Thursday, January 8, 2009

Settled A Bit...

I was very, very nervous last night but I have to say that I feel a lot better now that I'm in my apartment and have time to get organized. But let me backtrack.

There are seventeen students studying at the Università per Stranieri through Aracadia. Three of them are continuing on from last semester and I think one of them was studying in Florence previously and is living on his own with his Italian girlfriend? We're still waiting for two girls, and I think one poor girl was in Dublin for a bit but go sick and missed her plane. Generally, though, most of them are from the east coast, except someone from Minnesota and a guy from Seattle. The majority are girls (there are only two guys) and mostly juniors, minus a few seniors. They range from being extremely excited to jump right in and speak Italian to people complaining that they're not ready or that they don't want to go to class. The great majority of them have been to Italy before, a lot on exchange programs in high school, and are minoring/majoring in Italian or have a strict language requirement for their school. There is another Cohen on the trip (Amanda Cohen - Mike Olah, she was your lab partner in high school! told me how everyone loved you and funny things about George Liu :)) and someone with the last name "Stranieri" which I think is kind of funny. Basically, though, I'm just around a bunch of junior girls who are Italian like me who are psych majors :-P (that's not completely true, but it's a bit funny that my roomate is from Upper Darby, is interested in Neuropsych, and is the product of a Jewish - Dad Roman Catholic - Mom marriage [maybe that's how a lot Italians are entering the world now since the birth rate is going down here]).

When I said that when I was meeting the other students in the program and we all had no idea what we were doing, I meant it. I waited at the airport for a few hours until everyone who was flying in that day arrived and then we went on a three-hour bus ride to Perugia. I really didn't feel that tired and was determined to stay awake and talk to people but by the end, everyone had passed out, including me.

Then there we were, in Perugia! We spent our first night in a hotel (Hotel Fortuna <= look Tuna!) which my family will be staying in when they come to visit me (It's really nice, right in the center of town and we even had a little balcony [view from it to the left] - you'll love it). We stupidly started rolling our 50lb bags down the street as we hiked up to the hotel but the city looked beautiful with little Christmas lights hanging between apartments over our heads.

We finally got a little bit of an itinerary so we finally had some idea of what we were doing. There was a rumor that we'd be having class on Friday which made us very anxious. Thankfully we found out that we wouldn't have our schedules yet so don't have to go but even better, we'd be having an Italian placement exam 8:30am the next morning! Ugh.

We had dinner at Ristorante Victoria, right next to our hotel, and we filled up the entire one-room restaurant. Of course my first meal in Italy was amazing! We had a wonderful antipasto dish that I thought we'd be sharing between a few people but we each got our own. It was filled with prosciutto, salami, cheese, a little piece of bread with olive oil, the freshest bruschetta I've ever had, and a little buckwheat to top it off. We were treated to some local vino biancho and rosso and then had some simple, but absolutely perfect pasta. For dessert we had either tiramisu or panna cotta (like flan Joel!). Mmmmm.

Some of our future Italian teachers joined us for dinner and immediately jumped into only speaking Italian. Conversation was light, though, and the joke at dinner was that the bread in Perugia, or in this region in general, is not known for being that good. They generally don't add salt to it so it's pretty flavorless. Other than that, this girl who participated in the program last semester joined us for dinner and we basically grilled her the whole time on what living here is like. She basically echoed the feelings that a lot of the people in my program have of looking down on/wanting to avoid the general Umbra students. I don't think that's necessarily fair but we will be having a very different experience. She says that a lot of Americans come over and just hang out amongst themselves and go to the more "American" bars and are only really experiencing the culture from a removed standpoint.

It was just seeing teachers and hearing only Italian, plus realizing that a lot of my peers understood a lot more than me/were speaking really well, plus my placement exam being literally first thing the next morning that really made me nervous. I think it's a bit silly of me, though, to think that people wouldn't be doing an intensive language program without some strong Italian language experience. Ha....those silly prepared people...
Breakfast at 7:15 and then straight to the Università per Stranieri (one of the buildings is shown below to the right). Our Umbra staff representative, Rachel, tried to tell us that the placement exam is really not a big deal but that didn't really relax me. The Italians, she says, use the term "grading" loosely and a prior student said that class always starts 15 minutes late and then you leave early...I need to adopt this more relaxed tone when it comes to school! Supposedly, things at the University are very unorganized and we won't find out when we have a day or two off inbetween our session or for holidays or something until the last minute. On the other hand, as I was talking to Rachel about how Italian students are, Italians are very serious about their studies and are known to study for long hours. They're not as involved in campus clubs or extracurriculars as we are (actually, there's no student union or campus feel like that and most students live at home) but they're much more politically involved than we are.

Anyways, as we got up to be tested, she asked students who thought they were intermediate speakers to go with her while beginners were to wait by this classroom. So, as everyone followed her, I was the only one left behind! (I'm sorry Signor Russo!) All that stress for nothing, though. As I got in the classroom, I was the only one in there. As I waited for a bit, four or five adults came into the room and were talking on their cell phones, kissing each other on the cheeks, greeting, talking to each other. It was time for the exam and I was still the only person in the room. A teacher came over to me and asked me to fill out a general form saying where I'm from, my level of education, how long I'll be studying at the university, etc. Then she looked at me, asked if I knew how to decline the verb "to be," basically decided I had a little Italian experience, and put me in the Advanced Beginner class, A2. They spent more time saying hi than testing me (those Italians...)! [Classroom below]

I am actually very satisfied with my placement because I feel a like this is where I will be most comfortable. I don't necessarily think I need to start from square one and got a lot of good practice with grammar in high school and now just need to see that information again, work on tenses, and just really force myself to speak. Hopefully, at the end of my three-month period, I'll be able to test into B1 (beginning intermediate). That's all I could really ask for. I have to say, though, that Rachel couldn't believe how advanced our class was generally and it's usually half-and-half with beginning and intermediate. When the other students finished their test (a five-page multiple choice/fill-in the blank/matching test, which progressively got harder and which was supposedly a pretty-difficult mix of reaching exerts or following a conversation), probably half of them got into the C1 (beginning advanced) level [one got into C2!]! The rest were split between B2s and B1s. My roomate's B1 so that will give me a good idea of what I have to look forward to. Basically, it observed that people who took a year/year and a half were intermediate and people who took two years or more were advanced intermediates but a lot opted for the advanced level so they could work on conversational skills. We'll get our schedules for tomorrow, and get to miss class because of it!

After that, we were able to move into our apartments. My roomate Jess and I were picked up by a taxi and were taken to our apartment which is less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel/center of town. We're living with international students (from Australia [Anna shown to the left; picture showing my half of the double], Finland, Holland, and Poland). There are no dorms really, but students generally rent out from apartments. In these apartments, though, the landlords usually live in the same building and you're treated more as a guest in their house. The Arcadia packet definitely emphasizes being clean. The landlord/representatives can pop in at any time and will be inspecting our apartments. If we're not clean enough, they'll make us hire a cleaning woman for about $75-150 a month! Jess and I are sharing a room and we have a terrace. We're very lucky that we have internet and a washing machine. There's no den/living room or anything like that, just a hallway with doors off of it with singles/doubles and a kitchen + bathroom. We're very happy (though sadly down at the bottom of the hill. We'll have to visit other people in our program who are living a bit farther away but are high up at the top where they can see gorgeous views - we're pretty high up as it is).

Other than that, we have the day free today and don't have anything to do until a dinner with the general Umbra students tomorrow night. A couple of us went out to lunch for our first pizza (which is only around 6 or 7 euro!) and then went out and celebrated with a bit of Prosecco (only 4.5 euro. I will miss these prices).

It's amazing the difference I feel from last night until now.

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