Our “semester”, which consisted of six weeks, was divided into two sessions. During the first session, most of my friends and I were taking an advanced conversation and civilization course. Being that my Italian, at the time, was not at all that advanced, this course was quite difficult. We were required to read challenging passages about special events in Italian history, including its iconic individuals, such as Garibaldi; the country’s constitution; as well as highly debated topics involving the country and the Vatican’s positions on issues such as, same-sex marriage and abortions. We were also required to give several presentations, and were encouraged to voice our opinions — all of which had to be conducted in Italian. One presentation included interviewing Italians, on whatever we so chose from the given topics, which was actually an interesting activity. Honestly, I struggled through the readings, feverishly looking through my thankfully at hand dictionary. If anyone needs to ever buy an Italian dictionary, I recommend The Bantam New College Italian & English Dictionary. It’s extremely useful and almost has all the words in it you could ever need.
In spite of these difficulties, there were many positives. Struggle always helps in the end, I find. If it were too easy for me, I would rather not waste my time. I pitied those who always sought the easy way out, which was to find English speakers in town or at the university’s dorms. No one ever benefits that way, and those who did never really experienced Italy, in my opinion. Those who did never learned much if they were beginners, and those who had already begun prior to the program never advanced. My friends and I were on a mission to learn Italian. We looked for people who only spoke Italian so we could not revert to our native tongue. Amongst ourselves, we tried very hard not to speak in English, but many times were not successful with temptation always lingering. Those who had been placed in the more advanced classes were privileged enough to be placed on a coach bus during our cultural excursions on which we were given tours and instructions only in Italian. Students who were in beginner classes or intermediate were stuck on the ‘English only’ bus. When it was time to change classes, my second class being an intermediate grammar class, one of my friends and I begged to stay on the Italian bus, and were luckily granted permission.
Our first cultural excursion, however, began in Urbino. The teacher of the class planned any ‘field trips’ taken during class time. All university trips had been selected by the program’s director. My class was lucky enough to be able to go on a tour of the main attraction in town, the Palazzo Ducale. The building is absolutely breathtaking, although it was a shame that some of the artwork was either damaged or missing. I guess that can only be expected since it was built in the 15th century! Many of the pieces have been scattered amongst various museums.
Our first adventure into town was also rather exciting. We ventured to the supermarket, which happened to be the pricier of those in the area because of its location in town. We bought water and other important necessities. Water and snacks to munch on between meals were on the top of our list to keep up our energy and battle off dehydration from the heat. We also stopped at the post office, but could not really understand how the system there worked. Later on, it was discovered you had to take a number before you could even be helped. Our next stop was to the bookstore, where I wanted to buy a pocket-sized dictionary. I thought that it would be useful due to its size, but it turned out to not have many words, so I quickly resorted back to my bigger one. At the store, I had also bought 2 maps. A friend back home wanted a floor plan of the museums I visited, but ironically, none of them had any. I figured a map of the town I was staying in was close enough. Our last and one of the more important stops we made that day was to the phone store, Telecom. Each of my friends and I could not wait to buy one! We had thankfully arrived when there were still some nice phones left, and were on the cheaper end of the price scale. I managed to snatch one, which was 59 euros, which during that year was equivalent to $89. Still by far much cheaper than those I have purchased back home.