Sunday, December 14, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Ghosts are funny things. Sometimes a ghost is an ever-lingering presence, never loud, never entirely visible, simply there. Sometimes you might think a ghost has finally left you alone when suddenly, in a dream or in a song, they slam into you, causing your head to reel and your feet to fall out from under you. Most ghosts fall somewhere in between: the ghost that only lifts its head when “Bad News” by Rilo Kiley plays but every time the song plays or the ghost that causes a slow-aching pain over the course of the week, in rain, snow, wind, or under the sun.
This morning, two ghosts haunted me. Over a scone with apricot jam and a café au lait, I couldn’t help but remember and wonder and sigh. One of my ghosts was a familiar dull pain in my stomach. He’s one that causes me to doubt myself, to go over all of my moves in my mind, trying to see what I did wrong. He likes to pop up whenever anyone says “love” or “briser” or “alone”. My other ghost is usually much easier to handle. He reminds me of flowers and being young and excited about the future. This morning, with the pink Paris light pouring through the window, he just made me think of miles and miles of ocean, uninterrupted blue stretching to the horizon.
People in Paris ask me if I’m homesick for the United States. They act so surprised when I say no, as though living abroad for a year and missing the States are tantamount to each other. If I think about it, there are small things I miss, the sun setting over the golden hills of the Palouse, for example, or the size of the sky in the West. I miss the music at Hampshire College, the way that something completely unexpected will happen in front of your dorm or on your porch in Enfield. And I miss certain people. I miss my family- my nonna, dad, mom, and little brothers. I miss Ariel and a tight circle of people at Hampshire. However, being in the States or not doesn’t really change whether I’ll miss these things or not. In Massachusetts, there is no equivalent to the Palouse. In Moscow, Idaho, there is no Eric to call at three in the morning when I’ve done something stupid or Ivàn to laugh with at parties.
The older I get (and don’t laugh, I know 20 isn’t supposed to be old, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflection this year) the more nostalgic I get for certain places and times in my life. My walls are covered with postcards from my high school graduations, pictures of Tomatlàn and Kadăn, and copies of paintings by Klimt. I have a photo to commemorate a Friday the 13th trip to Colfax, some Div III invitations, a copy of a painting from Nonna, and a watercolor from Papi in Rouen. My room is full of things I’ve seen, places I’ve been, and people I love(d). How can I be homesick in such a place? No, I’m not homesick in Paris; I just wish I could bring some of you here with me…
Monday, November 17, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
To start with, the exposé is worth about a third of your grade. The other third is usually a fiche technique, fiche de lecture, or presentation du texte, all things I will probably write about at a later date. The last third is class participation. At this point, Hampshire students are thinking, ‘Wait a minute, what is she complaining about? I had to write 50 pages in total for my last class. This French stuff sounds easy.’ These Hampshire students are largely misinterpreting the fine points of the exposé.
The exposé is divided into two parts. To understand the difference between Sciences Po and Cartesian methodology, make every time I say two into three. These two parts are divided into two sub-parts. There also happens to be an introduction and a conclusion. Depending on the severity of your professor, the 10-15 minute exposé could be a 25 minute experience, such as in my ‘Questions of Ethics? Questions of Literature’ course, which is excellent by the way. So far, so good, right? But then comes the hard part. Every exposé has a subject, assigned by the professor. It is your duty to take apart the subject, play with the wording, and understand the main themes enough to create a question, or problématique, from the subject. When I was in my welcome program methodology course, we did a lot of just trying to find the proper problématique. An example was the subject: The Polish plumber and the Indian engineer. To be able to find the question from this subject, you have to understand that the “Polish plumber” was a stereotype used several years ago when the EU was expanding to include Eastern Europe. People in Western Europe were genuinely worried that the Eastern Europeans would make a mass exodus to Western Europe where they would take all the working class jobs because they would work for less. You also have to understand that the “Indian engineer” is another stereotype used to describe the idea of ‘guest workers,’ especially in Germany, who are white collar workers that are welcomed in Western Europe because of a lack of engineers, doctors, and so on who are well qualified. They tend to come to Europe, work for less than 10 years, working for less than the white collar workers in Western Europe, and then move back home, mostly. You also have to take into account that the class we were pretending to be in was “l’Espace Mondial.” So our problématique had something to do with migratory fluxes and the benefits of opening borders to certain migrants, or something.
One also has to take into account when doing an exposé, that 10 minutes is not a long time. The introduction and conclusion should take 2-3 minutes combined, which leaves approximately 4 minutes per part, 2 minutes per sub-part. The professor will stop you if you go over time. And he or she will wait before speaking, staring at you, if you stop under time. This is all in French. One could take English classes at Sciences Po, and I take two of them, but why go to Paris to study in English, right? The French students’ exposés that I’ve heard have been unintelligible for me, personally, and for some other foreign students because they talk really fast. Somehow, they are able to cram the entire history of the Middle East (for example) into 10 minutes. What?! Don’t ask me how it’s possible because I have no idea.
After your fun 10 minute presentation, you get to be criticized (or complimented) by the class and the professor for another 15 or so minutes. It’s great fun.
Why am I writing about this today? Well, my dear readers, it’s because I just did my first exposé in French in my class on the Modern Arab World on Tuesday. This was the subject: Islamisme et Nationalisme- le cas Palestinien. You may have noticed some trigger words in this subject- Islamism, Nationalism, and Palestinian, to start with. These are already very delicate subjects when split up, but all together they are really difficult to talk about, in 10 minutes, in French, in front of the whole class, when I’m not an expert on Palestine. So I kept putting it off, saying, “Oh that’s scary; I’ll tackle it tomorrow.” This is not a tactic I recommend. Then it was Monday. I got my books out of the library (someday, I may write about the fun, little, underground book trains at the library here…) and headed home to work. My problématique became: How did the process of Islamism affect Arab nationalism especially in the nation of Palestine? Not too intellectual sounding, I know, but it’s in French, so cut me a little slack. I wrote out my entire presentation, word by word, because I was terrified of messing up, and drank 5 cups of espresso. I made a PowerPoint presentation, which was fun because I got to use a quote from Ernest Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism (which is a GREAT book that everyone who’s interested in the themes should read.) And, at 9am, I headed to class.
Apparently, according to Michelle, my Hungarian-American friend who also takes French with me here, my presentation was actually pretty good. But, you know, she’s a friend and a foreigner, too, so she’s going to be easy on me. I got really annoyed with myself because immediately after the presentation part, the professor asked me to expand upon the tensions between Hamas and Fatah after the Oslo accords, and I totally choked and said I didn’t know because I had concentrated more on the general history of the Middle East. My response was ridiculous because as soon as she got up to start teaching class and mentioned the Oslo accords, a complete, coherent, and detailed answer to her question formed in my mind, but then again, I was nervous, had stayed up all night, and had 5 espressos in my system.
The hardest thing about the exposé, for me, is the idea that it’s worth a third of my grade. It’s 10 minutes, and if you choke, that’s the end. It’s scary, especially the first one. Luckily, the rest of the exposés I have to do are in groups until the fifth of January when I have to talk for 25 minutes about a text that questions the ethics of terrorism. And now, I know that waiting to start working the day before is completely counter-productive. I envision great things for my exposés to come. And if any of you ever have to write one, feel free to write to me for help.
PS TAKE THE INTERGRATION/WELCOME PROGRAM COURSES. They saved my life.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Language and culture are so intertwined that oftentimes we have trouble distinguishing if culture begets language or vice versa. One classic example is of the French habit of posing questions in the negative: instead of asking, “Do you want this sandwich?” a Frenchman, or woman, will say, “You don’t want this sandwich?” This, in the French culture, allows one to say, “No,” without being rude. Another example in the French language is the use of the neutral pronoun “on” or “one.” This neutral pronoun allows one to displace blame, “I’m sorry that you had to wait in line so long, but one has to carefully go over all the paperwork,” not “I” not “we” or “he” or “she” but “one.” While I could explore the historical and societal reasons for the need to be able to say, “No,” without being rude or to displace blame in France, I will save it for another essay. Instead, I want to write about the impact that language has on an individual’s personal cultural identity. In this case because this is a “postcard from abroad,” I’m going to write about how my language affects my personal cultural identity during my experiences on Hampshire’s direct exchange with Sciences Po in Paris, France.
For the majority of people, their country of origin is reflected by their mother tongue. An individual from Hungary will most likely use Hungarian as their principle language. A few exceptions to this rule are people descended from immigrants and people who grow up in certain regions of certain countries (an example would be a friend of mine from Alto Adige, a German-speaking part of Italy). I was born in the United States, but the first language I learned was Italian. This does not mean that I am more comfortable in Italian than I am in English as I did the majority of my schooling in the States, and my dad only speaks English. I am, however, an Italian citizen as well as an American citizen and have actually only ever voted in Italian elections. Most of the time, I can pass under the radar as an Italian-American, so it rarely becomes a public issue. Lately, my ability to pass under the radar unchallenged has begun to change.
It started with an innocent question on the first day of Sciences Po’s Welcome Program for foreigners: “Where are you from?” I had to make a quick decision, so I said, “I’m Italian and American.” I was the only one in the class to say something less cut and dry than China or Germany. As the Welcome Program progressed, and as my classmates and I became better friends, things only got more complicated. In the States, I rarely have a problem with English, but when I live abroad for extended periods of time, my Northwestern American accent becomes a hybrid of whatever accents are around me, and my vocabulary begins to disappear. The same happens with my Italian. In the amazing international setting of Sciences Po (where 44% of students this year are international), the language part of my brain becomes completely fried. One night, I met an Italian who was speaking Spanish to some people from Mexico. That night, I was switching between Spanish, Italian, English, French, and the miniscule amount of German I know. I began speaking Italian to the Hungarians, French to the Germans, Spanish to the Italians, and any other combination of languages and nationalities imaginable.
When I get confused with my languages and accents, most people just gently correct me, tease me, and then tell me that it’s understandable. My class from the Welcome Program has really gelled into a cohesive group. We’re friends now, not just classmates. So they have no qualms about calling me on my language faults, in any language. The latest occurrence was at our last reunion dinner. When I get tired, my accent in English really falls apart, and I haven’t been in the States since June. We have an Irishman in our class, and the majority of people in the class speak English with a British accent. This combination of factors resulted in me speaking British/Canadian/American/Irish English. Someone looked at me and asked, “Where are you from?” I could only respond that I didn’t know. I self-identify as Italian and American, and when people are really interested, I go into an explanation of why and how I actually feel more European and American than anything else, but that doesn’t mean that people perceive me as Italian and American, or solely one or the other.
Language swiftly becomes a definition of who someone is. An accent can tell society about which country or part of the country you come from, which social class you belong to or educational background you have, or what other languages you speak, among other things. Our world today, however, is changing faster than our accents. The perceptions people have based on how or which languages one speaks are becoming more and more skewed. Unfortunately, though these perceptions may be wrong, they still have a huge impact on how one is viewed in a group or in society, how one is expected to act, and indeed, who people believe one is.
Paris is an island in France made of a myriad of different cultures and nationalities. These people often live side by side; a street can separate a “bad” neighborhood from a “good” one. In such a cosmopolitan environment, people cannot help but recognize difference, whether it is represented by an accent, a style of dress, or the color of someone’s skin. What is important in such a place is how people react to differences. Reactions have caused the banlieue riots, the banning of headscarves in the public sphere, and Science Po’s addition of a special, separate entrance exam based on the zip code of applicants. Reactions have sparked debates on the universalism of humanity versus the individual and group concepts of culture, on who is French and who is foreign. There is no way to see the future of Paris, France, or the world, but people are beginning to look around themselves and change how they react, and that is the first step to creating any sense of a global community.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
1) The first thing that you should do when you get to Sciences Po is to matriculate by completing the inscription at the Acceuil Administratif. They adhere to an alphabetical calendar with last names starting with A-B being able to matriculate on Monday mornings, B-C on Monday afternoons, and so on. In order to do this you will need the form that you can get online, an identity photo of yourself, 195 euros to pay for student social security in France (more on that later), and a copy of your passport.
2) The inscription pédagogique happens during the first week of the Welcome Program at Sciences Po. Hampshire students complain a lot about the Hub and signing up for classes/not getting into the class they wanted. The Hub’s problems are nothing compared to Sciences Po’s. First of all, class times and dates aren’t listed anywhere except for on the website when you click in a very specific place and are only available just before the inscription. This means you can’t really plan your schedule until just before you sign up for classes. Also, all international undergraduates sign up at the same time. Imagine every single Div I and half of the Div IIs signing up at the same time. I was in front of my computer, on the website at 10 to 10. Inscription began at 10. By the time I clicked on the last class I wanted, it was already full. And so was pretty much everything. By 10:20, the only classes that weren’t completely full were those who had no course description.
3) You will need a bank account in Paris. For a number of different reasons, you will seriously need one. Also- who wants to sleep with thousands of dollars or euros hidden under their bed? I recommend the BNP bank that has special deals for students. You will need proof of matriculation in a French school (hence completing the inscription before getting a bank account). You will also need proof of your address in Paris. Most banks will let you give them a temporary address, but you will need a letter from the person/place you are staying confirming that you are actually there. Almost everything in French banks is needed in writing. Make sure to schedule an appointment with the bank to set up an account.
4) You will need to insure your apartment when you find it. Apartment insurance is obligatory by law in France. The national student union in France recommended Matmut to me for apartment insurance because of their student rates. I haven’t actually done this yet. Also- Always sign a contract when renting an apartment or room in Paris. This can allow you to get help from the French state (even if you’re an international student) to pay for your apartment- visit the CAF website. Signing a contract also keeps you safe from getting kicked out of your apartment. French law stipulates that landlords and other people that rent rooms or apartments must give tenants three months warning before forcing them out of their apartment before the end of the contract. Contracts in France are usually for one year, but as a student, you can rent for only nine months if you choose.
5) Get a Carte ImaginR. This is a card for students that allows you to pay either monthly or yearly for public transportation in the Ile-de-France. It is much, much cheaper than buying metro or bus tickets all year. Transportation costs have been rising in Paris, so this is actually pretty necessary. You can get the dossier for the Carte ImaginR from any metro station window. Send it in with the payment and an identity photo. You will probably have to wait three weeks for the card to arrive in the mail, but if you save the metro tickets you use from the time you sent in your dossier, you can get reimbursed.
6) Get the Découverte 12-25 card. This is a card that can get you up to 50% off on all train travel in France including the Eurostar, and some trains to places like Amsterdam. I really hope that you want to see more than only (I know, you’re thinking “only?! It’s Paris!”) Paris and the surrounding areas so get the card and travel around some.
Time for my super interesting anecdote: France requires that all students belong to the French social security system. The only exception to this rule in if you happen to be an EU citizen with the European Health Card. It doesn’t matter how much you are covered by your American (or other international insurance), you will still have to pay 195 euros. I thought, though, that because I am both covered by my American insurance while I’m in France and also an Italian citizen (i.e. an EU citizen) that I could somehow convince Sciences Po that I didn’t have to pay 195 euros. Funny thing though: Italy only gives the European Health Card (or Tassera Sanitaria) to residents of Italy. I reside in the States. So here I am, covered by the States, Italy, and thus the EU, but still required to pay a huge amount of money for more insurance. At least now I can get super sick, right? Anyway, I personally think that Hampshire should pay this fee- maybe not for me, but definitely for future exchange students.
I don’t know how helpful this is, or how interesting, but I thought I’d give it a try. Feel free to comment/question.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
1. My uncle once: sold Jim Beam. And then Jack Daniels. And now Absolute Vodka...
2. Never in my life: will I ever force myself to settle in a place where I don't feel at home.
3. When I was five: I spoke fluent Italian.
4. High school was: Strange. And I can't remember a lot of it. Except for the year abroad in France things.
5. I will never forget: the way my mom used to look when she would get ready to go out with my dad. They don't really go out any more and my mom looks more her age every day.
6. Once I met: Muhammed Ali. But I was a baby and don't remember it. My mom still has his autograph though.
7. There’s this boy I know: He can make the best cosmopolitans in the world and free styles with glasses and bottles. He's "dangerous" but I like him anyway and he knows it.
8. Once, at a bar: I met two couples from Coeur d'Alene on the Isle of Elba. The next day, I met a woman who had gone to WSU. It's a small world after all.
9. By noon, I’m usually: washing dishes and getting ready for the lunch time wave at the Garden Beach, my lovely place of work. Also very hungry.
10. Last night: I stayed out too late with a boy from Milano.
11. If only I had: more time to learn languages and travel around without needing to work or study.
12. Next time I go to church: I will light a candle for my nonna and the rest of my family.
13. What worries me most: is that I might never find what I really want. A good job I like, a place that feels like home, and my own family.
14. When I turn my head left I see: book and cards and drinks for sale.
15. When I turn my head right I see: another computer and an open window.
16. You know I’m lying when: when I seem really bothered, turn red, and try to leave as soon as possible. Or when I laugh, and then tell you thay I'm lying.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: that I didn't get to be a teenager during them. No leggings, no awesome music, and no big hair.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: A cross between Hamlet and Desdemona. Both doomed, but for different reasons and in different ways.
19. By this time next year: I will be getting ready to go back to the States after a year away. Christ.
20. A better name for me would be: somethings all americans can pronounce. Like Sara.
21. I have a hard time understanding: people who are dishonest with me.
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: try to actually graduate.
23. You know I like you if: I try to be around you all the time. I will also bite my lip at you and smile whilst raising my eyes toward you shyly.
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: Eric. Actually my parents.
25. Take my advice, never: fall in love with someone who isn't worth it.
26. My ideal breakfast is: Either a perfect cappucino with creamy foam and a raspberry tart or my dad's waffles drenched in maple syrup.
27. A song I love but do not have is: What's Going On? by 4 non blondes
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: eat at Mickey's Gyros, have coffee at One World, hang at the Coop and John's Alley, and watch the sun come up at the water tower.
29. Why won’t people: let me be who I am and stop making fun of my accent in Italian?
30. If you spend a night at my house: I will take very good care of you. I love guests.
31. I’d stop my wedding for: a change of heart.
32. The world could do without: Nationalism.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: be polite to a cruel person.
34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: Marilyn Monroe (fake blonde though she was) and the Germans that come to the bar.
35. Paper clips are more useful than: Staples. They come off more easily and you can reuse them.
36. If I do anything well it’s: being a good friend. And talking too much.
37. I can’t help but: think about culture constantly. Seriously, all the time. Ask Eric, he knows.
38. I usually cry: when I'm really angry or when I'm really lonely. Traveling around by yourself is really amazing and makes you independant and stronge, but sometimes all you really want is someone to make you a cup of tea and hug you.
39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: Learn early on in life who is worth trusting and caring about and who will just try to push you down. Also- speak up when you're uncomfortable, don't understand, or just want to say something.
40. And by the way: I'm really bad about keeping up blogs when I'm busy and don't have my own computer with me. Sorry.... :P
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Today has been full of surprises. I finally found a job here on the Isle of Elba. My job in Parma was lost with the loss of my ex-boss-to-be's money, so I decided to join my cousins in the place where Napoleon was exiled for months. It turns out that Elba is not so bad a place to be exiled. Not only was Napoleon treated like a king, but he also ended up in one of the few places I have been that I can fully declare a paradise. I fell in love with the sea, the sand, the fish, and yes, the people.
The place where I work is a lounge bar where I can hardly afford a cocktail. It overlooks the port and is full of young people. I live in a small apartment with 5 other people, sharing a room with a beautiful girl named Gloria. I love it, even though my feet throb, and it's only my first day. Not so cool thing: the band that plays there at night... Sucks. The musicians are good, don't get me wrong, but the music they play is, let's just say, it's not my cup of coffee.
Awesome thing: today, I tried Basil ice cream. I'm not even kidding. It was weird as heck, but surprisingly good. Not something I would ever get on my own again, but when your co-worker offers you home-made ice cream, do you turn them down?
I was feeling a little blue this evening because the gorgeous man/boy that I've been spending lots of time with is in Pisa for his final exams. I was also alone again, for the first time in months. The last of my cousins left this afternoon on the ship back to mainland Italy. Everyone in in Parma, including my mother and my awesome little brother. I also decided that the music outside my window (see Sucks, above) was going to cause me to commit the grave fault of booing the band, which would, most likely, result in me being fired. I needed to get out of there, and fast. Plan number one: Pizza. It never fails, here in Italy to lighten my mood. I love Italian pizza more than just about any other food.
I strolled down the street, watching blond Germans and brunette Italians shop for souvenirs. I went to the pizza place where I had last been with the entire Gelli-Bianchi clan, La Rustica. Sitting outside, I had a cigarette while contemplating the menu. Considering my budget, I chose a Margherita pizza accompanied by water. The waiters conviced me to have a coffee afterwards, and I asked for the check. Michele (pronouced Mick-é-lé), the same waiter who had served us before, refused to let me pay. With a wink, he whisked the check away and told me to go get a free limoncino from the bar.
I have never been offered a free meal like that from someone who expects nothing. I've only ever been on one real dinner date, and it was obvious then that the boy who took me out thought he was getting some afterwards. Also, it was his daddy's money (the guy was 28, I mean, come on...). The fact that this waiter was cute helped the matter decidedly. I walked, no, skipped down the street with the biggest smile on my face, and thought that I needed to write this day down.
I have a job with the coolest people, in the coolest bar, tried basil ice cream, and was offered dinner by a cute Napolitano waiter. Who knows how to wink. Sometimes, life is wonderful.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I was born in the Palouse. In Pullman, Washington to be exact. Since December 6th, 1987, I have lived mostly in Moscow, Idaho, but also in San Sebastian/Donostia, Spain; Bilbao, Spain; Rouen, France; and Amherst, Massachusetts. Most of my summers were spent in my mother's hometown of Parma, Italy, a place that gave birth to prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I speak English, French, Italian, and Spanish, and would like to learn German, Arabic, and Basque. Every place I have been has left its mark on me; every language I've heard has managed to leave a trace in my mind.
It's a strange bundle of places... The Palouse, Euskal Herria, Normandy, and the Pioneer Valley. A concoction that is unique to my experience, though I often wish it were otherwise. This year, I stumbled upon "Third Culture Kids," youth and adults who spent large parts of their childhoods abroad due to their parents careers. I finally had a label to attach to myself, a definition that transcended the usual labels of nationality or ethnicity. However, I soon came to realize that TCKs live extraordinarily diverse lives, and my experience of public schools in small town America and Western Europe was not easily replicated.
This year, I will be returning to Parma, this time to work in a local pizzeria and live with my Italian cousins. I will also head to Paris, for an academic year at Sciences Po, the Institute of Political Science. It is my hope that I will come to terms with who I am and that I will find an area of study that will lead to a future career. This blog was created for travel financial aid from my college and the Global Education Office there, but I hope to use it as an aid in my self-explorations and meanderings.
Feel free to leave comments, questions, and whatever else. I'll most likely respond to anything posted since online procrastination is my favorite kind.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
This is Hampshire College's Mount Norwottuck. It marks the start of my trip, driving from Amherst, Massachusetts to Clarion, PA, then to Chicago, IL, then to Rochester, MN, and then Billings, MT, before finally getting to the place I call "home" (for now anyway): Moscow, Idaho. There will be more on all of this trek, as well as more on the beautiful Palouse to come...