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.