Learning a Language: Part II

Before I set out on this year abroad I had several ideas of how the language learning process would take place. Firstly I thought that I would just ‘pick up’ Italian – I thought it was impossible for me to spend a year living here and not be fluent by the end of it. I was totally wrong. It is true that you’ll pick up certain things (you would absolutely learn how to order food and coffee) and that you’ll likely learn to understand parts of the language, but I think it was silly of me to assume that I would be able to speak it well without putting in any effort. On average I have ~25 hours of lectures a week, all in Italian, and since I’ve been here for about 5 months (of lectures, about 8 months in total) I think I’ve racked up a massive amount of listening hours, and it is true that I can understand almost everything said in lectures without much difficulty (although a lot of it is specialist terms rather than everyday speech), but unfortunately listening does not transfer directly into speaking without some effort. It’s exactly the same case for reading and writing; I have no trouble reading my lecture notes in Italian – but I would definitely not be able to transfer that to writing.

The second thing that I was totally wrong about is the amount of Italian I would actually speak whilst here. I thought I would speak Italian with everyone here and never speak English, but the problem is that if you are English or fluent in English, it is so much harder to communicate in any other language because usually English is the one common language OR people want to use you to practise their English. I assumed all the Erasmus students would have the same level of Italian and we would all speak it to one another – but I was surprised to find out that since some courses here are in English, some of the Erasmus students have never taken Italian lessons and are starting to learn the language now.

The important thing to remember is that learning a language is not about the time you put in, but about what you do in that time. There are some Italian people here who have studied English for 8+ years and still struggle to communicate effectively and some who have studied it for less but speak it more fluently because they have been more motivated to learn it. You will definitely learn a language faster by being in the country it’s spoken but only if you use your time and resources effectively. Language Tandems are a great way to discover what parts of the language you need to practise and you can offer your language in return. If you have Netflix, it will often change to the Netflix in your current location – meaning there will be many more shows in your target language. There are also a large amount of books available (although you may have to start with children’s books) and so many people to talk to! When I first arrived a girl from my course spoke to me in English straight away because she said people are always much more grateful if you speak to them in their own language rather than making them struggle to speak yours. Never be scared to speak to people in your target language because they will understand that you are only learning and are likely to be very patient with you.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you will simply ‘pick up’ a language with minimum effort just because you are in a country it is spoken; effort is still required, but the learning process will happen faster if you make the most of the resources around you. Also, don’t be disheartened if you think nothing is improving, it’s likely that it still is and you’ll suddenly realise that you understood the episode of the foreign TV series you were watching where a month or 2 ago you could barely understand a word. Also remember that learning a language will happen at different rates for different people so you can’t compare your progress to others.

Bologna’s Best Bits

I would absolutely recommend Bologna as a must-see Italian city. It’s a city still undiscovered by the hoards of tourists and so keeps it’s Italian charm. The food is incredible and you only have to head about 5-10 minutes out of the centre (Piazza Maggiore) to find some incredible Ragù (Bolognese speciality) at an even more incredible price (€7-8). I would recommend the Osteria dell’Orsa as a cheap and welcoming place to get a good plate of Bolognese food – among locals.

Another place I think everyone should visit is a place called ‘San Michele in Bosco’ – where the word ‘bosco’ means forest. Me and a couple friends found it one day after I’d had a terrible exam and were absolutely astonished. The view is definitely the best you will find of the city and there’s usually a maximum of about 6 other people there. Everyone says San Luca is incredible – and I must admit that the church is beautiful – but the view at San Michele in Bosco beats it by far.

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The Biology department: You can find this on Via Irnerio, 48. If you’re at all interested in Biology or the human body, there is a really great (free) mini-museum in this department. It’s slightly gruesome as one room contains hundreds of skulls lined up (presumably in some sort of order) covering all the walls. There’s another room filled with examples and scientific information on all kids of diseases (from smallpox to malformations). It does sound pretty grim – but I think it’s definitely worth a visit.

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Spend a day just wandering the city – it’s absolutely full of secrets and every corner you turn you’ll find something worth a picture. Make sure you go inside as many churches as you have time for as each is a little different from the one before.

If you happen to get bored of the city (which is extremely unlikely) don’t forget that Bologna has the most well connected train station in all of Italy and Venice, Verona and Florence are all less than 2 hours away by train!

P.S. Feel free to add my snapchat: keelerc 

Round II

The new semester started last Monday and I’m beginning it with a positive and highly motivated attitude. I’m already slightly behind as I decided to take a short trip home after exams as a little break, but I’m back – and ready to start work. I’m already feeling better this semester because the weather is much nicer. I’m a person who can’t stand the cold and NOTHING will make me go outside if not absolutely necessary – I try to limit myself to one trip outside every few days to stock up on food and essentials (and maybe go to a lecture or 2 – as long as they aren’t the 8AM ones). Now, however, it’s completely different. I have no trouble getting up at 6 for my 8AM starts, and I really enjoy the walk to and from class which is a bonus.

My language seems to be improving dramatically as I can now understand almost everything said in every lecture (although I’m still unable to passively listen so writing notes at the same time is a struggle). I feel much less scared to have conversations with my course friends in Italian because sometimes I don’t even have to concentrate on translating every word; especially when listening, which I’m really happy about as this was always my weak point. Although some of my friends prefer to speak in English as they want the opportunity to improve – fine by me!

I also have some really great courses this semester; some of which I’d never considered as interests before (I did kind of fall into these though as the courses I initially picked had no online notes at all). I know I have a lot of work to do to make up for my exams of last semester, but I’m feeling positive. You can’t be unhappy when the temperature rose about 10 degrees in a week!

I’ve also got a few exciting things planned such as friends visiting and a trip to Rome(!!) with my mum and little brother. All these things are going to take time away from my studies, but I can’t waste my time in this beautiful country. Today was a hard day – 8AM start and I didn’t finish until 6PM (including one 3 hour lecture!) but I enjoyed it. I’m actually happy to be working all day because it makes my few hours of rest at the end of the day worth it (I do have to be ready for bed by 10PM though for another 6AM wake up!)

 

 

Changes 

As people, we tend to grow and change. I’m not the same person as I was 10 years ago and I won’t be the same 10 years in the future; all we can hope to do is change for the better.

I’ve changed so much since being away. I’ve been changed by my experiences and by the people I’ve met along the way, but I’m proud of the person I’ve become. I’ve become much more open minded and understanding. 

Every time I come back to York  (my home university) and I see my friends, I realise I’m changing – it’s hard to tell when I’m away. I’ve grown up a lot, but deep down I’m still the same – and the easiest way to tell that is that I still connect with my friends the way I did before I left. I’ve had so much life experience and it’s impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t had the chance to live abroad – but it feels incredible! 

It’s great to catch up with old friends and to see how life has moved on without you – although your life has also moved on without them. You lose people along the way but I believe it’s to make space for the better people you’ll meet next. 

Going abroad is absolutely the most incredible experience (and it makes the time back home even more special when it comes). 

Thank you to my friends for (temporarily) welcoming me back and letting me stay! I promise to show off my new cooking skills as a thank you! 

Xxx 

Preparing to move abroad

Moving abroad is incredibly exciting, but through the excitement you may end up packing absolutely everything you come across until you reach your weight limit and realise you’ve missed out all the essentials! Alternatively, you may have a strategic packing plan which includes all the essentials – only to find out when you arrive that all these things can be bought there and you forgot to pack any home comforts. So here’s my advice on what to pack and what to leave:

  1. Photographs

Maybe you think this is a bad idea as you might miss home friends and family more; but I would definitely count it as an essential for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a great way to make you room feel homely and comfortable straight away. Secondly, when you are feeling homesick (believe me, it happens!) it will remind you that you have people who care about you and encourage you to just pick up the phone and give one of them a call (they’ll probably be expecting it at some point). Finally, if you’re only moving abroad temporarily, it will help the transition back at the end of your time abroad. When you’ve fallen in love with the country you moved to and have an entirely new set of friends to miss, it will really help to remind yourself of what you had before you left your home country and give you a reason to return.

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     2. Book(s)

This is a potentially heavy addition to the suitcase, but you’ll realise how important they are when you arrive. Maybe you won’t make friends straight away or maybe you will and you’ll still want some alone time to come to terms with your new home – either way, books will be incredibly helpful to you. It’s great to have something in your own language to read because there’s no guarantee you’ll find anything when you arrive (especially not straight away).

3. Snacks 

You won’t need many of these, but just in case you arrive late and are unable to find anywhere to eat – the first few days will be hard enough without worrying about the fact you haven’t eaten yet! Also be aware that journeys can take a rough turn sometimes (read my blog post entitled ‘Sometimes things go wrong’) and you may need provisions.

  4. A writing kit/ Diary

Okay, maybe you don’t need to splash out on an entire writing kit, but some paper and pens will go a long way. Either to use as a diary or to send your friends letters. I love writing letters to my friends and family and I love receiving them, I also look forward to reading them back when my trip is over to remind myself of things I’ve overcome.

  5. A towel

This is important – and something I ended up forgetting as my suitcase was slightly over the weight limit and I removed it assuming I had another. When you arrive, it’s very unlikely you’ll remember you have to buy one (or have the energy to do it), and you’ll have to air dry from your first shower in your new home – which will make you feel immediately less at home.

6. Jumpers/ blankets

It could be cold when you arrive – and if not you still might want something to snuggle up in. I was lucky because I found bedding in my house when I arrived, but of course this is not guaranteed so make sure you bring something to sleep in – just in case!

 

Things to leave behind:

1. Excessive clothes

Believe it or not – clothes will be available in your host country! Pack the essentials but definitely don’t waste too much space as you will buy things while you’re there. Leaving some clothes at home is also fun when you go back as it will feel like you’ve gained a whole new wardrobe!

2. Toiletries

Try to limit yourself to travel bottles otherwise toiletries can get very heavy. You may want to bring your favourite shampoo or face wipes, but you’ll end up buying them in your host country anyway so you might as well start straight away and not waste suitcase space.

3. Expensive electronics/ excessive cash

Expensive electronics is a no-brainer – they’re heavy, usually large and are always at risk of being lost or stolen. Of course to study you’ll need some sort of laptop and your phone (although this won’t need to be packed in a suitcase), apart from that I would limit it to a camera (and only if it’s a really good camera or you’re interested in photography – usually cameras are just as good on a smartphone).

That concludes my list of what to pack and what not to pack! The items we usually consider as essentials are likely to be essentials in your host country and will be easily available, therefore it is more important to pack personal items that can’t be bought while away.

 

The Italian exam system

It can’t be denied that university exams in England are hard; it’s usually 1 or 2 weeks of pure stress. I’m used to having exams every day (sometimes twice a day if I’m really unlucky). For me they are usually between 1 hour and 3 hours each and contain a large number of calculations and formulae – but they’re all written exams and the marks are counted and divided by the total marks available in the paper to give you a percentage – makes sense, right? This is the system I’m used to, although it’s insanely stressful and you have to know everything for the exams before the exam period starts, it’s only  week! Working 9+ hours a day is absolutely possible if you know it ends soon.

The Italian exam system is, however, extremely different. It’s a gruelling 2 months of near constant studying. I’ll start from the beginning of my experience. I learnt from the start that my department (physics) is not particularly keen on making information widely available (my timetable was hard enough to find let alone the rooms!) but I knew where the exam website was and I had a pretty good idea of how it worked. Actually I was reasonably impressed; they have a website for you to sign up for when you would like to take your exam and it then gives you information on the location, time and professor. This would have been incredible – the first sign of some organisation hidden deep within this university, but of course my department seems to be the only one to choose not to use this website and instead chooses to upload a file with the exam dates… which, by the way, was conveniently named after the exam dates for the previous year. After struggling past the first hurdle (with a large amount of help from friends here) I managed to plan when to take my exams.

My first exam was not overly successful, it was a written exam and I unfortunately misread the question and managed to answer a totally different question (although I’m pretty sure I answered that one correctly). There was an oral exam for the same subject a few days later but I decided not to take it as I’d only scored 17/45 on the written exam. I had assumed I had clearly failed this exam but the Professor later emailed me to say I had scored 22/30 (with 18 being a pass). 22/30?? I’m not sure how he got that score from a 17/45 without having taken the oral exam, this is when my faith in the marking started to dwindle. I decided to not accept it anyway and re-do the exam in summer. (Oh, yeah, you can just refuse a mark here!).

The second didn’t manage to shed any light on the situation either. It was an oral exam that I had managed to learn almost nothing for, since it was all based on maths I hadn’t ever seen. I went into the exam (which I had decided to take in English) answered a few questions about my home university, messed up an equation and proceeded to tell him I hadn’t understood any of the 100 pages of maths in the middle of the notes. I walked out with a 25/30.

I had another exam with both written and oral parts and decided to retake in the summer as I felt I could do better, and finally I had 1 last oral exam. By this point I was exhausted and couldn’t continue anymore. To make matters worse; the exam was in front of everyone… yeah, that’s right! You have to stand up in front of the entire class and write numerous equations on the board and the professor picks a number out of the air to give to you as a final score. Assumedly he chooses the questions either arbitrarily or based on how scared you look at the time, and as he runs out of things to ask they get progressively more difficult – the most fair way to conduct an exam of course. Unfortunately, us in the UK are not bred for taking exams in front of everyone – ours are anonymous and your final mark is shrouded in secrecy, so nerves got the better of me and I was unable to take the exam. At least here there are ~7 opportunities to take each exam in a year!

To conclude:

  1. Exam marks are totally arbitrary and unregulated
  2. You are required to remember large amounts of information instead of actually learning it
  3. Exams are entirely public and mostly oral
  4.  Be prepared to spend a gruelling 2 months revising for exam after exam to only be asked 2/3 random questions on any part of the course

If anyone is about to take exams in Italy and is feeling totally lost (like me before exams) feel free to comment on this post and ask for any advice.

 

 

 

It’s not all fun and games

Erasmus is definitely supposed to be a fun experience; but for many people it also counts towards a year (or semester) of their degree. So I thought I would write about how I’m coping with the actual studying aspect of things.

At first it was definitely a struggle; I couldn’t understand the lectures and only half the notes were in English but I’m definitely getting on better now. I’m finding it hard because although I’ve previously studied a lot of the material here, most of it is done in a different way. I feel like most of the time I’m having to re-learn everything since a lot of the mathematical formulae and proofs are very different (even from their first principles). At first I figured I could stick to my old way of doing things because it solved the problems perfectly well, but the course starts to delve into things I’ve not yet studied and of course I don’t already have the mathematical knowledge for these things so I have to learn the basics right from the beginning again. Obviously I can only talk about a maths based course since that’s what I study. Perhaps I’ll convince one of my Erasmus friends who studies history to write a similar post about the differences in their course!

Exam season is coming up and my first exam is in 4 days (writing a blog post is a great way of procrastinating whilst still pretending to do something useful). I’m really unsure about exams since the exam methods here are completely different to what I’m used to and that unnerves me a lot. Here they have oral exams as well as written and I’m struggling to see how I can take an oral exam for Physics, but I guess I’ll see. I think it’s possible it could be  a better system since you are more able to explain what you mean. You can also choose when to take you exams here, so you can have weeks between each exam! This is much better than what I’m used to (all the exams within a week and sometimes 2 a day) but it also prolongs the exam period for 2 months rather than just a week..

My best advice would be to try and find some helpful friends on your course to help explain how exams work and repay them with biscuits (thanks Irene – if you’re reading this!) Although they might find it hard to explain as they don’t know what your exams are like so cannot possibly explain the differences! Also keeping up to date with all your revision and trying not to stress is always good. Make the most of your time abroad – even though you have to work!

Feel free to leave comments with questions for me or advice for other Erasmus students!

New Year in Bologna

I’ve never been much for New Year, I don’t know why, but this year since I was in Bologna I thought I’d better go and see what was happening.Me and the 2 friends that were in Bologna over New Year decided to drink a little champagne and head to the centre. I must admit I was falling asleep way before midnight since I hadn’t yet recovered from my terrible journey back to Bologna (see previous blog post), but I perked up at about 23:50 – just in time to throw on some warm clothes and shoes before braving the arctic temperatures.

The centre of town was incredibly busy – the whole city was out! Of course the vast majority were drunk but at least they were entertaining to watch. I was unable to see anything that was happening due to the masses of people and my lack of height but I was caught up in the atmosphere all the same. There were fireworks everywhere (mainly on the ground among the crowds which I found slightly unsettling). People were throwing something on the ground which created mini explosions and I was certain I’d get burnt but one but nobody else seemed to feel at risk so I relaxed a little (I’ve learned now that the Italian regard for health and safety is non-existent). There were beautiful lanterns floating through the skies which mesmerized me for a while. I didn’t stay out long due to my exhaustion but I stayed long enough to pass the New Year with my friends and the rest of the city. I then made it back to my house at about 00:30, in time to receive all the New Year messages from my friends and family back in the UK (since the New Year was an hour later for them).

All in all it was a pretty lovely way to spend the start of 2017 – although I wish I hadn’t been so exhausted!

Happy New Year everyone.

Sometimes things go wrong 

I was so excited for my 5 hour trip back to Bologna – being used to the 8 hours to York this was so fast! But of course Sod’s law always comes into effect when most (UN)wanted. After departing from Newquay airport (which was so tiny it was actually funny) I thought I was well on my way. Unfortunately it was not to be. First the flight was delayed by an hour because of fog around our destination airport (Gatwick), which I was kinda worried about but I figured there was nothing I could do anyway. 
However, by the time we reached Gatwick airport a swirling vortex of fog had pretty much covered the entire south of England. It was impossible to land at Gatwick and similarly it was impossible to turn back and land at Newquay for the same reason. So the pilot decided Exeter airport was the solution. We descended through the fog towards Exeter – only emerging from the fog approximately 100m above the runway which was both terrifying and super cool. 
The pilot and ground crew did attempt to wait out the fog but the decision was made to get a coach to Gatwick instead. Eventually we arrived; a mere 9 1/2 hours late (considering my whole trip was only 5 hours this was slightly annoying). Needless to say I missed my flight to Bologna by about 7 hours. Turns out no planes were landing or taking off from Gatwick, Heathrow or Luton (I think the list was longer but I gave up listening). The next job for me was to find a hotel – which of course were entirely booked up. Thankfully being a rather short and scared looking girl (who was in tears by now) I was found a room somehow. I then had to rebook my flight for the next day.

The final kick in the hypothetical balls was that I’m not entitled to a refund for any flight because the first one did finally get me to Gatwick and the second left perfectly fine that morning – just without me. 

So, a lovely £180, 5 hour journey turned into a £440, 30 hour journey. Well, at least I hope tomorrow is the end of it! 

Where is home?

I go back to Bologna in 4 days; I remember when I was sitting here in the summer, 4 days before moving to Italy, and I was terrified! I was filled with nervous excitement, mixed with a little bit of sadness and a lot of worry. I still hadn’t found anywhere to live and I barely spoke a word of Italian. It didn’t help that I already had two homes to leave behind and I was well aware that I was about to find another. Going back to Bologna is a totally different experience; instead of leaping into the unknown, this time I’m just returning home!15731251_10208149607764511_341568156_n

It’s so hard to decide which of these is my real home. Although I feel completely at home in Bologna, I am aware that I’ll have to leave at the start of the summer and eventually return to York for a year. I have families in each of these places (although each family is very different!) but my real family are in Cornwall – I guess I could say that this is my real home, but I’m not sure it’s very accurate since I only spend a few weeks of each year here! 15731454_10208149595804212_1207088260_nI could say York is my real home (at the moment) but I don’t think that’s very true either since I don’t even have a home there. 15749907_10208149605204447_198668513_n

I’ve realized over the past few years that I don’t need a permanent home. I actually love moving around and having several homes to return to – depending on how I feel. I love having friends all over the country (and world), and I think this is what has inspired me to create even more new homes for myself. After a year in York I intend to live in Germany for a few years (I guess since I am part German I should probably learn the language and culture). After that – who knows! I’m not ready to find a permanent home yet, and maybe I never will be!