Falling in love with una bella città

Trip Start Jan 06, 2011
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Umbria,
Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's been over a week since I left the United States, but I already feel like I've learned more Italian here than I could in a whole semester at home.  Even before classes started, over the weekend, everyday situations--going to the market, eating in a pizzeria, or simply wandering around the city--required me to pick up a lot of Italian so that I could communicate what I wanted or needed. 

Additionally, the Umbra Institute has their 115 or so American students participate in a week of intensive language at our own Italian level.  That means we go to class at 9:00 a.m. and learn Italian all morning with a break for "caffè" at 10:30.  We then have another "pausa" for lunch, and then we split up into two groups for half the afternoon.  I'm taking Italian 110 here, or Intensive Italian, which is a six-hour course that meets four times a week once the regular semester begins.  I'm hoping that I'll be fairly proficient by the time I come home in April.  A group of friends that I've met here and I have decided that we're going to speak to each other in Italian as much as we can.  Right now we just mix the random Italian word or two into our normal conversation, but hopefully it will be more as time goes on.

Next week we start our normal class schedule.  I'm also signed up for History and Politics of Modern Italy: From Risorgimento to the Present, Medieval Culture: Art and Society, and Contemporary Global Issues: The Franciscan World View.  Umbra offers these classes in English, since most students here haven't had the opportunity to become proficient enough in Italian at home to take classes in a foreign language.  For those students who are already fluent or near fluent, Umbra has a partnership with the Università per Stranieri, the University for Foreigners here.  We've already met students from the United Kingdom and Australia who attend classes there, and there are around 8000 other students from around the world.  On top of that, the University of Perugia has over 34,000 students, making Perugia a thriving college town.  Many of the establishments cater to a younger crowd, which makes it an ideal setting for studying abroad.

I'm really excited about my class schedule, not just because my classes look interesting, but also because we don't have any classes on Fridays.  This scheduling allows for a lot of travel, giving us three-day weekends almost every time, unless our classes have field trips.  With my classes, I already know I'll be visiting Assisi, La Verna, and Montecasale.  My Medieval Culture class is also taking a day trip but the location hasn't been announced yet.  A few of the friends I've made here and I are planning a trip to Pisa and Siena next weekend too, which I'm really excited about.  Planning travel is a lot more work than I thought it would be though, and it can get kind of stressful trying to figure out the transportation system here and figure out what things the group wants to do.  Of course, I'm sure I'll be glad for all the effort later on.

So far, my favorite thing to do in Perugia has been to wander around the city with my friends and just take pictures of everything.  It still amazes me how gorgeous this place is and that I'm actually living here.  I am very much in love with the old stone buildings and crooked alleys and beautiful views.  Since Italy is a really mountainous country, it's easy to take awesome pictures of the countryside from lots of different parts of the town.  My favorite picture-taking moment was earlier today when we went to an arch that is part of the old city wall.  There's a church and a museum there, but we were closed by the time we found the place, so we're going back tomorrow morning to go inside.  But the sunset there was absolutely wonderful.  It's like Italy has so many more colors than America!  I can't wait to see it in daylight too.

And now for a couple lists:

Things I really like about Italy:
  • Exploring.  I feel like we find new shortcuts through the city all the time, and every street is more beautiful than the last one.  I also like how hilly the city is because I feel like I'm working out just by walking around.
  • The food.  My favorite things so far are truffle pizza, gelato (every flavor I've tried so far), and Perugian "baci" (which put my favorite Dove chocolate to shame).  Everything is much lighter than in America.  I'm not a huge fan of Americanized Italian food, but I've enjoyed it here so far.  It's really not all pasta--actually, pasta is usually just an appetizer in restaurants.  Potatoes are really big in this part of the country too.  Also the produce in the markets is very fresh and huge!  I bought an eggplant the size of a small child's head the other day.
  • "Family dinners."  Since most of our apartments here don't have microwaves or the ability to process too many electrical appliances at once, we've found that our best options for dinner are making group meals.  Everyone puts in a couple euros by buying one part of the meal at the store, and we cook it together in a group to save money.  I really like the social aspect of our family dinners, and it's nice to get a variety of food without feeling wasteful or having to spend a lot of money.

Things that I've found frustrating:
  • Permit of Stay.  This is a document that you have to get which is basically the Italian government's way of saying you have permission to reside in the country.  You have to get one of these if you're staying for more than three months.  The process works kind of like this:  fill out a twenty-something page application in Italian, take it to the post office, get a time assigned to you to go have your fingerprints taken (usually in the middle of classes), and finally get the permit.  They're also kind of pricey, over 100 euros, but Umbra has a service you can pay to complete the Permit application for you to save you some stress if you don't want to have to do it all yourself.  I'm really thankful for that, since I've heard nothing but awful things about the Permit process.
  • The exchange rate.  I'm still in complete sticker shock when I go in the grocery store and see that a liter of orange juice costs 2.50 euros (over 3.00 dollars) or that your basic notebooks are between 2.50 and 3.00 euros.  It's been hard to get used to everything being so more expensive.
  • The cold.  Energy conservation is big in Italy because they don't have the energy resources we do.  They drive teeny tiny fuel efficient cars (and walk most of the time) and they run the heat an average of six hours per day.  As a result, it gets really cold here at night, and since the weather is a little colder than in South Carolina, it's been hard for me to adjust this first week.  I'm sure I'll get used to it as time goes on.
  • Internet.  The Internet isn't as readily available in Italy as in America--our apartments aren't equipped for Internet, and few places offer it for free in comparison to the U.S.  My school has free wi-fi for students, but the hours are fairly short and it's hard to Skype with anyone from home since we're six hours ahead of South Carolina.  I've purchased an Internet key from Vodafone, which worked wonderfully the other night, but chatting failed tonight, possibly just because it's cloudier and the cell reception that my key runs off of isn't quite as good.  It's frustrating when I want to talk to my boyfriend and we spend 30 minutes trying to make it work correctly or when I can't communicate with graduate schools to make sure all my supporting documents have come in for my application.  Yet at the same time, I'm glad to get away from the Internet--I spend more time online than I'd like to at home, so being on the go away from the computer is a nice change of pace.

A lot of the things that frustrate me are just things that are going to take a little bit of getting used to.  I'm still super excited to be here, and most of the time I find Perugia to be much less frustrating than some things at home.  The take-things-as-they-come attitude is definitely catching, and you can't help but be happy in a place this beautiful.
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