8 lessons lived and learned during a semester in Tuscany

    No. 7: You never know who might give you free wine

    By Breanna Mroczek, ’12 MA, for Thought Box on February 26, 2016

    Studying abroad isn’t just larking about in another country. Nor is it all about the books. But it is very much about learning: being immersed in another language and way of life; seeing the art, architecture and culture learned about in textbooks come alive; considering other ways of thinking. We asked five University of Alberta graduates what lessons they brought home from UAlberta’s School in Cortona, which offers students from diverse faculties the chance to learn about language, art, history, politics — and life. ["Not to mention love, as this couple learned."]

    1. How to be an adult

    “Although I was used to living on my own, this was quite different,” says Courtney Gleiberman, ’11 BA. “I didn’t speak the language or know the customs — hello whole-city-closed-down-for-siesta-when-I’m-planning-on-grocery-shopping! The experience really taught me how to be adaptable, manage my time and to be frugal in some cases. (Though, between you and me, I brought home quite a few pairs of shoes.)”

    2. Communication transcends language

    One of the first memories for Christina Seal (Wolinski), ’12 BCom, ’13 Cert(HRMgt), of arriving in Italy was struggling to pull her heavy suitcase off the luggage carousel at the airport. “I sheepishly blew it off as though it was part of my travelling workout regimen,” she says. “But one of the nearby Italians smiled understandingly at me and pulled it off the carousel as it came around again. It was an unspoken meeting of embarrassment and compassion, the type of exchange I experienced frequently during the trip.”

    3. Being there brings lessons alive

    Most of the courses available at the School in Cortona are based in history: art history, classics, politics and archeology, to name a few. For Gleiberman, the experience was like travelling back in time and seeing firsthand the effects of history. “Knowing the trials and tribulations or successes that people persevered through to create cities, art and culture makes it much more meaningful to me. I found [hands-on learning] was more interesting than being stuck in a classroom, and it encouraged me to go further with my education.”

    4. It’s good — usually — to explore new things

    Along with the anticipated pizza, pasta and wine, Italy offered some foodie surprises. “I learned that Italian hot chocolate is so thick it needs to be eaten with a spoon,” says Kelty Hawley, ’09 BA, ’14 MEd. “It’s like warm pudding. It was so funny the first time I ordered it. I mostly got tea after that.”

    5. When in Rome, don’t be a slob

    “It was the first time I had been to Europe,” says Lindsay Shapka, ’06 BA, “and my thrift-store-university-student-chic — scarves as belts and tiny T-shirts — stuck out like a sore thumb on the fashionable streets of Florence, Rome and Milan. It has made me a lot more conscious of what I wear when I travel now, because dressing like the locals, or at least blending in, leads to a more authentic experience.” 

    6. Happy mistakes can happen anywhere

    One of the most popular Italian cocktails was invented by mistake, or so the story goes. “A Milanese bartender told us that locals love drinking Negroni sbagliato (which means mistake),” says Brandon Bailey-Cummings, ’09 BCom. “The local legend goes that a bartender at Bar Basso was mixing a Negroni for a guest and grabbed a bottle of sparkling wine instead of gin to pour in. The guest loved the drink, and it became a thing. We loved it, too, and now make them at home all the time.”

    7. Be nice to everyone (you never know who might give you free wine)

    “The night before our term ended, I went to visit the baristas at Bar Sport, a nearby café we frequented,” Seal recalls. “I brought with me a silly gift: a Tetra Pak of Starbucks chai latte syrup, my thought being that they might want to try something North American, and a photo of us. In broken Italian, I thanked them for everything. As I went to leave, one of the young men, Mirko, said, “Aspetta! Aspetta! (Wait! Wait!)” as he ran into the back room. He grabbed a large bag and put 15 bottles of wine into it! I stood there dumbfounded, not even knowing the Italian words to express my gratitude at this generosity. I stumbled up to the hostel with the bags and placed a bottle on each of the communal tables, where everyone had already started dinner and where we had shared so many memories that term. I kept one of the bottles and brought it home with me to Canada. Learning the beauty in giving: that is a lesson we all need.”

    8. (Cortona) friends are forever

    “It is easy to become fast friends with people while travelling, but the friendships I made in Cortona were like friendships on steroids,” Shapka says. “[They] are still some of the most important in my life. There is something amazing about going somewhere with a group of people who are as passionate and excited as you are to be learning about the new world you find yourselves in.”

    Hawley agrees: “The bonds that you form when you’re away from your usual support network are very powerful.”

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