Saturday, May 31, 2014

A few things I've been doing differently in Italy that I should keep doing (and a few that I shouldn't!)

Coming to Italy for just four months, I knew up-front that this was a temporary arrangement and that I should pack lightly (and certainly not accumulate stuff while here). I am generally a minimalist anyway, so this has not been a problem. Still, I have actually changed a few things about my everyday life to make it even simpler… I'm thinking that maybe some of these habits I should take back with me to the U.S. Here are a few examples.

1. Going low-tech. Case in point: I don't have a cell phone (enter ominous music). How is this even possible? I actually felt liberated when I cancelled my U.S. phone service. I thought about getting an Italian sim card and a pay-as-you-go plan, but realized it just wasn't necessary. I do all my communicating in-person or online. That being said, wifi is scarce and unreliable, so I only go online when I sit down, plug in, and sign on (i.e., on purpose). It's kind of nice not to be controlled by a smartphone.

2. The minimal kitchen. My "spices" include sea salt, pepper, garlic, and sometimes, fresh basil. Condiments are just olive oil and balsamic vinegar. No canned, instant, or frozen food. No dishwasher or oven. I don't peel carrots (there was no vegetable peeler in the apartment and it's pretty hard to use a knife on a carrot). Also, I have never bought ziplock bags, aluminum foil, cling wrap, etc. Reusing grocery produce bags and other empty, food packaging works just as well to store and carry food.

3. No driving! It's so nice not to drive! Walking everywhere is awesome. Wish I could continue this in the U.S., but soon I will be back behind the wheel in drive-o-landia.

There are couple of important things that don't involve simplification, but amplification, in the Italian context:

1. I study Italian. on purpose. If you have read this blog before you know I am crazy about learning Italian and work on it all the time. I should keep it up when I get home.

The Italian verb-tense chart I always wanted to make but didn't… until I took an Italian class in Italy!

2. I listen better. Basically, because I have to! Listing in a second language requires more attention. For example, it's really hard to carry on a conversation while doing anything else. At meals involving a group of people speaking Italian, I am often the last one to finish my food (if I even do finish), because I spend more time concentrating on the conversation than eating. At any rate, listening attentively -without trying to multitask- is a good thing, and I hope I can keep doing it!

Fully engaged and fully present in the Italian-language communicative context

So, you wonder, what have I been doing in Italy that I should stop doing when I leave?

At the moment, only food-related behaviors come to mind: I eat olives at every meal. I eat gelato a few times a week. I (used to) grate a bunch of fresh, grana padano cheese on every pasta dish (but I have already cut down on that!). And darn those delicious, sweet breakfasts consisting of biscotti or brioche…

Gelato, granita… so delicious, but lots of sugar I need to give up! 

Hot chocolate with whipped cream and a brioche (sugary, Italian croissant): On the "give up" list

So, I guess I will go home to the U.S., quit eating so many desserts, get back in my car, and turn on my new cell phone. Hopefully I can keep my Italian language alive… and maybe eat some olives once in a while!


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bilingualism as a dream

Remember all those theories of bilingualism I have been playing around with? Let's review:

1. Bilingualism and the body: Acquiring an additional language is a corporal experience that involves the whole self and identity. Bilingualism is achieved when our inner voice matches our outer voice.

2. Bilingualism as resonance: Acquiring an additional language has to do with attuning oneself to the (literal and figurative) vibrations of the new language. Bilingualism is achieved when the vibrations of the new language match our internal vibrations and thus produce "linguistic resonance", a natural sense of ease.  

3. Bilingualism = speaking two languages nearing perfectly: This is the typical, Italian-on-the-street take on bilingualism. I personally do not agree with this definition, but keep it in mind in working with students and teachers here.

4. Bilingualism as a game: Acquiring an additional language is essentially a game: You may or may not receive prior training, but once immersed in the cultural environment of the new language, you apply whatever skills you have to solve problems, avoid obstacles, and advance to new levels. Progress in language learning, as in a video game, is uneven: you may advance quickly, plateau, or regress. The language game is never ending, as there is always more to learn and apply in new and ever-changing contexts.

I have a new metaphor for the process of becoming bilingual: Bilingualism as a dream.

A dreamy landscape in Varenna, on Lake Como

Like our dreams at night, second language acquisition often doesn't make any sense. It can seem unpredictable and obscure, delivering cryptic messages in the form of symbols that take time to decipher. Certain aspects of the new language and its use may seem concrete, real, and tangible. On the other hand, deeper/more subtle components of language (e.g., idiomatic expressions, local jargon, culturally-driven language behaviors, including pragmatic aspects) may seem absurd or simply out of reach. As in dreams, we sometimes trudge through our second language world, sometimes fly, and sometimes want to run away screaming.

People often say that you know that you have truly acquired a language when you dream in that language. I have to say, since I have been in Italy, I have dreamed many times in Italian; however, in most of these dreams I am searching for words, trying to assemble grammatically correct sentences, and conjugating verbs. Thus, my dream-Italian is more or less just as effortful (hopefully getting better) as my real-life-Italian. I awake from these dreams ready to jump out of bed and grab the bilingual dictionary or visit my favorite Italian verb conjugator website. Then my dream blurs into reality: another day of cryptic messages surrounded by beautiful moments of clarity.    

Of course, there's another significance to the word, 'dream'; that is, as a wish or goal that we hope to achieve. Language, again, can apply to this sense of dream in that people in so many situations long to acquire a new language. In fact, they may be desperate to do so in order to improve their quality of life.   

I have often felt privileged to have English as my native language, when so many people around the world dream of learning it as an additional language. The other side of the native English speaker coin is carrying the weight of the bad reputation that the U.S. has for being linguaphobes (my term). I'll always remember the disappointment, combined with a serious dose of realism, that I felt when an Italian teacher told me, "It's not that you speak Italian well. It's that you are an American who actually speaks some Italian… this is what impresses Italians". With so many people around the world speaking English as a second language, it's easy for people who are native speakers to take the easy road and remain monolingual. However, I can guarantee that those who do realize the dream of becoming bilingual will possess an invaluable gift that will forever enrich their life.  

Let's play a little language game. Below are a few quotes about dreams. Read the quote, then read it again, substituting the word, language/s for the word dream/s.

1. "Having dreams is what makes life tolerable" (from the movie, Rudy).

2. "A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work" (Colin Powell).

3. "There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure (Paulo Coelho).

4. " The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams" (Eleanor Roosevelt).

It worked, right? In so many senses, bilingualism is a dream: something to muddle through and interpret, something to reach for, and something to hang onto. Yes! Hold onto your dreams… and your languages! 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Three months in Italy: Maintaining a sense of wonder

While some people claim that cultivating a childlike sense of wonder is one of the keys to a generally happy life (and I agree), I would suggest that it is essential when living abroad.

Of course, travel is a natural, easy way to experience a sense of wonder. Without even thinking about it, you show up to a new place eager to explore, ask questions, meet people, and enjoy. However, as time passes and the gritty details of everyday life begin to dominate your reality, it becomes more important to keep the sense of adventure alive. If not, you risk waking up one morning (after the initial honeymoon period has ended, your spouse and visitors have gone home, and you have a pile of work to do) and realizing that you are all alone in a strange place with an incredibly small circle of friends and a rather sketchy understanding of the language and culture.

This might just happen. Actually, it probably will happen. I'm not really a fan of the term, homesickness, because it connotes a simple longing for home. Similarly, the term, culture shock sounds like a sudden, fleeting blow. What we really need is a term to explain a process.

Low moments experienced while living abroad are certainly related in some sense to missing the people and places of home; however these lulls also have to do with the general stresses of adjusting to life in a new place: frustrations navigating a system you don't understand, insecurities of all sorts, lack of connectedness with the local community, etc. The fact that the same process occurs in reverse when you return "home" (and I have experienced it!) supports the notion that homesickness/culture shock is not just about missing where you came from, but is a more holistic challenge that incorporates all aspects of learning to live in a foreign land.

There are many ways to deal with this, and I would argue that perhaps the key is maintaining that initial sense of wonder you felt when you first arrived. How to do this? Wander down a street you haven't yet traveled instead of taking your usual route, strike up a meaningful conversation with a stranger or shopkeeper, take a day off and visit a new place, participate in a class or cultural event. Importantly, understand that low moments are normal and okay. As a dear, well-traveled and internationally-minded friend always says, "be kind to yourself".

For me, another key is having a sense of gratitude (and again, this applies to life in general, as well). Even in low moments, I never stop feeling grateful for the opportunity to be here, to do this work, to meet these people, to learn this language, etc., in large part thanks to the love and support of my husband, as well as the flexibility of colleagues at home. I am so lucky! Another international friend I met in Padua summarized more or less like this: "I love living abroad. It's difficult, but it's wonderful." Exactly. So here I am, after three months in Italy… loving the opportunity, in spite of normal ups and downs, and continuing to feed my sense of wonder.

Choosing "the path less taken" in Verona

You never know what you might discover! View from a deserted vicolo in Burano. 


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Exploring language difference in Venice

Everyone knows that Venice is a city of tourists: recent estimates suggest 60-80,000 each DAY. I have read about proposals/actions to limit tourists to Venice, including, especially, cruise ships (here's a great video of locals discussing the crisis; it's in Italian, but you can get the idea by watching and taking in the Venice atmosphere).

Yesterday I treated myself to a brief trip to Venice (only 30 minutes away by train) in order to visit the famous islands of Murano and Burano. More on these charming little towns shortly… first, some adventures in bilingualism.

Because the whole world is basically in Venice on any given day, you never know what language to speak. Right outside the train station, on the Grand Canal, I bought a 12-hour vaporetto pass and begrudgingly got into a huge line for the Murano-Burano route. I tested the translingual waters with a well-prepared, young couple who had a vaporetto schedule. I asked to see it, in Italian, and we then discussed our options for getting on a boat sooner.

This couple definitely had an "accent", so I asked where they were from. It turns out they were Italian, visiting from Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot. "Oh, right", I realized, "this is how Italians talk in the South!" Although I have never been to the south of Italy (but really want to go!), everyone has been warning me about regional linguistic differences, not to mention region-specific dialects. As we continued our conversation, I realized that their Italian had the familiar rhythm of some Italian-Americans I have met, for example, in the Italian class I took last summer in Boston's North End, and even my great-grandparents, from Sicily. These families immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800's, bringing southern Italian dialects that have been preserved in families for generations.

Of course, the word "dialect" can be thought about on a continuum: simple, mutually-comprehensible regional differences in words or prosody, vs. a completely different linguistic system. Think, in U.S. terms, the differences among regional variations in words (hoagie vs. sub vs. grinder) as opposed to systemic grammatical differences in, for example, African American English. Here's a good article about Italian dialects, including links to videos of each dialect being spoken.

Interestingly, on my brief stop in Murano, I visited the public library, where I bought a book of poetry written in Venetian dialect (Veneto), the local dialect of this region (more or less readable, but notably different -here's an example). I sometimes think I hear it around town (people tell me to listen to the older people).

At any rate, Italian dialects are alive and well, and can be observed in Venice, among so many other world languages. Yesterday I was also able to speak Spanish, a rare event as here I generally avoid doing so because it confuses me! I met a friendly couple of Uruguayos on their dream vacation to Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome. It took a couple minutes to pull the Spanish out of me, but I more or less was able to do it. My Spanish will definitely need some resuscitation when I return to the U.S.

So, Murano and Burano! Quick summary:

Murano is famous for its glass. Other than glass factories (you can watch!) and many glass gift shops, it is basically a sleepy town with quiet pedestrian streets and canals (like Venice, no cars!). Sadly, I missed the glass museum, but did enjoy my conversation with a couple of locals at the public library.

A small glass "garden" in Murano

Burano is known for its outrageously colorful houses, and reminded me of a real-life Candyland. In this very charming, no-vehicle town, the sun beats down and the bright sky highlights the colors of the houses and laundry hanging out to dry. Burano is also historically famous for lace (still made here today), and they have an excellent Lace Museum to explain everything. Getting to Burano is a bit of a hike (two vaporettos are required and it's at least an hour away from Venice); however, it's well worth the trip. Overall, I recommend visiting Venice and its islands in the winter/early spring to avoid the intense crowds of the high-tourist, summer season.

Burano: Bright sun, sky, and candy-colored houses

Monday, May 19, 2014

Padua: Surprisingly multicultural

A lot of my work in the U.S. has involved working with and supporting immigrants and children of immigrants. Thanks to my own experiences living abroad and learning additional languages, I feel a special connection to these communities. In my brief time in Padua, I have been fortunate to experience just a slice of the international community through volunteer work with Unica Terra, an association that runs an after school program for immigrant/2nd generation students, among other services.

Yesterday, I witnessed the international scope of Padua on a much larger scale at the city's annual Festa dei Popoli. This year was the 24th anniversary of the event, celebrated throughout last week with lectures, music, dance, theater, and a culminating weekend festival in Prato della Valle, Padua's natural outdoor event center.

With just a glance around Prato yesterday's sunny Sunday afternoon, the extent of Padua's international community became clear. The place was packed with food, crafts, and cultural experiences from all over the world. As I wandered around hearing multiple languages spoken, I suddenly felt less like a "straniera" (foreigner).

I had been aware that Padua had large populations of immigrants from Albania, Romania, Morocco, and China, but I was surprised to learn yesterday that there are also substantial communities from Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Peru. This I learned by watching the community parade (reminiscent of an Olympic Games Parade of Nations).

Before the parade, hundreds of people gathered in traditional dress around flags of their countries of origin: Ukraine, Romania, Albania, Moldova, Morocco, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, China, Peru, Philippines, and Italy, among others. Religious leaders representing Baha'i, Buddhist, Hare Krishna, and Catholic provided an interfaith (and translingual) blessing, and the parade took off. The representatives from the Chinese community stole the show with bright red, elaborate, dancing lions.
Interfaith blessing as communities gather before the parade

Dancing lions in the Chinese community

After the parade, I was able to get the inside scoop on several international stands with a friend from Unica Terra. We were invited to share fresh mint tea and cookies inside a Berber tent hosted by a family from Morocco. In the tent, we met -strangely enough- a couple of U.S. undergrads who had arrived in Padua two weeks ago for a study abroad program (this might entail an entirely separate blog post). Not knowing about the event, they had come to Prato to hang out in the park and study. Surprise surprise!

Of course I realize the challenges for immigrant communities in Italy: the injustices, the prejudices… However, I appreciate that Padua, for 24 years, has celebrated its multiculturalism in the Festa dei Popoli (which means, by the way, Festival of the Peoples).

Morocco followed by Cameroon


The only American nation represented in yesterday's parade, Peru


Saturday, May 17, 2014

My first Italian class: Painful, but with heart

Strangely, in spite of working earnestly on my own bilingualism, reflecting on it, and writing about it frequently since I arrived in Italy, I waited until just a couple of days ago to put myself in a formalized, language-learning environment. You might wonder why I didn't start taking classes immediately upon my arrival here (I wonder the same thing). Well, people kept telling me that my Italian was "good enough", that I would learn more by just being immersed (this has worked to a certain extent). At the same time, I was so busy getting the research project underway, learning my way around, meeting people, and generally adjusting to life here -basically lots of energy expended and not enough left to go to class. Excuses aside… I finally decided that it was time to take this Italian-language-learning thing more seriously. I decided that I need to approfondire (deepen) my knowledge of Italian. So, I went to class.

Time to get serious about learning Italian in Italy!

There are many organizations in Padua that offer free Italian class for stranieri (foreigners, like me). I decided to try one of them based on the recommendation of a friend from England. The classes are run by a religious organization whose mission is accoglienza, a lovely word whose translation is something like, "making someone feel at home". The classes are basically small-group tutoring sessions in which students are placed, based on ability, with volunteer tutors who teach specialized lessons based on the needs of each group. The night I showed up, so did a young woman from Albania whose Italian, I thought, was quite good. She and I ended up together as a group, sitting at a little table with a somewhat eccentric, but charming, older Italian woman whom I'll call "Donatella".  

As it would turn out, Donatella is quite a character. She seems to be hard of hearing, making for an interesting language learning experience. She is also strict and very old-fashioned in terms of teaching methods. She was not happy with my amorphous note-taking (full of circles and connecting arrows) and instead instructed me to write out verb conjugations in neat columns including the pronouns. In spite of this, it is clear that she has a good heart and a grandmotherly sense of accoglienza.

As she got to know us a bit, she thought it was funny that my Albanian companion was blond and blue-eyed and I was brunette… in her view, we looked like I should have been from Albania and she from the U.S. Maybe due to my physical features, she surmised that I had family in Italy. I told her that I probably do, as my mom's side immigrated to the U.S. from Palermo, Sicily, a few generations ago.

Although mentioning Sicily put a smile on Donatella's face, it pretty much sealed our fate regarding the somewhat excruciating language lesson of the night: il passato remoto (enter foreboding music). Il passato remoto is pretty much the most difficult and least useful verb tense for second language speakers of Italian. Donatella's rationale was that we should learn it in case I ever visit Sicily, as it is commonly used in the south (whereas here, in the north, everyone uses the much more regular passato prossimo to express events occurring in the past).

I had acquired some sense of passato remoto in Italian classes in the U.S., but its instruction was always preceded by the caveat that it is rarely used in spoken Italian, but reserved for written narrative, e.g., historical accounts. Interestingly, I have been reading a translation of John Green's YA novel, Looking for Alaska, that relies on passato remoto. At any rate, for my first ever Italian class in Italy, we spent the entire evening conjugating the endless irregular verbs of passato remoto (in neat, orderly columns, I should add), and applying them to good old fashioned fill-in-the-blank drills. I must admit, as a grammar nerd, I was secretly pleased to be forced to finally spend some quality time with this obscure verb tense. My classmate, on the other hand, was very dissatisfied at the end of the night. Hopefully next time we can do something more obviously useful.

The punchline was that, at the end of the class, I asked Donatella where she was from in Italy. She smiled and said, "Guess". Of course! PALERMO. Well, that explains it. Now I know that Donatella was not only teaching us something that might possibly one day be useful if I visit Sicily, but something that was important to her, reminiscent of her childhood, and ingrained in her own language identity. This just made me appreciate her, and the exhausting lesson, even more.

So, will I ever get Italian out of my brain and into my heart? Maybe if I visit Palermo. In the meantime, I will try to continue to advance in the bilingual game, taking full advantage of my resources and supports while I am here. Get ready, Donatella: I am going back to class!               



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Padova Bikes!

Padua is a city of bikers. In fact, shortly after I arrived I realized that, as a pedestrian in this city, I should be more concerned about getting hit by a bike than a car. Everyone rides bikes for transportation: rich people, poor people, university students, little kids, old people... I have seen business guys in suits, women in hats and dresses, and nuns in full religious outfit, riding bikes.

In general, the bikers move fast, dominate the streets in large groups, and carry everything from babies to groceries to friends to pets. Padova even had a biking festival during which everyone with a bike took to the streets at the same time (not too different from any weekday at rush hour) on a preplanned circuit of the city on a sunny Sunday morning. It was almost impossible to cross the street on foot during this, "Yes We Bike" event.

The first thing you will notice about the bikes of Padova is that, like everything else in Italy, they are ancient. Most of them look like they have been handed down in families for generations. Apparently, any halfway decent bike will get stolen, so the less appealing your bike, the better. People ride small kids' bikes, bikes without breaks, bikes with makeshift seats, and bikes that have been spray painted or covered in stickers. Also, since people do all their errands on bikes, the bikes are outfitted to carry stuff (and people, see below). Many bikes have both a basket on the front and a rack on the back (which doubles as a seat for a friend).

A typical Padova bike (I have more pictures of great bikes, but sadly cannot get them off my phone)
Also, biking in Padova is a family affair. Especially on weekends, you see entire families biking through town. I had no idea there were so many different ways to transport children on bikes. I have seen women carrying two children at the same time: with a baby seat on the front and a small, kid's seat on the back. Sometimes parents add a windshield to the bike for the comfort of the child riding in front. I love the older child's seat, which goes on the back, has no restraints, and comes with little extensions that are attached to the frame for the kid's feet. Many people take their children to school on bikes. Last week I saw a dad riding back from school on his bike (which had an empty baby seat) while also coasting his (riderless) school-age kid's bike alongside.

A family of bikes parked for another errand. Notice the wire baskets on both bikes, as well as the baby seat in the front AND the older child's black seat on the back of the yellow bike. The newest, nicest bikes are usually kids' bikes, like this pink and white one. 
At any rate, if you are not able to get your hands on one of these highly original, personalized, and practical Padova bikes, you can pay to borrow one from the Good Bike service. I have not tried it yet, but apparently they have over 20 bike sharing stations all around town where you can pick up and drop of a bike (with a basket, of course). It looks like a good deal, too. Maybe I will get brave enough to take to the streets on a good bike!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The best of Padova (AKA Padua)

I realized that, while I have written a lot about language, culture, work, and adjusting to life here in Padua, I have yet to address the city as a tourist destination. The fact is, compared with neighboring locales like Venice, "City of Dreams" or Verona, the small town setting of Romeo and Juliet, Padua (Padova, in Italian) is a low-key, off-the-beaten-path, dare I say, "authentic" Italian city. Authentic in the sense that Padua is a city of Italians: Apart from the area immediately surrounding Saint Anthony's Basilica, you won't see a lot of tourists here.

I have mentioned that I haven't met anyone from the U.S. here, and rarely interact with locals using English. Just a couple of days ago on a bus, I met a man from Scotland who had decided to spend his vacation in Padua to avoid tourists and experience a city where real Italians live, work, and enjoy life.  

Just because Padua is not full of tourists doesn't mean there aren't amazing, historical, and beautiful places to visit here. What's so great about Padua? Here's my Best of Padua, still in development:

1. La Basilica di Sant'Antonio. Since I already mentioned it, let's start with Saint Anthony's. This place is often the reason people come to Padua, and come they do, by busloads… more than five million a year. Saint Anthony, saint of children and lost things, died in 1231, and the basilica was built between 1238-1310. Inside you can find Saint Anthony's tomb, which people line up to touch and submit requests. And yes, the rumors are true, Saint Anthony's tongue (as well as his mandible and larynx) is on display in the Relics Chapel. Of course, the whole place is full of art: elaborate frescos, sculptures, gold ornamentation, marble, stained glass, etc. Devoted or not, it's a sight to behold!

Inside Saint Anthony's Basilica

Saint Anthony cakes: You can get just about any type of St. Anthony souvenir around the Basilica
2. L'Orto Botanico. Just a short walk from Saint Anthony's is the University of Padua's Botanical Gardens. This is one of my favorite places in the city. Founded in 1545 and the oldest university botanical garden in the world, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site, not to mention a beautiful, peaceful reprieve from the city. It's one of those places I would love to visit once a week. Time to go back!

My first visit to the Orto Botanico, before all the flowers bloomed

3. Prato della Valle. Nearby, another great place to walk and people-watch is Prato della Valle, an oval-shaped, park-like piazza that is the largest in Italy. Along with being a prime dog-walking location and hosting a large, Saturday market, Prato della Valle is often the site of city/regional festivals.

Prato della Valle

4. Universit√† di Padova, Palazzo Bo. Located in the heart of downtown and known simply as, "Il Bo", this was the original academic building of the University of Padua, founded in 1222. Sometimes I can't believe I am currently affiliated (as a guest researcher) with such a historic and prestigious university. The Bo is, of course, full of history and tradition. The ceilings around the inner courtyard are covered with painted, plaster crests and names representing the early faculty members of the university. The world's first anatomical theater is located in Il Bo (the university is associated with many important advances in medicine and continues to be the preeminent medical school in Italy). Students come here when they graduate to take photos and cross the threshold, a ritual that represents their graduation and passing from university life into the future.  

The courtyard of Il Bo, Università degli Studi di Padova
5. I mercati. Street markets are plentiful and happen daily in Padua. Piazza della Fruta and Piazza delle Erbe (both with daily, outdoor markets) are separated by the Palazzo della Regione (1218). Inside the lower gallery of the Palazzo is a series of amazing, specialized food shops that sell cheeses, meats, baked goods, homemade pasta, etc. No need to ever go to a supermarket for food (but I have to admit, I do). The biggest market time is Saturday morning, when the entire city is out shopping, socializing, and snacking on gelato in the piazzas. You can feel the Padua energy AND bring home delicious supplies for the weekend meals.

Entering the market scene in Piazza della Frutta (on a weekday) 
6. Capella degli Scrovegni. The interior of the Scrovegni Chapel is completely covered in carefully restored frescos painted by Giotto in 1305. A Padua must-see, this place is a local treasure and truly spectacular. Reservations are required and viewings are brief (about 15-minutes).  

Scrovegni Chapel… this photo from their website,
7. Food. It's all good! May I recommend a gelato? I have tried them all and, believe me, the very best is Gelateria La Romana. How about a cocktail or a cappuccino and pastry? Check out the elegant and historic Caffe Pedrocchi, right across the street from Il Bo. You can sit outside and watch the world go by. Is pizza calling your name? Rosso Pomodoro serves up an authentic pizza napoletana, La Verace! And here's a secret… they have restaurants all over the world, so you might be able to get one sooner than you think.
Pastry selection at Caffe Pedrocchi

I know I am leaving a lot out, but for now, this will give you a good idea of all the great things to see and do -and eat- in Padua. After two months here, I continue to explore, discover, and enjoy this place!

A typical street on my daily walks in Padua

Friday, May 2, 2014

Two months in Italy: The halfway point

Today is May 1st. I have been in Italy since March 1st. I will leave on July 1st. Thus, this weekend marks my halfway point. The strange thing is that, even after two months, I still can’t believe I am here. I walk down the streets thinking, “This is crazy… I can’t believe I am in Italy”. Sometimes, I catch my reflection in a store window and wonder, “Who's that? Oh right… that’s me, in Europe.” I feel like I am in a time warp, as if this is not my real life, but some sort of pause, a parallel life in which I am far away from my normal place, but doing more or less the same type of work (in a different language). Uncanniness aside, in this strange time warp, I have accomplished a lot, visited some beautiful places, and gotten to know some wonderful people. Here’s a recap of the first half of my Fulbright experience.

Language. I swear my Italian is getting better, even though sometimes I listen to myself and think the opposite. Today, for example, I was having lunch with two local friends and had a rough time coming up with a lot of words. I guess it was one of those days. Overall, however, Italian has become much less effortful, especially listening. I can pretty much understand whatever I hear, for example, when I pass by people talking on the street and, of course, when people are talking to me directly. I love watching incredibly cheesy, dramatic soap operas: they are full of great words and expressions (and apparently someone agrees). When I write, autocorrect interrupts me less and less. Still, I want more!

Culture. Pretty much, as long as I wear a scarf and keep my mouth shut, I fit in pretty easily (physical appearance-wise, that is). Of course, what I look like on the outside is not the same as what’s going on inside. I certainly still feel like a foreigner and, language challenges aside, still don’t understand many things. However, I am ok with ambiguity. "Con calma"… I continue to observe and learn everyday. I should mention that I don't miss any foods or "things" from the U.S. (only people!). Family and friends have asked if they could send me something I am missing, but really, I am perfectly fine eating/using Italian stuff. :) 

Work. We have almost finished collecting data for the project at two different local high schools. The students have been good sports, writing two expository essays in English and Italian, and taking a few different language tests. The collaborating teachers have gone out of their way to provide necessary time and access. I also gave a research talk and a class lecture (in Italian), wrote and submitted an article (not in Italian, ha ha), and submitted three conference proposals; one was accepted and I will present it here, in Bologna (in Italian!), this month. 

I also started volunteering at an after school program for students who are first- and second-generation immigrants in Italy. These kids' families come from Albania, Morocco, and China, among other countries. They are all bilingual; most learned Italian in school, some within the past couple of years. I help them with homework (e.g., English, math) and am facilitating a photography workshop with a thesis student in Education and a visiting educator from Portugal. I love this part of my week.      

Friends. The most important part of this journey is the people. I can truly say I have made a few close friends, all of whom I met in quite serendipitous ways (e.g., one involving vacuuming and two involving hitchhiking; these stories I will save for another post). I am so grateful for these people. My research mentor, who was so gracious to invite me and support my Fulbright application, is an amazing academic and has also become a dear friend. I admire and appreciate her so much. Overall, I have found that my colleagues at the Universit√† degli Studi di Padova are professional, hard-working, and helpful. People around town have been friendly, interested, and patient. I am so fortunate to be here. 

Me, my first week in Italy, in Venice for Mardi Gras

Me, just last week, on vacation in Varenna