Category Archives: Italy

“Remember, guys, don’t be like tomato”

BY DESIREE CARPENTER, CREATIVE MEDIA’18, CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE

One of the fun parts about studying abroad through Champlain College is that, during junior year, any classes about another culture can count towards the 6 required credits of COR 330. For me, Italian Language was a required class at Lorenzo de’Medici Italian International Institute (the school I studied at in Florence), which automatically took care of 3 credits. The most Italian I had ever heard was when I was growing up and my dad would play opera through the house in the morning as I was got ready for school, so I was put in the most basic Italian language course they offered. It actually turned out to be surprisingly helpful while learning my way around the city, and I barely needed to worry about studying when I was out practicing the language every day.

For the rest of my core credits that semester, I took a class on modern Italian cooking. Who wouldn’t want to study a different culture by studying its food? In Current Trends in Italian Cuisine, we modernized classic Italian dishes to make them healthier and incorporate modern ingredients. We studied, cooked, and ate (yes, you get to eat every dish you make at the end of class) meat*, pasta, and even a few desserts.

One aspect of the class that was both amusing and a bit challenging was getting around the language barrier between a class full of English-speaking study abroad students, and our professor Alfonso. Alfonso was a moderately well-known professional chef in the area, and had previously worked at 1-, 2-, and 3-star Michelin restaurants. However, his grasp on the English language was nowhere near as strong as his cooking skills. Oftentimes he would make up his own idioms that fell short of making sense in either English or Italian.

One of my favorite examples of this is from the day that we prepared pasta al pomodoro in bianco, where we learned to make “roses” out of tomato peels to top our dish. At one point, while peeling and chopping tomatoes, Alfonso stopped and set down his knife. He picked up an untouched tomato and gave us all advice that I’ll never forget, though probably for the wrong reasons: “Remember, guys, don’t be like tomato.” He then continued chopping tomatoes and explaining the recipe as if nothing was said. I almost regret not asking him for clarification, but I think that nugget of wisdom might actually be best left unexplained.

The end result of my cooking class's final exam.

The end result of my cooking class’s final exam.

*Fun fact: Tuscany is the only region of Italy that is obsessed with red meat more than fish. An iconic Florentine dish is the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a T-bone steak that weighs over a kilogram!

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How to Blend in with the Locals: Firenze Edition

BY DESIREE CARPENTER, CREATIVE MEDIA’18, CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE

1. Accept that, for the first couple of weeks, you’ll be too confused and fascinated by everything around you to actually blend in. You’re in an incredible place for the next few months. Give yourself the first couple of weeks to be touristy and take everything in.

2. Dress in clothes that you feel are at least moderately stylish. This is probably equivalent to the bare minimum of acceptable in Italy. When in doubt, wear as much black as possible. You can always spot study abroad students in the city when it’s warm by looking for the people decked out in T-shirts, basketball shorts, and tennis shoes.

Italian Vespa

Watch out for bicycles and mopeds

3. Watch out for bicycles and mopeds. There were several streets I assumed were only for pedestrians until a Vespa came barreling down at high speed, missing people by mere inches. Honestly, though, the bicycles are scarier. They expect you to move out of their way and won’t go around, so always listen for the sound of those little bike bells nearby.

4. When going into any place of business, if an employee greets you, greet them back before you begin talking/ordering/trying to make a purchase. If you don’t say hi, you might be seen as rude and possibly even get worse service. It’s also much more polite if you can ask (in Italian) if someone speaks English, rather than immediately assuming that they do. (For those curious, the standard way to ask is, “Ciao, parli inglese?”)

Cappuccino

NO cappuccino after noon

5. Don’t order a cappuccino after noon, and especially not after lunch. Italians consider a cappuccino to be a heavy, dense drink, so it’s essentially a breakfast replacement. If you want a real Italian breakfast, go to a coffee bar, order a cappuccino and a cornetto (the Italian version of a croissant, often with different kinds of fruit or cream fillings), and eat it standing at the bar.

6. Buy groceries to last you a few days at a time, rather than a few weeks. There’s a very high chance of having a fresh market and/or a grocery store within walking distance of wherever you live, so it won’t be out of the way. Grocery shopping for weeks at a time isn’t a “normal” practice in Italy, so you’ll probably get some strange looks if you do. However, if you’re taking a bus to outside the city to get cheaper groceries, it’s worth ignoring the odd looks and stocking up to save money. Continue reading

Champlain Global Partner: Landing in Florence

BY desiree carpenter, creative media’18, CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE

After over 16 hours straight of travel time, I arrived a little before noon local time in Florence, Italy for the fall 2016 semester. It was my first time out of North America, and I only knew one of the two other Champlain Abroad students that would be in the same country as me for the semester. A mixture of sheer excitement and sheer terror smothered my exhaustion as I collected my checked bags. I let out a sigh of relief when I walked towards the airport exit and was met by a group of college-aged kids and a couple of people holding signs that read “API.” Academic Programs International, the Champlain Global Partner and third-party program I used, had arranged to meet new arrivals at the airport and use a massive tour bus to shuttle us all to the hotel we were staying at for the night.

Florence City ViewNot all of our apartments were fully ready yet, so they decided to put us in a surprisingly nice local hotel. I had lucked out and been given my own room in the flat (for no extra charge!), so I was put in a hotel room with the other girl in my apartment with a private room. As excited as both of us were to finally be in Florence, we both fell into immediate impromptu naps in the few hours before meeting up with everyone for dinner.

After waking from the much-needed nap and taking full advantage of having shower access again, I met up with the other API students to walk to where our arrival celebration dinner was being held. We traveled to a different hotel, climbed the several flights of stairs to the roof and were greeted by tons of plants forming a covering over a long, buffet-style dinner setup and several round and rectangular white tables scattered across the roof. Each table offered bottles of both sparkling and still water–one of the first things that I learned about Italian restaurant culture: always clarify how bubbly you want your water. All of us spent the evening eating and mingling with other students and struggling to keep up with all the new names. When the dinner ended, I joined a group of a dozen or so others going out to celebrate actually making it this far. Continue reading