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I am pursuing a major in English and a supplementary major in Italian (literature and culture concentration) with the intent of going on to graduate study in comparative literature.
I will be able to communicate effectively in Italian with native speakers about current events in Italy, especially the state of the Italian government. I will have the confidence needed to navigate a variety of social situations during my spring semester abroad in Bologna.  Specifically, I will have confidence in my ability to find and secure living arrangements with an Italian student during my first week in the city. My adventures in Italy are about to begin, and I’m not without a bit of nervous anticipation to accompany my excitement. Any worries that enrolling in a school for American students would hinder my language gains were dismissed when I met my host parents, Roberto and Luciana.
After spending three weeks in Ireland, I was surprised to find myself feeling a bit homesick for the first time. Today I embarked on my unsophisticated and unapologetic strategy for improving my Italian: to speak as much as possible with whomever will have a conversation with me.
My first gelato was a delicious fragola (strawberry), and my first sight of the Piazza del Campo was like something out of a dream.
Our program director’s husband took us on a four hour walking tour of the city, and I became well acquainted with Siena’s numerous hills and its seventeen districts.
When I asked Roberto about his contrada and its “nemico,” I discovered that La Lupa was disqualified from this July’s Palio for a particularly nasty fight with its enemy last year.
Dinner with Luciana and Roberto continues to be a wonderful opportunity for speaking practice. After the blissful feeling that came with the realization that communication with my host family is going well, I realized once again how much I still have to learn. Today, I spent some time with the elderly at the Casa di Cura – Poggio al Vento, a nearby nursing home. I found myself struggling to respond, and it wasn’t because of the necessity of speaking in Italian.
As the afternoon went on, though, I was reminded that even a gesture or an expression can communicate much. I am here to learn the Italian language, but today was a lesson in a grammar of an entirely different sort – a language composed of arched eyebrows, of smiles, and of sighs. Sandwiched between Onda fans cheering their horse on to victory, soon-to-be-disappointed Brucco fans and many tourists, I experienced the Sienese Palio.
One is called Pappa col Pomodoro, and I was fortunate enough to participate in a cooking lesson in which we helped prepare it. Although there was a translator for the two American couples present, the instructor, Lella, spoke to my classmates and me in Italian. My host parents and I watched “Una Voce per Padre Pio” over dinner today, and I learned the extent to which Roberto dislikes the Church.
Today wasn’t the first time the subject of religion has come up during my stay in Italy, and I am certain it won’t be the last. Here in this country dotted by Churches, to which millions come to marvel at religious icons and frescoes preserved within medieval monasteries, there are barely enough churchgoers to fill four pews at Sunday Masses in many parishes. In general dinner conversation with my host family, the subject of the US comes up in some form or another nearly every day.
On a historical level, television was instrumental in promoting the use of “standard” Italian. In the US, I’d say the fear is that television will create a bubble of silence and encourage everyone to shovel food into their mouths with eyes glued to the television.
I’ve picked up many other opinions on America from casual conversations in and out of class.
Allow me to make a brief digression from talk of language gains to describe my enthusiasm for gelato.
While serving at the soup kitchen, I was able to serve as translator for two Americans who stopped in hoping to help serve dinner later that night. It’s much more common for me to understand conversations I’m passively hearing rather than actively focusing on.
I’ve always said that I enjoy reading because I love stories – tales of adventure, of King Arthur’s knights, and of modern day heroes. Today, my roommate and I asked Roberto and Luciana to share their stories with us through photos. Pictures, like stories, bring back all the details and colors and emotions of the moments that have always been somewhere in your memory.
My roommate and I scoured the shops near the Campo and Piazza Gramsci in search of a vase and some fresh flowers as a parting gift. This semester, I am enrolled in Passage to Italy and the one-credit class Let’s Talk Italian II, as well as a class on Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Outside of class, I listen to Italian radio and plan to watch Italian films or even films dubbed in Italian (the majority of tv shows and films I watched with my host family were the latter).  I am very much looking forward to my spring semester in Bologna, where I will have another opportunity to immerse myself in Italian culture!
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The Robinson Center and Noter Dame Center for Arts and Culture each offer a wide range of summer programs for children of all ages. Whether you are taking a course to fulfill a requirement at your home institution, doing research with a Notre Dame faculty member, seeking professional development, or taking a course for personal enrichment, you will find many ways to get ahead and learn something new. Take advantage of the quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
Having studied Italian in the classroom and on my own, I am eager to form my own impressions of Italy.
According to the American Comparative Literature Association, this field “promotes the intercultural relations that cross national boundaries .
Siena Italian Studies will also allow me to perform service in conjunction with the Ulisse Cultural Association. I expect to feel somewhat befuddled and out of my element at times, and I’m ready for the realization that, after four semesters of Italian at Notre Dame, I still have a lot to learn about the Italian language and culture. Although most of my fellow students are hesitant to use Italian unless necessary, my host parents know very little English. Even so, I’m actually quite happy with how much I’ve been able to understand and communicate on day one. At the welcome banquet given by my language school, I began speaking with one of SIS’s high school interns. Called “contrade,” these divisions of modern Siena date back to the Middle Ages – although there were originally fifty-nine. Official events include la Tratta, in which a horse is assigned by lot to each participating contrada, six prove or trial races (the final one is called the Prova Generale), the “corsa” (race) itself in which the horses race around the Campo three times, and prayers of thanksgiving at Santa Maria della Provenzano (in July) or at the Duomo (in August). Bribery of jockeys and deals between those in positions of power within the contrada are not only common – they’re expected. I went to serve at La Mensa dei Poveri (a soup kitchen), where I was the only English speaker in the building. I was able to follow instructions given in Italian, and to ask each resident what they wanted for an afternoon snack.
I said something cheery, mentioning that she must have many friends there among the residents and workers.
As one ninety-nine year old woman was wheeled in and I began to help her eat yogurt, her eyes met those of a friend. Having been here to learn about the importance of the Palio and everything surrounding it, however, I was willing and excited to enter the tightly packed Piazza del Campo to wait several hours for a ninety second race. Not even the student section at ND football games could rival the enthusiasm with which the Sienese cheered on their respective one-man, one-horse “teams.” No fights broke out this year, and no particular interactions stand out in my mind. Breakfast at my host family’s home involves bread (with Solidal, which they claim is far superior to Nutella) and biscotti.
If you’ve ever been in a room where a few people understand a joke a few seconds before the rest of the group, you’ll understand the atmosphere of the lesson.
One of SIS’s high school interns told me that she was baptized into a contrada, but that she’s never been inside a Church.
Italy has been a much divided country, and its political unification in 1861 did little to convince the population to abandon their dialects in favor of standard Italian. My Reflective Writing teacher said that American students, and Americans in general, have a reputation of always been stressed out.


When one of my classmates asked if we could have the topic for the eight page papers we have due in two weeks, my professor laughed, said we would talk about it next week, and added that it was a very American question.
My favorite occurred while my roommate and I sat on a ledge eating lunch before going to help serve lunch at the soup kitchen. I was also much more successful responding to the soup kitchen volunteer who specializes in sarcasm.
While waiting at the bus stop the first few weeks, only certain words would register in my mind.
I’m beginning to see that I love stories because they make tangible the elusive truths about what makes life beautiful. In our third-to-last dinner with our wonderful host parents, it didn’t seem strange to ask.
I remember how, on my first night here, the unfamiliarity of that smell and of being in someone else’s home made me feel queasy and a little homesick.
We found a beautiful terra cotta vase and picked out tiny white roses and baby’s breath to fill it. Every time I’m feeling really comfortable communicating my thoughts and feel I’m being understood, another challenge comes in the way of an elderly florist who slurs every word, a sarcastic soup kitchen volunteer, or even a few vocabulary words that context can’t help me define. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to tart myy own blog (well,almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job. I just stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to assert that I get in fact loved account your blog posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very troublesome to inform the reality however I’ll definitely come again again.
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I am more than willing to make some mistakes and to feel out of my element for a time as I seek to achieve greater fluency in the Italian language and a greater understanding of Italian culture. I will dedicate several hours each week to service with Le Bollicine, an organization dedicated to providing meaningful activities for the disabled through sports and rehabilitation. I’m confident that I’ve been given the tools I need to succeed (and to communicate), but I’ll have to remember that even if I’m feeling a little over my head or at a loss for words. Despite his apparent shyness, my new friend was quite talkative as long as I more or less directed the conversation with a plethora of questions.
I’ll have to remember that moment when I’m skirting past the crowds of tourists snapping pictures on my way to class.
At first, the city was divided in order to provide troops to the mercenaries hired to aid the city in its battles. There will likely be a few false starts at each of the trial races and on the day of the actual corsa, so that the jockeys will have a chance to make deals as they direct their horses back to the starting line. I thought at first that Roberto’s exclamations and lamentations over his contrada’s lack of recent victory contained more humor than real disappointment.
I told Luciana and Roberto about being the oldest of four kids, and we had fun throwing around the Italian and English versions of my siblings’ names.
I’ve been looking for opportunities to challenge myself, and this was definitely one of the learning experiences I’ve been looking for. From the way conversation went, I gather that the volunteers speak to each other and not as much to the Americans who can’t communicate effectively. All of the residents are in their 90s and most weren’t up to speaking, but there were a few very memorable exceptions.
I watched as the Campo was transformed into a racetrack overnight and witnessed hundreds of tourists pour into the city in the days before July 2nd. Instead, I’ll remember the experience of being swept up in that flood of emotion and in watching the battle for honor and glory. My classmates and I would laugh as we listened to Lella’s instructions and warnings while the two couples looked on with some confusion, and they would join in after the joke was conveyed through the translator. He is said to have performed many miracles, and it was this idea that got Roberto started on his tirade against the Catholic Church. During my first dinner with my host family, I was a bit surprised that the television was kept on during dinner. Only in the 1900s was linguistic unification achieved, and the gradual diffusion of methods of communication such as cinema, radio, and television were largely responsible. For one thing, food is far too important to Italians to allow anything to detract from its enjoyment. I’ve also spoken with two of the university interns at my language school about their opinions on the US. He was honest enough to admit that more conservative Italians would probably disagree, but maintained that most Italians look more favorably upon Obama’s administration than the Bush administration. Here in Italy, however, I save up my 50 and 20 euro-cent pieces for the very specific purpose of eating as much gelato as possible. Now, I hear conversations between elderly women discussing the pros and cons of owning a car, of teenagers daring each other to run across busy streets, and one end of the conversation businessmen have over the phone. I love hearing people speak about their favorite memories – watching their eyes light up as they tell me about their successful matchmaking efforts or the trouble their three year old has been getting into.
I carried it carefully while wending my way through hilly streets with even more tourists than usual, and kept it safe on the always crowded and jerky bus. You understand therefore significantly in the case of this matter, produced me in my view believe it from numerous numerous angles. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this type of informative sites in top of the list.
Conflict is normal and to an extent it is healthy because conflict leads to social change,” said Epperson.
Thanks to close interaction with faculty, summer provides many academic opportunities in a comfortable and enjoyable setting. I’ll need to concentrate on what’s being said much more intensely than what I’m used to, and that could drain me of energy, if I’m not careful. Although I’m aware that this is not true by a long stretch, it does show that we’re communicating well.
I asked him to tell me more about the Sienese Palio (more on that later), and about himself. Although the contrade have lost their military function, Sienese citizens are fiercely loyal to the contrada into which they are born.
After speaking about it with him a bit more, it became obvious that, for the Sienese, the Palio is no laughing matter Perhaps because I asked so many questions about his contrada, or possibly because he wanted to gain another ally in the house, Roberto presented me with the flag of La Lupa later that night. During our dinner conversation today, I realized that although I’m sometimes frustrated with being able to understand yet not always being able to articulate my own thoughts well, I’m doing something right. Now that I’m comfortable speaking with my host family, I need to push myself to incorporate a bigger vocabulary and less hesitation into conversations. They expect that they’ll need to speak extremely slowly in order for Americans to understand them.
I spent quite a while in conversation with a ninety-three year old woman named Frasina, who told me all about her brother who had died serving in the military. She, who is so perceptive, could hardly fail to notice that almost everyone around her was unable to speak coherently or even to communicate with anything but gestures and sounds.
The friend inclined her head in greeting, and looked at her with encouragement, concern, and something else – pain, maybe. I visited Civetta’s contrada museum, attended several of the trial races and the dinner following the Prova Generale of the Nobile Contrade del Nicchio, was present at one contrada’s Blessing of the Horse, and watched the Corteo Storico (a parade celebrating the Sienese Republic of the past).
When the dish was finally ready and everyone was enjoying it, however, it was an excellent reminder that good food can bring people of all languages and cultures to one table.
He spoke about how he believes that the Church fabricates such ideas only to satisfy the people – people whom he believes follow the Church because they fear death and want to believe there’s something that comes after. Although televisions in the kitchen are perhaps fairly common in the US, I think it’s fair to say that watching television during family dinner time is generally frowned upon. Dialects, differences in pronunciation and regionally unique words still exist, of course, but knowledge of standard Italian is much more common and even expected.
The changing of plates from course to course takes up a pretty significant amount of time, as does my host dad’s determination that I learn how to twirl spaghetti like a true Italian. Valentina told me that she’s been to New York, and especially liked the people she met there.
He said that Obama, as the first African American president, has symbolic importance for the world. Although I’m no gelato snob (I can’t say I’ve ever left a gelateria dissatisfied), I can’t help but smirk just a little when I see a tourist walk by with a 2.50 euro cone from the bright, modern looking gelateria on the street that crosses through the center of town. The look of love Luciana and Roberto exchanged on their wedding day has grown into something more mature – even allowing for the arguing over whether a later photo was taken in Positano or Corsica.
I was expecting Roberto to smirk just a little, but instead he exclaimed “Bellino, davvero,” kissed both my cheeks, and protested that he was about to cry.
I am now confident in my ability to communicate effectively if not always eloquently, and I am comfortable discussing a variety of topics. Its like men and women are not involved unless it is something to accomplish with Girl gaga! Summer is a great time to take advantage of both Notre Dame's scholarship and spiritual life.
If the language is being spoken more rapidly than I’m used to hearing, if there are words I’ve never heard before, or if the Sienese habit of “swallowing” the hard c sound throws me off, I will have to refuse to let what I don’t know freeze up the knowledge I do have. I’ve been able to understand most of what they say – or at least the general idea – and to respond well enough to get my point across. Later that evening, I asked Luciana about her kids, and she spoke about them for quite a while.


Each one is named after an animal or a symbol, and each has its own long history and traditions. We’ll be standing in an enclosed and tightly packed Piazza del Campo for several hours before the race begins. My family talked about past students who would eat and go straight to their rooms and close the door, and about how I should give Italian lessons to other students.
Serving at the Mensa was much like starting a new job where it’s necessary to learn all the routines that everyone else already knows, or like speaking with a group of friends who have known each other for years. After I had interjected a few comments and they realized I understood what they were discussing, they began to speak to me. They were all together in one room, but most of them seemed unable to take pleasure in one another’s company.
The meat dish is always accompanied by a slice of bread, and I noticed within the first two days that one is expected to use it to sop up any oil or sauce remaining on the plate. He went on to speak about the “grandiose” descriptions of heaven and hell offered by Dante, about how people don’t want to end up in Hell and so obey the Church. I know that in my house, dinner is a time for our family to be together and to converse without the TV as a distraction. New Yorkers may have a reputation of being hurried and sometimes even unpleasant in the US, but Valentina told me she found them to be very open, and much more willing to speak with strangers than Italians. I, who have called this city home for four and a half wonderful weeks, know that I can take a few turns in the opposite direction and return with a 1.80 euro Kopakabana cone containing at least twice as much gooey goodness. He wanted us to guess his age, to know that he is well acquainted with the city because he’s been around so long, and especially wanted us to know that he’s still very physically fit. In being willing to share those parts of life, they often acknowledge that there was something meaningful about that moment that they’ve carried with them, and they believe you might think so too. We looked at photos of the two of them at a costume party in Egypt, on holiday in Sardegna, laughing in New York, with their children in the mountains, and (of course) on their wedding day.
My roommate and I agree, though, that we hope our marriages will be like Roberto and Luciana’s: full of teasing and even some real frustration, but brimming with genuine affection and love, and a shared history that includes many moments worth remembering.
I’ll miss hearing Luciana describe what happens if she has more than a fourth of a glass of wine (la testa – va giu, giu, giu!), Roberto slapping the table in mock frustration that I haven’t heard of an actor from the 50s. This will be invaluable when I return to Italy in the spring, this time to spend six months studying in Bologna! Anyway I am including this RSS to my email and can glance out for much more of your respective intriguing content.
I know I need to stay committed to writing about my challenges and successes in navigating the language and culture and to evaluate what worked and what did not, so I have a feeling these blog posts will get longer very soon!
They’re very patient, though, and I know this won’t always be the case in my interactions with other Italians. While walking around the city, I was witness to the fact that each contrada has its own church, museum, and fountain.
The ninety-some seconds of the actual race will be accompanied by powerfully expressed emotion from the Sienese: tears will be shed by the losers, wild celebration will ensue for the victors, and a few fights might even break out.
I know that they greatly exaggerate, but it’s comforting to know that they consider me to be a capable Italian speaker. Add to that the difficulties that came with a new set of vocabulary and very rapid speech, and I was definitely struggling. The challenge then was that I would be concentrating intently on following the conversation and understanding a lot of what was being said, but then the conversation would take a turn I didn’t follow.
Each citizen is proud to be Sienese, but perhaps equally proud to be a member of his or her particular contrada. Then, he briefly mentioned the Inquisition and other ways in which he believes the Church did more harm than good. After experiencing how TV affects the dinner table dynamic and speaking with other students and our Reflective Writing teacher, however, I’ve come to understand why it stays on. I’ve enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the dramatic Italian version of Deal or No Deal, in which the boxes have the names of Italian regions rather than numbers and there is a “pacco x” that is nearly always bad news. Italians dislike and are confused by the American healthcare system, however, and believe it is unjust. I asked for clarification on his use of the Italian word for “democratic,” wondering if he was referring to the Democratic Party as well as to the idea of social equality. I have a definite weakness for Tiramisu, especially when I get tiny pieces of the actual dessert folded in.
We pored over the pages of this last album with many exclamations, and our host parents just laughed. I’ll miss seeing Luciana puffing up her cheeks when describing someone as chubby, and Roberto’s confident and endearing smile. I’ve been truly blessed to have two such wonderful people in my life for these six fleeting weeks.
I’ve also gained a great appreciation and affection for Italian culture, and look forward to spending much more time getting to know its intricacies and idiosyncrasies. Lance Askildsdon and those at the CSLC, for making my summer language abroad experience possible! It was then, of course, that a question would be directed my way and I would need to have it repeated.
There is always a news story about something going on in America, an American song in a commercial, or an American TV show (let me tell you, it’s pretty strange to hear Italian coming out of Betty White’s mouth).
This question led him to a long explanation of Italians’ views on social equality, and on how and why the Democratic Party is generally looked upon more favorably than the Republican Party. There they were, forty-some years younger – Roberto, with the same self-confident and endearing smile, Luciana smiling more hesitantly for the camera but clearly very happy. I’ve also learned that they’re rooting for Ireland over Spain in the Euro cup – but only because it’ll give Italy a better chance at victory later on.
Ten of the seventeen contrade also compete in the world famous Sienese Palio twice each year (this is decided by lot). Of course, the woman at the bus ticket office spoke back to me in English when I asked for confirmation that the ticket could be used at any time of the day. There was also a twenty-something volunteer who heavily employed the use of sarcasm whenever he spoke to me, and I realized that responding to sarcasm is more difficult when you’re trying to express your witty responses in another language. It was also harder to come up with interjectory comments, as they were discussing people they know and subjects they were familiar with. It is firm the first day out of the oven, and, especially in the summer heat, it becomes quite hard.
I’ve learned that Obama turns up on the news fairly often, and that my host parents think he seems “nice” even if they don’t have any particular knowledge about his policies.
She could say that he is viewed well in Italy, but admitted that she really doesn’t know enough about him or his policies to judge.
Like Valentina, Francesco said that Italians find America’s health care system extremely strange. As far as “coppa” or “cono,” I find that I enjoy my treat more when I can lengthen the time it takes me to devour it. I had more difficulty understanding questions about when my plane departed and arrived, and about the bus pass and the fact that they’ll be driving me tomorrow.
I can communicate with my wonderfully patient host parents, though, who don’t seem to feel like they have to be patient with me at all.
I hope to return to the Mensa soon, as I can tell that it’s an excellent opportunity for speaking practice as well as for getting involved in the community. Simple though it might sound, I have been assured by staff members from my language school that the dish is just not the same when prepared in America. They know more American actors of past decades than I do, and know all the gossip about the Italian actress who dated Frank Sinatra. He spoke about the Italian belief that the state exists to help its citizens by providing public schools and health care. In the hot Tuscan sun, this means that I forgo the satisfying crunch of a cone in favor of a cup and the tiny spoon that makes it possible to savor each accordingly small bite.
While we talked and laughed at dinner today, I felt the happiest I have since I arrived – and the whole experience has been fantastic. If there’s anything I’ve noticed about eating in Italy, though, it is that food is not to be wasted.
In general, he said, Obama and the Democrats are seen as being more open in their ideas and policies.
The best way to find a gelateria, of course, is to wander away from the touristy areas and turn down a few side streets.
He added that the Bush administration’s method of dealing with the Middle East seemed strange, and that America shouldn’t try to resolve other nations’ problems.
Now, if only I could speak without translating in my head the way I understand what’s being said without directly translating . In the summer, then, it is unsurprising that several of the most popular dishes call for “pane toscano raffermo” – firm Tuscan bread. Inevitably, however, the gelateria you know must be near is nowhere to be found when you’re walking up and down the many steep Sienese hills with gelato as sole goal.
When you’re walking with a purpose towards class or some other opportunity to be productive, though, you can bet your last euro-cent that you’ll happen upon just such an oasis, and find yourself veering off the path and moving towards fragola, stracciatella, fior di latte, and that charmingly tiny gelato spoon.




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