Reminiscing Italy

Being abroad, more specifically in Europe, was an experience that has definitely left a larger impact on me than expected. Just within the six weeks I spent in Sorrento, I found myself quickly growing to become more comfortable in a new environment. I was immersing myself in a culture that is foreign to me and it was such an amazing feeling. As the weeks progressed, I felt more and more like a local to the town of Sorrento. From the language to the times I would eat dinner, it was all becoming more italian. 

Before my arrival to Italy, I had this image of how everything would be. It was an image inspired by how the amalfi coast is portrayed on social media, a literal dream. I envisioned myself living in a dream. Once I arrived, I could not believe I was in Italy. I had idolized it for so long; it was all so surreal. Furthermore, I imagined myself eating carbs for the most part and of course this was very true. I had pasta for dinner almost every single day and I do not regret it one bit. I also thought highly of the iconic drink native to the amalfi, limoncello. From drinking limoncello, to speaking Italian to the best of my ability to the locals, I was always grateful for the exposure to a new culture. 

Immersing myself in the culture definitely helped create a stronger foundation for my speaking skills in Italian. Although, I did have various encounters where the Italians quickly concluded that I was not a native italian (obviously) and immediately spoke to me in English. I would respond in Italian and they would quickly grow to be shocked and become proud of how hard I tried. Other times, they would just continue to speak to me in only English despite speaking Italian to them. Overall, it was interesting to experience and to live amongst so many cultural differences.

I will attest to the fact that I came back with a completely different mindset. I used to always be stuck in this idea that to succeed and be happy I would need to be in California but after being abroad I saw how happy people were in Europe as well. Not to say I believed that this didn’t exist outside of where I am from, I just now see myself being able to thrive somewhere other than California. It’s almost as if I felt my brain physically expand. It was so rewarding to be able to adapt to a new culture. Towards the end of the program I realized that I could have stayed for so much longer and been just fine. Rather than being stuck on envisioning a life solely in the western part of the world, I now envision myself taking a leap of faith and moving to Europe when I am older. I now feel as if I am meant to live abroad for a period of time in my life. 

For anyone who is even slightly considering studying abroad through this program, do it! It is so worth it. It is worth the exposure to other cultures and ways of life. When abroad, do not be shy to interact with the locals. Although it is a bit nerve-wracking at first, it gets easier. You create friendships you would have never imagined as it allows you to meet new people who are involved in study abroad programs as well. Lastly, always keep an open mind and allow yourself room to grow!

America in the eyes of others

This prompt definitely led me to become very curious about what other people from other countries in the world perceived about the place I call home. First and foremost, throughout my time in Italy, I have been able to visit other countries across Europe along with different areas in Italy. As an American, I have always been curious about how others across the world perceive us. 

Throughout my detours, I have come across a variety of people from so many different places in the world. Meanwhile, meeting new people across my travels I have always kept the question of “What is your opinion on the United States” in the back of my mind. The first interaction that definitely left me with quite an impression was when I went to Florence for the weekend and met a group of Austrialians who were on the same tour as me. After we briefly introduced ourselves the question of “Have you been to the United States before” was brought up and two of the girls said no. Of course promoting California, I encouraged them to go to the US. However, their response was one I didn’t quite expect. They said to me “We’re scared to go to America because you guys have all these shootings. We’re going to get shot up” and laughed. I remember looking at them and just kind’ve giggling without words to say. This was only the first of many interactions from a European to an American about guns that I had yet to encounter. Once again, when in Croatia I had a similar situation. A Swedish girl asked me “Why are Americans so in love with guns? You guys have all these shootings.” That same night a local Croatian asked me the exact same thing. Every single time I was asked this question made me realize that in our current day society, it is common for the US to be perceived this way. It became very common for people to ask me “Why do you guys even need guns in the first place”, “Do people just walk around carrying guns”, “You know if guns are just taken away from everyone, then no one would need them”, “In my country we don’t hear of shootings happening because no one has guns so no one feels the urge to have them.” Honestly it leaves me feeling embarrassed every single time. When speaking to a local italian for this prompt, it was no surprise that one thing they mentioned to dislike was the tragedies that occur in the US due to the gun violence that so oftenly occurs. They spoke with a tone of disappointment as they tried to wrap their minds around the fact that this is “normal” in the United States. I was constantly questioned as to why this happens during the interview and of course I had no words, once again. 

When coming to Italy I knew that I already had the curiosity of what Europeans thought of Americans, I had thought that the biggest perception Europeans had of Amercians had a lot to do with our love for fast food. Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely been asked about fast food various times but what will definitely stick with me is the amount of times I have been asked about our challenges with guns. 

Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina

A dish that I chose, that is unique to my location of study, is gnocchi alla sorrentina. This dish originates from Campania which is a region in Italy. Within this region of Italy lies Sorrento, which is where I am staying/ studying. Gnocchi alla Sorrentina perfectly embodies all that Sorrento is. Amongst this dish lies three of Campania’s most famous ingredients such as fresh tomatoes, verdant basil and a creamy mozzarella. This dish is mainly served as a festive family lunch. The history behind revolves around the idea that this specific recipe was created in the 15th century in Sorrento. Furthermore, the tradition entails that it was created by a cook who was intrigued by the new botanical curiosity coming from the Americas. It is said that explorers returned to Europe with their ships full of foreign/exotic fruits and vegetables, among these were tomatoes and potatoes which are essential to this dish.

The ingredients for such a dish include floury potatoes, plain flour, egg yolks, mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, pecorino and sea salt.  This is just for the Gnocchi but the tomato sauce has its own recipe. For the tomato sauce you need passata, extra virgin oil, garlic cloves, salt and pepper. In order to cook this dish you need to begin by adding olive oil in a pan with low heat. Then once the pan heats up, you must proceed to add the garlic until they become golden. You then proceed to add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Once the tomatoes begin cooking, you have to add boiled salted water. You then must add the gnocchi while ensuring that more water is boiling. Once it is almost cooked, take off from the fire and add the mozzarella. Mix until the mozzarella begins to spin and to close it off add parmesan and basil leaves. Speaking to locals, they said that a bad preparation comes from incorporating too many ingredients. What makes it a good preparation is the emphasis of the Mediterranean flavors of the tomato, parmesan, and mozzarella. 

The Sorrento gnocchi owe their name to the cooks of Sorrento who added their taste of the Amalfi coasts to this dish. Throughout the time I have spent here, it is a dish that is easily found anywhere. It is one of the iconic dishes to the area. When tourists come to Sorrento, one of the first things they think of when deciding on a dish is Gnocchi alla Sorrentina. What makes this dish even better is that it is both it is rish of the Sorento culture and simple to prepare.


Sorrento’s Valentine’s Day

A holiday very local and tremendously important to the town of Sorrento is Sant’Antonino. Sant’Antonino is celebrated every year on the 14th of February just as the widely popular Valentines Day in the US and other countries across the world. Scattered across the town are large monuments of Saint Antonino and churches. Sant’Atonino is Sorrento’s patron saint. On the morning of the 14th, a silver statue of the saint is paraded followed by a service and a feast in his honor. He is known as the saint that saved Sorrento. Across town on the 14th there are various stands and shows for children. 

Statue of Sant’Antonino

The story behind how this specific saint saved the town of Sorrento goes like this: In the sixth century a boy was found to be playing on the beaches of Sorrento. Then, a sudden creature appeared through the waves and swallowed him whole. His mother, with extreme panic, then ran to the local monastery where she begged the abbot to save her son’s life. Furthemore, he was able to save her son’s life and bring her child back from the shadow of death, meanwhile, remaining unharmed. This was just one of many miracles attributed to San Antonino. 

As mentioned before, there are statues across the town that commemorate this Saint. Specifically, both statues pay a tribute to this miracle by attaching an interpretation of him defeating such a creature at the bottom of his foot. Furthermore, Sorrento also has La Basilica di Sant’antonino where two ribs from the sea creature hang to the right of the entrance. Amongst the church, there are different colors of marble that stand to represent the miracles attributed to this particular saint. Additionally, it is said that he was buried within the walls of the church. Throughout the church there are paintings illustrating his miracles.

When speaking to locals across Sorrento I found that most of their answers were similar, if not, the same. Each one went on to describe how this legend is the foundation of the town and how Sant’Antonino is celebrated yearly. Interestingly enough, everytime I asked about the holiday, they never failed to mention how it was the same day as our Valentine’s Day. However, they did make it known that Valentine’s Day is still very much a thing that exists but I noticed that most spoke with more enthusiasm about their patron saint. A fact that I found to be so interesting was that many people across Sorrento are named after this particular saint which is why you will find so many males named Antonino and so many females named Antonina.

Slowly becoming more immersed!

As soon as I arrived and saw Sorrento, in a way it was everything I expected it to be meanwhile being a sight my eyes had never seen before. A coastal city nearing southern Italy with the most beautiful scenery. My apartment is literally facing toward the water. Because of this, my roommates and I are able to watch the sunset every evening. 

In terms of the locals, they are so friendly. One of the things that surprised me the most was the way most people speak english which in a way isn’t as convenient because they default to speaking to me in English despite me speaking to them in Italian first. Most of the time I try explaining to them that I would appreciate it if they spoke to me in Italian and explaining how I am currently in the process of learning so they don’t expect too much of my speaking skills. Overall, it has definitely been such an adjustment for me as this is my first time in Europe. 

Slang is encountered in all places and some of the words/phrases I have found to be interesting so far included “boh” which refers to “I don’t know.” I have found that people who tend to be younger are more inclined to such phrases. Prior to coming, I had never seen or heard this phrase before. Based on what I have noticed, this phrase seems to be used more commonly between friends and in a more informal way. I don’t know if I see myself using this phrase unless I were speaking to another young person who understood Italian to the extent of the slang. 

Another phrase/slang that I have found to be interesting is “tranqui” which in other words means “don’t worry.” The reason why I have found this to be so interesting is because in Spanish this exact phrase is used. While learning Italian at Notre Dame, I never became aware of such abbreviations. The only difference is the pronunciation. This phrase is commonly used among most age groups across all scenarios. I have found myself using this slang quite frequently to anyone I am speaking with, if the scenario is appropriate. For example, this morning I used this phrase with the maid who comes and tidies up our apartment when she said she was sorry for forgetting to add a trash bag to one of the trash bins. 

I look forward to continuing to encounter more colloquialisms throughout my stay here! 

Sunsets in Sorrento, Italy

Pre-departure Blog

Going abroad will be an entirely brand new experience in all aspects possible. I have never been to Italy let alone Europe. As we know studying abroad is not just being abroad but learning in an entirely new academic setting and environment. I expect this immersive experience will be different from studying in a normal classroom setting because I will not only be enhancing myself academically but overall through exposure to a new culture, language, country, etc. I know academically I will be growing but as an individual I expect to grow as well. 

I plan to speak and use English as little as possible as I am aware that I am also there to enhance my Italian language skills specifically by furthering my vocabulary and pronunciation. I know that as of right now my pronunciation needs a bit of refining as I tend to pronounce words by leaning on my spanish; I want to enhance the true italian accent. Considering the fact that I will be immersed amongst locals I am excited to learn and absorb italian from interacting with them. I am walking into this experience completely open minded. I am also excited to learn more in depth about the southern coastal Italian culture, considering most of my time will be spent in Sorrento. I know that the most authentic experiences will come from interacting with the local community. Meanwhile, I am there I also want to take advantage of learning more about the European Union in the business aspect as it is one of my goals to be able to work in the realm of international business. Of course I am also so excited to finally get my hands on authentic Italian food. 

I expect to come back with a large level of growth and knowledge. I know that I will not come back being the same person who left. As I mentioned before, I am completely open to anything this experience has to offer me. My growth will primarily be from being able to understand and accommodate to a culture and language that is foreign to me. The exposure I will experience will lead me to having a grander perspective as I will be surrounded entirely by a foreign way of life and I couldn’t be more excited.