Italy: STUDY Abroad

It has been a while since I posted and the reason is that I’ve been on vacation. I know, you’re thinking, “Vacation from what? You’re in Italy!” But even though it has been a while since I mentioned it, I am in fact studying abroad.

For starters, I have an Appreciation of Music class taught by WCC’s own Ben Kohn (a huge part of the reason I decided to go to Italy was because Ben is such an awesome professor). So far, we have been gone to a performance of Gregorian chants at Santa Croce, an organ concert at the Duomo, and seen the trumpeter Alison Balsom. We’ve learned about Palestrina, watched a movie about the life of Hildegard von Bingen, discussed troubadours and court music, watched a movie about Gesualdo, and watched a performance of Nigel Kennedy.


In our film class (another taught by Ben) we’ve been focusing on Italian neorealism, and we’ve watched Roma, Open City and La Terra Trema. We saw the surrealist Un Chien Andalou and to discuss mise-en-scene, perception and expectations we saw Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.

Our Italian language class has been our most difficult. We only meet once a week for two hours, and because most Florentines have a pretty good grasp of English so that we’re rarely forced to use Italian, we have learned some but not nearly enough. To remedy this, I’ve signed up for a language exchange partner, and starting this Thursday we will be meeting to trade languages and talk about our cultures. I feel woefully unprepared, and I’m certain she’ll know more English than I do Italian, but I’m hoping that she’ll be able to help me improve since I’ll now have someone to practice the language with.

Our Italian culture class is fascinating. For instance, despite all of the history here, did you know that Italy only became a single unified nation in 1861? Or that while there is a “standard Italian” language (modified Florentine, in fact, thanks in part to Dante and other artists), most Italians don’t speak it as a first language? Milanese grow up speaking Milanese, Sicilians grow up speaking Sicilian, Romans grow up speaking Roman… And sometimes only in school do they begin learning Italian, and once learned it is usually reserved for a professional setting and at home they revert back to their native dialect. There are still deep cultural divides between regions and especially between northern and southern Italy; their government is shaky (they have had 62 different governments since unification); the Ferraro family (of Nutella fortune) is the richest family in the country; and while 85% of the population was born/identifies as Catholic, only around 20% actually attends mass regularly.


Outside of our classes we have our “cultural calendar” of activities, featuring trips like Pisa and classes like Pizza Making. All in all, a pretty busy schedule, but I’m having a great time so it feels more like fun than work. We just had midterms and today marks the beginning of our final month, so we’re a bit in shock at how quickly the time has gone. We still have quite a few more trips planned before we have to head home though and plenty more to cross off on our list of must do, not to mention how far behind I am posting on here (Elba & more).


Italy: Cultural Calendar

Since arriving in Italy AIFS has provided us with a pretty extensive “cultural calendar” of activities. Most of these I’ve written about here (e.g. the trip to Montepulciano and Pienza; the trip to Siena and San Gimignano; seeing La Triviata) but there were a couple of smaller ones I haven’t, such as the white wine tasting and the olive oil tasting. We learned quite a bit about the production and quality levels of both products and got to taste some as well (taking shots of olive oil was interesting…).


This last weekend we went to a calcio match (also known as soccer or football depending on where you’re from) between Fiorentina and Inter Milan.

This was where the Intern Milan fans sat, protected by plexi glass on either side as well as security guards.

The Italians really love their soccer. Our professor told us that where he was sitting a small child got smacked for playing around during a moment of silence at the beginning (a player died recently) but was later yelling out curse words as bad as the adults. We loved the guys in front of us though. Throughout the game they would stand up and shake their fists, yell, and start talking angrily amongst themselves. It was as entertaining as the game itself (which I found I enjoyed quite a bit, though I’ve never watched soccer before), though it ended in a 0-0 tie.


Our cultural calender for this half of the program is a bit less intense because we have a much smaller group (our Washington group is only 5 and we were combining forces with Maryland and California for most of the activities, but their trips are coming to an end).

P.S. In case you haven’t noticed, I post more photos on Flickr, so if you’d like to see more views of the churches, etc. then just click the Flickr on the right of the page.

P.P.S. I apologize for any typos or weird formatting issues that have come up recently — I’ve been posting most of these from my phone.

P.P.P.S. If you’d like to see the AIFS blog (because perhaps you’re interested in studying abroad, or you just want more pictures of the activities, you can check that out here).

Italy: Music & Culture

Monday evening we went to a baroque concert featuring pieces from Vilvaldi, Albinoni, Haendel, and Telemann, featuring trumpeter Alison Balsom.  It was a fun chance to dress up a bit and the pieces were done amazingly well.  During intermission I ordered my first cioccolato caldo and it was absolutely delicious, though unfortunately I was a bit late in getting it so I only got a few sips in quickly (which led to a burnt tongue), but I did put the cookies the waiter gave me in my purse to enjoy later (they were buttery sugary melt in your mouth wonderful).



Apparently this costume was in one of the first productions of Othello.


On Tuesday evening we went to a operformance of La Triviata at St. Mark’s church, which is part of an old Medici Palace owned by Machiavelli.  Since it’s such an intimate space we had a very close view, though they had to edit the opera a bit to accomadate for the setting.  Ever since I first saw Tosca last year I’ve fallen in love with opera and this performance was very well done.  When Chiara Panacci (Violetta) sang I could feel it reverberating in my ears it was so clear and loud!  The proceeds of the church’s opera performances go to charity so it was supporting a good cause as well.



Today we went to the Uffizi and though no pictures were allowed I did manage to sneak a couple — I took the first because Adoration of the Magi by Botticelli is actually the picture on the cover of the book on the Medici family that my mom gave me.


This is what the ceilings in the hallway look like.


And of course I managed to take a picture of books (ledgers, actually, I suppose).


We only had two hours with our instructor giving us a guided tour but luckily we have passes that allow us to get in as many times as we want for free so I’ll have plenty more time to explore.  So far we saw some early Madonnas, the Botticelli room, and the Leonardo da Vinci room.  It was amazing seeing something like The Birth of Venus up close since it’s such a famous painting.