Tag Archives: Italian

Going Back to High School

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     One of the biggest highlights for me this semester in Rome was getting the opportunity to volunteer as an English tutor at a local Italian high school. I spent one hour each week with a classroom of 25 fourteen to fifteen-year-old students on Monday mornings. You can imagine that trying to keep control of a large group of loud teenagers can be a bit overwhelming. I still remember my first day, three months ago, and how nervous I was. I had absolutely no experience as an English tutor. What if I look like a fool and don’t know what I’m doing? What if the Italian students don’t like me? What if they don’t speak English well and we can’t communicate? What if the professor I’m working with is intimidating? All of these fears went away almost immediately once I went to my first class.

     The professor I was working with was incredibly kind, welcoming, and helpful. She gave me plenty of freedom to structure my time with the students however I wanted and would give me suggestions for lessons if I ever needed any. The students were also incredibly friendly and as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. On the first day, I did a short “getting to know you” activity with the students in order to find out their interests, what they want to learn from me, and assess their level. I was surprised to discover that even though I had the youngest age group of the high school, they still spoke English very well. Some students were more vocal than others, but all of them were able to hold a conversation with me. My main goal was just to get the students excited about speaking English and to practice with a native speaker.

     Tutoring in a foreign country with a group of young teenagers did present some challenges. Italian high schools are set up differently than in the States, so it is actually the teachers who have to move from room to room in between every class and the students all stick together in the same room for the whole day. This results in two consequences: the students form their own strong packs and become incredibly antsy being cooped up in one room all day. I can’t say I blame them. I know I may have been chatty in class as a fourteen-year-old, but I swear these Italian teens could out-chat any American classroom. However, I was up for the challenge and ready to demand the class’ attention with the only way I knew how: make it fun!

     The students, like myself, were most interested in talking about cultural differences between Italy and America so I came up with some new activities and games each week to discuss these. One week I brought in a speaker and we listened to some American music and even danced a bit. We discussed the lyrics and any words they didn’t understand. Of course, I had to throw in some musical theatre, so I played them a song from Hamilton. This ended up being my favorite song with them because not only did the language used in the music and rap style challenge them, I also was able to share with them some American history and my passion for musical theatre. Some other activities we did included a spelling competition, grammar auction, American slang, and a discussion all about food. The students got very competitive when we played games, especially when they knew there was a prize on the line so I liked to bring in some chocolate or treats to bribe them into really engaging in the lesson that day. I have to say, it was effective.

     I can honestly say I loved spending an hour a week with these kids and usually it didn’t feel like enough time. My class continually impressed me and I loved getting to know them more each week. It was so interesting learning about our similarities and differences and they still like to make fun of me for eating “everything pizza”. Unfortunately, I had my last class with my students this past week and I was more sad than I expected. I am definitely going to miss seeing them each week and I am hopeful that they will retain at least some of what I thought them even though I think they may have taught me more than I taught them.

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Una Cucina Italiana

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible cook.  I knew from age four, when I burned my hand on an oven rack because I thought one oven mitt would protect both my hands, that I was not cut out for the world of cooking.

I get nervous in the kitchen, I break things, I spill things. When it comes to cooking, I have the opposite of a Midas touch. Everything I touch turns to trash. Also it probably catches on fire. I’ve tried to become better, but no Pinterest hack, FoodNetwork recipe, or YouTube tutorial has ever really helped.

Lucky for me, and my smoke detector, there are ways to fix this.

Cooking classes!

Through Temple, I was able to sign up for a three-hour cooking class. I figured, why not take advantage of the incredible food, and culture surrounding food, in Italy to actually learn what to do in the kitchen. So while most of Rome was headed to Olympic stadium for a big Rome-Lazio game, I tied back my hair, washed my hands, and got cooking. 

We arrived to this incredible apartment in Flaminio, and met our hosts, who told us what we would be making: a light spring meal of home-made pasta with tomato and basil, and crostata (mini Italian pies filled with ricotta cheese)But before we could start cooking, we had to have an aperitivo. This is Italy, after all.

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No better way to start cooking than with some rosé wine. And snacks

After the wine, we started on our desserts, as they needed time to bake in the oven. I’m not much of a baker, either, but I do have to say that my strengths in the kitchen lie more with cookie sheets than they do with frying pans.  We started by mixing the ricotta and sugar for the filling, and added one egg yolk, not the whole egg (this was apparently very important. I left that bit up to my baking partner, because I wasn’t too fond of the idea of picking eggshells out of our ricotta mix).

Once that was all added, we could choose our flavors- chocolate, orange, or both. I went chocolate, because you can never go wrong with a classic. Then came decorations, where I adorned mine with my initial, just in case anyone got any ideas and tried to sneak an extra pie. Also because this is real life, not Instagram and there’s not time to make things pretty when theres pie on the line, okay? With that, our dessert went off to the oven to bake, and we got started on actual dinner.

Confession time: when I was a kid, I begged my mom for a pasta maker. Not because I had a weird childhood obsession with pasta or anything, but because my best friend had one that she used to press clay down with (I was a typical art student from the beginning). I thought it was so cool- we could mix together a bunch of colors and squish them down and make tie-dye clay!

Never did get that pasta maker.

Which means I’ve never used one to make actual pasta. I’ve never even made homemade  pasta. I just assumed that since it wasn’t minute rice, it was out of my wheelhouse. Turns out, it’s pretty simple! We mixed two flours- a heavy one, and a light one- with one egg and one egg yolk (again, left up to my friend). Then we mixed it. When it gets too thick to mix with a fork, we went in with our hands. Turns out, Italians don’t just talk with their hands, they cook with them too. After that, we had to knead the dough on the table, cut it into four sections and roll out those sections until they were long and flat.

Then came the fun part: the pasta machine.

We took the rolled dough and rolled it through the machine until one of our hosts, Laura, deemed them thin enough and they were set off to the side. When they were all thin enough, we ran them through another section of the machine- the part that turns it into actual noodles. And voila! Pasta. Totally not as hard as it seems.

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The pasta noodles were then placed into little nest shapes on a sheet to rest before cooking them.

We took the break to drink a little more wine (of course), and chat. Even with Temple Rome being such a small group, it’s impossible to know everyone. So it was nice to get the time to talk to people I hadn’t gotten to meet yet. Even with a little under a month left, there’s still time to make new friends!

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But we couldn’t chat forever- there was pasta that needed cooking. Our hosts had been simmering a tomato sauce for us, so that was one thing we didn’t need to worry about. (thank God, because putting me near a sauce pot is just a recipe for disaster.) All we had to do was wait for the pasta to boil and we were ready to go. Since it was fresh pasta, and not pre-packaged stuff, it only took about three or four minutes. It was added to the sauce immediately, and we threw in some basil and a healthy portion of parmesan cheese and mixed it all up. Then, finally, we could eat.

And it was fantastic.

I always assumed that pasta with tomato sauce was pretty…simple. I was wrong (this shouldn’t be a surprise). This pasta was delicious. Maybe it was the freshness, the homemade-ness, or the fact that I hadn’t eaten all day and probably would have thought the table was tasty. But I don’t care why it was good, just that it was. And I had made (some of) it!

And of course, I can’t forget about dessert. I’m not the biggest ricotta cheese fan, but these little pies were so good I could forget that. They were sweet, but not overly so, and were just the perfect size for after dinner.

I had a really great time at this class. I don’t think it’s made me a master chef, and if I ever met Gordon Ramsey he would still probably tell me my food is so burnt it’s like I used a flamethrower instead of an oven. But I think it helped me realize that a lot of things I think are just impossible actually aren’t that hard at all- like making pasta from scratch. So who knows, maybe by the time I get home I’ll be making my own pasta and sauce all the time.

Or maybe I’ll stick to the minute rice.

Chit Chat with Italians

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This week Temple University Rome hosted a chit chat with Italians that brought together American and Italian students from multiple schools. American schools represented in the chat included Temple and St. John’s University. Italian students that participated in the chat were from Sapienza University, LUMSA University and the Sport University, “Foro Italico”. The chat was a great opportunity to meet new people, practice Italian language, make some Italian friends, and discuss the cultural differences between the United States and Italy. American students were free to ask Italian students any question they had and vice versa. The chat was mostly in English, but also in Italian.16640888_1365496216848612_1695648932150387952_n.jpg

We first had an open discussion as a large group and talked about what was different than we expected in Rome and a common theme seemed to be the language barrier. Most of the students from the United States, myself included, anticipated that there would be virtually no language barrier in Rome. I expected practically everyone in Rome to be totally fluent in English, but I quickly realized that this is not the reality. While there are many people in Rome who do speak English and it is totally possible to get by without knowing Italian, there are also many people in Rome who speak little to no English. More people speak English in Rome since it is a more touristic area, but as you get further outside of the city into the countryside and non-touristic areas of Italy, less and less people speak English. Fortunately, while in Rome, I am taking an intensive Italian language course so I have Italian class four days a week for two hours each day. The class is tough but I am loving learning the language and it is extremely helpful! I’ve learned the basics and can at least communicate in Italian enough to meet new people, tell them about myself, ask questions, order food, and other essentials.

This chit chat was the perfect chance for me to practice some of the Italian skills I have been developing! I talked to a few Italian students and met some great people. I was able to get some recommendations of where to eat, go out, and see theatre in Rome. I even made an Italian friend named Barbara who helped me study for my Italian test. She also only lets me communicate with her in Italian when we use WhatsApp and pushes me to speak the language as much as I can. It’s great to have a native speaker to talk to and give me corrections. Plus, I am able to help her with her English. However, her English is exponentially better than my Italian, but I do my best!16473426_1365493653515535_3670342498145154223_n.jpg

One of the interesting Italian perceptions of Americans that I learned was that most Italians seem to be under the impression that United States citizens have been to all 50 states. When I was asked this, I laughed and said most Americans probably couldn’t even name all 50 states for you. I am very grateful that Temple hosted this chit chat because I was able to learn more about our cultural differences, misconceptions, practice some Italian, and even make some new friends! I looked forward to continuing to develop my Italian skills as I chit chat with the locals!16508789_1365492450182322_358863321747595905_n.jpg