Non è possibile... Non ci credo nemmeno. Come mai sono passati 5 mesi!?
I have the urge to write this in Italian, but I have a feeling I have many more English-speaking readers. I have many things to share, and I would also like to reflect on the fact that I have been living in Sanremo, Italy for more than five months at this point. That sounds fantastic, although this may also lead some of you to the conclusion that only five more months remain until I leave this beautiful country. But first I'll share some of the happenings in the last month!
Starting from where I left off, January was great! It was month full of just about everything-- food, friends, birthdays, trains, homework, etc. One particularly interesting story, is that of my dinner in Menton, France with my host mom's French/Italian colleagues and their families. This French family has an interesting composition. Although they are all citizens of France, the parents were born in Madagascar and their origins are Chinese. They are a lovely, nice family but the fact that made it all interesting is that they didn't speak Italian. The night was spent conversing in English, Italian, French, Spanish, and a whole bunch of gestures. We feasted on eggrolls, roast duck, rice, a potato dish, French cheeses, baguettes, and a big mixture of Italian pastries. How is that for variety and a full stomach? Unfortunately, Matteo was unable to cut his duck with his cast and consequently made a brutta figura by choking and spitting his meat on the table in front of everyone. We are a family that tends to have at least one member making a brutta figura when we go out! We shared stories, talked about my exchange, played Wii (not so much talking is involved in video games) and enjoyed the company of one another. It was lovely to see such a blend of cultures and languages, and learn the cliché lesson that we are all really similar, despite our outward appearance, language or beliefs. The next day, my host mom's colleagues were kind enough to tell us that they truly enjoyed the dinner and that they were shocked by how much I really seem to be like a part of the Villa-Hechavarria family. That was the real complimement!
Following this came my grade report, which turned out really well! My teachers all decided that I was performing well enough that they decided to give me real grades (whereas normally they give exchange students pass or fail, which is harder to convert into real credit for high school and college) due to my knowledge of the language and willingness to do everything my classmates were doing in school. I got good grades and have to say I am very proud of myself for it! Lately I have had to study a lot to make sure that continues, but it's all worth it in the end! Plus, I'd like to add that I love my class. I wasn't so sure at the beginning because they weren't super open with me, but now they are just fantastic. I get along with everyone, we joke around, we copy each others' homework (I can't explain how much Italians cheat/ignore rules at every given opportunity, even in real life), we just have fun.
At the end of January came Regina's birthday which was celebrated with a family/friend dinner, homemade carrot cake (so delicious!) and gifts galore! Matteo was very content with himself because he bought his first piece of jewlery for a female! It was a "lovely", yet a little terrifying, chain necklace with a studded leopard head. I had the fortune of receiving an almost identical (but luckily smaller) necklace the next week for my 16th birthday. (Matteo explained that Regina and I are equally important and we are so similar that he had to get us the same necklace. The only difference is that I am smaller, thus I got the smaller leopard head. What a cutie!)
That week I got to skip three days of school to go to a festival in Aosta (a city in Piemonte, very far North, on the border with France) with my fellow AFS students! I went up a day before and stayed with Isabela in order to get past the first 3 hours of train rides, and we hung out and stayed out of the cold that day. The Italians joke that the 29th, 30th and 31st of January are the Giorni di Merda (Shitty Days but the real name is the Giorni di Merla) because they tend to be the coldest days of the year. I got to see her beautiful Australian Shepard puppy, Blues, that reminded me so much of my dog Romeo as a cute and fluffy puppy! The next day we got to the train station at 6:50 a.m. just to travel another 3 hours in train. La Fiera di Sant'Orso is a 1,000 year tradition in Aosta, where craftsmen sell there goods made out of wood, including boxes (like the beautiful one I bought), figurines, flowers, etc. Traditional Piemontese food is served, thus we feasted on polenta with sausage, wine and cheese. It snowed the entire day and I loved seeing my Piemonte exchangers!
I slept in the next day at Isabela's house while she went to school (muahahah!) and met up with my host family in Cuneo where they had come to get Matteo's arm/cast checked out. Unfortunately it wasn't fully healed so another cast was put on and he will definitely not ski again this season. But we enjoyed the weekend after in the mountains anyway! We arrived to about 6 feet of snow everywhere, and the next time we get up, there will be around 9 feet. I got a day of snowboarding in and Francisco, Francesca and Lucy (host uncle, aunt and dog) spent the night with us. We went out to eat and enjoyed another Piemonte specialty called raclette, which is similar to fondue (melted cheese over meats, vegetables, fruit, bread, etc). I also went to my first Church mass since I've been here!
The week following consisted of studying for five tests and (drumroll please).... my Sweet 16! I decided to eat out at an Indian restaurant, then came home to a homemade treasure hunt made my Matteo! After following 7 clever hints, I opened a closet to find a pile of gifts! There was books, clothes, jewlery, and even the forms to make my own mini pandoro! I planned to spend the weekend in Turin, but it was moved to the beginning of March. It was a lovely birthday, and I received birthday wishes from so many great people from around the world!
I also received news last week about the week exchange I will be doing with another family in Cagliari, Sardegna in April! Another American girl who currently lives in Genova will be going with me as well. Sardegna is home to a rich culture, cuisine, and some of the most spectacular beaches in Italy. I have two months to work off some of this pasta and pizza weight!
I have finally arrived at this past weekend. I watched the Olympic ceremony just to see my American team in particular. Then I went out with friends and saw the movie Hercules with the beautiful Kellan Lutz! Yesterday I had a lovely and sunny trip from Sanremo to Savona in order to see my lovely Liguria exchangers. I spent 2 hours in bus/train for a trip that normally takes 40 minutes due to the train that got derailed a few weeks ago (and almost fell into the sea). They are still in the process of fixing the rail, and knowing Italians, won't finish for a few months. I had to make 3 changes along the trip, but arrived fine and got to spend some quality time with kids I haven't seen for months. After my great day, I didn't mind taking the same route home because it was worth it, even for a few hours.
Last news, I finally decided to try playing soccer with the guys in my class during gym, and it is a success! I have so much more fun than when I play volleyball (which I honestly only played because all of the girls did) and I am much better. I can say it does feel good to be bombarded by "Grande!" "Brava!" "Bravissima!" by Italian boys, girls and teachers alike. I wish I would have started sooner, because I really enjoy it. Girl's soccer is very unheard of here in Italy, so seeing a girl who can keep up with [or kick the butts of] the guys is mind-blowing to them. Shoutout to my soccer coaches and teammates for making me better and giving me this oppotunity!
I feel I have covered the most important happenings, but there are a couple things I'd like to cover (I know this is long, take a break if you'd like). One would be the general crisis here in Italy. I am here living amongst the Italians who are experiencing the effects every day, and I have gotten the viewpoint of many Italians. I've picked up some key things: 1. Italian politicians talk SO MUCH and do NOTHING. So many promises are made (as in any country), but nothing gets done for the people, while the politicians are living well still. 2. Italy is not very united. Even in crisis, Italians don't have a strong sense of patriotism and tend to see themselves very different from the Italians in other parts. They aren't very united, thus any attempts at protesting or trying to make changes fall short. 3. People don't have much hope. I have talked to very few people that believe the overall situation in Italy can change. Many are pessimistic and also believe there is nothing they can do as common people to change it. There is no self-confidence in their own nationality. 4. Many people think America is a much better place to be. 5. Pride in tradition, culture and the things that make Italy Italy is very low. 6. Soccer always remains of utmost importance. After hearing many points of view, it is clear that the situation is grave and that the struggle is very real and difficult for almost everybody. I hate seeing such a beautiful nation be so down. I feel as though the country and its people are lacking that spark of life for which they are so famous.
On a little bit lighter note, I have completed half of my experience here in Italy. I have survived some very low lows, and experienced some very high highs. I have grown as a young woman, a person and as a human being. I am so happy to have followed my dreams and know that I will not stop. My love for travel and seeing the world has only grown more and I feel as though no one can stop me from continuing to see the rest of the world. I don't feel as though anything is impossibile, and I mean that sincerely. I have met so many wonderful people, seen so many beautiful sights and learned so many lessons that will serve me forever. But on the other side, all of these things make it harder to go home. Back to the suburbs of Broomfield, CO. Back to normal high school. Back to seeing the same view. I love my home, my family and my country very much, but it is my destiny to be out doing things in the world. Having only five months in Italy gives me a deep sadness, but I know I will continue following my dreams beyond these five months. This experience has only given me bigger wings to carry my on my journey.
I know, I have been writing for a pretty long time and you all have things to do. I hope that (although this post was super long) you enjoyed reading about my experiences. I apologize for lack of photos this time but hope my writing was enough! Feel free to contact me as many have in order to ask me questions or just have a chat. Don't hesitate!
Love love love,