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

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