Thursday, July 7, 2011

Classes Begin

Classes began on Tuesday and because I was placed into the B2 level (which means high intermediate), my classes where not in the University for Foreigners but in an overflow location on Viale Roma in a middle school. The building was very nice but about a 15 or 20 minute walk from my appartment. The walk is beautiful and I didnt mind the exercise even in hilly Perugia, but I am glad I went to find it the day before classes began because the street indications here are sparse and it took me at least an hour to find.

I liked my professors a lot. My first professor in the morning was a woman and lead a speaking session. We did introductions and then my second professor taught a lesson on the conditional tense, which was a review for me. He mentioned the topics that we would be studying in the course, many of which are tricky and I am certainly not perfect at, but which I have already studied. Most people seemed bewildered by what I saw as a review, so I talked to to professor and my suspicion that I had been placed into  one level too low was confirmed. I switched into C1 (beginning advanced) level and immediately noticed a large difference. The other students in the class speak nearly fluently and the grammar is very challenging. I will definitely need to supplement the course with my own studying, whereas in the previous course I would have had a very easy time. I am glad that I switched because I am here to learn as much as possible. If I leave this course with a barely passing grade but a much improved student of Italian, I will be very happy. So far I have been taking everything in and my speaking has already improved a lot. I cant believe I have only 3 more weeks here!

Living on my own truly (without housing provided by WM, without a meal plan, in a foreign country) has been very informative. I negotiated a good contract on my apartment, and have experimented in cooking a few things. On Wednesday night I made chicken and mashed potatoes but had a few difficulties. First, the stove is absolutely ancient and must be manually plugged in, turned on, and lit with a match to work. To those more experienced with appliances this would have been simple, but it took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to get the stove and oven going. I made the chicken, but meat in Europe is different than in America, and I had to figure out how to clean the meat myself, which wasnt too difficult. My next big problem was confusiong concerning temperature scale. Since I am in Italy, the temperature scale is of course in Celsuis. I dont even know what temperature to cook potatoes or chicken in the oven at home, but I could take an educated guess. Here I set the dial to about the middle at around 150 degrees Celsius and put some chopped potatoes with olive oil and salt on the into the oven since I think I remember seeing my mom do this before in the kitchen. I wasnt sure whether the olive oil was supposed to go on before or after I had cooked them, but I used my instincts and they must have been right because I checked back every few minutes and it took probably about 30 minutes for them to cook to a nice, tender golden brown. In case the oven potatoes didnt work, I also boiled a pot of water on the stove and threw the other half of the chopped potatoes until they were tender and squished them with a spoon and added butter, milk, and salt. Is this how mashed potatoes are supposed to  be made? I dont know, but they turned out pretty tasty (but not as good as my moms and definitely less creamy). Both varieties of potatoes turned out quite good with my invented, Celsius recipes. The chicken I put in a pan and cooked until it was tender.

I made myself laugh a bit when I realized that, stereotypically, I am learning how to cook in Italy (although not quite in the way that people mean when they say that they are learning to cook authentic Italian cuisine while in Italy). Also, pasta is very very cheap here and I went a little crazy and bought gnocchi, tortolini, unbricelli, fettucine, fussili, rigatoni, and mezze righe. I am not sure if I will be able to eat all of the pasta that I bought before I leave. I estimate that I bought nearly ten pounds of pasta, all of which cost maybe a dollar a pound. I wonder if the prices here are better than they are at home. I plan to invent meat sauce soon, but it will have to wait until Monday or Sunday since I am going away to Napoli this weekend.

The University for Foreigners offers weekend trips and I signed up for an overnight tright to Napoli, Capri, and Pompeii. I am excited to see southern Italy, especially because I didnt think I would be able to see southern Italy while I am here. One of my friends from school said that as a kid she always wanted to take a trip to Pompeii as a kid, which sparked my curiosity. I will take plenty of photos. I am also excited about Capri and hope that we get to see some of their famous grottoes.

Apartment living is great here in Perugia. My Russian apartment mate moved out and currently only one other person lives in the apartment in the other room. She is from Singapore and named Ping. Ping is really nice and for the past few nights we have talked and talked for hours. She speaks Chinese and also perfect English. We tend to speak English together because she is a low intermediate Italian speaker. I have not really spoken Chinese with her since my ability to converse in Chinese is still very restricted, but we have had many conversations about Asia and she has recommended Shanghai to me over Beijing, but said that the Shanghai accent is not standard while the Beijing accent is. William and Mary has a program in Beijing rather than Shanghai, but maybe I will have time to visit Shanghai if I also choose to do a study abroad program in China. Kids here are also really friendly.

I feel like I have never met such friendly people before, and I think its because we all dont know anyone and we all want to practice language skills, so we are very willing to talk to each other. I met some kids from VCU, one of whom happens to be from the Richmond area, and who is going on the Napoli trip this weekend. Perhaps I have found someone to practice Italian with in the states! Also, I was looking for a gelateria yesterday that my apartment mate Ping recommended to me when I ran into Aya, a girl from Japan who shared a hostel room with me during my first night in Perugia. We both had no plans so we walked together and spoke in Italian the whole time. I was relieved to find a student who is both as advanced as I am and also not a speaker of English. She is really nice and seems to have had aharder time than I have here getting situated. Her first apartment was in an unsafe area and she switched after she felt someone following her home one night. Her next apartment is very close to mine now, but she says they are over charging her a lot. I also met a girl from Russia and was completely surprised at her views on Russian politics. Her perception is that most young Russian people want to break away from the Communist past, and she was very complementary of how free America is in respect to Russia. I was surprised to hear this, but also realize that at a place like the University for Foreigners I will inevitably tend to run into foreigners who are open minded and friendly to different ways of thinking.

I have been on the lookuot for news of Berlusconi and the Amanda Knox case but the news stands here do not seem to carry the mainstream newspapers such as the Corriere della Sera or La Reppublica. I am a bit embarassedto say that while getting settled here I havent looked very hard for these newspapers. I am not really sure where I should buy a newspaper but that is the next thing on my list of things to do. While here I hope to accomplish some research for my Berlusconi Monroe project, although its completion certainly does not depend on my working on it while in Italy. Rather, I think that gaining the Italian perspective would very valuable to my research, so now that I am settled I will make sure to keep up with the news.


  1. I am so proud of you and am so happy that everything is going well.
    350 degrees F or 167 degrees C is a good basic temp to cook. A large breast of chicken (with bone) takes about 1hour, boneless may only take about 25 min (depending of course on size) You got the mashed potatoes right :-D will teach you some of my spins on mashed potatoes when you get home... and the thermostat may not be correct for you old oven, some cook faster than others.
    I love reading your blog- fab idea!

  2. Who are you kidding, you can totally eat 10 pounds of pasta!!!

  3. I could eat it and would enjoy every bite!