Italy

Living with Host Families

Hi friends! This is the first time in a month that I have been able to sit down, relax, and write without falling asleep first! So much has happened and I wish I could write about it all! After leaving Paestum I worked at a wonderful one week camp in Florence and the following week vacationed there with friends from home and UF…we basically brought the gator nation to Florence. So many crazy stories and adventures from that trip, but I think my facebook album does a pretty good job telling the story… http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1934421875905.2097090.1103040137 

Now for the past two weeks I have been in Boltiere, a small town in Bergamo about 40 minutes from Milan, and it has been the best two weeks of my life in Italy yet!!! Many tutors say you can have a good group of kids, a good camp director, good co-tutors, or a good host fam. Maybe you can have 2/4, but to have all 4 is rare. I can confidently say that I not only had all 4, but every single factor exceeded my expectations.

After living in a convent for a week and a hotel for three it was so nice to be welcomed into an Italian family both in Florence and in Boltiere. Though I have missed the freedom of living in the hotel, living with both host families has been an incredible yet different experience!

THE FOOD

Of course number 1 on my list! It wasn’t until living with a host family that I learned how particular the Italian culture is with food. For example, hot pastas are only eaten in the winter while cold pastas are eaten in the summer (for us Americans, we make cold pasta salad as an appetizer for dinner anytime of the year). All I have wanted to eat since being here is homemade tortellini or gnocchi, but both are winter dishes…grr. But o man is the food good! Homemade meatballs, fresh seafood salad, grilled calamari skewers at an Italian BBQ, it’s ALL good! I even made a homemade Nutella Torta with my Boltiere fam! First time baking in Italy…I was in HEAVEN! I want the recipes for everything, but of course they are a FAMILY SECRET!

However, as great as the food is, I am plumping up. It’s very difficult not having much control over what and when I eat. So used to healthy eating habits back home and that goes out the window when Italians just want to feed you carbs after carbs. If I eat light one day, I am accused of “eating like a bird” and they want to rush me to the hospital because I have a “fever”. But now that my knees are getting better, I have begun running again. Not a lot, but enough to afford the pasta, pizza, pasta, gelato diet for a few more weeks.

CAFE and ESPRESSO

How many Stabucks are in Italy??…ZERO! And that’s the way it should be. My Boltiere family feels very strongly that American coffee is not real coffee, a statement I now agree with. I have become addicted to cappuccino! But I got very funny looks from a waiter when I ordered one at 4pm one day. It was then that I discovered cappuccino is a morning coffee. After 10 or 11, it’s cafe or espresso, espresso, espresso (not for me though…wayyyyy to strong!) It is so normal for Italians to have 5, 6, 17 a day! My personal record is 2 at the moment. I am offered a cafe or espresso after every meal and I just can’t do it. Tried espresso after dinner one night and I didn’t sleep a wink. But for Italians, it’s like water to them…their body needs caffeine to fuel itself.

Cereal with coffee and milk seems to be a popular breakfast in most households as well. When I was given my coffee in a large bowl I thought it might be for my cereal. Trying to avoid this combination, I just started drinking my coffee from the bowl…I’ve been doing so for two weeks now.

THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

I’ve been pretty lucky with this so far. In Florence, the dad knew some English so I communicated a lot with him while I gestured a lot with the mom. In Boltiere, both mom and dad know English and they get better and better everyday so dinners are a very enjoyable experience because we can chat about anything. They are very funny too…always cracking jokes. Recently, they have been trying to set me up with Italian men…Mamma Mia.

THE KIDS

As an ACLE tutor, you are typically placed with a host family whose children are attending camp…very rare that this isn’t the case. You never know how old the kids are or what they will be like. In Florence, I lived with a 6 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. The girl was very sweet but quiet and the boy was all over the place. He talked my ear off in Italian as if I understood everything, but then I showed him my iPad and he fell in love with Angry Birds so we could finally relate to each other on some level. One image I will never be able to burn from my memory as much as I try is walking to the bathroom every morning to see him sleeping with his door wide open and his underwearless behind flashing me.

In Boltiere I have lived with two adorable boys, 2 and 6 years old. Aside from getting woken up wayyyy before my alarm clock thanks to the beautiful cries of the bambino (the fake sound of Church bells ringing from a CD PLAYER in the bell tower next door don’t help either), he is the cutest child ever! The only thing he can say in English is “ello”! When I am skyping he comes into my room, looks at himself and my friend, then waves while saying “ello, ello”. Carlo, the 6 year old, is so full of energy and loves playing! We have Wii battles every now and then and a never ending game of tag going…I think I’m “IT” now. He doesn’t really know any English but ever since going to camp he has started saying “Hello” to me every time I walk into the room and “Goodbye” whenever I leave. At least he understands the difference.

THE PARENTS, NONNA, NONNO, and FAM

Ever watched Everybody Loves Raymomd? Well the families I’ve lived with have the same kind of family lifestyle except everyone gets along. In Florence, Nonno (grandpa) came over on Sunday morning to say hi and drop off fresh fungi he picked from the woods while Nonna took a snooze on the couch.

In Boltiere, the sister and brother-in-law live right next door in same complex, one nonna lives a 5 min bike ride away, and the other lives a 10 min car ride away. Needless to say, everyone is really close. They eat dinner together on Saturday and Sunday plus make a family trip to the supermarket/mall on Sunday! We all even went to Leolandia, a Leonardo da Vinci inspired water park with a touch of classic carnival rides, last Sunday.

THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE

Living with a host family has proven to be one of the coolest experiences of my life. Both my families have opened up their house to me, taken me to places unique to their city or region, taken care of my every need, and have truly made me a part of their family. I have had unique Italian experiences that I would never have had as a typical tourist. Simple outings such as going to a BBQ for a campers birthday party, going to the local festival with friends of my family, attending the breakdance recital of my co-tutors host sister, attending an Italian Water Zumba class with my host mom, and so much more are all experiences that have made me feel so much more connected to the Italian culture.

As hard as it is to get so close to a loving but temporary family, it is so nice to know that I will always have a place to call home…My Boltiere host mom has already decided I am going to marry an Italian man and move into the apartment across from hers with my mom and dad right next door!

“We are one big family of people, trying to make our way through the unfolding puzzle of life. We are all connected to one another in the heart. Connecting with the ultimate source of love is possible through discovering the hidden power in your heart.” — Sara Paddison

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Campers, Cars, and Carnavales

(FYI- This is a blog from July 9. I have had no Internet access so haven’t been able to post this until now! Enjoy!)

This blog really has no theme…it’s basically random Paestum/Agropoli story telling time. But before I begin, I have a life update for you! Many of you know that I worked as a Girl Scout Troop Leader in college, but what you may not know is that I applied to work at the organization’s international center in London. Well I am happy to announce that as of September 17 I will be working as an Event Assistant in London until the end of January!  I will be organizing special events for visiting Girl Scouts, chaperoning tours of London, and so much more. Best of all, the job provides me with room and board so I’ll be living in London for free! Can’t wait to share those experiences with you.

But let’s get back to the Italian adventures. First up, Campers—-After working with ACLE for the past four weeks, I have dealt with every type of child imaginable. The shy child that wants to hold your hand all day, the mature teenager that wants to have a convo about politics with you in fluent English, the too cool for camp songs teeny bopper and teen, the 6 year old that is oblivious to life and speaks to you in Italian everyday as if one day you will magically be capable of responding, and the evil brat…unfortunately we have dealt with many of this breed lately. The majority of kids at camp these past two weeks were some of the most destructive kids I’ve ever met. If they weren’t beating each other up and laughing about it, they were beating up the hotel by throwing chairs, drawing on the tables, or breaking trees. Pure madness.

But then you always have the good ones to make up for it like little Gabrielle. The little 6 year old didn’t know a lick of English but boy was he a cutie. He and his sister saved me a seat in between them at lunch everyday and all day long I’d hear him shout “Kristin!”. I’d look down to see Gabrielle standing there with his eyes closed and his lips puckered ready to give me a kiss on the cheek. By the end of the week, he learned the word kiss so I was happy.

Cars—-Italians are a different breed of drivers. At first I thought speed limits didn’t exist in Italy, but then I learned that they just choose not to follow the laws, and driving 100 in a 50 is nbd for Italians. And when it comes to passing other cars, apparently there’s enough room on the opposite side of the road to do so even if you can see your life flashing before your eyes in the headlights of oncoming traffic (don’t worry mom, I wasn’t in this particular vehicle…I just watched my friends have a near death experience from the comfort of a safe driver’s car).

The best story, however, involves my latest Camp Directors. On Wednesday evening, we went to dinner with a bunch of directors and tutors located in the same area. Both directors drove but us three tutors went in the not so crazy director’s car. Half way through our journey, she decides she needs to go to the train station to pick someone up so what does she do? She pulls off to the side of the road and has us get into crazy director’s car.

We were only in her car for about 20 minutes but more happened in that 20 minutes than the entire day. I asked if the seat belts in the backseat worked…nope. As James attempted to put his on in the front seat, she said it was broken but that he should hold it down just in case the Popo drove by. She kept saying she had no idea where she was going and continuously looked to us for confirmation as if we knew our way through the streets of Italy. She finally decided to ask for directions, but first she had to park the car which to her meant parking on the side of the road. As he looked out the window at car after car passing by, James asked “Is this a parking spot?” Response- “Of course!”…still not sure if it actually was or not. But the best part of the story happened after dinner. Back in not so crazy director’s car, we were backing out of the parking lot when we saw crazy director sitting in her car looking for her keys. We sat in the parking lot for five minutes watching her search for her keys that were still hanging in the car door. I’m still laughing!

Carnavales—-I’ve experienced some interesting night life in Paestum/Agropoli. Went to an exciting futbol match where we saw many players limping around after a slight fall to the ground…yes, the stereotype is true. We went mini bowling at the most happening arcade on the beach and Friday night we went to Agropoli where we socialized with locals in the most friendly and homey shop I’ve ever been to. The owner knows everyone in the small town and everyone purchases coffee, drinks, and snacks from his shop. It was very cute.

This was also the same night of the annual Carnavale. We didn’t get to attend the carnavale because we ended camp late that night, but the aftermath of the event was just as fun to attend. Some of the best people watching can be done after an Italian Carnavale. Still not quite sure what they were celebrating though. At first I thought it was a wannabe Disney parade with the fugly Minnie Mouse ears on people’s heads and children dressed in Princess costumes. But as we continued our walk down the confetti covered streets, I saw a pirate, a few superheros, a man that looked like a grasshopper, and other random costumes. There were kids with silly string, light up guns, and cotton candy too. All that was missing were rides…but then we found rows of rectangular trampolines enclosed in nets. Still a bit confused as to what the festival was all about, but I was nonetheless entertained.

So those are a few of the random stories I have for ya to give you a small dose of my time in Paestum and Agropoli. I had some very fun times there and I now have friendships and memories to last a lifetime. Now onto Florence! I’m sure there will be plenty more stories to come about the host family experience and all that good stuff.

Ciao Ciao For Now!

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Italian Camping and Paradise—The Past 24 Hours

A successful second week of Paestum Summer Camp complete and one more week of city camp to begin tomorrow! Three weeks in one place may seem like a long time to some people (it did to me at first), but Hotel Villa Rita has become my home. My fellow co-tutor, Tanya, and I have been here since day one in Paestum, Italy’s secret gem, and every week we’ve said goodbye to a tutor or two and hello to new ones. It’s hard to lose good team members but with each new week a new team dynamic is created.

The other tutors and the hotel staff have become our family. Hotel Villa Rita was named after Luigi’s, the owner, daughter. She and her brother, Arnoldo, grew up in the hotel and now Rita works here. Her boyfriend, Vincenzo, works as a chef here and her brother just plays with all of the ACLE campers everyday. Then there’s Davide who works here too…he’s very Italian. These wonderful people have become our Italian family.

Today (Sunday) we went to a breathtaking beach in Agropoli, a quaint city near Paestum where Vincenzo and Davide grew up. Rita took us to one of her favorite spots. After cascading down the steepest stairs of our lives, we stepped onto what felt like a private island with a small lot of sand surrounded by rocks. The three Italians and the Englishman  played ball in the crystal clear water while us ladies soaked up the sun…my personal goal of the day: get rid of the mad shorts/frat tank tan. I never knew I could turn shades so dark. Tanya and I both agree we’ve reached our  tanning quota and our bodies are now resistant to the sun.

But the past 24 hours haven’t all been this glamourous. After summer camp ended yesterday, we were looking forward to sleeping in a bambino (“kid” in Italian) free hotel and waking up to a scrumptious breakfast rejuvenated and ready to chill out. Well the second half of that dream came true at least. While relaxing for the first time in a week, we were informed that the hotel was overbooked and us tutors (Tanya (Canadian), James (English), Eddie (Italian), and I had 10 minutes to pack our bags and relocate. We somehow managed to pack up our hurricane of a room and we were ready to head out to our new crib for the night. Little did we know what was in store.

We hopped into Eddie’s ACLE car (he is a “floater” for ACLE so he is provided a  vehicle for moving place to place) which had been invaded by a mammoth sized printer in the back seat compliments of an ACLE administrator who had to take the car out for a quick “errand”. Squeezed in between the door and the printer (a situation that led to whiplash every time I closed the door) we headed to our home for the night…A bungalow located on Italian camping grounds. We were personally chauffeured by an Italian man on a bicycle to what turned out to be the classiest of bungalows…a 2 bedroom, aka cubicle, wooden shack for 4. The fancy establishment featured a half wood/half window door, perfectly designed for Peeping Toms; an air conditioner strategically placed in the 2×4 foyer because that is obviously the place where guests will sleep; a bathroom with no toilet seat, no soap, no t.p., and doll sized towels; and to top it all off, a lovely outdoor kitchen enclosed inside a tent. Guess all the crappy bungalows were already occupied by the German motorcyclists invading Paestum.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, it’s worse. But after a crazy summer/city camp week, it was exactly the hysterical situation the 4 of us needed. We could not stop laughing about our life at that moment. Luckily we only had to sleep there for a night which is a whole other story in and of itself consisting of the two princess’ relaxed in the queen sized bed while the poor paupers struggled to get situated on a sofa coach with a 1/4 inch mattress and an unfitted mattress cover.  We had a lovely night though! After watching the sunset on the beach, we went into Agropoli with Rita, Davide, and Vincenzo for a delicious dinner at “Beermania”, that was all for James, and gelato (of course) for dolce.

My favorite thing about the evening was watching Vincenzo and Davide interact with friends they randomly bumped into on the street…they knew someone around every corner. Unlike Americans who freakout at the random sighting of a friend and greet each other with hugs followed by an hour long convo, it was interesting to observe the Italian friends just conversing about whatever as they walked on by each other without even stopping. It was nice. It was as if they just picked up  where they left off and after a quick convo, they continued on their way because they knew it wouldn’t be long until they saw each other again.

So there ya go. That is pretty much my life in the past 24 hours. These are the crazy stories I love most about traveling.  Random adventures with great new friends. Now as I sit here back at hotel continuing my relaxation/tanning streak by the pool after a fantastic and much needed day trip to the beach, I look forward to experiencing solely city camp this week. I plan to explore as much of Paestum and the surrounding area as possible. As soon as 5:30pm hits, I’m making a mad dash to the beach, taking a hike up the mountains that tease me with their beauty everyday, and living in Paradise. Then on Saturday I’m off to a new and unknown location…but that’s not for another 6 days.

Side note—- just realized tomorrow is the 4th of July which means I will have been in Italy for 4 weeks now. Man time flies! How will I celebrate? Well we’ve got some sparklers…Maybe I can convince the staff to give us watermelon for dolce (dessert) tomorrow.

“You cannot tailor-make the situations in life but you can tailor-make the attitudes to fit those situations”

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Italian Camping and Paradise…The Past 24 Hours

Categories: All Blog Postings, Italy, Travel Stories | Leave a comment

Camp Weeks 1-3

CIAO!!!

Keeping up with a blog is harder than I thought it would be!  This entry is a bit long because I’ve been busy, busy, busy, but in a good way. Week 1 at city camp in Frattochie Marina was fantastic! Living in the same Nunnery together helped all of us tutors to really get to know each other and it was an amazing first camp experience.

Though I should have stayed at the Nunnery for week 2 of city camp with my 8 co-tutors, I was moved down south to Paestum- a gorgeous area surrounded by nothing but mountains and the Amalfi Coast- for a summer camp last week. What’s the difference between summer and city camp? Basically you get paid more to work more. In city camp you work 9-5:30 with one or two 30 minute breaks thrown in, but once 5:30 hits you say bye bye to the kiddies and hello to free time. For summer camp it’s a completely different story. The kids live in the same hotel as you and you work from 9am-10:30pm. You are suppossed to get a few 30 minute breaks and an one hour break, but all camp directors have their own schedule.

Last week was super laid back and we had a lot of rest time. This week, not so much; however, this week has been MUCH better than the previous.  The administrators of last week’s summer camp were not very strong leaders which led to a lot of miscommunication and confusion for us tutors and we had a pretty tough time. If it weren’t for our awesome team bond and the amazing group of kids, I wouldn’t have been able to get through last week.

But week 3 has been a complete 180*! I’m still in Paestum, but it’s a new group of kids and a new boss. The camp director has her act together and knows exactly how she wants us to run the camp and we know exactly what she expects from us. There is a city and summer camp being held at the hotel this week so all tutors act as both a city and summer camp tutor and work from 9am-10:30pm. It is definitely a more structured week than last and there is barely any room for rest, but I feel much more appreciated as a tutor and I’m having a blast with the kids and co-tutors versus pretending to enjoy myself.

I am scheduled to work the city camp in Paestum next week which means we will say goodbye to 27 of the 60 kids (summer camp leaves and city camp stays) and goodbye to 2 tutors. That’s the hardest part about this job—-meeting new people and forming great friendships only to say goodbye after a week or two. But then you move on to another beautiful place in Italy where you get to meet even more amazing people. So it is quite the unique experience! As a side note, I’ve met sooooo many new Gators and I am currently working with a girl who is not only a Gator but she lives an hour away from me in Orlando too…small world right!

It’s only been a few weeks, but I’ve already learned many things about the Italian culture and children as well as some very valuable life lessons:

1. Italians always wear their swim cap in the pool…Why? To keep unwanted hair from infesting the water of course. If you don’t have a swim cap, “CHE SCHIFO!!”—-“HOW DISGUSTING!” Same goes for not wearing shoes!
2. Italians are very family oriented…so much so that sometimes you don’t know if the kids are brother and sister or bf and gf.
3. Thanks to the long lesson and activity times, I’ve learned how to hold my bladder for hours.
4. Italians are all about the cheek kisses. If I had a dollar for every time I was kissed on the cheek by kids and adults, I would be one rich lady.
5. I’ve learned how to hand wash my clothes in the sink to avoid spending a ridiculous amount of euros on laundry.
6. Italian children are terrified of the sun…they are legit vampires. If they see an ounce of sunlight near their seat they will not sit! They shout “OMBRA, OMBRA!”—“SHADE, SHADE!”
7. The children do not know how to make a circle OR a line…issues.
8. How Italians are so skinny..I still can’t figure that one out. Carbohydrate overload at breakfast with croissants and pastries followed by carbolicious filled THREE course meals at lunch and dinner will be the death of me!

Well that’s all for now…Time for beddy bye (can’t you tell I’ve been working with kiddies for wayyyy too long)!

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”—-Winston Churchill (a positive attitude also got me through the craziness of last week).

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