Here I sit contemplating the end of another semester abroad. As usual, the semester flew by way too fast once courses got into full swing and thesis research commenced. I didn’t regularly blog. I didn’t get half the things done I planned nor did I write as much on the thesis as I anticipated. I learned that advanced field research is exceptionally challenging and rewarding if you find items overseas. Still, I had an incredible semester. I explored old and new places in Italy, returned to England for a week, enjoyed Spain for a few days, and had a fantastic two days in Morocco.
This study abroad was very different from others I participated in. My peers consisted of younger students with a wider range of majors than the prior two cohorts. I really enjoyed their energy and perspective on a number of things. If you don’t surround yourself with a variety of age groups, consider changing that. We can learn from young and old alike. Younger folks can really remind you of ways to creatively view the world. Contrary to popular stereotypes, there are millennials that have some wonderful ideas and thoughts on how the world can move forward. They also have the work ethic and ability to take those concepts forward with some mentoring. I study and work with them daily.
Our courses focused on ways to read history, culture, and heritage in a country through film, cuisine, agriculture, and beverages. At first that may sound like such an easy and fun course load, but believe me when I say it isn’t easy. (I’ll give you the fun part. It was amazing to sample everything we studied and to watch great Italian films.) You merely scratch the surface by learning what wines, foods, and films are made in a region. You must go deeper than that to really understand how those items emerged in a particular place and the importance of them. We regularly delved into:
- The theories and politics behind food/film
- Was a food/beverage really native to Italy or did it migrate in an earlier time?
- What was the production methodology for an agricultural product?
- Does production preserve tradition?
- Did the food way and production methodology change over the centuries?
- How had economics along with watershed events reshaped regional cuisine in Italy?
- How had these things shaped and changed diets and cuisines around the world?
- Complicating the discussions, was how did the outsider like a tourist or agency with global reach alter a region’s cuisine or filmmaking?
Our readings had to be completed for our weekly field trips and visits by experts to make sense, which meant really managing our time. I challenge you to learn about the food you eat and what you drink from a tradition and roots perspective. Use the prompts above if they are helpful to make you think about cuisine at a deeper level than gastronomy. You might be surprised by what you learn.
Earthquakes rocked our Renaissance city regularly from the end of October forward. Thankfully, they only caused minor damage to Urbino. Two of the tremors required a building evacuation. I learned I could put my shoes on and run down three flights of stairs in mere seconds after shaking and rumbling woke me from a dead sleep early in the morning. If you read my earlier post about which eyes to view Italy through, the catastrophe adjuster found her picturesque landscape reminding her of how quickly life can change and to value the nonmaterial items like friends and family more. Italy and I need to find a way to compromise on how many times I am knocked out of my happy place and back into natural disasters. The Italians are growing tired of the regular tremoring too.
The best thing about this semester (besides eating great foods and drinking fabulous wines) is that it produced multiple moments of laughter and adventure. During downtime, we played rounds of a card game called Mao. We danced at the local discoteca. On Halloween, we and the Irish students costumed it up. For each trip we took, the group worked together making up fun improbable histories or tours. An improbable history is mixing fact and fiction to tell a story of a place. The words “Fano” and “bricks” can never be said without a round of laughter immediately following them. We successfully navigated a crazy transport system, enjoyed the sights and smells of leather, food, and spices in multiple markets at each location we visited, and Italy gave us some spectacular sunsets to marvel at.
My language skills are always a source of entertainment. I am ashamed to say my Italian did not come back at the level I hoped it would. Part of that was on me, the other part of that was due to how rigidly structured the Italy Program is now. My classmate fluent in Italian laughed after I messaged our hosts in Pompeii that we “borrowed” the train. I couldn’t help smirking as I pictured Antonio or Iolonda reading it and thinking, “What? They stole the train?” Or the time I couldn’t remember the word for pig and asked a vendor “Quanto per piggy?” The look I got was priceless. I and my travel buddy laughed so hard I almost cried. When working with a foreign language, always try and maintain a sense of humor to prevent becoming too frustrated with it or your mistakes. The Italians are great sports at letting you practice and will happily help you out with words or phrases if they elude you. Google translate can be a lifesaver, but use it with caution.
All in all this semester created new opportunities and things to think about. It broadened my horizons yet again. It also reminded me of how fortunate I am and how some matters we stress about are truly trivial in the grand scheme of things. I need to finish packing up.
May you have a wonderful day or night wherever you are!