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By billienkatz

Before embarking on the study abroad journey, I was bombarded by people (both friends, family and professors) who said it would be a major lesson in independence. This was almost insulting at times because I view myself as an independent person to begin with. Over the course of the past few weeks, especially since I really started jet setting around Europe, I've started o understand what everyone was talking about.

There is a sense of adaptability, resiliency, and go-with-the-flow attitude that is necessary while studying abroad, and in turn this manifests itself into a new form of independence. For the first time in my life I've been navigating myself around foreign cities where I don't speak the language and have limited access to WiFi and can only occasionally rely on google maps. For example, this past weekend I took advantage of having a Thursday off of school and took a five day trip to Rome and Florence. I was flying round trip in and out of Rome, and faced with taking the train from Rome to Florence and back again. I had already taken the train in Spain and had expected the process to be flawless and easy; however, as you can probably assume it was not.

First, I speak no Italian and despite what I thought before arriving, it really isn't recognizably similar to Spanish. Then, once I couldn't figure out the lines at the ticket office and weird number calling system (I had number A312 and they were called N4 and R109) I decided to give it a go at the ticket kiosk, which didn't work either. I don't have the chip in my debit card that all the European machines read, so my transaction was unable to be completed.

I should also mention that it was now approximately 2:23 and I had to get on the  2:31 train that was the last one going from Rome to Florence until the next morning. Low and behold, and only after  being forced to tip the man who helped me figure it out,  I was en-route to Florence. While this obviously isn't my most applicable example, its what has happened the most recently.

Overall, what I'm trying to get across is that everyone was right, being abroad does teach you an entirely new sense of independence that Ive never had to utilize before. In addition, in the process I have learned a lot about myself and how I approach and react to certain situations. For example, I have learned that I really value traveling with my parents and utilizing curbside check in, and that the world doesn't stop turning if I have to wear the pants and sweater multiple times in a row because my trip destination was colder than expected and I can only fit so much in a RyanAir approved carry on bag. Finally, I have learned that there is always room to grow as a person and learn more about yourself, and for me this has been my most powerful realization.

By catrionaschwartz

Although I came to Italy a complete beginner, over the past few weeks I’ve able to learn a decent amount of Italian. More often than not I will start a conversation with a local in Italian, and finish it in English, but considering the number of people that speak English here, and the fact that I’ve only taken Italian for a couple of weeks—it isn't too surprising.

There have been a couple little quirks I've learned about the language over the weeks including to pieces of slang that are fun and tell you something about the country. The first is ‘pronto,’ which means ‘ready’ in Italian and is how many people answer the phone here. The origin of the usage is from when all calls had to go through an operator. The operator would ask you if you were ready for them to transfer the call, and you would reply ‘Pronto.’ While Italy isn’t technologically behind, I feel like technology has infiltrated less aspects of daily life in Italy than in the US, and this somewhat antiquated phrase goes along with that idea.

Another fun one is the phrase in bocco al lupo, meaning in the mouth of the wolf. This phrase is basically the Italian equivalent of break a leg! As my Italian teacher said, all Italians are superstitious, even if they say they aren’t. The phrase is meant to avoid jinxing someone by wishing them luck. The proper response is, ‘crepi,’ or ‘crepi il lupo,’ which means: I hope it (the wolf) dies. Considering Rome’s founding story involves a pair of baby twins being suckled by a she-wolf this phrase rings true to Italian culture to me.

This last one isn't a phrase so much as an etymological note. Every day, along with ‘si’ and ‘grazie,’ the word I probably use most is Ciao. Who would've thought though that the origin of this sweet greeting is actually, ‘I am your slave,’ from old Venetian Italian. Apparently such a greeting was so common, the phrase blurred together and came to mean hello. First of all that says a lot about the Roman Empire and Venetian Empire. Second of all, how funny is it to think that everyone walking around, going to the local bar (which is what coffee shops are called here) and saying Ciao, and it actually meaning ‘I am your slave! Good morning!’

Basically Italian is turning out to be pretty fun.

By catrionaschwartz

There is a poem by Elizabeth Bishop called “One Art,” and the repeated line in the poem is “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” This weekend I lost a necklace I’ve had for twelve, nearly thirteen years and that line has been circling through my brain ever since. It was (is) a charm necklace, though it didn’t start out as such. At first it was just a necklace with a crown on it, a souvenir from the Tower of London, bought during my first trip out of the country when I was eight. I wore it constantly, I swear I wore it until it wore itself a groove in my neck.  Over the years my parents gave me charms to add to it—a music note, a cat, a heart, an owl, one of my grandmother’s old subway tokens—it became my lucky necklace.

When we went to visit the ruins and the beach in Ostia this past Saturday, I almost didn’t wear it, but then I saw it curled up on my desk and I put it on with only the briefest of thoughts (“Perfect.”). It was warm at Ostia Antica—an archaeological site outside of Rome, filled with ruins of a former port city—and I still had the necklace, hung carefully (precariously) around my neck. When we got closer to the beach it was breezier, cooler, so I put on my scarf and then my jacket. It wasn’t until I got home much later that night, when I took off my jacket and my scarf, that I felt the nakedness around my neck; that I realized the necklace was gone.

It was with a sort of grim, rising hysteria that I walked back to the bus station, but there was too much ground to cover and it was too dark to fully retrace my steps. We’d taken two buses and two trains to get to the beach alone, it was a good hour and half away from our house and the sun had set. My necklace, the one I’d had for nearly thirteen years—that I wore to auditions, to the SATs, to prom, to the grocery store, to class, at home with my cat—it was gone.

It was so silly, this little amalgamation of silver and gold and alloys had taken on a sort of sentience in my mind, melding itself just the slightest bit into my perception of self. And in a single afternoon, an infinitesimal fraction of its existence, it was gone.

But the art of losing isn’t hard to master.

And though that wasn’t really the point of the poem at all, even if it was just the words ringing in my ears along with the sadness, I know that although I will miss it, this wasn’t such a disaster. I didn’t lose farther or faster, not a house, not a city, not a realm, and most importantly, most essentially, most vitally not a “you.”

And that is why I know that losing my necklace—it wasn’t (Write it!) a disaster.

One Art

By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to visit Venice for Carnivale! This was my first time visiting Venice and going during Carnivale had its pros and cons but all in all it was an amazing trip. As many of you may know, Venice is packed during Carnivale, with people visiting from all over the world to dress up in masks and period costumes with capes and hairstyles to rival those of Marie-Antoinette. My Italian teacher said the city looks like an opera stage during Carnivale—a description which turned out to be very apt. We arrived Friday morning after a train ride through the beautiful Italian country-side, past mountains, and lakes, until we crossed the bridge to Venice. Since I was little the idea of this city on the sea, with streets like small rivers, has intrigued me. As I grew older, seeing paintings by Turner and learning of the city’s rich and risqué history only increased my interest.

The three days we had there were simply not enough. The streets were the most narrow I have ever seen, some covered with wood beams, some tall with tilting buildings looming on either side. We got lost almost every time we left our hotel. In my Literature of the Grand Tour class we read an excerpt from Goethe’s travel accounts in Italy, and even he, so many years ago, remarked on the narrow, maze-like quality of the streets. It is brilliant to see that it is still the same.

At night the streets were wonderfully empty as well and it felt like a fairytale. The utter lack of cars on the street, paired with the 19th century looking street lamps made the city look even more like a portal to the past.

I am far from the first, and certainly not the last person to be so ridiculously charmed by Venice but it is nice to know that even when a city is an inundated with tourism as Venice is, it can still retain its charm.

Aside from the beautiful architecture (I could wax poetic for hours but I’ll spare you) we also had some of the most amazing seafood there. We also took a break from the revelry and pageantry of the first days of Carnivale to take a quick trip to Murano, one of the nearby islands. While Venice was only empty at night, Murano was nearly deserted during the day. The island, which is known for its glass, was like a smaller, less grand and less tourist filled version of Venice. As we walked down the street a party of old men and women thrust wine and frittelle on us and threw confetti over our heads before sending us on our way. We went to a glass blowing demonstration and the artist let us have a go as well (I failed miserably, as did one of my friends). We had amazing food and the waiters gave us two free rounds of Limoncello.

At the end of the day we took a sun-drenched ferry ride back to Venice, which was packed to the brim with tourists for the Carnivale parade, but even the crowds couldn’t shake the blanket of calm our day-trip had brought to the holiday.

In other words it was the perfect antithesis to the dark, mysterious streets of Venice, but equally lovely and beautiful. It was all so wonderful though, I really could go on about it forever—and I’m lucky enough to be returning with my mother in May—but I will spare you all. What this trip has reminded me of though, is how lucky I am to be studying here, and to have the opportunity to travel around Italy, and how diverse the history and architecture is here. It was wonderful to see something that was so different.

By catrionaschwartz

As many of you may have heard the Italian Prime minister Enrico Letto was asked to resign earlier this month after his Democratic Party voted to make rapid changes in the government in order to push through reforms. President Giorgio Napolitano then asked the current mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, to form a new government.

Renzi will be the youngest Prime Minister at age 39 (only two months younger than Mussolini was when he came into power). This is all occurring just ten months after Enrico Letto was elected following the Berlusconi drama.

This governmental upheaval hasn’t really disrupted my experience abroad (although I'm sure there will be some stumbling blocks in the near future as this new government is put in place) but it is interesting to see as a foreigner. In general I have noticed a greater number of strikes, protests and marches in Rome than in DC. There have been two major demonstrations in the time I’ve been here, both of which disrupted public transport. Italians do not seem terribly phased by this though and even expect it to some degree.

During our orientation we were told that Italians are happy to go with the flow; if their plans don’t work out, they make new ones, if the bus doesn’t come after forty-five minutes they’ll walk, or head home. This seems to be the attitude towards the demonstrations. I’m not sure if I wholly subscribe to the idea of national traits but I do think there would be greater frustration in the US if public transport was so frequently disrupted by strikes and marches.

This weekend I will have a break from the political drama though as I am going on my first trip—to Venice for Carnivale! To be honest my only real point of reference for this is the Count of Monte Cristo but I’m still really excited! Hopefully I will get some good photos to post for next week’s post. Till then!

*More info on Renzi here:

By catrionaschwartz

Today marks the end of my first week in Rome! My parents and I arrived in Italy early to go sight-seeing but my program actually starts tomorrow, something I am very much looking forward to. This first week hasn’t been too frantic yet although it has been wet. (As you may or may not have heard Italy and France have been having flood-level amounts of rain this past week.)

Either way, here are ten things I have learned after a week of partly flooded and very touristy sight-seeing:

1. There are lots of seagulls here! There are also pigeons and swallows, the same as in the US, which is a bit of a letdown after London’s colossal, brobdingnagian crows and odd masked river birds (they even had herons at Regent’s Park!).  Still, this is made up for by the fact that:

2. The trees are different! This was one of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Italy. In particular, what I have since learned is a stone pine caught my eye. This type of tree is typical to the Mediterranean but also to North Africa. Basically, they look really cool.

3. There are a lot of ecclesiastical clothing shops in the city, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the US although they must exist there. There are also of course many nuns and priests, which is unsurprising considering the number of churches I’ve seen here, and the location of the Vatican.

4. Street peddlers are much more aggressive perseverant here, especially those selling umbrellas. They’ll follow you for a bit, even after you tell them you don’t want anything, even if you are already holding an umbrella.

5. Just like in London there aren’t really any water fountains in buildings—but—there are some on the street, especially in piazzas. The ones I have seen thus far are pretty ancient looking and the water pours out of them like a faucet. However if you place your finger along the rim of the faucet there is a way to get the water to arch up. I hope that by the end of my time here I will have mastered this mysterious technique.

6. Even small, unexceptional looking churches can have masterworks inside. Along the Piazza del Popolo for example, there is the Basilica of Santa Maria which has a relatively simple façade compared to other churches in the city. Inside however are sculptures by Bernini, and paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, and Donato Bramante.

7. A lot of the statues here are very sassy.

Nettuno Piazza del Popolo

Nettuno at the Piazza del Popolo.*

8. You can’t hail a taxi just anywhere. You can try (and boy did I try) but you just look like a bit of a loser as they drive past you without a backward glance. You can really only get a taxi at a taxi stand, and there are thankfully a fair number of those, especially in touristy areas and along piazzas.

9. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of Italian food here. More surprisingly, it is easy to become tired of Italian food, even in seven days. In the less touristy areas though there are non-Italian restaurants. I can’t attest to their quality but as I said, after seven days of Italian food I’m ready to take a risk.

10. People wear a lot of black. The stereotype about Europeans wearing a lot of dark colors has thus far rung fairly true. Just something to consider when you’re packing, which I did not.

+1 for good luck!

11. As someone who hasn’t really traveled in Europe before, the picturesque cobble stoned streets really are pretty amazing. Aside from the joyous feeling of walking inside one of your high school language text books, it’s fun to imagine you’re in the 17th century for a couple of blocks.

I can’t wait to learn more about Rome; its different neighborhoods, what it looks like in the spring, what it feels like to be here for more than a week, all of it. I’m also looking forward to going to more museums and churches and seeing the amazing art history the city has to offer. Despite the sometimes sketchy internet and phone service, the odd store hours and the utter lack of chai tea lattes I’m so excited to see what this semester will have to offer!

*Image source

By catrionaschwartz

Tonight is my last night in New York for four months! To celebrate this momentous occasion my parents and I ordered Chinese food from my favorite place in the city and watched a documentary about Rome. I also had my last Starbucks (okay 2nd to last—let’s be real I’m going to get some in the airport tomorrow) for maybe four months because, as I recently found out, there is literally no Starbucks in Italy!

On a more serious note though, this will be the longest I’ll have ever been away from home in my life. At school there’s the Thanksgiving break and spring break and while there is a spring break in the IES Rome program I’m not going to be going home for it. I’m nervous about this but I’m also looking forward to the challenge. Besides which being away from home can make you appreciate certain things about your town/state/country that you had taken for granted before.

I’ve been trying to prepare by watching films and shows about Rome, and even trying an Italian language program online but all of that has now fallen to the wayside in favor of packing. As mentioned in my first post, packing can a bit of an art. Still, I’ve managed to squeeze some time in to watch some of “I, Claudius,” (a somewhat melodramatic television series produced by the BBC in the 1970s), “Meet the Romans with Mary Beard,” another BBC series, this time a documentary series made in 2012 about life in ancient Rome, and “Francesco’s Italy,” a really fun, again—BBC (this wasn’t intentional I swear) documentary program about contemporary Italy.

Despite this (really pretty meager) preparation I’m not really sure what to expect when I arrive in Rome. In London, where I studied last term, I felt like I could blend in with the other Londoners as long as I wasn’t walking around the city in a North Face, wearing Lululemon yoga pants. In Rome I feel like somehow it will be much more apparent that I’m American, even before I open my mouth to no doubt stutter really horrifically butchered, clunky Italian. I don’t think this will necessarily be a bad thing—maybe it will encourage people to overlook any faux pas I make?

I will let you know how it goes in my next post which will be after a week (my first week!) in Rome! Hopefully there will also be a few pretty pictures. Until then, ciao!

P.S. For anyone else planning on visiting/studying abroad in Rome I found a really great blog by an American who has been living there for several years. Here’s the link:

By catrionaschwartz

This is my last week in Brooklyn before I leave for Rome! Preparing to leave is one of the most boring, stressful and important parts of study abroad—that and packing up at the end. There are endless little tasks that need to be carried out before you can leave when all you want to do is go: calling the credit card company to tell them you’ll be away, sorting out your cell phone plan for when you’re abroad, checking that your visa is in order and that you have the proper documentation for residence in your country of destination, and then of course packing as much clothing as you can fit in the largest legally allowable suitcase money can buy.

All of this can seemingly cut into the romance of study abroad a bit. It’s certainly not Fellini and gelato and walking along the Tiber on a sunny day. The thing is though, when people talk about study abroad helping you grow and change as a person, all of this planning is a big part of that as well. When I studied in London last semester I had to deal with these bureaucratic type issues on my own for the first time, although I did always have the lifeline of calling my parents and my study abroad advisers at GW (and of course at my host institution in London).  Dealing with those issues—most monumentally trying to get a visa for Italy as an American in London—gave me more confidence in myself and my ability to deal with issues in the future. So embrace it a bit, as much as it can be boring.

       Still, for all that making mistakes is a growing experience I will give some packing tips that I learned from my last semester abroad to finish up this preparation-post:.

         1. Bring adaptors! This is so important because you do not want to arrive at your hotel/dorm/home-stay etc. and realize that your phone is dead and you have no way to charge it!

            2. Bring something that reminds you of home for that one week where you might be feeling a little bit homesick.

           3. Bring shower shoes: you don’t know what the shower situation will be like. Be prepared.

            4. Also about grooming: there is a chance that the country you’re going to will not sell your usual hair products/make-up etc. so if you swear by something it might be worth it to bring it. Still, suitcase space is a precious commodity. Use it wisely.

            5. Check what the weather/temperature situation will be like where you’re going to study. You’ll likely need warm and cold weather clothes which is a pain because it means you have to bring less of both to fit into your already bursting suitcase.

            6. In relation to #5: don’t over pack. I really did when I went to London and even if your parents are bringing you to the airport and people are picking you up, two barely-legal-they-are-so-ridiculously-Americanly-big suitcases are not fun to lug around when you’re trekking through the airport on your own.

Hopefully some of that will be helpful! In the meantime I’m trying to get my fill of home time before Rome—as well as parse together some really pathetic Italian. Till next week!