn to get checked out. I moved up to the cashier and shyly said Ciao. Before I could even finish the last syllable the cashier looked at my cart and then switched spots with manager. I had so many things that the MANAGER had to ring me up and that’s when it hit me. I am only supposed to shop day to day. My face turned bright red as the manager mumbled criticizing statements about me to her coworker, in Italian, of course. The sirens were definitely going off at this point, fully blaring! After what felt like an eternity, I paid for my things and packed them into a large re-usable bag that I brought. While packing, I realized that not everything was going to fit and my friends had to put some of my things into their bags. Shamefully, I walked out of the grocery store like a dog with its tail between its legs, and carried my heavy bags all the way home. Note to self, only buy for what you NEED for each day and not what you THINK you will need five days down the road.

Today, my professor told me that besides soccer, the national game that Italians enjoy playing is called “Let’s Guess the Foreigner.” I can attest to the accuracy of this statement, but at the time of the grocery store fiasco I was utterly confused. While I wish the transition to Italy could have been seamless, I never would have altered my habits without some sort of uncomfortable interaction. Plus, I have a fun story to tell! Interestingly enough, some of these newly developed practices are so ingrained in my daily routine that I will have a hard time giving them up. The important thing to remember about this process is that daily observations are necessary to adequately adapt to ones surroundings and, in my case, look LESS like a foreigner and MORE like an Italian.

Here’s to culture shocks and scaring Italians at the grocery store!

Salute,

Ben 🙂

Exploring My New Home

As I finish up my second week in Italy I am amazed by all of the beautiful things I have seen. I took some time this week to finally get adjusted to living in a big city and seeing what Milan has to offer.

I did venture to the Duomo in Milan which is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. I did manage to take the metro there alone which was definitely a fear of mine before I got here. The duomo has beautiful different statues all along the outside and I have heard there are many more inside. There is a statue of Vittorio Emanuele the second who was the king at one point and was the first king to unite Italy (or at least that’s what a sign outside the duomo said) I was not able to go inside just because there were many tourists visiting that day. 

This week I also took a short trip to Lake Como with some of my friends. Which was beautiful. The houses built into the side of the mountains overlooking the lake simply looked like a dream home. The clouds fit into the sky perfectly as if they were a cartoon and everything was fitting in the proper place. There were many small shops, restaurants, gelato shops and many more little things to see. We did not take a boat tour just because of a lack of planning ahead of time. In the future I do hope to go back and take a boat to bellagio or one of the other parts of lake como. The lake seemed so big it felt like I was looking out to the beach. 

I completed my first week of an Italian language course which is a lot harder than I expected. The class is very helpful. I do find I have been able to get around slightly better because I can understand important words here and there. I can now order a restaurant or say excuse me on the metro which are just a few basics I did not know when arriving. However, by no means would I say yes I know the language or I can understand it. My vocabulary consists of the phrases “Hello” “Goodbye” “How are you” “May I please have” “Thank you” and the word “snail” (I have no idea why thats the one other word I was able to retain lol). The teaching style in Italy is very different than at schools in the United States. In Europe it is necessary to ask permission before leaving the classroom, it is also extremely uncommon to see a student on their phone in class. It is possible that I am just surrounded by highly motivated people but it is very different from a classroom in the United States. 

Here are some pictures of other things I have been up to this past week!

Ciao!

Gianna 

Home Sweet Home

Well, I haven’t gone home yet, so I guess one could say that I’ve officially made it! The first couple of days here were filled with a sense of urgency. I immediately felt the impulse to set up my apartment, meet as many friends as possible, and try every restaurant within the a few kilometer radius. As one could imagine, I burnt out quickly. But all I needed was one day to rebound and the story continues!

I will say, I absolutely love where I’m staying! I live in a two year-old apartment building in Milan, fully equipped with a laundry room, elevator, front gate, concierge service, and AIR CONDITIONING. To say the least, I live like a king! In Italy, air conditioned spaces are few and far between. Now whenever I walk into a cool place, I tend to stay lot longer than I normally would. While there are a plethora of benefits to living here, not everything is as glamorous as it sounds. The concierge service is a nice perk, but I am finding that most Italian services and stores have a loose interpretation of what business hours are. It is almost like when one operates on vacation time, without actually being on vacation. This definitely adds a certain level of spontaneity to my day, but at times can become quite frustrating. Thankfully, I have not required much assistance yet and will report back if I do. Perhaps I need to loosen up more and adjust to this lifestyle, as this is experienced country-wide.

Although, I really cannot complain because everything else is wonderful. I feel very secure coming home at night, walking through a safe neighborhood and punching in a code at the front gate. Also having the nicest room amongst all my friends is an added bonus, but I could be biased. In all honesty, New Paltz pulled through when negotiating my housing contract. I live in a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment with a full kitchen, living room, and dining room. Specifically, my room contains a full size bed, a giant wardrobe, and two double windows. Most of my other friends that live in this building also have a full kitchen, living room, and dining room, but only have one bathroom and one bedroom which they share with someone else. Also instead of having one full size bed, they all have two twin size beds, one double window, and I believe, a shared wardrobe. Whatever the reason may be, I am very fortunate for what I have. So thank you New Paltz!

Prior to living in Milan, I could not conceptualize its size and am now learning that it is a massive city. To travel most places, public transportation is necessary. The commutes from my building to either school or the city center are about thirty-five minutes. While I do wish I was more centrally located, other students that live closer to school have compromised the quality of their housing. Consequently, the closer one gets to the center, the older and more outdated the buildings become. Thus, finding housing with air conditioning, large windows, and full size kitchens becomes increasingly difficult. Besides, many people in cities commute and I am no exception. I would rather take a thirty-five minute commute over a cramped, un-air-conditioned, and old apartment any day of the week! It is never good to compare your situation to others, so I will simply turn a blind eye and continue doing me.

Interestingly enough, even though I am from New York State, I had never used the subway system prior to my arrival in Milan. Leave it to me to use public transportation for the first time in a foreign country. In the past I assumed that navigating through Italian metro and train stations would be challenging. However, all the signs are colored coded which makes traveling more accessible for those who cannot read Italian. Good thing I’m color blind and cannot tell the difference between the green and yellow lines. Needless to say my first time transferring between stations was an adventure! Luckily I can follow the arrows displayed next to the signs and find my way just fine. Without them I would be late to everything, making pitstops in all the wrong places. Who knows, this might be a great way to tour the city! All joking aside, maneuvering through the stations are incredibly straightforward and going in the wrong direction is harder than going in the correct one.

Now that I am a metro pro, traveling has never been easier and I can visit just about anywhere! In the coming weeks, I hope to begin traveling to nearby destinations and learn all about Italy’s cultural diversity.

Updates to follow,

Ben 🙂

New York Meets Milan

In sixth grade when everyone chose a language to take for the upcoming year, I excitedly ran home and told my mom that I signed up for Italian. She frowned disappointedly and said “why aren’t you taking Spanish? You’ll get more use out of it. No one we know speaks Italian.” And I responded “well I want to visit Italy one day, so I am going to take it.” Nine years later here I am, living my best Italian life!

Anyway, hello! My name is Ben, I’m from Long Island, New York, and I am currently studying abroad in Milan. The journey to Italy has been a roller coaster of emotions, fatiguing yet fulfilling.

First off, I do not know how to part with my clothes. I can justify keeping almost anything, so packing was a big struggle. I had such a hard time choosing what to leave and take, that even my mom grew frustrated from watching me. I knew I was in trouble, so I called in the big guns. My grandmother. She has travelled to Italy in the past, and knew exactly what I needed to bring and what needed to be left behind. Due to her prior knowledge and speedy quick folding, packing only took me one day. It also helps that she can be tough when necessary and once she started cracking the whip, packing became a breeze. I truly could not have done it without her.

My flight with Emirates to Milan was actually nice and I was pleasantly surprised at how cohesive everything went. It was my first time flying internationally and for someone who has acute plane anxiety I think I did very well. It does help that my friend from New Paltz, Gianna, is also studying in Milan too. Besides her, the only other thing getting me through was the fact that I could listen to music through the plane’s infotainment system. Rex Orange County was on full blast the whole time. The person next to me definitely thought I was going through something, because my music was insanely loud and I was gripping the arm rests for dear life. Yet, after a few hours I settled down and almost did not want to get off the plane. They were treating me too well! I had two meals, a snack, and some apple juice. In fact, Emirates is very considerate of people with dietary restrictions and allow passengers to request a special meal a few days before taking off. Since I am gluten free, I did seize this opportunity and request a gluten sensitive meal. The airline staff was very knowledgable about gluten intolerances and even brought out the special meals before the normal ones! Despite one of the meals being Codfish with gravy and mashed potatoes, everything else tasted good and was very filling. I guess the fish was a flop on their part, but I just ate around it.

After flying for eight hours, I finally landed in Milan. I stumbled off the plane very sweaty, jet lagged, and a little bit cranky. I knew I was looking for a representative from the housing service to transport me to my apartment, but I had no idea who I was looking for. It could have been anyone! I was giving some very intense looks to the people around me. But don’t worry, the feelings were mutual on the strangers’ behalf. When I finally hobbled outside, I saw a man holding a biker helmet in one hand, a freshly rolled cigarette in the other, along with a sign that said “MIL Service.” In that moment, I knew I was in the correct place.

The transport to the apartment went smoothly as well. I was chauffeured in style, with a blacked out Mercedes van and felt very important. Unfortunately this taste of luxury went straight to my head and I would not shut up about it for the rest of the day. In the van, there were other American students who are studying in Milan, and I immediately began talking with them. Since we were all in the same position I felt comfortable, and by the time we arrived at the apartment we all became friends. Then the concierge showed me to my room and that was it. I put down my things and, of course, sent my family an apartment tour. After that, I settled in and started to unwind from the trip. At this point I had technically been up for over thirty-six hours, and probably could have slept anywhere. But I pulled myself together, met up with Gianna, and walked to the grocery store. We bought some salami, mozzarella, and a bottle of Prosecco to celebrate the successful trek. It was the perfect way to close out such a stressful day.

Now, four days later, I am almost fully settled in and have made quite a few friends. I am beyond ecstatic to start this new chapter in my life and look forward to the four months ahead!

Below I attached some pictures from the airport, plane, and first day for reference. It helps to set the scene.

Until next time,

Ben 🙂

Heading to Milan

Cheers to new friends and lost keys

Hello! My name is Gianna and I am officially an international student. I arrived in Milan Italy a week ago but it feels like I have been here for a lifetime. In the past week there has been so many challenges and pleasant surprises that I never thought would occur. 

I was very nervous about making new friends and finding people with the same interests as me, I am so happy I did not have that problem once I arrived. Our little traveling friend group has been together everyday for days and it seems like I have been friends with them forever. Other than the really amazing food, my favorite part of Italy so far is talking to so many new and different people. So far, I have met a lot of people from the states but I have also spoken with some people from Canada, France, Australia, Germany and Norway. It is slightly difficult to speak with other Italians because regular classes have not started yet. Hopefully that will change, and more Italian students will be staying in my residence hall. Everything is so beautiful, the buildings, statues, churches and even the little water fountains with fresh water for the public. 

I thought everything was going so smoothly until last night. Some of my new friends decided to make a nice potluck dinner and drink some wine. The entire night we were switching back and forth between apartments so naturally I lost my key. Where is the key? Still not found. I am currently writing while waiting for the custodian to wake up. I was lucky enough to have a friend let me stay with them but otherwise I am not sure what would’ve happened.  I came on this trip as an absolute beginner in Italian which has proven to be slightly difficult. Yet, I have been able to get by just fine with a smile, the word ciao and google translate. Hopefully, the custodian will be willing to work with me. I know he does not speak English very well. 

With all that said I have already faced many difficulties that have proven themselves to be minor inconveniences. I have been struggling when trying to use the metro. Although I have been getting better at it with time, it is very similar to New York City except all of the signs are in Italian. Or that it is seen as impolite to be loud at any restaurant, even if it is outside. 

I can not wait to see what the rest of the semester has yet to bring! For now here are some pictures of orientation and the potluck dinner made by all of my international friends. 

Ciao 

Gianna <3

An abrupt end

It has taken me some time to get my words and thoughts together to write this post.

Due to COVID-19, about three weeks ago, I found myself spending a fortune on a one way flight home that left 5 days later. I never thought I would have to finish my time abroad 3 months before I planned to. Saying goodbye to the family I had made in Australia was heart breaking and having to travel back to the U.S with such high infection rates so close to home was scary.

This transition from having the time of my life living and studying in Australia to coming home to New York being quarantined in my house has been difficult to say the least. In addition, I have had to transition to remote learning through my host institution which has not been the easiest.

On a brighter note, even though my study abroad experience was cut short, I did have the opportunity to experience what it was like living and studying in Australia for about a month and a half. I have made friendships with people all over the world and made memories that I will forever cherish.

My last few days in Australia were probably some of the best. I overall spent some quality time with my friends over the entire weekend. We went to St. Kilda and spent some time on the beach. We spent the day at the Moonlit Sanctuary where I had the opportunity to pet a Koala and feed some kangaroos (which happens to be my favorite animal so I was excited to say the least). We visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. I has my last dollar donut from my favorite Vietnamese bakery and rode the metro for the last time. My final night in Australia, my roommate (who I was leaving with the following morning) and I had some friends over, cooked all of the food we had and had a huge family dinner. All of these memories as well as so many others will stay with me for the rest of my life.

While it has been hard to deal with not experiencing as much of Australia as I had planned to during my time studying abroad, I know that I will be back. As I am writing this post, my mom is actually supposed to be in Australia with me. We had booked various tours and activities and had so much to do for the week she was supposed to come visit. We are both heartbroken that we are not able t be together over there right now. This all being said, visiting Australia is something that has been on her bucket list for years, and she assured me that we will make it back there. Whether it is for a few weeks on vacation, on a work visa, or completing Graduate school abroad, I know I will make it a priority to back in the land down under one day. Until then, I am trying to make my few packs of Tim Tams last as long as possible and I have so many photos to look back on to remind me of the place I love so much.

Australia, this is not a goodbye forever, just a goodbye for now.