Making Connections in Rome

Shivani Dimri is a History and Environmental Sciences major who spent spring of her third year on the IES: Rome program. Read her pre-departure reflection here (https://hoosabroad.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/rome-pre-departure-reflection/) and keep reading below to see some of what she did while in Rome last spring.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and in my attempt to make deeper connections with Italians and other people living in Rome, I did some research online and found an organization called Romaltruista (Altruistic Rome). One of the programs of this organization is Benvenuti a Cena (Welcome to Dinner). It’s a eventful that pairs a small group of Italians and foreign residents of Rome together for a potluck dinner in an Italian host’s house and an opportunity to speak with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. I made an Indian rice pudding dish to share, and had a chance to speak with people from Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Kurdistan, and Mali. Although we came from such different backgrounds, we realized we had common interests–travel and learning languages. Also, that evening, a journalist and a camera crew from an Italian news channel came to cover Benvenuti a Cena. I haven’t seen the segment yet, but there’s a chance there’s an Italian news clip with me speaking in it! I’m nervous, but I’m proud of myself for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and more importantly, being part of an effort to showcase this organization’s important initiative to bring Italians and foreigners moving to Italy together.

My immigration and integration politics class visited a refugee center called the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. We met the staff and refugees who visit the center to socialize, gather supplies, take language lessons and more. When we reflected upon the experience as a class, there was actually a lot of conflict about whether or not the visit was a positive experience for all parties involved. My two friends and I (who speak more Italian than the rest of my classmates) had a fun time connecting with the folks at JNRC, especially when we dropped into a German language class that was finishing up. It might have been more overwhelming if there was a large class, but we got to chat with the German teacher, a man from Bangladesh, and a man from Senegal, talking about and bouncing between languages like English and Italian, and also French and Spanish. It was meaningful because we could all connect over our interests in languages and our multicultural backgrounds. Other students in the class said that they felt like they were intruding and that they did not want to disturb the guests of the refugee center. Well, I also felt uncomfortable (as I am in any situation where I don’t know anyone) until I found common ground in a small group setting! Maybe they did not yet find a common interest or maybe they faced language barriers that made it hard to break through in our short visit. Regardless, our professor told us that being uncomfortable is part of the experience and that the JNRC and other refugee centers opening up their doors to those interested in seeing is better for refugees in the long run, spreading awareness and making the public empathetic.

Besides these activities, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of other things through my classes and on my own! I also visited a section of Rome with beautiful street art for my Italian class and went to the Foro Italico (formerly the Foro Mussolini, or the Forum of Mussolini) for my Italian Fascist history class. I went to a food truck festival with some study abroad friends and the old roommate of a friend who was visiting Rome for the weekend, and then woke up early to see the Vatican museums on the last Sunday of the month (the free entry day!) and saw the Pope speed by in a car in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica on Palm Sunday. Easter weekend was my spring break, and I took the opportunity to visit my relatives in Manchester, England. One day we woke up early and made the four hour drive to London, and one afternoon I saw downtown Manchester. One day my aunt had a bunch of her family friends over and their kids in their teens and twenties were all so kind and welcoming to me as we sit around, talked, and ate. I went grocery shopping and clothes shopping, and even though that doesn’t sound the most exciting or glamorous, but it was a great break to relax and catch up with family. In England, I thought, how will I adjust to Italy again? And now that I’m writing this update between classes back in Rome at the IES Abroad center, I’m thinking, how will I adjust to home again?

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Glimpses of the Netherlands

Seena Honarvar studied in Rotterdam, Netherlands last spring semester as a 3rd year studying economics and commerce. He enjoyed having new cultural experiences abroad and took many pictures along the way. Keep scrolling to see some of what he has shared!

 

 

The second lecture: Strategic Management

The famous cube houses in Rotterdam city center!

Primary government building in Rotterdam.

Interior of a crafty thrift shop in Rotterdam

First flakes of snow in Kralingen!

New age Rotterdam apartment complexes, built after World War 2 bombings.

Tribute statue to Jacobus Henricus Van’t Hoff, Dutch chemist

Iconic Rotterdam Markthall from inside

Old style Dutch windmill by Kralingen Lake

UVA in Lyon: My Progression in French

Brielle Entzminger is a Media Studies major who studied in Lyon, France during the Spring 2018 semester of her 3rd year. She was provided with many opportunities to practice her French language skills over the course of her semester. Keep reading to see how she took them on!

“When you come back, you’ll be practically fluent!” Countless people told me this when I told them I was studying abroad in Lyon. I would not only be taking classes in French with French students but also living with a French host family for an entire semester. It makes sense – 5 months of immersion in another language should make you practically fluent, right?

While I would like to think that that is true, my experiences in France so far prove otherwise. I have been in Lyon for almost 3 months now, yet I do not feel anywhere close to being fluent, and I doubt that I will be fluent by the time I leave in May. It is still very difficult to follow conversations between French people, completely comprehend a French movie, and to understand the professors who teach non-international student classes (classes with mostly French students), for example. No matter how hard I concentrate, I can only understand part of the conversation, movie, etc., unless the speakers are not talking too fast.

I have come to realize that becoming fluent in just five months is an unrealistic goal, especially considering my life here. I do take almost all of my class in French and must listen, take notes, and speak in French during those classes. I also speak to my host mother in French and must use French during my day-to-day activities, such as ordering food. However, many of my friends are other American students, meaning that, for the most part, we are communicating in English. I am still exposed to English on a daily basis, from music to social media, also. In short, I am not completely immersed in French.

Other international students have expressed similar feelings to me. A girl who I worked on a group project with has been studying in Lyon since last semester, for example. I asked her if she thinks her French has improved and she said that, honestly, she does not think that it has. While she is now used to listening to and comprehending French in and outside of class, she does not feel that her speaking skills have gotten much better. Many of her roommates and friends (other international students) communicate in English rather than French, so she does not have to speak French all of the time. She too is not completely immersed.

With this, I now no longer hold the goal of becoming fluent above my head. It would take several semesters, perhaps even an entire bachelor’s degree (four years), as well as further immersion (i.e. no use of English), to truly become fluent while studying in France. Instead, I am considering the smaller ways I have progressed in French since January. While reading and writing have never been very difficult for me, I have certainly improved in my comprehension; while in January, I did not even understand when a cashier asked me if I wanted my food “for here” or “to go,” I can now order and ask questions at restaurants with little problem. I can also understand almost all of my professors (excluding my media professor who speaks way too fast). I admit that I do not understand everything the French people say around me at school, on the street, etc. but, if I am paying attention, I can understand what they are talking about.

As for my speaking skills, I now feel a bit more confident when speaking French during my classes, to French people, and with my friends. I have already had to do a total of four exposés (oral presentations) this semester, along with French students and other international students. The presentations were very intimidating, especially the ones in my media class that I have the most trouble understanding; nonetheless, I was quite proud of myself for getting through them.

I also feel happy every time I am able to have a successful conversation with a French person, meaning that I understood them, he or she understood me, and he or she did not switch to English once he or she realized I was not French. Having a successful conversation in French can still be hard, especially with French people who know English and want to ‘practice’ with me, but I have become better at having them.

Finally, I have come to enjoy practicing French with my friends who are also learning French. It helps me to not only realize which words and phrases I do not yet know in French but also helps me to further integrate French into my daily life. While we certainly do not practice French enough with each other, I like it when we do and plan to do it more often.

Perhaps one of my most memorable French milestones occurred just a little over one week ago. As part of the Lyon study abroad program, us UVA students were invited to take a cooking class. The class was a French woman’s house and was entirely in French. While it was difficult at first to understand the written recipes the woman gave us, she was very friendly and helpful, making sure we cooked everything correctly. It was quite easy to understand her and ask her questions, and she complimented our French skills throughout the class. As we dug into our delicious meal of quiche, chicken with vegetables, and chocolate cake, I smiled to myself – we had successfully completed a French cooking class.

My progression in French has ultimately reassured me that fluency is possible. It simply takes a lot of practice and time – way more than one semester in France. It also depends on the person. While some people can quickly grasp new languages (especially if they already know more than one language), for others it takes years. A Polish girl I met, for example, told me she did not feel fluent in English until she was seventeen or eighteen, and she started studying it when she was in elementary school. As I spend my remaining time, I will try my hardest to appreciate the different ways I progress in French; no matter how small they are, they bring me one step closer to truly mastering a second language.

UVA in Valencia: Snapshots of Spain

Christine Logan, a double major in Computer Science and Spanish, studied on the UVA in Valencia program this past spring semester as a 3rd year before graduating early. Check out some of the photos she took in and around Valencia during her time there!

 

 

Sunset from Valencia in the City of Arts and Sciences

Spanish flags hanging outside a building in Madrid

View of Bocairent

Statue in a park during a women’s rights march in Valencia

Panorama of Port Suplaya in Valencia

Soccer game at Mestalla Stadium in Valencia

Homemade traditional Valencian paella

Carrer de la Pau in Valencia

A view of the interior of the Mercat Central in Valencia

Dragon statue at a kid’s playgroudnext to the beach in Peñíscola

Experiences in Milan

As we continue to look back at experiences students had last spring, let’s turn to Linjiang Han, a Commerce major who studied in Milan, Italy on the UVA Commerce: Third Year Core: Universita Bocconi program to finish off her third year. In this post, she writes about her thoughts from during her second month in Italy!

One of my biggest challenges since coming to Italy is the use of clothes drying racks instead of dryers. I asked around and realized other European countries also use drying racks. When I lived in the United States, I used to wash my clothes once every two or three weeks. After coming here, I must wash my clothes every week because of the lag time for my clothes to dry as well as the small size of the washing machine.

Another difference is that the grocery stores and product container sizes can be much smaller than they are in the United States. I find this to be a fact that is rooted in culture and not likely to change. In the stores, there is also not as many selections as I am used to and prices can be higher due to the cost of living in Milan and the euro-to-dollar exchange rate. I try to save on expenses by finding less expensive restaurants and places to buy food in bulk.
Not only are the grocery store prices high, but also restaurant prices. While you do not tip in Italy, there are sitting fees that are essentially mandatory tips. These sitting fees are generally €2.50. Once, I thought I should save money and ate a small meal that was €4.50 only to realize the sitting fee costed over 55% of what I ate. To get around this problem, especially when I’m traveling and prices can sometimes be exorbitant in the first place, I will eat at cafes or small establishments where there is no sitting fee. However, when it comes to eating authentic Italian food, especially ones specific to a region, I am willing to pay more money for it. In the following photographs are some of the local foods I’ve eaten: Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (Squid Ink Pasta) from Venice and Polenta e Osèi (Polenta Cake) from Bergamo.
Related to food, another challenge I encountered when I came to Milan was the late dinner time because of aperitivo. Since then, I have fully adjusted by to it by eating lunch at a later time or eating a snack around lunch time. After coming to Milan, I have realized that not only is my body affected by meal times, but that many Italian businesses tend to take a lunch break. Even at the university’s help desk, there is a three-hour window in the middle of the day when it is closed. Therefore, I am now accustomed to checking hours of operation if I want to go someplace close to lunch time.

Additionally, everyone places great efforts in sorting out trash in Italy. For example, we have five different trash bins in my apartment with one each for plastic, paper, glass, organic waste, and miscellaneous. In addition, personal bathroom trash must be taken out by each occupant that day. I was not used to taking out the trash every day, so it was an initial challenge to remember every day.

I have been exploring Milan by going to different neighborhoods/bureaus of the city. When I went to the northwest part of the city, I was surprised to find a Chinatown. I later asked around and discovered there is a large Chinese population in Milan. After my realization, I asked some Chinese speaking locals about their immigration and was informed they immigrated to Italy when the economy in the country was good and particularly because they already had friends in Milan. This really resonated with me because I immigrated to the U.S. from China. Beside is a picture I took when the Chinese New Year was approaching and I saw there was a lot of decorations in Chinatown. On Chinese New Year, there were so many Chinese gathered that could cause someone to think they were not in Italy anymore.

Unfortunately, I have had more practice speaking Chinese than Italian since I came to Italy. My Italian is very poor and I also cannot roll my r’s. Some Italians assume I cannot speak Italian because I am Asian and they are correct in this case. Once or twice, people have greeted me with “konnichiwa” or “nihao.” The most Italian I have used is to order food to the lunch lady or the basic phrases such as “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” However, I shall endeavor to learn more Italian while I also explore more of Milan.

My exploration of Milan includes going to its different museums. From my visits, I learned a lot about the history of the city I’m currently studying abroad in.  For example, in Milan, there is one central canal with many restaurants known as Navigli. However, in one of the museums, I learned Milan was once more like Venice with many canals but, due to industrialization, most of the old canals were covered over by concrete and Navigli now remains the only main canal in Milan. While I thought this was rather tragic, I am glad Navigli is still around as I often go there for aperitivo and enjoy the view (seen on the left). I believe that anyone who lives in Milan must have seen this beautiful view as they pass by Navigli.

Through walking around Milan and sometimes taking spontaneous routes and detours, I am becoming more attuned to the pulse of the city. I believe by the end of my experience, I will feel like a real local rather than just a student who attends one of its universities.

A big part of my goal for coming to Italy was not just getting to know Milan, as I wrote about in my last blog, but the country itself. By going to other Italian cities besides Milan, I have been able to see the part of Italy that’s less business-focused. In smaller towns like Bergamo, an hour away from Milan, the pace of life is slower, though definitely not lackadaisical, in which Italians take time to eat meals or sit in a gorgeous park to read. On the other hand, in cities like Venice where tourists outpopulate the locals, many of the locals I find are around retirement age and often keep to themselves.

I believe I am learning more about Italy, not only through a third-person point of view of traveling, but also interacting with local Italians wherever I go. In Venice, I talked to a local who actually spoke Chinese to me, a huge indication of the number of Chinese tourists who visit the city, and we discussed the city itself. He told me about the pollution of the canals that is not only caused by tourists, which I had previously assumed, but mostly because of the wastes from nearby plastic factories. When I brought up how the U.S. would usually fine such companies to clean up the waste, he replied that the red tape of the system means that these factories wouldn’t really be fined. I found this topic really fascinating because I don’t think I would have researched something like this before going to Venice and I got to see Venice beyond all the touristy canals and through the lens of a local.

Currently I have traveled to six different Italian northern cities, most of which are close to Milan. My travels have provided me the opportunity to practice Italian. Since Bocconi is an international school and my classes are all in the English, I don’t meet many Italians at school. When I go to stores and shops, I use very basic Italian phrases such as “how much.” Through my travels, I seek to gain a better understanding of the Italian lifestyle and culture that are shaped by the country’s history and geographical location. Later this semester, I hope to visit more Italian places, both cities and small towns, in my efforts to become more educated about the country I am living in.

Rome: Pre-Departure Reflection

As students prepare to start fall semester abroad, we look back at the experiences of those who studied abroad last spring. Shivani Dimri is a History and Environmental Sciences major who spent spring of her third year on the IES: Rome program. Read her pre-departure reflections below, and stay tuned for more posts detailing her semester in Italy.

 

Warning: My thoughts keep zigzagging between English and Italian, making it that much harder to express my feelings about moving to Rome for the spring.

My name is Shivani. It’s an Indian name, but it has the same pronunciation in Italian. I am from Falls Church, Virginia and I’m a third year double majoring in history and environmental sciences. Let me tell you, I have been looking forward to study abroad since I started college, and I’m so excited that I’ll be departing for Rome at the end of January. I’m eager to improve my Italian, meet new people, and experience new cultures in Italy.

So…why Italy?

Arguably, the Italian language has defined my college experience more than anything. If you know me, you probably already know that I started taking Italian in my first year at UVa simply to fulfill the College’s foreign language requirement. Yet, I thought to myself, if I’m going to spend four semesters studying a language, I want to do it well. I want to actually be able to speak the language and retain this knowledge. With a positive attitude, I found that I really enjoyed Italian and had a knack for it, reading books and watching videos and finding any possible opportunity to speak it. By my second year taking Italian, I gained something that I didn’t expect to come from learning a second language: a new voice.

I know it sounds strange, but hear me out. Sometimes I’m afraid to speak in front of people I’m not already close with because I don’t want to seem stupid. Sound familiar, my fellow introverts? In a way, I have more confidence speaking Italian because it’s easier for me to assure my brain that it’s okay if the words don’t exactly come out right. It’s always okay to make mistakes, but my brain feels like I have more of a pass when it comes to Italian because I’m clearly not a native speaker. I started learning when I was eighteen years old!

With that being said, I look forward to speaking Italian in Rome with my host family, with my peers, and with anyone else I meet in the city! But of course, there’s more to my desire to go to Italy than learning the language and understanding my identity.

There’s history. My History Distinguished Majors Program thesis is on Italian imperialism in East Africa. The classes I’ll be taking at IES about modern and ancient Italian history fit right into my interests and Rome is the perfect place to take field trips related to what I’m learning.

There’s culture. As an Asian American student, I’m curious about the lived experiences of immigrants, minorities, and expats in Rome. I look forward to learning about their contributions to Roman culture through my coursework and when I’m out and about.

Oh, and I guess there’s food, too?

As a double major and DMP student, it’s taken a lot of planning and some challenging course loads over the last five semesters…but it’s all paying off because now I have the privilege to spend over three months in Italy! I leave for Rome on January 28th. My longer-than-usual winter break has been giving me time to relax at home…and pack, mine the internet for travel tips, and call upon Teresa (my friend and former UVa in Siena student) for advice. Now I just can’t wait for my adventure to begin!

Cultural Snapshot: the Razor Scooter

Lillian Harris is a 3rd year majoring in Art History who studied abroad with UVA in Lyon in the fall of 2017. Check out some of her cultural observations  below.

One of the first things that struck me as funny when I arrived in Lyon –  and something I don’t even notice now – is the way people get around here, that is, how people physically get from one place to another: from home to work, from school to soccer practice, from the nightclub to back home. While I expected the preferred mode of transportation to be the bike, or maybe even the Vespa, I’ve found that it’s the Razor Scooter that rules the city streets as the most overwhelmingly popular ride in Lyon.

I used to have a razor scooter when I was younger; my childhood memories are punctuated with bruised ankles and skinned knees from scooting down the driveway at top speeds and attempting bunny hops over the cracks in the sidewalk.

I hopped back on my scooter in high school, when some of the seniors created a Scooter Club. It started out as a joke, but as more and more kids dug out their razors from the back of their garages, the Club became pretty legit. Members rode their razors to and from class and even held scooter rallies at recess.

So it’s funny that this scooter motif keeps reappearing in my life. First in my childhood play dates, then as an ironic joke in high school, and now it’s followed me all the way to France.

Since I’ve become so well re-acquainted with this mode of transportation in my time abroad, I’ve compiled a list of 6 things you should know about the rich scooter culture in Lyon. “Rules of the Road,” if you will. Here they are:

  1. Not just for kids
    • This is the first aspect of scooter culture that I noticed in Lyon. While I had always thought of the Razor Scooter as a child’s plaything, it turns out that scooters are a very efficient mode of transportation used on a daily basis by adults and kids alike in Lyon. I am constantly taken aback when I see a grown man in a suit and carrying a briefcase scooting down the sidewalk on his way to work.
  1. Bikes on road, scooters on sidewalk
    • This is arguably the most important rule of scooting etiquette. Bikes, since they have thick, rubber wheels that are able to conquer the cobble stoned-streets of Vieux Lyon, should always be on the road; most of the roads in Lyon have bike lanes, so sticking to this rule should not be difficult. Scooters, on the other hand, have small, hard, plastic wheels, and do not do well with bumps. So scooters are allowed on the smooth sidewalks. Whether you’re on a bike or a scooter, it is important to stay in your lane.
  2. Scooters have the right-of-way
    • Forget yielding for pedestrians; scooters, as the dominant, speedy form of transportation, have the right-of-way on sidewalks. All walkers should move out of the way for scooters to come through. After all, there is nothing more frustrating than having to decelerate and lose momentum to dodge slow walkers.
  3. Pimp my ride
    • The Lyonnais take pride in their scooters, and do not hesitate to trick them out. For the adults, this might include a little hook to hang a purse, or an added platform on the back for a child to stand and ride with his parent. For the kids, common accessories include decals, detachable bags, and fashion helmets, of course.
  4. Pop a wheelie
    • Scooting is so popular in Lyon that it has become not just a mode of transportation but also a sport. There are many skate parks in Lyon, and one of my favorite activities is going to the quai at Guillotière and watching grown men do tricks on scooters. Think: wheelies, 180s – heck, I even saw someone do a backflip just the other day. It’s really impressive to see all the tricks one can do with the simple Razor.
  5. Paradoxical French efficiency
    • A major change from my life at UVA that I’ve experienced here in Lyon is the whole idea of time. Everything in France takes a little longer than it does in the US. For example, it is considered rude to show up on time to a dinner party, and also, you can count on courses at the university starting at least 10 minutes late. So it’s so funny to me that the French buy so wholeheartedly into this uber efficient mode of transportation, the Razor Scooter, despite a general lack of concern for the need to rush.

It’s interesting to note the differences in daily life in different places: the way we eat, the way we talk, the way we get around. These are the nuances of the way of living that really define a culture and set it apart from others. The use of the Razor Scooter I’ve found in Lyon is just one facet of its culture that makes it totally unique.

They say that instead of focusing on the destination, one should enjoy the journey; in Lyon, I’m taking my sweet time on my Razor Scooter.