Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Arrivederci Roma- My Final Blog Post

Beautiful fountains everywhere 

Peek of St. Peter's on my daily commute in the car with my host mother

The caffè where they know how I take my coffee without me telling them

How I will miss the real flavors! 

There were two things that I thought about before leaving for Rome: 1. I was wondering if by the end of this experience I would want to return to America, and 2. I was wondering if this year was going to go by fast or slow. To answer the second thought first, the beginning months went by agonizingly slow. They were filled with stressful trips to the post office, bank, and any other type of bureaucratic setting, the fastidious chore of apartment hunting and navigating through a foreign city with a less than fantastic public transportation system, nights that consisted of crying myself to sleep out of the longing of someone close to be with me, and all the while being in extreme pain because I had severely hurt my back just days before my departure. But through all of these challenges I proved to myself that I can do it on my own. I always knew I was capable of taking care of myself, but this experience just solidified it. These days slowly treaded by until Christmas hit, and then everything sped up to the point where I feel like I just arrived. Tomorrow I return to New York, and I feel like it’s not real. Am I really going home? Is this chapter that was so instrumental in my life and the formation of me as a person actually finishing? It’s like a book that’s so good you want to continue reading it, but at the same time, you don’t want it to finish. To cut out this somewhat ambiguous response to my first thought, I will just be upfront: I am beyond excited to go home to the city I love and finally be with the people who I love the most. My mom always enjoyed saying, you can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of the girl. My New York and my American roots go much deeper than I even knew, and I needed Rome to show me that. Beyond my sentiments for my home town and my country, is my love for love. There is nothing that makes me happier than being surrounded by love and by my family; this is what will always bring me back home...and from now on, never let me leave.  
Cultural Notes: 1. The numerous ways to order a coffee. Whatever type of coffee drink you order, it is never very hot because it is served for immediate consumption, not something you socialize and linger over. 
  • caffè: what in America is an espresso 
  • caffè macchiato: espresso with a touch of milk and foam 
  • caffè macchiato schiumato: with more foam than milk
  • caffè bollente- very hot 
  • caffè lungo- longer
  • caffè ristretto- short 
  • caffè doppio- double 
  • caffè corretto- with a little liquor (usually sambuca)
                          2. When Italians take their morning coffee it is usually accompanied by a pastry or croissant for breakfast. You’ll notice that they never touch the croissant with their hands; they wrap a napkin around it. This also holds true when they order pizza a taglio. They hold the pizza by the piece of paper that it comes wrapped in.   
                          3. One of my university professors once showed this youtube video to the class. I can now understand it through living it, and I must say, it’s not that far off from the reality: Europe-vs-Italy
Highlights: 1. Reflecting over this past year. I’ve worked with and met really amazing people, I’ve formed some really amazing relationships, and I’ve discovered so much about myself. Of course, I’m thinking about all of this while at a beautiful Roman café having my caffè macchiato.  
                   2. Having a final dinner with two of my closest colleagues, having a final dinner with Natalie at our favorite restaurant in Rome (the carbonara never tasted so good), my host mother throwing me a final dinner party at the house. 
                   3. Soaking up every last minute of being in this amazing city. Trying to be in tune to all of my senses: the smell of the hanging guanciale as I pass the salumeria, the sound of espresso makers that I hear from the street, the sight of the numerous fountains, the taste of the freshest fruit, the feel of the cold water that comes from the city’s water fountains.   
                   4. The final Skype session with my mom...I can’t wait to hug her! 
                   5. Thinking about how blessed I am to have had this experience and thinking about seeing Giannis when he picks me up at the airport!!!!!! 
Impara con me! pinzette- tweezers 
                         molletta- hair clip 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Three Days in Milano

Villa d'Este, Lake Como

The Duomo, Milan

risotto alla milanese

I went to Milan for three days with Patrizia, one of my colleagues-turned-friend, and her two little girls. We stayed with her parents, and again, I was spoiled with her mother’s cooking. One of the days we went to Lake Como, and Patrizia wanted to show me Villa d’Este: a hotel/party venue reserved for the upper mobile, can’t-get-any-richer, average-age-65 class of people. When we arrived at the gates Patrizia told me to speak in English and say that I am an American interested in having my wedding there. I don’t know if the guard actually believed me, but it worked and we got in. As for the city of Milan, I liked it. Italian fashion at its best is on display, but the city itself is nothing next to Rome.   
Cultural Notes: 1. An Eataly just opened two weeks ago in Rome. It’s obviously not in centro; you need to reach it by car. I’m interested to see how it will be received by Italians.
                         2. There is no refuge from the heat because very few places are air conditioned. I’ve never been big on air conditioning, but I’m definitely looking forward to not waking up in a sweat every morning. 
Highlights: 1. Shopping at the best Zara I’ve ever been to in my life in Milan. 
                  2. Eating cotoletta alla milanese and risotto alla milanese actually in Milan.  
                  3. Picking peaches and apricots from the tree in Patrizia’s yard...and then eating them.
                   4. Seeing La Scala opera house in Milan. 
Impara con me! collutorio- mouthwash 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

English Summer Camp in Caserta

La Reggia di Caserta 

When I returned home from Caserta after participating in a two week English summer camp, Rome greeted me in the usual way: hot, hot, hot and then waiting for my bus in that heat for 20 minutes. But I didn't mind at all because I was so happy to be back in beautiful Rome. My Fulbright friend, Natalie, and I stayed with an Italian family for two weeks while we were working as camp counselors in the southern Campania region. It was no easy task. The ideas we tried to implement that usually work in American summer camps weren't exactly successful. The age range was 6-12, although there wasn't much distinction in the maturity level among the ages. I've never worked with a group of kids who have such difficulty listening and following direction. And forget about trying to get them to form any type of line or circle. Even when I physically placed the students into the places I wanted, I would turn my head for a second and they were off doing whatever it was they weren't supposed to be doing. One of the things that striked me the most was the lack of team work. Team members were constantly fighting, yelling at each other for being too slow or not getting enough points. Some kids would sneakily try and switch to the winning team instead of working with, helping, an encouraging their  own team members. They also didn't understand the concept of the 'honors system' in playing games. For example, if a kid got tagged while playing a certain game, instead of going out they would continue to play. What made it worse is even when the counselors would call the kids out for being tagged (because we saw it with our own eyes) they would yell, non è vero! It's not true! This battle of trying to get the kid to sit out would go on for quite some time while they continued to rebuke our call. Another phrase that would also haunt my dreams was non vale! It doesn't count or it's not fair. The activities would come to numerous halts because the kids would claim that their opponents weren't playing correctly or fairly. It didn't matter to them that there were five camp counselors monitoring the games and keeping track. They still felt the need to argue or rebuttal anything and everything. On a brighter note, there were seven of the thirty five kids who were fantastic, and apart from the camp, it was nice living with another Italian family. It's true what they say about Italian southern hospitality. The mother was so accommodating and so generous; a really sweet woman. Natalie and I still wouldn't take back this experience because looking back on it we crack up laughing over certain things. 
Cultural Notes: 1. The Reggia di Caserta was built in the 1700s as a summer home for the King of Naples. It is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site and both Mission Impossible and Star Wars had clips that were filmed there.
                         2. For lunch most Italian moms prepare a sandwich with two slices of some type of cold-cut. No condiment, usually no cheese, no lettuce, no tomato; it's basically a bread sandwich. The bread in Italy is pretty bland. You have to find good bread, which was definitely surprising to me throughout my year here. 
                          3. The fruit tastes like what fruit should taste like. The fruit in America has no flavor. It's apricot season right now and I've never tasted such juicy and sweet apricots in my life. 
Highlights: 1. Indulging in pizza napoletana while in's so good! 
                  2. Watching the Disney film Anastasia with Natalie on my iPad. It was so hot, that we were dripping sweat just sitting on the couch. But we couldn't stop laughing because the whole situation was so funny. The weather was is the high 90s and there was no air conditioning. It didn't bother me though. 
                  3. Sunday lunch at the mother-in-law's house of the woman we were living with. Needless to say, her cooking was fantastic. I feel so lucky to have eaten in so many Italian homes over this past year. Food prepared by an Italian nonna can't be beat. 
                  4. Going with the family to their beach house our last weekend in Caserta. Again, they treated us like members of their family and took such good care of us. 
                 5. Meeting up with one of my sister's best friends while he was vacationing in Rome. It was one of the best nights I've spent in Rome this entire year. At around 3:00 AM, when Piazza Navona was completely empty, we jumped into one of the la dolce vita...minus the black gown and blond hair. 
Impara con me!staffetta- relay race 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dinner With My Students in Rome

My first maritozzo 

My cooperating teacher and I went to a pizzeria with two of our year five classes. It was totally not what I was expecting and the complete opposite of the nature of the dinners with my students in L’Aquila. This dinner with my Rome students was loud and hysterical, and I wish I could relive even just a segment of it. My cooperating teacher, Laura, told me that we would all meet at the pizzeria at “around” 8:30. At this point in the year, I have learned that according to Italian time, 8:30 really means 9:00 (sometimes later). At 8:45 I turned the corner onto the dead-end street that the pizzeria was on. In the distance I saw all of my students and Laura. They all made the effort to arrive before me and as I was walking towards them, they were all cheering, clapping, and yelling my name. I immediately realized what type of night it was going to be. My students did not allow my glass to be empty for even a second for the entire night and after pizza, the lights went down, the volume of the music went up (Barry White was playing), and the waitress came out from the back with a bottle of limoncello and two huge party sparklers. Some after dinner drinks came and all the while we’re laughing and chatting, and the boys are breaking out with these sudden outbursts and then all toasting glasses. A man selling roses walked into the pizzeria and the boys rushed over to him, did their exchange, and then came over to me each with a rose in hand. Six of my Italian students across the table with their outstretched arms giving me sweet. Then the comedy skit started, as one of the students did imitations of the teachers...including me and Laura. After dinner two of the boys ran to a pasticceria and bought me and Laura each a maritozzo, a traditional Roman pastry. They told me I couldn’t leave Rome without trying one. To top off the already amazing night, Laura drove me home and I got my very first ride on a motorino. The perfect Roman ending to an already perfect Roman night. 
Cultural Note: There is a cultural disregard for line formation. If there are no specific line-forming bars, Italians don’t have the faintest idea on how to form a line. Pizza and coffee bars can be a complete mess. But hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: at a forno not too long ago, I “cut” in front of the entire blob of people to order my pizza. Sooner or later I had to surrender to the idea of what I thought was being impolite and just become one of the locals.  
Highlights: 1. 2:00am. Sitting outside on a bench in Piazza Navona. Eating gelato. Looking at the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Pretty amazing.
                  2. Buying cantaloupe, kiwi, and cherry tomatoes from a fruttivendolo that was the absolute best cantaloupe, kiwi, and cherry tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life. 
                  3. Being offered a job teaching English to kids at a summer camp down south for two weeks. 
Impara con me! un grandché- a big deal 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Final Fulbright Seminar in Matera

              Taralli!!!!!!                                      The pool of our hotel

 The final Fulbright seminar took place over the course of three days in Matera (one of the Fulbrighters was placed down there). Matera is located in the southern region of Basilicata and it is where Mel Gibson filmed The Passion. One word to describe it: breathtaking. It’s a place where pictures don’t do it an ounce of justice. It was a lot of fun being united again with the other ETAs and with some other members of the Fulbright Commission and the American Embassy. We had a great time over lunches, dinners, and in the hotel spa. Yes, we did work, but in Italy there is a lot of play time. The meals were spectacular. For my taste, the further down in Italy I go, the better the food gets. Thank God I wasn’t placed in Matera because I would have come home 50 pounds heavier. The lunches and dinners were so extravagant and the food did not stop coming. It was surreal talking about our experiences throughout this past academic year. At the initial Fulbright orientation we had no idea what to expect, and there we were all sharing our stories and coming out with both similar and unique experiences.     
Cultural Notes: 1. Matera is the oldest continually inhabited settlement in all of Europe. 
                        2. Taralli are native to the southern regions of Puglia and Basilicata, but can be bought throughout Italy. They’re this bread, cracker thing and I don’t really know how to explain them, but what I can say is that I am completely obsessed with them, and have stopped buying them because once I start eating them I finish the entire bag. I found out that all us Fulbrighters have become obsessed with them this past year. We were laughing talking about how we love the big ones, the small ones, the ones with fennel seeds, and most of all, the broken ones...taralli pieces are so good!!! 
                        3. The future of the Fulbright ETA program was briefly discussed in one of the meetings. Southern Italy (southern Italy constitutes south of Rome) is a lot poorer than northern Italy, and they don’t have the access or the money for many intercultural opportunities. For this reason, the placement of future ETAs will be primarily in the south.      
Highlights: 1. Receiving letters from my boyfriend. 
                    2. Sitting at the lunch table one of the days in Matera and thinking how crazy it was that my dream had actually come true: my dream of living in Rome, of teaching in a public school, of making contacts and forming relationships with Italians, of having the honor of calling myself a Fulbrighter, it had all actually happened. I had gotten almost everything I wanted to get out of this experience. 
Impara con me!  scarafaggi- cockroaches       

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The End of a School Year


And what a beautiful school year it was. One of the things I will miss most is the feeling of being excited to get up and go to work each day. I could not have asked for a better group to work with. My students and colleagues will truly be missed. The last week was a series of parties. The students brought food and we spent the lessons talking and asking final cultural questions. I was showered with gifts and flowers and I felt like a celebrity or something. In my favorite class I got quite emotional when I told them how much I loved working with them throughout the year. My cooperating teacher started dancing in front of the class room to lighten the mood; it was pretty funny.  
Cultural Notes: 1. Secondary school teachers work 18 hours (in-class hours) per week. They only come to school for the classes they teach. It’s not like in America where teachers are assigned to hall duty or lunch duty etc. They earn about €15,000 per year. 
                          2. Tips are not the source of a waiter’s income and tipping is rarely done in Italy. Nothing more than a few euro is left for the waiter. Waiters have contracts and receive vacation days. They earn €12,000-€24,000 per year. 
Highlights: 1. Teaching a really fun lesson on American slang. In one of the classes, they taught me more Roman slang than I taught them American slang. At one point I was laughing so hard that I was sweating.
                    2. Going out to dinner with my cooperating teacher and two of the classes from the liceo classico in L’Aquila. 
                    3. Showing my Aunt around Rome. I brought her to one of my favorite restaurants and it was her first time having an artichoke. A classic Roman dish is carciofi alla romana...fried artichokes.      
Impara con me!     1. esigente- demanding 
                            2. siamo sgamati- we’ve been found out (Roman Slang)
                            3. me la sto tagliando- I’m having fun (Roman Slang)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Club

We fit 4 adults in a Smart and I was the lucky one to ride in the trunk. 

Thermals in Tuscany

Tuscan Country Side

My book club has officially finished and it was a huge success. Its completion is more bitter than sweet because I looked forward to it every week. It was complete chance that I had chosen The Hunger Games as the read. I chose it because when I read it last year I fell in love with it and I felt that it would be engaging for teens as well as level appropriate linguistically. I had no idea that it was going to turn into this huge sensation in America, but it worked out perfectly. It made all of us even more excited to read the book and at certain points we would hypothesize on how they were going to incorporate certain aspects into the film. After completing the book, we went to see the cinema to see the movie together. It was really fun. 
Cultural Note: When you buy a movie ticket you get an assigned seat. I was surprised being that there isn’t much social order in this country. The popcorn was better than the popcorn in America. 
Highlights: 1. My cooperating teacher asking me which students were participating in my book club. She gasped when I told her and she said that she has seen a drastic improvement in the language skills of those specific students, including their class participation, but she didn’t know how it had happened. I love that my book club was able to help them so much in improving their English skills.  
                    2. Coordinating a meeting between my Italian students and American students from Smithtown High School. My former Italian high school teacher was in Rome with her students on their trip abroad. It was nice to see the two cultures interacting, and I felt like I was truly carrying out the Fulbright aim in promoting intercultural relations.   
                    3. Going to the beach with Natalie. It has been a Saturday event for the past two weeks. The Long Island beaches are nicer though.    
                    4. Going to the thermals in the Tuscan country side. I had forgotten how breathtaking the Tuscan countryside is. However, the whole “communal pool” concept really grossed me out and I was trying to focus on the the landscape instead of all the people I was surrounded by. 
Impara con me! 1. lettino- beach chair (the long kind that you lay on)  
                           2. trapano- drill (as in the tool)
                           3. un insegnante di ruolo- a tenured teacher