Sunday, September 29, 2013

Phase III: Settling In

     It's about time for that weekly blog post, and there couldn't be a better day -- today is cloudy, cool and rainy. I guess autumn really has begun. The turning of leaves has also corresponded with the turning of pages in the novel of my life. My life here is starting to form a routine and I feel like a real resident here as opposed to just a visitor.
     As I had mentioned in my last post, I tried out softball this week in an attempt to do something after school to take my mind off things and also to meet new people. I have good news -- it's really fun!!! I have never played softball in my life and don't particularly enjoy watching baseball (despite most Italians I have met thinking all Americans come out of the womb swing a baseball bat), but I had so much fun learning a new sport and meeting a really nice and welcoming group of girls. The environment is relaxed and focused at the same time and it is perfect after the headache of listening to world history and biology in Italian all day. The exercise also allows me to not feel guilty for eating the piece of foccacia or trying Nonna's torta di mela.
    Speaking of Nonna's baking, I have a word of advice. Never tell a nonna that you are [even a little] hungry unless you haven't eaten for a week prior. I made that mistake Friday afternoon after a long day of school and feeling a cold coming on. What followed was a wave of proscitto crudo, torta di fagiolini, pasta arrabbiata, fichi and torta di mela. You can't say no without breaking their heart/offending them because cooking is pride. I don't think I was hungry again for 24 hours. Don't get me wrong, her cooking is absolutely delicious, but it is more hearty and pesante. 
    I continue to have Italian lessons which make me realize how much I don't know. Overall I cannot judge the rate of my improvement in the language but I think my Italian is getting better.  I appreciate everyone being understanding of the fact that I am learning and their efforts to help me learn are really helpful. After a few months I should be pretty proficient, and after 10 months I would say fluency is guaranteed. Immersion is the way to go when learning a language -- just look at toddlers!
    In terms of meeting people and deepening relationships, my efforts have not been for nothing (yay)! People in my class are slowly opening up to me more, and I have been introduced to many people, and I am becoming closer with my family here. This weekend so far has been a great example of that. Friday afternoon/evening I hung out with Ghila (an Italian returnee who went to Wisconsin) and her friend Silvia walking around town, watching the sea by the port and sharing a Chinese dinner. It was so great to get to know them better and I am sure I will spend more time with them. Yesterday I went to the mercato with my host mom Regi for a little shopping (everything from shoes and scarves to prosciutto, anchovies and zucchini). It was a very beautiful European experience that included the Vespa and all! After that, we went on a family bike ride on the beautiful bike path that starts here in Sanremo and follows the coast through a few smaller towns. The air was fresh, the fig trees were full and I saw many people I have met while we were on the path. We enjoyed lunch at a bar owned my some great family friends who we plan to go skiing with this winter. (And they want to come visit Colorado!) The fun wasn't over! I met up with my good friend Alessia and we took the bus to Bordighera (a neighboring town) for a stroll and a gelato. We talked and laughed like old friends and then I came home to cook a lovely dinner of acchiuge fritte (fried anchovies), cozze (mussels) and prosciutto with melon with our purchases from that morning.
    To finish off this weekend, I helped my host mom prepare minestrone (which happens to be my favorite soup ever), torta con prosciutto e formaggio (yes, I am addicted to prosciutto) and tiramisu. More fish and baked goods are on our to-do list on this rainy day! We also have a good lineup of romantic movies waiting to be watched!
    While the last time I wrote I had had a challenging battle with homesickness, I am really starting to enjoy the life that I live here. I am settling in by doing things I enjoy (sports, exploring by foot, cooking, eating, etc.) and forming strong relationships with the people that have opened their hearts up to me. AFS' diagram of the phases of exchange (1. Arrival Fatigue/Excitement, 2. Homesickness, 3. Settling In) is completely on cue, but I am lucky to be starting the third phase. I feel more Italian every day. (And a little bit Spanish thanks to my host mom and her brother -- they're Madridistas!)
    I think about and pray for my loved ones around the world every day. I have even lit candles in churches around the area for you all. Sending my baci e abracci (kisses and hugs)! I hope all is well. <3

P.S.   I have decided to start taking more pictures and it was a grand idea until I realized I haven't charged my camera since I got here. I promise more pictures to come!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Better Every Day

Happy first day of autumn a tutti!

    I am almost at the end of my third week here, and I have started to see that exchange isn't completely rainbows and butterflies. 
    I started school this week in a Liceo Linguistico, a school where the main focus is on languages -- thus we study English, French, Spanish and Latin. We also have Religion, Italian, Science, Math, and History. This is all fine, but the catch is that school is all in Italian. All day listening, reading, and talking in Italian makes me very hungry and tired by the end of my school days. But I am starting to understand more, I understand French class, and my Italian is improving, so there are my bright sides!
    In terms of friends, I have been told that the people here in the North aren't quite as open and out there with newcomers as people in the South and I found that to be true. In a small/medium sized town like Sanremo, all the kids have known each other for years and years (just like my experience at Stargate for 9 years), and they take some time to warm up to new people in their environment. At first, everyone just observed me, but by the end of the week, I had made really nice new friends; I got invited to go out around after school Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  I am going to go into higher classes for English and Math and I am very content with that, because I can meet more than just 25 kids at school (Italian kids stay in the same classroom with the same people all day). I'll know so many people soon!
    I also have really fantastic support from AFS/Intercultura here because they introduced me to a girl at my school, Ghila, who went to the US two years ago with AFS. My contact person, Elena, went to Greenland two years ago. She is fantastic -- she checks in on me, takes me out for gelato and introduces me to new people. (People who might take me to Milan for a football match in the winter!) 
    Elena and another returnee play on a softball team here in Sanremo and have invited me to try it out. To me it is ironic that I will have played soccer/football/calcio in the United States and then softball in Italy, but I am up to try something completely new and different. I believe a sport is a perfect way to meet new girls and take up some time after school while my Italian classmates are studying. I am really excited to try it out! I always have soccer if it doesn't work out. ;)
    There is a camp coming up in October for all the Intercultura students in the North and I am super excited! So far I have met some really cool Italian kids, but it is still a highlight to meet and talk to the AFS students. They are so interesting and we are all sharing this experience with each other. We are never alone! I love talking to my exchange friends on a daily basis. Meeting in Torino for a long weekend should be fantastic!
     Through this challenging week, I have missed my family at home a lot. I finally appreciate the beauty in the fact that we were always together. It is tough seeing photos or talking to my family without feeling homesick. I am really close to all of my family back home, and I just want to be able to hug them. Luckily I have a host family and friends here who have been completely supportive and taken care of me this week. I always feel better when I get out and do something and I am lucky I have people to do that with! Every day gets better though, and I believe it will be easier to talk to family without being homesick after a couple weeks of making friends and getting involved.
    Overall, this week has showed me the tough side of exchange. I know there are more challenges heading my way, but I also know that this experience is going to be the best time of my life as well. I just know that I will be so strong at the end, and that I will blossom into the person I want to be. It's true -- exchange isn't rainbows and butterflies, but it is a beautiful experience. 
    Thank you again to all of my friends and family for getting me here and for sticking by my side while I do it. Don't be discouraged by this post, I am perfectly okay and happy! I am looking forward to the months ahead and keeping an optimistic attitude. Every day, my situation with friends and school improves, and all will settle beautifully with a little time! 

Baci e abracci,
Adriana <3

Thursday, September 12, 2013

One Week Later...

     I write to you now for the first time in my new home. I departed from Denver last Wednesday, and continued on a long (5-day) journey to Sanremo. 
     First, I landed in the Big Apple. I stayed here for a day and a half meeting people from all over the States. While there were differences between Californians and Minnesota-ans, there was a common energy of buzzing excitement. Although there were varied destinations represented, I mostly met people going to Italy because we really understood each other. I hadn't felt understood by my friends for a while since deciding to go abroad but here we all knew the situation. The activites were somewhat boring, but the experience was great.
    After 2 days of staying awake for 28+ hours, we arrived in Rome. It was disappointing not to be able to see/tour the city, but understandable with 501 exchange students at this orientation. Instead we stayed at an ex-convent that covered acres of land. It became like a village for us international students. I can only say it one way: this camp was amazing. I got to meet people from every continent but Antarctica, eat five courses for each lunch and dinner, and meet some of my first Italian people (the volunteers). Even when language built a barrier among the students, we shared similar sentiments in our hearts. Once again, the socializing and games were more exciting than the orientation material, but it was so great to see so many nations come together when there is such violence and chaos in the world. I have managed to stay in touch with many students, and I hope to visit their various regions throughout the year.
     I toughed out a five hour train ride from Roma to Genova where I held my first conversation completely in Italian. A lovely couple from Calabria told me about the family members they were going to visit, and I told them about the experience I was having. Afterward, like any proper Italians, they gave me their contact information and told me to come stay with them in Calabria whenever I ventured south. I was proud of my adequate Italian skills, but completely exhausted when I got to my family!
    The scene when I arrived in Genova is straight from a movie. A cunning Italian guy helped me with my over-sized bags as I shook with excitement and nervousness. When I saw my host family, I left my bags (a dangerous idea) and ran through the other people. I cried tears of sweet joy and tried to manage something in Italian. My experience with them since has been tremendous.
     My family is just wonderful. We laugh all the time, and we are all very open and honest. I really love spending time with everyone. Their family here has been very welcoming along with their family abroad. I have received warm wishes from aunts, uncles and grandparents in Miami, Spain, Genova and Bordighera. Everyone has helped my transition infinitely.
     I love our flat that has a view of the sea from every window. The flat is beautiful and I have plenty of space to myself as well. During the days I have hung out with my 11 year old host brother, explored the town, and spent time with my host grandparents that live downstairs. I have already fallen into somewhat of a routine that consists of eating, practicing Italian, an activity, more eating, a nap, more eating, and quality time with my family. I'm living the life right!?
    The food is exactly how everyone thinks it is: PASTA AT EVERY MEAL. I love it, but my waistline and clothes are not in agreement. I was surprised at the lack of seafood so far (seeing as I walked to the sea in five minutes yesterday), but the food is incredible. Everything I have eaten has been homemade. The quality of ingredients and love put into cooking are the true secrets. 
    The people are equally beautiful, though they have lighter features  than the stereotypical Italian. Blonde hair and blue eyes is truly not uncommon. Or to my delightful surprise, neither is dark hair paired with light eyes! ;) Though the food is rich, the whole town can be walked by foot, and thus the lifestyle is healthy. 
    I feel as though I am in the place that I belong, with the people I belong with, living the life that I belong in. I miss home, but the European (or Italian) lifestyle and way of thinking suits me better than that of America. It is a thing of beauty.
    I cannot put everything into words from the last week, but I did manage to put a lot. If you have any burning questions or comments, you can leave them here, or send me an email at If you're on my Facebook, you are welcome to communicate with me there as well. 
    I hope all is well in the States with my friends and family, and also in the rest of the world. I am praying for peace!
     A presto!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Letter to All

I miei amici,

       I have really taken life by the horns, and done many fun things before I leave this life that I know and love in Colorado. I have done my best to see many friends and family members as possible (and thanks to funerals and parties alike, I have been able to do so). While the three funerals I attended this month were incredibly sad, the unfortunate truth is that there are many people we only get to see when somebody passes on; the love for a person lost brings everyone together. But beyond funerals I have done many exciting things like going to the Mountains and enjoying the amazing peach harvest, and watching the Broncos play some [American] football before I leave! 

       People haven't been helping my cause of getting in shape before I go to eat lots of amazing food in Italy and gain weight (like I've been told every girl on exchange does). They just feed me lots of amazing food to celebrate my last moments with them. Oh well, the frozen yogurt, lobster and berry pies have been a real treat! :) And Muay Thai has been keeping me moving and teaching me some important self defense -- I have really come to love this martial art!

     Today is my last day in my beautiful state of Colorado, and I am stressing about finishing my packing. 50 pounds may seem like a lot of weight, but I have no clue how I am going to get down to 50 pounds. Some cute shoes may have to stay behind!

       Now enough updating. I have prepared some letters for you all that I would like to share before I leave.

Dear friend,
     We most likely have had a friendship spanning over many years. We have spent so much time together that I will never forget, and I'm so glad we got to walk along the path of life together. Sadly, I have to leave you all to go forth on your path as I go on mine. We may not be as close while I'm gone because we will be living in two separate worlds, but the foundation of our companionship will stay in tact to be built upon when I come back. I'm so 
excited for your journey to continue and also my own. I hope that you keep me in your thoughts every now and then, just so I can be comforted that there are people at home who still love me when I get lonely. I know you're going great places, but only if you keep your smart hat on and keep pushing for your real goals and priorities! I will miss you but know that I still hold you in my heart. <3

Much love,

Dear family member,

     Thank you so much for your incredible support -- in life and in the exchange process. Family is the thing that keeps us all going even when the going gets tough. I know that being so far away will be hard considering how much time our family spends together, but know that I will always love you and think often of you. Please don't be offended that I cannot talk to you as much as we both might like. My memories of the good times we have shared will console me when I get homesick. Our family is continuing to grow and I am so sad to miss it, but I will come back with so many stories and recipes to share! Your love and support are appreciated and I cannot express how much they mean to me. Family will always be at the center of my heart. I love you all and I am really just scouting out a place for us to all live together in Italy ;)


Dear me,

     You are hours away from your departure to the greatest adventure of your life. At the moment it may feel like a dream, but the reality of it will hit you soon. Following your dreams is so important and I am glad you are doing so. You are one step closer to your life's destiny of being a citizen of the world and helping humanity. You have obstacles ahead, but you also have a beautiful family waiting to take care of you in Italy, and another one that will always be here for you in the United States. I know you are strong and you have made it this far, so I am confident you will blossom in the beautiful land of life's pleasures. Learn to be patient, to go with the flow, to relax, and to enjoy all that life has to offer. Do your best and never let go of God. 

All my heart,
Adriana Gabrielle Gonzales

That's all for now, but I will try to post weekly and I will start uploading pictures with my posts soon (when I figure out how to). If you want to talk to me for any reason (even if you don't know me in person), don't hesitate to email me at I hope you continue to follow my beautiful journey :)

Con tutto il mio amore,
Adriana <3