Tag Archives: Reflection

“A dopo,” not “arrivederci”

I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by.

It seems like just yesterday that I was packing my suitcase to head off to Italy for the semester, worrying about my choice to live with a host family and planning what I wanted to do over the four months. Indeed, even the last month has flown by, with trips to Rome, visits from my family, and weekend in Cinque Terre all while trying to finish up my final papers and exams. I’m still planning on composing some belated blog posts for those trips, but I wanted to jot down a quick reflection now that my semester just ended.

Hands down, one of the best parts of my experience this semester was living with my host family. Julia and I would repeatedly gush to each other about how lucky we were to have them, and I couldn’t have imagined my semester without them. My host mother, Emanuela, was incredibly caring and sweet, truly playing the role of mother while I was abroad. My host father, Paolo, provided endless laughs and entertainment as he mocked our American pronunciation of words and teased us about “finding a Mario.” Our family dinners each night––Emanuel, Paolo, Julia, Liz, and me––were almost always the highlight of every day, a time to relax and catch up on our daily lives.

Living with a host family also enabled me to drastically improve my Italian language skills over the course of the semester. While I still can struggle to find the words I want, the last four months have enabled me to become conversational in the language and to significantly improve my comprehension skills. It helped, of course, when our nightly dinner conversation in Italian ranged from everything from Italian politics to positive psychology to American geography.

On my final night in Italy, I gave Emanuela the scrapbook I had put together of our time in Italy, with photos of the three of us and thank you notes at that back. I was incredibly touched when she got tearful at seeing it, sparking tears from the rest of us as well.

“This is my favorite thing to receive,” she told me in Italian, “because I can just sit here after you leave and remember all of these memories.”

When Emanuela woke up the next morning at 3:40 a.m. to wake me up and make sure I made my 4 a.m. taxi ride, I again was reminded how lucky I was to be able to get to know such a wonderful individual.

“This isn’t goodbye,” she told me in Italian. “You can come back to visit anytime, and you know that we’ll always be here. This is dopo, until later.”

And truly, I have a feeling that I’ll hopefully be back in Florence someday in the future. And because I hate goodbyes, I’m sticking to Emanuela’s advice.

A dopo, Firenze.

Primavera

I hope I’m not jinxing it by proclaiming a start to spring at the Villa. But truly, it doesn’t get much better than this:

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It’s warm enough today that I’m finally able to take advantage of the gardens.  As I type this, I’m nestled between the trees and sipping my tea, looking at a 180-degree panoramic view of Florence down below.

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Moments like these allow me to reflect on how lucky I am to be here and to live abroad for the entirety of this academic year. I turned 21 last week, an occasion that might be marked by Las Vegas trips or bar hopping back home, but instead was a relatively quiet affair, surrounded by my Italian host family singing “Tanti auguri” to me at dinner that night. I liked it better that way.

This week was full of experiences that humbled me with remembrances of my gratitude: my birthday, Valentine’s Day, our City of Florence fieldtrip, and a professional soccer game. Posts on that will come later, but for now, I leave you with this:

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On the Road (Airway?) Again: Countdown to Firenze

It’s strange to be leaving again.

My huge purple suitcase is once again stuffed with a semester’s worth of stuff. I’ve got my system down at this point. In fact, I hardly unpacked at all during the two weeks that I’ve been home. It only took several hours this afternoon to throw everything back in, replacing the shorts and dresses that were my staples in Alanya with clothing more suited for the rain and cold of a Firenze spring.

With my bags all packed, I’m now utilizing every outlet in my room as I charge up all the electronics for the travel marathon that commences tomorrow at 3:30 a.m., which is when I need to leave my house in order to make my early morning flight out of San Francisco. From there, I’ll stop in Chicago and Frankfurt before finally touching down in Florence on Thursday morning. (That is, if everything goes to plan!)

Over these past couple weeks, I’ve been so busy savoring my time with family and friends that I haven’t really had much time to reflect on all the wonderful experiences I had in Turkey last semester. And so, as I’m preparing to leave for Italy, it’s not California that I’m starting to feel homesick about, but Alanya.

I unpacked my duffel bag this afternoon to find the picture frame that my Turkish host family gave to me at our last dinner in December. Next to it, I found the beautiful blue, loopy scarf that my host mother had knitted for me. I am incredibly thankful for the charming people and culture that welcomed me to Turkey––encouraging my attempts to make conversation with my broken Turkish, cooking endless amounts of food and sweets, and inviting me into their homes and businesses. I hope that my experience this semester amounts to even just half of that.

I’ll be actually living with a host family this semester––something that both excites and terrifies me at the same time. While last semester I went to my host family’s flat for dinners and hung out with my host sister in town, now I will be living, sleeping, and eating with my new Italian host family. I’m excited to explore and have time away from the Villa in this sense, since that physical separation between home and school was absent in Turkey, where we did everything in the same building. I cannot wait to have my own Italian family, but I’m nervous about the logistics of living in a stranger’s home.

That being said, I cannot wait to explore the city of Florence itself and to touch and feel its centuries of influence as one of the great cultural capitals of the world. I cannot wait to rome its streets, capture its words on paper and its beauty in photographs. I splurged on a couple of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides for Florence and Italy, and I’ve been pouring over the photographs and drawings. Though they take up several precious pounds in my suitcase, I hope to try out some of the self-guided walking tours for myself. And then, there’s some places that I’ve already bookmarked. I can’t wait to picture the Medicis at home in Fiesole, explore the bizarre taxidermied collection of the Museo Zoologico La Specola, or marvel at Renaissance art.

I’m truly thankful for the incredible opportunity that I have to continue my adventures abroad in Italy. I hope to build off my one semester of Italian to become somewhat conversational in this beautiful language. I hope to learn not only about what Italy meant in the past, but what it means today in global politics. But above all, I hope to have time to wander and savor the country and its people.

Life 101: Lessons in Turkey

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I’m currently at the Antalya airport, mooching off this café’s free wifi as I wait for my flight to board. (My flight leaves at 10:50 a.m., but I left Alanya in the dark of 4:40 a.m. in order to take a shuttle with everyone else.) As we begin our fall break and split to our separate travel plans, it seems like a natural opportunity to reflect on my time in Turkey so far. These past 35 days have gone by both fast and slow—it’s strange to think I’ve already been here for over a month, but then it also seems like these experiences fill quite more than a month. Time is a funny thing.

I’ve also learned a lot over these past several weeks. I know it’s cliché to talk about travel in this way, but I don’t quite know how else to put it. Instead, I’ll try to move beyond the clichés of “travel while you’re young” to keep track of all of the specific things I’ve learned thus far:

For example, I’ve learned that there’s few better ways to create a connection with someone else than learning some basic phrases in their native language. This morning, I was proud to know enough Turkish to be able to ask our bus driver how he was and talk about where our school was.

Helping out in the English class at the local middle school

Helping out in the English class at the local middle school

Living in such a tourist destination like Alanya, I’ve also further appreciated the importance of language—and how sad it is that most Americans only truly know one. Earlier this week, when we were trying to order pizza, the man on the phone asked us if we spoke Swedish or Danish, before passing the phone to someone who could speak better English. Many Alanyans speak some kind of combination of Russian, Danish, Swedish, German, or English along with Turkish. We had a conversation about this early on the trip with our tour guide in Istanbul. “Americans are lazy about language,” he told us, “but they can afford to be. You can’t travel to another country if you’re Turkish and expect someone to speak Turkish.”

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Sign in front of the bookstore in the Antalya airport

At the same time, I’ve learned to nod and mutter enough “Evets” when someone talks to me in Turkish and I have no clue what they’re talking about. Truth is, the smile and nod can also get you a long way.

I’ve learned that it’s better to walk. Walking allows you to slow down and appreciate your surroundings. It can also allow you to unexpectedly stumble upon a World Lacrosse Expo in the middle of the beach at night—just like Alex and I found after dinner one evening.

Lacrosse... in Turkey? (This was also several minutes before we almost got pegged in the head with the ball, twice.)

Lacrosse… in Turkey? (This was also several minutes before we almost got pegged in the head with the ball, twice.)

I’ve learned that it’s important to make time to write. While I kept a meticulous journal of each day during the study tour, I’m still making sure I write down a couple of sentences for every day even when we’re in class. As a result, this past months has been one of the best-documented times of my life. I’m so afraid to forget anything that I’m driven by this compulsion to obsessively capture as many moments as I can. However, it’s also given me a wonderful record of my experiences in Turkey to look back on once I’m home.

It's also great to receive letters too!

It’s also great to receive letters too!

I’ve learned how to develop a more serious resting face to ward off aggressive shopkeepers and hawkers. This is partly a cultural adaption—it’s very much an American thing to smile at everyone you meet and greet them accordingly. While Turks are equally just as friendly and hospitable, they also don’t go around randomly smiling at strangers (which admittedly can be pretty odd). It can give off the wrong impression. And so, I’ve also somewhat adapted to this habit.

Serious face? (Or maybe i still have some work to do...)

Serious face? (Or maybe i still have some work to do…)

I’ve learned that I can never live for too long away from the beach. It’s something that I truly fell in love with this summer when I lived in Santa Cruz, and it’s something of which I will never tire in Alanya. I love its changing colors—the way it can be like smooth silver in the morning and a rich blue in the heat of the afternoon. I love the waves, the sand, and the sun. I may never truly be able to tan, but I could honestly lie out there for weeks on end (with many reapplications of SPF 50, of course).

I’ve also learned that possibly the best way to cope with locking yourself out of your apartment is to create a blanket fort in the middle of your friends’ apartment and singing Disney songs obnoxiously at the top of your lungs. I’m incredibly thankful for the people I’ve met on this trip so far, and I couldn’t ask for better friends to share in this experience.

Are you kidding me?

The beach!

“Are you kidding me?”

Those were the words that Alex and I kept repeating to ourselves over the course of yesterday and today as we walked around in shock—in shock at the view from our apartments’ living rooms, in shock at the almost never-ending stretch of beaches, in shock at how beautiful this city truly is.

We spent yesterday and today walking around the city, trying to orientate ourselves as much as possible to where things are and where we should go. (Yet sometimes, we managed to get lost almost every time we tried to get back to the residence.)

View from our apartment balcony at sunset.

View from our apartment balcony at sunset.

There are many parts of Alanya that just scream TOURISTS COME HITHER, like the continuous call of vendors to their restaurants and shops or the live camel photo op along the main stretch of Atatürk. Hordes of bikini-ed and speedo-ed bodies crowd the beaches during this time of year; at night, you can hear the throb of club music down below even from our apartment balcony on the hill.

Yet there are other parts that are truly remarkable, like the cliffs that shoot straight down into the Mediterranean Sea at Cleopatra Beach or the sunset behind the castle on the hill. I could spend all day in the wonderfully warm and salty water; at night, city lights below shimmer through our apartment windows.

I can’t wait to watch Alanya transition from summer to fall, as the tourists lug their suitcases and leathery tans home and many businesses close up shop. Of course, it’s lovely to be able to walk around in a swimsuit all day, but it will be interesting to discuss with locals how tourism has changed their picturesque town.

My classes began today with an introduction to one of the economics courses that I’ll be taking this fall, “Turkey and the European Union.” After our orientation tour of Turkey, it will be nice to finally settle into a routine of classes and reading, as mundane as that sounds.

After a wonderful afternoon spent at the beach, I’m settling in for the night and planning on getting some reading done before I go to bed. But of course, it’s not so much of a study grind when you’ve got the view from on top.