Thursday, July 19, 2012

The End is Near at Hand!

Nothing like waiting until the last minute to finish up everything! I just completed my very last formal interview and it feels great! I've been working on formal and informal interviews for the past two months now and have learned more than I ever imagined I would. The hard part now is conveying everything I learned. I think I have come to terms with the fact that there are somethings that you can only learn, or at least fully understand, through experience. I have already started working on my final paper and it is surprisingly easy to write--the hard part will be keeping it concise and articulating well the many things that I have learned. :)

The interviews have been such wonderful experiences. Since I have worked as a Freshman Mentor for the past two years and am starting my master's program for Marriage and Family Therapy in the fall, I have grown pretty accustom to asking people, that I don't necessarily know very well, personal questions or details about their lives. That said, I am still surprised by how open people have been with me, especially when I have had to use a translator; in those situations, it's like they're telling intimate details about their lives to two strangers--not an easy thing.  I interviewed one girl who had been with her boyfriend for six years, had two children, and was only 18! After the interview, she told me that she it was a wonderful experience and that she told me things that she has never told people and things that her boyfriend didn't know. Her interview was probably the most dramatic, but she wasn't the only person who told me something like that afterwards, most did actually. :) This experience is amazing in and of itself, but what makes it even more meaningful is that I truly believe that it has changed me for the better and has helped prepare for my future career, and just for my future life in general.

It is funny what living in a different culture for three months can do to you, I feel like aspects of how I live and what I think have changed without even realizing it. I was having a conversation with a BYU student about courting and gender roles (my research topic), and the things I said were surprising me. I forget if I mentioned this before or not, but when I first got here I told myself, nothing is better or worse, just different, BUT--deep down--I still held onto the idea that my previous held/American ideas were better. Now, I find myself thinking more like an Italian in some aspects. Honestly, I really feel like I've kind of been able to find my own culture--I obviously understand American culture and I feel like I've come to understand the Italian culture as well; more than just the culture surrounding my topic, but just the culture in general. I respect both cultures and have gotten to a point where I can look at them and compare them more objectively. I can see the good, and some of the bad; I can see how each way of life and style of thinking work. I guess I have really just come to really internalize the idea that there aren't things that are better or worse about either culture, they're just different.

I truly am sad to go home at this point. I really thought that three months would feel like a long time, but my plane takes off in 3 1/2 days and I have such mixed feelings. I feel ready in the sense that I came her and made the most out of my experience. I know that I will be able to look back on my field study and not have regrets and have to think, 'Oh I wish I did that or took that opportunity.' At the same time, I have had such wonderful experiences here that I'm not quite ready for them to end--I have friends here, I have a way of life, I have a family...those are hard things to say goodbye to. I realize I'm going home to family, friends and a way of life that I've known twenty two years, but even still...

I was just hanging my clothes out on the clothes line and hand washing the dishes, and as much as I hated the fact that most Italians didn't use drying machines or dish washers when I got here, I have a feeling that I will miss those aspects of living here. There is a lot I will miss. That said, it's on to the next stage of life. My last few days will be great--going in to Rome tomorrow, sleeping on the beach with some friends that night and spending my last few days enjoying amazing people and the wonderful culture. :D I am so glad I chose to do a field study, where I've actually been able to get immersed in the culture. This was truly the experience of a lifetime!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Life is Good!

I am happy to report that things have really been looking up since I got my bag stolen. From the moment it happened, I tried to find the silver linings, but I am truly surprised at how many there have been. I went to an activity at the church that night and had an opportunity to talk to the missionary couple for the GANS (YSA) in Rome, I got a 'mom hug' from the Sister Krueger and asked Brother Krueger fora blessing. From that moment, everything took a turn for the better. Someone did a bad thing (stealing my bag), but I feel like I can hardly go a few minutes without  someone doing something nice and reminding me that people really are good.

 There were a couple students staying with my host family the weekend after my bag got stolen, and I decided to head into Rome with them Monday morning--they wanted to see some of the tourist sites and I needed to get my passport and pick up the money that my mom wired me. I got to the American Embassy around 1:30 to get my passport and had to wait until 2 to get in. The guards, in typical Italian fashion, were more than friendly--the first two I met offered to show me around Rome afterward, one offered to come to Bracciano and visit me, and a third suggested I meet him for drinks that night haha. I was allowed inside the embassy, under 'emergency circumstances', I went through security, and I made my way up to American affiars where I was denied a passport because I didn't have cash on me (and they wouldn't let me pay with my parent's card number). In a crunch for time, I went down to pick up the money that was wired to me; however, I was informed that I couldn't get without a passport. So there I was, lost for a solution--no passport without money, but no money without a passport. I went back to the embassy, explained my situation and they agreed to make me an alternative document that I could use to pick up the money, but then told me that I would have to come back the next morning to pick up my passport--which I did. Quite the hassle, but everyone was so nice, I actually think I might go back to visit again now because I've gotten to know so many of the employees! :) 
The students who were staying at my house; I went into Rome with them when I was getting my passport
Now, I think a change of subjects is in order--it happened, and I've moved on! I've finished half of my interviews and have the other half scheduled! I should be done by this weekend and I couldn't be more excited! I feel like I chose the best research project in the world, it's something I love to talk about and to learn about. I feel like I could write my final paper right now if I wanted to, and that I'm just doing the formal interviews to get the last checks off my Field Study To-Do list. I wish I had my computer everywhere and do a formal interview on the spot; I think that if I had brought a consent form a few more places that I would actually be done with my interviews, but no worries--I'm looking forward to the ones I have coming. :)

Challenges at this point....honestly, after getting past the huge hump, it's hard to even complain. I think more than anything, I'm just sad that I only have three weeks left here. I can't believe how quickly time has passed!

Lessons I've learned: Like I said before, people in general are just good--I love how I can come to a new country, live away from my family and friends and still feel so loved. I've definitely had my moments where I've felt alone, I think anyone would. That said, I think Italians are some of the most kind, open, and loving people. I decided that I didn't want to do homework this morning, so I just road my bike into Bracciano city and walked all around the city (it's not huge). After about 30 minutes, I made some new friends, grabbed some fruit juice with them at a nearby bar (not American type bar, what we would consider more of a cafe), and invited them to come play water and beach volley with me and some more of my friends tonight. Really, I don't know how I could complain about life.
Playing Water Volley in Bracciano Lake--where I live

Friday, June 22, 2012

Worst Day

I feel so dumb right now, I don't even know how to articulate it. Unfortunately I have a feeling that once you read the rest of this post, you will be shaking your head at me in disbelief. I don't even know why I'm writing now, probably because I can't get ahold of anyone and don't know what else to do. I was planning on going to Cinque Terre tomorrow with my friend Emma, I packed up all my things--passport, documents, money, train tickets (that I bought for her and I, for about 150 Euro), clothes and threw a towel on top because I was going to the beach today with some other friends and planned on taking a train straight from there to Rome, staying the night in Rome, and then getting up bright and early for what surly would have been the best weekend of my trip. I was waiting at the near the fire station for Giulia to pick me up when I realized I forgot some papers that I could use for my research while I was away. It was a tug a war inside my mind what to do--return to the house (it was only 5 minutes down a dirt road) or go without the papers. I decided to go down the dirt road, but I didn't want to make Giulia wait. Since I've actually only seen one other person use that road--my neighbor--I decided to slide my bag in some buses and run home so I wouldn't waste time. WORST DECISION OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. I ran home, grabbed the papers, ran back--all in about 5 minutes. I passed the spot where my backpack was, realized it, and turned around to grab it. It wasn't there. My word, obviously I should have never let something carrying so many important things--passport, documents, credit card, money, train tickets, my camera, even my diary/field journal and a letter to a friend--out of my sight. I wish a million times that I was capable of going back in time--not making such a dumb mistake, but I can't now...

I ran into a nearby fire station and tried to explain my problem to 6 men who didn't speak any English; one man came to help who spoke some english. So, here I am, stressing, with a lump the size of Texas in my throat, and feeling more dumb than I ever have in my life because what happened was 100% my fault. It wasn't an unlucky thing, I honestly think I would feel better right now had someone robbed me face to face.. I jotted a few numbers down before my phone completely died--Diego and Mara's (host family), my bishops, Emmas, and my friend Guilia--who was on her way to get me. My phone died, the firemen called the police, who came. They also didn't speak English. Now, I am definitely learning Italian and getting better, but trying to explain something like this in Italian was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Diego's dad, bless his heart, came to the station and we drove to the police station to file a report. I just can't believe how things changed so quickly from being so great to so miserable. I have no documents, hardly any money, and the worst feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don't want to talk to anyone because it was such a dumb mistake, and I feel so miserable already that I don't think I could take someone giving me one of those 'are-you-serious?' looks. I wish I could talk to my mom, but although Emma was able to help me get ahold of her and let her know what happened, my phone is now dead and I can't get to her through Skype. I am in serious need of a 45 minute long hug, but don't even feel like I deserve that right now. :/

I'm trying not to be pessimistic, since the moment it happened, I tried to find a solution and the silver lining. But right now, I'm lost for both... I am so grateful for everyone and their help, but so sick that I did this. Ah, how a split second decision and 5 minutes can change everything so quickly. I dread talking to anyone.. I have this complex where I don't cry, but I think that if anyone made me feel worse, by reinforcing how dumb of a mistake I just made was or showed me any sympathy, I think the tears would come. I don't mean to be melodramatic, and writing this out has helped. Guess it's time to put on my big girl panties and stop feeling sorry for myself. I did this, I take responsibility, I will figure it out. This isn't going to ruin my field study. There's got to be a silver lining, somewhere...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I'm Alive!

I'm Alive! And doing wonderfully! :) We FINALLY got WiFi at my house, which will definitely make communication a lot easier. I think last time I wrote, I was complaining about how hard some things were. I recently spoke with a friend whose mom read my blog (Hi Sister Blake:) and relayed to Audrey that I was having a difficult time. So, to start things off, I just want to let anyone and everyone know that I'm happy here--which I guess probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, I mean, I'm in Italy for goodness sakes. :) That's not to say that there aren't difficult times, but that's because it's real life here--not just a vacation--and what is life without trials? (That was a rhetorical question, but I guess the answer would probably be: A Chick Flick).

I have dedicated my first month to TONS of informal interviews, which were incredibly vital to my project. Part of me feels like I know most of the answers to my questions now, but if I hadn't done those 'informal' interviews, I assure you that I would have asked the wrong questions. I want to understand dating and courtship for young adults in Italy, which--I have learned--is quite (I want to say extremely, which is probably more true, but I'm trying not to exaggerate) different from the dating in the states, and then--of course--WAY different from the dating culture at BYU. Even the wording in my drafted questions didn't really make sense for the Italian culture. For example, there really isn't a direct translation for 'date,' a word that seemed obvious and self explanatory to me. Whenever I asked people about what a date is like in Italy, I had to explain what I mean; and since being here, my explanation for a 'date' has changed to something actually occurs here. I definitely am thankful to have my host brother here, who is fluent in English. The negative side is that we speak a lot of English, so I am not practicing my Italian as much as I could be. The upside: He can explain so many things to me about Italian culture in a way that I can really understand, he helped me translate my consent form, and can help me with some translating!

The best thing that has happened here, for myself and for my project is making friends. I actually met a girl named, Giulia, while I was studying at the library a few weeks ago and we've become pretty good friends. She is an absolute sweetheart and invites me to do things with her and her friends, which has given me the opportunity to make even more friends--that all live right around Bracciano! The last few days, I've been hanging out with a girl named Gisenia--she took me all around the nearby towns, and also to the gym--for 3 1/2 hours! Pretty intense, but I needed the work out, was able to meet even more people there, and got a taste of another aspect of the Italian culture. So, to state the obvious, things are really looking up. :)

My biggest challenge now is getting everything I need to do, done. I conducted my first official interview a couple days ago, which was 1) Great, and 2) made me realize a few things that I need to change in my questions--it's really a continual work in progress. I'm taking my 'mid-semester' retreat next week (which seems wayy too soon!), but I get to go to Sicily, so the only complaint connected to that is that I have less  than 7 weeks left here! It is truly amazing how quickly time flies! So right now, it's a balancing act, which is easier to do when I'm not in a new place and eager to see and experience everything. If only I didn't have my social psychology class to do while I was here (last class I need to 'officially graduate; since I took 11 credits towards my field study winter semester, that means I have to take 1 last psychology class this spring/summer so that I can start grad school in the fall!).

I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned here, that I thought I knew pretty well to begin with, is the importance of being open minded. While life in Rome is extremely fast paced, life in Bracciano isn't as much. Convenience isn't the motivating factor in people's lives here--my host family takes time to prepare meals, to eat meals together and talk for a long time, and to hand-wash every plate, spoon, pot, and pan--even though they own a dishwasher (which I've never seen used). Being early isn't as important. Buying some groceries everyday is normal (I swear the reason that the food is so good here is because it's so fresh!). I've learned to like it. Even with 'dating'/courtship in Italy, at first I had to actively remind myself not to be judgmental and to take the attitude that, 'it's not better or worse here, just different,' even though I felt like it was worse. Now, I've grown to see the beauty in it, and think I might be developing a preference for it--which is something I NEVER expected. It's the same with a lot of things, but rather than preferring one thing over the other, I have really been able to find the good, and sometimes the bad, in each.  That has come a lot with taking the time to understand the reasons that motivate behavior. Many Italian people that I have met don't ignore the benefits of convenience, they would just rather spend quality time with family and friends--doing dishes together is a way to spend quality time together--one that I didn't appreciate until recently.

I really do think that everyone should go experience a different culture, and not just have it as a bucket list item that never gets crossed off. I have had so many people tell me how jealous they are that I am in Italy. My advice to them is simply: Do It! There will always be a million excuses to make, and a million reasons why it's better to wait. It would have been better for me, in a lot of logical ways, to stay in Utah or live at home in Washington this summer. Rather than spending all my money, I could have saved it; I could be doing more research to prepare for Grad School in the fall. If I had stayed home, I would be there to see my little brother get back from his mission, and gotten to see some good friends get married. Basically what I'm saying is that circumstances are rarely perfect, but you've got to go for what you think you want and need. That was true for my decision to come here, and that's true for my experiences here. It's not easy to put myself out there, but what worthwhile things were ever easy? I am learning a lot here, making a conscious decision to be happy and outgoing, and loving it. :D

and, since pictures say 1000 words, and I'm crunched for time, here some are:

Cinthya and I eating at a little cafe in Rome; and by eating I guess I mean just drinking juice and eating chocolate--which we got for free :)

At a soccer game in Rome!

A late night crepe and panino

The Rome Temple construction!

Bracciano Lake

Making pizza with my host mom, I now LOVE: tomatoes, salt, and olive oil. Mamma Mia!

The hedge hog that my friend and I  almost hit

climbing the stairs of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

View from the top

Gesenia and I

Dinner with an investigaor and the sister missionaries; the one on the right and I took an Italian class together at BYU!
Side note: I think there were 4 different main dishes and about 9 sides for this dinner!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Italy: the good and the bad

I have been living in Italy for a little while and getting a lay of the land, I feel like I did a pretty good job and perceiving some of the road bumps in my study, but I am still facing a lot that I did not expect. Meeting people seems like a pretty difficult thing to do, unfortunately. I have met a lot of young adults through church activities, but they live all around Rome and the surrounding areas, so even if I did want to spend time with them and learn more about it, that is a very difficult thing to do. I really need to meet some young adults in this town. I was hoping that my host family would know a lot of people and be able to connect me to some friends, given that there were to young adults living in this house (only one other now) that are 24 and 26. Unfortunatly, they haven't lived here long, and don't know a lot of their surrounding neighbors. No one in the home I am staying in works in the town of Bracciano, so they don't have those connections either.

I was introduced, however, to a girl named Morgana, who lives in Bracciano, by my host mom, Mara. I was telling Mara about what I was trying to do with my study, and she was racking her brain trying to think of someone. Then she mentioned that she knew a girl named, Morgana. We were in the car when she was telling me this, and who would you guess we see walking just a few minutes later? Morgana! So she pulled over, I got out of the car, and she started to drive away. I realized it was only to park, but that still left me alone with a girl, and who seemed like her boyfriend, that I didn't know. They both spoke a little bit of English, and with my Italian we were able to introduce ourselves. She was really nice, and so was her boyfriend. She told me to get her number from my host brother and give her a call so that we could do something. Thank goodness! I really need to call her, not only for my study, but just for my sanity--I need a friend, one that I can go chat with for 30 minutes when I need a break, ya know?

I guess that is my biggest challenge so far here, just feeling alone. Not that I am always alone--which I guess I am at this point. I've realized though that, at least for me, it is easier to be alone, than to feel alone when you are with a big group of people. The language barrier is really getting to me. I can get my point across in some situations, but not all. And even though there are people here that speak English, I really want to be able to communicate with the people who don't and understand them. Basically none of the girls here speak English, so if I want to be friends with them, I need to really work on my Italian. There's a couple things that are really hard about it, 1) That I went from being one of the smartest people in all of my classes, to feeling like one of the least intelligent people here, just because I can't articulate or express what I want to. 2) Because I don't feel like I have a voice here, I guess it's kind of like what I've heard from other people, you kind of lose your personality a bit here with the language barriers. It was really embarrassing for me when my host mom, Mara, started explaining to everyone at church, what I was doing here--that I was in Italy to study people. Everyone kind of seemed put off by it--that it was weird. I wanted so badly to just express myself, because mainly, right now, I just want to make friends. It's hard now, my host Mom thinks that I am really quiet, mainly because I don't know how to express myself-especially to here (she speaks so quickly) , so I guess I just don't. That's definitely something I need to work on. Mistakes are the best teachers, that's what I hear! If only it was as easy to do.
YSA Group Last Saturday

Monday, April 9, 2012

15 Days!

It's true, I leave the United States in just 15 days! I really can't believe how much time has passed and how quickly it has gone by! I'm definitely a little bit nervous--just about everything coming together--but I am more excited than anything else. This is going to be an experience of a lifetime for me, and I want to get the most out of my time in Italy as possible. I feel like I'm at this funny point in life where I am on the brink of entering into a new phase of life; I'm leaving so much behind and everything in my future is new--it's unknown! I have 3 days left of classes at BYU, I will take my finals, I will graduate and walk in Commencement on April 20th. Then, in 4 short days, I will leave my friends, my family, and everything that I am comfortable. I will live in a foreign country for 3 months and come back to a new set of unknowns: grad school.

I have really been trying to plan things out and be prepared, but I think what my field directors have been telling me for months is finally really starting to sink in, "I need to be okay with ambiguity." I'm still trying to determine if my mindset has really shifted that much by choice, or that if it has shifted because it had to--because I realize that as much as I try to control something, I can't (like my housing for instance--still up in the air). Either way, it has. I don't know where I'm going to live, who my friends will be, how I will do with communication, or even how I'm going to go grocery shopping. One thing I do know though is that I will figure it out. I think everything is so ambiguous now because I'm not there, once I'm actually in Italy, my life won't be ambiguous because I'll be living it. Does that make sense? Right now my future is ambiguous, even tomorrow is ambiguous--I can plan my day out (which I usually do--hour by hour), but unexpected things will happen and I will be fine; I am doing all I can prepare now, and I will figure out every curve ball that is thrown at me when it comes. That's how it should be. I played softball for 8 years, and I think the analogy works out very well. You don't start swinging--or even determine where or how you will swing the bat--until the pitcher releases the ball; if you did, you would strike out just about every time. I think that by understanding that concept, I can better grasp what living with ambiguity means. It doesn't mean I'm not prepared, just like a batter who has spent hours in batting practice, I have spent dozens upon dozens (probably more) hours preparing for this field study. And with the skills and knowledge I've developed, I will step up to the plate in Italy and take the curve balls as they come. :) I hope this all made sense, because I really feel like I've just had an epiphany.

Being okay with ambiguity doesn't mean that I'm okay slacking off and not preparing, it means that I've prepared, and because of that preparation, I am ready to handle ambiguity--to thrive in and with it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Historical Immersion!

Rome is a culture with such a strong history--one that I definitely want, and need, to learn about to truly understand the Italian culture. I was talking to a woman yesterday who recently had the opportunity to travel to Italy and she was going off about how you can just feel the history in some of the ancient buildings. I've always felt similarly with things like that. I was reading/looking at some ancient manuscripts for a humanities class a year or two ago and felt such a connection with the past--someone, or maybe several people, spent their time making those manuscripts hundreds or thousands of years ago, and they were preserved so that I could experience them. I feel like I will have similar feelings about the ancient architecture and artwork in Rome. Yes, I want to be immersed in their current culture, but in order to understand the present circumstances, I feel that it is so important to learn about the past. I want to not only see the art and architecture around the city, I want to experience it, hopefully with friends that I've made in Italy that have a better understanding of it and can help me understand it's importance to them. I guess it's not directly related to my project, but it's related to my overall experience which is the most important part, isn't it?

So, although I won't be at museums all day, they are an aspect of Rome that I want to experience--so, to get the most bang for my buck, I've looked into some potential passes that I can purchase

Roma Pass

  • 3 day pass
  • free transportation 
  • free admission for 2 museums or sites, exhibitions and events
  • can be used at more than 40 monuments
  • costs 25 euros
Vatican and Rome Card
  • admission & no waiting in line for the Vatican Museums and Colosseum
  • includes transportation, open bus Roma Cristiana, itinerary audio tours and maps, traveler medical assistance and dicounts
  • discounts for admissions to most other monuments and museums in Rome
Appia Antica Card
  • good for 7 days from first use
  • free admission to the Baths of Caracalla, the Villa of the Quintili, and the Tomb of Cecilia Metella
Biglietto 4 Musei - 4 museum combination tickets
  • free admissions to each of 4 national museums of Rome;  Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Massimo, Diocletian Baths, and Balbi Crypt

So, these all seem great, but I definitely feel like they're more geared towards short, tourist trips... I just bought an international student ID card, maybe I'll look more into what that offers...I am going to be there for 3 months, I don't want to try to crunch all of my historical exploration into 3 days, or even 7, I'm hoping that I can find an option that spreads it out a little more. I guess all I can do is keep my eyes and ears open!