Sunday, October 12, 2014

state of the union

It's been a while now, hasn't it?

Upon arrival in the US of A and more forcefully, school, I haven't been able to sit down and write my feelings in my state of Post-Study-Abroad Depression and ultimately what I've been doing in the past 3 months for so long, blogging has been in the back of my mind. In front of that being school,school play, homework/studying, work, sleep, choir, learning to drive, football games, and next to no downtime. So, in other words, the state of the union, that union being me, myself, and I, is straight up rough.

You know when you land an airplane and you brace yourself for impact and when you hit the ground, you skid a couple of times uncomfortably, hold your breath, and suddenly jolt forward? I've been stuck in the "skid uncomfortably at 300 mph on a gravel surface" since the end of August, lets say.

the feels.
To leave what seemed like a practically perfect life and to come back to the blunt reality where all you literally do is think back to that life, it will SUCK. FLAT OUT SUCK. Accordingly, if you left as a way to get away from your reality to open yourself up to the actual world and find out more about yourself, it will suck even more. Little things will remind you of the little things you loved back where you were. Songs remind you of nights you spent with friends, singing on a balcony or whispering through classes in deep conversation. You'll think you see someone you saw everyday abroad, until it hits you in those painful seconds later that you're in the wrong country. Those rare moments you're able to speak your host language, you realize how much harder it's gotten to grasp the grammar again and your fluency has went from sharp to slumped. You're easily stopped in your tracks with memories that overwhelm you with joy or sadness or anxiety or regret or guilt until you can step back into reality and remember that you have no control over anything you did there. You're always stuck wondering what people are doing without you in your host country. Who thinks about you every day, who hasn't thought about you since the day you left, who truly misses you and who just puts on a show, who is nervous to talk to you for fear of making everything more painful than it really is, who cares or doesn't care. It's all a guessing game anymore because nothing is ever face to face now, it's all virtual. What I believe is one of the very downfalls of my generation is the only connecting link I have between myself and the life I once lived but can't reopen. The "feels" will attack at any moment in any degree, in any emotion.

the reality.
The reality of the situation is that until you get yourself back there to stay or figure out how you want "the feels" to impact your future or your reality, Your year abroad was basically a free year and if you don't hit the ground running, and keep running, you'll fall and not be able to get back up. In your host country you didn't have a job, much schoolwork, a car, or any other "normalities" that drive teenagers up the wall in the USA. And now, you can't escape this life. You have no deadline to say "ah whatever, I'm leaving here in ____days anyways". The reality is, you're stuck.

Depressing, isn't it?

Really, I'm not as dark as a person as I sometimes portray to be. When you get down to the gritty details of everything I normally don't think about (but make one hell of a blogpost), it's harsh. Now, back to my not-so-terminally-depressing reality.

About 2 months ago, I got both my driver's permit and a job as a cashier at a local supermarket on the same day. At the end of August, school started, I rejoined my community choir, I got accepted into the fall play Sherlock Holmes as a batty woman named Gertie who makes bombs and may or may not be schizophrenic, I became the announcer for the school marching band for football games every Friday, and on top of that being newly 17 and having schoolwork, sleep, and a social life all to keep semi-balanced. I've also become an avid napper in the days I have nothing else to do (only Thursday nights).

That's all I have for now, and I hope it won't be another 3 months until we speak again, but in all honesty, who knows.

Buona notte.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

sugar-coated depression

okay so I had this blogpost half finished and hoarded away for a long time so this is just basically what went on in the last month of my exchange ready set go

on the last day of school (for me since I had to get out a few days early) my class threw a surprise party for me that went kind of like this
half the class give or take with special guests Jonathan and Lorenzo and Pauline (french teacher that loves me like a daughter even though I don't speak/study/understand french at all)

my little rice princess

what my class did for me (seriously they are the best like my american friends don't do this stuff Y'ALL GOTTA STEP THE GAME UP)

the sweetest gift from my friend Damiano that was snapped in the 'ghetto' of our school

one side of my school

annnnnd the other side of my school

After school ended, well, for me, I had to go to Palermo for the final AFS camp of the year for around 3 days. Camp Uneventful and seemingly unnecessary, but I still had a super nice time. I didn't take photos at all at camp, because I just didn't find the time or interest to keep whipping out my camera. Camp was the basic orientations and one major reunion of friends from around the island with 2 trips to the hotel pool and of course, the talent show. I had contacted my friend Paula from Chile a few weeks before camp, because I had found a song in Italian that I really liked and since I have close to zero experience with musical instruments, I needed a guitarist and she was the only person I knew that played the guitar at camp, and played it really well! So I ended up doing not only an act with the girls from my chapter, but also a solo with Paula. 

The song I sang was Ligabue's "Buona Notte All'Italia", or "Goodnight, Italy" in English. It's all in Italian and it's a beautiful song!

After camp....let's see.The class "dance" (huge party at a club) was two days after, where I had a decent time but discovered that I'm really not a club person.

 Ligabue actually came to Catania for a 2 night concert right next to my house, so I got to listen to a free concert 2 nights in a row. I also went to the beach with my Aussie friend Grace, where I burned. Hard. I had a fun time at the beach though. 

In the next couple of days, the World Cup started, which became my new religion. The first game Italy played was against England and it started at midnight our time, the night we were coming home from our friends house in the countryside. Getting home was one of the scariest experiences I had in Italy. We flew. We did stay up until around 2:30 AM to the end of the game, where Italy won....for their last time in the 2014 world cup. 

The next few days (I say as I am looking through my various newsfeeds to remind myself the order of what I did, and what I actually did do) were filled with getting together with AFSers and friends. The sole boy from my chapter, Vincent from Hong Kong, had to go home early due to the fact he will go to Canada to go to school with his sister next year, so he needs a student visa beforehand. He tried to go home once, but due to storms in Rome and an eruption of Etna, he was stuck in Catania for a few more days. His last day, almost all of us from the Catania chapter went to the market and picnicked in the city park with the things that we bought afterward. PS....Etna looked like this in eruption:
I'm sorry it's slightly blurry, but it's the best representation of it that I had.

The end of that week, my family went down to a small town called Scoglitti for 4 days. Scoglitti is in Southern Sicily in the province of Ragusa, and we went to stay at my host aunt's house which was right on the house. The 4 days were filled with family time, beach days, watching Italy lose to Costa Rica on a small television with my superstitious relatives, my aunt's birthday, an intense sand castle FORTRESS, and the best food EVER. Here's some photos.

2 live octopuses that the father of my aunt caught in a reef. We ate them about an hour later.

The sunset might have been spectacular every night.

We came home on a Monday. 

Tuesday, I took a walk to retrieve my card that was eaten by a bancomat at the city center, and I ran into my Thai friend who was returning two of her friends to the bus stop. So we met up after we did our separate errands and got a gelato, and ended up staying to watch the Italy-Uruguay game at a town square where they had a jumbo screen. There were a good amount of people there (I found out my friends from school were there as well, we just didn't see each other!), and the Paraguayan girl and a German girl who was visiting from her host town up in Turin came to watch the game as well!

The next day we went to make "arancini" (sicilian rice balls) at a volunteers house for our last meeting. They turned out alright but not mind-blowing (ya can't go wrong with deep fried balls of stuff, yenno). Anne, the German girl, came to sleep over at my house that night.

pre breading and frying

Marie and Mook deeply focused 

The day after, we went to the beach even though there was terrible weather and it was too frigid to swim...for me. We came home around 3 and my friend texted me to go get "gelato" (you'll see why that's in parenthesis soon). I had to figure out what to do with Anne; bring her with me, leave her at my house, make her go home, because she wanted to go out with me, my brother and an AFS volunteer that evening. So I almost cancelled on my friend, then it all magically, and almost mysteriously worked out.

I was supposed to meet my friend at 6, where she showed up 25 minutes late due to "traffic". Once she arrived, we walked through the park, where there are NO gelato shops so I knew something was up. 

The villa's entrance is a large staircase that has a fountain at the top of them, then paths leading around the back of the fountain and up a hill, to where there was a large gazebo. But, you all don't know my background knowledge.

I knew that there would be a surprise party for me at some point before I left. I didn't know when, where, who would be there, or what would go on, but I knew there was the planning of one because my friend told me. It all became clearer throughout this whole process that that was what was going on. 

Walking up the paths to the gazebo, I had that feeling that there would be a group waiting for me. Inside the gazebo, there was no one. In the trees next to the gazebo, there was a group of buzzing teenagers trying to figure out how to jump out and surprise me. 

I WAS RIGHT, IT WAS MY SURPRISE PARTY. We started out at the park, where we all were reunited for the first time since the last day of school or the school party, they gave me two amazing gifts (a book my friend's dad wrote on a small town in Sicily, ironically, Mineo, where we went around Christmas time to see the nativity scenes, and a 4 part picture frame from Naomi and Paola, two best friends, with 3 pictures of us together and a note). My friend Marco who is probably my closest friend from school that isn't in my class, showed up as well, which was ultimately a surprise for me. A good surprise. We talked for a little because he had to go shortly afterwards.
one of the only photos I have from today because it was a surprise party and I left my camera elsewhere. this is Chiara, one of my best Italian friends. 

After leaving the villa, Marco left and we argued like the Italians we are as to where to go next. We ended up going to a gelato place I really didn't like, and apparently no one else really did either because only one person got gelato. We all sat and talked about everything and anything, initially catching up on life and what we are all doing. It's cool because my friends probably wouldn't have ever hung out together in that large of a group without a uniting force. That uniting force being me.

The following step, after losing some more people from the group, we went to the port for sundown. Our group was big so I walked ahead with one of my friends while everyone else tagged along in pairs behind us. Port is pretty beautiful, even though you couldn't really see sunset, it was cloudy so you couldn't really see Etna, and it was super windy and cold. It was still beautiful and a great time. 
probably my favorite picture from that night.

We finished the night at a pizzeria that was too elegant for our sweaty selves (we walked EVERYWHERE that night), with probably the biggest pizza I had ever eaten. It was pretty good too. Afterwards, we all walked back to the initial meeting place and went our separate ways.

All in all, the people I have had the honor of meeting in Italy are so remarkably beautiful in all ways, shapes, and forms, I don't think I could ever replace them or thank them enough for all they had done for me the past year. I don't know how I got so lucky to be placed in the 3AL, let alone to be placed in Catania. These kids changed my life and there isn't a day that goes by where I don't think of them. I'd do anything for them because they did anything and everything for me. There's a word called "magari" in the Italian language, and it's probably my favorite. Magari means "if only", or "hopefully". So, to all of my 20 best friends I left behind physically but not emotionally, magari we will see each other all together again. Sooner than later. 

That Saturday night, I went out with school friends and AFS friends, and that Sunday (my last Sunday in Italy) my family and our cousins all went out to an island of Aci Trezza, where we had to ride in those boats where you paddle with your feet like a bicycle. We rode out to the island and jumped off, where it was deep but you could see clearly to the bottom. Sea urchins, star fish, snails, and hermit crabs littered the bottom and sunbathers littered the rocks. My brother Mattia dove and picked up some of the creatures, and we swam for a while. We returned home and watched the Great Gatsby.

This was the start of my last week in Italy. 

My last week consisted of last minute shopping trips, packing and repacking my suitcase, a very fun day with my Argentinian friend, saying final goodbyes all over the place, emotionally breaking down a lot, and improv get togethers. 

My most painful goodbyes came Thursday and Friday where I had to say goodbye to my closer friends. We organized a day of 4 different get togethers and a whole other one Friday morning. Thursday, I started outwith my three girl friends, Irene, Laura, and Federica, where we ate breakfast at McDonalds and just talked for a long time, ending at market. We said our goodbyes there. I returned home after silently tearing up on the corner of the street, ate lunch with my dad and brother who were surprised to see me at home, but was summoned out again not even 40 minutes after I got home by Nano (Argentinian friend) who was stuck in Catania with nothing to do. I went out and rescued him for about an hour and a half, then I met up with 4 other friends. We went to the villa to grab a soda, another friend came, and that was a horrible goodbye. That's when it started sinking in that I was leaving, and that's when we all started crying. Hard. I spent the last hours of my evening with my desk partner from school, Marta, and to be honest I don't quite remember exactly what we did. She ended up walking me home, where we stood under my house for 10 minutes not facing the fact we wouldn't see each other again for a long time. Eventually, I turned into my house and Marta walked back home. 

That made my cry on my keyboard.

The next day, Friday, the fourth of July, and my last day in Italy.

This was spent with one of the most amazing people I had the pleasure of meeting on my year abroad and just an all around great friend, Damiano, with our mutual friends in a political meeting of a sort, because they are all in the same group. I met up with Damiano and our friend Sabrina at the place where the meeting would be held, where he rambled on about Sicilian legends in his typical Damiano fashion. We waited for the others there for about an hour until everyone showed up, and we had the meeting. They're all just so naturally funny it's amazing. My friends peer pressured me into staying for lunch, where we walked a couple blocks down to the grocery store to buy stuff to make sandwiches. We joked because it would be my last Sicilian lunch, and we were making freaking sandwiches with chips. 

I ended up having to say goodbye to Damiano in the parking lot of the grocery store, because he had to catch a bus to go. It was one of the strangest feelings I've had. Well, with everyone I said goodbye to. You hug them and all the memories you made together run through your mind and get tucked into the back of your mind to be remembered when you leave but not to be lived out again. I didn't know whether to cry or laugh or scream or stay quiet. All I know is I can confidently leave everything I own now and be okay with it because leaving that life behind and everyone in it was flat out the hardest thing I ever have done and I don't know what I could face in these next few years that could compare to the emotional toll that coming back to the United States put on me. Goodbyes suck.

He chanted 'USA! USA! USA!' as we parted through the parking lot. I miss that goon.

I went back to eat with Sabrina, Marco and company and then we walked home. I went my separate way, we all said goodbye, and I returned home for the last time at my apartment in Catania. 

That night, I went out to dinner with my family, where they gifted a personally made calendar to me. It was a wonderful gift and a great night.

end of day 303. 

Day 304, I went to the airport. On the way I made various phone calls to relatives and friends that I didn't get to say goodbye to. When I arrived, there were at least 100 AFS related people there, all in different emotional states. As soon as the goodbyes started, we all broke down. It was the first spell of hysteria I ever encountered. I cried literally so hard that I had nothing else to cry about so I laughed. I didn't cry not only for the family but for the experience I was leaving behind. Etna shadowed me as I said goodbye to the people I love through the big glass window of the airport. We eventually were forced to go through security because we ran out of time, but it was better than later because the pain needed to end then and there. 

Luckily I sat next to Roosa on the plane, where we cried, talked, and laughed together through the plane ride. We landed in Rome and went to the hotel, where I saw all of my international friends again. for the last time. My closest friends made it a lot better throughout the night, where no one slept. Shoutout to Jude, Anthony, Olivia, Josh, and Cole for keeping me on track in the delirium. 

5AM was when the Americans had to go to the airport, and we had to say a blithering goodbye to our best friends. 

Mini rant: OKAY. So me, being in hysterics, couldn't find Roosa. She had gone off to sleep and I didn't know her room number so I couldn't go wake her up. Eventually I found Andrea and she went to find her, but it was too late. When I went to the bus, I nearly pushed a volunteer out of my way who was literally sidestepping me to keep me from hugging my best friend of 10 months for the last time in a long time. When I finally got my hands on Roosa, after 3 seconds of a hug I was literally pulled off of her by another volunteer.


End of rant. Still makes me mad.

Anyways, the delirium continues after a full day span of no sleep with 2 plane rides and a layover. It's all a blur. All I know is that I landed in the United States at around 5 PM our time (11 PM Italy time) on the 6th of July. 

end of day 304. end of my year abroad. end of my second life. fine.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

44 pounds.

295 days ago I said goodbye to the only life that I had ever known the 16 years I spent on this planet. I spent a full month trying to pack all of the things that meant something to me in my current state into one suitcase, under 44 pounds, and on the morning of September 4th, 2013, I was going to haul it down my stairs, the stairs that I wouldn't walk for another 300+ days, load it up into my mom's Ford Focus, and we'd drive to New York City, the last time I'd see my mother for a year.

The night before, the third, I sat in my bed and watched the clock tick in midnight. I looked to my right and on my forest green carpet sat my life. The only thing I would have with me for the next 10 months of my roots, my family, my friends, and anything that built me into the person I was today. all in under 44 pounds.

I picked up my life, my 44 pounds, and left.

After 9 hours in a plane and an orientation camp, I landed in what I didn't know would become more to me than what I thought my 44 pounds ever could have. I scavenged through the families of people, desperately searching for the people that accepted me as their daughter for 10 months in the sea of people trying to find their newly selected children each with their rightful 44 pounds. Then, I saw them. The family I saw pictures of in emails. The people I have been imagining in my head for 2 months on end and all the adventures we would have. We shook hands and they took some of my 44 pounds from my shoulders, and we walked to the car.

My 44 pounds was loaded into the car, and I began to see the life that I had blindly jumped head first into ever since I decided to hit "send" on the application in February 2013.

My 44 pounds was unpacked, packed, half unpacked and demolished, packed up again, unpacked completely, packed completely, then completely unpacked again in a matter of a month and a half in this mysterious life I was struggling to get a grip of. I had been divorced by two families, one my choice, one not, and I was taken in by a family with an open heart and luckily a very giving eight year old girl that lets me sleep in her bed to this day. The nights I spent in all three families were filled of thoughts escaping through my head and running through all the possible paths I could go on in this exchange. I could be a daughter again. I could have another shot at the things I didn't have in my other family. I'm a younger sister. I have a sister. I live with two parents. I have a cat. I've experienced all of these things in a year of being independent. My 44 pounds were distributed throughout the families within my actions: they were distributed through the times I made pancakes for my siblings in 2 different families. They were distributed the nights I cried in my stuffy room in my first host family because I knew they didn't like me for the decision I had made to leave. They were distributed in the long conversations I had with my host sister in my second family about anything and everything. I had kept my 44 pounds physically, but in reality, I lost the life I came with and struggled to find the one I would return home with.

As I attended my school in that musty classroom across the courtyard, up the stairs, and all the way to the right, I started picking up new "pounds". The pounds that would start to build up the blinded mess that was going to become my life. I picked up the pounds of the unmasked kindness that is found within the Catanian people in every day situations. I picked up the pounds of curiosity of my class, them asking me everything from "how old are you?" to "what do you think of the concept of evolution?". I gathered the pounds of the respect that was had for others in the school atmosphere. Maybe not the respect of authority but the respect of the job that had to be done by the kids I was surrounded by. The pounds of determination came to me in October when I saw my classmates protesting for their education and more than ever, their future. These teenage punks didn't teach me, but helped me grow. They helped me discover the world.

The heavier pounds of self awareness came in to play when I was surrounded by foreigners at camps and hurled into family discussions with people who didn't necessarily like the United States.  I learned where exactly my country stands, where I stand in this big world, and before I ever had time to argue my side I quickly realized that there are so many people in this world and we are just like everyone else. Deep down underneath all of the politics we encounter daily and the constant flowing of wars and battles of countries and emotions and struggle and revolutions and power we are one. I come from the United States of America, and I will gladly say that I am well off. I have a school that supplies me with needs, I have a house with a mom that makes enough to give me and my brother a good life without an overabundance of the unnecessary, I have a car, I have electricity, I'm healthy. I'm sorry that not everyone in the world cannot say the same, because of not who they are but where they are. I'm sorry that the world isn't fair. But being sorry won't change anything no matter who says it or how many times it is said. I'm Kara Richards, American girl that speaks Italian pretty-much-but-not-even-close-to fluently, and I am a citizen of Earth.


The heaviest pound I gained from this experience, was not a lesson nor what someone told to me. It was a discovery. It was the discovery of the true definition of a word that we all learn in the first year of studying a new language, one of the first words that came out of our mouths.
Before I came here, I took away my 44 pounds from what I thought would be home. I sat in the back of my mom's car saying goodbye to what I knew as home. I said goodbye to Fergies, to the sole Burger King across the street from my house, Good's, the Turkey Hill I would always make slushie runs to after work, Sam's, the old train tracks, the big gigantic metal dinosaur people have in their front yard a few blocks down from my house, my school(s), and all the cornfields, and I thought to myself, "I'm not going to see my home for a year". 

After half of the year passed in Catania, I'd look around me and start to think "some day, I'm going to have to leave all this behind with no other choice". Unknowingly, the foreign city that was once so unusual, so different, had become what I knew as home. Just in a matter of days from now, I will have to take one last walk through the market and the Villa Bellini. I will have the ability to go out with friends at the drop of a hat one last time. Gelato will only be an acceptable meal option for so many more days. I'll never be able to walk to school again. A beer with friends goes back to being the unthinkable and illegal. The laundry and shower schedule gets more frequent and regular. Meals will go from pasta, fish, and fresh produce to canned and frozen foods with heavy, thick meats and the drinking glasses will return to the Disney ones we got when I was so little, filled to the top with iced tea and lemonade. My wallet will no longer be filled with colorful notes and gold and silver coins but green ones. The only horse and carriages I will see won't be painted and festive, but the Amish. The festivities of early February won't be a week long Catholic holiday but Groundhog Day. When I wake up in a few days, I won't have to stutter around with two languages because I apparently dreamed in another. My life changed right in front of me and I never saw it happen.

After 8 or 9 months abroad, the fact that I'd return to Quarryville became more and more real. As the swarm of my past life came into my mind, the attachments I had made to this life in Catania grew stronger. At this point, what is home? Was it where I grew up? Or did I discover it here? 

After days and weeks of thinking, the answer came to me in something I had said in the ear of a crying friend I had on my shoulder in March.

Home isn't a place; it isn't with certain people, it isn't an apartment, town, city, or country. Home isn't where people know you or love you. It isn't where people call you "love" or "tesoro". It isn't where you go when you are upset or when you are happy. Home isn't somewhere. 

Home is a sensation. Home is an emotion. Home is a feeling. Home is when you can walk into a room, and without it being said or done, feeling loved. Home is when you can cry in the open and there will be someone who comforts you while the others laugh about what you're crying over. Home is the comfort you feel with the people around you. Home is burping in public. Home is yelling at the people you love and holding pointless grudges. Home is seeing your friend across a courtyard, screaming their name, and running to hug them even though you saw them yesterday. Home is having worried parents in your ears about what you should do and when you should do it. Home can't be placed. You carry it with you wherever you go, wherever you were, and wherever you will be.

I'm leaving parts of home to go back to the other parts of home. That's the hard part of loving people, places, cultures, and lifestyles in two different countries. When you return, you will never get back to being completely "at home" again, because half of your homeliness was left behind, just waiting for you to go back and get it. Go back and live it. Go back and love it. 

At one point in your life, you have probably found yourself sitting on a musty couch in a dimly-lit room listening to one of your grandparents go on about a world war or segregation or the Kennedy assassination or the first man on the moon and exactly where they were, what they were doing, or how the world around them was. Maybe they talk about their wedding day or their first date or engagement or first child being born. But they probably ended with something along the lines of this:

Time goes by pretty quick, and if you don't stop to look around once and a while, you might miss something.

Yes, I did just attempt to quote Ferris Bueller. 

You're not gonna stay young forever (just ask my mother ((i'm gonna get shot for that one))) so make the best of what you have. YOLO is a good way of living life as long as you stop every once in a while and realize what you have. Realize what you have before it's gone because the unluckier people in life take things for granted and don't take advantage of them. Have an adventure waiting for you? Jump on it. Have someone you're in love with? Pull them aside and confess your love, whether or not they know it exists. Wanna do something? Do it. Have questions? Ask them. Have time? Spend it. Love others with the love you want to receive. Have someone drop you off in a foreign part of your city and try to find your way back home. Do stupid things because no one ever remembers the nights they got plenty of sleep. Cuddle with baby animals. Learn as many languages as you can, no matter how unnecessary they seem. Talk to the elderly. and the foreign. and kids. Stargaze. Talk about the things that confuse you the most in life. Discover something on your own. Don't let life hold you back from living it.

Gain your 44 pounds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

an eternal blogpost about the eternal city

PLOT TWIST: this time I actually talk about relevant events that happened in my life.


May 15th
We started off by me waking up at 7 and my host mom knocking on my door at 7:05 asking if I was ready because we had to go. Always behind schedule, right on schedule. We picked up Vincent (Hong Kong) and his host mom Paola (the lady who organized the whole trip) at their house and then went to the airport, where all of us would eventually meet in a group. The whole procedure of the Catania airport has no interest or value so I'll just skip to the good part.

Since we all bought separate tickets we were spread throughout the plane, and I got a window seat on the right side. I was next to a Catanese couple that were very friendly, and we talked off and on through the trip of around and hour. On the plane, I actually saw Mount Vesuvius and the sixth grade me died a little. Spoiler alert: IT'S REALLY FREAKING SMALL FOR THE AMOUNT OF SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE IT DID. 

Upon landing in Rome I got separated from the group at the airport and had to wait for all of them to get off the plane. We only were in Rome for three days so the terrible baggage claim was avoided (thank sweet Jesus) and we caught a train into the center city terminal. To get to the train station (connected to the airport), we had to walk the same exact path that we walked on our first day in Italy. It was the weirdest feeling ever. I wanted to die standing RIGHT THERE! 

Since we're Sicilians we missed the first train and had to wait for the next one that came 15 minutes later.

Upon arriving at the train station, we had to take the metro to our apartment, which was outside of Rome but still close enough to reach with the metro. We exited the terminal and found our hotel, settled in, ran to the grocery store to buy some crappy deli meats and bread for a makeshift lunch, and we exited quickly to go to the Catacombs of Priscilla.

These Catacombs Paola had seen as a kid and she wanted to go back to see them again, and you know....none of us were really excited because they're like....catacombs. But they turned out to be really awesome. We walked there (only like 3/4 of a mile) and we split into two different groups: some went in an English speaking group because there was a group of Indian nuns that spoke only English, and then me, Andrea (Paraguay), Mook (Thailand), Maria (other AFS volunteer) and Paola stuck behind and took the Italian tour. The tourguide had a heavy Roman accent and spoke at the speed of light, so it was harder to understand than a normal tour. I wasn't allowed to take pictures and with such a small group I didn't want to chance getting yelled at. But they were built in the 2-5 centuries BC and used by the Roman Christians because they weren't allowed to be buried above ground. All the lighting was by oil lamps, there were tombs for all types: family tombs, child tombs, infant tombs, adult tombs, closed tombs, open tombs, buy-one-get-one-free tombs (okay maybe not) but it was HUGE. And since they just took dead bodies and stuck them on shelves to rot away, there were holes in the walls for flowers or incense to fight off the rancid smell that you could only imagine came from the catacombs.

After the catacombs a little after 5, we decided to take the metro into the city to see the Trevi Fountain and some of the plazas that Rome has to offer. The metro closest to the Trevi Fountain was a little hike through some tourist trap streets, and once we approached the corner of it I told Grace (Australia) and Roosa (Finland) (since they had already been to the Trevi) that I was going to close my eyes and they should steer me so I will open my eyes and it will just be RIGHT THERE. So I did, and it was the coolest moment ever. 

When I saw both the Duomo di Milano and the Colusseum I had to walk up to them and it wasn't nearly as much of a shock cause I was able to adjust to it mentally. But when you see something for the first time that you've dreamed of seeing for EVER, you gotta do it right. And it's an amazing feeling to just get hit with this "holy crap I'm here" feeling all at once. Now that's what dreams are made of.

We ate at a half decent restaurant and visited Piazza di Spagna for about 10 seconds, returned to the Trevi at night, and went back to the house at midnight.

May 16th
We woke up at 7:30 to get ready and left around 9ish if I remember correctly to go to the Vatican. The Vatican is on the other side of the Tiber River, a long enough hike with the metro. We got to the Vatican Museums first, where there was a line that stretched a couple of blocks down the street. We waited for about a half an hour or so to get in, and then we flew to the beginning of the Museums. There was a constant flow of people through the Museums because it was set on a track, not in a building, which led to the Sistine Chapel. We chose the long track because you're not gonna come to the Vatican and not see everything. It was spectacular and this ended up being my favorite day in Rome (for many reasons to follow). 

Il Discobolo, which I studied in art history and had a mini heart attack when I saw it. 
Hall of Geography.

Sicily as viewed from Rome. Interesting because there is the volcanic island called Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands that is no longer active, but at the time this was painted it was active. Ah, history.

One of the rooms of Raffaele

Take a guess at what this is! (We all coughed to cover up each other's camera clicks because taking these photos is prohibited)

After exiting the Vatican Museums, we went to Saint Peter's Basilica. The line stretched 3/4 of the way around the circle thing, because you have to go through a metal detector to get into the cathedral (thank you 9/11). It only took 15 minutes to get there, however. Then, we spent 3 hours in the cathedral itself. We went up to where you could go to the top of the dome, and then we went down to the crypt of all the past popes and I was able to witness the crypt of the first pope and apostle (if you already know this good for you), Peter, as in Pietro, as in San Pietro. Awesome? Yeah I know.
View from the roof

these are Jesus and his 12 apostles, each of which have a plaque on the back with their name. (roof of San Peter's)

After our popetacular visit to Popeland, we grabbed some dinner at a touristic restaurant and decided to visit the Colusseum at night. I was peeing my pants the whole bus ride there, and my jaw literally dropped when I saw it from Piazza Venezia. I walked with Grace and Roosa VERY QUICKLY towards it, kind of ditching the group but I HAD MY OBLIGATIONS, PEOPLE.

On the way I just kept on shrieking and swearing in two languages about it's the freakin' Colusseum! I'm staring at the Colusseum! I've only dreamed about this since I wa-OH MY GOD THAT'S THE ROMAN FORUM RIGHT THERE. And so on.

I may have just been a teeny tiny bit excited.

Roosa, Grace and I got so "in the moment" that we literally dropped to the ground and just looked up at the Colusseum, using our purses as pillows. And of course I took a selfie.

May 17th
This was our last day in Rome. We headed off to tour the Colusseum first thing in the morning (after dropping our bags off at the train station for later), and then visited the Roman Forum before lunch. 

So....this may or may not have been where they burned Julius Caesar's corpse.....( was.)

When we took this, we heard a British woman mutter to her friend.....
Christian tourists

Nearing the end of our final day, we finished at the Pantheon, where Mook met up with her BIOLOGICAL family (well, her father, sister, and grandmother), which was the sweetest thing ever. The dad and sister spoke english, but the grandmother didn't speak anything, and I am telling you, I want an Asian grandmother. Cutest thing I have ever seen.

There is a hole in the ceiling for sunlight to come through, but astonishingly, when it rains, it doesn't enter?!?!11?

At the very end, Roosa, Grace, Marie and I went for a little bit of shopping and then we went back to the train station. This entry "broke my balls" writing and uploading every painfully slow picture. Hope you enjoyed it and I'll catch you on the flipside with a potentially depressing post about going home! Probably! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

if you're from america, then why are you so cultured?

oh my god Karen you can't just ask people why they're so cultured.

Hello my fellow Americans.

You all probably are aware of the fact we are one of the most powerful, populated, and structured countries the world has to offer. We have one of the strongest military forces in the world, a democracy that has birthed one of the most internationally-known presidencies there has ever been (Obama [duh]), an economy that runs fairly well and doesn't throw an entire country into a downward plunge, a standard of living that is optimal in comparison to some other countries, and an abundance of exports, imports, and products that we have access to every minute of every day.

Some of those things were an overshot, I know. But y'all can't be pessimists with this one.

I all probably are also aware that those reasons are the exact same reasons that we are one of the most hated countries on the planet. Love us or hate us, you know us as the Americans.

Believe it or not we are one of the most mistreated, stereotyped, and misinterpreted ethnicities there are on this planet. We talk a lot about racism in our every-day lives, about acceptance, about understanding, about knowledge of other cultures surrounding us, but no one really seems to talk about us. In all reality the American culture (as it really is) is a taboo subject abroad. So many are educated from television shows and settings of them, like Glee, How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons/Cleveland Show/Family Guy, and The Big Bang Theory. Or, I hate to say it but even worse, educated from vacationing in America. 


As I said in that one post from November about all the stereotypes that Americans have of Italians, let's name a few from Italy about the grand ol' Nifty Fifty.

  • "But what do you mean you don't eat McDonald's every day?!" This one I couldn't take seriously until I finally thought it through. Americans have the stereotype of Italians that eat a strict diet of pasta every day for almost every meal, which is 95% accurate, in all honesty. The mindset here is that every culture has a food, and it eats that food every day. What is America's food, you ask? HAMBURGERS! FRENCH FRIES! HOT DOGS! PANCAKES! Half of the people here ask if we really do eat McDonald's every day, the other half warn me that when I go back I can't return to my diet of Whoppers and curly fries every day that apparently we are portrayed of having globally.
  • "Is school really like it is in the movies?" If I had a euro for every single time I have heard this question I could afford first class flights from NYC to Catania for the rest of my life and the consecutive lives of my children, grandchildren, and all of their children. So many people, in fact, have asked me this question, I have had to start lying (slightly) to keep away from the whole spiel of "it's nothing like the movies" and wasting an hour trying to convince them that we do not break out in random dance numbers, nerds don't get shoved in lockers, cheerleaders really do exist and they're not jackwagons, and we have school dances. 
  • "You all are such a happy country!" This one I got from the friend of my mom who went to New York City for New Years.In the month of January we all know surely that NYC is pumping with adrenaline like heck yes we just dropped a metal ball and the whole world saw it and January is just a super refreshing month. It's a restart. Plus, NYC is a touristic paradise all year round, so anyone who goes there is going to go head over heels for any piece of it. We seem like such a happy population to any tourist that comes. It's all a part of the illusion created by the grapevine. America is rainbows and smiley faces raining down from the skies for some communities of people.
  • "Do you eat pancakes every morning? And bacon? And eggs?" Thanks for movies for creating this one. They're relieved to know that we don't eat it every morning, but we do actually eat all of this for breakfast. (Sweet baby Jesus my mouth is watering as I type this)

Foreigners, or shall it be more correctly said as non-Americans, have the mindset that we are overly-patriotic, egotistical, air-headed bastards that think the universe revolves around our existence. Well, at least some of them do. From time to time when I am introduced to someone as an American, I get the "oh god, not one of you" look at first. Normally, this introduction is followed with the person trying to muster up some English, because of the sad-but-yet-pretty-much-true stereotype that we don't learn other languages, let alone such an isolated language like Italian. I'll give them credit and say that there are Americans abroad that do speak "cazzi per mazzi", kind of the offensive equivalent to "not even jack squat". Way to help our stereotype, guys! A+!

There's another thing about being an American abroad, while also surrounded by other foreigners abroad. For example, EXCHANGE.

Here's a story.

At the AFS Camp in Palermo back in October (holy crap that's like 7 months ago), every country had to make a poster of their country and all of the significant items of the culture of their country. Then, we went around with post it notes and wrote what we knew about the country and stuck it to the poster. Anyways, while the Americans (there were 6 of us but now there are 4 of us in Sicily) presented our poster, I forget completely how it rolled around, but a girl from Latin/South America stood up (everyone could ask questions) and asked us why we call ourselves Americans and we don't classify them as Americans. And then all of them clapped, and we looked like douchebags.

This got the Americans, meaning me and the five others, pretty frustrated. Here's how it goes.

We are open people. We may be one of the most open cultures that you will encounter. Yes, there's a large amount of ignorance in our culture but you know what? It's what makes us up. We deal with it and the human race is going to have to deal with it too. In a bunch of languages, there are words that are substitutions for the word "American". Like in Italian its "statiunese" and I know there's one in Spanish as well. We don't have this word or something like it. Hop off of it. It's our language, not our ignorance. The world knows us as the "Americans". We don't have a reason when you think about it to go out of our way to not use the word "American" in our vocabulary. I have personally tried to use the words "United States" or "people of the United States" for the sake of not offending an entire continent but really, I think we can all be a little less sensitive over this whole thing.

Rant over.

It's almost an immediate assumption as an American abroad that you are completely oblivious to the world around you. Yes, there are people that can't tell you the capital of Canada (hint, it's Ottawa) that live in the US. There are probably people who can't tell you the capital of the state they live in. There are people who can't point out where Egypt is on a map. There are people who didn't know Africa is a freaking continent and not a country. Point being, these people exist, but don't let them define us.

I said these exact words in Italian about two weeks ago at an AFS meeting. As you all know I went up to Bergamo for a week and I encountered the stereotype that they have of Sicily and the people there that we are all "mafiosi" (part of the Mafia) or homeless that steal money from the rich and wealthy up in the north by not working. I, being a reincarnation of a full-blooded Sicilian, defended my Madreterra by saying "Si, noi abbiamo la mafia e anche i barboni in Sicilia, ma non ci definiscono." (Yes, we have the mafia and the homeless in Sicily, but they do not define us.)

Moral of the story is, be you American, Asian, European, Australian, or African, for the love of all that the planet provides for us, hop off of each other's backs for little things. It's one thing to get mildly aggrivated when someone may or may not call you by a prefered name. It's another thing if someone is calling you or your ethnicity/nationality in the means of slander. You know how many times my name has been mispronounced in Italy? So many times that it's now pronounced "Carah" instead of the Americanized "Keruh". It's like that. Let's focus on the bigger things in life, because we are lucky to be in the situations we are.

Thursday, April 10, 2014



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

que pasa

Hello world and all who inhabit it!

I know my frequency of blog entries has decreased immensely compared to the frequency I maintained in America, but something happened called "I got a life". Sorta. So, here is what is coming up soon that you should know about and why I probably won't make another post for awhile.
  1. LA SETTIMANA DI SCAMBIO (Exchange Week). There's a week in certain regions of AFS Italy that you can choose to go to a different part of Italy for a week, to live with another family, normally you get to see one of the bigger cities, etc. So, from March 23rd to 30th, I am going to Bergamo, Italy. I will be with a group of kids I don't know (or at least haven't seen in a long time) and I will take a day trip to either Milan or Verona (if I am allowed to choose, I will choose Verona.
ISOLE EOLIE In the beginning of April, I will go on a 3 day, 2 night trip with my amazing Italian class to the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Northern Sicily (they're a part of Italy). It's a group of 7 islands, one of which is named Stromboli. There is yet another active volcano within these islands, and even though it's technically a scholastic trip I am praying that we will be able to at least walk on the beaches.

ROMA!!!!11!!!1!!!1 Since I am one ragazza fortunata with an amazing chapter, me and 6 of the other 7 AFSers in my chapter are going to Rome in May from the 15th to the 17th. Do I really have to put in google pictures of Rome? I will anyways.

So that's what's up. See you at the end of May!

I may or may not be joking.