Sunday, September 14, 2008

First Impressions

September 14th, 2008

I've been out of the hospital for about a week and a half and am slowly getting to know my new city. So far, I think it will be just what I wanted: small, primarily students, and a relaxed environment. ILP has been pretty lame, once again reviewing the same grammar I learned like a year ago, so it's hard not to feel like it's a waste of my time. It seems like all the language prep we do for my program focuses way too much on grammar and not enough on oral speaking, which is extremely important when you are living in the country and will have oral final exams! It just sucks because I can write a paper grammatically correct, with all the proper tenses, but no one talks like that, so why is it necessary to know it so well? It's not like I'm going to be writing a bunch of papers while I'm here, plus italians always think it's weird when we talk because we use so much proper grammar. I don't know, I'm just realizing how weak my speaking abilities are and it sucks. The good thing is that missing the first week and a half of ILP won't hurt my grade, nor do I feel like I really missed out on anything now that I know what the classes are like. So far my work has been averaging between a B and A-, so I think I'll be ok (if you get a B- or lower, you have to take a grammar course at the Study Center during the semester). I'm not really a fan of my teacher though. There's something about her attitude; she's not very approachable or kind even. We only have one more week left of ILP though, so no worries!
Actual university classes start at the end of the month, which I'm pretty excited about, but also a little nervous, too. It will be nice to take a class other than italian language, but I'm concerned about how difficult they will be taught in italian. Also, EAP requires us to take a minumum of 4 classes and 18 units for the semester, which sucks because first of all, 18 units is more than average for a quarter at UCSB, plus I have enough trouble managing four courses taught in english back home, let alone four classes taught in another language! Even the reading will take me 10x longer because I'll have to translate it. I don't know, I'm sure it'll work out, I just can't help worrying. On the bright side, once university starts the town will fill up with students (it's kinda dead right now) and it will hopefully be easier to meet people (translation=guys) in class. I'm just ready for a change of pace.
Last weekend EAP had planned a gita, or day-trip, to a couple small towns just outside Padova. Maggie didn't think it would be a good idea for me to go, since there would be a lot of walking and it was a whole day affair, so instead I decided to go home to Lucca. One of Vicki's close friends lives about an hour from Padova and drives to Lucca often to see her family that lives there, so she offered to pick me up and drive me there and back on Sunday. We got in pretty late Friday, so I just ate (so nice to eat real food after that bland crap in the hospital!) and talked to Gina for a while before going to bed. Saturday was a lazy day, but just what I needed. The highlight of the day, however, was when Gina called me outside to show me something, and what did I spot standing in the pond but the ugliest duck I had ever seen! Apparently someone had brought it to her husbands restaurant for the chef to cook, but he couldn't kill it so instead Eduardo brought it home. I felt so bad for it though, because it's wings had been clipped so it couldn't fly, it's vocal cords had been damaged so it couldn't quack normally, and it had been tied up in a sack all day, so it must have been absolutely traumatized. Since it was unlike any duck I'd ever seen, I looked it up online and discovered that it's a Muscovy duck, who have signature red-colored "growths" on their faces, which kind of look like masks. They're domestic creatures, so it definitely could not survive in the wild, especially with it's wings clipped, etc. so I think they've decided to give it to someone they know who has a farm. I'm just pleased it won't be served for dinner the next time I'm there!
Sunday was relaxed as well. I think the best part of the weekend was the food. Gina made me all these great dishes with lots of veggies and beans for protein, and I had sorely missed home-cooked meals. Gina also helped me write my composition for class, and while she was impressed with my grammar skills and how much italian I knew, she said my pronunciation really did suck : ( That night, while I waited to get picked up to go home, Ricky and I watched Lo Squalo, aka Jaws, on TV in italian! I have to say the language made the movie even more amusing than it is originally, so I was very entertained. I was supposed to get picked up around 9pm, which then turned to 10:30pm, and then she finally decided to just leave super early in the morning. I was a little miffed, but as long as she got me there in time for class I didn't mind too much. Lia also sent me back with sheets and clothes hangars so I don't have to buy them here, and Gina did a load of laundry for me so I don't have to waste 4 euro doing it here! Overall it was a great weekend and exactly what I needed after the whole hospital ordeal.
Nothing too exciting happened during the following week, just several long days. We had a lecture Monday afternoon on Feste Popolari, which basically just told us about the various festivals in the Veneto region and the history of festivals in Italy. Gabi and Justine also surprised with the sweetest thing ever: a massage gift certifcate from them, Carly, and another girl Elena, to help me get over the hospital stay. I was overwhelmed by something so nice, and so thankful. It really was the perfect thing for me : ) Tuesday Carly and I walked to centro to print stuff at the Study Center, then did a little shopping at Zara after, where I found a great flowery dress on sale and a really cute wide black studded belt. We passed little Piazza Garibaldi, with a column holding a statue of the Madonna. We also bought our train tickets to Munich for Oktoberfest, and they were cheaper than we expected, so that was exciting. I just can't believe it's happening so soon! Wednesday was pretty awful. We had an "Academic Orientation" in the afternoon, which didn't tell me any new information. Plus, we had to listen to the EAP director get a major attitude and yell at us simply because a girl asked what would happen if we were given the option to take an oral final in english and we chose to. She basically responded with the assumption that we were all trying to take the easy way out, and how "things were going to change this year", and that "students are no longer going to have any wiggle room", whatever that means. And she basically told us if we did do it, she would probably lower the grade we receive in that class, which I think is bullshit because she shouldn't have the authority to do that. I don't know, it just pissed us all off and we left with our feathers a bit ruffled.
Every Thursday we have 10 minute oral presentations in pairs on certain topics, with the goal being to prepare us for oral final exams at the university. Anyway, for our first one last week, everyone had note cards or power points to assist them, but this week we were told we couldn't use anything (the other 2 classes were still allowed to have notes though). My partner and I chose Dante's La Divina Commedia, which I'm already very familiar with, so I basically wrote down a summary of the poems and memorized them Wednesday afternoon, hoping I'd remember it all the next day. Wednesday evening we went out for the famous spritz night, which was fun, but kind of uneventful. We did see several attractive italians however, so the future looks promising : ) And I got to wear my new dress and belt, which made me very happy!
Thursday morning my partner and I went first for the presentations, and I was pleased that we both did really well! In fact the rest of the class told us after that we made them look bad by going first : ) Friday Maggie took me for my second blood test, then we had our second test that morning. During class she also had us watch clips of our presentations (which she video tapes...eww), and of course, she has to rail me for 2 minutes about how I should sit up straight during presentations! I was like, i that's the only criticism you can come up with for my presentation than I'm going to take that as a good sign. And clearly, when I do oral exams at university, I'm not going to be slouching, I'm not an idiot. I really just don't think she likes me very much. After class we wandered to centro and Carly and I shopped around some of the big department stores, which are suprisingly very similar to those in the States.
Friday night was kind a bust...everyone here just drank at the dorms, and then we went to Tio Pepe's for food and drinks. The staff there are so nice. We've all pretty much become regulars since it's so close and convenient, so sometimes they'll give us free stuff : ) Their food is really good (they have mexican, spanish, and italian stuff) and pretty cheap, so it's great on the weekends when the mensa isn't open. That night the owner sent over tequila shots (I sadly gave mine to Carly) and the female owner brought us a plate full of vegetarian food!
Saturday I was planning on going to Venice for the day to do all the tourist stuff, but it started storming, and lasted the whole weekend! I mean thunder so loud it shook my windows and sounded like bombs going off, constant rain, and a sudden drop in temperature that none of us were prepared for. Instead, a bunch of us took the bus to the mall just outside the city and did a little shopping. The big draw was H&M, where I got some really good stuff for cheap that I'll get a lot of use out of, including a sweater to combat the newly cold weather! Saturday night we went to Tio Pepe's again, where I had the best vegetable soup ever, perfect for combatting the cold outside : )
Today is just catching up on sleep, working on homework, and staying inside since it's still ugly outside. I'm still trying to figure out this whole food situation though. Since the mensa right now is only open during the week, eating balanced meals is kind of impossible on the weekends, not to mention a lot of things aren't open. And even when I can go to the mensa, all I can really eat is pasta! They usually have veggies as sides, but their main dishes are pretty much only meat, leaving me with no option but pasta. Don't get me wrong, I love pasta, but twice a day for 5 days straight? I don't think so. Occasionally they have vegetarian main dishes, but not often and a lot of times they have fish on/in them! And of course, with our dorm situation it's impossible to make anything on ou own. Not that I'm a picky eater, but I like to eat pretty healthy and at least eat balanced meals, but I'm finding that to be a challenge here.
The thing I'm having the hardest time with right now is the no drinking alcohol thing. Maybe this sounds stupid, but the thing is, everything here with people my age revolves around alcohol; not in the sense that it does in SB where the goal is to get wasted, etc., but social activities primarily include hanging out casually and having a drink at a bar or with dinner, and it's becoming pretty hard to resist. Even just when EAP kids hang around the dorm at night, they're drinking wine, and it really sucks just sitting there, completely sober, watching them all drink. And considering I'm not good friends with them yet, it's already semi-awkward around them so being the only sober one just makes it even worse. There's also this bar that just opened right by our dorm, called Tio Pepe, that everyone hangs out at, and it seems pointless to go and just watch other people order drinks while I stick to water. And on Wednesday nights here, it's tradition for all the young people to gather in a Piazza delle Erbe for spritz, the famous alcoholic drink of Padova. I went last week, but honestly it was hard to have fun considering that everyone else was getting tipsy and I obviously was not. Drinking makes it a little easier to talk to italians, too, and makes me less inhibited about speaking the language, so being sober doesn't help there either. And perhaps the worst part is that it's indefinite. I see a specialist on the 23rd and she'll have the results from my blood tests these last few weeks, which will hopefully show improvements, but I'm just worried she'll tell me to hold off drinking for a couple or a even a few months. It's actually pretty probable; when my dad had hepatitis (which also effects the pancreas) he couldn't drink for 6 MONTHS!! I don't think I could do that here. I'm getting to the point where I'd rather stay in than go out with everyone, watch them drink, feel awkward, and be tempted. And another thing I worry about: what if I can't drink for Oktoberfest, or my 21st birthday?!?! It's just a really shitty situation and I don't know how to handle it or myself.
On the bright side, we have one week left of ILP, I have packages coming soon, and I plan on redeeming my massage gift certificate this coming week! So life isn't too bad : )

p.s. I'll post pics of my room, Padova, etc. soon! I know the last two posts have been a lot of text, but I promise more pics are coming!

ciao : )

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