Trekking to Tuscany

Boy does studying abroad take stamina!  I have a newfound sympathy for tourists, who, yes I know are annoying, but are also exerting a huge amount of energy just to get to know the history/culture/architecture/etc. of a new place.  This past week I had the ultimate tourist experience, as my study abroad program took us on a four-day trip through the beautiful (and rainy) hills of Tuscany.  The first stop: Florence.  We took a 7 AM train out of Rome and arrived at the Firenze – Santa Maria Novella train station at around 8:30 AM.  A quick diversion: Italy has an incredible system of high speed trains, which the country developed during a time of great economic success, but this was short-lived and most of the remaining Italian infrastructure remains in its pre-modern state.  Anyway, we were in the city EARLY, and therefore had the entire day to be tourists.  According to my architecture-focused guide, this meant spending hours inside freezing cold churches, learning about their design history and meaning.  When we arrived home later, everyone went to sleep almost immediately, successfully educated, but also exhausted.

Climbing the duomo is not for those who are claustrophobic

The next morning we had some more of the same – churches galore, as Italy is a country whose history and development can also be traced through its churches.  In the afternoon, a group of us urban planners split off with our professor, Mildred Warner, and headed over to the Innocenti Research Center, which is the main research foundation of UNICEF.  This was very applicable to the class we are taking, CRP 4160, which involves making a policy proposal to improve the child-and-age-friendliness of Rome.  Our visit was super-interesting because we got to learn all about how UNICEF functions and the current research that the organization is doing in various countries throughout the world.  In addition, the building in which the Center is now located is the former Ospedale degli Innocenti, an orphanage designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in the 15th century.  Definitely not a bad place to work!

The next day we left Florence and went to the small town of Barga, which is a quintessential, medieval Tuscan town, and we got to meet with the mayor and his team to hear about how Barga has incorporated its World War 2 history into the fabric of urban life today.  After, we took a bus up a winding road to reach the even smaller hill town of Sommocolonia, the location of an important WW2 battle that involved a good number of American troops.  Here we were able to get lunch with a number of the local residents (actually probably half of the town’s population, given that during the winter they only have about 30 permanent residents!)  It was really touching to be able to go into this town and speak with the people who clearly have a very strong connection to their townsman status.  None of them spoke English, so I helped translate for some of the students.  It was interesting to hear that even though the town is so physically small, it is so full of culture and history.  The residents have developed an extensive WW2 history museum, just with information about the one significant battle, and it serves as a collective historic memory for the town.

The small hill town was beautiful

That night we drove into the city of Lucca, which is surrounded by a large system of walls that date back to the Medieval age.  We took a quick street tour, before splitting off for dinner.  I actually was able to meet up with a contact that happens to live right near Lucca, who I met through my Italian language class last semester.  We were assigned to be Skype partners for an assignment, to help the both of us practice speaking in Italian and English, and we continued talking after the project ended.  Surprisingly enough, I ended up in Lucca just two months later and we were able to go grab a pizza in person!

Tuscany is quite amazing — even with bad weather!

The last day we got to visit some WW2 bunkers, and finally, finally, got on the bus to go home.  It was an exhausting trip, but one that I think I will look back and remember fondly, given the number of incredible people we were able to meet and communicate with.  My recommendation for anyone interested in studying abroad is to investigate carefully the fine-print of your program description.  Are you taking any group trips?    What are the living arrangements for these trips?  Are you allowed to travel on the weekends?  All of these things can be overlooked in the application process, but trust me – it’s good to be aware if you have any obligations outside of class!

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Benvenuto a Roma!

Ciao from Italia!

The time has finally come — I am abroad this semester in the wonderful city of Rome.  I am doing the Cornell in Rome program through the college of Architecture, Art, and Planning, which is actually celebrating its 30th anniversary this year!  My program is specific to my major of Urban and Regional Studies, which is pretty convenient because I’m getting some of my upper-level requirements out of the way.  I’m taking three classes, which seems like a light course load, but one of them is an intensive research course that requires a ton of fieldwork and eventually, a policy proposal, so I decided it would be best to lay low and really focus while here.  This class is called Rome Workshop, and I would actually encourage all URS majors to come to Rome to take this course, as it provides an opportunity to get familiar with all levels of urban research.  We’ve been conducting interviews, creating land use maps, and more, which is all very useful for future planners!  I am also in an Architecture history class right now called The Topography and Urban History of Ancient and Medieval Rome, which has to be one of the coolest experiences of my college career!  Every Tuesday for four hours, we go out into the city and get to recreate some of the most important sites from the beginning of Rome’s urban life.  Just this past week we went to the baths of Caracalla and had our class in the huge and very well-reserved ancient complex.  Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

This was our classroom!

So I know by now you’re probably wondering about the food situation here… well, don’t worry because it is off the charts.  I firmly believe that average Italian restaurant food is still way better than American restaurant food, which means that good food here is simply out of this world!  Most days I have a cappuccino for breakfast, pizza for lunch and pasta for dinner, which probably would horrify my mother, but I feel like a kid lost in Disneyland.

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Cacio e pepe is a classic Roman dish (but also is kind of an Italian mac n’ cheese)

On a slightly less upbeat note, there is something that I feel is necessary to say in regards to nightlife abroad.  It is always immediately apparent who the Americans are in any given locale.  They are always the loudest and often, sloppiest, especially in regard to drinking.  It definitely is strange to be in a country where the drinking age is 18 – I am 20 and won’t even turn 21 until the end of the year, but this change makes it really easy for things to get out of control.  The problem with this is that it makes American students a target, and it is something that I have clearly felt while out with my friends.  In addition, there are a lot of implicit cultural differences that we, as foreigners, are not aware of, such as acceptable modes of behavior when in public.  This, combined with the tendency of American students to be a tad overzealous with alcohol can lead to a number of less-than-ideal situations.  In addition, it can often seem in Italy that people (men especially) are excessively forward compared with those from the States, but this is a cultural difference that can actually be handled in a mature and respectful way, and simply requires communicating discomfort.  Yet this is not something that is taught before coming to another country and there is definitely a period of adjustment at first.  I write this only for the sake of future students abroad, who I gently encourage to slowly get used to the new culture and customs of their abroad experience to avoid potentially uncomfortable experiences.

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Fall Break Adventures

The longer I stay in Ithaca, the less I want to leave!  This is a slightly belated post, seeing as Fall Break occurred during the middle of October, but as per usual, life on the hill tends to get super busy around this time of year.  I actually decided to do something different during this break, and I chose to stay in Ithaca instead of making the trek home to NYC. There were various reasons I made this decision; I’m not a fan of the bus, getting a ride would mean missing a bunch of classes, and the break really isn’t that long anyway.  All in all it was a good decision because instead of traveling home to sleep, eat, and watch TV, I stayed in my room and did all those things, without the stress of a long trip in a short period of time.  This definitely can make me seem slightly lazy, but honestly I was just grateful to have a chance to sleep in until 1 pm, guilt-free.  It even just so happened that a number of my friends stayed in Ithaca as well, so the break turned out to be way more fun than expected.  On Saturday night, a band called Moon Hooch came into town to play at the Haunt, so a group of us went and had an awesome time.  The next morning there was none of the usual Sunday pressure to finish homework, so we went for a hike.  There is really no reason to leave Ithaca in early October; the leaves are beginning to change and are at their prettiest hues of red and gold, the temperature is warm enough that you still don’t need a coat, and honestly, if Cornell hadn’t called the four-day weekend a break, I doubt anyone would’ve gone home!  You know where I’ll be next Fall Break!

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Self discovery – that’s why we’re here

I must admit that I have a bit of an obsession with all things Italian.  This has not been something long-term; in fact, it came about after my study abroad experience in Rome the summer after freshman year.  Prior to going to Italy, I assumed that the month-long program in creative writing would be a perfect amount of time to explore an new culture and get a break from my science classes.  Boy was I wrong.  The little, month-long taste of Italy was a catalyst for a series of personal and academic changes I have made since, all which revolve around bringing me back to the beautiful country of Vespas, pasta, and gelato.  That being said, there is a point to this post: change is something that can be scary, but can also lead you to amazing new discoveries.  I have come to realize that college is the time at which we are most supported; we live on a beautiful campus, in a place where virtually all resources are available.  Our job is to study.  The only difficult part of these four years is working out the complicated tangle of our personalities: who we are, who we want to be, and how we can be good people while getting there.  Let me not make light of this task — it is often confusing and isolating, which is why college can be a time of huge emotional strain.  I have been going through this since my post freshman year trip to Italy and I’d like to quickly explain how I have been (and continue to) work out the complexities of becoming a person.

I started off as pre-dental and was planning to go straight through dental school after undergrad.  This was not meant to be, I soon realized after coming home from Italy and deciding that I wanted to do an entire semester abroad.  My sophomore fall, I was taking an odd mix of science and humanities classes: biology, organic chemistry, Italian history, and creative writing.  I was doing what I felt was a good alternative between my plans to be a dentist and my love for liberal studies, in particular writing.  One day, my favorite professor sat down with me as I was eating lunch and started asking me about my classes.  I talked and she listened, but after she told me that I should really consider investigating other options, that it wasn’t too late to change my course of study, and that change is inevitable when we have not had a chance to experience many options.  This resonated with me.  I started looking at different majors, different career paths, different schools within Cornell.  Eventually I found the urban planning program in the school of Architecture, Art and Planning and decided that it was right up my alley.  It even had its own Cornell in Rome study abroad semester.  Sophomore spring, I did not take any science classes for the first time.  Instead I took an intensive Italian course, a planning class, statistics, and a class in the ILR school that I found interesting.  It was a very different Cornell experience.  During this semester, I applied to transfer to AAP, and got in during the summer.  Next semester I will be in Rome.  Yet two weeks ago, as students all over campus were trying different classes and settling into their schedules, I decided that I wanted to keep taking science classes as well as the plethora of liberal studies classes for my new major.  I added the class BIOMI 2500: Public Health Microbiology, and am loving it.  Hopefully I will be able to graduate with a major in urban planning, and minors in biology, creative writing, and Italian.

My decisions were not easy and often difficult to explain to my parents.  I was motivated by more of a feeling and less of a practical inspiration (that would come later,) and this was not simple to justify.  Yet this is a representation of my emotional and academic experience during the past two years; it doesn’t continue in a straight line, but changes with the weather, or the day of the week.  It’s hard to keep up, but that doesn’t mean that change is bad.  In fact, it has allowed a new degree of flexibility into the things I am learning in that I have picked the subjects that I find inspiring and am trusting myself to deal with any changes along the way.

(On a side note — not all changes have to be done alone.  In fact, most don’t.  Cornell has a plethora of advisors and people who want to talk about everything from emotional experiences, to academic engagement.  Next time, I definitely will be knocking on my advisor’s door!)

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O Week Round 3

Aaaaand it’s that time again!  Orientation week started off with a bang as the freshman arrived on campus this past Friday, the 19th.  I felt an urge to write about my third O week, just because it is SO strikingly different from the previous two years.  While I am excited to see my friends whom I have missed during the summer months, I know better than to get too excited during this week because there is a long semester coming up and I want to be fully prepared to dive into the school year.  Therefore while in past years I have felt the need to constantly be busy and active during O week, this year I am trying to do the exact opposite — chill with friends, set up my bedroom, read books (because I won’t be able to read as much once classes start,) and get ready for a new semester.  Some may consider this boring, but having spent four semesters at Cornell already, I am aware of how fast paced the classes are, and how precious these last few days without any responsibilities can be!  That being said – it definitely is nice to be back on campus with everyone else here.  Over the summer there were significantly fewer people, which was fun because it gave me a chance to meet people I may not have met otherwise, but at times campus could feel pretty empty.   The hustle and bustle of Collegetown is a bit of a shock for me, but I definitely am feeling the buzz of excitement that radiates from all the students being back in town.  With slight trepidation, I say, bring it on junior year!

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A Word on the Learning Process

I have reached the midway point of my Cornell career, and boy is that scary to write.  While the idea of being an upperclassman is in many ways totally bizarre, the past two years have given me a chance to really explore how the process of learning works as I have taken a variety of classes across many disciplines.  This summer I am taking Introductory Microeconomics, a class that I never thought I would have to take as part of my required curriculum just two short years ago, but it turns out that my freshman self would be in for some surprises.  The biggest one: I like Micro.  While this is a pleasant surprise, I cannot say that it is entirely due to the subject matter, but rather mostly an effect of the class structure.  Three major things are different:

  1. The reading for the next day is written on the board.  There is no missing this announcement, no digging through papers to find the syllabus on which all the readings are laid out, no confusion at all about what is expected.  Therefore the task of doing the reading before lecture (which time and time again has shown to be a more effective way of processing new material) is made easier by this small change.
  2. There are office hours every day, in the same place, at the same time.  While this may seem insignificant, these hours are truly important because it is a chance to ask questions and go over confusing material while it is still fresh.  Therefore if a student knows where and when to find help everyday, they are more likely to make a habit of getting their question answered.
  3. Perhaps the most importance difference in this class is the fact that problem sets are NOT graded.  Instead they are assigned every week and the professor goes over all the answers in class.  This is important because it puts the responsibility on the student to learn the material rather than to get the answers.  I have taken classes in the past where problem sets are a big part of the final grade, and therefore students feel pressure to get the right answers, whether that be on their own, or from a friend, instead of working to understand the concepts behind a problem and fully synthesizing the material with that which is being taught in class.  Therefore doing the homework assignments becomes more of a learning process rather than a stressful race to complete a problem set.

I’m grateful for this class because it has shown me that there are better ways to learn new material that end up making a class less stressful when it is time to take the exams.  While I am aware that not all classes are laid out in such a helpful manner, these changes are easy enough to do with a few small changes.  I’d say the most important change is to start using a daily planner with a ton of space so that everything can be written clearly and legibly.  Then at the beginning of the new semester, before everything gets a little crazy and a little stressful, take the syllabus from each class and write in the reading for each lecture, as if it is something that you are responsible to have completed before class.  Then, mark when and where the TA office hours will be held for each class – and do this for every week until the end of the semester.  Hopefully then these will function as subliminal reminders to get questions answered and to come to class fully prepared!  In terms of taking time to fully understand the problem sets and connect them back to class material, I think it helps to do two things: first, start the homework early so you won’t be too stressed out, and two, really make a habit of going to office hours and listening to the TAs, instead of just comparing answers with someone else, or listening for the steps on how to solve the problem.  The TAs want you to understand what is going on and they will take the time to make their answers to questions as full and relevant as possible.  Take advantage of this!  It’s easy to forget, but in college, your education is truly in your own hands.

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5 Reasons Why Summer in Ithaca is A REALLY Good Idea

I have to say, I was pretty torn about whether I wanted to spend the summer after my sophomore year in Ithaca.  It had been a rough semester (spring semester at Cornell can feel like running a race at times) and I was ready for a break.  Yet after spending a month at home in Brooklyn, letting my parents fatten me up and sleeping more than a bear in hibernation, I decided to come back to Ithaca for its famous summer adventures (and also to take Introduction to Microeconomics, work at an on-campus cafe, and work on an independent study – but that’s all!)  Here were a few of my reasons before coming up and a few that I’ve discovered after being here!

If you have a lease, you’re likely paying for housing in Ithaca already.  Most students going into their junior or senior year have a lease in Collegetown that is 12 months, meaning that they either lose three months worth of rent, or they take the plunge and move up to Ith for the summer.  So unless you manage to snag a coveted 10 month lease, or you don’t have housing set up for the next year, why not get your money’s worth?

There are a lot of jobs, internships, and opportunities for summer students.  No matter the subject of your major, it is possible to find a summer activity that fits your professional, personal, or academic goals (or a combination of all!)  From internships at Ithaca Children’s Garden, to biomedical research positions, to summer classes, to jobs at the Statler, Cornell summer students are doing a wide range of activities, all catered to their personal goals.

Summer in Ithaca is a combination of the best parts of Cornell: good weather, more free time, and happy students.  The summer vibe is much different from that during the school year; while students are definitely busy during the summer with their aforementioned activities, most of their time is taken up during the work day and after 5 pm, there isn’t much more studying or work to be done (unless you are taking classes and have a prelim the next day — then I’d recommend studying a bit more than usual!)  Therefore students are really able to relax in a way that simply isn’t possible during the rest of the year, which is an amazing opportunity to explore Cornell and Ithaca with a more open mind.

Speaking of exploration… there is so much nature around Cornell that awaits discovery, and summer is the perfect time for this!  There is so much natural beauty on and off campus that is generally unexplored during the school year.  Summer presents the perfect opportunity to get in touch with your wild side!  There are a variety of local hikes and swimming holes around Ithaca that can be reached by car or bike, and now is the time to go explore!  For example, last Saturday, my friends and I found an amazing swimming hole, and with a little more exploration, ended up going on a five mile hike along the beautiful Fall Creek.

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Time to reconnect with friends and meet new people.  Another wonderful thing about having more free time is the opportunity to get closer with friends.  After the end of a semester, it’s easy to distance oneself from friends in the crush of studying for finals.  Spending a summer in Ithaca is the best way to reconnect, as people are ready to get together and explore in a much more enthusiastic way than during the school year.  In addition, since the pool of people who spend the summer in Ithaca is much smaller, it becomes possible to make new friends who you may not have met otherwise.  All in all, a win-win situation.

Alas, I am here for the summer and discovering new things every day to incorporate into this list.  I’d recommend spending the summer after sophomore year in Ithaca because it’s a nice renewal of Cornell appreciation after the infamous “Sophomore Slump.”  Also, it is reassuring for those who are going abroad for a semester to know that they are making up for lost time at Cornell during the summer.  10/10 would recommend.

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Construction at Cornell!

To my dearest friends in the blogging sphere: I apologize for my reticence in writing for you all this semester. As things go in college, I got busy and put blogging in that pile of things entitled “To Do Later,” as opposed to the much smaller pile “Do Right Now,” which never ever works in terms of getting things done. Alas, here I am, writing to you in hindsight about all the events that occurred this semester.

 

  1. That huge, monstrosity of a construction site that occupied a decent section of University Ave for the longest time is gone. In its place is the new Klarman Hall, which I must say is an architectural feat, with its glass atrium and sleek staircases. It’s a little sad for me because the Temple of Zeus café, which used to be located in the small, but cozy basement of Goldwin Smith Hall, moved to Klarman, where it occupies a larger and more open space. Feelings are mixed on this move – but at least the soup is still the same!
  2. If we are taking about construction, I’ll continue on to say that Gannett has its own project occurring as I write: it’s a new facility for mental health administration, and is being built as an extension of the current site. This is supposed to be finished sometime over the summer. This is an extremely important project because college age students are most likely to suffer from mental health issues, and having a place to go and get help can make some of their issues be put at ease.
  3. Another exciting development has to do with food; due to a number of petitions from various dining groups and the student assembly, a grocery store will be opening up in Anabel Taylor hall! This is a source of huge excitement for those living in Collegetown and do not have meal plans because going to Wegman’s is only convenient with a car. In addition to this grocery store, an extension of the Green Star Market, the co-op from the Commons, will be taking its produce to Collegetown! As I move towards my junior year, all I can say is thank gosh for that!

 

That’s what’s been up on campus – lots of projects, as per usual, but many of them which are actually supported by a large number of students themselves. I remember going on college tours, seeing construction and hoping that it would be finished before I came to the campus, but now I realize that most of the construction really is for the sake of the students! So food for thought: construction really ain’t that bad.

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Winter in NYC

Winter has finally arrived in New York City! After a balmy Christmas, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt a little concerned about the state of the environment this year, but rest assured, it’s looking like we will be seeing white this winter. I just wanted to comment on winter break, de stressing from one stressful semester, and assimilating into family life for the 5+ weeks of break. I remember being in high school and thinking, wow, why are college breaks so long? I need a break like that too! But as an unknowing high schooler, I had yet to realize what it really meant to finish a semester’s worth of work and the necessity of the seemingly extra-long college breaks. I dragged myself home this semester after a wonderful, but very demanding few months. It wasn’t that I was taking a crazy, 22-credit course load either – nope, I pulled the average 15-credits this semester, but at the end, it still felt like I had been worked to my very core for each one of these credits. That’s why these past few weeks have mostly been taken up by sleeping (in between stuffing myself with holiday cookies) because at this point in the year, as it is a little darker and a little colder, getting up in the morning has become something that is quite difficult to accomplish. Right now I am treating myself as well as I can, which means paying extra attention to the little things that I may not have the time to think about while at school – things such as getting enough sleep, eating well, taking some down time, and exercising. It’s time for my batteries to be recharged.

Another strange part about being home for break is that my parents aren’t really here all the time, nor is my younger brother, who recently applied for Cornell (!), since they had a much shorter break and are back in the swing of their regular schedules. It’s a different home than what I experienced during grade school – the fridge is often empty, no one cooks dinner until eight or nine most nights, and the house is so darn cold because the heating turns off while my family members are at school or work. Therefore as it is great to get this time to catch up with my family, friends, as well as myself, it will feel good to eventually return to my college schedule and life because that is where I belong now, living independently (for the most part!)

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Arts @ Cornell

This semester has been one of lots of discovery, especially in regard to the arts.  Someone, in some higher up place, has put me on the listserv for creative writing minors, so I now receive weekly emails informing me of the english-related activities going on.  While college students do receive a plethora of emails on an almost daily basis, requesting our attendance at events of all kinds, these english emails were also forwarded to me by my narrative writing professor.  Therefore I went to my first reading.

Thursday October 15th: An alumni reading from The Barbara and David Zalaznick Series

Cornell MFA grads came back to read some of their recently published work at their alma mater; Siobhan Adcock, dawn lonsinger, George McCormick, and Cori Winrock all read pieces from either recently published books or poetry collections, or they read pieces they wrote during their time at Cornell.  Good use of my time?  Yes.  I have a new favorite poet, dawn, whose work you may find here: http://www.dawnlonsinger.com/

Thursday November 12th: Reading by Marilyn Chin, also from The Barbara and David Zalaznick Series

Upon a gentle push from my narrative writing professor, I attended another reading.  This time, Marilyn Chin was the guest, and she BLEW ME AWAY!  For a small woman, she has a loud voice and a stage presence that commanded the audience from the moment she started speaking until the very end, when she finished reading her poetry and poetic short fiction.  Another Thursday well spent thanks to the arts at Cornell.

Friday November 20th: The first year MFA reading series

Again, with the help of my professor, I found myself at another reading.  This one took place at Buffalo Street Books, the cozy bookstore located just off the Commons in downtown Ithaca. Two writers read their work — or should I say, expanded my mind with their creative passions, providing a new interpretation of the world in which we live.

All in all, if I have learned one thing this semester, it is to go to the events that are constantly promoted in emails the arrive day by day in our undergrad inboxes.  They’re relevant and more importantly, round out that Cornell education, giving students context for their creative passions.  I’ll definitely be around at the readings next semester.

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