Monday, August 29, 2011

Small Victories, Part I: The Departure/Arrival

Yesterday (or was it the day before yesterday?), I took my leave of the US of A. Before heading to the airport, Madre, Padre, io, and uno dei miei fratelli went for Perkins for breakfast. I somehow managed to stuff one omelet, three pancakes, two diet cokes, and some “Breakfast fries” into my stomach. It’s the quintessential last meal—nothing screams “Amurrica” like a plate of greasy, sugar-bombed food and questionably carbonated soda filled with carcinogenics. We also had a coupon. Small victory!

At the airport, my dad and I went up to check-in Bertha, who weighed in at exactly 50.00 lbs. Yeah, Bertha! You go girl! Then the four of us headed up to security, my massive carry-on and “purse” in tow. That’s where we said out slightly awkward but totally heartfelt goodbyes. They waited until I got through security, which was surprisingly easy. I even managed to smuggle an un-baggied tube of mascara through the line… small victory! (Although I do not recommend trying your luck with TSA people… unless you can pull off the ohmygodwhatisthatdoingthereiamsosilly act. As anyone will tell you, I am exceptionally talented at feigning cluelessness… maybe because I am clueless most of the time.)

The flight from Milwaukee to Cincinnati was fairly quick and painless, unless you count the fact that I couldn’t fit my massive backpack into the overhead compartment or that I was seated next to some creepy ginger kid who didn’t understand the phrase, “You need to turn off your Ipod or the plane may crash” (this is verbatim from the flight attendant the third time she told him off… needless to say, it worked). Dru (my partner in crime and best friend) met me in Cincinnati and, let me tell you, if my carry-ons were giant, hers were freaking colossal. The motto of the day quickly became “non c’e’ spazio!” simply because there didn’t seem to be room anywhere—in the overhead compartments, in our suitcases, in our carry-ons, in our leg room… the list goes on.

After boarding the flight to Paris, we both managed to catch some shut-eye… and by “shut eye” I mean falling asleep for 2 minutes only to be woken up by rough air or a flight attendant or a crying baby. I never sleep well on planes anyway… mostly because I’m afraid of missing the in-flight meals, which are always amazing (no joke). At least, they’re amazing for food that’s been made in a convection oven at 34,000 feet in the air. Our dinner on the plane  even came with complimentary wine, which is when you know you’re in European territory. Was it good wine? Of course not, but it was wine… and probably the only reason I managed to get what little sleep I did.
Somewhere between Paris and Bologna

The plane ride took a reasonable 8 hours, which didn’t seem nearly as bad as it sounds. We were excited when we landed in Paris, mostly because we expected the airport would be nicer and Parisian. It took us less than 10 seconds to realize Charles de Gaulle airport is a hot mess. It’s a maze of corridors and stairwells, all of which are accompanied by unreadable signs pointing in random directions. After 20 minutes of following signs labeled “2D,” we went through the “Boarder Police,” who barely even looked at us before stamping our passports and mumbling “Merci.” Security was next. Much like the Boarder Police, security was incredibly lax. . I forgot to switch all of my liquids back into the quart-sized bag and the lady just said something in French and waved me through. Once through, some girl tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I spoke French—in French. I automatically assumed she was trying to pick-pocket me—trying to steal my identity or something—but quickly realized she was merely looking for her gate. Sadly, I do not speak adequate French to communicate anything worth communicating. My French language skillz include “my name is…,” “yes,” “no,” “thank you,” and the highly inappropriate “Would you like to come to bed with me tonight?” which I learned from the song “Lady Marmalade.”

Dru and I finally made it to our proper gate… or what we assumed was our proper gate, as there were no labels anywhere that indicated where the flight was going. CDG seriously needs to work on its labeling skillz. For all we know, we could’ve ended up in some third-world country… or Canada (*shudders*). We were momentarily assured that our Italian was not entirely eroded when we heard some little Italian kid say “io roto I miei occhiali!” (I broke my glasses!). Dru and I immeadiately turned to each other and, without a word, high fived with huge smiles on our faces. People looked at us like we were crazy. They may be correct in their assumptions…

Upon arrival in Bologna, we got our luggage and were in a cab within 10 minutes. There was no customs check-in or passport control of any kind. At least we hope there wasn’t... because if there was, we totes missed it. The cab ride was totally awkward, mostly because the cab driver did not say a single thing the entire 20 minute ride… that and the Italian radio was playing Michael Jackson, which seemed very un-Italian of them. We got to the hotel (small victory!), which is sketchily located on a side street of a side street of another side street. It’s nice enough; the concierge is friendly and the rooms are air conditioned… but it’s definitely not the Ritz. There are two stiff twin beds, lots of mirrors (creepy), a bathroom that is two inches higher than the floor so you stub your toe if not careful, and no shampoo or conditioner is provided—what hotel stocks “intimate cleanser” but not shampoo?

Before we passed out from exhaustion, we decided to force ourselves to take a walk. The city is beautiful—well, the drive from the airport was less than desirable—but the city’s historic center is awesome. It reminds me of Rome a bit… there are modern shops lining the main streets and then random basilicas and piazzas with fountains. After getting voluntarily lost for 2 hours and getting some limone gelato, we returned to our rooms and took a 2-hour nap. Yeah, I know… we live wildly exciting lives. Not.

  1. Some street that looked Italian-y

Piazza Maggiore

Friday, August 26, 2011

1 Suitcase, 1 Carry-On, and 1 Super "Purse"

All carried by one girl. Me. 

I hate packing. It's worse than just about anything... obgyn appointments, dishwashing for 8 hours straight, eating tuna casserole. It's bad. 

That being said, packing for study abroad wasn't nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. I managed to fit everything i wanted to bring in one suitcase (which has been christened "Bertha") with room to spare. Room, however, wasn't the issue. Triumphing over the fact that i'd stuffed 90% of my material life into Bertha, I lugged her to the bathroom and set her on the scale. The result? 55 pounds. That's five (5) pounds over the airline's allowance. Defeated, I went back to my room and proceeded to unpack and repack Bertha seven times. Yes, SEVEN times. Now she weighs in at 48.7 pounds. That'll be interesting to lug around. 

My carry-ons are also ungodly heavy. I will be carrying one massive backpack that probably weighs a good 20 pounds, and a huge "purse" (I do not consider anything over the size of my head to be an actual purse, sans quotes) that is brimming with necessities. These "necessities" include 2 books (one for pleasure-reading, and one on Italian Grammar), 2 computers (regular laptop and netbook), 12 months' worth of prescriptions, assorted school supplies, camera, ipod, universal adapter, wallet, and one bag of "emergency" clothes, among other things. Needless to say, I will be hurting by the time I get to the hotel. It's almost enough to make me wish i'd worked out a little this summer... but not quite. 

Here's the carnage of my room during the final repacking:

Mind you, this is nothing compared to what it looked like on my 1st attempt at packing.
This is what my room looks like now:
Crazy, right?
And this is the final result of my seven packing expeditions:
Oh, Bertha, yah done me good.
Now we just have to see if the evil airport minions will let me through. If anyone tries to tell me that my "purse" is too big to be considered a "personal item," I will smack them with it. 

Alright, maybe i won't actually smack them with my "purse." Someone could get seriously injured, and I could get arrested. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I am not prison material.

But I will definitely throw them a glare fierce enough to make Derek Zoolander proud. Don't mess with me, my "purse," or Bertha, and no one will get a proverbial wedgie. 

Later gators. 

PS: Next time i blog, I'll probably be doing it from somewhere that isn't my parents' couch! Exciting shit, yo.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Want a Closer Look at the Corkboard?

Here it is!

The Waiting Game*

Do you ever feel like you're just waiting for life to begin? It's like you're stuck in a giant, sadistic game of Monopoly where every card drawn reads "DO NOT PASS GO." That's when the soundtrack of my life kicks in and i hear a "wah wahhh" ringing in my ears. (yeah, maybe i should get that checked out...)

It feels like The Waiting Game is a constant presence in my life. I'm always waiting for something: that next paycheck, summer's start, summer's end, my laundry to be done... and the list goes on. The most intense rounds of the The Waiting Game inevitably occur before major life changes. It's possibly the cruelest, most intense game you've ever played--like the real-life equivalent of Jumanji, except you don't have a price scanner to zap those annoying killer monkeys... hypothetically speaking, of course.

Anticipation of studying abroad has triggered the worst round of The Waiting Game ever. It's like someone spilled Pepsi on the game board and never cleaned it up, ensuring a nice sticky mess. My game piece, which would surely be purple and/or covered in glitter, seems to have a bad case of the stickies. Yes, the stickies. I'm pretty sure whoever spilled the metaphorical Pepsi got it nice and good over the "Summer" section of the board, considering how slow the past three months have gone. With my departure date looming only 3 days away, however, my game piece has finally reached the end of the board. This round of The Waiting Game is coming to a close... let blind panic ensue.

Although I'm incredibly excited to begin this new chapter of my life, the fact that I will be leaving in a matter of days has stirred up a bevy of emotion, and not all of them good. Obviously, the good emotions outweigh the bad: I'm excited, good nervous, elated, anticipatory (is this a word? Probably not.), and a hundred other things. Sometime over the past month, however, doubt and fear have wiggled their way into that elusive space somewhere between my spine and pancreas: they've simmered, become more potent, and have suddenly spilled into my stomach in the form of evil butterflies.

The prospect of studying abroad is scary. You're not only leaving behind family, friends, places, and material objects--you're leaving behind an entire culture. That's scary--both in the Jaws sense of scary and the ohmygodifeellikemystomachisgoingtofalloutofmybutt sense of scary. I liken it to the moment before I've given big speeches--I'm terrified, my extremities have gone numb, there is a tingle behind my last left molar, and adrenaline is pumping through my veins. It's seriously uncomfortable, but not entirely vomit-inducing... unless of course you suffer from glossophobia (look it up), which thankfully I don't.

Other nerve-wracking musings are as follows:

1. How in the world am I going to fit all of my shoes... much less everything else... into ONE suitcase. Yes, that's right, I will only be bringing ONE (1) suitcase with  me for a 10 month study abroad program. I guarantee you that I will be wearing my winter coat, two pairs of shoes, several pairs of underwear, and all of my valuable jewelry on the airplane just to be able to bring more stuff with me.

Yes, I took a picture of myself sitting in Bertha the Suitcase.

2. There are two truths in life: (1)  I am a poor college student, and (2) the US dollar is only 7/10 of a Euro. This means i'm three-tenths poorer in Europe than i am in the United States. Bummer.

3. I don't speak Italian. Those seven semesters of Italian classes I took? Yep, summer took care of those. Italy better watch out because I will be using massive and animated hand gestures to supplement my seriously deteriorated Italian skillz. Stay at least five feet away... oh, crap...  wait, sorry... 2ish meters away from me at all times.

4. I don't understand the metric system (see #2) or Celsius temperatures. That, and i don't know what size i am in European shoes and clothing. This could be a serious problem.

5. While I would never say it aloud, the seven-year-old inside of me will be screaming, "Mommy! Daddy! NO!!!!" when the time comes for me to board the plane. Epic sobs may ensue... the likes of which no one has witnessed since Titanic hit theaters in 1997.

Reasons 6-154 exist, but I have neither the time nor energy to write them all down.

One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of studying abroad is the fact that I will be forgoing my final year at UW-Madison. Having transferred to Madtown my sophomore year, I've only spent two years as a Badger, which is 1000 years too few. I love Madison--it is a city and a school that has stolen a piece of my heart and has refused to give it back. Having visited the city this past weekend, I have a serious case of "You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too" syndrome. I know that Bologna is going to be amazing. I know that it, too, will steal a piece of my heart, but I'm still upset that I will be "missing out" on a year at Madison, the lovely city that holds the people, places, and memories that have come to mean the world to me. Leaving Madison behind is possibly the hardest part of leaving, and that's saying a lot. My friends, family, and home will hopefully all be right where I left them when I get back... but I only get to be a Badger once. It's a priceless thing.

From L-R: Hope, Myself, Christen, and Lizzy. Pregaming for football games = good times.

When it comes down to it, however, I'm confident that studying in Bologna will be the sickest, coolest thing ever. My case of melancholy will surely abate once I step onto Italian soil. Stay tuned for the wild ride...

*This blog entry was originally written for the blog I write for UW-Madison's Office of International Academic Programs. The original can be found here:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The GRE Is Over... Now What?

I took my GRE this morning. And lemme just say, thank God gawd that's over. Phew.

I have been studying non-stop for this thing for two weeks. This may seem careless of me, only allowing myself 2 weeks to study for a test that determines my future in academia, but let me clarify: I bought a review book over Christmas break, opened it once on a particularly boring day, and then never looked at it again for three months. So, technically, I've been studying for several months. After all, this stuff is sirius bisniss.

After many practice tests, endless hours of studying, a lot of legitimate panicking, and some unnecessary sleepless nights, here are some conclusions I've drawn regarding the GRE:

1. The GRE is all about logic, whether it's math or reading or proper vocabulary use. This is a fact. This means that the GRE is a paradox.  Even though I've busted my ass at university for 3 years, preceded by 4 years of kinda-sorta trying in high school, it is totally logical that one test should decide the rest of my academic career. In case you're reading this, evil GRE minions, you can all suck it.

2. Scoring for this thing is so stupid. It keeps telling me that I’m significantly better at math than I am at verbal reasoning. This is false. I suck at math. However, here's my personal theory of relativity: I suck at math, but when the verbal reasoning for this test is friggin' ridiculous, of course I’m going to score significantly higher on math. This just shows you how hard the verbal part of this test is. I can barely divide a dollar into quarters; I am not good at math.

3. The reading comprehension for this test is redonk. If what my practice test scores say are true, being an avid reader all of my life has done me no. good. Apparently, I never understood anything I’ve ever read--I only thought I did. Everyone Poops? Yep, fail. Harry Potter? Nope, sorry, try again. Pride and Prejudice? Stop while you're ahead, gurlfrand.

4. The testing center for this thing is, like, on some kind of crazy lock down. You need to carry an ID with you at all times, you cannot carry anything in your pockets (not even chapstick!!!), and you get your picture taken every time you exit and re-enter the test area. Even if you just left to go to the bathroom for two seconds. Even though the administration lady obviously knows you haven't had facial reconstructive surgery in the 10-minute break, you still have to do it. Why the hell do they do this? Did a set of twins pull a switcheroo at some point and were stupid enough to get caught? Oh, wait... that wouldn't matter--because twins look the same. Twins have it easy.

5. Makeup shopping is probably not the best way to congratulate yourself on a job well-done. A week ago I decided, "Okay, if I do well, I'm going to go to MAC and buy myself 2 things." Then last night I decided, "Okay, if I do well I will still buy myself 2 things from MAC. If I do poorly, I will buy 5 or 6 things from MAC." It's decided: either way, I win. My wallet, however, fails so hard. Whenever I get home, I need to dispose of all the evidence that I was makeup shopping, because my mom doesn't get it. I get shamed for having more than two eyeshadows, which is one more than I "need." I feel like one of those wives who has to hide their shopping bags from her husband. Except I have no husband (thank god!). I win again.

All in all, I did better than expected. Then again, I should know by now that I’m good at pulling shit out of left field when I’m in a bind. If only I could figure out how to work a parking meter... after all, I can't divide a dollar into quarters. Ergo, I cannot feed the meter and have to beg the male parking attendant with the ridiculous mustache to not give me a ticket. Not that this has ever happened...