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Rome/Backstreet Boys

What happens when a Guatemalan woman, a British gentleman, and a dreadlocked American stop in front of a restaurant? The carabinieri (fashionably dressed police people) are going to ask who they’re waiting for. Thanks to Italian lessons, I was able to explain we were not waiting for our dealer but simply trying to find food. Evidently our little, hungry group looked very suspicious.

Last week I went to Rome with two very good friends, Natalia and Atif, where we had a bunch of crazy adventures. I took the above photo on the bridge that crosses the Tiber to Castel Sant’Angelo. We also visited the Trevi Fountain (which has just reopened after renovation), the Colosseum, and the Palatine Hill.

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Trevi Fountain

I love the Palatine Hill for multiple reasons. Not only is it an incredibly green and peaceful location with a great panorama of the Roman Forum, but you really feel as if you are stepping back in time. You can visit remnants of the the imperial palace, the homes of Caesar Augustus and his wife Livia, the royal stadium, and supporting structures of the Aqua Claudia (an aqueduct started by Caligula and finished by Claudius).

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Aqua Claudia

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The Royal Stadium

This past weekend was Passover and Monday was Liberation Day.  This is a coincidental combination of a centuries old Jewish holiday and the fall of a government that allowed 8,500 Jews to be deported out of Italy and exterminated in nazi concentration camps. With this in mind, it felt appropriate to not only visit archaeological sites but to also visit the old Jewish ghetto in Rome.

The placard below hangs on the wall of a historic Jewish school.

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Translation:

“Hear oh people! See my pain. My young women and my young men have been deported” – Lamentations 1:18

“In perpetual memory of the one hundred and twelve students of this school killed in Nazi extermination camps.”

I think little needs to be said to encourage our continued reflection and contemplation of the past. Though, I did feel that it was especially appropriate this weekend.

To change themes completely. . .

That evening Natalia, Atif, and I walked for two and a half hours for Mexican food. As we walked through some of Rome’s rougher neighborhoods I told Natalia that, “If we die, I’m telling your mother it’s your fault”. The next day, back home in Perugia, I sat with my friends in their car listening to the Backstreet Boys.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more Italian experience. One day I’m in the capital appreciating history, both ancient and modern. The next day I’m wondering why my Italian friends have such a durable fascination with boy bands. Italy, never change.

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Michelangelo's day 3

La seconda guerra mondiale

I attend classes every day to try and speak Italian with a little more fluency than the day before. I’m learning that there are numerous ways to speak about the past: Passato prossima, passato imperfetto, and trapassato. Each relates to a specific chronological relationship. Sometimes it’s the past in relation to the present and other times it’s further past in relation to the past. Headache inducing stuff.

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A beautiful invasive species takes over a conifer.

Thinking about my family’s past, my paternal grandfather “Daddy Neil” Tibbets was stationed in Italy late in the second World War. His opinion of the Italians was (in a very slow Texas drawl), “Well, we had ’em the first time (WWI) and they had ’em the next time (WWII)”. Pretty sure Daddy Neil didn’t think about the Italians very much. . . When he was in Texas or in Italy.

No matter how little Daddy Neil thought about Italy’s role in WWII, Italy is preparing for Liberation Day on the 25th of this month. This day marks the end of Nazi power in Italy. A permanent commemoration to the travesties of war is located in Piazza Italia in the city center of Perugia.

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I am sure my translation is flawed, but I believe the inscription reads, “Umbria remembers her five hundred children in arms interned in Nazi concentration camps – they were detained by tyranny and fell for peace and liberty.”

I’m trying to find my point in all this information. Seventy years after my grandfather, I’m living in Italy. Reflecting on the enduring destruction of war, effecting nations on both sides, I’m excited to celebrate liberation later this month.

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Explaining America

I passed my exams and have begun studying in level B1! Sadly, our teacher is a very rude woman and mocks students who don’t understand her lessons. I am of the opinion that that style of teaching leads to little or no learning.

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Mean teachers make me sad, so here’s a puppy.

This semester, I am the only American in my class and field a lot of questions about our culture and education system. I am grateful for my American citizenship, but I don’t think any one nation has a perfect government. Dealing with the particular questions I was posed, I could not always give an honestly positive view of America.

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

The first topic of discussion our teacher posed to the class concerned the education styles of our native countries. We have students from Bulgaria, China, Japan, Korea, and Greece who all gave very similar answers. Then I was asked to talk about the American education system and I explained that I had been homeschooled. All the students and our teacher were slightly horrified at this news. Our teacher explained that in Italy (as in many other countries) homeschooling will result in the children being removed from the parents’ home and placed in an institution. The Italian perspective is that homeschooling is another form of child abuse; that in some way, the child is not receiving the full developmental care he or she deserves.

I believe I benefitted from my education. Though I support parents’ right to make some choices concerning their children’s education, I do not support homeschooling in the state of Kansas. Homeschooling in the state of Kansas is completely unauthorized. As standardized testing is not required of homeschoolers, there is no guarantee that all homechooled students in the state of Kansas are even able to read or do basic math. Other states do require that homeschoolers are kept up to speed with their public and private school contemporaries, and in that case, I cannot find a reason to outlaw homeschooling.

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The right tower leans. Italy might not be good at towers.

The second question posed to the class resulted in a conclusion that was a little unfair. Comparing the history of Italy to the history of America is impossible. We were a penal colony and harbor for those suffering religious persecution. Italy was birthplace of the Roman empire. You can’t get two nations with more different origins.

In the northern part of Italy, there are two different regions characteristically different from the rest of Italy. In Valle d’Aosta the two official languages are French and Italian. In South Tyrol the two most prominent languages are German and Italian. This is a result of borders being redrawn many centuries ago and the inclusion of people from other nations into Italy. In this case it was people who would have considered themselves French and Austrian. To maintain their heritage, both languages are taught in school alongside Italian.

My teacher eventually got around to asking me if the native american languages are treated in the same way. Pointing out the complex differences between our nations in Italian is well beyond my grasp at this point. All I could answer was “No”. She asked if there is peaceful integration between the native americans and us immigrants. I responded that in general, no.

Though I do think her comparisons were unusual, I could not help but be reminded of the persecution and alienation there still is towards native peoples. I have begun asking myself why native tongues are dying out and so little is being done to preserve them.

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Pompeii Theatre

I think this is one of the greatest advantages to studying abroad. I am being forced to develop cogent thoughts concerning education and race in the state of Kansas. People in unfamiliar situations must begin to think critically about where they came from and where they are going. Studying abroad does this and creates people better able to serve their communities.