Let’s Take a Minute to Think

Thinking about life

Thinking about life

I can recall the orientation in the Red Gym in Madison so clearly. I took a seat in the back row. A few other students were seated at six different long wooden tables. A group of girls were chatting on the right side of the room. The man from CET was setting up the powerpoint he would later present. A professor (Laurie Beth) came over to ask my name and introduced herself saying she’s excited for the semester together. She then turned to introduce me to my tablemate, Catie, an art student. I knew I would get to know everyone in this small group of 11, but I didn’t expect to have such a diverse group that is cohesive at the same time. We then were told to write down two goals for the semester. Quickly, I scribbled, “I hope to feel like I actually live in Italy and to make friends with people I probably would have never met in Madison.” Let’s just say I underestimated the study abroad experience I would have. Not only did I effortlessly accomplish these goals, I gained so much more.

After listening to Reflections, one line caught my attention. “Our bodies undressed the layers of shy, revealing the truth that was buried inside.” I think this is a perfectly poetic way to state how everyone came to know each other this semester. As with all new interactions, people tend to hide certain things about themselves and don’t reveal their “real” selves right off the bat. But then time passes and you find yourself showing everyone what a flutterkick is and making pacts to tell each other when someone has food in their teeth or some cheese on their chin. I even sealed the deal by wearing my glasses in public which you all should know officially marks all of us as friends.

Then there’s the statement,“I hope to feel like I live in Italy.” This goal was obtained even before the Home post.

But then there’s the “so much more” that I gained. It’s ironically related to what we were asked to do for this week’s blog, reflect. In my Cross Cultural Psychology, Tourism Studies, and even Italian class I was asked to reflect on my time in Italy on a daily basis. This is a no new concept for me. In most classes you relate what you learn to your personal experiences, but I have never consciously reflected as deeply and as frequently as I have here. I believe this skill and new way to approaching each day has helped me avoid my quarter life I’m due for. I’m at the point in my life where most of the decisions I make could have huge impacts on where I end up life. It sort of reminds me of the books all my friends loved in middle school, where halfway through the book you are told to pick a number and it will lead you to one of the five alternate endings. However, with all this reflection I’ve done this semester, I have a firm grip on my identity and have solidified that I am going in a direction I think best suits me. I think this semester has allowed me to slow down. These blogs have probably been the most helpful by making me sit down and truly ask myself who I am and what I really think.

Thanks for reading my little pieces from this big world.

S/O to everyone for some of the most fun-filled days I’ve had yet.

Thanks for getting in the picture when I say,

Thanks for getting in the picture when I say, “Get in the picture”

Thanks for chowing down with me

Thanks for chowing down with me

Thanks for feeding us as if we were your children

Thanks for feeding us as if we were your children

Thanks for being models

Thanks for being models

Thanks for being weirdos

Thanks for being weirdos

Thanks for being the best roommate

Thanks for being the best roommate

Thanks for being you

Thanks for being you

And here’s my breakup song to Florence.

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Is this Real Life?

Previous post I’m responding to: Authent-in-one-city

Eight-Weeks-Ago Courtney (start at 1:55),

Remember going to bed as a kid, teenager, and even a few weeks ago asking if today was real? Astonished at how great life can be. Being thankful for everything you experienced and everyone who was right by your side? Do you remember physically pinching yourself to make sure you were not dreaming, but then pinching yourself in your dreams, blowing that theory out of the water?

Do you remember writing your paper for the scholarship that helped you get to Italy? Remember the sentence, “I know not everything can be put perfectly into words so that everyone may understand, but I do believe understanding can be better achieved through experience.”

Now, why am I bringing all of this up? I want you think about experience and authenticity again. In (Link to authenticity blog) you just posted, you purposely framed the claim that authenticity is place bound from a tourists perspective and not your own. I am asking YOU what you think.

Knowing that you question the authenticity in your own life and trying to confirm the realness by physical actions, what makes something authentic? Does physically feeling something make it more real than just thinking about it? Can ideas be authentic? Why do you have to “experience” something to understand? That sentence you wrote signifies that you think experience is something that requires movement and interaction rather than explanation and thoughts.

Which one's the more authentic experience? Movie or Movement in the same room?

Which one’s the more authentic experience? Movie or Movement in the same room?

Well, let me tell you what I think. I’ve learned some things from the eight weeks of experience I have on you. I now believe that you were too scared to commit your own feelings to the blog, but you do agree with your assertions. You have to be in the place. You have to walk down the same streets famous poets, painters, and plain old peasants did hundreds and hundreds of years ago to get that authentic feel. The feel that nothing has changed from its original state. And as you know, the roads have been restored, washed and new buildings have been built, but the physical place, the earth beneath all this is the same and that cannot be replaced. This is coming from your inner nature-loving self. The nature that surrounds you cannot be replaced, replicated anywhere no matter how precise new technologies can make copies. I mean, think about your time in Zadar, you’ll never be able to see waterfalls like that reduplicated with synthetic materials in Wisconsin. Or think about Venice, you’ll never see that same exact city that was built years ago on the canal, in the United States. This is all for an authentic experience.

On the other hand, there is culture in songs, dance, and food. This is more of an abstract concept. Sometimes you cannot physically touch culture, it lives in the minds of people. Do you think you could have the same experience living in “little Italy” in New York? I don’t think it would be the same because there is a whole other culture of American culture surrounding this “Little Italy” which makes it a more complex situation. So what are the guidelines to making something authentic? Do you believe you have to be in Italy to eat authentic Italian or can you get it in the United States? Does it need to be made by an Italian who learned from his Italian family or could it be a German who also learned how to cook from an Italian chef? Well I’ll leave it at that. Will it still be place bound in eight more weeks? Is the term ever-changing?

Ciao,

Courtney

POLL:

  • How many of you think authenticity is place bound?
  • If it’s not, why did you come to Italy?

secretadvisor

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Things to Do>Florence, Italy>Secret Places>

No one wants to be left in the dark, right? Well maybe the dark is the right place to start. Here we are talking about secret places to find in Italy and some of the best places can only be found in the dark.

Let’s start with Secret Bakeries. If you haven’t already heard, Florence has five “secret bakeries” sprinkled throughout town. These hole-in-the-wall kitchens pull late-night street wanderers in as they bake throughout the night and deliver their goods to cafés around town for morning customers. It is a great end to any night out on the town. Some even set their alarms for the middle of the night, go get the baked goods, eat them, and go back to bed. If this doesn’t show “how worth it” it is to experience the secrecy of these bakeries, then I am not sure what will.

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line to the bakery

Experienced goers say 1:30-1:45 AM is when most open. This is the perfect time to seek out the bakeries because you’ll receive freshly baked croissants, donuts, or pastries that are still warm. Arriving at this time may also avoid the crowds that swarm many doors at 2:00 AM due to bars closing and young adults returning to their right state of minds reminding themselves that they need sleep… and maybe a croissant too.

Flustered thinking about what to do when you get to the door? It is a simple and amusing process for many. The first rule to secret bakery is you must be quiet. These bakers do not want every to know about their “secret bakery” and also do not want to wake those sleeping in apartments nearby. Once you arrive at the door where you can see faint lights and smell the smells of heaven, you know you are at the right place and may knock. There’s no special knock, but it may take a few tries. Soon a man, who may have some combination of an apron, hat, or white shirt, will open the door and either ask what you want (in Italian) or wait for you to order. Most people practice their Italian (making their Italian professors proud) and ask for “un Cornetto con crema” or “con nutella.” I have once experienced a baker say, “We only have donuts or pizza.” Funny statement though because who would be disappointed with those choices? The baker will shut the door and return with a few white paper bags. After handing the bags over, he will ask for a few euros depending on what you ordered. The running rate is usually 1 euro per baked good. It is common courtesy to bring exact change, no 20 or 50 bills. Once you have your treat of choice in hand, you should keep walking to your next destination to avoid crowds around the bakery.

the glow of the doors

the glow of the doors

Some say, “Smell your way to the bakeries, you’ll find them.” Sometimes it’s harder than it sounds… this is known from experience. Here are some directions for you to start your adventures:

Florence’s Secret Bakeries:

  1. Pasticceria Vinci & Bongini {Santa Croce}-Walk down Via dei Benci towards the river, making a right onto Pizza Peluzzi. Quiet down as you make the first left then first right onto Via del Canto Rivalto. You’ll know you arrived when you see the post-bar crowd crowded around a sliding glass door that reads “Please be quiet”. If you’re the first one there knock softly on the door until a {most likely gruff} baker appears and order in Italian {try a Cornetta con Nutella}.
  2. Laboratoria di Pasticceria Arrighi {Pizza dell’Indipendenza/SMN Train Station}-On the corner of via delle Ruote and via San Gallo. Read the review on Studentsville.
  3. Il Re della Foresta {Piazza Giorgini}-Outside the city center, this hole in the wall supposedly serves up some of the best bombolonein Florence. Read the review on Studentsville.
  4. The {Truly Secret} Bakery {Santa Croce}-Facing the Santa Croce, take the street directly to the left of the church and make the first left onto Via delle Pinzochere. The bakery will be on your right but be extremely quiet and respectful or they will not serve you.
  5. The {Truly Secret} Family Bakery {Santa Croce}– Facing Santa Croce, take the street directly to the left of the church and make the third left onto Via de’ Macci. The bakery will be on your left and the door is covered by caged bars. You can see into the back where they bake and after a wave or two they’ll come open the door. Again be extremely quiet and respectful or they won’t serve you.

For more secret places to visit in Florence click here.

Write your own Review:

Venice has got the Remedy

It may be an unusual association for some, but many times I find myself pairing a place with something musical. For me, Venice was Jason Mraz. It could be because I have been listening to the same 61 songs on my phone the whole semester here and The Remedy is one of these, but this matchup just seems right. Listen to the laidback but upbeat song if you’d like to see what I’m talking about.

Dear Laurie Beth and Michael,

I hope you enjoyed your time in London as much as I enjoyed Venice. As this won’t be a shock to anyone who has visited Venice for their self, I have only good things to report. Blame it on the sun, company, or sheer beauty of the place. I, myself, cannot pinpoint exactly what it was about Venice that made me so happy, but that is all that I was in Venice, happy, and that’s how I will always remember it.

Sitting on the train From Florence in a state somewhere between leisurely reading and drifting off to sleep, I tried to scope out a game plan on how to tell you about my trip. I thought about what I like to hear from my friends when they illustrate their experiences for me and I came up with this: I want to feel like I was there with them. Thrilling stories don’t start with bland itineraries, listing out the times and places anyone could get from reading a guidebook. No, they yank the listener in with action and emotion. Though I don’t have any stories that will have you at the edge of your seat, I will tell you how it felt to be in Venice and hopefully you’ll feel as if you hadn’t missed a thing.

The first thing that put a smile on my face was the water. Everywhere you look, there’s a canal, big or small, lined with gondolas, waterbuses or taxis, and personal motorboats. As, MJ mentioned weeks ago, water has a quality that draws people in. This whole city, built on a lagoon, has this very quality that drew me in instantly. I think this is partly due to the fact that some of my fondest memories are of the fourth of Julys I spent with my family on the lake, the endless days wakeboarding with friends, and the vacations on beaches of the Pacific ocean. However, another part of me realized that water has the effect of slowing life down. Not only do the memories of water include that carefree, living-in-the-moment feeling, but also the water physically slows the city down. It’s a huge contrast to the fast paced streets of Florence, where you have cars, mopeds, and bikers zooming past you on small narrow roads. These canals literally have people floating through life as they get from point A to point B in peace. This slow pace travel allowed time to reflect and absorb the beauty of the nature, buildings, and people around you.

Another contributor to my almost manic state of happiness was the uniqueness and individualistic feel of everything. To try to explain this, I can tell you about the markets. First, I will let it be known that I have a strange love for markets, markets of any kind. This is one of the many reasons I love Madison so much. Anyways, as we strolled through town we saw vendors selling fruit, vegetables, and other goods right on the water; fish markets with fresh fish and even live “Gamberi Laguna pescato”; and flower markets adding life to the squares. Even though there were countless vendors selling the same products, each person behind their display seemed to add their own spice of individuality to their particular stand. Another piece of Venice that encased the uniqueness feel were the mask shops. Again, there were countless numbers of shops that housed these masks, but each mask had it’s own identity. One shop in particular was Madison’s favorite shop that she had to share with Sarah and me. This shop was a tiny place with crazy masks on shelves, the ceiling, and lining the window. It was comparable to my middle school locker, which had every square inch covered in some post-it or picture; there was just no room for boring. This is coming from my minimalistic self, I loved it. I think the cherry on top of everything were the cats.I really appreciate when the weird and random is simply accepted and passed as normal for a place just as these cats are in Venice.

fancy cat

fancy cat

As much as I would love to share every detail, I think I will leave the rest for you guys to experience. I hope you’ve found your happy place somewhere in this beautiful country called Italy.

Ciao,

Courtney

Instead of pictures this week, I thought a short video would capture the weekend better.

Semester at Sea with Lucie

For the following interview, I asked my friend Lucie about her time abroad. This past December, she returned from her semester of traveling. She was enrolled in a program called Semester at Sea, which included visiting 15 different countries by boat. Here’s what she had to say:

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The ship of 600 students

C: Okay so my first question is… um…

L: This is scary. (laughter)

C: Did you enjoy your study abroad experience?

L: Yeah! Duh. Studying abroad in Paris Freshman year… I loved it, but I was definitely ready to go home. Semester at sea, I totally could go back and do it again.

C: What do you feel you gained from the time abroad?

L: So much cultural awareness and global perspective of the way different people live. I saw so many different ways of doing things. Experiencing their cultures and their food was awesome. I don’t know… I gained a lot and learned a lot.

C: What did you expect to experience before the semester started?

L: Oh my gosh, these are hard to answer. (laughter) I expected to learn a lot more about other cultures, but I didn’t realize how different it was going to be. All through Europe was pretty similar to the U.S., but going to Cuba, Brazil, and Morocco were completely different than what I pictured people living like there.

C: Do you think it would have been different if you would have stayed in one place for the whole semester?

L: Yeah, because being there just for a little bit each place, you only get a little taste and you only see one area or a certain group of people. It could be really different depending on if you went to a different restaurant or met a different family. And I did the immersion in Paris, which was different (than semester at sea) because I actually got to know the city. Where as just going for a couple days in each place, you kind of see the best parts of it, but you’re not really there long enough to know that much about it.

C: What had you heard from people who had studied abroad before?

L: Study abroad in general, I’ve heard nothing but good things. Everyone is very pro-wherever they went. I have never heard someone say, “Oh, I had so much fun in Paris, but I should have gone to Florence.” Everyone’s very happy about where they went. Especially Semester at sea, everyone said it changed their lives. No one that went on SAS would recommend anything else. I think just because it’s so different and you do make such a close-knit family on the ship, being only 600 people being stranded on a ship in the middle of the ocean together. You are forced to bond and love each other. Even the crew (workers on the ship) you get to know them. It’s just very different.

C: Do you think you picked Semester at Sea because of what you had heard from other people?

L: Yeah. Before college, I wanted to go to Australia. I had never even heard of Semester at Sea. Then, my first week at USD, I heard about the program. Originally, I thought it would be so cool to go to places I normally wouldn’t go to. I would go to Europe on a vacation, but I wouldn’t normally be like, “Hey, let’s go to Ghana or Senegal.” Those aren’t places I would think to go on my own.

C: What was different than your expectations?

L: A lot of people said that classes were easy and they won’t matter at all. They said you were just going to have fun and not worry at all, but I thought they were actually pretty hard. I spent a lot of time studying. But maybe that’s just me and my personality. What else… I mean it’s hard to know what to expect for Semester at Sea until you get there. You have no idea what the ship’s going to be like. You don’t really know what to pack. You don’t know what the schedule’s going to be like. Every journey is different. There’s new staff, new professors every single semester. Every year is a completely different experience. So no matter what people tell you about it, it’s really your own unique semester.

C: I think I already know the answer to this one, but do you think it was worth it?

L: Yes! I would go on Semester at Sea a million times again. It was sooo so worth it. Paris too. Even though I was ready to go by the end, I still had a great time there. I think studying abroad is so important. You learn a lot from it and grow up a lot.

C: What do you think made it worth it?

L: You gain such a greater sense of what’s out there. It’s not just the bubble of the University of San Diego or where you grew up. There’s so much more to see and learn from.

C: Do you think this experience allowed for personal growth?

L: Yeah. I think it’s just made me more open minded and accepting. Especially with our trips to Ghana and Senegal getting canceled, being able to turn things that didn’t go as planned into positives and moving on without complaining was one of the many things I gained from the experience.

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Making friends in the Amazon

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Riding camels in Morocco

This is basically an advertisement for Semester at Sea. So if any of you want another abroad experience, look into it. It’s for life-long learners too (you do not need to be a college student).

A Sigh of Relief

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Home is where you can be yourself. Thinking about different situations really drives this point home. For instance, sliding over home plate, running the home-stretch, and going home for the holidays all contain some feeling of relief from the stresses previously felt. When you reach whatever is acting as your home, the pressure is off to play the role society has spelled out for you or to accomplish the goal you set out to do.

Baseball, as previously noted, paints the perfect picture of the meaning of home. When a player is up to bat, thousands of thoughts race around in his mind. He must think about how he positions himself, where the outfielders are placed, where the pitcher will throw the ball, and so much more. The pressure is on and the fans, coaches, and teammates all expect him to put out a favorable outcome. One can imagine the stress these circumstances create. However, once that player crosses home plate, the pressure is off and he has accomplished his goal. He’s relieved.

For me, home has always been a place where I’ve been comfortable. Being home means that I am either done with my day, taking a break, or resting for the next day. At home, I have always been surrounded by those who know me best and, for the most part, do not judge me. The welcome who I am, whether it’s my home in Minnesota with my family or my apartment in Madison with my friends. The stresses of society do not reach me here.

Currently, I am calling my apartment in Florence home. I still believe that my “home” is in Minnesota, but when I think about my days for the last two or so months, I realize that I have made Florence my home. Not only do I sleep, shower, and eat breakfast here, I also feel comfortable and myself. I feel at home.

This wasn’t the case when I first moved to Florence for the semester. I was constantly thinking about what my other roommates, who were strangers at the time, would think if I took too long of a shower or took up too much room in the fridge. “Would they think that I’m high maintenance, rude, or weird?” I am not normally a person who is preoccupied with thinking about how others think about her. However, I knew there was a lot riding on these relationships. I mean, I was going to live with these girls for the whole semester. It’s funny to think about now because I remember this feeling only lasting for about a week and a half. After a week, we were used to everyone’s behaviors. I think having a respect and understanding of one another’s lifestyles helps create that feeling of comfortableness or relief of home.

Some of the ways I “am myself” are very small. For example, wearing my glasses or eating nutella out of the jar. Wearing glasses, you might think sounds absurd. However, most people never see me in glasses and it’s probably because for one, I look like this and two, because I really do not have any peripheral vision when wearing them so I only wear them at home. Eating nutella is self-explanatory, it’s not a social norm to eat a spread out of the jar in public, but it always is in my house.

After leaving my home in Florence for a week over spring break, I returned with a feeling that I was returning home. I came back, unpacked my suitcase, and returned to my daily routines. I felt comfortable and familiar being in the place I had left for a week. I knew where everything was in the apartment and had a set schedule. The familiarity and the comfortableness created the sense of home. I wasn’t expected to do anything upon arrival, I could simply just be. That’s what I think everyone should be able to feel in there home, like themselves and relieved.

Roommates doing what they have to in order to feel at home.

Twelve Travel

When you hear the number 12, what do you think? Probably not much because it’s only a number and not very insightful. But if you were told to use the number 12 to compose a travel plan, how many different ways do you think you could incorporate it? I used this idea of weaving 12 into every part of the day when approaching my experimental tourism assignment in which I chose the topic of twelve travel. The book The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel gave suggestions such as taking a train that left at 12:12 or buying a ticket for 12 euros to see where it takes you. I took on this challenge and this is the story:

Date: March 13th (I missed the 12th by one day)

Time: 9:00 AM-9:00 PM

Location: Florence, Italy

Mission: Accomplish 12 tasks in 12 hours

Status: Complete

Before starting the assignment, I planned everything. On a sheet of paper, I scribbled the numbers one through twelve leaving spaces for the activities I would do around Florence. One at a time, the ideas came rolling in. First, I would go on a 12 mile run, next eat lunch at the rooftop café overlooking the Piazza de Republica, then walk through the Medici Palace, and so on. Here is the complete list:

  • 12 mile run
  • Boboli gardens
  • Lunch at Piazza de Republica
  • Medici Palace
  • Public library
  • Shopping
  • Fiesole
  • Bargello
  • Santa Maria Novella
  • Dinner at nicer restaurant
  • Grocery shopping at Conad
  • Gelato

I also added some rules to the day:

  • use 12 Italian words: allora, bella, rosso, cane, cibo, etc.
  • take only 12 bites or sips when eating a meal
  • take 12 pictures
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Directions for run

Carousel ride

Carousel ride

Rooftop Café

Rooftop Café

The food

The food

Medici Chapel

Medici Chapel

Medici Palace

Medici Palace

Outside the Medici Palace

Outside the Medici Palace

More banners outside the Medici Palace

More banners outside the Medici Palace

Skateboarders near Santa Maria Novella

Skateboarders near Santa Maria Novella

Spotted Spiderman while shopping

Spotted Spiderman while shopping

Macaroons

Macaroons

The rainbow of macaroons

The rainbow of macaroons

Throughout the day, this list had to be modified. Carolyn, my roommate who joined me on several of these activites, and I nixed the Boboli gardens and Fiesole, a nearby town, knowing that we would get to these places on a later date when we could allow ourselves more time. To fill these gaps in the schedule, we rode the merry-go-round in the Piazza de Republica and stopped in a dainty macaroon shop. These were both spur of the moment ideas, but some of my favorite parts of the day. When we found the doors of the Bargello, we also discovered that it was closed on Fridays. Therefore, we filled the time by watching teenage skateboarders attempt to put on a show in front of Santa Maria Novella.

The fact that the unplanned parts of my day were the best reminds me of the uncontrollable ways of life. From the experience, I was shown by the universe that plans don’t always go as expected. This is not a new concept, for I have been told and have experienced this time and time again. I believe this is a message I need to keep in mind especially at this point in my life. So often I find myself stressing over future plans of college graduation, living arrangements, or graduate school. Not to say, forget planning, but I think everybody, myself included, needs to keep in the back of their minds that plans or outcomes change in order to better adapt to the current situation. Though it might not be what you expected, it can often turn out to be even better.

A plan to stick with