Quirky insights to science, art, studying abroad, & other miscellaneous happenings.

Quirky insights to science, art, studying abroad, & other miscellaneous happenings.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Becoming an Italy fanatic

I can't even begin to describe the last few days.

I morphed from a detached student who still hasn't truly realized that she's going abroad to another country for a semester, to a complete Italy fanatic who can't stop for a moment thinking about Florence and Italy and traveling.
(I only wish I was kidding. To put it in perspective, by day 3 of this obsession, my brother says to me, "Can we go one day without hearing about Italy? I'm getting tired of hearing about it." Yes, he's a teenager whose immature mind can't help but have such horrendous thoughts, but seriously. I haven't even gone there yet!)

It started with casual research on the Internet.
Then it went to the next level -- the library.

Then the dreams came. Good dreams, really. I would wake up feeling nostalgic and announced to my parents yesterday morning -- "I'm so excited!! I don't how I'm going to be able to leave! Maybe I'll come back to live in Florence or do my clinical rotations here… "

Just from all this planning, I feel like I know Italy so much better. I feel ready, more prepared, and independent. I began to start self-learning Italian with a whiteboard and the bilingual dictionary you see in the photo. I taught myself endings, gender associations, pronouns, conjugations. And I finally went back to the Duolingo app. [If you don't know what that is, you must try it!! It's so interactive and fun - you speak, you listen, you spell, you translate.]

As a result of my friend recommending that app, this is what my phone screen looks like now.

Huntington (money is key to going to Italy), CASPA (my grad school application), Blogger for this, Dreamdays counts down how many days left till Italy. Did you notice the background? Pretty sure that's Venice. :)

If you wanted a picture of my brain right now, this post sums it up. 
How proficient do I feel? Not very proficient. But I can recognize words, speak Italian to myself and my phone, and have basic phrases down. :)))

I also have most of my packing figured out -- it is EPIC. Pinterest-worthy. Beautiful. Minimalistic. And just downright genius. To give you an idea, my suitcase comes up to my knees.
I can't wait to share - might even do a video.

19 Days Left.

Evaluate a cultural incident.

You teach in a rural area and often eat at a local tea shop, run by a low-caste family with whom you are very friendly. Today, your headmaster advised you to stop eating there. He says it hurts your social standing and indirectly hurts the reputation of his school for you to be seen so often in the company of untouchables. What do you do?

[No, don't make this face to them.]

Describe: The headmaster gave some social and professional advice. He explains that being seen with a low-caste family would lower your social status and may even hurt the school's reputation.
Interpret: Social status may be of high importance in this culture, and especially in a rural area where many traditional views still exist. The headmaster may think that you are unaware of this and is trying to provide friendly advice. However, as Americans, we (ideally) look down on such class distinctions. Most people like to consider themselves middle class.
Evaluate: At first it would be easy to react negatively, but understanding the rationale behind the advice will help with perspective. Perhaps a compromise can be reached - it appeared more to be about cultural norms: reputation and social standing, which every country has to some degree.

Right now, it's rather difficult to predict what problems I'll run into in Italy. There aren't any glaring culture differences that I anticipate to be more difficult to adjust to. Before going, though, it's definitely better to have an idea of societal norms and specific differences in lifestyle and personality. For example, I've heard Italians eat dinner very late - often at 9pm. That's something I'll need to adjust to! Also, some things that we might consider rude (ie. cutting in line, not allowing as much personal space in public) may be normal over there. In terms of change, I think everything in my everyday life will be different! I'll just have to adjust :)

Qualities that would be helpful in adjusting: staying open-minded, look for an explanation before making judgments, realize that what we see as differences is 'normal' to them.

Positive aspects of Italian culture: taking each day slower. Taking the time to appreciate and enjoy life and not staying busy all the time! The whole atmosphere of art and history will compensate for anything I can think of so far…

Friday, December 27, 2013

I Shall Not Want

The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. (Psalm 23:1)

In light of the holiday season, I'd like to share a song that I've been listening to a while now, but whose lyrics did not hit me until today You know what I'm talking about: when you "saw the light" and wondered how you could have NOT heard it or seen it before.

[ From now on, personal goal is to have all pictures on my blog taken by me.. to force more practice. ]

From someone who's opted out of Christmas gifting this year (for family), I thought these lyrics to be insanely appropriate! This is "I Shall Not Want" by Audrey Assad. I could probably go through each line and write commentary on it… (you can play the video below - perhaps play it while reading?)

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

No, I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

This resonates because it is so transparent and mirrors my experience. "From the love of my own comfort" describes exactly what I've been feeling these last few days, freaking out and wondering if I'm insane to be packing a 5-month trip in a carry on and backpack. Wondering if I think I'm braver than I am because I don't speak Italian at all. I need to be delivered from all this. And who doesn't "fear of having nothing"? 

What is the "life of worldly passions"? I see it as things that occupy our heart, things that take away our time from ourselves and from God. I read this very short article yesterday and it is a perfect example: Collect Moments, Not Things - "The things you own end up owing you."

There's some powerful words in this short song, everybody. The ones that stand out the most include the line about being understood (just give it up already, no one's going to fully understand you ever except the Lord. He understands you better than you understand yourself). But the key, the epiphany, the finale is that we will NOT want for anything else as a result of being delivered from all these different fears. Why is that? 

Because when we're delivered from this, we have experienced His goodness - even tasted it. [By the way, the verb taste, I believe, implies the verse:
O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who trusts and takes refuge in Him. (Psalm 34:8)

How do we come to not wanting anything else?
Because when we've tasted His goodness in delivering us, it can't compare. We come to realize that nothing in this world can compare to the Lord being our refuge. 
What a wonderful, truest-of-the-true conclusion.

Monday, December 23, 2013

How do you say good-bye? (Part 1)

Leaving my first [somewhat] real-world job. Last Friday was my last day.

It's bittersweet. Joyous. Depressing. Freeing. Nostalgic. I feel like Rapunzel in the Disney movie Tangled, when she first leaves her tower with Eugene, running around with alternating moods of happiness and horror. Quite the emotional experience.

It's liberating in the sense that you have one less obligation in your life, but scary in that my routine is different along with the coworkers and residents I usually encounter. 

I'm officially done with the two longest jobs I've held in my life: a year and a half (chemistry lab job, and 7 months (as a CNA). It's not that long, I know, but it all had accumulated in my being. Being done with college (yes, I realize it's only been two and a half years) is a strange thought.

(at the memory care side of where I work with dementia residents)

On my last day, I told Mrs. S (a resident from my experience here) that she wouldn't be seeing me here anymore. That I was studying abroad in Italy. She was lying in her bed, our faces a mere six inches apart. To my horror, I noticed redness and puffiness around her eyes. To make things worse, she softly said, "I don't want to cry."
As a girl who has moved approximately twelve times in her twenty-year-old life, the feeling that formed in the pit of my stomach surfaced and I felt my eyes ready to tear up for the first time in years over missing someone.
I naturally comforted her (and myself): "It'll be okay. I hate saying good-byes, too. And I've only been here a short while -- someone else will be here to take care of you." I even tried to laugh it off, saying, "You'll forget about me soon enough."
Looking straight at me, she says with complete seriousness, "It's not a good-bye. It's only a so-long."
At those words, I felt my heart melt a little. 

Because here's a tidbit about me - since I've graduated high school, I have never once met up or seen any friends from high school since graduation, despite my going back there over school breaks and weekends for my family. Once I started college, well, efforts were not made to revisit the past. This probably indicates the degree of my attitude about moving on in life...

College has changed me in many ways: one of which being that I've gotten close to several people, and it's actually going to be difficult to leave, even if it is for Italy. 

Advice for leaving:
Don't think about the last time actually as the last time (unless you are truly celebrating the end because that's how much you dislike your job/this person/this place)

The more you think about while you're there, the greater the depression you will fall in. It's like you're sick and know you're going to throw up because you have the stomach flu, but constantly thinking about that nauseating feeling or envisioning yourself throwing up is only going to make it worse - compared to if you ignored the fact that you did feel nausea but you chose to play Jenga or read a book to take your mind off it. 

Look at the future more than the past. 

Hopefully, changes are occurring because of a better opportunity. Remind yourself of where you are going to next, rather than what you're leaving behind. When I dwell on all the things I will not be able to do anymore, a swoop of nostalgia falls in and I succumb to it. But when I think about my unknown adventure ahead, it's exciting and liberating that my current routine will completely change. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Discrimination Overseas

The Global Scholars module wanted to stress the concept of racism or discrimination abroad. I'm sure everyone has experienced some extent of this, but it's nice to be prepared for what to expect.

They said that through experience, it seemed that more discrimination incidents occurred to students who were not white - Hispanic, black, Asian, etc. I wonder if this is naturally the case, however. Like anyone who is foreign and looks especially different is treated differently?

From what research I've done, it looks like racism and discrimination abroad can really vary. In London, for example, one student noted that interracial dating was much more common than in the U.S. I mean, racism exists globally, not just in in America, but I expect (having often been a minority race in situations) that curiosity will ensue, more than anything, and I will have to answer more questions about my race.

Since I probably don't fit the physical description -- being Asian in Italy… probably not the majority. Observing their reactions, if any, to my race will reveal how accustomed Florentines are to different races. I'm interested in finding out firsthand! :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Prep: Italian Culture & Etiquette [Prepare for Culture Shock]

The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork. - Oscar Wilde
Let's start with some cultural etiquette from Italy. Here's some interesting ones:

When being introduced and shaking hands, women generally extend their hand first to men
Maintain eye contact while talking
Friends usually greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks
Source: eDiplomat

The following 3 topics seem to be the most specific to Italian culture.

Italian Style
Italians value appearance and the way you dress.
How you dress indicates your social status, your family's background, and your education level. 
A highly valued concept is called "bella figura", which means good image.
Bella figura refers not only to dressing well, but the aura being projected: confidence, style, and demeanor.
First impressions are made immediately, drawn from fashion and appearance.

Gift Giving
An emphasis on quality rather than quantity is best for gifts, especially wine.
Do not wrap gifts in black (it represents mourning) or purple (bad luck).
Gifts are usually opened when received.

Dining Etiquette
Never keep your hands in your lap during the meal.
Pick up cheese with your knife rather than your fingers.
If you do not want more wine, leave your wine glass nearly full.
Ask for your check when finished eating - it may not be brought until you ask for it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mint Truffle Troubles

Source: Recipe found here

What I learned the most -- you know all those beautiful photos from people's blogs of 'how I made this'? No one every tells you how much work it is. Or maybe I just think it's quite taxing: having your palms and fingers full of truffle stickiness of marshmallow creme and chocolate, then washing them to attempt to take a few great photos. Repeat several times.

The purpose of this far-from-perfect, dipped-in-chocolate photo is to demonstrate how they vanish quite a bit after being drizzled with white chocolate…


So it's not perfect, but still pretty good!

Just a heads up - this recipe makes a LOT of truffles. Why do I call it truffle troubles? Well, they literally jumped out of the fridge not once, but twice - creating a truffly mess on the kitchen floor. Be warned when dealing with this sticky mess..

Friday, December 13, 2013

Animated Hands [Nonverbal communication]

Been reading up on different ways that Italians communicate. 
A huge one in difference seems to be the gesturing. In fact, they have a term for it: gesticulate
[They don't just "gesture" - they gesticulate.]

Here's an interesting article from the NY Times: When Italians Chat, Hands and Fingers Do The Talking

It's in their blood. So cultural, in fact, that they think we Americans are ridiculous in conversing without gesturing. 
[“You mean Americans don’t gesture? They talk like this?” asked Pasquale Guarrancino, a Roman taxi driver, freezing up and placing his arms flat against his sides.]

Speaking with their hands appears to be a strong method of communication - unique to Italy. I think this  is such a neat way to have expressive conversations to better get your point across, especially when miscommunication happens so often! 

Maybe I'll be picking up some of this habit. . .

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finally learning to use the DSLR camera

My first post that is remotely related to photography! I finally (and by finally, I mean all this time after purchasing a entry-level DSLR camera in February of 2013) picked up the camera and switched it over to manual. Manual everything, except I did keep the ISO on auto when I realized I sucked at it. What motivated me to start this? I only have a limited amount of time to learn before I need to start taking amazing photos in Italy :)

Here are some photos around the house, just practicing!

I really love the staircase! This is the first time I've decorated with garland & ribbon. Ribbon technique learned here.

These pictures are from last night - my second attempt at practice…

Much thanks to my friend, willing to let me practice on her after an anatomy&physiology final! You can see the enthusiasm. ;)

I can't wait to have time to start practicing more -- before Italy! Just need to get through finals week, finish working my 2 weeks, finish my PA school application to be submitted, paint, etc. etc. and the Italy prep begins.
36 more days.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How Not To Quit Your Job

Here it is. The resignation letter. Sitting in a tasteful arrangement with - that's right, my keys, sunglasses, and a cup of water.

Just for reference, it takes about 20 minutes to formulate and type up a classy I'm-going-to-quit-my-job-and-here's-my-two-weeks letter. [By classy, I mean one that is personal, genuine and yet professional while emotionally touching.] 
But here I am, from this experience, telling you how NOT to quit your job. :)

4 Things Not to Do When Quitting Your Job 
(Source: Things I did when quitting my job)

1. Be awkward.
Plan what you are going to say, and be prepared for any potential questions they may ask - why you are leaving, when you are leaving. Be confident in your decision. (Just so you're warned, this method still did not prevent the awkwardness.)

2. Overplanning. 
I planned when I was going to tell my supervisor, but neither of the times ended up working out. Set several possible times in a general time period. You don't want to inform them too early but you don't want to put it off until you have no choice but the last day. 

3. Telling your coworkers before your manager. 
When my manager reacted by maintaining her smile and accepting my letter, I became extremely worried slightly concerned that she had already known somehow. No matter how much you trust your judgment in character, you never know who will "betray" your trust.

4. Giving the said letter right after a monthly staff meeting in December after being bestowed with multiple gifts from your company.

To defend myself, never in my last six months of working here have I gotten anything remotely like this. In my time of laboring with this place, loving the residents, hating my job, then wondering how I could ever hate my job because I love my job -- I don't recall getting too much appreciation with material gifts. Well, there you go, folks. There's a first time for everything.

Friday, December 6, 2013

U.S. Issues

Educational achievement

When it comes to elementary and high school education, the United States is not up to par to other nations. In terms of our international standing when it comes to other things, our education system falls extremely behind, especially in the sciences and math. Education here is a deep, complex hole. School officials have tried different things - starting school at later times, having a longer school year, etc. But I feel those are temporary solutions. We need a national standard, where we have GREAT teachers. Finland ranks at the top -- teachers are looked at as on the same level with doctors and lawyers. They require a master's degree, paid for by the government, and only the best of the best are able to land such a prestigious career. Not trying to put our country down, but studies have shown that students landing in the bottom 25% of college GPA's end up in the public education field. What does that say?

Economic issues

The current economic climate is not pretty here. Although it sometimes seems "easy" to ignore, we have moved to a second-class country, even if our mentality hasn't moved there yet. Our economy is no longer self-sufficient. Sometimes it seems like nothing has changed - the neighbors are still going on their cruises, and friends are remodeling their homes. In fact, American just spent an insane amount of money this Christmas season. But consider: many are not able to retire at 65 anymore. Stay-at-home moms are becoming rarer. The bleak job market for new college grads. Plus, we're not really getting any healthier despite our medical advances… Unless major changes happen, I feel like our economy is steadily declining.

Gender Issues

In the U.S., women are treated more equally than in other countries, comparatively. Not completely equal, but at least the differences are subtle. (For example, no law forcing that women must be paid a certain amount less than men, etc.) Salary discrepancies still exist, but I'd like to think that the gaps are being bridged. Women surpass men in college and in medical schools, so hopefully trends will lean towards equality. However, I've read that in many other countries, they consider our women quite liberated and equal, so we're at least ahead of the game in this aspect.

Health Issues

Number one killer is heart disease. Then cancer, stroke, respiratory diseases. We need to decrease the sodium and fat intake, but I think culturally, our food is just.. unhealthy. Is it sad? The articles I read all repeatedly emphasized: stop smoking, eat healthy, exercise, maintain a normal weight. Honestly, the majority are pretty controllable. Our health issues will have to be solved on our own, I think. Although I've heard of some companies implementing higher salaries for those with a healthy BMI, or hospitals that won't hire smokers. We're getting there, slowly but surely.

Human Rights

On the outside, it appears that all citizens are treated equally (legally, from day-to-day). However, I disagree on this being reality. Our government holds to double standards, and our leaders have proven to prioritize their own interests over the country's. In terms of respect for human rights, the death penalty is often criticized, in addition to the innocents that are killed. I can't help but insert my opinion here: if a human found it their right to take away someone else's life, why should they be granted the same mercy? It's irreparable damage. Police brutality has been known to be a problem, as well as hazardous working environments and ill-treatment in prisons.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One's destination is never a place...[Culture-learning strategies]

This post is about suggested strategies for understanding culturally different surroundings.

(in order of how likely I am to use them)

  1. *Consider ways that different cultures might view things in different ways (e.g., how different cultures value alone time or independence).
  2. *Look at similarities as well as differences between people of different backgrounds.
  3. Make distinctions between behavior that is personal (unique to the person), cultural (representative of the person's culture), and universal (a shared human concern).
  4. Think about different cross-cultural perspectives to examine situations in which I seem to offend someone or do something wrong.
  5. Figure out what cultural values might be involved when I encounter a conflict or something goes wrong.
  6. Use generalizations instead of stereotypes when I make statements about people who are different from me.
  7. Counter stereotypes others use about people from my country by using generalizations and cultural values instead.

* 1. In the case of living and studying abroad, I think this one is the most practical! Lifestyles vary greatly amongst people and countries, so I anticipate this one having the most impact and requiring my adjustment on my part.

*2. I think this one is easily ignored -- it is SO much easier to notice the differences, but it's still important to point out similarities. We should never assume similarities, but take note of them. I think doing this will hopefully lessen the culture shock.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What I've Done in My Life: From a 90 Year Old

This weekend I was just reminded of some lovely moments of why this is one of the most beautiful jobs I've had.

I've recently been having an unhealthy obsession with ribbon, bows, and decorating. The whole holiday atmosphere is getting to me. Last night as my roommate was wrapping gifts, I had spent half an hour looking up Youtube videos on how to tie a big ribbon bow for her. In obvious failure. I mean, scissors & pipe cleaners? I guarantee there's at least 10 different ways to do this.

Saturday (at work):
I saw Mrs. S, and her daughter and son-in-law were visiting. I noticed a beautiful bow on their wreath, and asked if they made it. Her son-in-law informed me that Mrs. S and her daughter were bow-making experts.

When I told her this, Mrs. S's daughter pulled out a plethora of ribbon and told me to pick. She proceeded to show me how to make one and walked me through the steps. You can clearly see which one I did… haha. [the bottom one]

Sunday (before and at work):
My old roommate is getting married in 2 weeks! We talked about wedding decoration ideas at lunch, and I proudly told her that I just learned how to tie beautiful ribbon bows. Needless to say, I am now in charge of doing those for her wedding..

I told Mrs. S this when I arrived at work, and later that night she had a conversation with her daughter on the phone:
Daughter: Is this Jennifer who made the bows yesterday?
Mrs. S: Yes, and guess what? Her friend who's getting married wants her to make them for her wedding!
Daughter: Oh my!
Mrs. S: I know - and guess what? Her friend's wedding is in 2 weeks!
Daughter: … oh my goodness! Does she need any help?


Later than night as I assisted her to bed, Mrs. S told me how she got her first job babysitting, then became a secretary.
"I remember the dumbest things I did," she laughed. "I once put mail in a trash bag outside instead of the mailbox!"
She held parties at her home and sold jewelry, until she realized that many of the women who bought the jewelry were poor, and really couldn't afford to buy it, but they did anyway. She quit soon after, saying her conscience couldn't handle that.
"Once, I was in a float in St. Petersburg in Florida. I was the Statue of Liberty."
Me: "You should go back sometime and be an honorary guest!"
Mrs. S: "They'd probably think I was some crazy lady who's making this all up!"

She proceeded to reminisce and share with me her wisdom.

"One thing I've always told myself, is that it's never too late to learn something new." 
{I felt like I was in a movie and being given life advice I hadn't even asked for.}

She recalls three things that she wished she had done:

1) Swimming
She said she could dog paddle but could never swim well or gracefully. Unsurprisingly, all her kids became lifeguards when they were younger. 

2) Publishing a book
I told her I had tried writing a novel when I was 16. I had about 40,000 words down and gave up and decided the life of a writer wasn't for me. With the most vehemence I had ever seen this sweet lady express, Mrs. S shook her fist and insisted, "Oh, you've just got to go back and finish it!"
Taken aback, I responded, "I'll probably go back to it someday."
Her face dawned with an understanding that I couldn't comprehend, as she explained, "Now you're stuck. Stuck in a place where I used to be."
At my confused look, she said: "I used to say that all the time. And now look -- I still don't have anything published."

3) Playing the piano
"I tried to learn when I was younger," Mrs. S said wistfully. "But I quit. But my daughter can play the organ."

I always thought that if I asked someone about life regrets, it would be something humongous. Like, I never should have moved to Ohio. Or, I wish I had waited to get married. But her small list of things shows us that we cannot overlook the small details.

"By the time you get old, you will have regretted things you didn't do more, than the things you have done in your life."
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