Photo by Jill Kimball

…But I’m not a business major!

Our second week at the Istituto Filippin has been as crammed with business-related leadership seminars as it was last week. On Tuesday we had to sit through a “basic beliefs” seminar in which we determined what was most important to us–learning, love, spirituality, what have you–and how that tied into the decisions we’ve made in our lives. It encouraged us to use our core values to solve tough problems. One question the lecturer fired at us: would you rather be a hangman, someone who electrocutes convicts on death row, or a member of a firing squad? My answer: no.

The most painful seminar, though, was Wednesday’s lecture on strengths. We were told we’d be more successful in business if, instead of focusing our energy on improving weaknesses, we put most of our efforts into honing our strengths. It was all going well until the lecturer split us into groups, gave us a tricky business scenario, and asked us to figure out how we would handle it based on our greatest strengths. When one of the groups went to the front of the class and gave their presentation, the lecturer paused and said, in the most condescending way possible, “Sorry, my bullsh** detector’s going off.” We all looked at each other, horrified.

Luckily the day got better from there. The entire American population turned up for the CIMBA vs. Istituto (us vs. the Italian high schoolers) soccer game on what we call the Jesus field. Needless to say, we got stomped; the ending score was something like 9-0. The fans in the stands, however, stayed enthusiastic to the end.

Photo by Jill Kimball

The “Jesus field.”

That night, I also experienced my first Italian language-barrier problem since arriving. We were at a cafe, and I thought I’d order a “sorbetto”, a lemon drink I remembered one of my teachers recommending to the class. I went up to the woman at the bar and asked, in my best accent, for the drink. She threw her head back and laughed, and I was confused. She explained to me, first in Italian and then in English when I began to look confused, that “sorbetto” wasn’t considered a cocktail drink; it was a palette cleanser that Italians drank between meals. Oops!

I got another chance at Italian on an impromptu afternoon walk to nearby Crespano del Grappa. After we saw some of the sights in the tiny town, we stopped by a gelateria to finally get some Italian gelato–and I totally blanked on all the Italian words I knew that related to ice cream. After I ashamedly ordered two scoops of Nutella and Wafer-flavored goodness in English, I realized all the vocabulary I needed was written down on a menu two feet from the counter. D’oh!

Photo by Jill Kimball Photo by Jill Kimball
Everyone’s looking forward to the weekend, when we can escape tiny Paderno and finally start to see the world beyond. Almost the entire student body is heading to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. We had initially thought of going there, but we didn’t want to get to the Trieste train station and find out the train ticket would cost us upwards of $100 each–and now we’re glad we didn’t go, because all the trains are full and the entire hostel will be flooded with crazy Americans! We’ll hold onto our B&B reservations in Padova, thanks very much!

Read next: Adventures in Padova, Trieste and Venice

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Photo by Jill Kimball

First post!

My overseas flight was four days ago, but I’m still wrapping my mind around the fact that I’m in Italy. The evidence is all around me–beautiful landscapes, little yellow-, orange- and whitewashed houses, scary drivers and crucifixes everywhere–but I’m still catching up on sleep, so half the time I forget where I am because I’m so focused on just staying awake.

Photo by Jill Kimball
The Istituto Filippin, an Italian boarding school where all of us American students are also staying and taking classes, is beautiful and a nice change of pace from the expansive University of Oregon campus. It used to take me 20 or more minutes to walk all the way across campus; now it hardly takes me five. Our dorms are expansive, with tall cielings, huge old-fashioned windows with thick wooden shutters, and a private bathroom with a bidet (?!). Once a week, maids come to change the towels and linens. There’s also a dining hall that serves all three meals every day, but so far it isn’t very popular with students–most meals consist of pasta, some sort of pork dish and a cup of pudding or yogurt. We may never eat pasta again once we leave here.

Photo by Jill Kimball
The campus is divided in two: one half is for dorms and classrooms, and the other is for athletics. Today I spent most of my day in the latter half for the Da Vinci Challenge, a leadership and team-building series of exercises that demanded cooperation, trust and all the strength I could muster. With my team of ten, I climbed over a 15-foot wall and made my way through a tangled web of ropes. I even fell from a high tower to demonstrate that I trusted the eight boys below to catch me.

Going through the day, which included other difficult strength exercises that tired us all out pretty quickly, was difficult, but I felt proud at the end. All those trust and group exercises proved to me that I’m no longer that shaking sixth-grade girl who can’t muster the courage to complete the ropes course at science camp.

The rest of the week, including Saturday, will be taken up by seminars and leadership workshops. Two friends and I hope to take a day trip to Venice on Sunday, but it may rain, so we may stay in the area and go somewhere closer instead.

READ NEXT: TALK OF TRAVELS AND RAIN