Vivo a Milano!

Aside

So much has happened in the past few weeks I don’t even know where to begin!!

First off, I am still loving being in Milan.  Everyday, still, I find myself walking down the street in the morning saying to myself “I AM IN ITALY!”  It still has not hit me that this is actually real life right now. After a month of being here, I really feel is if I can say: I LIVE IN MILAN!  Here is a map of the city.  The A is where I am living.

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My First Milanese Aperitivo.

Italy, especially Milan, is known for its aperitivos.  The concept of an aperitivo is really cool!  I had heard about them but still had not found a real good one to go to.  My friend, John (from England) told me that he knew of some places that were worth going to experience a real Milanese aperitivo.  I agreed, we spread the word to some people in the residence, made a reservation and headed out for a night to remember.  In Milan, most aperitivos take place at a bar during happy hour and you pay 10 euros for a drink and an all you can eat buffet of appetizer type food (pizza, bread, cheese, salad, pasta, bruschetta and so on).  It is a really great deal for college kids like myself looking to have a drink, some inexpensive (all you can eat) yummy food, and go out with some friends.  About ten of us from the residence went and we all represented many different parts of the world … from Germany, England, Turkey,  Armenia, Brazil, Italy, United States. I think that my favorite part of being here is meeting so many different people from all over the world and being able to share the experience of being in a different country (most of us not able to speak Italian).

So you can get the idea, here a few pictures of the aperitivo.

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One of the girls, Laura, had met an Italian boy, Fabio, on her first day here and so she invited him to the aperitivo with us.  He was from Milan and also studying at Statale like the rest of us. He decided to come with us and boy are we all glad he did! After we finished eating we were planning on visiting a part of Milan called Colonia where students sit all over the street and drink and hang out.  When we were getting ready to head that way, Fabio said that he was actually on his way to a party and that we should come with him.  We all said “no no we are not dressed for a party” and he said “trust me, this is not fashion Milano, you all look fine, please come!”  Wanting to really experience Milano life, we said “Si, andiamo!” (yes, let’s go!) without any hesitation.  He led us to the tram and the real adventure began!

First off, let me tell you about the trams and the public transportation here. In quick summary…I MISS MY CAR!!!!! No no… public transportation is a really great thing, it is just something that I am really getting used to.  This is my experience: Everyday, I take a tram and then a bus to go to the hospital for work.  Everyday, I also run after the tram in order to not wait 10 minutes for the next one AND THEN I run even faster from the tram to the bus.  I think sometimes running to the bus is unnecessary because most of the time we sit at the stop for 3 minutes before leaving but seriously EVERYONE does it!  Maybe if the bus driver doesn’t think you’re hurrying, he will leave???…  I’m not quite sure but sometimes I am literally sweating and out of breath by the time I get to work (SO TO MY TENNIS TEAM AT HOME: you can tell Jack that I AM working out and conditioning while I am here!)

Anyway, we took the tram to the outskirts of Milan. After about 30 minutes on the tram we finally asked Fabio where we were actually going and he informed us that we were really going to the very last stop of the tram.  It took us so long to get there, not only because it was far away but because the Milan Transportation Workers (ATM) were actually patrolling the trams.  A few of us did not have our passes yet and did not buy a ticket so occasionally we were missing a person or two because they got off the tram to avoid being checked.  If the ATM people catch you without a ticket it is a 30 euro fine!! My plan of action was to tell them I was an American and that I had just arrived today and did not know where to buy a ticket (in English) and hope that they didn’t understand and let me go.  My backup plan was to run as fast as I could because I hardly doubt that the fat old ATM men were going to chase me for 30 euros.  (Don’t worry mom, I now have my ATM pass and I never had to lie or run from the Milano transportation men!).

When we finally arrived at the “party”, Fabio was right… it was definitely NOT fashion Milano.  We were at an old farm that had no running water, but had a stage where people were performing and draft beer for 3 euros!  Fabio was the only Italian in our group so we were trusting him that this was a safe place for us to be.  We cautiously walked in looking at each other in complete shock! I’m not quite sure exactly what we expected but I don’t think this was anything close!  There were old people and families eating and drinking beer and there was a live band (like with horns and all) playing on the stage! It was really cool!!  We met many nice locals and were told that we were the first international people to EVER be there. REALLY NEAT!

It is a terrible photo, but at least you’ll get the idea of where we were:

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The Market.

The weekend after Verona, I decided to stayed in Milan. I definitely have the travel bug and want to go EVERYWHERE but I think that it important that I become involved in life here and stick around every now and then to meet some new people and to make some good friends.

A friend that I made during my first weeks here, Valerie, went with me to the local market.  A colleague of mine at the hospital told me to go there if I want to find cheap boots and bags.  Every girl in Milan is wearing chic leather boots now that it is fall.  I have been trying to look for a pair but everything is so expensive!  I am predicting now… that when I go to pack and come home, some things are not going to fit in my suitcase so spending 100 euros on boots that I will probably wear out while I am here probably isn’t the best idea.  So the Market was a great.  They had everything from food to toiletries to shoes to bags.  You name it, they had it… for a decent price too.  I bought a leather (let’s pretend that it is “real” Italian leather”) bag and some super cute boots all for 50 euros.  I am guessing that with these prices, staying in Milan on Saturdays and going to the market could be dangerous for me. ;)  My next mission is to buy a new scarf.

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My First Night Out in Milano.

So I finally experienced my first real night out in Milan! No offense to my BW party goers, but theses people know how to party!

The night started off as an Erasmus student orientation (ENS).  We went to the University, had a funny presentation about Milan and about the ways of life and met a lot of interesting people from all over the world.  I think there was probably 200 exchange students there.  They then took us to an aperitivo.  It was probably the best one I have been to.  Part of the restaurant was on a boat docked at the canal.  We stayed there for awhile (the Italians take their time eating) and ate and ate and ate.

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THEN Part 2 of the night:  They took us to a bar called King’s Pub where they were offering Erasmus students long islands and a shot for 4 euros. (Ha, not too bad!)  By this time it was already close to midnight (oh yeah, and it was a Thursday).  We stayed there for awhile, had some drinks, and again met a lot of people from all over the world.

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THEN Part 3 of the night. They took us to a discotheque.  One thing I learned here in Italy… there is a BIG difference between a disco and a night club.  I once saw a sign for a night club that said “Free lap dances.”  Get my point???   So we went to a diso called The Club.  It was 10 euros for entrance and for 2 drinks.  The drinks were great, the music was fun, and the dancing was awesome!  They played all the same songs that we listen to in the US but they also played some old songs (remixed by the DJ).  I almost died laughing when I heard ACDC! The DJ mixed it well but I think the only time I have ever been out and heard ACDC at home is when I am out with my dad to an old man’s bar!  About 4am, we figured we should probably call it a night, considering that some of us had to work in the morning…  The only problem was that it was actually a Thursday so the night buses were not running, nor the trams. So we called a taxi.  There was 6 of us and I could not believe that we could not find a taxi that would allow for all of us to squeeze in just for a few miles! NO WAY! They ALL said no.  Maybe I’m wrong but from my experiences in the US, taxis usually try to fit as many people in as they can??? So we took 2 taxis back to our residence which ended up being about 15 euros each. Not too bad I guess.  Let’s just say… Friday was one LONG day for all of us :)

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PARIS!!

I woke up Friday morning not really in the mood to go to work (I can’t image why!).  I had been working a lot lately and I knew that my supervisor would be fine if I didn’t come in and work.  She is very laid back as long as I get my work done and as long as I let her know my plans.  So it took a lot, but I convinced myself that if I took a long train ride somewhere that I could get a lot of work done on the train.  I figured 7 hours would be a good amount of time to accomplish a lot… so in other words, I spontaneously took the train to PARIS for the weekend! The WONDERFUL thing about Europe is that you can go last minute to the train station, tell them where you want to go, and most likely can buy your ticket 5 minutes before the train leaves.  So that is what I did!  I left Milan at 4 and arrived in Paris around 11. You can imagine that I was very productive on the train ride…. SLEEPING! I basically slept the whole way to make up for the night before. Train travel is so easy though.  It is more comfortable than a plane, you don’t have to go through security, sometimes they don’t even look at your ticket, and you can go pretty cheap! Since I waited until the last minute my train ticket was a little more expensive this time but 130 euros compared to what I usually pay to go to Paris.. It is basically nothing! Alex picked me up from the train station and I stayed at his apartment with him and his family.  Did I mention that I love Paris?!

The next day, my friend Jamie is who is studying in London for the semester took the train and met me in Paris.  It was her first time taking the train but I promised her that we would be right there to get her when she got off the train (we may have been a few minutes late!!!) But everything worked out and we found each other.  We enjoyed a wonderful weekend in the romantic city.

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Other news.

So some other things going on in my life:

  • My research is going GREAT! I have decided to begin an independent study also while I am here. More on that later!
  • Alex moved here this week!  We found an awesome apartment for him about 40 minutes from where I live and not too far away from where he works.  It is fully furnished and in a very nice location.  I have been staying with him a lot because first, it is so nice to be able to be with him!  It has been a LONG time since we have actually lived in the same country, let alone the same city.  I also like staying there because it really feels homey.  My apartment is bare, I hardly have cooking utensils, and sometimes I feel like I am living in a jail cell.  The people here are all very nice but the rules are strict! I understand, rules are rules for a reason but I was not expecting the rules to be stricter than BW, especially in Europe.  We can only have visitors from 8-12 (so no overnight guests) and when we leave for the night we must sign out and give them our card that we use to scan into the building.  Ok, not really that bad I guess…. but!! Now that Alex is here and that I have been staying with him a lot, they are not very happy with me here.  Some of the nights I don’t plan on staying out so I don’t sign out when I leave for work in the morning.  I end up at his place for dinner after work and I stay there. I don’t go back and sign out because It just doesn’t make since for me to travel almost an hour by public transportation just to sign a paper at the front desk to note that I am not sleeping there.  I really don’t want any trouble so I am going to try and to explain the situation to them (in English!).  Alex being here is going to be great for us!  We can actually be a couple and see how things go for us.  I am very excited and happy to have him here. Here are a few pictures from our first weekend:
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  • My dad arrived yesterday :) I went on a city tour with him and then had breakfast with him today.  It is a very cool thing to be able to show him around a foreign city and say “hey dad this is where I live!”.  Usually he is the one showing me around when we travel.  It is very different to be a tourist and to actually live somewhere.
  • Friday Alex and I are meeting my dad and Aunt Carolyn in Rome.  We will join my dad’s group for the weekend and then we are heading off to Cinque Terre and Venice for a week.  I am so excited!!!
  • I start my Italian class tonight.  It is 3 times a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday) from 5-7:15.  Not quite sure how many Friday classes I will make it to since I usually leave Friday afternoons to travel, but its ok! I will be able to practice my Italian in other parts of Italy.

There is so much more that I could write about!  I love being in Milan and I am enjoying every minute of this cultural experience.  I am growing as a student, as a young “twenty something” year old adult, as an independent, as a young lover, and as a world traveler. I love my flatmate, I have made some awesome friends, I have my boyfriend finally with me, I am traveling to some unique places, I am learning another language, and I am conducting some exciting research. I think that I will really have a difficult time giving this up in January and going back to “real life.”

Stay posted for another blog and pictures from my trip around Italy with my dad and Aunt!

As they say in Italian “a dopo” (see you after)!

Ciao!

Java, History, and Buona Fortuna

My second week in Europe was so much better than the previous!  Looking back now, what was I thinking?!… OF COURSE my first week in a different country would not be a piece of cake.  I am becoming adjusted and beginning to have a routine for my days (which I thrive from).  Here a few highlights from my week!

So most of you know, the whole reason I am in Milan for the semester is because I was accepted for a research program.  Last week I really got a feel for what I will be doing and more of an idea of how my days will look.  I will be working at the hospital almost every day.  It is a very nice environment and I am beginning to learn the norms of the group of psychologists that I am working with.  Work, coffee, work, coffee, long lunch, coffee, work. Ok I am sort of exaggerating… They are all actually very busy people and do usually work very long hours but.. they do always find time for their coffee.  As one of the girls I work with put it, “we are serious about our coffee…we are Italians!”

As far as my research is going, I have been reading a lot of articles that have been previously published by the research team to really gain an understanding of what I will be working with.  Their work is impressive as well as the instrument that I will be helping to validate.  The title of the study that I will be working on is “An individualized cognitive-based approach to empower cancer patients” and is based on the idea of personalized medicine (p-medicine).  The instrument that I am helping to validate will be used as a decision making tool to asses patients cognitive states and therefore help the physicians to communicate with the patients  as individuals and to ideally create a sense of empowerment, quality of life, and satisfaction among the patients during their treatment.  Now that I have an understanding of the study, I am hoping that during the next couple of weeks things will really take off and I will begin working on the paper and collecting some data.

Coffee has been a wonderful thing here but also a complicated experience!  One day at lunch, a girl from work explained the differences to me of their different types of coffee.  A cappuccino… only to be drank at breakfast time. Caffe normale… espresso.  Caffe macchiato… espresso topped with steamed milk.  Latte… espresso with mostly steamed milk.  Caffe Americano… basically watered down espresso.  And the list goes on and on and on!! I am personally enjoying caffe macchiatos after my meals.  The coffee here is made to perfection every time and I enjoy every sip of my tiny tiny tiny cup of espresso.  Though it is delicious… I am really missing my big cup of American coffee in the mornings.  That is one of my favorite things when I wake up.  Last week, I was in search of some “real American coffee.”  Everyone at home is posting on Facebook about their first pumpkin spice lattes of the seasons and I am drooling for one!  While they don’t have Starbucks or pumpkin spice lattes in Italy, I did find a similar place called Arnold Coffee that sells American coffee.. and they even have to go cups!!  I met a boy from Germany who also misses his big cup of “American” coffee in the morning and we decided that this week we are going to buy a coffee pot!  (I’ll keep you posted about if we actually find one).

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

Caffe (espresso)

Caffe (espresso)

My wonderful tour operator father thought that it would be a good idea for me to take a tour of Milan.  He wanted me to not only learn about the city that I will be living in for the next four months, but also to be able to have a guide to show me cheap ways to eat and how to get around a little better.  On Wednesday I met a man named Marco for my private tour in front of the Sforza Castello (picture below).  I am so happy that I ended going on the tour because I learned so much about history about the city.  There is a lot of history in Milan and many cool things to see if you know what to look for.  For example, the architecture of many of buildings consists of many different styles (Gothic, Renaissance, Spanish, etc.) which is hard to notice if you aren’t looking for it.  I have a done a lot of walking around Milan the past weeks am amazed at the little things that I haven’t noticed.

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Sforza Castello

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Sforza Castello fountain

 

Also, a cool and fun fact that I learned: on the Duomo in Milan there is a statue to represent freedom (an eagle) and one to represent liberty (the statue of liberty).  There is a small statue of liberty on the Duomo!  The cool part is, that it is actually the real original Lady Justice!  Before Bartholdi made the real one, he went to Milan and sculpted his draft… which is now on the Duomo! Pretty cool I think.  Now I can impress the people that I meet with a cool “did you know” statement.  THANKS DAD!

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Milano Duomo

 

 

The original Lady Justice

The original Lady Justice

The big highlight of my week was Verona! I went on my first trip this weekend and took the train all by myself for the first time. I was really nervous about the train but now I understand why Europeans love it so much. Train travel is so easy compared to flying! I bought my ticket for 21 euros and had to be at the train station 10 minutes before departure time.  Not too bad!  The ride took just under 1 hour and 20 minutes and when I got off the train, I had a wonderful boy waiting for me on the platform.  Alex flew from Paris and met me for the weekend.  It was his first time in Verona too but he had heard wonderful things about going there (first, its very romantic) and he really suggested that we go. He was so right… what a neat and beautiful city!  The feel of the city was so relaxed compared to Milan.  We had beautiful weather and were able to see the whole city in one day.

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We walked up over 300 stairs for this view of Verona

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Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

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The Verona Area

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Verona is known mostly for the Casa di Giulietta (from Romeo and Juliet).  There is a courtyard where the story took place with her balcony and a statue of her.  Now as the tradition goes, if you rub her right breast you will have good luck. So…. I couldn’t take my chances and earned my good luck!  It was also pretty neat because people put love notes in different languages, locks, and also their chewing gum all over the walls.  It was hard to find an empty spot on the wall, but we added our names.

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In Italy, aperitifs are very popular.  Usually, before you go to dinner you have a cocktail and some small plates of cheese, different meats, bread, and other types of amazing food.  In Verona, we saw everyone drinking orange drinks with ice out of wine glasses. Seriously, EVERYONE was drinking them.  Obviously it was something to try… so we did! We found out the name of it is a “spritz” and it is a wine based drink made with a bitter liqueur and sparkling mineral water served over ice with an orange.  It was DELICIOUS!  We had it with a plate of locally marinated cheese, wonderful sauteed mushrooms, and polenta (grilled/baked cornmeal).  What a wonderful way to start the night.  For dinner, I think I had my best Italian meal yet.  I’m not quite sure what I ordered but it said “traditional dish” on the menu so I decided to try it.  It was some sort of beef patties, a tasty form of mashed potatoes, and the best smoked vegetables I have ever had!  And even better… it was paired with a locally made red wine.  Now I understand….. in Italy, food is something more than just eating.  It is made to enjoy, made to take a long time to eat, made for others to enjoy, and made to eat in the company of others and with a nice glass of wine!  It is more about creating an experience rather than a full stomach. A very wonderful wonderful thing! It is also really cool here because during the summer, you eat outside.  Not on a patio, but on the sidewalk or even the street!  Restaurants are made small so they put tables in front of their store.  Talk about an experience.  It is a very neat concept and especially in Verona, adds to the atmosphere of a romantic dinner.  To end the fantastic gastronomic evening, for dessert… you guessed it, we had gelato!

I arrived back in Milan today, tired but at the same time refreshed from my wonderful, exciting, and relaxing weekend.  I have a wonderful feeling about this week and I am already anxious for my next trip.  I am thinking that maybe this weekend I will find some other exchange students that want to travel and plan a day trip to Lake Como (to say hi to George Clooney of course!).  You can catch a train from Milan to Como for about 8 euros.

So in the end, I am still missing home and even more my family, but I am adapting to life and really beginning to feel engulfed in the Italian culture and I am really trying to make this my home!  I have learned this week that as long I attempt to speak Italian, most Italians are nice and are willing to figure out what I am trying to ask.  I have learned that even though I hate it, public transportation is a wonderful thing and that it is ok to rely on someone else to get you to where you need to be (and it is ok to be 15 minutes late!).  I have learned the difference in the coffee here in Italy and I have most importantly learned that there is more to Italian food than pasta and pizza.

As the Italians say before each meal, “Buon Appetitio!”

Ciao,

Whitney

Mi Dispiace, non Italiano

So I have been in Italy for just about a week now on my own and let’s just say…. it has been a very LONG week.  I haven’t been able to blog yet because I have not had internet so please bare with me as this post may be long! I arrived in Paris (my favorite city of all time!) on August 28th.  Alex picked me up from the airport and with crazy butterflies, we reconnected like we have never been apart for so long.  For those of you who know the story and who are wondering…we picked right up from where we left off and everything is wonderful!  Let’s just say I am a happy girl to be with him again.   Image

I spent 3 nights in Paris and was actually able to see some friends from BW, Christelle and Joe! (Imagine that… 2 American students and 2 French students who all studied at BW together cooking dinner together in Paris…super cool!)

I was sad to leave Paris but on August 31st, I headed out for my real adventure.  Alex flew with me to Milan to help me get settled in my new place.  We spend one night in a hotel and then moved me into my apartment on the other side of Milan.  I am about a 25 minute tram ride from Milan and let’s just say… I am getting very used to public transportation already!  The tram, the bus, the metro…. who needs a car! No wonder everyone is always 15 minutes late over here!  You can’t get blamed if the tram was not on time ;).  (I finally understand!)  So I moved in, went to the train station with Alex and said a very very hard goodbye, and then… I was on my own!  When he left, I did have some tears. Tears not only because goodbyes are the hardest with him but also because I was scared.  I am in a foreign country, I don’t speak the language, and I don’t know anyone.  Scariest thing I have ever done in my entire life I believe.  

I spent my first evening by myself trying to find food.  It’s not hard because it is everywhere, but it is hard because I don’t speak Italian and because sometimes it is hard to eat by yourself.  I went to the grocery store to try and buy some food because I figured that maybe it would be easier to just make something at my apartment.  Grocery stores in Italy have probably been my worst experiences.  First, in Italy, you either bring your own bag or you have to buy a bag.  I finally understand when they ask if I want a bag but my first time I had no idea and again, the guy checking me out quickly realized that I didn’t speak Italian.  Second, I couldn’t even figure out what milk to buy!  There are so many different kinds and they all say something different in Italian.  Third, they don’t refrigerate their eggs here… kind of creeped me out at first. I am finally figuring out the food system here and I am finding it easier to eat.  I have eaten pizza every day since I have been here (sometimes more than once a day!)  My first night I found a place where I could get some pizza pretty close to my apartment.  The pizza place was cute.. and they also quickly realized that I didn’t speak Italian.  I tried to ask for a table in Italian but all I could think to say was “uno” and then she asked if I wanted to eat here or take out.  When she saw the blank stare on my face, she said “ah, no Italiano.”  She gave me a table and yelled across the room to the server, “Uno, ENGLISH!”.  I was a little embarrassed but the server was very nice to me and talked to me very slowly in Italian (even explaining some in English).  Anyway, it was definitely an experience and I was very exhausted by the end of my first day! 

I think the hardest part about being here is not knowing anyone and having a hard time communicating…  There has not been any type of orientation for exchange students nor have I met anyone who is American. My roommate is very nice and she does speak English.  She has introduced me to some of her friends and most of them speak English as well.  She is from Albania and I met some students from England, Serbia, Italy (of course), Portugal, Germany and a few other countries.  Pretty cool!  At the same time though, most of them return here every year so it is not the same for them.  They don’t really have an urge to go out and explore other parts of Milan because they already have.  I have learned though, it is true…. there is a big stigma about Americans here in Europe… and I have definitely been tested.  We are thought to be dumb and very closed minded.  I did have a boy take a napkin, tear off a piece at the bottom and say “if this piece is Italy, point to where Serbia is.”  REALLY?! So I pointed to the right of “Italy” and said “somewhere over here.”  He said “no” only to tell me that I pointed too far over. COME ON! So yes, I was being tested for sure.  

I have recently met a girl and boy from Germany who also just arrived and they do speak English!  Thank goodness!  The girl is only here for 3 weeks for an immersion class and the boy is here for the semester like me.  Yesterday we made pizza and then went out on town to explore!! We went to a place called Navigli district which is a canal where there are many bars, Pizzerias, and Gelaterias. It was really beautiful and really a place to see local life.

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My research is going well so far.  I met with my supervisors the other day and at first I really thought maybe they didn’t even read my application!!  It seemed as if they really didn’t have a plan for me when I first arrived.  After meeting a few times though my supervisor, Alessandra, told me she wants to me help to write the validation article for the Empowerment Instrument that they have recently created (with hopefully the goal being publication… which would be awesome!).  I am working at the European Institute of Oncology which is a hospital not too far away from where I live.  I really won’t be on campus that much until I start my Italian language course.  The campus is BEAUTIFUL though (pictures below)!  The research is slow now and a little boring.. but literature searches are always that way at first.  It is going to be a very interesting study and I know that I will learn a lot and gain so much from this experience.  

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I have learned so much in the week that I have been here.  My Italian/English phrase book is attached to my hip and I am learning more and more about the way life is here.  I am slowly meeting people and I am slowly learning more and more Italian too.  Though there have been some tears and some rough days alone…. this experience is one of a lifetime so far and if I can make it though this, I can make it through anything in life.  There is no doubt in my mind that I will grow up a few years while I am here and really be able to understand that some things in life I really do take for granted (like family and friends… and peanut butter).  I am looking forward to the next months of my life to see where they take me and hopefully next weekend I will begin my travels around Italy and other parts of Europe!  

To all my family and friends at home… mi manchi (I miss you).

Ciao!