Monthly Archives: August 2011

(Day 3) Mi dispiace!

Wednesday, 5:34 PM

Ok, so took a break from the blog longer than intended.  The Linguaviva school’s internet has been sputtering off and on for the last couple days, and I could no longer use our hotel’s connection as we have been moved out of the hotel, and my host family doesn’t have wireless, and it takes 24 hours to activate the wireless key I bought…so here we are and this was the fastest I could make things happen.  The joys of being dependent on the internet, I guess.

Short version of the last couple days:

  • Began Italian classes.  There are 3 classes of about 9 people each, meeting 9-10:30 and 11-12:30 every day — which is a breeze, coming from the Cornell block plan.  So far all we can really do is point at a thing and stutter out some vague approximation of the name, but we started learning verbs today, so…yeah, be amazed : )
  • Got a new cell phone.  ACM has a deal with the Wind/Maxsi store, so we all got cheap phones with cheap plans to use for the 3 months we’ll be out of the US.  The new things can only be used Wind to Wind unless you’re willing to pay (or have your parents pay) exorbitant rates to call home, but nobody uses them for much but emergencies anyway.
  • Filled out (somewhat intimidating) paperwork for the permit of stay and our bus passes, both paid for by ACM.  Also got our museum passes and event discount cards; mine are just a little bit covered in drool because I’m a nerd and that’s the kind of stuff I’m here for, but hopefully the non-nerds will be pleasantly surprised as well.
  • Met my new roommate, Anica, and we both moved in with our host parents (grandparents?) Gabriella and Nino.  All three seem like wonderful people, but more on the homestay situation when I’ve got time to go into it.
  • Took my first city bus, to and from class.  So stupidly easy to do that I may have literally lol’d at one point.
  • Bought myself the aforementioned internet key, aka my magic blue stick.  Took WAY longer than it should have to get it up and running, but considering that all the crucial settings were in obscure locations, that the Italian store clerks couldn’t help me, and that the instructions that *could* help me were all in Italian, not too shabby if I do say so myself.

Things should be settling into a routine for awhile, so I should be able to get on here more often (and hopefully with more interesting content).  Tonight I’ve got errands to run, homework to do, and a 3-course dinner to eat,* but either later tonight or tomorrow, amici miei.

*whew* : )


*All fresh ingredients (as in bought today, straight from the outdoor market), and prepared by a woman who clearly knows what she’s doing.  You can be jealous, but keep in mind that dinner comes with about an hour of painfully awkward conversation attempted in mostly-Italian.  This is not to say that the food’s not worth the trouble, because it totally is, but…yes, just enjoy your meal from a box/can/store happy in the knowledge that it’s not entirely sunshine and roses here ; )

(P.S. — Have a picture.

This is Piazza Santa Maria Novella, one of the many many piazzas [open squares] around the city, and that’s the S.M.N. cathedral straight ahead on the left.  I pass by here on my way to buy office supplies and to get to the restaurant at which our professors have twice bought us dinner, and aside from ‘pretty,’ all I can really say about the place is ‘birds.’  Or maybe ‘flippant birds which have no fear.’)



(Almost) Day One

I have now had my first full day in Florence.  Managed to find my way around,* buy food, exercise my smattering of the Italian (“where’s the park,” ‘cuz I’m a badass and that’s the sort of question I ask), and I even avoided setting my laptop on fire,** so overall I’d say it was a pretty big success.  Got to walk all over the place, found the aforementioned park right next to a whopping huge medieval fortress (which is Not Open to the public, the guard was most emphatic about that), and basically just spent all day walking around and window shopping and meeting other ACM students.  In the evening all 30-ish students congregated and met the professors, and we were then taken out for dinner at a wonderful restaurant followed by gelato at an equally wonderful gelateria.  The food was great, the people were (are) great, the nighttime walk through the city was great, and everything so far has just been fantastic.

At this point, it still feels like being on vacation.  Which is fine, but also kind of annoying, because the fun of a semester-long stay is supposedly that you get to stop experiencing the fringes of a culture and get to wade in a little deeper, pushing past the tourist experience and becoming more like a resident.  I know it’s going to take time (and maybe the real irritation is just having to live out of a suitcase), but bottom line is that I can’t wait to get classes going and to meet my roommate and my host family and start doing this up proper.

In the meantime, just going to sit back and appreciate that Florence still feels like such a natural fit.  I was here for one day two years ago and developed an instant crush, so I already knew that I *liked* the place, but there’s a very big difference between passing through a town (“good heavens this is pretty”) and actually setting up to live there for a while (“god almighty why does everything suck”), so I was a little skeptical that the feeling could actually last.  For the moment, though, most delighted to be able to say that this place still feels very much like a second home (maybe a third if we’re counting college), and that I’m pretty much all set to spend the first couple weeks walking around and grinning like an idiot at everything.  So at the very least it is now a two-day fluke.

I feel like I haven’t really said any of the important things yet, but it’s getting late and we have to get up to start our Italian language course in the morning (\o/), so I guess we’ll call it a night there.  Oh, but because there were actually a ton of people asking about comparisons between restaurants before I left, here’s what an Italian McDonald’s looks like:


First off, shut up, we went there because we were starving and it was really close and really cheap.  Second, it was so fancy!  You can’t see the lovely little lounge areas (innocent Italians eating deserve better than me and my camera), but that’s the inside of the McCafe in the second picture, and that low display window to the right is full of really excellent-looking pastries; Jessica and I both ended up ordering a plain water (acqua naturale and not acqua fizzante, the distinction is dangerous) and cream-filled croissants, and homg horror but I actually found a McDonald’s product delicious.  Ah well : )

We start establishing schedules this week, so I’ll know pretty soon whether blogging close to every night is going to be an actually practicable thing.  In the meantime, a big “love you” to all the people I wish were here with me, and be back when I can.  Buonanotte ❤


* Knopf Map Guide, tell your friends.

**The whole voltage conversion thing between the U.S. and Europe is something I didn’t want to have to deal with, so I just ended up bringing my laptop (which swore itself to be dual voltage) and a cheap little outlet  converter to make it fit the Italian three-prong plug-in.  During the planning stages, this seemed like a solid set-up; iPod and camera should run through my laptop, travel alarm clock runs on batteries, I’ll buy a travel hair dryer if I feel like it, and nothing else needs power at all.  BUT, since it does make me incredibly dependent on my laptop not dying (not that I wouldn’t have been anyway), I got a little twitchy over the idea that I might get everything hooked up only to have that crucial computer explode in my face and fall into agonized death throes; this did not happen, and all stress is now gone from my life.


In Transit

Short version: We made it and everything’s going as swimmingly as can be expected.

Long version (which is long):

Had a series of misadventures, boring as imaginably possible.

Set out yesterday (Friday) morning at 6:45 AM to pick up Tyler from his apartment, an hour and a half away.  Drove the hour and a half back.  Switched over to my aunt and uncle’s vehicle and drove the 3 hours to Chicago. Entered O’Hare Terminal 5 for international departures* — two hours too early, because apparently Swiss Air won’t process anyone before 4:00.  The four of us adjourned to the food court, and I found a banana nut muffin and swooned over it with loving attention.  And then we sat there for two hours.

Sensing the theme yet?

Quarter to four, we finally get going.  Met up with Jessica in the line for web check-ins (super convenient to do web check-in the night before, so you’ve got your seat picked and your boarding pass printed), and got processed in for a flight direct to Florence with a layover in Zurich.  Two spiffy new boarding passes printed, and
my single checked bag under the weight limit, hallelujah.

Btw, if at all possible, make yourself stick to the lone 50-lb piece of checked luggage, the one carry-on, and the lightly-packed purse.  Once you’ve brought your luggage over (and keep in mind that you do have to pay for any second checked piece), you’re the one who has to cart it around, and I ended up being grateful again and again that I’d gone with the cheaper option that allowed consideration of my weak little arms.  Plus, I honestly don’t need that much, and I figure it’s a healthy thing to pare your life back down to essentials every once in a while.

Check in leads to the security line, blah blah no big deal.  Then back to the waiting game in the Swiss gate, where I got in one last round of text message conversations on my now-worthless U.S. phone and managed not to cry at all (even though, mid everyone-being-so-nice, it came close at one point).  Met another very nice student who would be travelling with us to Zurich and then heading north to Berlin while we went south to Firenze — happy trails, Amanda : )

*sigh,* board plane. Sit on plane. Sit on plane for an hour.  Sit on plane for another 7 hours.  Get no sleep because of cramped upright position and slight motion sickness and squalling babies.  Meet back up with Jessica and Tyler, who slept just fine on the seats in front of me.  *sleepy facepalm*

Navigate new terminal where everything is in German and finally figure out that one must travel straight to the transfer zone via shuttle-thing.  Another round of security.  More waiting around.  Get on bus.  Get off bus and board plane. Start getting wildly sick.  Become relieved that the plane is about to land in Florence, only to hear that it is now “impossible” to land there because of severely high winds.  Get rerouted to Bologna.  Collect baggage and sit around for an hour in Bologna airport waiting for the airline-arranged bus to show up.  Board bus, still not entirely ‘with it’ on account of motion sickness + sleep deprivation. Find it still impossible to sleep on the hour and a half drive back to Florence.  Finally make it back without throwing up only to still have to face a taxi ride.

Stagger out of last moving vehicle and into rather dark and rickety hotel, where Jessica has reserved us a room.  Get up to room (it has a balcony!**) only to discover that the air conditioning barely works.  But oh well.
It provides a shower and a toilet and an internet connection (down on the second floor only, but still), and at this point that’s enough to make me giddily affectionate.  So I am.

Out to dinner at an Italian pizza place.  Collapse back in room.  Experiment with fine motor control while semi-conscious and slipping.

How’d I do?


*Maynard Drive, turn left at Zemcke, turn left again at Bessie Coleman and then follow it back to Terminal 5.  We had tried to find it before, and the automated navigation got us as far as “the airport” before calling it good
and abandoning us.  I now present these directions to you in the name of solidarity against the machine.

**No grand sweeping Florentine vistas yet, but this is the view out our side balcony, just as the sun was coming up this morning (which would have been about midnight central time).  Had a bell tonging off in the distance, doves nearby, a light breeze, and warm sunlight — all in all, not a half-bad way to start the day : )



Deep Breath

So here we go.  Boarding the plane tomorrow, will be in Florence the day after that, and hopefully at some point I’ll be able to plug in my laptop and find internet without blowing anything up.

There were some parts of prep that I still wanted to talk about, but as I don’t actually know how well my half-baked planning is going to pan out, I figured I might as well wait and give advice from actual experience.  This is both a practical decision and a boon to my procrastinator tendencies, so win win and it’ll keep.

In the meantime, I’m still feeling pretty alright about all this.  I’m packed, I’ve got my backups and safeguards in place, I’ve got my ticket and my boarding pass and — well, bring it on, really.  Still a little sad that none of my family could be around for my last couple days at home,* but they’re out for a very good reason, and in any case a night spent watching Batman and making chocolate cupcakes with a uniquely amazing guy is hardly a bad send-off ; )

Bottom line, ready set go and I’ll get back in here as soon as I can.

Feeling like *!* XD <3.


*My little brother’s been in basic training down in Oklahoma since mid-June, and my parents set out early Wednesday morning to be at his graduation tomorrow.  Mainly I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t go down with them, especially since this brother just had a birthday on Tuesday and especially (if I may take a moment to brag on him) because he was named the Distinguished Honor Graduate of his class, which is a big deal involving some fine fanciness that I would have loved to see in person.  Oh well, he can still have lots of **interweb hugz.**

And btw, hi Parents : )

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Family, Persons & Peoples


The Shiny Stuff of Scholarly Pursuits

Just a contextual sort of thing this afternoon, as I keep getting asked what I’ll be studying (often by the same people who’ve simply forgotten) and it’d be easier to just say it once in here and have done.  So my fall semester will see joyful frolicking in the following subjects:

  • Italian language.  Required course for everyone, sole focus of the entire first month.  Yeessss.
  • The Medici as Patrons of the Arts.  An art history / history class zeroed in on an intensely interesting subject, taught by a professor that everyone seems to love.
  • The Sight-Size Tradition: Drawing and Portraiture.  A figure drawing class taught in a practicing atelier.  It’s being billed as a beginner-level introduction to a certain method of taking measurements and building form, and while I’m hardly a straightforward ‘beginner,’ I have never received real formal instruction in drawing or gotten much practice with charcoal.  …So basically I am recklessly excited.
  • Weaving the Tale: Literary and Visual Art Narratives of Renaissance Florence.  A literature course, taught by one of the professors from my home college.  She’s fantastic, and students in this class are apparently meant to spend all their time reading and looking at pictures and drawing, so not exactly in agonies here either.

And that’s about all I can say for classes at the moment, but those nosy for more info can go here.

Also, just to reiterate for those who didn’t catch this, I’m a double major in studio art and philosophy with a minor in English, so these courses are hitting 2 of my 3 main areas of study.  Which is great, because obviously one can’t even consider a semester abroad unless it can keep you on track to graduate with all the necessary credits to complete your major.  Upon my return to Cornell, then, I’ll be submitting an academic petition to turn that Medici class into an art history credit, and the Sight-Size class into a studio art credit; without petitions, all courses just count as ‘Credit Received.’

Slight annoyance over the petition process aside (and that really shouldn’t be a big deal), I’m seriously in love with the ‘Credit Received’ system.  You know why?  Because it means that, while you *are* given a grade for each class, that grade does not go on your transcripts.  Which in turn means that a student only needs a ‘C’ in any class to get the credit, and their GPA will go completely unmolested.  And don’t take it the wrong way; I’m still at a 4.0, and it’s hardly as though I won’t be giving 100% effort to each class (fine, maybe 96% if I get lazy), but it’s really nice to not have to worry about grades for once.

And anything else….books.  Right.  So obviously books are kind of heavy and obnoxious when you only have so much room in your suitcase, but we were told to buy a couple of the necessary texts ahead of time because they’re simply not available over there.  And others we were told to buy because we should have them read by the time classes start.  Thankfully none of them are weapons-grade hefty, and I actually do seem to have room in my luggage to bring all of the required ones and then some, but obviously avoid going gung-ho on buying books before you know what will fit.  (And once again I’d just like to point out that that’s a very sad thing for me to say, because gung-ho book-buying is one of my specialties.  *sorrow sigh.*)

And…yes, that’s all I’ve got for now.  But (and this has nothing to do with anything), I’ve realized that I have been doing an insane amount of baking lately, and I think it’s just because I’m getting antsy.  Not nervous per se, but fidgety.  As in I’ve made literally about 14 different things in a little over a week, including cinnamon rolls all the way from scratch, a pie and a couple cakes I’d never tried before, and an embarrassing variety of cookies.  All of it’s turning out pretty great, and I actually do have plans on what to do with these things (if worse comes to worst, “throw everything in freezer / run away” is my backup), but all the same I’m sure my family must be getting sick of walking in every afternoon just to find that the pantry has spawned more baked goods : /

BUT, so be it.  If the house always smells like Christmas now, we’ll just have to live with it.

One week left.

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Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Classes, Family, Practicalities



Hardcore apologies for taking so long, but here we go, and today it’s all about mmmmoney.  So for any future study-abroaders with questions about that, here’s what you need to know:

  1. It’s not cheap.  Going through ACM, I’m automatically responsible for regular semester tuition payments, plus a program fee of $5000.  Then, you add in airfare going both ways, the daily cost of lunch (breakfast and dinner are provided by the host family), four months of random living expenses, books and class supplies, and extra money for any souvenirs or side travel you want to do.  And of course, one has to keep in mind that the dollar is currently very weak against the Euro, and that Italy — and especially a city such as Florence — is an expensive place to be anyway.  (Also, in my own case, all living expenses are coming out of my savings, I’m paying my parents back for airfare as soon as I return, and I’ll eventually have to shoulder the tuition/fees in the form of student loans –all of which just goes to say that the expenses are not to be taken lightly and that this is one of the best times ever to avoid being an idiot with mah moolah.)
  2. That being said, it’s still perfectly manageable, especially if you’re in the habit of actually keeping an eye on your finances so you know how much is coming in (ha) and going out.  So, create a budget: it’s an idea as obvious as an elephant in Kansas, but so many people don’t actually do it that it never hurts to say it again.  ACM provides a loose reference to how much you can expect to pay for basic stuff over there, so you can use that to start with, and then just be prepared to go over and spend the first couple weeks figuring how much stuff actually costs and what you actually use.  Adjust your budget accordingly, stick to it, and then you get to sit back and roll around in the feeling of being a responsible adult.  (Oh, and just to throw out a loose total, ACM says students typically end up spending between $2000 and $4000 — obviously it’s better to overestimate your own expenses, so plan on using the higher number.)
  3. Up until the point you’re actually settled in the homestay, cash is not your friend.  It’s good to think ahead and get some money in Euros before you go, just in case, but you shouldn’t be carrying around much in loose bills.  The solution (and isn’t it always?) is to use plastic; I went with the Visa TravelMoney card, largely because I used it the last time I went to Europe and had no problems.  You pre-load it (which helps with that whole budgeting thing), and you can add money to the account up to three times, which means that if any massive emergency occurs my beloved (and ever-so-generous — did you catch that, Mom?) parents can ride to the rescue and restock it from a distance.  You also get the option of paying an extra 5-ish bucks to put a second card on the same account — most excellent to have stored away somewhere in case your first is lost, stolen, accidentally sat upon, purposefully sat upon by an enemy with malicious intent, etc etc.
  4. Apparently they have ATMs everywhere.  So that’s cool.

And there we have it.  I am now going to go try to well and truly finish packing — last time I checked I was 0.25 kilo over weight on the checked bag (*insert displeased scowl*), so I think I’ve fixed the problem but we’ll see.  If nothing else, I suppose I will at least get to entertain myself with the spring scale this afternoon; it was cheap, easy to find (near the luggage in any supercenter), works flawlessly, and despite its practicality remains more fun than any Slinky ever.  All hail the scale.

…See you tomorrow  : )

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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Practicalities


Update in Miniature

Apparently this is the week where people start coming over for those one-on-one goodbye visits, so getting kind of busy but in a very good way.

Only thing I can throw out quick is that we have finally entered deep-phase packing.  I have taken over my absent brother’s room and am currently transferring my rat’s-nest pile of personal possessions from my floor over to his, so now I can finally go to sleep every night without having to plow a path to the bed first.  Corralling will soon be complete, and next comes the sorting, the packing, the weighing, the repacking, the itemized inventory list of everything I’m taking and everything I’ll need to buy when over there.  Then the haphazard unpacking, because those are my actual clothes and I still need to wear them for two weeks.

Speaking of which, two weeks.  Aaaaagghhh ❤

Other than that, just continuing my reading and re-listening to all my Pimsleur CDs.  Pimsleur, again, would be the language program I’m trying, just to make sure I’m on the right track with my pronunciation and to get a couple phrases under my belt.  So far, the thing I am most confident saying is this: “Mi dispiace, sono americana e non capisco l’italiano.”  To the best of my knowledge, this translates as “I’m sorry, I’m American and I don’t understand Italian.”  If it comes out garbled…well, then that really only underscores my point, doesn’t it?

Still want to talk about money and intercontinental communication and academics (because I’m reading some of our class texts and they are glorious), but people-visiting comes first so I’ll get to it as soon as I can.

(P.S. — More ACM bloggers have joined the party, and the “Other Blogs” page has been updated accordingly.  Seek page, see links, begin frenzied clicking.)

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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in Family, Meta, Persons & Peoples