I’m baaacccckkkk! I took the entire winter break off from writing so I could refresh, reflect and get ready for my semester abroad in Venice. And also to be intentionally hands-off for a while as Mike Natalie and Sarah Garcia, who are doing a phenomenal job by the way, take the reins as Opinions editors. And before you ask, no, I was not being lazy.
Rob Rossi and the rest of high command want this abroad blog to have a focus on politics. They (and you, the reader) will surely get just that. As a political science major and history minor, this is one of the most exciting times to study in Italy. There is a general election coming up in about a week that may see the bombastic Silvio Berlusconi return to being prime minister for an unprecedented fourth time.
Also, with Pope Benedict XVI resigning effective Feb. 28 (the first time this has happened in over 600 years), the College of Cardinals will conclave in the Sistine Chapel and decide who will be the next pontiff.
As a relative outsider to Italian politics (I will be taking a class in Italian Contemporary History, though, that will help me along), and for those who know me well, a lapsed Catholic in the most liberal, stretched-out sense of the term, I’ll be able to give you an unbiased look at the current happenings over here.
I also want to gauge the perception of America in Italy, and by extension, the rest of Europe as well, especially from its youth. While America considers many Western European countries like Italy one of its closest allies as a result of NATO, and it’s fairly obvious that Europe in general has a favorable view of Barack Obama, the same could not be said of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
I also want to see the effect of cultural and economic exchange between both America and Europe. Does Italy see American cinema, food and music infiltrating and dominating its way of life? What about the rest of Europe? Especially with the violent protests over austerity that have taken place in Greece and Spain, and with Italy possibly on the same path, I wonder where the resentment and anger will be directed towards: the government, the unions or the corporations.
And of course I will provide some guest commentary from time to time about political happenings in the United States. You can expect the same hard-hitting analysis as always.
But enough about all that. For the next three and a half months, I will be studying at Venice International University (VIU), located in the middle of the Venetian lagoon on the island of San Servolo. VIU is not a typical university in the sense that you go for four years and get your bachelor's degree. Rather, it is an international consortium of universities that sends students to study in Venice for either a semester or a year.
Boston College and Duke University are the two American members of the consortium. Other members include the University of Tel Aviv in Israel, Waesada University in Tokyo and Tsinghua University in Beijing. Another interesting fact about the school: the island used to be the site of a monastery, a military hospital and later an insane asylum whose buildings were renovated into the current school. Wonderful. Already I’m walking through the dark halls and thinking I’m seeing apparitions.
I’ve been to Italy once before, as part of a high school trip over February break in 2010. That fact alone puts me in a better position than many of the students coming here, since I remember some of my way around in addition to having spoken Italian in everyday situations. I’m not particularly good with Italian, to be honest. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I feel that I work hard at it and want to be better.
Thankfully, all of the classes that I’m taking here, save for Intermediate Italian for Foreigners, are taught in English. But I know that by June 2, the day I step foot back on American soil, I will be a much better Italian speaker, both from class instruction and through everyday life itself.
Another thing I took away from my high school trip to Italy was the fact that Italians and Italian-Americans are actually very different from each other. I know I’m generalizing here, but it seems to me that Italians are very cosmopolitan, and they really don’t have that guido, Jersey Shore-esque subculture that unfortunately pervades the perception of Italian-American culture back home.
A lot of Italian-Americans, including myself, were not brought up with the Italian language at home. I started learning it in seventh grade. Also, a lot of the Italian immigrants who are still alive hold on to the memories of the “old country,” and as a kid, you get the perception that Italy is this unchanging, unyielding place stuck in a time warp.
That is anything but the case, as Italians embrace both the old and the new. And Italians see me as an American who knows just enough of the language to get by and not make a fool of himself (at least some of the time). There’s really no distinction in their mind between an Italian-American and an American if you’re not fluent in their language. But, they are very inclined to help out anyone who makes an effort to speak their language.
So there you have it. I left yesterday from JFK International Airport on Aer Lingus, drank a delicious Magner's (Irish cider, also my first legal drink on an airplane) while watching episodes of Family Guy and The Newsroom, had a layover in Dublin for two hours, drank a Peroni at 6 a.m. Ireland time (surprisingly good Italian beer, also my first legal drink in Europe), flew to Venice, almost had a nervous breakdown when the baggage handlers put my luggage on the wrong conveyer belt, took the Alalaguna vaporetto (water bus) to San Zaccharia while trying not to fall asleep from the horrendously slow and bumpy ride and took one last boat to San Servolo.
As I’m writing this it is 10:33 p.m. Italian time, which means it’s 4:33 p.m. on the East Coast. Since waking up at 9 a.m. yesterday, I’ve had a grand total of 2 hours of sleep, which means I’ve been awake for 30 out of a possible 32 hours and suffering from pretty bad jet lag.
Until next time, arrivederci.