Real generosity towards the future consists of giving all to what is present.
Albert Camus

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gilman and Fulbright Scholars and Legacy

My Cultural Communication classmates
In October, as a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship recipient, I was lucky and honored to be invited to the orientation program for the Fulbright Scholars just kicking off their research/teaching programs in Italy. I spent a great day listening and learning and soaking up the positive vibes from this group of exciting, industrious, hard-working, amazing group of young professionals and graduate students. And I also got to meet the two other Italy Gilman recipients -  Ashley and Aaron, You rock!

By this time, my 3 months in Italy had already given me a head start on the transition and experience process, but I was jealous they would be spending at least 12 months in Italy while doing their research projects. Four months is not enough time to really immerse yourself in the culture of your host country. I thought a previous Fulbright Scholar offered some very wise advice to the incoming recipients: "Be gentle with yourself." Your body goes through so many physical and emotional changes when you study abroad. My guess is month 5 is when most people start hitting their stride: communication is easier, friendships with natives are being formed, routines are being established, and a certain comfort zone is being found with your new life in a foreign country.

I have been blessed to learn some critical global and life-long communication lessons while being immersed in the Italian culture: General Cucchi, a retired NATO General and diplomat, taught us many impressive concepts during his lectures: to be humble and "realize, I am not the only owner of truth in the world," "Find a mentor," "Be flexible," and "Take chances." He believes you must know another country's history to truly understand the structure of their world and the way they communicate and negotiate. Another professor and former EU employee, Angela advises us "In your professional life, always challenge yourself by doubting and asking "Why?"  Her lectures were also excellent:  Be mindful listeners and flexible communicators.  Listen to what isn't being said. And you must understand cultural norms to have successful cultural relationships and good communication. One's intercultural journey is a life-long process.

While studying in Italy, I have learned that flexibility is different than adaptability. I have been reminded that we are all unofficial diplomats and that every moment can be a joyful adventure. I have thought about legacy and what we as individuals and as a global comunity wish to leave for our children and those around us. What fears can bind us and what little steps can we do on a day to day basis to eliminate them? To speak strongly and courageously against stereotypes and prejudices.  How a win/win philosophy sends ripples far and wide. And how lessons and relationships can come from the most unexpected moments, people and places.  Indeed, "Showing up" is a great adventure.

Carpe diem!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Crazy side of Hostels, and oh, Public Toilets, too!

The Crazy Side of Hostels and Public Toilets!

The only sure thing about staying in a hostel is the budget price! I have had a complete metamorphasis in my attitude about staying in one. Initially, I was apprehensive, especially about staying in a coed dorm room; but, now I enjoy it all - from great conversations to interesting people to go-with-the-flow attitudes! The first hostel I stayed at in Slovenia was nice and clean and had two incredibly helpful managers. I did walk in on a 20-something Dutch couple in a slightly compromising situation and I took showers at 6am to avoid meeting anyone in the community showers!  Other hostels I have stayed in have been very minimalist...and no evidence of bedbugs or dirty linens or any of the horror stories you sometimes hear about in the States.

My last two hostel stays have been in Florence at the Eurostudent Home, just off Piazza Republica. The facilities are a little run down, but Mike Tyson ! and staff more than make up for that.  The $13 euro a night can't be beat either.

When my friend and I checked in, they were hesitant to let me stay - I was over the 35 year old age limit (common in most hostels). But my three 21 yr-old friends vouched for me and I promised not not have any issues with ages, partyers, showers, or surprises! And we had a blast! We saw a great band at BePops and stayed up late with some fun Canadians! Hi to Mike, Carson, Brook, Chris and Mike Tyson! Thanks for the fun, crazy antics.  And to my new Chinese friends, thanks for enlightening me and teaching me about Chinese culture. 

As for public toilets all over Europe...almost all bathrooms cost .40 to 1.00 euro just to enter.  It is hard to get used to toilets with no seats, the lack of toilet paper, co-ed, bathrooms, etc.  But roughin it, just gives you more of an appreciation for all the great things we have in the U.S..  Yes, we definetely are spoiled!

Buying a train ticket at an older machine

A nicer, cleaner bathroom - About 1.50 USD

Canadian friends, Mike T, MK and Veronika

My Chinese friends - Xu Xin and Sheng Jiankun

Funny, funny story - too hard to explain!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


It is difficult to express the emotions I felt when visiting the city of Pompeii. just south of Naples.  Here was a history lesson from my youth, one that had fascinated me as a teenager, and had never lost its luster for me as an adult.  I continually pinched myself as I strolled through the fascinating ruins, cityscape, amphitheater, dwellings and structures.  There is some evidence of recent crumbling, but the site is in remarkably good condition.  Many of the artifacts are in the Archeological Museum in Naples, which I also visited.  But to see the plaster bodies with vivid facial expressions, colors, mosaics, columns, statues, inscriptions, frescoes and baths from the typical middle class Roman city gave me shivers of amazement.  Mt. Vesuvius can be seen from every point within the city and one can sense the power and terror that must have exploded that day in 79A.D.  Twenty thousand residents lived in Pompeii, a city that had existed since 600 B.C.

large amounts of artifacts and a plaster body cast

Baths of the Forum

House of the Faun

Pompeii had a 100 mile long aqua delivery system

colors are still amazing

corridor down to the Amphitheater

authentic display of winery and city  layout

Just look at that face!

The Forum - typical Roman cityscape


stone bed in brothel

Pompeii's streets were were cleaned daily with gushing water -
these are stepping stones

Marina/original gate entrance

Spur of the Moment Adventure in Siena

I have been trying to get to Siena since October...a friend and I had a great spur- of- the moment adventure and we had tons of fun in Siena and Florence.  Just when you think you have seen every gorgeous basilica and cathedral...the Duomo and Baptistry took my breath away.  Built in 1215, the Duomo is ornate, but strikingly beautiful.  Even the floor is covered in frescoes and marble inlaid designs!  Many are covered except in the month of October, but it is still amazing to see the stories told through every artistic form within the church.  The Piccolomini Library displays a vivid, colorful selection of frescoes with huge, rare, oversized manuscripts under glass.

In the Church of San Domenico, the head of St. Catherine is preserved and the Museo dell'Opera a Panorama has an extensive and interesting collection of art, artifacts and statues.  The original 20 foot wide, rose shaped, stained glass window from the Duomo is on display and it, too, is brilliant in color and 3D dimension.

I look forward to returning to Siena one day...maybe in July or August when they hold the world famous horse race, the Palio di Siena!  That must be amazing to  watch as the horses race through the quaint, cobblestone shopping district in a display that has been going on since medieval times.

MK in front of the Duomo in Siena

Duomo interior - the marble is striking!

The Piccolomini Library - Breathtaking!

The ceiling in the library

Tuscany view
Inlaid marble floors