After a few days of what I can only guess to have been something like dolce far niente, complete with lazy afternoons and nights out to local discoteche, yesterday the VSB kids have started their business classes, and all of us have started our pre-semester Italian courses. We are divided into two groups: intro for those who have never studied Italian prior to this program, and intermediate for those of us who have. There are four of us in my intermediate class, our experiences ranging from 2-5 semesters of Italian classes. Our professoressa, Silvia, is young, speaks very little English, and gave us the lovely task of taking a quiz so that she would know how well we understand the Italian language. I don’t think anybody finished the entire thing, as it covered everything from presente to future semplice to congiuntivo presente tense (which I don’t think most people know what that is in English, let alone Italian!), so the test served its purpose. Our class is taught entirely in Italian—as it should be—and Silvia is very patient with us and our questions, and we all help each other if we still can’t understand her explanations during group discussions and activities.
In addition to starting our language class, Marti and I have been discussing with Dr. Cullen what classes we will be taking through the university this semester. We are both looking into sociology classes, and are now waiting on the professors here to obtain more information about them before officially registering. Furthermore, we used today to discuss an art studio class we’ll be taking while we are here. I don’t remember the name of the artist we will be working with, but it looks like we will be having about seven workshops with him, and we may have to travel to Milan or Bologna for some of our workshops; however, we are trying to see if they can be taken closer to the university. To give us an example of what we will be learning about, Dr. Cullen showed us works from The Americans (1958), a collection of photos by a Swiss photographer, Robert Frank, who spent two years traveling across post-war America, and this book is a depiction of his impression of the States. I really liked what I saw, but, according to Dr. Cullen, the collection was unappreciated and criticized in its time for its somewhat negative depiction of America (the country came across as unhappy, divided, and confused about our identity as individuals and as a country in several photos). Frank couldn’t even publish it through an American publishing company at first, and had to do so in France instead. However—and this will be part of the focus of our course—one must keep the artist’s frame of mind and intentions behind each photo, each piece of art. In this case, the artist was Swiss-born, so his photos reflect the impressions he made during his relatively short stay in Cold War-era America as an outsider of the culture. In this art studio, we will be learning about how to use our chosen media to best convey our meaning and how to recognize why we are inspired by what we observe and will depict in our art pieces.
Before the weekend, Dr. Cullen also mentioned extra activities the group may do here: a cooking class, jobs, and volunteer work. A friend (I think) of Dr. Cullen has expressed a willingness to teach a cooking class to us while we are here since it was a success the last time it was carried out, so once or twice a week starting in a few weeks, we will have the opportunity to partake in it. Almost (if not) everyone showed interest taking it, so this should be fun J Dr. Cullen also mentioned that our visas will permit us to work about 20 hours per week during our stay here. So, some of the VSB kids have expressed interest in finding jobs, and Marti and I asked about volunteer work. Dr. Cullen offered to look into a program he knows of for which we would have the chance to teach English to elementary school students for a few hours during weekends, so we are still waiting on an update for that.
On another note, I feel as though I had two personal successes today. Firstly, with the help of Lucia Bartolucci, who works in the Servizio Ricerca e Relazioni Internazionali department at the university, I was able to finally navigate the bus and train systems. For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to visit relatives I have in Genoa, but couldn’t quite figure out how to go about it. However, now I see that the systems really aren’t as tricky as I originally thought, so now all I can do is hope transferring trains goes just as smoothly ^_^ And second, on a more trivial note, I got two answers right in a round of the board game “Taboo” with my flatmates. Huge success!