I have basically a month left in Bologna, which means that I’m almost at the end of classes, and I’ve even started taking some finals. The only one I’ve taken so far was for my Unibo course, which was an oral exam that counted for my whole grade. This test, as described by the professor, seemed like it was going to be pretty chill, but during the actual test the professor asked me the most random questions that were literally the opposite of what he told us to focus on in class. I wholly credit my advanced conversational Italian, my BS-ing skills, and my milking the pity vote as a dumb American as much as possible for getting an A (or rather a 30, the Italian equivalent). As one does, after this exam I got a gelato with one of my friends from the course who is taking the exam in May. She told me multiple times how much she loves my vaguely-Boston accent when I speak English and how she wishes she had it when she speaks English, so now I know what it’s like to be British or Australian basically.
The weekend before my exam, my program organized a trip to Trento, which is a small city in Northern Italy surrounded by the Dolomites and along the Adige river. After checking into our hotel where I stole all the soap, we went to Rovereto to go to a modern art museum. This was for a class offered by my program that I’m not taking, so whenever the professor was saying something about art I was studying for my exam. The following day, before returning to my studies, I went for a walk along the banks of the Adige where I mastered the downhill crabwalk to get closer to the river without falling on my ass or getting dirt on my pants. Overall a successful day.
Trento used to be part of Austria/Germany, which means that all of the food had a ton of butter and milk and is best enjoyed with a giant beer. As someone who is #lactoseintolerant, I was very happy to find that there was a street fair going on that weekend with food from all the different regions of Italy and from all over the world that I could eat without feeling nauseous. It was pretty funny when, during a lunch of traditional Trento food, my waitress was terrified that she had straight up killed me because I was eating apple strudel instead of the fruit salad she brought me (But like, come on, how am I gonna eat a bowl of honeydew over apple strudel? I’m still human.).
Aside from this weekend trip, since my last post I haven’t left Bologna, mainly because of that exam. I was even here for the week off that we had for Easter, because even though Unibo is a public university, this is still Italy so the Catholics always win. My friends and I did a lazy version of an Italian Easter meal, which means that we made asparagus risotto and salad and ate a Columba, the Easter equivalent of Panettone. We also saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” keeping with the theme of embracing Italian culture. I’ve also had a chance to get to know my roommates a bit better, which has led to some new insights on Italian culture. My direct roommate is from Le Marche, the region immediately south of Emilia Romagna, and she is super nice and cute and very Italian (eats cookies and Nutella for breakfast Italian). She had her finals from fall semester up until the end of February, so the first time I hung out with her and her friends was after this when I went with her to eat all of the Sardinian food her best friend brought from home. All of her friends were really nice and welcoming and always say hello whenever I see them. However, they are slightly racist (they use terms like “the Pakistanis” and “the Chinese”), especially towards the many African immigrants that live in our building and have an extremely different cultural background. My other two roommates are from Cameroon, and they are also both really nice. One of them constantly makes cakes and huge pots of Cameroonian food, and she usually offers me some to taste when I’m in the kitchen and it’s always been very good. The Italians usually get confused by the food that the Cameroonian girls make, and they also get grossed out when they thaw their meat on the kitchen counter or leave their pots on the stove with the food still inside (but they have yet to be sick from this, so it seems ok to me).
I met some of my Cameroonian roommate’s friends on her birthday when she had people over for dinner, and, even though they were all really nice and clearly affected by the racism they’ve encountered in Italy and receptive to my experiences with it, they were all super conservative in a rather judgmental way. For example, they seemed scandalized when I told them that I wasn’t religious, and even more so when I told them I didn’t have a boyfriend because I’m tbh too strong and independent to deal with another person’s feelings and shit #girlpower #foreveralone. They were speechless when I told them that I didn’t go abroad with a boyfriend or have a boyfriend at home and that this wasn’t something that concerned me in the slightest. From what I’ve heard from my friends with immigrant roommates, most of them share these same beliefs. So while xenophobia is still definitely an issue for Italy, the country’s conservative nature is mirrored in its immigrant groups. I’m not sure what it means for the political and social progress of Italy that the younger generation of Italians continues to be xenophobic and that the immigrants are, for the most part, extremely conservative and judgmental in a country that already is so, but it has definitely given me some insight on aspects of Italian culture that I didn’t even know existed.
As I write this final entry, the day after my program ended, I’m curled up on a couch in a lounge at London Heathrow Airport—my new favorite airport—trying to wrap my head around how quickly these last three months flew by.
So let me fill you in on the happenings of my final weeks here before I talk about all my musings and feelings and lessons I’ve learned and things I wish I’d known, etc.
In my last few weeks here, I:
- Went into full-time rehearsal mode for our final shows. My group did Troilus and Cressida. We rehearsed from 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. every day.
- Went into tech mode for two days, which involved rehearsing from 9:30 or 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. for two days before the show Wednesday.
- Performed our show!
- Had tutorials with all of our teachers to talk about progress and future goals.
- Had goodbye drinks with our head tutor, the fabulous Debbie Seymour.
- Performed our final movement pieces. Each group chose an action movie to act out in “the box” which is a small (maybe 4 by 2?) rectangle laid out on the floor in tape. My group did Spiderman!
- Graduated!! We got our diplomas, there were some great, moving speeches that made more than a few people cry and then we (classmates and teachers) just hung out in the common room together one last time, taking pictures and reminiscing.
- Had my last ‘tortilla’ burrito— a very important, very hard goodbye.
- Had a party at the residence building where a lot of us stayed—Chapter Portabello! One of our teachers, Stevie, even came for a bit! It was also my friend Erin’s birthday. 🙂
I’ve been so excited about going home for so long—since I’ve never been away from home for this long—that I was completely blindsided by my feelings when our last day finally came around. I didn’t realize how at home I felt in London until I was walking out of my room for the last time, about to hand in my key. I’ve appreciated and loved my friends here all along, but I still didn’t realize just how how hard it would be to say “goodbye” in place of “see you tomorrow.” I didn’t realize how much I had changed throughout my time here until I started to really reflect on these last few months and all that I’ve learned and experienced.
So, to reiterate something I said in my first blog post—which feels like AGES ago—I’m not a sage or a saint. I hold no authority. My advice is purely subjective because everyone is different and everyone’s experiences will be different. But here are some things that really affected my experience and some last tidbits.
- Stay grateful. Always. I started a gratitude journal on day three here, and it’s honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. (I’m definitely going to keep writing in it when I get home.) I simply write one thing I’m grateful for before I walk out the door in the morning, and one before I go to bed. It can be as big as “excited for my show!’ or as small as “I really loved that bowl of cereal this morning.” I’m dead serious. No matter how stressed out or tired or frustrated I was, I made myself write something down to remind myself that there is always, always something to be grateful for. It really lifted my mood, and has made me a much more positive person.
- Say yes to saying yes. If you haven’t already read “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes, get yourself a copy ASAP. The very simple premise of this amazing book is that Shonda Rhimes decided to say “yes” for a year and document the life-changing experience. Yes to the things that scared her, yes to things she wouldn’t have let herself do before, and even yes to saying no. I tried to apply this approach to my semester abroad by making myself go out with my friends sometimes when I just wanted to stay in and watch Netflix. I also applied this approach by saying yes to saying no, when I really truly knew that I needed rest or just wanted some downtime or just didn’t want to do something. This one’s a little complicated, I know—but overall it’s simple. Sometimes you should push yourself to try new experiences while you’re abroad having new adventures, and sometimes you have to do exactly what YOU want to do. If everyone’s going out for Chinese food and you hate Chinese food, that might be a saying yes to saying no moment. But if someone invites you to go try some new activity—like roller disco, for example—and you just don’t know anything about and aren’t sure if you’d like it, maybe give it a try. You might just surprise yourself.
- Take care of yourself. Drink water and tea, get sleep, use hand sanitizer, bundle up, etc. It is NOT fun being sick and missing out on things. From class to museum trips to exploring neighborhoods—just stay healthy so you’ll have the option to make the decision whether to do something or not.
- Stay in touch, but don’t stay obsessed with your life at home. Because you’re not there, as much as you sometimes would like to be. Instead, you’re in this amazing new place with the unique opportunity to create a new little life for a couple of months. It’s okay to get homesick, but don’t spend the whole time actually wishing you were home.
- Take pictures even when you think it’s cliche and stupid. I promise, you’ll want the memories later!
- Commit to some form of journaling whether it be through photos, blogging (!), a gratitude journal, a conventional journal, etc.
Best of luck to those going abroad next year! Feel free to reach out if you ever have any questions! I really mean that for everyone—but especially reach out if you’re a drama major/thinking about going to London. I can’t recommend LAMDA enough.
Signing off for the last time,
As of April 8th, I have exactly one month left before I leave Paris and return to the States. I say this in every blog post that I’ve written so far, but the time is flying by so fast that I can hardly process it. I know that I will be so happy to be back at home with my friends and family, but the thought of already having to say goodbye to Paris is a sad one that I’m not quite ready to reckon with yet.
Speaking of friends and family, I’ve been lucky enough to see some of them these past few weeks! Two of my friends from Vassar came to Paris with their families during their spring break, and I got to catch up and spend time with them. The highlight of their visit was definitely when I took them on a pastry shop/bakery tour and hit up most of the places I’ve already talked about in other blog posts! Food is a really important part of my study abroad experience (maybe a little bit too important), so it was really wonderful to get to share that with people I care about! Highlights were the financier praliné at Hugo & Victor, and the tarte au citron at Des Gâteaux et du Pain. I don’t have a picture of either of them to share with you, but trust me when I say they were really, really good.
My family came to visit me last week, and even though I was in class some of the time, the rest of my time was spent showing them around the city! Having my family come was also great because I finally got around to seeing some of the “touristy” things that I hadn’t seen yet—the big two being the Palace of Versailles and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Versailles was beautiful (especially the Hall of Mirrors), but by the end of the day we were absolutely exhausted, and while Notre Dame may be one of the most famous sites in Paris, it doesn’t make my list of favorites. What does make my list of favorites is the tiny, lesser-known Sainte-Chapelle, located just behind Notre Dame. It’s a Gothic-style chapel that is unassuming from the outside but filled with the most spectacular stained-glass windows I have ever seen. After climbing up the cramped stone staircase entry, seeing this magnificent architectural masterpiece was one of the most striking experiences I have had since coming to Paris. I could have sat in that chapel all day, staring at the windows as their colors changed each time the sun outside weaved in and out of the clouds. Unfortunately, my family was visiting for a short time so we had to move on rather quickly to other places and things, but something tells me that despite the limited time I have left here, I’l definitely be stopping by Sainte-Chapelle again before I leave.
Acting as tour guide and translator for my family was both fun and exhausting, and it was also a moment of affirmation that I’ve been really benefiting from my time here. At the beginning of the semester, I was nervous even walking into a restaurant to ask for a table. Now, I’m calling restaurants on the phone to make reservations (something I don’t like doing in English, let alone in a foreign language), arguing with taxi drivers who won’t give us a price-estimate for the ride, navigating on the Metro and RER like a pro, going up to French strangers on the street to ask for directions when I’m not navigating like a pro, and so on. I’m not sure when this sudden rise in comfort level happened, but recently I’ve noticed that I’m feeling more and more like I belong here. This semester has been full of more independence than I’ve ever had before, and I feel empowered by the fact that I’ve embraced and grown from it. I think this is what will make leaving Paris so hard next month; I’m finally really starting to feel comfortable living here, so it’s unfortunate that I’m running out of time.
That being said, I still have a month left and plan to make the most out of it that I possibly can. I’m planning on doing some traveling inside France but outside of Paris, and now that the weather is starting to be really beautiful I hope to do a little more exploring of the city. Even today, I went to do my homework in the park, and while wandering back to my apartment, I came across the beautiful Basilique de Sainte-Clotilde . Apparently it’s been around the corner from my apartment this whole time, but somehow it took me three months to stumble across it. Not to sound like a hopeless Parisian romantic (Paris is after all a city and not a movie set), but moments like these are what remind me of what a special place Paris is, and how lucky I am to be here, and to appreciate the time I have left here (even if it’s not nearly long enough).
As my time in the UK comes to a close, it’s time for me to reflect on my time here. In fact, as part of the Vassar in London program, I have to work on an independent project that reflects on some aspect of my time abroad and uses London as an inspiration. For my project, I’ve decided to study writers’ houses in the greater London area, as well as other site of literary legacies—libraries, museum exhibits, etc. I’m fortunate to have received supporting grant from the Dean of Studies’ Academic Enrichment fund to help me get to, and get in to, all of these places. So far, I’ve visited several writers’ houses and some great literary legacy places as well. If this project serves as my reflection on my time in London, I think it might be the best way to share with you some of the things I’ve learned living abroad and what’s been on my mind as I learn.
From cultural icons like Jane Austen and Sigmund Freud to more marginalized multicultural voices like Gabriel Gbadamosi and Khadambi Asalache, the history of these writers’ homes speaks to Britain’s literary culture and cultural memory. By visiting these sites and collecting media in/about them, I hope to explore the way literary legacies are contextualized, constructed, and even commodified. What forces decide, for example, that Charles Dickens’ house is a shrine to Victorian aesthetics and BBC programming while Gabriel Gbadamosi’s world of ‘70s Vauxhall is “slum cleared?” What issues of authenticity and “literati/nerd identity” are at stake when an American reconstructs Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (to much local consternation)? How does the national narrative of British culture shape these legacies, cityscapes, and voices?
The writers’ houses I’ve visited so far include the one-time homes of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Khadambi Asalache. I’ve also had the awesome chance to tour the Vauxhall area with author Gabriel Gbadamosi, who lived in the area when they were more often referred to as Vauxhall “slums.” The entire neighborhood has since been “slum-cleared” and gentrified, and exploring the way the legacy of its inhabitants—including Gbadamosi, who focuses on life in 70’s Vauxhall in his most famous book—has been wiped away to make way for apartment complexes and art galleries. Meanwhile, Dickens’ house is saturated with advertisements for and behind-the-scenes photos promoting the new BBC show “Dickensian,” which in my opinion is a terrible fan-fiction-style bastardization of Dickens’ characters. I don’t have strong feelings about it or anything.
In investigating these histories, I’ve also had the opportunity to visit other literary sites. I’ve visited the reconstructed Globe Theatre and the Sir John Soane Museum, both of which hold unique places in London’s history of literature—and literature tourism. This research endeavor has actually turned into a bit of a passion project, and I’ve found myself drawn to similar sites as I travel. In Dublin, I visited Oscar Wilde’s birthplace, the Trinity College library, a church featured in James Joyce’s novels and the Chester Beatty Library (which houses a huge collection of historical books from around the world).
Now that Goldsmiths classes have ended, I hope to spend pretty much every day visiting writers’ houses. I have plans to visit Virginia Woolf’s house and gardens, the Brontë Parsonage, Keats’ house, the Sherlock Holmes museum, and many others—including a tour of scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s house, which is guaranteed to be interesting.
I think that visiting these kinds of locations have given me a really important perspective on city life. I grew up in a relatively small suburban town, and while I’ve worked in Washington, D.C., I’ve never had the opportunity to live in a bustling city day in and day out. At first, it was exhausting. There’s not a single moment without noise, or bustle, or other people. Even though the public transportation in London is great, it’s still a little out of my depth. I have stress dreams about being lost and confused in a tube station all the time. But going to all these literary houses and places have helped me to see the kind of creativity and genius that can come out of rush and connections of city life, and to have a much greater appreciation for the value of the experiences I have every day living in a city like London. I feel like I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what I can experience living in a huge international city like London, and I’m in total denial about having to leave. I’m going to leave this blog here and job back out into the city, to get every drop of London I can. Thanks for reading!
Hi! So this entry is almost entirely photos, because I have so many that I wanted to share. But I DO have some last musings and revelations coming up in my next blog—the last! A very big special thank you to Kelsey for letting me add one more! Blogging this incredible, incredible experience has added so much to my time here and I’ve loved being able to reflect on it along the way like this. Happy Spring!