#BLOGMAS: TEN DAYS INTO DECEMBER.


Believe it or not, it's already December. The most beautiful time of the year began with a Christmas Fayre which took place here in Worcester from Thursday 30th to Sunday 3rd. Due to the fact that I worked, I didn't really get the opportunity to experience it as much as I wanted to, but it has been a blessing for me eventually because it was overcrowded and a nice walk in the city center would have turned into a nightmare. In fact, I've never seen so many people at the same place here in Worcestershire.

Saturday night I went to the pub and it has been fun because I met new people and I enjoyed the conversations we had. Then on Sunday, since it was my day off, my friends and I attempted to go to the Fayre but we ended up choosing to grab food instead of being walked on by people. Hard to believe but after three months in the UK I still did not try Fish And Chips, so my friend wanted to take me to a place she previously had some at. My fear became true when we arrived and discovered that it was closed. Ended up at Mc Donald's for a burger and then worked a couple of hours extra because my colleagues needed a hand to run the shop. 

This past week has been intense. Despite working 27 hours and going to University for 16, I managed to bake some cinnamon cookies, hang out with some friends, go to a dance show here on campus and also finally try some fish and chips with a special friend.

Friday it snowed for the very first time but what was cool was that it was also my payday so I received a lot of money. On the other hand, I will literally be left with £45 soon because next week my rent is due. Anyways, Friday's snow was nothing compared to today's. When this morning I opened the curtains, my eyes captured the beauty of snow that has been falling throughout the night. My friends and I planned to go to Birmingham weeks ago and we still had to do so, therefore we decided to go today. Some of my friends are leaving the UK this week and today was their last opportunity to see the German Markets. Well, we all woke up early but ended up not going anywhere because apparently there was a strike and snow slowed trains down, some of which got even canceled. The ticket machine was out of order so even if we wanted to risk it and go anyways we couldn't. As we did not want to walk back home quite yet, we went to Starbucks to sip some coffee and admire the flakes slowly falling from the sky and inhabit the pavement. Then we went for a walk and visited the Festival of trees at the Cathedral.


Each tree was donated from different institutions and people could vote for their favorite. My University's tree was one of the best ones simply because the purpose of it is to raise awareness of our need to take care of our mental health. I popped into Tiger to say hi to my colleagues and then I ran into a supermarket to buy some boots because my feet were soaking wet. I got home and took another hot shower because I desperately needed one. 
As I checked my emails I found out that one of the two classes I have tomorrow is canceled so I got extra excited and now I am here in my kitchen writing a blog post while my flatmate bakes banana bread and makes lentils.

I also sorted out all my documents for my American Visa and I soon have an appointment at the embassy. I couldn't be more grateful that everything is finally falling into place. Working hard repays in the long run. 

Cheers to the last 21 days of 2017.

- Cris

BROTHERS NOT BY BLOOD BUT BY CHOICE: HOST SIBLINGS.


If you also went on exchange during high school, you probably know that between the moment you send your application abroad and the moment you receive your host family’s information there’s just a long wait that slowly drives you insane. All you want to know is where you will spend one year of your life. But when you less expect it, the information you waited so long for reaches your mailbox. One night, I was using my laptop and after concluding everything I was doing, I decided to check my mailbox once more because who knows, maybe someone sent me something important. It was meant to be because not even ten minutes earlier my host dad sent me an email in which he introduced himself and his family. “I am Brian, I am texting you from Colorado USA. Kim is my wife and Hunter is my son.”

Getting to know them.
In one of the hundreds of emails that we exchanged over time, my host parents told me that they were going to be in Switzerland at the end of July and they asked me if I could reach them so that I could meet them in person, they could meet my family and give me advice upon my arrival at the Denver International Airport. 
Meeting them felt right, as soon as I met them I felt like it was always meant to be. The few hours we spent together went by very quickly. We had lunch together, walked around the little village and chatted most of the time. I was happy because my parents had the chance to meet the people I was going to spend a year with, which was good because my parents did not worry as much. 

Not everything (or everyone) is easy to deal with.
I finally arrived in the USA and everything looked gigantic and weird to me. I could literally not stop looking out the window while we were driving to my new home. My host brother instead could not stop staring at me. I assume he was just trying to “study” me and getting a first impression of the Italian sitting next to him. 
Over the next few days, I could see that he was trying to be nice but he also behaved differently depending on where we were. At home, he was all nice and then at school he would not consider me as much as I thought he would. I even started playing tennis because he was on the team and he asked me to. I thought that accepting the offer was a good move because that way I could meet people and I could get to know him better, but eventually, it turned out to be a poor decision. I enjoyed playing but I did not get close to any of the team members.
I guess my American brother and I really started to bond in early November when we had lots to celebrate: my seventeenth birthday, my American parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary, Thanksgiving and winter break. He started inviting me over to his room, playing video games with him, watching TV series, eating junk food at two in the morning... That’s all I wanted from the start. I wanted to bond with him and see his true colors because I knew that the person he was at school was far from what he is really like. At the beginning he would introduce me to people saying “this is my exchange student from Italy” but eventually he started telling people that I was his “Italian brother”. It sure felt good to be introduced to people as a member of the family rather than a person from a foreign land. He also started to appreciate my company and told me that he looked at me as a role model. If he had to deal with something, he would think about what my reaction would be in the same exact situation. I think this is really cool. Not only we became friends, but after this sentence that he told me I felt like I really succeeded in having a younger brother.

Why am I writing this?
Because I do not want you to expect that things will be perfect from the beginning. It is best to arrive in your host country without expectations so that you won’t be disappointed by it. Do not make this mistake but work your way through instead. At the end of your year, you will have a completely personal experience and you will have walked your own path rather than following the kind of exchange you wanted to have. Reading someone else’s experiences before going on exchange is a good thing to be inspired and maybe do even better, not to copy them. Don’t compare your own path with someone else’s. And more importantly, you have to build up your relationship with your host siblings but also with anyone else, you can't assume that everyone will be your best friend from day one. You might feel lonely but eventually, everything will fall into place and people will get to know you and love you the way you are supposed to.

- Cris

HOST FAMILIES CHANGE STUDENTS' LIVES, AND VICE VERSA.


It is well known that the experience of living one year abroad at a host family's changes foreign students completely, but what sometimes we fail to acknowledge is that also host families change.

Hosting a Stranger.
Every time I see that students complain about their host families I get annoyed because, most of the times, they do not make an effort to make things work. I know that it can be tough to step in a stranger's home, but think out of the box, think about the family that welcomes a teenager from abroad who was raised in a different culture. They also go through a tough time. Lots of things need to be taken into account when problems arise. Maybe the family doesn't know how to approach a teenager from another country. Students are the ones who moved abroad to learn the local culture, therefore they are the ones who should show interest in connecting with the family. Do not complain right away just because you feel like you are not treated well. Observe how host parents treat their own sons and then compare their behavior with the one they have when they deal with you. If you feel like you tried everything and still did not connect then you have all the reasons to "complain", but still do something about it. I just want to highlight the fact that it is not just hard for the student. This experience affects everyone involved.


Once the two have connected.
There is nothing more beautiful than establishing a connection with the family who's hosting you. Over time, your "host" family becomes just family and you feel part of it. Show them that it is important for you to feel that way. If you are having a drink, pour one for your host parents too, even if they did not ask for one. They will take it as a sign of attention. When I was abroad I slowly stopped calling my host parents by name, I simply called them mom and dad, because they were taking good care of me just like my biological parents would. Your host parents will feel appreciated and will remember you forever as the kid who changed their lives. Prior to your arrival maybe they just thought of hosting a foreign exchange student so that they could spend time with their sons or because they wanted to give it a try. Your job as a student is to give them a thousand reasons to keep hosting exchange students after you leave. When it was almost time for me to fly back to Italy, my American dad told me that he wanted to stop hosting because seeing me leave was too hard for him to handle. He wanted me to stay. I felt loved, which was good, but I also encouraged him to keep hosting because I was the seventeenth exchange student they had and this meant just one thing: they enjoy hosting. I did not want to be the reason why they had to stop doing it. If they kept doing it for years, it just means that they enjoy doing it. 
They are the kindest people I have ever met and I wanted them to keep hosting just so that everyone else after me could have the beautiful opportunity to get to know them.

It's okay if you don't connect, too.
I know that sometimes families are not great. Some of my friends did not connect with the family and there was nothing left for them to do then just give up, and this is sad. This is not how the experience should be for both the student and the family, but you can still have nice memories and turn your experience upside down. Try to make lots of friends, try to be involved in as many things as you can.
That said, you can still seek help if your host family is being horrible to you. I encourage you to talk to your counselor, organization or whoever you have been assigned to. Do not fear the person just because he or she is a part of the company. If you do not give it a try you will never know if you will get any help. You invested money and time in this, so it is your right to get help if the service you are receiving is not the one you were promised at the beginning.

- Cris

LIVERPOOL AND LONDON IN TWO DAYS.


Reading Week is a period of time without classes during which professors encourage students to catch up with work they left behind and to spend some time getting stuff done before the second part of the semester starts. In other words, international students have some time to travel (and maybe yeah, do some readings). Of course, I spent two of the nine days in bed with a fever and a sore throat because this is what happens when you have days off. I did not recover completely but on the third day, I went to Liverpool and right after that I hit Capitol city.

Liverpool. 
Monday, Oct. 30th.

I woke up at 5.45am to shower and have breakfast before leaving campus and catching a train at 7.15am. Approximately three hours later my friend and I were in Liverpool. It was a bit cold but the sun came out during the day and the weather ended up being just fine.
We signed up for a free walking tour that lasted approximately three hours. I would recommend it because we had fun and we learned a lot of things about the city that I am pretty sure I'd have never learned if I just wandered around without a local guide.
To start off, Liverpool used to be a very poor city but throughout the years a lot of things shaped it to what it is right now. One of the things that everyone thinks about, of course, is The Beatles because the band had a huge impact on the city itself, given that more people gathered around the town hall for them then the Queen herself. Another unique thing about this wonderful city is the fact that it hosts the world's first building with a metal framed glass curtain wall. It is basically the father of skyscrapers, isn't it interesting? The central library is also a really nice building, situated between the World Museum and the Walker Art Gallery. It is a really nice building, but unfortunately, I couldn't reach the terrace as it was under construction. The main entrance is also quite cool. On the pavement, you can see a lot of words. Some of the ones I've spotted are "Wonderful Life" and "Il Principe" which in Italian means "The Prince".
Last but not least, the Cathedral. Fun fact, this is the biggest cathedral in the UK and the fifth biggest in the world; it precedes Milan's Duomo Cathedral which comes sixth.


London.
Tuesday, Oct. 31st.

Liverpool was just the beginning of my travels, in fact, the day after I went to London. The bus dropped me off at the Victoria and Albert Museum at around midday. Camera in one hand and phone in the other, I was trying to reach my first destination, which was Holland Park and subsequently Notting Hill. Given the fact that I was there on Halloween day, the exterior of lots of houses was decorated with spider nets, pumpkins, and creepy skeletons. I really liked the area because all the buildings are colorful.


As I wanted to reach the Marble Arch I realized there was Little Venice on the way so I aimed for that area first but I didn't realize I was going to face a huge construction site. The whole area of Paddington was just a mess, so I eventually kept going. At the intersection with the Arch, I decided to leave Oxford Street for later and continue walking along Hyde Park. I eventually reached Buckingham Palace. After waiving the Queen, I continued my journey and arrived at Trafalgar Square, which was incredible. Lots of people, chalk arts and street artists performing their songs. Believe it or not, my second and last camera battery died and I had to continue my tour of London with only my phone, which thankfully does not suck in taking decent photos. I've crossed the Hungerford Bridge halfway when I stopped and enjoyed the view. The London Eye on the left and an unfortunately covered Big Ben. As I was traveling solo this time, I asked a stranger to take a picture of me and of course it ended up awful. Not only I was ugly, but the whole composition was terrible, starting with the fact that she took it vertically and not horizontally. 
I went back to Trafalgar Square where I realized LGBT traffic lights and I just thought that was cool. I then left and walked through Picadilly and Soho. It was rush hour, around five in the afternoon to be precise, and the size of the crowd was unbelievable. I was getting exhausted and my phone congratulated me on achieving 30 thousand steps. At that stage I almost gave up but given that I was going to take a train from Euston Station, one of my friends told me to absolutely check out Camden Town. I carried on and as I reached the area I've been asked twice if I wanted weed. Moved on, the markets were really cool and I definitely wish I had some money to spend on the food there because everything looked very tasty. On my way back to the station, I stopped at Mc Donald's not only to charge my phone but also to rest my poor legs. There I started thinking about all the things I've done in literally less than five hours and I was satisfied. I also managed to see the US Embassy on my way to the palace and it was not planned. I heard a lot of Italian people basically everywhere, to the point that I started asking myself if I was in Italy or if I was still in Great Britain.

 

I used to think that London is impossible to visit in one day, just like the majority of capital cities around the world. And in fact, it is true. In one day you won't be able to see everything, but I am certainly happy I went even for just a few hours because I literally spent only eleven pounds for the train and I've got to see some of the major attractions. A really helpful thing was also the weather being loyal to me as the sky did not release any rain throughout the whole day.

If you have any question about my trips Liverpool or London do not hesitate to contact me and remember, always watch out for crazy deals, because there are always some you just need to look for them.

- Cris

ONE YEAR IN DK, ONE SEMESTER IN UK.


I don't even know how, but one whole year is gone. Eleven months ago I departed from Milan. With me, I had a couple of bags and just a feeling of uncertainty. I was, of course, excited, but it was different from what I experienced one year prior to that. I was not going on exchange. I was not going to live with a host family, and I wasn't going to the USA either. I landed in Denmark, that tiny & cold country above Germany.

I did not have a clue of what living in a country where the main language isn't either mine or English could be like. Of course, most of the people in Denmark know English, but sometimes I got asked questions on the streets and as soon as I said "I'm sorry, English please?" they looked at me like I was an alien and left without even saying "never-mind". I did not want to be the foreigner who was going to simply speak English just because everyone knows it and because the course is in English. I wanted to give it at least a try. "Danish language, here I come" I applied for classes, which I attended until Christmas. I used to have a lot of free time during my first semester, but then I found a job and everything relied on it. I had a flexible schedule, which meant good and bad. Good because I could go to work whenever I wanted, bad because they could call me on the day. It made it harder to schedule my life the way it was supposed to be, but I learned to deal with situations like those.


My year in Denmark has definitely been different from my exchange year in the US, but I knew all along that it wouldn't be the same because no experience will ever be comparable to my exchange. Denmark has given me an even wider view of the world.

I wrote everything you just read in July when I was back in Milan Italy. Now I am spending an academic semester (pretty much three months) in the UK as an Erasmus Student. I don't know if there have been other students like me before, but I feel like I'm unstoppable, which for some reasons is awesome, but for others, it is quite sad.


Think about it. It's always me, myself and my belongings moving around. No one ever comes and stays. One year is long enough to meet people but too short to be able to deeply fall in love and keep in touch afterward. It is possible, but very challenging and sometimes I fail to keep in touch with everyone, and this is why: whoever meets me loses me and only me, but when I leave I lose everyone, and it happens every time I go abroad, the story repeats itself.

Throughout the years I got stronger and learned that even though it is hard to say goodbye it is always worth to get out there because the things we gain in the long run are more important.

- Cris