30ish Before 30 // Young At Heart // Thirty, Flirty and Thriving // and Other Cheesy Titles

I have started this blog post at least 4 times. Maybe I just didn’t want to face the reality. First it was “In a couple of months”, then “In a few weeks”, then “In less than two weeks”, and now….In less than one week, I will be turning 30 years old.

That’s not too bad, though. Thirty is the new 20, right? Well, my knees and back sure don’t think so. I had to visit a chiropractor for the first time in my life. And he did not magically fix things. I feel like I’ve been lied to.

So many people have a list of things that they want to do before they turn 30, as if their lives automatically become boring and monotonous afterward. I do love lists, and the idea of having goals to accomplish before my birthday appealed to me, so I borrowed an idea that my best friend Emma used before her 30th last year: I put out a jar and some sticky notes and asked others what they thought I should do in my life before hitting that dreaded number.

I put the jar out way back in December, and the responses covered a wide range. From location-specific (see the great pyramids, visit Greece) to the adrenaline-inducing (skydiving, swim with sharks) to the mundane (read a book you wouldn’t normally read, eat 29 brioche). Plus there were some jokesters who had some very comical suggestions (but tattoo, face tattoo… lots of tattoos).

At my work station as a constant reminder. It got a little messy…

Some of the challenges, I had already done. Some, I will never do (refer back to butt tattoos, etc). And some I have actually been able to accomplish in the past few months! A few others will take more time. Enjoy these highlights from my 30ish to do before 30:

Done:

  • Eat something new and weird – We ate blowfish in Japan in December!
  • Dance in the streets of Tokyo late at night – Also during the December trip.
  • Turn 29 – Wow, creative one there.
  • See a play in London – I saw The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre during my travels in 2013. It was awesome!
  • Carnevale in Venezia – Went last month and had an amazing time!
  • Go skinny dipping – Summers in Bly.
  • Ski/Snowboard in the Alps – We hit the slopes in the Dolomites in February! So beautiful!
  • Shave a part of your head – Credit to cousin Mindy for this one. 🙂
  • Book the cheapest flight you can find out of Italy and go! – Did this at the end of my undergrad semester abroad. Flight to Rhodes for €8!
  • Visit at least one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World – That cheap flight to Rhodes took us to the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. And then there is my favorite, the Colosseum in Rome!
  • Cheese tasting with the MBAs – We did this a couple of weeks ago and it was incredible. The experience deserves its own blog post.
  • Get another tattoo/Get a tattoo with Emma – Mom will not love this one.

Still Working On:

  • Paragliding! – I got like 5 recommendations for this one, since it is so popular in the Monte Grappa area. I plan on doing it in May!
  • Read a book you wouldn’t normally select/Read a book recommended by Dr. Al – I started one, just haven’t finished it. I’m on chapter….. one, honestly.
  • Speak only Italian for 24 hours – This one is intimidating, but I will do it at some point!
  • Go back to Greece – I would love to visit Athens! It’s in the plans!
  • Eat 29 brioche – I’m sure I have gone beyond 29, but since I’ve started counting, it’s only been about 12.
  • Become a LIFE Trainer

Someday:

  • Hot air balloon ride!
  • Skydiving
  • Visit Africa/See the great pyramids – Soon, I hope!
  • Karaoke in Japan – I can’t believe we did not do that. It was everywhere! We just kept putting it off.
  • Swim with sharks…. maybe
  • Road trip through Oregon – If you count Klamath Falls to Pendleton, I’ve done this, but I would like to see more of Eastern Oregon and as a vacation instead of work/school/sports.
  • Hike a 14er in Colorado

Probably Won’t Do:

  • Face tattoo or butt tattoo
  • Buy your CIMBA students beer – Maybe when I’m ready to be fired.
  • Bike across the States
  • Eat a week of nothing but pizza
  • Run naked in the fields at 6:00 am
  • Call your first S.O. to say hey – Absolutely not.

Overall, I feel like I’m doing pretty well for 30! Obviously, different people have different goals for their lives. Many of the friends I grew up with are married with kids. Although some people in my position may feel like they’re “behind” in that way, I don’t think so. That’s not where I want to be in my life right now, and that’s okay. I’m in decent shape, both physically and financially, I like my job, I’m halfway to an MBA, I’m living abroad and having a ton of fun, new experiences – I’ve got a lot going for me! Overall, 30 is not looking too bad.

I think I will keep my list, and continue to add to it. Maybe make it into a “Things Kim Should Do By 40” list. A few things I need to add: be the best auntie ever, and act as a tour guide for my family when they visit me in Italy!

Any other must-do activities that I am missing? Feel free to offer suggestions!

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The F Word

I’ve been living in Italy for about 7 months now. Although my Italian hasn’t improved as much as I would like, I have definitely picked up some new words and phrases. Particularly curse words. In the Veneto region, curses are mostly blasphemies – calling God a dog or a pig. Actually, a lot of them have to do with pigs. Sometimes I don’t even know half of what I’m saying, just that it’s “porco” something or other. Then there are the classics, much like we have in the States: the equivalents of the “f word” and “f off”, et cetera.

How is it that I’ve become so well-versed in this particular area? One word: foosball.

Guys – Italians are SO. into. foosball. It’s crazy! They get ultra competitive, and they are so freaking good at it! As someone who had a foosball table in the house during my childhood, I didn’t even know it was something people could get this good at. I always just hit the ball as hard as I could and hoped it would go into the goal. That’s not the case here. They pass the ball back and forth between the rows of little guys, bounce it off the side walls, and even manage to shoot the ball into the air sometimes! Everything is incredibly fast-paced, and they don’t even allow spinning. It’s hard for me to follow.

A typical match-up in our program is one Italian and one American on each side (we would get slaughtered if it was US vs Italy). So the ball will zip and zing around when the Italian’s little guys hit it, and then when it gets into US territory, we slowly, precisely move the little guys (usually accompanied with, “I got it! I got it!”) and hit the ball backwards as often as forward. When one of us scores, it is a surprise to everyone. At least when the other team scores, I can say the proper curse words, which always tickles onlooking locals.

Recently, I was trying to think if we had anything similar in the States – a fast-paced sort of “bar game” that people get really worked up over. The only things that came to mind were a few card games, but they don’t carry the feeling of urgency and chaos that I was looking for. And then, last week, we went to see a band in a town a little further away. The bar had air hockey. My Italian friend had never played. I whooped her a few times. It felt amazing.

My Views on LIFE

As anyone who has attended CIMBA knows, the LIFE program is quintessential to the organization’s culture. LIFE (Leadership Initiative For Excellence) is described as a small group, experiential leadership development program . It is two and a half days of extemporaneous public speaking, letting go of inhibitions, opening up to others, and pushing yourself beyond your perceived boundaries. It is an intense experience, to say the least. Most participants go through it once, then use what they learned to shape their future. Whether they look back at the experience with fond memories or PTSD, they do not generally jump at the chance to do it again.

I just finished my third iteration of LIFE. I know, I know – those of you who know what that entails are thinking that I’m crazy. (Not as crazy as the guy who did it twice in 9 months, but crazy nonetheless.) However, all three of these experiences were completely different journeys. First, as an undergraduate student, in my early twenties, without a clear idea of who I was and what I wanted. Second, as an MBA student, with a solid understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses, and a better (though still flexible) vision of my future. Third, on the other side, as a Trainer Assistant during the current CIMBA undergraduate’s program.

LIFE as an undergraduate was pretty terrifying. I knew next to nothing about the program when I began, which is how it’s supposed to be. Participants are meant to be in a cloud of uncertainty the whole time, never knowing what to expect. Scary people told me to do scary things, I put forth my best effort, and I failed again and again. The public speaking parts were the worst for all of us. Hands were shaking, voices were cracking – we were all so concerned about what others thought of us!

That same fear was barely present in the MBA group. At that point, most of us were used to giving speeches and presentations, so talking in front of others was no longer panic-inducing. On the other hand, the activities that required us to let ourselves go – really lose control and relinquish inhibitions – were much harder! It’s like we have trained ourselves to stay composed and keep our emotions contained for so long that we don’t know what to do when we have to release them. Being vulnerable with people I barely knew was also more difficult as an adult. I think at that point I had a lot more baggage than I did 8 years prior, so it was more embarrassing and more painful to bring it to the surface.

Team 1098!

The whole LIFE experience from the “dark side” – the trainer’s side – was like flipping over to the opposite side of the coin. I observed the undergrads enduring all of the same things I had endured, and I could see that they were just as anxious as I had been – but from my side, the things that were the most nerve-wracking to do were almost boring to observe. The hardest part was keeping a neutral expression. I couldn’t smile, laugh, or engage with the students at all. And you know, they are really funny sometimes! Worse, sometimes the other trainers would make jokes under their breath to torture me.

Thumbs up!

But all the torture and hard work was worth it: seeing the attitude and behavior of the students shift so drastically was a rewarding experience. As a participant, changes seem so gradual during those 2.5 day that you might not notice the progress you are making. As a trainer, the improvements are more clear – the potential of each student really stands out as they open themselves up. Now I get to watch those students continue to learn, grow, and apply themselves during their 12-week study abroad experience.

Enduring LIFE at these different levels has given me some valuable insight. It’s comforting to know that the things that are difficult for me now might be a breeze in the future. And that we shouldn’t be concerned with what others think of us, because often they aren’t even paying attention. It’s also important to keep in mind that the people who push us the hardest – the ones who tell us we can do better time and time again – are the people who want the best for us. I’m hoping to be that person for many more students in the future. We’ll see where LIFE takes me!

Team 1101 and their awesome trainers!

Christmas in Berlomyo

I have been on a bit of a hiatus from the blog as I traveled over the holidays and then as I recovered from traveling over the holidays and got back into the swing of work and class. Over the 3 weeks of December 17 – January 4, I spent approximately 47 hours on a train or a plane, not including the time waiting in the airports/train stations. No, I was not traveling back to the US for the holidays, much to my mother’s dismay. Instead, I took advantage of the free weeks to explore new parts of Europe, then take a big leap in the opposite direction of home – to Japan!

The answer to the “where should we go over Christmas break?” question was not an obvious one. My friend/coworker Alex and I ran through a multitude of possibilities, including South Africa, Northern Africa, the Middle East (this crazy fool wanted to go to Yemen – you know, that place that is in the middle of a civil war and the worst humanitarian crisis?), Australia/New Zealand, Thailand… in fact, I think the only continent we didn’t consider was North America. Through trial and error and tons of flight comparisons, we landed on this itinerary: fly to Copenhagen for a few days, take the train up to Stockholm for a few more, fly to Berlin on Christmas Eve with a 14-hour layover, then through Rome on Christmas to get to Tokyo. Woo!

Okay, first of all – who goes to Northern Europe in the middle of December?? Why not Greece or Malta or somewhere warm? I don’t know if it was the pressure to pick a place or the cheap flights (cheap for a reason) or what, but no, we decided to be in Sweden for winter solstice, where the sun rose at 8:30 am and set at 2:30 pm, and frostbite set in after 10 minutes. Genius. (Okay, the frostbite thing isn’t true, but the sunset time is!)

Despite the cold, Alex and I enjoyed unique outdoor activities in both Copenhagen and Stockholm. Did you know Copenhagen has the two oldest theme parks in the world? Bakken opened in 1583 (!) and Tivoli Gardens in 1843. At that age, you would think the only things left would be a couple of kiddie rides, a few games, and maybe a small, wooden roller coaster. Not so. Tivoli Gardens has all of the crazy, shoot-me-up-and-drop-me and spin-me-around-until-I-throw-up types of rides that you would expect at a state-of-the-art Six Flags. Plus, it was completely decked out in Christmas decorations. Overall, it was a ton of fun! Highly recommend!

Our outdoor adventures in Stockholm were more rustic: we visited Skansen, an open-air museum/zoo with houses, shops, and animals from Sweden’s history. I would have loved to spend more time there, but as fun as it was to see the bison, snowy owls, and wolves, it got so. freaking. cold. Literally leg-bucklingly cold. After my moment as a Disney princess, Alex and I rushed to the nearest bus stop as fast as our frozen legs would take us. Oh, and it was the queen’s birthday!

The best part of our Stockholm visit was getting the local perspective. My friend Kelly (we met during study abroad at CIMBA!) has lived there for 5 years with her boyfriend Edwin, a native-born Swede. They showed us around the islands (Stockholm is on islands! Who knew? Probably a lot of people, but not me!) and introduced us to a few Swedish essentials: fika,
mead, and glögg. Fika is basically a coffee break with pastries, taken once or twice a day. The prevalence of pastries in Europe is not helping my body image. Mead is, of course, the honey-wine that Vikings used to drink out of drinking horns. We didn’t drink it out of horns, but we did get cool, souvenir ceramic cups. Whether or not they were meant to be souvenirs is beside the point. (They weren’t. We stole them.) And then there’s glögg, a hot, spiced wine served with raisins and almonds. Glögg kept us warm on our walks through Christmas markets and outdoor museums, and in between one bar and the next. America really needs to hop on the mulled wine train. We’re missing out!

On a lovely, snowy Christmas Eve, Alex and I departed Stockholm, landing in Berlin around 9:00 pm for a 14-hour layover. Berlin is one of those huge, busy cities that never sleeps – or so we thought. Apparently people do actually sleep at midnight on Christmas Eve. In one of the biggest party cities in Europe, we had trouble finding a club that was open. It’s almost as if people were at home, spending time with their families. What is the world coming to?

Alex and I celebrated Christmas in the traditional American way: with lots of drinks. Then with a hangover at the airport. Then with hair of the dog on the plane. Happy holidays!

Technically, we didn’t land in Tokyo until December 26th, but I’m still counting it as Christmas. I’m counting the couple hours in Rome, too. Hence, Christmas in Berlomyo. The Japan recap will have to come later. I hope you all had great holidays, too!

Life in the Slow Lane

An upbeat Nintendo tune bursts from my phone, jolting me awake. I roll over, grab my phone, and press “snooze” without hesitation. It’s only 7:40 am, after all. Some time later, I manage to convince myself to roll out of bed. Then fall back onto the bed. Then get up again. Waking up is hard. I open my balcony door and am greeted by crisp, clean, cool air. Stepping out onto the balcony, I once again admire the amazing view of the beautiful mountains. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. There is not a soul in sight.

After the typical morning routine, I throw on my jacket and scarf, grab my messenger bag, and begin the short trek to campus. I think about stopping for a coffee, but it’s 8:50 am and I don’t want to be too late for work. I know I’ll get one with my coworkers within the first half hour, anyway. Coffee is always better with company.

The stroll is quiet and pleasant. I might pass one or two people who greet me with “buongiorno.” Every time I look back at the mountains, my heart smiles. It’s Tuesday, so Matteo has his cheese truck set up. I stop to buy a little bit of whatever he recommends. He’s chatting with one of the locals, so I do my best to make out at least the general topic of the conversation. Mostly I just smile and wait my turn. I rarely know what kind of cheese I want, so Matteo lets me try a couple and basically picks one for me. It’s always delicious. As he leisurely cuts and wraps it, we make small talk about his wife and new baby. 

I stroll into an empty office with my cheese in-hand. The stop at Matteo’s made me a few minutes late, but I’m still the first one here. As I start my computer up and open email and documents, my coworkers gradually roll in. We say hi, chat, swap stories from last night, and within 10 minutes or so, we head down for our first coffee of the day.

Life moves slowly in Italy. So… so… slowly. Sometimes agonizingly slowly. It really is a bella vita, it just takes some getting used to, especially coming from the fast-paced, anything-you-want-precisely-when-you-want-it-or-you-can-sue-someone American lifestyle. Case in point: the Sunday market. It’s a glorious, sprawled out event, full of all kinds of wares, from honey to undies. It’s also a great place to pick up food for the week. But you better set aside a good chunk of time. Last time a friend and I needed a certain type of cheese, we stood waiting as the one man in the stand – a bigger, older guy – chatted with the three locals in front of us, cut some cheese for them, chatted some more, grabbed some bread, chatted some more, rang them up, and finally sent them on their way. Then he wrapped everything up, no sense of urgency in sight, put it all back, and eventually turned to us. You know that feeling when you’re at an overcrowded bar, you finally pushed your way to the counter, and you’ve been waiting right in front of the bartender for what seems like an eternity with your money in your hand just beeeegging him/her to make eye contact? That’s how it felt, but we were the only ones there. The cheese samples did help.

I don’t even want to get into the time we stopped at a flower stand to grab a quick bouquet and ended up being there for at least 40 minutes. Not because we weren’t being served, but because the pace was snail-like and the bouquet had to be perfect in the florist’s eyes. 

So back to cheese – I mentioned Matteo earlier. He sets up his cheese cart in town for one hour a week on Tuesdays. One hour a week. That’s all. What does he do for all the other hours every day of the week? Does he live off of the money from one hour of cheese sales in a small town like Paderno? Who knows. If you miss him during that one precious hour, you can always call and pick up cheese from his apartment, but it may turn into an all-day adventure in which you help him run errands and meet his entire family. But that’s a story for another post.

Other local entrepreneurs have the same mindset.  I mentioned the tabacchis (convenience stores) in a previous post. They are closed every day from 1:00 – 3:30 pm. They don’t care that it is prime time to be selling sandwiches and snacks to hungry students who are tired of the cafeteria food. If you show up at their door at 1:01 pm, you will be turned away.

There is also a local bed and breakfast that happens to have an apple orchard. Julia sells apples by the kilo around this time. A couple of weeks back, Richard texted her to let her know we would come by after work to buy a kilo of apples. As we pulled up to the place, the gate was closed, so Richard jumped out to press the call button. Julia’s reply: “Richard, it’s too dark.”
Richard: “What do you mean it’s too dark?”
Julia: “It’s too dark for the apples. Come back tomorrow.”
But… but we are right outside your gate with money in hand! We give you the money, you give us the apples. A simple, straightforward business exchange. Apparently she meant for us to go pick our own apples? I’m not sure, but we still haven’t gotten any.

There are so many other examples I could give to convey the pace of life here. Every once in a while something comes up at which I just have to roll my eyes and say “welcome to Italy.” I mean, I have been living here for almost four months, and I don’t have my Permit to Stay yet. Dryers are not a common thing here – you have to hang your clothes out like it’s the 1950s. And be sure to check for bugs inside them before wearing them again. That was not a fun surprise. Also, it is impossible to have a super productive household chores day, because the dishwasher, washing machine, and oven cannot run at the same time. Any two of them will trip the breaker. So if you started a load of laundry, you better not be too hungry for dinner.

Even though it’s freezing inside, the heating of our office is on a strict schedule matching that of the dorm rooms upstairs, so it’s only heated in the morning and the evening (btw the Italian government decides when people can start heating their homes/buildings – the heat is not switched on until that date). And yet, if we turn on more that 3 space heaters in the office, the breaker will blow and we will all lose any progress we haven’t saves on our Microsoft Office 2003 Word documents.

The post office is open until 1:00. My phone randomly loses all service at some points. I could go on. Life here is just very different than what we’re used to in the States. It’s a love-hate relationship. Sometimes I really enjoy taking things slowly, enjoying the little things, not worrying about the hustle and bustle of a super time-oriented culture. But sometimes I want  a burger delivered to my door at 2:00 am. Or, you know, a sandwich at 2:00 pm. Is that too much to ask?

This Grinds My Gears, in a Roundabout Way. Really Drives Me Crazy.

So far, I have been focusing on the positives of living in Italy: the food, the friends, the fashion. Although, in my eyes, the positives far out-weigh the negatives, there are a few things that are… less than ideal. Below is an excerpt from an email rant to my best friend about one of those things: driving. Disclaimer: bad words, though I edited most of them out…

Actual traffic light in a neighboring town.

In general, when it comes to figuring stuff out in new places, I am not afraid to jump in and make mistakes and learn. But guys, I am seriously terrified to drive here. Every driving experience I have had outside of the small towns so far has been awful. One morning, I had to take an older woman who works for CIMBA to the hospital because she had fallen and dislocated her shoulder. Google was giving me directions, but so was she, and they disagreed on which way to go, so I took wrong turns and generally effed up a couple of times. I had to get gas and was this frickin close (finger and thumb half an inch apart) to putting unleaded into the diesel car because the colors are switched here (unleaded is green). And, of course, I’m driving a f@%!ing manual, which I still am very uncomfortable with, while the Italian woman is telling me to go faster, pass people, etc because she is in pain. Needless to say, it was not a fun trip. 

I have also been in a couple of situations where I could not get the car going on a hill. After taking the other girls to a nearby mall to go shopping, we headed home and had to stop in traffic at a roundabout on a hill. I’m already nervous, because I had a lot of trouble in this same situation a few days earlier. But the cars ahead move up a bit, and I manage to move up, too, before stopping again. Then, right as I get to the point where it is impossible for anyone to go around me because there is now a curb on my left side, it stalls. And I cannot get this motherf$&%er to go again. I seriously tried probably a dozen times. Start, gas, stall. Start, gas, stall. I tried gently, I tried abruptly, I tried praying to God. And it was a busy night… cars were piled up behind me and starting to honk, and each time I slid back a liiiittle closer to the car behind me. Finally, through whatever method (maybe it was the prayer), I got it rolling – only to have a f&”%ing pedestrian jump out in front of me and make me hit the brakes again. YOU MUST HAVE SEEN WHAT WAS HAPPENING. YOU HAD ALL THE TIME IN THE EFFING WORLD, LADY. Then I couldn’t get it again. I just shook my head at the girls in the car and told them “I don’t know what to do. I am trying everything I know here.” I was about to ask the guy in the car behind me to hop in. Luckily, one of the other girls has driven stick before, so we swapped, and after she killed it a handful of times, she just gunned it and it worked. Halle-freaking-lujah. There were probably 30 cars behind us, no joke.

It actually was a pretty funny experience, and somehow didn’t bother me nearly as much as something like that usually would. Maybe because it was right after LIFE, or maybe just because I knew I was doing the best I could do. And the girls were so funny – so supportive, “you got this”, “you did amazing”, “you’re my hero”. The one behind the passenger seat (Sharon!) gave me a backrub when I switched out of the driver’s seat, and the others were handing me my burger and chocolate. A different experience than when I was stalled out with the three guys. They were also supportive, but much more like “try this, try that”. Anyway, although it didn’t phase me much at the time, I think it’s contributed to my fear of driving, along with the last trip I took to Bassano, in which we lost the car we were following and there was just general chaos. Lanes appear and disappear on these roads, and they’re not clearly marked, and you REALLY have to know where you’re going with the roundabouts, and Italian drivers are crazy! 

Oh, and in some of the older cities (actually, in parts of the newer, bigger cities, as well), the streets are barely wide enough to fit one car, yet traffic can go both ways. Sometimes it’s just a straight-up wall half a foot away from each side of the car. I’m not sure I will ever be able to drive to Asolo both for this reason and because it is on top of a very steep hill. So anyway, that’s my very long rant about driving in Italy. I think I’ll have to make it into a blog post.

Look at this tiny street. Why is this okay.

Dressed for Success

Dress for the job you want, right? It seems like most American college students want to be professional sleepers, or stay-in-bed Netflix-watchers. We’ve all seen it: in the university lecture hall at 8:00 am, it’s clear that half the class rolled out of bed 5 minutes prior, threw on some slippers and a hoodie, and walked to class. Even now, in the undergrad study abroad program I work in, I see most students shuffling into class in sweats or shorts and flip flops. It’s like they have yet to realize that Italy is still in the Northern Hemisphere. This is not Australia, November is not summer here. Put on some socks, dude.

As an MBA student, sometimes it is tempting to follow the undergrads’ lead and go for comfort over style. Especially since our classes our 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. Sitting in the same spot for 8 hours in sweats and a hoodie sounds a lot better than sitting there in slacks and a button-up. However, our program is comprised of around 40 students, of which the Italians outnumber the Americans 3 to 1. You know that expression, dressed to the nines? Well these guys dress to the TENS. 

Italy is famous for food and fashion, so I’m sure you can imagine the kinds of outfits I’m talking about. Perfectly-tailored dress shirts with fun, floral patterns. Soft, wool sweaters. Pants that are just form-fitting enough, and cuffed to show some ankle, as is the current trend. All capped off with perfect haircuts and beautiful, wonderful, amazing Italian leather shoes. I have yet to see a pair of shoes in class that I have not drooled over.

If I were to show up looking like I just came from the gym, I might not be ridiculed (not in English, at least), but no one would want me in their group. As a result, I find myself dressing up more for class than I do for work (excluding bowtie Tuesday, of course). In the beginning, it was a real struggle, since I only had a couple suitcases’ worth of clothes. Multiple visits to H&M and Piazza Italia have remedied that situation – if fact, I’m running out of space in my tiny closet. I feel very Italian when I stand in front of the mirror. My one complaint: with the cuffed pants/no-show socks trend nonsense, my ankles are freezing! C’mon, it’s winter!

Food for Thought

I am in a country with cuisine that is widely regarded as the best in the world. So let’s talk about food. I mean, besides all the food I already talked about. Let’s talk MORE about food. Everyone loves food.

After visiting a few local pizzerias, restaurants, trattorias, and agroturismi, it’s easy to see why Italian food holds a special place in so many hearts. The fresh, local ingredients. The lovingly handcrafted dough and pasta. The creamy, flavorful sauces. The pizza, ragazzi. They will put anything on pizza here. Literally anything. Figs. Tuna. Eggplant. In any and every combination. Pizzeria menus here are multiple pages, some with 30+ options. And you do not get a pizza or two for the table to split, oh no. Each person has their own, and “personal pizza” size here is 12″+ in diameter. Maybe my next post will be about going to the gym.

Side note: the best pizza I’ve had so far was the one I made myself. The pizzaiolo made sure it was stretched out correctly, but I put the toppings on! 20181001_190714

The one less-than-optimal thing about the local restaurants is that they are on the Italian schedule. This means that if you’re hungry between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 or before 7:00 pm or on a Sunday or Monday… tough luck. Everything is closed. EVERYTHING is closed. Even convenience stores. Your only option is the vending machines. Luckily, there are plenty of vending machines for coffee (the coffee culture will have to be a post in itself).

Of course, you could always make food at home. The produce in the grocery stores is fresh, high-quality stuff, too. So much so that if you touch it with your bare hands you will be yelled at! Or at least looked at funny. Here, you have to put on a plastic glove before bagging your produce. It’s sanitary or something.

The downside to home cooking is that everything goes bad SO fast. If I don’t use my produce in 2-3 days, I have a stinky fridge. After a week of classes and after-school activities, I had to throw away pretty much all my perishables. I know that the food is better and healthier without all the preservatives that we put into it in the States, but man is it inconvenient to go to the grocery store every other day.

I guess that is the main difference in Italian and American food: quality vs. convenience.

Luckily, at CIMBA, we have a last resort that varies highly in both quality and convenience: the cafeteria. Sometimes the meals are exceptional. Sometimes, I think they take whatever leftovers they have and throw it on top of some pasta. Either way, it’s convenient for lunchtime.

And then there are the highest quality meal: those cooked by a local in his or her own kitchen. I have been lucky enough to get a few of those in my time here. They cannot be beat. One word of advice: stay the hell out of their kitchen, or you may not survive to enjoy the meal.

Italians are serious about their food.

Other foodie adventures so far: I tried fried gelato! It’s not as good as Mom’s deep-fried ice cream, but still worth it. I was really missing burgers, so I ordered one at the local bar. Either it was really good, or I was really drunk. We had sushi! Finally! I’ve missed it so much. It wasn’t as good as in the states, but it was still nice to mix things up. Ah, and Indian food. So good.

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Breakfast Wars

breakfast

Breakfast. It seems pretty simple, right? Something you eat in the morning. The “most important meal of the day”. Some people eat it, some people drink it, some people skip it. No big deal.

Breakfast is a major point of contention in our program.

In the U.S., we have may options for starting off our mornings. There are the health-conscious protein shake/smoothie drinkers, the time-sensitive breakfast bar grabbers, and the classic bacon, egg, and toast enjoyers. And then, of course, there is brunch. The epitome of meals, in which you can have a sweet breakfast, a savory lunch, or almost anything in between (liege waffles with bacon, cheese, and maple syrup, mmmmm). Washed down with a large mug of coffee, or a tall glass of juice.

Italians start their days off very differently. A typical Italian breakfast is essentially espresso and cake. Brioche and others pastries are the standard, with maybe a sweet, hot cereal. Espresso comes in shots, with milk if you prefer, at a total of maybe 2 oz.

This came as a particular shot for one of our full-time MBA students. In his first few days here, he stayed at a bed and breakfast, where he was not impressed with the “breakfast” part. “I sat down, and she puts a chocolate cake in front of me. This is not breakfast. This is cake.”

The cafeteria here at CIMBA gives a decent effort to provide the Americans with at least a couple of breakfast foods they are used to. This means that alongside the brioche and cereal are cold cuts and hard-boiled eggs.  Is it the same as fried eggs and bacon? Absolutely not. But it’s something.

Some of us in the office have taken to bringing up a handful of eggs in the morning, to share with our peers. I have never seen such disgust at the offer of a gift as when I asked my Italian coworkers if they wanted an egg in the morning.

This is where the “wars” part comes in. I wouldn’t count breakfast among my passions, but as soon as someone turned their nose up at bacon and eggs, I was unexpectedly hurt and offended. What do you mean, pork in the morning is disgusting? (One Italian literally told me he would put a gun in his mouth before eating pig in the morning.) How dare you! You have cake for breakfast, like an unsupervised child!

I cannot even convey to you the passion and enthusiasm with which our MBA group debated this seemingly unimportant issue over happy hour. It culminated in the best possible solution: we would just have to have a multicultural brunch, representing both sides of the argument, to compare, contrast, and gain perspective.

Beautiful pastries, delicate crepes, fluffy frittata, juicy ribs (they were out of sausage, okay?), and cheesy dan bing. It was an amazing meal, my friends. Did it settle the debate? Not at all. But we can at least live in harmony and accept each others’ meal choices. For the most part.

 

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Check out more of our brunch, plus interviews with our awesome crew of MBA students here:

 

Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy?

My first few weeks back in Italy have been fantastic. Within the first 48 hours, I found myself basking in the sun on the shore of a beautiful lake, surrounded by incredible mountains, drinking locally-made prosecco from small, plastic cups with my amazing new coworkers. There were more than a few “is this real life?” moments, and even more “is this really MY life?” moments.

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I remember my term of study abroad being a complete whirlwind. In only 4 months, we visited over half a dozen countries, saw so many breathtaking sites, went to dozens of events, met hundreds of people, and completed a handful of courses and trainings. But I wasn’t expecting the same type of experience from my master’s program. I knew just from the preliminary questions and interviews that I would be ridiculously busy with work and school, and would only have about one weekend off per month for fun things.

So far, that expectation has been left in the dust. The lake was just the beginning of this fantasy life. A couple days later, I was strolling the alleyways of Venice and eating fresh seafood risotto. A few days after that, Richard found a music festival and he, Alex and I decided to go. I expected something smallish and indoors. Instead, we ended up jumping around with a couple thousand people in front of one of 3 outdoor stages as alt-J secured a place for themselves in my Spotify playlist.

A similar situation came up only two nights ago: we decided to go to the closing night of Pride Village in Padova, not realizing as we waited in line that “Pride Village” was an entire city block with multiple bars and stages. An actual village. Dancing on Alex’s shoulders with gigantic beach balls flying over my head and drag queens doing aerial silk dancing on stage was another “is this real life?” moment, in a completely different way. I know that’s a lot to take in – here’s a video to help you imagine it (the shoulder dancing and aerial silks are absent here, but it’s something): https://goo.gl/7DRgxq

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Translation: “The host who is not there.”

As if all this wasn’t enough, let me give you three words that will guarantee your jealousy: wine vending machines. Yes, you read that right. There is an amazing place where you can put 10 euro into a vending machine and get a bottle of prosecco made out of grapes grown mere feet away. And the view that comes with the bottle…. it’s unbeatable.

I know I’m gushing, but it’s really hard not to. Guys. This life. I feel like I’m dreaming, just don’t wake me up.

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View from Valdobbiadene