Week 3: Homesickness


     So it finally happened. I feel homesick. It’s been about two weeks of non-stop exploring or classes and this is the first moment where I’ve had a pause from the hectic nature of my everyday life here. And well, on this rainy and grey Sunday, I find myself desperately pining for any attention from my peers and family. I made the mistake of going through instagram to check up on them and I found countless cheery photos of friends from Whitman. And of course I’m happy for them, but I also can’t deny that I feel left out. And on a day like today, you can’t help but crave curling up in your own bed, with Netflix (which by the way isn’t allowed here yet) with that cup of vanilla chai that you go out of your way to buy at the supermarket. It’s hard too because you’re not really sure how to cope with it. When I reach out to my friends it warms my heart but then I’m left missing them more, but when I try and distract myself I feel like I’m not actually “fixing” anything. 

I think what I’ve learned is that I just need to acknowledge that I do miss my Whitman life a lot. I miss my parents and my siblings too, but that feels more normal at this point.  I can’t tell you how much I miss my friends though. And I miss my Theta sisters dearly, especially watching them prep for recruitment. I wish I could offer them my help and support, I wish I could gush over how much I love my sorority and make new connections with the first year PNMs. I miss my a cappella group, and getting to sing on a regular basis or the rush of being on stage. I miss my academic advisers strangely. I miss being an active feminist voice on campus. And I sometimes look up to the sky and think about those Walla Walla sunsets that I’d see while walking across Ankeny barefoot during the summer. And god, I really really miss the Taqueria- I’d probably kill for a decent burrito at this point.

But even though I am longing for these people and the comforts of home, it doesn’t take away from my experience here at all. I still feel excited to travel and inspired to explore and make art. It just makes my time here more complex. The feelings of happiness and excitement can coexist with nostalgia and melancholy, and that’s okay. I think that’s something important to recognize.


Week 2: Adjustments


So, by the end of my second week here I can already feel myself adjusting to the culture here. I now walk with a straight spine, can stroll into the street fearlessly, and now own a good couple pair of boyfriend jeans- so I’m already feeling a tad bit more European. Its interesting, the changes you thought were going to be challenging aren’t at all, but the small things, the ones that are so subtle that you would never think of them- those are the real challenges.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my homestay, in specific if its hard living with a new family or if the language barrier is a challenge. And honestly, I love my homestay. I like the fact that I get to experience what it means to be a person who lives and grows up in Italy. I love having Italian food home cooked for me, and I love watching my Italian improve as I talk more and more with the family. They’re particularly sweet; at the table, my roomate and I partake in an alphabet game where we all name words we know in Italian that start with the letter of the day- its a very smart game to play. It totally breaks the ice and I feel like I learn something every night. Overall, the “hard parts” like the language and the living is totally manageable.

The small things though, that’s where you have to consciously make changes. Because people eat dinner here at 8:00 and serve two courses a night, I find that I have to ration myself during the day, so my body’s metabolism has changed. I also find myself being hyper conscious of water use and dry cleaning. And you have to respect the routine the family asks you to follow. I also found that customs like not going back to your first course, pouring others drinks if you pour yourself one, or even using a piece of bread to wipe your plate clean are small things I never would have imagined, which is why I have to make such a conscious effort to follow through with them.

Other changes I’ve had to face include walking about 2 to 4 miles a day just to get to art class. And because its my first time living in the heart of a city, I’ve had to adjust to the congested streets and learn how to weave seamlessly through crowds. I already feel less like a tourist. Obviously I can’t shake off that American vibe I give, especially when I walk into a cafe with my broken Italian and ask for a cappuccino at 4:00 in the afternoon (PSA: don’t order a cappuccino past 12:00, its kind of odd). But overall, its fun to watch myself acclimate to my new home, and to see which parts of myself I maintain intact and which parts I have a little room to adjust. All in all, I really feel Europe is growing on me.

Week 2: A New Understanding of Religion

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    I’m not a particularly religious person, I was raised with a background in Catholicism, but as I got older my religious roots fell by the wayside. Especially in this day  in age I think it’s easy to be cynical about religion. However, being here, surrounded by all this work and a culture that was heavy-handedly shaped by religion, it forces you to view religion in a very different way. It’s made me ask a lot of questions about myself and my beliefs and about humanity in general. And all of these thoughts stemmed from one art history class.

This week we started classes and one of the classes I am taking this semester is High Renaissance and Mannerism, an advanced art history course that includes site visits every week. For the first site visit, we visited the Church of Santa Maria Novella, a magnificent church that sits in this open and sunny piazza. When I arrived for class outside the steps of the church I was immediately taken aback. The church itself is almost designed to perfection. There was balance in the green and white stone; in addition there was a juxtaposition of rounded Roman arches with straight columns and a contrast of hard and strong pillars with delicate and elaborate designs of the Dominican Pediment. This design is only a small part of it’s beauty. I could honestly talk about this church forever.

In short, I was struck in awe just looking at the thing. Then inside the church, I was absolutely spellbound. You walk in and feel a wash of calmness as you enter the dimly lit, open space. Then you look at the art and architecture and it takes your breath away. This church was especially more Gothic- so there was a lot of elaborate decoration. You also look at the pieces, and hear about how and why they were made, and you think to yourself, this piece, at the time it was made was a work of perfection. No wonder people feel spiritual in these spaces. And as you walk around and feel this work surround you, you can only feel like something more than just human could make these pieces.

     And then you think, humans did make these works though. These walls of stories and fables were painted by the hand of a skilled artist and brought to life by the countless efforts of followers and artists. And that in it of itself I think is spectacular. Regardless of what you believe, there is something so magical and compelling about the fact that humans are able to create works of art and architecture that makes you feel.


Then I visited a church in Assisi. It was the same exact experience. The moment I walked in I felt the same atmospheric shift. The calmness and freeness of space is something I really can’t express adequately over text. All I can really understand is that, people, thousands and thousands of years ago had such a mastery of space, design, architecture, lighting and artwork, that they were able to create a space with a zen quality that transcends the everyday life.

Don’t even get me started on the mosaics in Ravenna… I can’t even describe how magical they looked, how much detail they had. I could almost feel every hour spent the artists and workers spent pressing the golden tiles into the walls.


    It finally made sense to me why religion was something that was so pivotal to life then and how much religion has played a part in the history and architecture of Italy. If I, as a contemporary critic, growing up in a cynical and skeptical world can be spellbound in these spaces and compelled by the stories told in these churches, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be a common person centuries ago.