Italian Summer Memories: Contrada Festival

As we head into winter break let’s take a look back to summer! Christopher Fitzpatrick is a third-year mechanical engineering major who spent his 2018 summer on the UVA in Italy: Siena program. Read below how his experience of a contrada festival took him back to childhood memories of home.

 

 

When I was growing up, I lived on a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighborhood. Families with children lived in every house on my street, so Razor-scooter races and wiffleball matches occupied most afternoons and weekends throughout the summer. Every August, the neighborhood would host a block party. Fathers would wheel their grills to one family’s driveway while us children would squeal around in another family’s backyard and spray each other with water guns. The late afternoons would always consist of a main event—one year it was homemade mini golf course, another year it was a family-versus-family obstacle course—and evenings would always begin with a barbecue under a rented tent. Over time, people would age, families would move away, and the block parties would end for good, but I am still nostalgic of those memories.

Those memories unexpectedly surfaced last night. After three of my friends and I cooked pasta in their apartment, we were invited to join some other study-abroad students for our friend’s birthday celebration at the overwatch—a park we named for its incredible view of the Siena skyline. On our walk over, we were greeted by something that looked like a block party; fathers drank beer as they grilled various meats, small children ran around and screamed (quite loudly), adolescents hung out in cliques, and an entire neighborhood ate a massive dinner together under a graduation-party-style tent. We found a contrada festival.

My Italian roommates have explained contrada festivals to me before. Siena contrade—or neighborhoods—host massive block parties every summer around the time of the Palio di Siena—a famous horse race that takes place in the center of the city. Temporary performance stages, hired gelato vendors, games that in one way or another relate to the Palio, and excited chattering facilitate an atmosphere of tradition and community. These events further indicate the Siena population’s pride toward their contrade. I have woken up in the middle of the night several times to contrade rallies and their sounds of melodic hollering and drum-beating, and flags of each of the 17 contrade now fly along most of the city streets. In the Piazza del Campo—the city center—fences are already put in place for the race, and everyone sounds just a little more excited. Siena may be a “small” city, but it is overflowing in tradition, pride, and culture. The Palio is approaching, and it is palpable in the air.

 

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Student Testimonial: Peru

Third-year government major Jacob Weitzman is spending the Fall 2018 semester studying in Cuzco, Peru, on SIT’s Indigenous Peoples and Globalization program. Take a few minutes to watch the video he created to see a bit of what he’s been doing so far!

Japan: Weekend Homestay

Leah Corbett, a 4th year Japanese major, spent the spring semester studying on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Read about her homestay experience below, check our her own blog at https://leahandjapan.wordpress.com/, and watch her “daily snapshot” video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLN6dASZnU4.

This past weekend, I did a two-day, one-night homestay. I and another student from India, Gopi, stayed at the home of a woman, Takahashi-san, who works at Oberlin. I remember when I first signed up to do a homestay through Oberlin’s Office of International Programs, the vision that automatically came to my mind was staying with a nuclear family – I think that’s the typical vision – so I was a little surprised when I got the notification that I would be staying with one person. However, I think it brings up an important point, which is that not everyone lives in that style of household. I think it turned out to be an enjoyable experience for all three of us!

We met up on Saturday morning, and then went shopping for food. Gopi and I are both vegetarian, and Takahashi-san was very thoughtful in making sure we would have a good choice of food during our time with her. We even stopped by a Japanese sweets store and picked out something for each of us.

This is a flower made of sweet bean paste which I got at the sweets shop. It was almost too pretty to eat.

Once we got settled in at her place, Takahashi-san began preparing ingredients for making vegetable sushi rolls. Since I’ve been in Japan, I have not yet been able to eat any kind of sushi here because veggie rolls aren’t a normal thing that is sold here, like they sometimes are in the U.S., so I was excited to be able to eat some and experiment with fillings. She cut the nori (seaweed) into smaller sections so we could make lots of individual rolls with different ingredients.

If you look closely, there are two tiny dollops of wasabi in this roll. I was scared of trying any more than that.

Later that day, we went to a piano performance, which Gopi had been invited to. It was rainy and we had to take the train a little ways to get there, but it was relaxing and a nice evening excursion for us.

The next day for a midday snack, Gopi showed us how to make chapati, a type of flatbread from India. We ate it along with a mango pickle which she brought with her to Japan.

All in all, it was a cool experience because there was cultural exchange going more than one way, with us eating both Japanese and Indian food during our time there. It was an enriching experience which especially demonstrated just how important food is in the varying cultures in the world. I’m glad I decided to try out a homestay!

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.

Thanksgiving in Jordan

Dominick Giovanniello attended the 2016-2017 CET: Intensive Arabic Language in Amman, Jordan program as a Third Year. He studies Middle Eastern Language and Literature and Global Security and Justice. As we prepare for break here in Charlottesville, let’s look back a year ago to his experience celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.

Out of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite. We celebrate it simply back home, but I still love gathering friends and family together and gorging myself on delicious food. However, I’ve never considered Thanksgiving a real holiday or celebration of anything meaningful to my life. To me it’s just a good excuse to bring people together and eat. And for that reason, explaining Thanksgiving to my Jordanian friends was rather difficult, since Jordanian families tend to be closer and don’t need a non-religious holiday as an excuse to gather.

Nevertheless, this past week we held a Thanksgiving celebration at the CET building, complete with all of the traditional Thanksgiving staples like turkey (probably the best I’ve ever had) and mashed potatoes. The day started early, with a couple of students slaving away preparing dishes while the rest drank and milled about. Although most of our language partners, teachers and Jordanian roommates were present, I noticed that they largely stuck to themselves, in large part, I suspect, due to the presence of alcohol. And as the day wore on, I noticed that the separation between the two groups became more acute.

Although none of the Americans were belligerent or exceedingly annoying, it was obvious that many were intoxicated and that the Jordanians felt uncomfortable because of it. Additionally, none of them could relate to the topics of conversation or to the shared cultural knowledge of the Americans, for lack of a better term. For example, when “Country Road,” the ubiquitous song in all American college parties, came on over the speakers, practically the entire group stood up and began to sing along lustily, while the Jordanians looked on in confused amusement.

To be entirely honest, I didn’t enjoy Thanksgiving this year. Although it was fun to let loose and enjoy some of the comforts, activities and foods I associate with home, I felt like I was under a microscope and that the Jordanians were judging us the entire time. In my opinion, opening up and celebrating or discussing your culture in a foreign country induces a considerable amount of pressure and makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. I think a large part of it is due to having lived overseas before and being one of the only Americans in a school full of Italians and Brits at the height of the Iraq war when anti-American sentiment was really common in Europe.

To me this Thanksgiving was a reminder that cultural dialogue and exchange are not something that just happens, nor is it an entirely innocent process. You have to make an effort to share your culture and be open to learning about another person’s, but at the same time you’re also aware of your own role as an unofficial ambassador, which inserts a tremendous amount of pressure into interactions and events that you would never notice normally at home. For this reason, living overseas can be really exhausting and stressful, even if you’re just going to the grocery store or doing something mundane like that.

I wonder if immigrants in America feel this way, especially immigrants from non-Western cultures. Because no matter how welcoming or accepting another culture is, there’s always a pressure to conform and change your behavior to the cultural norms of your host country, while at the same time challenging stereotypes and misconceptions. And if I’m feeling this kind of pressure as an American student in Jordan for a year, I can’t begin to imagine how tough it must be for Arab immigrants in the U.S. (or for anyone who gets lumped in the same group), especially in light of our post-9/11 society and attitudes.

Religions of Korea

Jonathan Thomas is a Second Year student, currently enrolled in the UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in Seoul, South Korea.

Seoul National University is nestled into a contour on the side of one of Seoul’s largest mountains, Gwankak mountain. The mountain is located to the south of the city, and like most of Korea, is particularly picturesque during the fall months when the trees covering the mountains turn from green to autumnal colors. Getting off at Gwacheon station puts you at the base of the mountain path that begins the ascent to the top of Gwanak mountain.  The path winds its way up, following a clear stream which makes it way down the mountain in the opposite direction.

Just before the peak of the mountain, there are a series of buildings, where you’ll find an ornate and active Buddhist temple, with its members still operating and maintaining the temple. However, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Walking up to the top and finding a temple is quite common in Korea, with many of them located on or around mountains. This doesn’t mean that Buddhists or Buddhist monks are in anyway secluded. Often times you’ll see monks with their heads shaved dressed in gray robes riding the subway. Additionally, if you take the bus from Seoul National University to the closest subway station on the east side of the school, you will be thrust into the busy area of Nakseongdae station. The busy streets are home to coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and churches. The churches are highlighted by the spires jutting up from them, but apart from this they look like any other building on the street.

What is remarkable about this is the coexistence of both of these religions in harmony. Many times, religions butt heads, clash in their ideology and generally don’t get along. While there have been rises and falls in popularity of both religions in Korea over the centuries, Korea has had a history of religious acceptance, especially of foreign religions, and the divide between Christianity and Buddhism is about fifty-fifty. This has created a dynamic that has continued into the present. The religious order of Korea isn’t something of tension, but rather a virtue, where the religion you hold is your belief and the religion another person holds is their own belief. This has created a society where Buddhist temples and Christian churches sit virtually side-by-side without the slightest hint of animosity.

While this may seem trivial, to me it’s a refreshing reassurance. Currently, there are quite a lot religious conflicts spread across the world, and these conflicts are some of the most difficult to resolve. Therefore, to see a country and culture like Korea where two religions can coexist, sans conflict, gives me hope that those conflicts have some sort of resolution, and makes me appreciated Korea for its unique cultural aspects like this one.

Rethinking Food Security

Devan Kaufman is a 4th year studying Global Studies currently abroad with SIT International Honors: Rethinking Food Security. Currently in India, the program will also visit Tanzania and Italy.
Devan Kaufman (me) on a rooftop in Ahmedabad wearing a necklace of marigolds and a dot of red with rice pressed in on my forehead – a traditional welcome.
A rickshaw: these are common modes of transportation and what I used in getting to and from class.
One of the oldest tea shops in the market visited – selling for over 100 years.
Workers standing on the side of a truck of whole coconuts for the wholesaler.
 Wholesale bags of goods at the market.
Colorful sand used for Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights) in the making of rangolis (a traditional art form of colored patterns created on the floor commonly using dyed rice or sand).
Some traditional sweets.
Anna purna: a program I studied that serves food to day laborers for a cheap price: Daal, roti, rice and a sweet.
One of AMUL’s headquarters where milk is processed. India has the largest milk co – op and visiting this processing site was part of my studies.
Rooftop city view.
An alter for Diwali.
Pastoralists with their cows: Their livelihoods are constantly being threatened with globalization and a shift towards industrialization and ignoring biodiversity.
A few indigenous cows.