I’ve been in Italy for three days now, and so far it’s been fantastic! Those who know me know that I’ve been waiting for an experience like this for years, and am ecstatic to be here. However, that’s not to say there haven’t been a few minor mishaps these last few days.
For me, as I already mentioned before, I almost got denied my visa. When we got to Bologna, one of the business students from ‘Nova here for a new VSB program temporarily lost her luggage. (I should explain that there were 2 recommended group flights for this trip: one from the US to Frankfurt, Germany, and another from Frankfurt to Bologna, Italy (the view of the Alps during this flight was breathtaking! Once I better figure out the Internet access technicalities here, I'll include photos). From there (Bologna) we took a 2 hour bus ride to the university.) As it turns out, her luggage—two large suitcases, mind you—got stuck in Frankfurt, so they took an extra day to arrive. Luckily, though, nothing was permanently lost or stolen. Meanwhile, I thought I was going to get stopped in Frankfurt. During what was apparently customs, everybody else from ‘Nova was whizzing through this portion of the airport: They just had to say they were going for study abroad after handing over passports/visas, and off they went. I, of course, got questioned about where I was going, for what, how long, and the employee checking my documents made it a point of sternly telling me he observed I have a German last name, to which I briefly explained I am of German heritage. Given my issue at the Italian Consulate over my family heritage, I thought I was going to face a similar problem in Germany, but I guess it was just a failed attempt at small talk, in which case a friendlier tone would’ve been much appreciated. Also, my first full day here, I accidently locked myself into my room and a bathroom within a span of five minutes. The doorknobs on this campus are weird. I don’t know why, but instead of turning the knob, you turn a lever and press a button. My door and the bathroom door I used were, of course, broken. I had to slide my room key under the door to one of my flatmates—this one, by the way, made a Hurricane Katrina reference upon introductions! Even here in Italy I can't escape it... >.<"
There are about 17 of us from Villanova here at the University of Urbino: two of us are in the humanities, the rest are sophomores in the VSB program. Only three of us speak any Italian, and, much to my surprise, I’ve been the most “fluent” out of all of us (although, two students fluently speak Spanish, so I don’t expect to hold this title for very long once the VSB intro Italian class starts). I was even able to quite easily converse with my flatmates the day I arrived for well over an hour. The language barrier is still there, of course, but they and a lot of the locals we have met so far speak some English. When it comes to my flatmates, we’re helping each other improve upon the language we speak and the language we are learning. (That, and having 3 dictionaries on me at almost all times helps haha Obvious tip that isn’t quite so obvious with our group: Keep at least one dictionary on you. I make sure to keep my general Italian to English dictionary with me, and I also have a phrasebook and the travel guide book I received from the OIS, which has a brief glossary of most-used/helpful words and phrases toward the back (honestly, I don’t think many people read through it much, as they didn’t know about this feature ^_^;). I also brought my intro textbook with me, as it was the most useful and clearly explained textbook I’ve had in my 5 semesters of Italian classes. Obviously, you don’t need to have everything on you or even bring this many, but...
When it comes to the business students, at least four or five people used Rosetta Stone or some similar program before coming, and I’ve mentioned a program called ItalianPod101, a free program you can download online to use in iTunes, to them. Mostly, everyone else is just winging it, though, picking up what words they can during outings, which, so far, seems to be serving them well!
In the three days we’ve been here, we’ve mainly been exploring the “city” of Urbino. It’s small, but quaint. The buildings are charmingly constructed, and—this being the only downside—everything is a very steep uphill climb. I suppose after a couple weeks, we’ll get used to it, but for now… Also, a lot of people smoke here. In fact, so many do that I barely notice the cigarette smell anymore. It’s not that they don’t fear the health repercussions like we Americans do, but, as one of my flatmates’ friends has explained to me, it’s a need for the Italian people as a way to unwind and relax (especially now that finals are approaching for the regular students here!). But I digress. Urbino is a small town on a mountain that was built centuries ago that has become, more or less, a college town, but has also been shaped by over two thousand years of culture. On the edge of the town is the castle of the Duke of Urbino that--due to its age (built c. 1370), value, and history--miraculously survived the German invasion of WWII. We students are hoping the building now serves as a museum so that we may see it inside. Much of the city has preserved its ancient history through the preservation of the architecture of homes, the lack of road expansion and urban development (even the alternate route to this section of town still has not expanded the paths once used for walking or riding mules for modern-day cars), &c. But even its modern history can be seen in one of the elementary schools in town. Saturday morning, after passing through a small mercato, we came across a school that had been dedicated by none other than Mussolini himself. The front of the school has whited out a fascist creed declaring the education plan to indoctrinate its students, but has not removed the fascist seal from Il Duce. The colors have been washed off, but the seal itself is still there, giving out "mixed signals" about the school's views, as Dr. Cullen, the program director, put it. Fascism itself was never fully accepted in Italy, but the effects are still present it seems.
Town is just a quick walk away--maybe half a mile--and there is still much to be explored. Some of the VSB students who went out to find clubs have especially noticed the difference in the town between day and night. Being that it is an old city and not a touristy area, the town has a relaxed, slower paced feel during the day, but is much more alive at night.--It is still a college town, after all.