McMullen, Maria



Name: Maria McMullen
Location of Study: Siena, Italy
Program of Study: Dante Abroad – Summer Intensive Program
Sponsors: Nanovic

DSC02098 DSC02110 DSC02165


A brief personal bio:

I’m a Pre-Med/Italian major from Rochester, New York. I grew up listening to my mother and grandmother speaking Italian, and when I came to ND I decided to enroll in the Beginning Italian course so I could finally understand what they’d been saying all those years! While my main goal is pharmacy school, I also want to improve my Italian so I can speak it fluently in years to come.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

Communication will play a big part in my future career in pharmacy, and I believe that knowing as many languages as possible is a huge asset in that field. My Spanish is still at a decent level, and my Italian continues to improve.
Because I didn’t study abroad in my junior year, I really wanted an opportunity to leave the U.S. and experience a different country before graduating. The opportunity the SLA has given me is twofold: it’s allowing me to travel, and it’s allowing me to study a language, which is one of my most favorite things to do.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I hope to get not only a significantly-improved set of Italian language speaking/writing/reading skills, but also an all-around unforgettable experience of living in an entirely foreign place, armed with only the language knowledge I have right now. I hope to meet as many people as possible and see as many places as possible

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

1. At the end of the summer I will be able to communicate with native Italian speakers fluently, at a level significantly above the one I was at before this summer.
2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to show willingness—and initiative—in situations or interactions that I’m not familiar with, particularly in the area of language.
3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak about higher-level topics in Italian, such as politics, religion, and current issues, as well as expanding my vocabulary to go along with these advanced topics.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

The language course itself has ample room for Italian practice and study—classes are five days a week for several hours a day. Students in the institution may not necessarily be from an English-speaking country, so Italian may very well be the only language I could have in common with somebody else! There are also several other opportunities for language improvement: because I will be living in an apartment and not with a host family, I will be responsible for getting my own food, doing laundry, getting transportation, and buying day-to-day items in Siena—all of these will require me to rely on Italian to get what I need. Activities are also planned by the institution, such as tours of the city and surrounding countryside, visits to museums and churches, attending lectures, and more. I am certain that I will be speaking Italian a vast majority of the time, if not the entire time!


Reflective Journal Entry 1:

I’ve been in Italy for less than 24 hours and in Siena for even less than that, but I’m so off-the-wall with excitement that I figured now is as good a time as any to make a post.
After the most fun/terrifying bus ride of my life from Rome (the 70-something year-old driver was on his phone the entire time and probably ran a few people off the road due to his speed), my parents and I were dropped off at Piazza Gramsci. [As a disclaimer, no, my parents are not here the entire time–they’re only in Siena until tomorrow–but they saw my trip as an opportunity for them to take an Italian vacation of their own.] Since the building in which I’m staying wasn’t open at that time, we stayed at a bed and breakfast only a few hundred meters from the piazza. As we were rolling our luggage away an Australian woman, who’d been on the same bus, was asking the bus driver for directions to her lodgings. He clearly spoke no English and she didn’t seem to speak Italian, so he coupled his instructions with hand gestures. However when I heard him say “go under the arch” in Italian, which the woman interpreted as “go over the bridge”, I stopped and translated for her so she wouldn’t get lost. Call it vanity or whatever you’d like, but I felt a bit proud that I’d already managed to use my Italian knowledge somehow.

Not having slept on the plane, I went to bed early, around 9 p.m. Sometime after midnight I was woken up by massive shouting and cheering; I immediately remembered that Italy was playing England in the World Cup that night. Given the number of times I heard said shouting and cheering, I figured that they’d won 2-1. When they play Costa Rica on the 20th, I won’t be asleep indoors, that’s for sure.

The owner of the B&B, Fabrizio, is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I haven’t met anyone else here yet, but he’s still one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, anyway. During breakfast–which he made–Fabrizio hung around and talked to my mom and I as we ate. We found out that he taught Italian in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for three years. Since we have relatives there and have been there several times, it was fun to find that common ground. My mom speaks Italian, Spanish, and French fluently, and she and Fabrizio switched back and forth between the first two for the entire conversation. I know I’m currently pretty good with Italian as well as Spanish, but I was still surprised to find that I understood everything he was saying, and I wasn’t translating everything he said into English–it just flowed evenly through my head. I didn’t speak as much as my mom did, but I did translate a lot for my dad, who doesn’t speak a lick of Italian or Spanish. If Fabrizio told a joke, my mom and I would laugh and then there would be a delay as one of us explained in English for Dad.

The Palio was a major topic of conversation. I’ve already learned a considerable amount about it, but my mom has not, so we got the full lecture. “I fantini sono mercenari” Fabrizio said; “The jockeys are mercenaries”. According to him, the Palio takes precedence over everything. On the day of the race, tourists are apparently out of luck if they want to do anything besides watch it–everything else is closed. I felt sad leaving the B&B, even after being there for only one night. But there are still five weeks left, and class starts tomorrow–everything is just getting started!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Week 1 of class is done! I really enjoy it. Just walking from one side of the city to the other to get to class is enjoyable in and of itself; at one point you can see a gorgeous valley, with old buildings stacked along the hills on either side. I love Notre Dame, and it’s beautiful, but Siena has it beat when it comes to scenery.

After a brief “colloquio” with one of the teachers at the school, I was put into the second-highest level. So far we’ve done mostly grammar review, which I’ve found extremely helpful; they put me right where I should be. Class is fun; there are a few of us from America, but there are two Australians, three Swiss students, one from China and one from Japan. At times our teacher, Enzo, will have us talk about what it’s like in our respective countries. I love hearing about what it’s like to live elsewhere.

I’m definitely starting to get the layout of the city ingrained in my head. I don’t bring my map with me when I go out, and when I do look at it, it’s only to see where I haven’t been yet. I must admit that living practically alone in an unfamiliar city, halfway around the world and six hours ahead time-wise, is a difficult thing. Most of the students have been here for several weeks already, as they are doing different programs, and so they all know each other. I obviously don’t know anyone in the city itself. I consider it practice for the real world, when I’m living on my own back in the U.S. once I’m done with school. If I can do it here, I can do it anywhere! I have found a cute café along Via Roma, a street close by where I live, and have been there a few times so far. Victoria, one of the staff at the school, told us that a great thing to do is find your own “place”, a café or bar that you particularly like, and make yourself somewhat of a regular. I guess that’s what I’m going to try to do now! I must admit that so far I haven’t actively gone searching for opportunities to spit out as much Italian as possible, but rest assured I never speak in English with the natives here.

I’ve gotten a few compliments on my speaking already. When a few of us who live in the same building went to ask a question regarding the kitchen, the secretary at the school nudged her friend. “Lei parla italiano” she said, giving me a nod. When I spoke with another lady who worked in the building, she told me I spoke very well. That’s really what this is all about, and I’m so happy when I think about what people have said.

And finally, as luck would have it, we’re here during the World Cup. Though Italy’s loss to Costa Rica today was pretty much the worst thing ever—we were yelling angrily at the TV along with the locals—it’s still something special to be here when the Azzurri are playing. But while they are down, they’re not out—hopefully when they play Uruguay next week, things will turn out better. And by that time we hope to have the Italian national anthem memorized.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Week 2 of classes done, and three more weeks remain. We’ve been reviewing verb tenses that we all have probably learned already, but we still need a lot of fine-tuning. Knowing it on paper is one thing, but using it in conversation is another thing entirely. Practice, practice, practice!
I’ve also been visiting the B&B where my parents and I stayed for one night; Fabrizio, the owner, is more than willing to just sit and talk (all in Italian, of course) about anything under the sun. We went to an osteria the other evening to get some food, and I got to meet a couple of his friends who work there. Even when they were all speaking at a rapid-fire pace, I could still make out what the gist of the conversation was without too much trouble. They’re big fans of Siena’s basketball team; apparently they’re about to win a sort of tourney against Milan, which is a very big deal.
I’m not very good at recounting everything in a poetic, flowing way, so now I’ll finish up by making a list of a few particular things that have gone on this week.

1. Watched the Uruguay/Italy match. That was extremely depressing. During World Cup season, I am always a supporter of Italy; the USA becomes relevant only if Italy is knocked out. I’m still angry about the Suarez-biting-Chiellini incident…

2. After the aforementioned defeat of Italy, I defaulted to the USA, and then watched the USA/Germany match yesterday evening. There are a ton of German people in Siena right now, and I don’t know why. But at the bar where we were watching, the Germans far outnumbered us Americans; there were a dozen of them and only three or four of us. But, being Americans, we had to represent, so we were spouting patriotic phrases and singing the national anthem the entire time (quietly). And we somehow made it through to the Round of 16, despite Germany beating us and obviously being far superior! Miracles do happen, I guess!

3. I have consumed a decent amount of gelato this week. I occasionally replace a meal with a small cone of Stracciatella or “Cookies”, the Italian (and far superior version of) “Cookies and Cream”.

4. I’ve gone out a couple of times after dark, just to go to the Piazza del Campo and sit down. Even at night there’s still a low buzz of voices coming from the restaurants and bars lining the periphery of the Piazza. There are usually half a dozen or so kids throwing glow sticks up into the air. They always look like they’re having the time of their lives, and I’ve wanted to walk over and start running around, too.

5. Had a cooking lesson at school. We made bruschetta (two types), pasta entirely from scratch, rolled-up veal, and a chocolate-almond desert from Naples (the chef-in-charge, being from Naples himself, ensured that we knew this!). It was all ridiculously good. I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to eating the food in the USA…

6. Went to a restaurant specializing in Arab cuisine. One of the students in our class is from Israel, and he insisted that everyone go out for lunch to try the food. It was great. I tried hummus for the first time, and wow, I can’t believe I’ve missed out on it for so long!
The Palio is coming up this week, on Wednesday, so it’s bound to be a crazy few days! Here’s to a good time!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

This entry should be considered the Palio entry, because that’s the biggest thing that’s happened over the past week. Three days ago, on July 2, we staked out our spots in the piazza at 2 p.m. even though the contrade procession wasn’t due to start until 5:30. We were bent on having a good view, and we did indeed get one. Overall, though, it wasn’t as crowded as I’d imagined it would be; it wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder packed, like a tin of sardines. Not nearly as bad as other crowds I’ve been in.
As mentioned before, the procession began at 5:30 p.m. and lasted for two hours. First came the 10 contrade that were actually running, with their flagbearers and horses in tow. Right at the end, the Palio itself entered the piazza. Though I haven’t seen past Palios, this one was absolutely gorgeous; it was painted in a sort of modern, angular way, with tans and reds throughout. At almost exactly 7:30, the jockeys entered the piazza on their respective horses. After a few minutes, the starting lineup was announced. The piazza went dead silent for this, except for the low collective murmurs from a contrada when its position was announced. Tartuca was last in line; therefore, it could technically take all the time it needed to wait for the opportune moment to enter the starting area. However, Tartuca’s rival contrada, Chiocciola, was next-to-last and was therefore on the outside of the track. Basically, there was nothing Tartuca could do about it, as Chiocciola was well-positioned no matter what, so the race itself began after only two false starts. Then the cannon went off and everyone started yelling their heads off as the horses streaked around the track. Thankfully, no riders were thrown and no horses wiped out. For two out of the three laps, it looked as though Aquila had it in the bag, but during the last lap Drago broke away and finished first. It was insane when Drago won; instantly, a human ladder formed in order to get the Palio down. Members of Drago were jumping over the barriers, hugging each other and crying in the middle of the track. Every other sporting event can step aside; this was definitely the most intense one I’ve ever seen, and obviously the best. It’s sort of difficult to explain just how great of an experience it was; to understand, you’ve really got to go see it for yourself!
And although it’s been three days since their victory, Drago is not going to stop celebrating any time soon. They’ve been parading through the city, drumming away and blowing whistles, and even handing out copies of a poem written in honor of their victory. So I can say, overall, that the long wait and the seven hours of standing up were entirely worth it.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

Week 5 is just about to start and I’m beginning to get nervous because once this week is up, I have to leave Siena. It’s probably going to be the most difficult thing I’ll ever have to do. For the past two days or so a few of us have been in Florence, which is a gorgeous city, but it was even a little hard to leave Siena for only 48 hours. Siena has Florence beat by a long shot. There’s something particular about this city, and it’s as if you can’t understand it unless you’ve been here and then left it. It’s the drums that are always beating in some contrada or another, the spontaneous bursts of singing you’ll hear in the dead of night, the constant sound of swallows wheeling overhead. And it’s not just sounds; it’s sights, too. The flags, the buildings, the endless green shutters, the always-uneven stones on the streets, storefront after storefront of food that you have to try at least once. Siena isn’t just a city, it’s a feeling, and I can’t shake it.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

I don’t usually quote South Park, in fact I have never quoted South Park, but right now I need to quote South Park:
“…I’m sad, but at the same time I’m really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It’s like, it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt somethin’ really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I’m feelin’ is like a, beautiful sadness.”
Leaving Siena was literally the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. I was holding back tears during the taxi ride to the train station, on the train to Florence, and on the train to Milan, and even though I’m still in Italy for another dozen days or so (visiting family), I’m still currently fighting back tears at times. Yes, it sounds very weak of me, but Siena changed my mindset and it changed what I want out of life. I know that tons of people always say “Oh, I want to live in Italy! I’m going to move there, wait and see!”, and then it never happens, but I am truly going to live in Siena someday, as soon as possible. There’s a part of me that’s still there, and I know I won’t get it back until I’m there for good.
Briefly switching to business speak, my Italian has improved on all grounds thanks to my time here. I speak much more quickly, with much less hesitation and much more confidence, than before. Writing was never an issue, really, but my reading has also improved; it doesn’t take as much time for me to work through an article, or try to determine where I am when no English translations exist. The Dante Alighieri school in Siena is really a great place with great teachers, and I recommend it highly to anyone who’s considering studying in Italy. I guarantee you’ll instantly fall in love with everyone and everything in Siena.
To sum it all up, I had the time of my life in Siena. It was very different from what I expected, but in a good way. I’m going to go back as soon as I possibly can. To quote one of the teachers at the school, “Rome is Rome but Siena is home.”


Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: