Prior to departing I have some pre-conceived notions about Italy and Italian culture and what it will be like. What I know about Italian culture is mainly what I have heard and what I have seen in movies. I assume that they are fast paced culture and use their hands a lot. I also assume they wear muted colors more and wearing bright colors can scream tourist. I can imagine that they frequently are exposed to tourists and can get frustrated with tourists who expect them to know their language, especially Americans, expecting them to know English. Although English is a widely used language, going to a different country, you should never expect them to know your language but try to work with them in theirs. I am excited to experience traveling to a new country but I am apprehensive about the logistics of traveling and finding my way around. I am also concerned about how I will communicate with Italians, seeing as though I have no experience with the Italian language. I am also concerned and hyper aware of what I am will be doing and want to make sure I do not offend or insult anyone. I will do the best I can and the best thing for me to remember is to be flexible and go with the flow of things.
Category Archives: Italy
Hello, my name is Sierra McIver and I am going to Siena, Italy with the Study Abroad for Signers program. While in Siena I will study written and spoken Italian, Italian Sign Language, and Italian Deaf culture. I chose this program because I grew up signing and have always loved American Sign Language and learning new languages. This program is for signers to learn a different sign language as well as another spoken language. Studying abroad during the school year is not practical for me because I am in the interpreting program, which requires a few classes on campus each term and so a summer program would be the only opportunity for me to study abroad. This program is only offered in the summer and Italy is a country I have always dreamed of visiting. I have had a few people talk in previous years to my ASL class about studying with this program and then I had met people who had gone and highly recommended going because it was a great opportunity. With all of this, and the timing working out, I decided to apply for this program, which lead me here.
They say most people go through specific phases when living abroad. They begin with the honeymoon phase, where they are in awe and excited and happy about everything they see. Then they move to the culture shock phase, where they have difficulty adjusting to a new culture and miss home. It did not go this way for me, so be prepared that it might not for you either. For me, it was the opposite. My arrival into Italy was accompanied by culture shock and it took several days for me to feel like I appreciated Italy at all. This was in large part, however, because I arrived in Italy very sick.
My arrival into Italy was not the most pleasant. Having suffered some major motion sickness on the 3 different flights over, I was not feeling well at all by the time I reached the airport in Rome. The airport was crowded and disorienting (it didn’t help that I wasn’t feeling well), but I was able to make my way to the baggage claim area and then the taxi area just fine. My first job was to get myself a taxi to take me to my apartment, which was easy since there were several parked right outside. The taxi driver loaded my bags into the car and I got in. This is when I experienced my first bit of culture shock.
I had imagined (from scenes I had seen in movies mostly) that Italians drove a bit fast and carelessly, but I was definitely not prepared for this taxi ride! Not only did the taxi driver drive incredibly fast, but he merged in and out of traffic in a way that told me there were no rules on Italian roads. He never waited for pedestrians to cross the street; instead he zoomed by, missing them by inches. If a car stopped in front of him because of traffic, he didn’t wait, he just honked his horn and went around, somehow getting past them in the narrow space available. All the swerving and fast driving only made me feel more sick, and I feared I might puke in the back seat. I tried to ask the taxi driver if we were close to our destination, but he only spoke a little English and all he could tell me was “not close.” I had to endure the ride longer, but I didn’t know how much more I could handle.
Had I not been so sick, I imagine I would’ve felt a little better about the situation. I did find it a little amusing the way he drove, knowing that in many countries the driving is similar, but it was also definitely shocking. I imagined this kind of driving in Asian countries mostly, not a European country like Italy. However, when I’m sick it’s difficult for me to see anything in a positive light.
From the car window I saw scenes of the city passing by. Sickness was suddenly joined by a feeling of fear and anxiety as I saw the neighborhood we were passing through. Graffiti plastered on what seemed like every inch of space (something I’m not accustomed to in my hometown), I did not feel like I was in a safe environment. The neighborhood looked dirty and beaten down. I worried maybe the extensive graffiti meant gangs ran wild here. I hoped this was not the neighborhood I was staying in while in Italy… It was.
I finally reached my destination, paid my taxi driver, and was met by someone from my study abroad program. He walked me to my apartment and chatted cheerfully with me. Feeling even more sick now, I told him I just wanted to lie down and sleep for a while when I got to my room. We got to the front door of my apartment building and I felt as if things had just gotten worse. A shabby, little door covered in multi-colored graffiti, it led through a dark hallway to a tiny, unimpressive apartment. Admittedly, I had expected something a bit grander, newer, so I was both surprised and disappointed. However, my upset stomach was my biggest problem at the moment and I laid down for the rest of the night.
I think it’s safe to say that my first day in Rome was not ideal, but I also know a large part of that had to do with me being sick. When I’m not feeling well, everything else seems much worse than it actually is. But I was finally met with that honeymoon phase I was promised. It took a couple days to adjust to things, but my experiences definitely got better as the days of the first week passed by. I was starting to fall in love with the graffiti-ridden, dirty, yet beautiful city that is Rome.
Here are some pictures I took on my taxi ride over… (I only took a couple since I was feeling so sick)….
Today I am leaving for Rome, Italy. I will arrive there tomorrow evening and stay there for the next month. I’m very excited, but I’m also very apprehensive. I’ve been to Italy before, but it was with my family, a group, and a tour guide, so getting around was very easy and all planned out for me. This time I am going alone and I will be having to figure out things myself. I’m excited about this part, but also very nervous because I’ve never done this before. Also, last time I was in Italy (the only time I’ve ever been there) I didn’t visit Rome and I was only in the country for about 3 days. That’s not enough time to learn much about Italian culture, so I know very little about what my host culture will be like. I assume things based on stereotypes I heard and seen in movies. My perception at this point is this Italians will be very friendly and welcoming in general…and that at some point I may be greeted with big hugs and kisses on the cheeks.I expect Italian people to be true connoisseurs of food and wine (but perhaps that’s just because I know the food and wine there is supposed to be excellent). I also assume that Italians in general will be very verbal and loud. In movies, Italian people are always very talkative and loud. They like to celebrate and are happy and use lots of hand gestures while talking. This is, perhaps naively, the picture of Italians that I have in my head.
I think my host culture will almost certainly take some getting used to. If my perception is true, then I expect I may be a little uncomfortable with the greetings and possible intrusion into my personal space (my personal “bubble”), but I think it would also make me feel very welcomed and appreciated, so I think I would also like it. I, myself, am fairly loud and talkative and kind of dramatic, so I think I will fit in fine in that sense, as soon as I get to know people a little better. But in all, I’m not quite sure how I am going to fit in to this culture. I guess I will just have to wait and see!
I’m supposed to start off by introducing myself and explaining why I chose my program, so here it goes…
My name is Ariel and I will be participating in the multi-country CISabroad program “Heart of the Renaissance: Italy and France.” In this program I will be spending a month in Rome, Italy, with a weekend trip to Florence, then another month in Paris, France.
I chose this specific program for many reasons. First of all, I’m an International Studies major, with a regional focus of Europe and language focus of French. Being an International Studies major requires me to study abroad for 2 months in order to receive my degree. I knew that I wanted to study abroad in France so that I could practice and perfect my French. I also knew I would prefer to study abroad in the summer, but many summer programs are less than 2 months long. This program is not only the perfect amount of time I need to study abroad, but it also focuses on countries in Europe (my regional focus) and I’ll get to spend a month in France working on my French.
I toured Europe a few years ago and I would have to say Italy was my favorite country that I visited (although I loved them all!) When I went, I visited Verona and Venice. I absolutely loved these cities and I wanted to see more of Italy. When I saw there was a program that included both France AND Italy, I was immediately interested. Now, I’ll be able to see Rome, Florence, and maybe a few more Italian cities!
Lastly, I wanted to participate in this program because of the art and language focus of the classes. As a linguistics minor, I absolutely love languages. I will be taking a beginning Italian class and an advanced French class. And I’ve always wanted to take an art history class and a photography class, both of which I will be taking during this study abroad experience. That’s why I knew this program was for me.
This week my friend and I spent our whole week in Italy. It was a really neat experience and I loved it. We started off in Rome and I must say Rome is really great it’s filled with so much history. I really enjoy living in Europe because there is so much history background. There’s no just starting at when America was discovered but there’s so much more here! People lived here long before and it is so cool to see all the ancient buildings and things left behind. Rome I’d say was the most history filled city I’ve see with all the Romans left behind.
After Rome we headed to Milan and that wasn’t too excited other than seeing the duomo and the shopping center. Milan I feel was one of the cities I found to be least pretty, it reminded me of a suburb with not a lot of money. There was a lot of fog and smog there too. It wasn’t the prettiest of cities. After Milan we headed to Florence and I must say Florence was by far my favorite place of Italy. Florence was breathtaking! I felt Florence was the city I fell most in love with.
We’ve seen so much history and been to so many museums while in Europe it’s all been so neat. I must say the pasta is better in Italy and i fell in love with tiramisu! it was so good, i want to learn how to make it. Tiramisu is an Italian dessert kind of like cake made with a cream filling and a taste of coffee. It’s really yummy. After Florence we headed to Venice and that too did not disappoint. It is so neat to see a city off in an island and all the different islands are connected by bridges.While I was there I heard that Venice might be under water in the future, since the water is rising.
At the end of the trip i was exhausted and we didnt get back till Sunday and unlike back home once were out of the airport we have to take public transportation back to segovia. First the metro then the hour long bus ride we were so happy to be back in segovia. We missed our home.
Some differences and similarities I found was that wherever we went to any restaurant or place they never picked up after themselves. In europe everyone eats a three course meal, even at restaurants. They always sold beer at mcdonalds which was something different and they always had a mccafe like an actual cafe, in its own area. Unlike the U.S i feel that they’re a bit more proper when eating their meals and with the alcohol part they’re just more accustomed to it, like alcohol isn’t seen as a bad thing, it’s what everyone drinks.
Ha ha! Well, as you can tell from the title, I arrived home and was almost immediately whisked to Las Vegas. I told my family all about my trip to Siena, showed them my pictures and souvenirs, and got to work on the capstone project. I did wear the bay leaf wreath when I got off the plane and my family thought it was really cool. Less than a week after getting home, my grandparents, brother, and I drove to Vegas for a weekend getaway. They said it was to celebrate my graduation and my brother’s acceptance into the Navy.
We stayed at the Luxor and saw the shows for Blue Man Group and Jabbawockeez. It was a blast! During the whole weekend, my grandparents asked me all about Siena. My brother has decided he wants to be stationed somewhere in Europe. I really do miss Italy but I miss the traveling more than anything. I’m applying for jobs as a sign language interpreter for travel agencies now. Hopefully I get one, fingers crossed.
We ate at an Italian restaraunt one night. I ordered something I had had in Siena and was disappointed. I guess when you’ve had the real thing in the country it came from, everything else falls short. It’s funny, but I think I’m feeling just a bit homesick for Siena. I really could have stayed longer. But, like I said, I’ll work for travel agencies and get to see it all again someday. Vedrò ancora Siena.
Buona fortuna con le tue avventure! Ciao!
Well, it’s that time. Classes are finished and I’m all packed. Italy has been a lot of fun and I’ve learned so much. To be honest though, I wouldn’t mind staying longer. I could easily stay another month before feeling any twinge of homesickness.
This experience has been great and I’m glad I was able to come to Siena. I live out in the middle of nowhere at home so I’m really going to miss walking everywhere. It feels good to stretch my legs and not have to drive forty-five minutes to get to the store. Truth-be-told, I hate staying in one place for long periods of time (people tell me I have a restless and wandering soul) but I would have liked to stay a little longer.
I have traveled outside the country before, so I don’t expect a huge reaction from my family. For them, life just goes on. I’ll tell my story but I know it won’t be nearly as life altering for them as it has been for me. After all, if someone doesn’t experience something for themselves, then there’s only so much excitement they can generate for you. However, I’ve got lots of pictures and a bag of souvenirs. Everytime I look at them I’m sure I’ll feel excited about my trip all over again.
I’ve got a day full of flying ahead…hope i’m not put next to someone who snores…
My final week in Siena was both relaxed and hectic. It was relaxed because we didn’t go anywhere outside the city which meant plenty of exploring. However, the week was hectic because we had finals, I got food poisoning, and there were still places in the city I hadn’t been to.
The finals were all fairly easy compaired to some of the tests at WOU and the schools the others were from but we still put our best into them. I’m bragging here so bare with me…I finished with two B’s and an A…go me. We had to write two papers for Deaf Culture and History, sign a prewritten story in front of a camera for LIS, and take a written test for Italian. All-in-all, fairly standard stuff. I had only one problem through it all, I got food poisoning that morning.
When someone says, “That chinese take-out place near the Campo has the best chinese food,” they don’t mean it’s the best they’ve ever had. They mean it’s all there is in the city. I’m warning everyone right now, DO NOT EAT CHINESE FOOD IN ITALY! Or, at least not in Siena. I’m sorry but that was the worst tasting food I’ve ever had. I threw all but what had made it into my mouth in the trash. And what I did swallow made me very sick. I still went to the final but it was Hell. Oh well, life goes on, right?
With classes all finished, I had a couple days to see a few more areas of interest around Siena. One of my classmates, Kristie, came with me so it was more fun. The first place we went to was the clock tower in the Campo (the Torre del Mangia). I had been walking by it every morning on my way to school but never had a chance to go in. Kristie and I got up early one morning and climbed to the top.
You can see how small people are in the photo standing at the bottom. It was definitely a climb. I was fine with it but Kristie’s legs were visibly shaking when we came down. I don’t have pictures on the inside because I recorded the whole climb but it was over 400 steps to the top. Some doorways and other areas were so tight and short, I had to contort to get through. I’m over six feet tall so some areas in the tower were a circus. Kristie is about a foot shorter than me and she had to duck through some areas. I just crawled.
DSCF1649 While we were at the top, the bells started ringing all across the city. The tower goes first then all the churches follow in unison. This happens twice a day at noon and again at 7pm. I believe they ring at 7pm for evening mass but I’m not sure. Anyways, we weren’t aware of the time when we were standing right next to the large bell at the very top of the tower so you can guess what happened. I jumped hard, Kristie screamed (you know, that high yelp that seems to be something only girls do), and the one other person up there with us (a guy) twitched like I did. We looked at each other and started to laugh. A good time had by all.
After that, we toured our school’s museum
There was also plenty of old devices and photos of hearing aid technology used to help teach the children. Here are some of the pictures I took:
These students were not fully Deaf so the instructor (a nun in this photo) spoke into a microphone and the children could hear what was said through head sets adjusted to each individual’s needs.
After a tour of the school, Kristie and I ran into a couple of the Italian students who were learning ASL. We mentioned that we were exploring the city more and they asked if we had been to the Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral) yet. When we told them no, they gave us specific instructions on what to do when we arrived.
Just to let you know, my family and friends are still riding me about this but I think it was rather clever.
We were told to sign while we were there. No talking. Basically, with the Italian students’ blessings, we pretended to be Deaf. Why? Because Deaf people get in at no charge. Yep, we lied our way into church.
Photos were not allowed inside most of the building but the black and white marble stripes are all inside as well. Kristie tried to give me grief about not paying after we were inside but like I told her, “You didn’t stop me.” So, we were the two peolpe of the day who did not pay for entry but I ask you this: is it right for a church to charge an entry fee? I did leave a donation though. Guilty conscience, who me?
One of the things I noticed in every church and cathedral, including the vatican, is Heaven is always shown above hip level and Hell and Death are shown below. Heaven above and Death below. To clarify, angels, white fluffy clouds, God, and all things good are high on the walls and ceilings. Skeletons, skulls, demons, Lucifer, Hell, and so on were always kept low to the ground, low in a mural, or literally underfoot. Here’s an example:
Ah, earlier I said pictures were not allowed inside but there was one room where it was okay. The main hall in the cathedral had some photo opportunities. Remember I said the black and marble continued inside as well?
and the pulpit (I had to take three pictures to get the whole thing, it’s that huge, but here’s one) DSCF1779
Outside is a wall that was never completed. DSCF1224 This cathedral was going to be the original Vatican but construction was stopped when it was decided Rome would be the location for the Vatican. So, the cathedral was never finished but you can climb to the top of this wall and get a 360 degree view of Siena. I had taken a picture of the cathedral earlier when we climbed the tower in the Campo and i took a picture of the tower from the top of the wall at the cathedral. The tower is taller even though it is downhill from the cathedral.
DSCF1219 some of the detail on one side of the cathedral. each statue is over seven feet tall.
On our final night in Italy, the school took all the students and teachers to dinner. We had a seven course meal (which turned into eleven courses because the restaraunt staff were all having a good time so they added courses to the meal). Food in Siena is not all pasta. Though that is there, most dishes are vegetables. In fact, during the meal, we only had one dish that had meat in it and it wasn’t even a quarter of a cup’s worth of meat. Dinner lasted around three hours.
Don’t freak out about it. Dinner in Italy is a time to socialize. Eating is just something to do while visiting. An average dinner in Italy can last up to four hours and they start late at night. Restaraunts don’t even serve dinner until 8pm. Which means Siena was still busy until the wee hours of the morning every day. But, we’re college students. Staying up late is in our blood.
This last meal was a marker in two people’s lives. Mine and another student named Mason. For me, that night represented the end of college. Yes, I graduated from university in Italy. I had even brought a cap and tassel from home and was going to wear it when my family picked me up at the airport. However, the Siena school staff found out about my graduation and I got Italy’s version of a cap and tassel instead. It’s a wreath of fresh Bay leaves held together with red ribbon.
Mason was one of the Deaf students who’s birthday just happened to be that night. We all knew since he had told one other person and she made sure to spread the word. Everyone pitched in for a special present that I’ll describe in a minute.
I had been pestering the staff at school for shirts that had the school’s name on them. The school staff had really cool shirts and thought, since they sold dictionaries, dvds, mugs, pins, and whatnot, they shold have shirts too. Right? Eventually, Christine (one of the staff I hung out with), got in my face and told me to stop pestering her. Hee hee. During the dinner, she stood up and anounced that the school wanted to thank us for participating in the program so they had shirts made for us. When she handed me mine she said, “Are you happy now?” I just smiled and said, “Yep!” One of the other instructors said I had one of those “shit eating grins”. What can I say, mission accomplished.
(I don’t have a good photo of the shirt, sorry. But I wore it home and people thought I was a staff member at a Deaf school even though the shirt does not say staff.)
Mason, the student I mentioned above, did not get the same shirt we all got. We had a special shirt designed for him for his birthday. Here it is:
DSCF1874 He was so happy he cried.
The next morning, it was time to leave. I spent the next seventeen hours traveling from Siena to Florence (Firenze), to Munich, Germany, to Chicago, to Sacramento, and (finally) to my town. It was a very long, hectic trip. But totally worth it.
Siena, Italy was a blast. I learned so much and met so many different people, this has definitely been a life altering experience. Even though there were a few down sides that come with every long trip to a new place, there were so many good times that I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another adventure…maybe I’ll go to Africa this time…
The second week in Siena passed by rather quickly. Between classes and exploring the city, I kept busy. One thing I can testify to is exploring Siena will get you in shape. I’ve lost eighteen pounds thanks to the steep hills and stairs of the city. Woot! Anyways, throughout the week I would get out of class and wander. The sun didn’t set until late in the evening so I always had plenty of time to see what was around the next corner.
I explored almost half of Siena during the week. It was fun to find a video store with titles that I recognized such as “Despicable Me,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Dragon Ball Z.” Myself and a few others explored the local market as well. It was like Denios at home in California. A huge flea market that can take a few days to travel if you visit every booth. We found everything from clothes and tools, to food and pets. I was looking around one of the pet shops and spent a few minutes debating bringing home a turtle. One, they were awesome. And, two, it would spite my brother since he loves them. I opted out though…I’m nicer than that…
Two of the booths at the market had a morbid sense of humor that I liked. One was a butcher’s shop with a decorated boar’s head on a shelf.
The other was a fish shop with a marlin’s head. The marlin’s “sword” wouldn’t fit in the display case so one of the workers decided to be clever and hooked up a power saw. He cut a hole in the display case for the fish head.
I laughed so hard at how proud he looked that he blushed. He then gave me a slab of salmon at no charge since I enjoyed his little show so much. The man told me to stop by his booth again next time I was there…I stopped. His name’s Giovanni…ok, moving on…
Here are some pictures I took throughout the week. Just some of the sights:
That weekend, all the study abroad students, our instructors, and a Deaf interpreter hopped on a bus and went to Roma (Rome). We visited the Colosseo (Colosseum), the Tevere (Tiber River), and Vatican City. The entire trip took all day. Literally, all day. We spent over twenty hours in Rome. We didn’t get back to Siena until 3am the next day. An exhausting but amazing trip.
First, we went to the Colosseum. Our Deaf interpreter was also our tour guide for the day so everything was in Italian Sign (LIS). In fact, it’s because of this that our LIS class was cut short. We spent all our class hours that were scheduled for the following week watching and discussing what we saw in Rome with the interpreter/guide and with each other. Our instructors were there so they saw how much we were learning and how involved we were making sure to only use LIS so they agreed that we more than fulfilled the requirements for the LIS class. We all liked this arrangement since it meant we got out of classes earlier and could explore Siena more. I don’t have any pictures of the interpreter because I recorded all her information lectures throughout the day. I’ve been using them to practice LIS.
I have learned so much about Italy that I want to share the information such as why the colloseum is missing pieces and where the original Vatican was before it was moved to Rome. Alas, I do not have the room to pour all my new-found knowledge here. However, such facts only make me want to travel more…ha ha, I’m never going to survive a desk job.
After one of the many short but intense rainfalls that are experienced during Italy’s summers, we took a bus across the border into Vatican city. Did you know that? Italy actually has two countries inside it. The Republic of San Marino and Vatican City. Yep, Vatican City is its own country. When we arrived at the Vatican Museum, we had to go through a security check just like at airports. X-rays, passport checks, the works.
Truth be told, I have so many pictures of the Vatican it’s ridiculous. But, everything was so pretty I couldn’t help myself. I’m only thankfull cameras have gone digital otherwise I would have needed a separate suitcase just for the film.
The details on every inch of every building, painting, and statue were astounding as well as thought provoking. Careful lines on a statue’s lips, gracefully sweeping arches standing over fifty feet tall, the complexity and attention to detail of every mural…I really have no words (nor will I wax poetically) for the shear power of the Vatican’s artistic embodiment. All I can do is share a few of the photos I was allowed to take and hope you see a glimer of what I saw.
DSCF1492 A wooden, to-scale, model of Vatican City.
DSCF1584 The most recent Pope’s temporary crypt. The public are not allowed near but you can see a man at the bottom working…this place is huge!
DSCF1526 Me and a marble wolf…I wanted to bring him home with me…still do. He’s sitting just like my dog sits.
DSCF1610 Something to mention here, Vatican City has its own army. These are some of the soldiers standing guard and this was as close as I could get.
DSCF1566 The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina). No pictures, no admittence if you had bare shoulders or knees (had to cover them up), no grouping together, and no talking (this includes sign language). Gaurds were constantly patrolling in there but it was really cool to see Michelangelo’s murals in a crowded room and hear my heart beating (it was amazingly quiet in there). One woman tried to get some shots and the gaurds got very…lets just say they weren’t happy. One told her she could delete the pics while he watched, let them wipe the entire memory, or give them the camera (no she wouldn’t get it back). Guess which choice she made hahaha. Come on people, show some respect!
That evening the whole group went down to the Tevere (Tiber River) for a big Deaf social with the local Romans. There was a radio staion there too. It was cool. Why was a radio station at a Deaf social? Because Italy is currently going through what America has already finished. A Deaf uprising for acknowledgement. For example, in America, hospitals are required by law to provide interpreters for Deaf patients. Not in Italy. In fact, in Italy, LIS is not recognized as a foreign language like ASL is in America. Worse still, the Italian government doesn’t even recognize LIS as a language period.
The radio staion, Radio Kaos Italy, is funded by the Deaf Italians in order to make Hearing individuals aware of their culture which has gone mostly ignored since WWII. It is mostly an online station since much of the music has videos with Deaf singers. Yes, you read right. Look it up and see it for yourself. It’s awesome!
The social with the local Romans lasted around three hours at which time we were all wiped. We eventually made it back to Siena and back to our apartments. Everyone slept like the dead that night and no one got up before noon the next day. Even after waking up, most people just moved to a different location and slept on. But, it was worth it.