Take Pride in Who You Are.

Who am I? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for the past three weeks, if not much, much longer. Inspired by a very recent conversation with my friend Jonathan, I feel the need to make a list of things I use to identify myself – the things that, I’m proud to say, make me me. So here you go – Sarah in a nutshell.

  • Friend
  • Sister
  • Daughter
  • Girlfriend
  • Lover of life and bright colors – for me these things go hand-in-hand
  • Optimist
  • Nerd
  • Chef
  • Writer
  • Harry Potter fan
  • Engineer
  • Food enthusiast
  • Believer in God
  • Music lover
  • Movie-watcher
  • Bookworm
  • Avid learner
  • Italian student
  • How I Met Your Mother addict
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender fan
It’s important for me to embrace these things, to not waver when I tell people who I am and what I stand for. I’m aware this list might change slightly over time, but I want to remind myself that I can and should always be my true self instead of being what others want me to be. I don’t want to change for anyone. I want to be me.
So now I ask you: who are you?

St. Michael’s Abbey and Eataly

I feel like I can’t stay focused on one thing right now. I’m jumping from sending emails to changing the music I’m listening to to blogging to just thinking about life. So much going on! But while it’s oddly overwhelming, it isn’t bad. I’ll be glad when I have it all sorted out.

Today we visited St. Michael’s Abbey, which is waaaay up on a hill looking over Piedmont. Our program director Alyssa said that it was a prime lookout location during many wars (including World War II) for this reason. The abbey itself was built around 1000 AD and has been added onto ever since. It gives its visitors a gorgeous view of everything surrounding it, from the local city of Avigliana to a tiny corner of France. The building itself was awesome too, because it’s made out of stones and just feels old, yet not run down. I’m putting some pictures below so you can see how pretty it was:

Looking up at the Abbey

View from the top of the Abbey

Some of the walls on the inside of St. Michael’s Abbey

I really liked visiting the church of the abbey. There was chanting going on inside, most likely a recording, but it was still nice. I’ve really taken to the churches here. Religion is much more prevalent in Europe, it seems – maybe just because it’s been here for so long that it’s really become ingrained in the people, the places, the way of life. I’ve been to four or five churches over the past week and each time I’m struck with a sense of wonder that I don’t really get from churches back home. I feel like I actually fit in these over-the-top, super-ornate buildings. I can sink into the pew and just enjoy the beauty and wonder of it all.

My mom taught me when I was little to say a three Hail Mary’s and an Our Father whenever I enter a church that I’d never been to before, followed by a special prayer, a wish of sorts, that I want God to hear. I’ve been doing that here, and it’s been wonderful. I always find something new to pray for. And going into all these churches makes me want to go back. It makes me want to start going regularly at home. So I think I’m going to. I know I’ve said this before, but I want to make a conscious effort when I’m at home and when I go back to school to go to church every week. I’m kind of excited about it, actually. I miss church, and I think going will be good for me.

After getting back from the Abbey, my friends and I parted ways for a few hours to get ready for dinner. Then we went to Eataly, which is the Whole Foods of Italy, complete with multiple restaurants inside the store. I got a margherita pizza, which ended up being delicious! I actually ate the whole thing 🙂 We also got gelato afterwards, and I had a Smarties-flavored scoop. It was pretty tasty. Now I’m at home, doing a thousand things at once (not one of which is working on my Cuisine final… oh well, I’ve got a few days to do that, I’m not worried!). I’m off to bed, to wake up and go to Milan in the morning. Quite the life here in Italy 🙂

The Mummy, the Mole, and the Munchies

I spent a good part of today exploring the city of Torino and another decent chunk of it learning about this fine country via school. I was in Italian class for a solid three hours, learning about combined and positional prepositions, and then went to the Egyptian Museum in town. I’ve been to two other Egyptian museums before: once when I was nine with my dad (the place kinda gave us the creeps), and once when King Tut was touring the world. While each was different, I thought all of them have been educational, and I am still amazed by the dedication the Egyptians had to their dead. Their sarcophagi and prayer scrolls (along with everything else in their tombs) are decorated so intricately, it never fails to amaze me. It was interesting to me too that the ancient Egyptians prepared their dead so that they were ready for the afterlife in their tombs, yet here we come, thousands of years later, to dig these people up and make their final resting place shelves in a museum. It doesn’t seem quite right or fair, but it certainly is educational. It’s also amazing just how well these people and their burial objects survived. I saw pomegranates from a thousand years before Christ was born. I saw sandals made of palm fronds, wigs made of human hair, intricately-carved headstands and hand-blown glass jars. And then I saw what remains of people from that long ago, and considering how old they are, they seem to be doing pretty well. We gotta hand it to the Egyptians: they really knew what they were doing when it comes to preserving humans.

Upon returning to my apartment, I made a quick lunch of fruits and vegetables (which was sooo tasty, actually!) and then went to the Mole (pronounced “Mo-lay”) with my roommates. The Mole, or “La Mole Antonellia” as it’s formally called, is the point of Torino. It was the biggest brick building ever made at the time of its construction. Basically, it’s the Space Needle of Torino (though – sorry, Italy – not nearly as cool). It did have a pretty cool view of the city though, and it was actually quite fun to go up in the glass elevator and see everything inside the Mole itself. Apart from being a tourist attraction in and of itself, the building also houses Italy’s National Cinema Museum, which looks neat too.

One other thing I found interesting about the Mole was that this was really the first time I’d been in a place in Torino where the people spoke a language other than Italian. I heard German and accented-English today, and it was kind of cool! Torino is definitely not a hot spot for tourists. In fact, I didn’t even really know about it until I seriously thought about coming here. And it struck me yesterday too: I’m living in a city where no one I know has even been before. The thought’s kind of terrifying, but in a really awesome and independent way. I’m learning so much by being here, and I love that it isn’t touristy – it’s really forcing me to learn Italian, and I’m quite fond of that.

We went to cooking class after that, where we made seven different types of pizza, including a Nutella one. We also had caprese salad, fruit salad with gelato, and this really delicious grapefruit Fanta. We waddled home afterwards, our stomachs full and our minds content.

Now here I am. I’ve spent some time tonight catching up with people back home and just thinking about life. I’d like to ponder the Egyptian Museum just a little bit more right now. The following is a quote from Alan Watts, a British philosopher and writer:

“Everybody should do in their lifetime, sometime, two things. One is to consider death. To observe skulls and skeletons and wonder what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up – never! That is a very gloomy thing for contemplation, but it’s like manure. Just as manure fertilizes the plants and so on, so the contemplation of death and the acceptance of death is very highly generative of creating life. You’ll get wonderful things out of that.”

I definitely pondered death today in the two hours or so I wandered through this museum. I don’t do this often, probably because I’m a very life-filled person who doesn’t particularly enjoy thinking about the end of my days. But the reality is that we’re all going to have to face it at one time or another. I saw a license plate frame once; it said, “Live life to the fullest. No one gets out alive anyway.” Isn’t that true, though? It’s the one thing that everyone on this planet has in common: we’re all going to die.

There was something so beautiful about everything in the museum today. To me, this much death in one spot is slightly depressing and kind of creepy. But the Egyptians put a huge emphasis on death and really found beauty in it. They embraced it as a reality and made something beautiful and unique out of it. And here, three thousand years or so after they performed all of their rituals and buried their family and friends, it’s still being looked at and thought about. It causes us to consider death.

I guess for that I’m thankful. But for now I’m going to try to stop considering it and instead think about happier things, like love and all that life holds for us.

Sweet Dreams

As a warning, this post is bound to be pretty boring to most of you… that being said, it’s still something I’m quite excited about 😀

After being here for three and a half weeks, I think I’ve finally figured out how to sleep well in my bed.

At home I can just flop down whenever I’m tired and go straight to sleep. And wherever, too, it seems: just a few days before I left for this trip, I took a two-hour nap on the kitchen floor. There’s little struggle with any of the sleeping process: falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up properly. It’s even the same way at school. Which left me puzzled: why is it such an issue for me, someone who has never had a problem with sleep, to get a good night’s rest here?

Well, I think I figured it all out, and not only that: I also figured out how to solve it all.

Issue Number 1: Covers

Don’t ask me why, but I’m one of those people who has to have covers on to fall asleep, even if it’s ninety degrees outside and humid. The only thing I brought with me to Italy was sheets – no blankets – and initially I thought, “Perfect! These will work great in this humidity!” But somehow not having a top comforter messed with me mentally, which I realized when I got home from my trip this weekend (which I’m still working on writing about, promise!). So I pulled the best-looking option out from the closet in my room, which actually isn’t half-bad-looking, and put it on my bed. This definitely helped, though my sleep still wasn’t great. So, like a good industrial engineer, I continued to work on its improvement.

Issue Number 2: Heat

Have I mentioned yet that it’s hot and humid here? For the most part I’ve gotten used to this too, but this was one of the biggest obstacles I faced when trying to sleep at night. Initially I just kept the windows open, but that led to more problems (see issues three and five). Now I close the window and have my fan on (which also helps with issue four!).

Issue Number 3: Light

At home the light doesn’t bother me, but I noticed at school this year when my bedroom was placed next to the obscenely bright lights of the bike racks that it could really affect how long or how well I sleep. Here in Italy, it stays light outside until 9:30 or 10:00 at night and the sun subsequently starts rising around 5 o’clock in the morning, which would wake me up. I fixed this problem by closing the shutters outside my window. Violà, better sleep!

Issue Number 4: Noise

I don’t know if I’ve ever lived somewhere quite as noisy. Thank goodness there’s a “quiet time” law in place here, but even then it doesn’t help too much. People in Italy love using their horns, not to mention the fact that the glass truck comes by every couple days and makes quite a racket in the morning. Solution? Close the windows and turn the fan on. It acts like white noise and keeps me cool.

Issue Number 5: Bugs

This one’s probably the real problem. I’m a magnet for mosquitoes at home anyway, so bring me to a place with humidity and it’s like I’m a living feast for them. When I’d sleep with the window open, it was like I was subconsciously trying to keep one eye open at all times to make sure nothing bit me. In fact, a few nights ago, I was almost asleep until I heard something buzzing by my ear. It’s very difficult to fall asleep when you twitch at every tingle of your skin, so this was another benefit of keeping the window closed.

And there we have it: no more sleep problems. I woke up this morning to my alarm feeling really well-rested, and all it took was an extra blanket, a fan, and the closing of windows and shutters. I finally can have sogni d’oro 🙂

The Open Market and Fiat!

I’m having a great amount of difficulty posting about this weekend. I’ll get there, I promise. It’s just so much to recall and write about that it’s taking me time to sort through it all, report it, and then record how I actually feel about everything. All in all, though, it was absolutely incredible. I’m working on it, and I’ll try to post it in the near future. But for now I’m going to talk about today.

I went to the open market this morning. It was my first real time going (I went once while it was closing with Sam and Katie, but there were only, like, two carts there… so to me, that doesn’t really count) and I’m so glad I did! And not just because I purchased some pretty awesome things; I felt like it was a really good experience. I practiced my Italian a little bit and saw what open markets are all about. I’d heard that they had clothes there as well as food; what I guess I didn’t realize is that it virtually sells everything (and at a pretty reduced cost at that!). I got the set of headphones I’m using right now for three euro. They aren’t the greatest, but considering I needed temporary replacement ones since I lost the silicone covering on one of my nice ones, they do their job just fine 🙂 The fruit stands smelled so good, and I bought cherries from a patient woman who I think I confused when I said that I wanted half of a half of a kilo (since I didn’t know how to say “one quarter” in Italian… >.< ). They tasted even better than everything smelled. And after about a year of searching, I finally purchased – wait for it – Aladdin pants. Yes, world, I realize I look ridiculous when I wear them, but they are super comfy and colorful and what I’ve wanted for kind of a long time. Not to mention they’re the “in” thing here (meaning the style should spread to America in about a year). And they were only ten euro. 😀

After going to the open market, I made lunch for myself and then joined our group to go on a  tour of the Fiat plant. Did you know that “Fiat” is actually an acronym, and that the “T” stands for “Torino”? I think that’s pretty awesome.

The factory was really cool – we got to see robots weld cars and the overall assembly line. It made me really excited to be an engineer when I saw the robot welders and understood what the tour guide was talking about when she was explaining the principles of lean production. 😀 We also got to see the show room and take pictures with the oh-so-adorable Fiat 500, which apparently is coming to the US! There was a baby blue convertible one in the show room:

I really want one now. Not going to happen… but I can dream, right? 🙂

As for the rest of the day, it’s going to be full of napping, reading, and doing Italian homework. Hurray for summer 🙂

Ladies and Gentlemen:

My jeans still fit.

Which says to me, “Good job, Sarah! You’ve done well so far and haven’t gained any weight from eating all the deliciousness that the wonderful land of Italy has presented to you!”

For this I’m really proud of myself. I’m trying not to be overly concerned about weight while being here – I mean, I don’t get to be in Italy every day, so I want to take advantage of everything (including food) that this place has to offer. But I do want to be conscious of it. I feel like I’m doing a great job eating the right amount, and exercising with walking afterwards. And if I come back a few pounds heavier, I’m not going to be disappointed with myself. I’m kind of looking forward to exercise more at home. I really want to try yoga – any other takers out there? 🙂

In other news, today has been a fantastic day so far. Not only did my jeans fit, but I wore a pretty awesome outfit with them if I do say so myself. I felt pretty American going to class in my red-and-blue-striped sweater, white t-shirt, jeans, and TOMS, but I was kind of okay with it. I dominated my Italian midterm, and by “dominated” I mean “rocked,” or “really blew it out of the water,” or “kicked its sorry ‘esame’ butt all the way to martedì prossimo”  – she graded them right afterwards, and I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten 100% on a college exam before. 😀 I can’t deny that I’m pretty proud of myself for doing so well. Afterwards I sat in on a guest speaker for another class. The man who came to talk is a car designer, who was pretty cool. Then I came home and made myself lunch and realized why Italians don’t save leftovers. They don’t seem to believe in microwaves in this country, so trying to reheat sausage and pasta in a pot on the stove is really really hard! I don’t think I’m going to be taking my microwave at home for granted anymore. I have dinner plans with friends tonight at Samuel’s house, and between then and now I’m hoping to read a little and maybe do Italian homework or pack for our group trip to the Italian Riviera tomorrow.

But first, I’m off to get gelato. it’s a beautiful day in Torino, and there’s never been a better time for a little ice cream. 🙂

Rainy Day in Italy

In a word, today was wet.

Rain drenched through my backpack and seeped into my shoes, making everything squish as I walked. I was expecting showers but not a complete downpour. Not that I had a problem with it – I want to move to Seattle someday, after all – just that it took me by surprise.

But the adventures I had today were well worth the water-speckled glasses and squeaky shoes I had to endure. First, after slight negotiation, my Italian class and I were able to go on the International Business class’s field trip to – that’s right, ladies and gents – a chocolate company. And not just any chocolate company: it’s one of the oldest in Torino. This is the place that serves the (apparently) world-renowned “bicerin”, a drink made of chocolate, espresso, and whipped cream. After walking quite a long ways, we sat down outside and got our beverages. And I have to say, it was indeed pretty delicious! It was like having hot chocolate with a slight kick to it. Also, it didn’t taste like an American mocha – it was thicker, but not as heavy (if that makes any sense). Just having the experience itself was worth the walk.

My bicerin!

After exploring the tiny little café and accompanying (overpriced) chocolate store, the group split up. Some went to lunch before heading on their next field trip (to a castle – that’s a pretty awesome day if I do say so myself!). Since I still had class in a little bit, I decided to go with my friends Samuel and Andrew to find the supposedly best kabob (or “kebap” or “kabab” or however you decide to spell it – I’ve definitely seen a handful of different ways while here) place in Torino. After a Metro ride, a leaky bus excursion, and a trek down a few blocks in the pouring rain, we finally made it to this hole-in-the-wall. The way the restaurant worked confused us but the people were nice, and eventually we got our food. Oh man, was it worth it. The kabab “sandwich” that I had was more like a burrito, with meat, lettuce, tomato, onions, sauce, and – that’s right – French fries inside a pita. Andrew ate the same thing that I did, and Samuel got a kabab pizza, which had the same ingredients on a pizza crust. Everything was so delicious, and while it was seemingly more foreign than most of the food I’ve been having here, it actually tasted a lot like something I’d get back home. (maybe that was just because of the French fries though… 😛 ) After finishing our meals, I headed to class, where we reviewed for our midterm tomorrow, and came home.

I find myself using the word “adventure” a lot to describe the days I’ve had here and the things I’ve been doing. It might sound like I’m exaggerating, but the truth is that I find everything to really be an adventure. I am, after all, living in a new country, where I’m free and able to explore the city and its surrounding areas. So why not see it as such? Every day is an opportunity to do something new and completely different. I want to seize hold of that as much as I can and go on all the adventures I’m able to fit in while I’m here.

The sun’s peaking its head out now, and I’ve got studying I have to attend to. Ciao for now – more adventures to come later 🙂