For many students in the IES Abroad program, the thought of Thanksgiving break was both exciting and an instant reminder that we were all starting to miss home. For me, this was the first year I was actually going to be “home” for the holidays. The train to Paris was a seven-hour scenic ride through Italy, the Alps, and the South of France. Thanksgiving is obviously not a holiday in Europe, but it is so easy to make it a memorable experience if you plan it right. What most students do is that they meet up in one city with their close friends studying abroad in a variety of places. I met up with my best friends and we had a feast of French food, which some even admitted was better than turkey…. The good thing about Thanksgiving break in France is that you’re eating incredible food for the whole five days of break rather than just one! Another good part about Thanksgiving break was that it comes as the end of the studying abroad experience is approaching, and everyone is getting sad at the thought of having to leave. Although this feeling doesn’t go away, seeing home friends or school friends is a good reminder that good things await at home and back at our respective schools.
The week back from break, I had my first “final”, which was a concert for the staging and acting class for voice majors. There were only three of us in the class, and we had ten weeks of instruction by both a highly trained vocal coach and a professional director and librettist, former assistant director at La Scala. They chose music from the Italian repertoire we were working on with our voice teacher, and wrote a script incorporating everything into one story. The week of the concert, we spent hours rehearsing and each of us had their responsibilities in finding props and outfits. With our little team of five, we had to have good teamwork. The day of the concert, we set out about 20 chairs for the audience, with the expectation that not many people would brave the cold on a Thursday night to attend a 5-man’s show. To our great surprise, we had nearly doubled the number of chairs by the time the show was ready to start. Not only had IES Abroad done a great effort in advertising our concert, they also made it more appealing by organizing a free aperitivo with drinks included for each member of the public. I was really touched by the generosity of the program in trying to make our small project a very rewarding experience.
And, the generosity did not end there. We soon found out that the vocal program had one more surprise in store for us: a dress rehearsal of Andréa Chenier at La Scala with world famous soprano Anna Netrebko as the lead. This is the opera for the new season of La Scala and we would never have been able to get tickets on our own. In addition, they allowed each of us to bring one guest from our IES Abroad program if we wished. The performance was incredible, the staging was extravagant and it was my first time seeing such a renowned singer live. They interrupted the show at one point to give the cast a note, and even that small moment was a learning experience because I had no idea how professional dress rehearsals happened. Another great part of this field trip was that I brought two of my friends who know nothing about opera but had wanted a chance to go to La Scala all semester. I always think it’s interesting to see what people who are not so knowledgeable or used to this world think of it and it makes me happy when they like it.
There’s only two weeks left of abroad and everyone is clearly starting to feel the emotions of the end nearing and the stress of finals taking over our last week together in Milan. It doesn’t make it any easier that the Christmas decorations have been put up all over the city making it even more beautiful than usual. But, deep down we all know we’ll be happy to be home with family for Christmas.