Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Esami, ecc.

I have come to love Bologna again since I last wrote.  After the break-in and everything else that had preceded it (the concussion, the horrendous fight, etc), I was feeling fairly done with being in Bologna and couldn't wait to just leave.  However, a little time, a little perspective, and a little frisbee cured me of that.  Now I am looking ahead to that June 5th deadline with more than a little bit of trepidation and sadness (at least I can comfort myself with the fact that the adventure will be continuing in Germany this summer).

However, the past few weeks in Bologna have been more than beautiful weather and frisbee in the Giardini (a wonderful park right outside the city walls).  I have also been quite busy studying for (and taking) my first exams.  That's right, it's exam season!  As with everything else to do with the university here, exams have quickly become a source of confusion and stress, especially because they are the only form of evaluation and consequently the basis for my entire final grade for each class.  

My first exam was for Istituzioni di storia del cinema (History of the Institutions of Film).  Given that I had not been regularly attending lectures for most of the semester (largely due to conflicts with my teaching job and with another class), that I had not seen any of the 40 films on the syllabus, and that I still had nearly three entire books to read (in Italian!) in four days, I was quite worried.  Freaking out might actually be a more accurate description of the state of things.  So, I decided to talk to the professor and make sure that I was clear on the format of the exam so I could began to plan my studying.  Her office hours were at four o'clock on Thursday.  Great.  I decided to skip my 3-5 class to make sure I get a chance to speak with her.  Oh, wait.  There's a note on the door saying that she won't be coming until five that day.  

At this point it's too late to walk all the way across the city to where my class is and back, so I settle in for an hour (....and a half...) to do some reading while I wait.  Eventually the professor shows up and I manage to make it into her office before most of the crowd that has formed by this point.  We clarify the format of the exam.  She informs me that nothing is different for Erasmus students (Erasmus is the European exchange program--we American students aren't technically Erasmus but we get lumped in) and, in response to my question about whether there are certain sections I should focus on more than others, that I just need to know tutto (everything).  She ended the session by reassuring me a bit: "Don't worry, you don't need to be intelligent to pass this exam, you just need to read and memorize everything."  Thanks a lot.  My intelligence, and not my slow reading and difficulty memorizing in another language, really is the issue at hand.

Needless to say, I did not emerge from the meeting much comforted.  

Frantic studying ensued.  I read more pages in Italian in less time than I thought possible.  I highlighted, made flash cards, watched YouTube clips, and didn't leave my kitchen table for approximately two days (other than a quick study break to make oatmeal cookies with my roommate).

Then came the day of the exam.  I woke up earlier and made it to the building where the exam would be with plenty of time.  After more frantic skimming of the book I would need to write two essays about and my notes and flash cards, the professor finally arrived.  She then proceeded to take roll, calling out all the names for a group of about 200 gathered students as we all stood in the hallway (around 20 of these students were absent, because why, after all, would you show up to take the exam you signed up for when you can just turn up next month and try again?).  Once she had checked off all of our names, she announced that only the first 96 students would be able to take the exam at this point (10am) and that the others would have to return at 11:30.  Having no idea where my name sat in relation to all of the others, I decided to just go in and see what happened.  

What happened is that the two professors administering the exam each passed out different copies and we spent about 10 minutes sitting there while they got that sorted out.  When I finally did get my copy of the exam, I was in for a nice surprise.  Contrary to what the professor had told me several days before, the exam was different for Erasmus students!  Instead of 30 multiple choice questions relating to the 40 films and two books and two essays answering questions about a third book, I only had to answer the multiple choice questions!  Furthermore, many of these questions were exactly the same as the "sample questions" given out (with answers) the last day of class.  Facilissimo (very easy)!  I finished in about half an hour, and then spent another hour twiddling my thumbs and staring at the frescoes on the ceiling until we were finally allowed to leave.

So there it is.  One down, one and two halves to go!  

Fortunately I have something like a ten-day break before my next exam, so I can take my time studying for this next one (and spend some more time on Project Amy-tries-to-have-Italian-friends--Take 4)!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


All right, everybody be cool, this is a robbery! (cue "Misirlou," and props if you get the reference).

But actually.

A few days ago, after teaching English at Castel San Pietro, a small town outside of Bologna, I walked back into my apartment and found my bedroom door ajar.  This in and of itself is not that unusual, because the door doesn't latch very well and sometimes gusts of wind blow it open.  However, I was fairly certain that I had not left my desk drawer wide open or knocked my chair over before I left. Beginning to sense that something was wrong, I stepped into the room and found all my closet and cabinet doors open and everything in a general state of disarray.  I stood still for a moment, taking in the scene.  Then it hit me.  Where was my computer? and my camera? and my earrings?

Suddenly frantic and hoping this was some kind of nasty prank, I ran into my roommate Benedetta's room and completely startled the young boy she was in the process of tutoring.

"Are you ok? Did you notice anything unusual today? Do you still have everything?"


By then it had begun to sink in: I had just somehow become the victim of a break-in and robbery.  Fortunately for my three roommates, mine was the only room that was entered.  A series of phone calls ensued, and before long Anna Maria, my program director, arrived with her daughter to take me to the Questura to file a claim.  By this point, everything was absolutely surreal.  I was sitting in the waiting room of a police station reading Italian picture books to a four-year-old and trying not to cry.  I felt a bit like I was in Ferris Bueller or something.  Eventually (several hours later), we were led back to a desk and un poliziotto wearing a striped t-shirt and an Armani man-purse half-heartedly took down my report.  His literacy was questionable (he misspelled my name and address after copying them from my passport, and even Anna Maria commented that he wrote like a second-grader and apparently didn't feel the need to bother with punctuation), but in the end we manged to get down the list.  I lost my computer, two cameras (my new DSLR and my older point-and-shoot), my iPod, my back-up drive, and all of my earrings and bracelets.  Once everything was written down, il poliziotto advised me not to have hope and called in the next person.

I was still very much upset and in shock by this point, so I was very happy to find when I got home that Erica (who had taken a trip from France to Italy and dropped by to spend a few days in Bologna with me), had managed to make it back to the apartment without difficulty and had even made me dinner and a cup of tea.

That night I slept at a friend's nearby apartment (Erica was a good sport about substituting a bed for a couch), since I still felt too violated to stay in my apartment, let alone my room.

So, that was one (mis)adventure that I certainly wasn't expecting to have during my months abroad, but in the grand scheme of things it could have been much worse.  At least no one was harmed, at least my passport wasn't taken, at least none of my roommate's things were touched, and so on.  I also got a chance to appreciate the incredible safety net provided by the Brown program.  Anna Maria and Lilia and Dr. Martinez in the office were incredible, dropping everything to take me to the police station, calling me repeatedly to check up for several days afterwards, having the locks in the apartment changed the same night, and so on.  My friends from the program were also wonderful, continuing, as always, to be champs.  Between the concussion earlier in the week and the break-in a few days ago, their ability to  care for me has seriously been put to the test, and they have all come through in a very major way.  The one upside to this horrible situations is that it has really put into perspective how lucky I am.

Anyway, updates will probably not be as frequent or as full of photos as they have been in the past, but I will do my best to keep caught up!