I’ve been here in Brescia almost a whole week now. Hard to believe that this time last week the whole saga was just beginning. If you’re interested in a ridiculously long post about my time here so far, I’ll start from the beginning…
My flight from Columbus to Newark was scheduled for Friday around noon. I woke up to a great American breakfast prepared by Mom (omelettes and cinnamon rolls! which no Italian would ever eat for breakfast, probably). The other thing I woke up to? A text from United Airlines saying that my flight had been canceled.
Not delayed, just canceled. Did you hear about that fire in a Chicago air traffic control center? Of course this sent me into a panic. My international flight from Newark was scheduled for 6:40 that same day. How would I get there? Could I rebook?
United Airlines (oh so unhelpfully) decided to automatically rebook my flights without consulting me. Of course their proposed arrangement was ridiculous: it had me leaving Columbus later that day, but it included a 22 hour layover in Newark. By this plan, I wouldn’t arrive in Italy until Monday morning, a whole two days behind schedule. While I spent two hours on hold with United, my friend Courtney (who I made arrangements to fly with) was able to reach her travel agent, who rebooked us (for free) on a flight for Saturday afternoon. Now we’d arrive Sunday morning, only one day late. The only catch was that we’d have to drive to Pittsburgh. But this was far and away the best choice, as far as travel arrangements went. Mom and Dad (always ready to go with the flow) were happy to make the 3 hour drive the next morning.
With this headache taken care of, Mom, Dad and I headed off to the North Market to enjoy a nice lunch at one of our favourite places in Columbus. I spent my extra day doing a little extra re-packing. But the best thing was that I was able to spend one extra day with my friends – some of whom I had run out of time to see in the week before I left. I was also able to put in an appearance at my friend Colin’s pants-free birthday party. I won’t see most of my friends again for nine months. So as it turns out, this delay wasn’t all bad, because it gave me one last chance to say goodbye.
By Saturday afternoon, we were off. Dad drove us to Pittsburgh, and Courtney and I met up in the airport and flew to Newark without too many problems — we had a short delay, but nothing that derailed any of our plans, thank God! From Newark, we settled in on the plane for our 8 hour flight to Milan. I always enjoy the film selections on airplanes. I prefer to watch comedies on airplanes, or movies I wouldn’t otherwise necessarily be able to find. I watched The Other Woman (not bad, considering) and a few episodes of TV. The first episode of Fargo was pretty darn good — I’ll have to make time to watch the rest of the series. I also squeezed in a few hours of sleep — much needed, since our flight was arriving in Milan at 9am local time.
Once we got to Milan, Courtney’s boyfriend Fabiano very helpfully showed me where to find the shuttle to the Milano train station, where I’d need to take a train to Brescia. I had the number of my teacher, Luigina, who had arranged to meet me at the Brescia train station when I arrived. I was supposed to call her once I bought my train ticket. Too bad my phone wasn’t working! Just to be safe, I was able to use the wifi on the shuttle bus to message Luigina and tell her I was on my way to Milan. I thought I’d find pay phones at the Milan train station, but no luck. So, desperately, I bought a new Italian SIM card for the old flip phone I had used when I studied in Siena. Too bad it would need two hours to activate.
So, with nothing else to do, I bought my ticket to Brescia and nervously waited for my train. Hopefully I wouldn’t be stranded at the Brescia train station once I got there. I almost boarded to wrong train, but eventually I found the right one and was on my way. Too bad I was sweating like a mad men from nerves – and the exertion of carrying my 46 pound suitcase (plus two other bags!)
Luckily, when I arrived in Brescia Luigina was waiting at the station for me. She took me to her house for lunch, where I met her family. They were very welcoming and friendly, and wanted to know all about me and my life in America. They helped me to get my SIM card working, and let me use their iPad so I could let my parents know I’d made it to Brescia safely. Then, Luigina took me to my new, temporary home.
For this week, I’ve been staying with a host family. Maria Paola (my host mom) is the sister of one of the other teachers at school, Elena. They live in a beautiful new apartment building in the southeastern part of Brescia, just a few minutes outside the historical centre. The view from the balcony is spectacular. Their family has been so welcoming and has helped me with whatever I need. So, after a nap and a shower, I joined the family for dinner. After dinner, Andrea, Mariapaola’s son, showed me a map of Brescia and pointed out the best parts of town to visit, including the museums, monuments, and best areas for nightlife. He also gave me some advice about booking trains and Ryanair flights to visit more of Italy and Europe.
I didn’t get very much sleep. Good thing it’s acceptable here to stop for coffee every few hours. I spent Monday morning touring my new school and meeting the English teachers and some of the students. I introduced myself to some of Luigina’s classes, and answered some of their questions about me and about America. It’s very interesting to hear what they already know about American culture- it’s not always what you’d expect. I’m working with the second year and the fifth year classes. (Italian high school is a lot different than American high school. I don’t want to get into it right now). Without fail, someone in every class has asked me whether or not I have a boyfriend — and then, why not? On Friday I finally snapped in my last class and was like, “WHY IS EVERYONE ASKING THAT?” Whoops. Sorry to that one kid.
I returned back to Maria Paola’s for lunch, and then passed out for a few hours. I really needed to catch up on sleep, as it turned out. After dinner, my family took me out for gelato and gave me a short tour of the city. Brescia by night is beautiful. We started out tour with the city’s Roman ruins, the Capitolum, and then saw the city’s two biggest piazzas, Piazza della Loggia and Piazza Vittoria, and the old and new Duomos.
On this day, I had some time off, which we used to take care of some errands. I went to to the local police station with Maria Paola so we could fill out papers declaring that her family is hosting me. After that, we did some shopping in a nearby shopping mall, and walked around the historical centre of the city. I bought a phone plan that allows me to use my iPhone here in Italy. I could use a little more internet data, but otherwise I got a pretty good deal from TIM! After dinner, Elena took me on a drive to show me some other parts of the city, and I ended the night watching some Italian TV (a very different experience) with the family.
Certainly the most eventful day so far. I spent the morning meeting with Luigina and a realtor so we could see a few apartments. I wanted to see what was available in Brescia, and whether I could get a nice place for an affordable amount. But with the option of moving in with another host family (for free!), these apartments chances weren’t looking good. But how could I resist my own little episode of House Hunters: International?
We saw three places, all near the school where I’ll be teaching. The first two apartments did not have real beds – just sofa beds. Personally, I would rather not sleep on a sofa bed for eight months. The third apartment was the nicest, with a real double bed, the nicest kitchen area, and a beautiful garden in the complex. It was also closest to school. So of course, it was much more than I wanted to pay. To the host family it is, then!
But I wasn’t done with Wednesday, yet! Maria Paola and Elena were planning a trip into Milan, because Andrea, who attends university in Milan, had left his computer at home and they needed to bring it to him. So, I tagged along and we made a day out of it. Milan is about an hour away from Brescia, so we arrived around lunch time. After some pizza, we went to see Milan’s beautiful Duomo. And then, what else is there to do in Milan besides some window shopping? We walked through the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and then along the Via Monte Napoleone. If only I could afford such beautiful clothes!!
In the morning I went back to school and sat in on a few more classes — then it was time for some more paperwork. I had to apply for a permesso di soggiorno, basically the documents that accompany my student visa and allow me to stay in Italy legally for over 90 days. This process was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be! But, who knows how long it will be before the papers come back to me.
I went to lunch at Luigina’s house, where I met her daughter, who is just a few years older than me. After lunch, we went into town together, where I was able to meet up with Diana, one of the other assistants in the SITE program. It was nice to meet up with another American! We all stopped for coffee, and I had my first cappuccino since arriving here – (how American, as Diana said!).
Back to school for a few more classes, and after that I spent a few hours wandering Brescia on my own. I always need to spend some time in a place on my own before I can really remember how to get around. I’ve been doing a lot of window shopping, but I’ve decided to wait for my first pay check to buy any clothes, as tempting as it may be. I tried to pack light, so my wardrobe will need a little augmenting.
Friday afternoon, I met up with my new host family. They live north of the city, in a beautiful area called Mompiano. They were very welcoming, adding that I’d be welcome to eat dinner or hang out with them any time, but I could also have as much independence as I’d like. In the family, there are two kids about my age, who attend the university nearby. I’ll be moving in with them next Tuesday, and from their house, I’ll be able to take the bus to school and the metro into the city. I can stay with this family until at least the end of January. After that, we’ll see! I may search for an apartment at that point (hopefully, I’ll be able to move in with friends) or find another host family for the remaining time.
My jet lag had caught up with me a bit, so I spent most of the relaxing at home. I’ve been trying to watch Italian TV, where they talk very fast, to help with my comprehension. For instance, I enjoyed a dubbed version of the William and Kate television movie. This was easy to understand. But when I watch the news, a lot goes over my head. I also received my work schedule, and it looks I’ll have Fridays and Saturdays free from class. (Yes, Italian high schools have class on Saturdays!!) So I’m looking forward to a lot of weekend trips around Italy and Europe. It looks like next weekend I’ll be meeting up with some friends in Milan. Can’t wait to see what Italy has in store for me next.
Saturday night was the Notte Bianca, which is like Brescia’s version of Gallery Hop. Some of the shops were open late, a book stand had been set up in one of the piazzas, and there were a few public art pieces. I met up with Francesca and a large group of her friends. There was a lot to see and hear, as Francesca and her friends were speaking to each other in Italian with all the speed and ease of old friends. The whole experience was overwhelming. I know it will get easier with time — but for now, it’s mostly just frustrating.
I woke up early for a hiking trip with Elena. We saw the beautiful Valle delle Cartiere, a beautiful park area between Lake Garda and the mountains. After a few hours of trekking, we stopped for a picnic, then turned around and started back. My legs are already getting toned. Then we went on to Salo, a beautiful lakefront town where the whole family spends summer holidays. I briefly saw their home — beautiful, with the best view of the lake anyone could ask for. Then, she took me on a drive through the olive fields, and mentioned that her cousins live here and bottle award-winning olive oil. So, of course, we had to go see! I don’t think I’ve ever had a more stereotypically “Italian” experience in my life than when we walked through the olive trees, then sat down with Elena’s aunt to eat some biscotti and chat. No matter how many times I insisted that I was not very hungry, thank you, she insisted even more strongly that I eat another cookie.
My first week in Italy is over and my “grace period” is coming to an end soon. I’m back in class early tomorrow morning. Time to get down to business.