February 2 was my official 5 month mark, meaning my exchange year is halfway through. I could not be more grateful for everything that's happened so far--I'm absolutely having the time of my life and I know that coming back will be hard.
Since I haven't blogged in a while, I'll try to recap everything that I've been doing.
Festa del Torrone
Torrone is a type of nougat candy that is typical of Cremona, and even has its own festival every year. Exchange students from all of Northern Italy gathered here to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of Cremona's famous Festa del Torrone. The festival lasted a whole week, but the exchange students were only all together for one day. That week, the streets were filled with stands of vendors trying to sell their version of torrone. It came in all different flavors, including classic Italian pistachio, tiramisu, and even Nutella. Saturday and Sunday were definitely the most crowded days, and Sunday ended with a huge aerial dance performance in the main square, Piazza del Duomo. After meeting all of these exchange students in Fognano, it was really fun to see them again two months later, discovering how we've all grown and changed.
Thanksgiving was a very bittersweet time to be on exchange, and for that reason, all of the exchange students in Cremona decided to work together to host our very own Thanksgiving feast. We cooked all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods and invited our host families to the oratorio where the feast was held. Pictured here are hungry exchange students past, present, and future.
Like Thanksgiving, Christmas was a difficult and bittersweet time to be away from my family. Even though I kept telling myself to be positive, that I'd only be in Italy for Christmas once, it's a lot easier said than done. My host sister Caterina came home from studying in Berlin right before my Christmas break start, which I was really happy about because she's a lot of fun. Christmas Eve, we all went over to the house of my host father's sister and her husband. There was a lot of extended family there, including Caterina's cousins. In Italy, it's a tradition to eat fish on Christmas Eve. Every course had some version of seafood, and the meal lasted probably around 3 or 4 hours. We exchanged gifts when we got home, as it was past 12:00 by the time we were finished eating. After a long night's sleep, we prepared for the next big meal--Christmas lunch at my host mother's parents' house. The feast was even bigger this time, featuring large chunks of some kind of roast, mashed potatoes, spinach, and mostarda--a Cremonese specialty. Included in the festivities were grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws. Being Northern Italy, it was all a bit more formal than I had anticipated, but it was a beautiful celebration nonetheless. I can't pretend I wasn't homesick, though. I missed hot chocolate, Christmas carols, and the smell of a real Christmas tree, but I managed to pull through with a smile on my face.
The second part of the break was even more fun--I got to go skiing in the Alps!
We spent a few days at my host family's condo in a village called Madonna di Campiglio, and it was absolutely beautiful. It actually reminded me a lot of Steamboat, except people were speaking Italian and wearing Moon Boots. Skiing in the Alps was definitely one of my bucket list items, and I was really excited about the whole experience. There was only one problem--they don't go powder skiing! According to my host parents, I'll die if I ski off of the groomed trail... good to know, I guess. We had beautiful bluebird weather, though, so that was nice.
New Host Family
I changed host families at the end of Christmas break. My new host family is absolutely the opposite of my last--there are three daughters near my age, the house is very lively, and I'm almost never alone. One funny tidbit is that my new family's last name is Merli, which means blackbirds. My last host family was Cacciatori, meaning hunters. So, I've gone from the hunters to the blackbirds. Somehow this is funny to me. Anyway, my new host mom is French, and a French teacher at a university in Brescia. My host father is an ER doctor. Two of my host sisters, Margot and Charlotte, are 16-year-old twins, and the other, Juliette, is 15.
I FINALLY got to go to Milan with them. I love this picture because it's in front of the Duomo in Milan, which is indescribably beautiful. From left to right is me, Charlotte, Juliette, and Margot. They're all so sweet--I feel much more like part of the family than just a guest with them.
Rotary teaches us about these stages of exchange:
1. The honey-moon phase; excitement
2. Homesickness; "everything here sucks"
4. Reverse homesickness
I'm proud to be able to say I'm finally in my adjustment phase. I'm easily conversational in Italian, I have both Italian and exchange friends, and I'm used to daily life. Everything is finally normal, and I haven't been homesick since Christmas. I have to continue to thank my sponsor club and my parents for making all of this possible, and my friends for supporting me!!! No part of this journey has been easy, but I wouldn't be here without everyone who believed in me. All in all, I'm happy to report that life is really great, la vita è bella.
Thanks for reading,