Getting real immersed, you could say

Julia Szeto
November 12, 2015

How? Read on. 

1. So IES Abroad paired me with a language exchange partner. I've met up with her a couple times, and she's great. She's from southern Italy, she studies English and Chinese, and we've had some pretty enlightening conversations. So far, we've talked about how Christmas is valued in Italian culture versus American culture,* the habits of Italian men, the mass exodus of young Italians to other countries, and what American university is REALLY like. (As in, do American students really have foam parties and beer pong competitions every night? I assured my language exchange partner that things weren't really like that in the least, not at my small liberal arts school.) I feel super fortunate to have some insight into young Italian life here. I'm learning all sorts of new things. For example, a young woman in her early twenties is usually in a relationship. In fact, it's quite odd if a college-aged girl ISN'T in a relationship for more than a year or so. My language exchange partner informed me that grandparents are especially enthusiastic about young relationships, which is very different from the U.S., where girls are usually encouraged to be unattached, free, and fun until their mid-to-late-twenties. There's a pretty serious pressure on girls to be in committed relationships early on. That said, I feel as if Siena is a little different than other cities in Italy. Siena is a bubble of sorts - a safe, safe haven (one of the safest cities in Italy!) filled with students attending high-caliber universities. The students here are very focused on their work, which may attribute to a subdued nightlife, as well as less pressure to be in a relationship. 

2. I've been tutoring for two Italian boys, aged 10 and 8, for the last several weeks. It's been a challenge. The boys receive only two hours of English instruction in school each week. Both of them can read admirably well, but they can't understand simple sentences and questions. Thus, I've been working on speaking with them only in English, so they can start to catch on to what I'm saying. Even so, I have to supplement with my broken Italian at some points. Currently, we're working on walking around the apartment and identifying everything in English. I ask the older one to identify what I'm doing: for example, I'll sit on the couch, and he'll say, "Sitting on couch!" It's pretty fun. The younger one is quite shy, and his grandma scolds him in Italian when I tutor him because he's perpetually covering his mouth or mumbling. He reads very well, but doesn't know how to write, so we're working on the alphabet, upper case, and lower case. As a reward, the boys' grandma always bakes some goodies for us to snack on after. I'm glad I have the chance to spend some time in an Italian home every week. 

*Just so it's known, Italy starts to prepare for Christmas after November 8. (They don't have a Thanksgiving holiday, so there's no holding out on Christmas decorations!) The city has already put up lights in the streets...I'm just waiting for them to go on. Christmas is an especially important holiday to Italy, a country of strong Catholic roots. It is going to be fantastic seeing how this part of the world celebrates Christmas, my favorite time of the year! 

Until next time! 

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Julia Szeto

<p>I am a junior at Bates College, where I study English, Creative Writing, and Chemistry. Though I left the beautiful forests of Portland, Oregon for snowier seasons in Maine, I&#39;ve discovered that there are valuable stories to be heard and told in ever corner, or coast, of the world. I am interested in people and the words they have to say, and I am thrilled to be in a city as rich with history as Siena. I hope to explore new perspectives of culture and life in Siena through words and photographs. Outside of story-telling, I am a varsity coxswain on the Bates rowing team, and I enjoy hiking, trail running, singing loudly in the car, and getting hopelessly lost in a good book.</p>

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