Category Archives: Practicalities

(Day 33) Backlogging

Relying on sprint-speak tonight, because I’ve got to get up in the morning to go on that bike tour:

Referring back to that Wednesday night concert: this was an opportunity ACM made available to us, and they paid for the ticket of anyone who wanted to go.  The evening’s entertainment was a selection of music by Gershwin and Bernstein, performed/orchestrated by this guy, Wayne Marshall.

To set the stage a little, the concert was set for 8:30 pm; this followed a work study session in the morning, Italian from 1:30 to 2:45, an on-site Medici class visit from 3:00 to 4:45, figure drawing class from 5:00 to 7:00, and a trek back to the station to meet Kari at 7:30.  So a very long day, especially since I was just starting to come down with that cold I now have.  Achoo.

So Kari and I set out once again, and we finally get to the Teatro Communale around 8:15.  And there’s a moment of perplexity, because the crowd standing around outside looks rather fancified, as in little black dresses every which way.  We ourselves looked respectable, of course, but we hadn’t been told to dress up — but eh, who cares.

We go inside —

— and find that we’re pretty much dead center in the orchestra seats.  Fantastic : D

Clock turns over to 8:30, and the concert-goers (relying on that very Italian idea of being “fashionably late”) wait until the official start time to start coming in — which is actually perfectly alright, because the ‘orchestra’ at the time is composed of one lone woman tuning a harp.

Twenty minutes later we finally get going…and bottom line is that it’s magnificent.  And fast.  Violinists flip their instruments onto their shoulders, horns are darting up and down behind the stands, all we can see of Marshall is the back of his tux knotting up and an occasional hand shooting off down the side of the piano, and the entire bottom section of the stage is just a throbbing sea of bows; aside from the way it sounds, it just looks incredible.  And the whole time I’m sitting there I’m just so very very glad I decided to come — yes, early bedtime would have been nice too, but this was pretty much perfect as a way to end a Wednesday.  Just sit there and listen and no worries at all.

So that’s that, and then we’re on to the intermission, which gets a late start on account of the encore procedure is kind of played out like a mind game.  First he’s gone!  –but now he’s back!  he’s shaking that dude’s hand!  again!  bow!  handshake!  gone!  back!  Too much clapping and I can’t feel my fingers anymore!

*sigh,* performers.  What can you do.

Second half of the concert nixes the piano but adds the choir, and now we’re on to Bernstein (and, as Kari told me several times with great enthusiasm, this means we get to hear “Chichester’s Psalms”).   And while the first half had been wonderful, this was the part that made me *really* wish that they sold CDs of this thing, because it was completely weird and fantastic and I would have been all over that.  iTunes, maybe?

…So yes, concert ends, there’s another round of exasperating encores, we’re out at 10:40, 20 minute walk back to bus stop, half hour wait for the bus, bed by midnight and up at 6:00.  And ultimately here we are.


Alrighty, then — my roommate’s on skype and I’m having a hard enough time forming coherent sentences even without distraction, so I think that’s about all we can do for tonight.  Back in tomorrow evening to keep on keeping on.


But first, a quick P.S. — While we were reading over the Teatro’s upcoming events [for one thing, it’s where we’ll be attending the opera], Kari and I found a concert on October 29th featuring music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Schubert.  \o/ ❤ etc., but the great thing is that we get guaranteed student rates and should be able to get tickets for about 10 Euro.  Nifty, no? : )

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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Culture, Persons & Peoples, Practicalities, The City


(Day 16) Odds-and-Ends

Otherwise known as ‘cianfrusaglie,’ which is a great word.

Internet went a little wonky again yesterday, so here’s the ultra-fast recap of Monday:

Went to Orsanmichele, a building that is (and indeed has traditionally been) confused about whether it is a grainery or a sculpture gallery or a kinda-sorta church.  Spent about an hour and a half there listening to a lecture given by one of the professors — and since the lectures are actually interesting, we once again got random tourists stalking our group.

Not a great shot, but here’s the floor where we were spending most of our time looking at the sculptures:

Today, all we had scheduled was Italian class.  Tomorrow is our third quiz (for which I still need to study), and after that we have just seven days of class until the month of intensive Italian is over and we’re off to Venice.

Doesn’t feel *at all* like we’ve been here two weeks already.  Not to say that there haven’t been periods of stress (or hunger, hunger’s a big one) that have made everything drag, but apparently time is whipping forward in spite of that.  Also it still feels like Monday.

Change of subject, but I’ve been keeping a list of everything that being in Italy makes me miss about the American/Iowan/non-study-abroader way of life, and I think I’m just going to throw it right here:

  • FOOD:
  • Peanut butter
  • Sandwiches on soft bread (PB&J, turkey, etc.)
  • Cereal that isn’t a strange granola-ish corn flake lookalike — and people who have heard of Froot Loops and/or Captain Crunch.
  • Breakfast foods in general (toast, waffles, pancakes, eggs)
  • Decent chips
  • Tap water
  • Milk.  I don’t know what specifically is different about the milk here, but it’s…not right.
  • Television/movies
  • Internet and cell plans that actually let you use your internet and cell phone
  • Water bottles
  • Ziploc bags
  • Cheap tape
  • Cheap post-its
  • Cheap paper towels
  • Cheap toiletries (shampoo, body wash, etc.)
  • Uniformly sized outlets
  • Doorknobs that turn
  • Public bathrooms you don’t have to pay for
  • Toilet paper holders that both hold onto the roll *and* let you change it
  • OTHER:
  • Sunsets (a flat horizon and a great view)
  • Clouds
  • Driving (i.e. not having to depend on an always-late bus)
  • Walks/jogs where you can safely wear headphones
  • Doing my own laundry
  • Baking — or, more generally, having access to an oven, stove, and microwave
  • Having a word for ‘pie,’ and for ‘cupcake’
  • Walking around in socks
  • Being able to criticize the Papacy without automatically offending someone
  • A closer sense of community
  • Non-polluted air and not being constantly surrounded by smokers
  • Not having to keep windows shut/covered against traffic noise and potential delinquents
  • Lack of tourist swarms
  • Cheap books (and being able to read them)
  • English

And, because fair’s fair, here’s everything I know I’m going to miss about Italy:

  • FOOD:
  • All of it.  But specifically:
  • Hard rolls
  • Uber-fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Thin pizzas
  • Pasta done right
  • Eggplant dishes
  • Apricot spread on fresh croissants
  • Tea with biscotti every morning
  • Bigne (those cream puff pastry things, and vanilla please <3)
  • Lots of other pastries I don’t know the names of
  • Gelato (obviously)
  • Excellent panini (as in big sandwiches with thick bread and meat and melty cheese)
  • Open markets daily
  • 3-course sit-down dinners with the whole ‘family’ (although I could approximate this at home)
  • Public fountains
  • Public trash cans
  • Public transportation
  • OTHER:
  • Hills
  • Having everything in walking distance
  • Beautiful buildings, artworks and museums absolutely everywhere
  • Being in a place with such a long (and documented) history
  • Having multiple options for places to go every day
  • Riding the bus (especially when it picks up speed in the tunnel)
  • Being surrounded by so many different kinds of people
  • Having one word for *all* of one’s aunts and uncles, and for *all* of one’s nieces and nephews
  • Every building warmly colored (red, gold, etc.)
  • Being in a country whose inhabitants seem generally conscious that different countries and peoples are interconnected
  • Being so close to to so many other countries
  • Multi-language bookstores
  • Italian music
  • Italian

So there we are, and I’ll probably add on to these lists as the semester progresses.  There won’t be a ‘winner,’ as it’s next to impossible to call one place objectively better or worse than the other…but I will admit that the lack of peanut butter has become a real sticking point ; )

Have to go start taking care of business, but should be back tomorrow.  A domani : )

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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Art, Culture, Food, History, Practicalities, The City



(Day 8) Gainful Employment for the Painfully Broke

Monday, 10:00 pm

So today did not end up being quite as open as I’d planned — which means that the homestay info must be deferred just a little bit longer (once again depreciating the value of my word, I know), but which also means that I get to talk about this:

I may get paid, as in actual money, to work in a library here.


First off, I should probably admit that it’s not *really* a library in the way you’re probably thinking.  What it is is the ACM program’s accrued collection of books, which is small but actually pretty impressive in that it numbers something like 1700 volumes (not counting the way-too-many articles on file).  Students come, they buy books for class, they ditch the books when they leave for home — and ACM keeps these and adds on with lots of new materials that students can use for research and such.

Right now, the whole shebang is just crammed into the program director’s office — floor-to-ceiling texts on art history and Italian and whatever else has ever been studied here, which is awesome but does not exactly make for a neat system.  Last year’s students started cataloging all these things, so something like 1000 of the books have call numbers now, but they’re all still piled on top of themselves in that office.  So, a couple days ago, they told us that they were looking for some work-study students to both finish the cataloging process and move the books onto the shelves they have set up in the newly designated ‘library’ room.  When/if that gets done, they want all the articles combed through and either cataloged or trashed, depending on usefulness.

As you might imagine, they said ‘work’ and about 20 flat-broke college kids came running.  I doubt everyone who signed up is actually going to stick with it, especially since 3 of our 4 classes haven’t even started yet, but that’s still a lot of people…so yeah, I don’t how many hours everyone’s going to get.  But hey, any money is better than no money at all, so at this point it really doesn’t matter ❤

Really, though, the extra-kinda-cool thing about the opportunity is that, because myself and one other student (Alex) have both worked in libraries before, we’ve been put in charge of organizing everything.  …Yes.  Can’t speak to how much I’ll be able to help, but I *do* love list-making, so we’ll hope for the best ; )


I still have to do my homework and start working on schedules, so we’ll call it for today, but definitely back in tomorrow — and possibly with pictures of a Florentine lantern parade taking place tomorrow night in town and on the river.  Fingers and toes crossed that I get to go see that, especially since I’ve now told you about it and I would feel bad if I couldn’t deliver.


Oh, and this is unconnected to anything, but there’s going to be a transportation strike tomorrow from 4 pm to midnight (16.00 — 24.00).  Italy apparently has them all the time, and as I still get my bus to school in the morning, and as it’s only about a 20-30 minute walk from the school to my homestay, I don’t think it will actually hurt much — but should be interesting?

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Persons & Peoples, Practicalities, The City


(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 : )



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


Planes, Hotels, and Other Places I Won’t Be Getting Much Sleep

Meant to drop by earlier (desperately need to re-establish the habit of blogging regularly), but I got distracted by Ian’s Shoelace Site.  It takes seconds to learn the knots, but I was so fascinated that I kept untying and retying my shoes, so…yeah.  Sorry about that : )

This will be brief, but just wanted to throw out a little more info on the flight and initial accommodations.  Basic stuff, but I figured it was important to show my solidarity with anyone who doesn’t travel that much, and who maybe still feels a little uneasy about airports and about the idea of failing to get a hotel room and being forced to either wander a strange city until daylight or fall asleep under a bridge.  (Also, I’m writing for at least four separate audiences across the age spectrum, so probably best not to assume that everyone’s had experiences like this themselves.  See, I *can* sometimes remember to be considerate of others!)

Good news is, there is of course nothing to sweat.  As I said way back in…what, May? –I ended up on the phone with a guy who lives in the area (Tyler, and you should check out his blog), and we got online to look up airline tickets and then booked the cheapest we could find, heading out one day early so that there’ll be plenty of time to deal with anything that goes wrong.  You print the online ticket, you get your passport — boom, all set.  Plus, we later found out that another student will be going out on the same flight (one Jessica Marie, and you should also check out her blog), so it’s incredibly comforting to know that there will be at least 2 other people around to not-panic with.

Also, it is pure and awesome coincidence that Tyler, Jessica and I are the three people blogging for ACM.  But while I’m thinking about it (and because inserting links is fun), I’m also one of two people keeping a blog for Cornell College, so here is a link to Willi’s.  Click, read, all that jazz : )

Anyway, so we’ve got the flight booked.  I’ve only flown once before (by which I mean 4 flights making for one round trip), and it was awhile ago so I don’t really remember how airport security works.  BUT, I remember the basics (wear shoes that won’t hold up the line, have your papers ready, don’t put fireworks in your carry-on, remember that even concealed shanks will set off the metal detector), and I’m just going to cheerfully assume that the rest is not difficult.  Besides, even after I drive out to pick up Tyler and we both make the 3-hour trek to Chicago, we’re still going to get there with literal oodles of time to spare — so while paranoia has always served me better than blind optimism, I’m going to go ahead and say that there’s nothing to worry about.

And happily, the hotel is probably going to be even easier.  Jessica has pre-booked a room for us at the Hotel Duca d’Aosta (which is where the ACM program was going to have us staying for the first couple nights anyway), so all we have to do is decide whether to take the bus or a taxi.  And then we’re there and we can all pass out on semi-clean hotel furniture and start living out of suit cases — and I seriously can’t wait ❤

So there you go.  Easy planning for flights and hotels (and the ACM coordinator provides suggestions to anyone who asks), plus important directions are given in the ACM handbook, so just try to split the cost of a room with other people and you will have been as clever about this as it is possible to be.

And now I’m going to go back to reading about a series of highly gruesome political murders in the name of academia.  Cheers.

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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Persons & Peoples, Practicalities


General Packing Overview (also known as the *happy headdesk*)

As I am down to 24 days before I head out for Florence, it’s time to really start playing around with meticulous list-making and latent OCD, and this week all focus is on the delightful problem of packing.

Those flying Swiss International get one checked bag (50 lbs) and one carry-on (18 lbs).  They say you can bring one personal item, but they also say you really shouldn’t actually do that.  So what this means is that I’ve got to get my life down to 68 lbs, including the weight of the bags.

The good news is, the ACM handbook comes with a suggested packing list, so if you use that then you won’t forget anything *really* important.  The bad news is, every person has to pack for their own needs, so you’re basically on your own no matter what.

That said, things to consider:

  • Laptops, textbooks, shoes, coats, jeans — these things are heavy.  And you still have to bring them.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to forget to start your planning with the necessities and then see what else you have room for.  When you’re going around buying stuff, ALWAYS be thinking about what will actually fit in your luggage.  And about whether your luggage is breaking any of the rules of your particular airline.
  • Clothing has its own calculus in a case like this.  You’re not only planning for what can fit in your suitcase without weighing it down, but also for the weather (northern Italy has only a slightly less wild seasonal swing between summer and winter than the Midwest), for various activities (swimming / walking / walking A LOT and on cobbles / casual hanging out / opera-going / etc.), and for what will help you *not* stand out as a tourist.  Not standing out isn’t really that big a deal, but being unobtrusive is better; partially, since programs like this are all about learning from other cultures, you should actually be making an attempt to (literally) do as the Romans do, and also you’re less likely to get pickpocketed if you’re not walking around in shorts and a USA t-shirt.  Layering is key for everyone, and for girls (keeping in mind that I haven’t tested this out yet), I’d suggest a lot of layered tops, as in camis and thin tees to go over them.  Actually, I may devote more time to clothing in a later post, as I know it was a concern for me and my parents — oh, and my mom thinks we found a miracle coat, so I guess I would’ve had to come back and talk about that anyway.  (And I tease my mom, but seriously, that coat may literally have been an act of God.  And I mean that in the ‘have some rainbows’ way, not the ‘so-angry-must-smite’ way.  <3)
  • Toiletries and personal products are extremely iffy.  On the one hand, these sorts of things are far more expensive in Italy, so if you’ve got room then you should definitely bring that shampoo and conditioner.  On the other hand, you may find you’d prefer to save the space and bring a more complete wardrobe or something; obviously people actually live over there, so no matter what you *will* be able to buy all the little day-to-day junk you normally depend on.  Best way to be prepared is just to make that initial value judgment, space vs. money, and then to go over ready to wing it.  (It would also help to not be high maintenance, but I suppose it is sometimes too late for that.)
  • Official documentation.  For the love of your favorite decadent dessert, do NOT forget to bring all the papers you need to bring.  There’s a checklist for them, so it should be fine, but you are so inexpressibly screwed if you don’t have them, so ALWAYS USE YOUR CHECKLISTS.
  • Remember that whatever you bring over, you have to bring back.  Along with whatever souvenirs you picked up. And even if (like myself), you mostly just intend to take pictures, I guarantee you’ll still get to the end of the program and end up staring at a pile of crap you only vaguely remember buying but still can’t stand to part with, because it’s like magic and compulsive hoarding rolled into one and that’s just the way it works.  So be ready for that.

I can chuck in a bit more info about packing as we got closer to the time that I, y’know, actually start packing.  In the meantime, I intend to do posts on the flight/initial housing arrangements, academic preparation, clothes (I guess), money and payment, communication options, and whatever else pops up.  Also if I just get bored and feel like typing, because listening to a keyboard go all clackety from active use is a great way to delude yourself into thinking that you’re being productive.

Again, for anyone who’s not preparing for study abroad, posts through the rest of August will probably be as boring as the slowly expanding puddle behind a leaky faucet — and probably not even that exciting, because leaks can at least be kind of hypnotic.  But massive oversharing infodumps never directly did anyone harm, so why not  : )

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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Practicalities