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I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Self-Diagnosed Workaholic

All summer through every hour of every shift, a chant looped through my head: Italy, Italy, do it for Italy.
I had an internship at the Grand Haven Tribune, and also worked at Subway and Did's Deli to maintain an income. My summer consisted of writing stories and making sandwiches all day, every day. But I knew that in a few months, the 60-80 hour work weeks would all be worth it. "Italy, Italy, do it for Italy," I would remind my sore feet and tired eyes.
While I did make quite a bit of money, life tends to take it back in large chunks. I had $700 in car repairs and $300 in computer repairs this semester. And although my parents kindly helped out with those a bit, my bank account isn't looking quite as full as I'd like.

So here I am on winter break back to my summer routine. I told myself, "only Subway. Only take hours from Subway." But then I figured I might as well pick up a story or two for the Tribune. I like working for them, and Subway wouldn't give me that many hours anyway, right? Wrong. Two closers quit without notice. I've put in 30 hours so far, have another 40 scheduled, and probably about 10 after that.  And today I picked up a lunch shift at Did's because, well because why not? Or maybe just because I've been lusting for their food since I left (Try it if you haven't).
It's not what I was doing over the summer but definitely more than I had anticipated.
I don't mean to complain about the work. I'll probably make over $500 at this rate, which could be a trip to Greece. Besides, it's not like I have anything else terribly exciting to do in this town.
I'm just thinking about my inability to slow down and relax. It's almost become comical.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The pictures that started it all.

As I mentioned before, my love for Italy began in fifth grade when my mom showed me slides from her trip to Europe.
Here is the lovely Rita in Florence in 1982.

Of all those slides, Venice was what stuck. It was love at first sight. I still remember seeing these projected on the wall in the library at Peach Plains Elementary:

I spent a few tedious hours pushing slides through the converter. I barely got through one carousel of slides, but I'll keep going tomorrow.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone is enjoying holiday season. I've always been very blessed, and this year was no exception. It was just me and my parents and sisters this year (we have relatives in town about every other year).
Last night was my favorite Coutré family holiday tradition. We turn off all the lights and my dad lies on the living room floor and reads us "The Polar Express" by the light of the Christmas tree. We've done this for as long as I can remember. When we were younger, we'd climb on his back and look at the pictures over his shoulders. Lorraine,15,  still tried, but it didn't last long. We all sprawled around on the carpet and listened as he read the tale with animated voices. As tradition, we scolded him every time he tried to ad-lib parts — we know it too well for such trickery.
And this morning as a sign we're getting old, we showered and ate breakfast — my dad's crêpes —before touching a single present. I wasn't even awake before 9 a.m. My sisters and I used to perch on the top stair and wait until 7 a.m. when we were finally allowed to jump on the snoring lumps in my parents' bed.
But we eventually settled into our customary spots on the living room — Carolyn and dad on the couch, mumsie in her "red throne," and Lorraine and I on the floor in a nest of blankets.
This year's gifts had a bit of a theme.

An Italy calendar and travel book, Italian soaps and a couple of journals for further recording of my trip — the top one handmade by Carolyn.
Thank you all! And for all of my other wonderful gifts.

Finally, my dear parents also got me a digital film and slide converter! I'm spending the rest of the day going through all of my mom's slides of her trip to Europe in 1982.
I am in a fort of slide boxes, the converter and my mom's Pana-Vue automatic. One at a time, I am converting each of the hundreds of 2x2 slides to a .jpg file. I'll post some later.
I want to retake as many pictures as I can in the spring. I think it would be a fun project, and as I've said in a previous post, I like having extra things to do.

And of course, "A Christmas Story" is on.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fall 2011 semester = officially over

I just said my last Kent goodbye.
I spent the evening packing and watching Netflix with Hannah. My parents and little seeester will be here tomorrow morning to try to fit all of my belongings into our cars. I feel as if I should play tetris for a couple of hours in preparation.

Two things:
1. How does anyone expect me to condense these piles into two suitcases? Florence packing will be the stressor of my winter break.
2. I think I'll have to have an apple for breakfast... or two.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Is this really happening?

It hit me this morning just how lucky I am. As I've expressed many times before, I can hardly believe this is happening.
So, thank you to mumsie and pops, who are doing everything they can to help finance the trip. all of my relatives whose birthday and holiday checks have helped build my savings. Don Williams, dean of the Honors College, who helped find an extra scholarship for me last summer when I wasn't sure if I would be able to go otherwise. all the other donors whose scholarships are now helping me not only attend college, but also study abroad. Ryan Collins and all other Italy alums, who have convinced me (without too much effort) that this will all be worth it. Deborah Davis, coordinator of international programs, for getting all of us organized and making sure this would actually happen. my friends who have put up with my constant excitement.
     ...and to anyone else I forgot.

Thank you. This is so surreal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"I'll see you in August."

It's a strange thing to find myself saying.
As finals wind down, my friends are slowly leaving Kent for winter break. I feel like I don't have enough time to properly say goodbye to them all.
This morning I went on my first of what I'm sure will be many goodbye coffee dates this week. Ryan came prepared with a list of tips for Italy and helped me brainstorm everywhere I need to go. I will expand the list in the next couple of weeks now that I finally have time to do my own research.

It's such a bittersweet week. I'm glad to be done with finals, and I'm excited to go home to my family and friends in Grand Haven. But it's hard to fathom that this is likely the last time I will see some of my friends for over half a year — and maybe even the last time I'll see some of the seniors who graduate next week or in May.
I will miss you all.
Yet I know in five months, I won't want to come back.

25 days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I've been incredibly lucky throughout my college career when it comes to roommates.
The girl I lived with freshman year was a blast. She was very sweet, and I can't remember having any problems. Unfortunately she transferred elsewhere. But my best friend, Allison, ended up moving into that same room with me sophomore year. She is the perfect blend of nuts, carefree and kind and one of the greatest people I've ever known.  This year we moved off campus to a small apartment where we still share a room and are yet to have any serious issues with each other.
It looks like that luck is continuing in Italy with Caitlin. I was her assigning editor last semester. We were barely starting to shed the professional titles to become friends when she told me she was doing the Florence program in Spring 2012. I almost knocked my chair over as I jumped up and loudly proclaimed my excitement. I'm pretty sure I startled her.

I don't think either of us expected we'd be where we are now. We've gotten a lot closer this semester after she became an assigning editor. She spent most of the day yesterday at my house studying for our Italian exam with me — the exam I am partially avoiding studying right now. I quickly began to realize this girl is as strange as I am, which is always a compliment. Plus she's just an all-around sweetheart.
Caitlin, two things:
  1. I'm sorry for being an intimidating jerk of an editor so we couldn't become friends sooner.
  2. I can't wait to live with you! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Go Go Gadget'

I'll be the first to admit I have a spending problem. I became a self-proclaimed shopping addict last summer. It's not something that makes me proud. It's just a simple fact — and a habit I need to kick, especially  when buying things means not being able to see various destinations in Europe. But I digress.
I've been slowly collecting technology to take overseas.
Ask any of my friends... I can legitimize any purchase with some sort of excuse. Although they'll call Italy an excuse to buy some of these things, I know most of them I would have purchased at some point anyway.
  • I was going to borrow a Kindle from Hannah, but ended up getting myself one instead. (courtesy of my mother as an early Christmas gift. Thanks, mom). Considering I've read two books in the past month (more than I have in two years) on top of my schedule, I'm sure it will get used plenty next semester.
  • My parents bought me really nice stereo headphones for Christmas last year, but they vanished in my move back to Michigan last May. I bought myself some new headphones last week.
  • Last month my harddrive died, and I had to buy a new one. My laptop has also been warning me to "service battery soon" for a couple of months, so I did just that Friday in fear of it not turning on one day next semester. Both of those fixes were pretty costly and gave me an irrational hatred for Apple representatives, but I'm sure Apple loves me.
  • I have a digital SLR camera (Nikon 3100), but I want to have a point and shoot as well, so I'm kidnapping Hannah's old one.
  • I want to try my hand in video while I'm there. I contemplated a Flip, but decided it wasn't worth it. I'm going to use my Nikon and either buy or borrow one of Hannah's old lenses. 
Not to mention my trusty iPod and the PicCell I'll be getting in the mail.
Now I just have to make sure I pack chargers for my various gadgets.

Friday, December 9, 2011

One month!

Or I guess now that it's past midnight, less than that!
I have nothing left to give to this semester. I'm out. I'm already on that plane.
Fortunately, I'm completely done with one class. I have a couple assignments to turn in tomorrow to wrap up two more classes. Then just two final exams Tuesday.
The only one I'm really worried about is Italian. I hope I can retain what I learned this semester. Although most of the people I'm going with are taking Elementary 1 this semester too. So I'm sure if we work together we can form coherent sentences.

In other news, it's snowing. Cars are white. A couple of months ago I was really excited that Italy meant essentially skipping winter. Now I'm hesitant. I'm glad I won't be walking — or wading, rather — to class through snow up to my knees, but I still love winter. I hope I get to experience at least some decent snow before I leave.
I'll keep my fingers crossed for a snowy break. West Michigan, don't fail me now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We're getting there

I picked up my passport and insurance card yesterday.
I just ordered a PicCell Wireless phone. JMC suggests it if you want to get a phone over there. My Android won't be accompanying me to Italy. My phone bill, which my kind parents still pay for, is high enough as it is. But I do want to be able to call my roommates when I get lost in Florence, which I undoubtedly will. So PicCell it is.
It's $59 up front for the phone and SIM card. I kept it basic with no insurance or Euro SIM Card. PicCell's website suggest the Euro card to avoid roaming charges, but when I talked to people who used the service before, they said you don't really need it when you travel as long as you stick with your travel buddies.
After the initial price of the phone and the SIM card, PicCell is $0.35/day, which calculates to a very manageable $11/month. PicCell to PicCell calls are free, so I don't see it costing more than that.
I just have to be careful. I'm always leery when I give my credit card number. Those damn hidden fees.
Another friend said he had a $200 phone bill one month, but he had been calling his parents back home. Mumsie and pops, I'll be using Skype.
We'll see how this goes.

Regardless, this trip is feeling more and more real.
Here's an awkward photo of me and my travel companion.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What is this free time you speak of?

I'm a busy body. I'm always moving, going. I started working for student media my first semester on campus. The managing editor for the Daily Kent Stater contacted me in the summer of 2009 and recruited me as a news correspondent. My editor didn't waste any time getting me started — I was covering a speech the third day of school. This set the tone and pace for the rest of my college career. I don't know what it's like to be in college without student media. I can't even imagine taking classes without spending every break between them calling sources, running to interviews and editing with my reporters.

"What do you do in your free time, Lydia?"
"No, your free time."

But here I am, looking at my class schedule for next semester in awe.

     10:45 a.m. - noon Elementary Italian II
     12:15 - 1:30 p.m. Intercultural Communication
     4:15 - 5:30 p.m. Honors European Issues

      9:15 - 10:30 a.m. Intercultural Communication
     10:45 a.m. - noon Elementary Italian II
     3:30 - 6 p.m. Practicum in European Media

     10:45 a.m. - noon Elementary Italian II
      2:55 - 4:10 p.m. The Genius of Florence
     4:15 - 5:30 p.m. Honors European Issues

     10:45 a.m. - noon Elementary Italian II

I don't have the words to express how excited I am for free time. I will finally be able to do something as simple as take a walk, wander and explore — something I've been wanting to do for months. OR I could start reading again. I don't remember the last time I read a book. It's horrible. But my dear friend Hannah is lending me her Kindle for the semester.
I am picturing myself sitting on a patio with tea and reading or writing material every afternoon. It sounds like heaven.
I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The best-laid plans...

I had so many hopes for this blog, but alas, as usual, student media throws a wrench in everything. This semester has been a whirlwind of chaos.
Every time I walk back into my apartment, I think to myself, "Oh, I should finish decorating tomorrow. I have posters and pictures to put up." That became futile a couple of weeks ago. At this point I might as well start removing what I did manage to put up. I'm always distressed by how fast this semester is going — until I remember what comes after it. And even this isn't fast enough.

I've spent most of my free internet time developing my new website:
Not much of an excuse for neglecting this blog, but my focus in the past couple of months has been on finding an internship for next semester, and the website was a necessary step in that process. Please check it out!

But what's really important here: 59 days until I am in Florence.
With a $60 expedite fee, I got my passport renewed in time to send out for my visa, which came back this week.  Last Friday, several students who studied abroad last semester visited our Florence orientation class. It's feeling more and more real, and I couldn't be more excited. I looked up my seats on US Airways today.
I think I need this more than I can even fathom. I'm in a rut here. As much as I love Kent, I am stir-crazy. I need something new.

My friend Ryan Collins studied in Florence a year ago. I asked him to send me some of his favorite pictures, and he sent me these:

Is it January yet?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And so it begins...

In 163 days, I will be in Italy (roughly).
I will document every street walked, train taken, friend made, lesson learned and noodle eaten. My anticipation is growing every day. Unfortunately, my bank account is not, but I will make it there at pretty much any cost short of selling my soul. Although that can probably be negotiated. I’ve even put selling my car on the list of possible income before I leave.
Italy has captivated me since fifth grade when I participated in Destination ImagiNation, an after-school extracurricular that promotes creative problem solving. My team and I put on a skit about travelling through Italy and performed it to a song we wrote about the country. We proudly belted out our anthem:
Rome is the capital of Italy.
Florence has lots of art.
Venice has roads of water,
and this is where we start
bum bum bum

(I hope to one day find that gem of a VHS tape that holds the recording of our performance, so I can relearn the rest of the song.)
During the process of writing our one-hit single, we spent hours researching the country. My mom, our team coach, brought in slides of her trip through Europe 30 years ago. I sat transfixed, eyes locked on the screen as the projector whirred and clicked. Florence. Pisa. Rome. Venice.
I was mesmerized. Was this not heaven?
Water for roads. Boats for cars. I bet the skies rain spaghetti.
When I found out Kent State University had a study abroad program for journalism students, my only question was “What semester shall I go?”
And now, come spring, I will move to Florence for four glorious months.
I am starting a blog now because I think this trip is about so much more than what happens there. It’s about how I grow and evolve. How can I document that if I don’t start now?
So here it is.
As a junior with 17 credit hours and two jobs, I am not promising to post often, but I will when I can.
Italy in less than six months, but I know my journey has already started.