Monthly Archives: May 2013

So I am taking a break from my day to sit and basically just do nothing. Class was only 2 hours today, instead of the usual 4 hour long class, so I am feeling pretty relaxed. All the wicked steep hills in Siena wear me out and leaving my bed is difficult at the moment so I have decided to do something at least a little bit productive and update my blog.

Alright, so last night I got to have a really interesting discussion with my host family about the economic state of Italy (in Italian!) and how it compares to the US. In my emigration class, we learned that Italy is now experiencing a new emigration period because of the economic crisis of 2008. Most Italians go to other European countries like Germany, but also other countries belonging to BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that have economies that offer more opportunities in employment than Italy does at the moment. Italy has an unemployment rate of about 11% right now (I googled it), and according to our teacher, the country is experiencing a “brain drain” which means that young, qualified Italians are leaving the country to settle in countries that offer opportunities that Italy does not. Why, are there no opportunities for the young Italian Einsteins you may ask? Well, according to my class, Italy is no longer a meritocracy (I say no longer because I think they used to sort of be, but I am not sure because I don’t speak Italian so well). So, in Italy in order to find a job, you basically need to know someone influential who can get you into the work field. My host parents reiterated this during our discussion and my host momma even said that Lorenzo (the oldest) will most likely have to go elsewhere to find employment; this was just an accepted fact. My teacher also said that Italians were putting of things like marriage and moving out because the didn’t have the money in order to finance these life events.

Later in the day, we also talked about the environment and Italy. So, what I found to be most interesting is that it is actually illegal to turn on the heat right now in Italy. Crazy, right? The Italian government isn’t composed of a lot of super conscious green politicians or anything, it is just simply too expensive to have heat right now. Italy actually has to import their electricity and heat from nearby countries like Switzerland. And gas is around 8 or 10 euros per gallon (like1 something euros per liter?). Absolutely bananas. So, we were all counseled to turn off our light anytime we leave our room. While it may not save a bunch of money, it shows the family that you are conscious of the value of electricity and that you are trying not to burden them. Water is also way more expensive than in the states so short showers are a necessity here. I am hoping that I will get into the habit of turning off my lights asap when I’m here so that I will bring this habit back to the states to be nicer to mother earth, and to mother Sullivan’s electricity bill. Oh, and they don’t have dryers here either because it is an unnecessary electricity cost. They just hang them up to dry on a line on the porch or outside windows if there isn’t a porch.

Now onto the fun stuff. I have a jam packed schedule while here: Tomorrow, I am possibly going to Pisa with the group of kids studying here if we can all get ourselves organized enough to do so. Plus I want to do some light gift shopping, and maybe a museum or two. And I have an Italian test on Martedí. Uffa! Then, the raffles for the Palio are on Sunday so I really want to go see that. The Palio is a horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo, a beautiful plaza that is a hugee tourist attraction here. If I can get it to work, I’ll include one of my pictures in this entry. The city (at all times, not just for the race) is divided by their neighborhoods called, contrada, that each compete to be in the race. There are 17 contrada in the city but not every one has the chance to be in the race. The pre-race to be in the race is this Sunday and I am super excited. Now for a little more on the Palio. The Palio is a very old tradition, about 400 years old I think, and is the biggest event in the city. Hundreds of thousands of people go to the Palio and balconies and even just windows that overlook the piazza del campo can be bought for upwards of a thousand euros. If you can even find an available one. So for weeks leading up to the Palio, the neighborhoods celebrate and raise money for bribes. I’m sorry, did I just say bribes? Why yes, yes I did, because bribing is a known part of the palio and is accepted. There are two races, one on the first of July, and one on the sixteenth of August but the interim period is used for celebrating July’s winner and preparing for the next race so it doesn’t sound like there is a lot of downtime. The Palio is basically a celebration of your neighborhood and wherever you walk in Siena, you will find Contrade flags in whichever Contrada you are currently in. The Contrada that wins a race wins a painting and has a party for the entire city where they open their neighborhood up to outsiders, when normally they would be secluded. During this time, you can see all the paintings the Contrada has won in the past and they really celebrate and show off their neighborhoods. Basically, when you win the Palio, you spend a lot of money entertaining the losers. I personally would absolutely love to see the Palio and be in Siena to the weeks leading up to, and after, the races. Unfortunately, I will be leaving right before the first race but maybe one day I can come back and cheer for my adopted contrada: Valdimontone (valley of the ram).


La Piazza del Campo

La Piazza del Campo

This is the big building at the bottom of the piazza del campo called the Torre del Mangia. It holds the horses right before the race, and is a museum and huge tourist attraction for the rest of the time

This is the big building at the bottom of the piazza del campo called the Torre del Mangia. It holds the horses right before the race, and is a museum and huge tourist attraction for the rest of the time

This is a neighborhood with contrada flags. These are for the giraffa contrada

This is a neighborhood with contrada flags. These are for the giraffa contrada


Today was a really fun day. In the morning the group of people who are only here for 4 weeks got together for our “reflective writing” course (in english) in which we discuss our home lives and our trip over and any questions that we have. It was really interesting to see how everyone’s home life is different especially since we tend to generalize the characteristics of certain cultures and countries and attributing one or two characteristics to every household in that country. For example, most Italian mommas will be very upset if you try and walk out of the house with your hair wet (they think you will get sick), however, not everyone in our group had that discussion with their host parents. Also, skinning apples and cucumbers. A friend of mine’s host dad made her skin her apple before eating it for reasons unknown, and also skinned cucumbers before using them. I personally have not encountered this and only one other person in the group had, so it can’t be assumed that all Italian households are this way. We also had the fortunate opportunity to bring up any awkward or embarrassing questions that we could not bring up with our host family (I especially enjoyed this portion; I had many questions) The following were asked by me: Question number 1. Why in the world is the toilet seat in my house a square. It isn’t a complete square, the corners are rounded, but still. It is uncomfortable and I haven’t noticed any Italians with square butts so I’m assuming their anatomy is the same as American anatomy. Our teacher explained that it was most likely a style thing so I guess my house is really stylish. For those of you wondering, yes I will be bringing back pictures. Also, my house was one of  the only houses in the group that had a square toilet seat. Interesting. Question number 2. Why are all the clocks I see in Italy broken? I had noticed this with the clock in my kitchen, a clock in a classroom, and a clock in the family room area of my house. Also, it has been explained to us that Italians pretty much run on their own time (something we found out the hard way when our class went 30+ minutes over) so I was wondering if this was because there was shortage of working clocks which apparently were only there for decoration. Our teacher pretty much just said it was a coincidence and made a note to tell people in the school to fix the broken clock. Question number 3. My blinds in my house are electric, is this also for fashion’s sake? The teacher said that it was interesting because neither she nor anyone else in the group had electric blinds that work at the push of a button. So my house is clearly just the fashion forward casa on the block. We then just talked about our expectations in Italy, concerns, etc. Pretty simple but entertaining class.

The real fun began around 4 pm (16:00) when we had cooking class! Italian schools don’t have campuses so our building has other things in it and one of these things is a cooking school. We made our own dough for pasta and watched as the teacher made pappa col pomodoro, and the sauce for a pasta called pici (pee-chee), and tiramisu! It was so unbelievably good and I was more full than I have ever been during my time here. Our teacher believed that the way to learn Italian was in the kitchen and she spoke to us entirely in Italian but we did have a translator to explain the steps and directions. After cooking class, we all went to the campo to drink wine and just hang out which was a lot of fun as well.

When I came home from the campo, at about 10pm (because it’s a school night!), I sat down to do my Italian homework and pretty much the whole family helped me. I absolutely loved it. It was so nice to be able to bond with them helping me and explaining to me what was correct and why. It was kind of a relaxing conversation since I didn’t have to work so hard to try and keep up a conversation; it was all on the paper. My momma Cristina and I stayed up late just talking about my homework and the tangents that came from that like my friends and family. She also told me that she really likes English and Spanish and that she thinks English sounds pretty. Even the American accent in Italian! I was surprised and told her I thought English was brutta (ugly) and not romantico. She laughed and said that Stephanie (the other American) said the same thing. I was actually really happy to hear how much she liked English and the way it sounds because I personally thought that Americans have the ugliest accents ever. To my ears, we sound crass and unoriginal so it was so nice to hear that someone actually likes to hear us talk!

Primero giorno di corso

As, the probably incorrect Italian title of my post declares, today was my first day of school! I had a class of Italian where today we learned useful phrases like how are you etc. and our numbers, letters, months, and days. It was a really fun class and our teacher is absolutely amazing. She is super sweet and very good at making herself clear even to us beginners in Italian. And she can roll with pretty much any mistake we make. A girl in my class today accidentally said “Shannan é facile” instead of “Shannan é felice”. The first sentence means “Shannan is easy” while the second simply says that Shannan is happy. Quite a difference, and our teacher laughed just as hard as anyone else and joined in on our joking. Hopefully, later on I will have more time to write about my days because the last few have been jam packed with activities. I am so tired by the end of the day that I am actually going to bed before midnight (can you believe that mom/dad?) I am so exhausted that bedtime has become my favorite part of the day. I am looking forward to exploring the city more and going into shops etc. I also can’t wait to see St. Catherine’s head, I have plans on taking a picture with it and making it my profile picture. Domani I have a cooking class which I am also really excited for, and perhaps I will find time to write more in depth about what I have been doing so far. These past two posts have been kind of rambling so I apologize to those who may feel obligated to read this I promise I will try and make it more interesting. Buona notte!


To begin, I would like to explain (and defend) the title of my blog. While it may seem incredibly unoriginal to have a blog titled “hello”, I chose the title because it had more meaning to me personally. “Ciao” is basically the only word in Italian that I knew when I came to Siena and entered into an intensive learning program where everything I hear and learn is entirely in Italian. So, for me, Ciao really signifies my beginnings in Siena and will show how far I (hopefully) progress in Italian during my time here.

So, with that out of the way I guess I shall describe my life here. Siena is absolutely gorgeous. If you ask anyone who has been to Italy what their favorite place was, they will most likely say Siena. That is at least how every conversation went for me when I told people about my trip here. My house is right outside of the city. I walk to my classes because it’s not a long walk and I am afraid of the bus. I live with a family of five (cinque). My momma is named Cristina, my bobba is Johnny (I don’t know how to spell it the Italian way but I know it starts with a G), and their children are named Lorenzo (12 years old), and the twins John Luca and Elena (almost 9 years old). The kids are absolutely crazy and hilarious. I can get along just fine talking to Elena with my very broken Italian because her facial expressions are universal. Lorenzo speaks Spanish and can help me when I am struggling to communicate with his parents, and Luca is very shy but also adorable. There is also another American student living with the family named Stephanie (stephie to the family) who has been with the family since last semester. She is obviously the biggest help in communication between me and the famiglia Passaniti but she tries to speak Italian with me as much as possible. For the first day, she explained everything to me about the weird toilet flusher thing and the fold out shower wall thingy and the washing machine that apparently does clothes by temperature (I have yet to go near it, I am hoping that momma will either teach me or take over my laundry), so I had a pretty good grasp of what was going on which was a huge help. Cristina and Johnny are the absolute nicest people ever. They are always smiling and making sure that I am comfortable. Cristina also took me on a tour of the house and revealed how the electric blind thingys worked which are pretty awesome by the way, and Johnny is always looking out for me like the time that he informed me in Italian and charades that I was still wearing my slippers while leaving the house for class. oops. Having a conversation is hard with my level of Italian, but somehow we pretty much end up getting the point across about what we are each saying. There are enough similarities between Italian and Spanish that I have started to just speak Spanish when I don’t know the words in Italian and we just see how far that gets me. We have done pretty well so far.