Kyoto 6.23.17

My Dearest Friend,

With a month left of my semester and a month and a half until I leave Japan, the end of my time in Japan is drawing close. This semester has flown faster than I could ever have imagined. The month since I last wrote has been a blur of flashcards and readings, trying to keep up with my workload. Now with the end of the semester in sight, my normal work has been supplemented with presentations, exams, and research reports. It will be very difficult to make sure I don’t let my busyness get in the way of enjoying my last few weeks here in Japan.

I did have a break this past week however. Two of my close friends from the States are studying in Asia this summer as well, and they stayed with me in Japan for a few days on their way. It was fun getting to catch up and show someone else the city that I’ve loved living in all year. I also finally visited the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji, along with the Ritsumeikan World Peace Museum. It was a relief to have a break from my studies and to explore the city a little more. I also had forgotten just how much I missed my friends from home. So despite being very sorry to leave Japan, I know I’m returning to great friends who love and miss me.

Before I leave I’ll sit down and try to put into words all the things I’ve learned here, but one is already on my mind. Growing up, I loved studying ancient history and civilizations. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese—these groups were so much more interesting to me than politics or modern cultures. It still makes sense to me. I’m a lover of fantasy, so civilizations with their own histories and cultures that were fundamentally removed from me were more interesting to me than the mundane realities of my world. What I didn’t understand until recently is that modern European or Asian countries were no more real to me than their ancient counterparts. I was just as removed from the modern world. Growing up in America, especially living in one city for the majority of my life, everything outside America was either the same as America or didn’t really exist. Even after visiting China last summer, I still didn’t really understand that people live in ways that are fundamentally different than how I always had.

It turns out, I don’t need a car, a dryer for my laundry, or even to be home with my family on every holiday. All of those are good things, but they are not necessary aspects of life. There are also things I always expected to be part of my future that don’t necessarily need to be. I expected my future to be defined by working long hours before coming home to a silent apartment, living out my life in the States. That doesn’t have to be my future. I can travel. I can live in a new country every few years. I can find things I love to do and work to support myself, even if it’s not building a glamorous career. I don’t know what my future holds, but that’s half the fun.

My friend, when I return we will have so much to talk about. I hope you’ll still recognize me. I feel like I’m so different than I was when I left. Honestly, I think I’ve grown into a stronger and more beautiful person. Hopefully you’ll agree. I’ll try to write again once finals are over.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

A CHEF INSIDE EVERYONE

I have always loved baking and cooking; it has always been a form of a stress relief. Without it, my first year in college was hard, and this coming year, I will have to go without it as well. I think that a lot of people will agree that the kitchen is a safe and beloved place. In our fast paced digital world, we miss out on seeing a lot of concrete progress and time to slow down for a while. I like making food as a retreat from all of that. Spending two hours on recipe, you have a different kind of focus than you do on schoolwork or on Instagram. Cooking takes a lot of patience and attention to detail. In Italy, we are surrounded by so much amazing food. The pasta here is very different from macaroni and cheese we eat in the States. In OU’s Santa Chiara Monastery, we were lucky enough to have an instructor teach us how fresh pasta is prepared from scratch.

We made 3 different kinds of pasta: tagliatelle, ravioli, and gnocchi.

The tagliatelle and ravioli were made from the same dough: 100g of flour to 1 egg. On large wooden cutting boards smothered in flour, we poured the 100g and created a mound of flour. Using your fingers we then created a hole in the middle of the pile, like a volcano. Next, the egg was cracked into the flour with a dollop of olive oil and a healthy pinch of salt, and a fork was used to whisk the egg and slowly incorporate the flour. Once the mixture begins to become solid, you can use your hands to knead the dough. Make sure there is enough flour on your hands to avoid the dough from sticking to you. Knead until it is thoroughly mixed into a yellow ball. The dough will be very elastic. Place the ball on the cutting board and slightly flatten. Use a large rolling pin to roll out the dough into a large slightly oval piece. Sprinkle semolina flour onto the dough every once and awhile to prevent stickiness. Roll until the dough is translucent. The dough will be cut in two and one will be smothered in more flour. This will be rolled and cut to make tagliatelle. The other will be folded and used to make the ravioli. Our ravioli filling was the traditional spinach and ricotta cheese. The gnocchi was made from potatoes, mashed and then mixed with flour. There was no ratio, as we watched Fabio, our instructor, just knead and add as much flour as he thought was correct. After the dough was completely kneaded, we rolled pieces of dough into long “snakes” and then cut the shapes into very small cylinders. Afterwards, we rolled the pieces on forks to create textures, allowing sauce to better stick to the gnocchi. We watched as Fabio cooked the pasta, salting the pasta water a lot, and always leaving the water on a rolling boil. This prevents from the pasta from sticking together and the salt gives the pasta dough flavor. The ravioli was added to a simple butter and sage sauce, the tagliatelle to a pesto, and the gnocchi to a tomato. The ravioli was amazing with parmesan and the sage smelled so fragrant. I love the gritty, green pesto sauce with the tagliatelle. Lastly, Fabio’s tomato sauce was the most amazing tomato sauce I have ever tasted.

Dinner was delicious, especially after spending time to make it ourselves and cleaning up the mensa afterwards. And not having to spend limited meal vouchers to eat.

The Gelato Factory

We went to a gelato production facility to see a demonstration of how gelato is made. The president and vice president of the Association of Ice Cream Makers were there. The lady showed us how to make the fior di latte, the base for most gelatos. She first mixed the sugars: glucose, dextrose, and normal granulated sugar. The ratio determines how thick the gelato will be; dextrose prevents gelato from being too frozen and glucose makes it thick. Powder milk is added to make richer. Neutral powder is added to help ingredients angulate together. Local, fresh, high quality whole milk is added. Cream is added. The mixture is put down a funnel inside the machine that mixes, pasteurizes, and cools the gelato. It whips the mixture to force air into the liquid and make it more solid. The machine gets colder, to the negative degrees, than the gelato to make sure the gelato doesn’t melt. For small quantities, it takes about 20 minutes. When it is done, the gelato is poured onto a frozen track to prevent thermal shock.

In Italy, the production of gelato is important. There are many strict laws that gelato-makers must follow and those laws are constantly being updated. Also, they take their jobs very seriously and make sure that the product they make is safe for their customers. They still pasteurize the mixture even though the milk they use has already been pasteurized. They also take great care of making sure there is no contamination for those people who are allergic to nuts or eggs or are gluten intolerant. One thing that I noticed is that the gelato making process is very secretive. Each maker has their own special recipe with different ratios. They take great care in making sure no one knows the ratio. During the demonstration, everything was pre-measured and stored in measureless containers.

The fior di latte that we tasted was amazing; it tasted like milk. I never knew that flavorless gelato would taste so good. It reminded me of the milk-flavored popsicles that I used to eat in China. The gelato was very creamy and smooth, and sweet. It would just melt in my mouth, much softer than ice cream. The gelato did start melting quickly after I started eating it; it explains why it must be kept at low temperatures at all times. I defintely prefer gelato over ice cream.

WANTING TO BUTA(DIE)NE

Organic Chemistry has been really hard for a lot of us to grasp right away. Many of the people on this program are pre-medicine, pre-dental, or some other pre-graduate level course based in the medical field. Thus, everyone here could probably be classified as an introvert or has some traits and qualities of being an introvert. I personally, love people. I love helping others, I care immensely for other people, and I love spending time with others and building relationships; however, I need alone time. I am a very introspective person, and I enjoy thinking about life and making sure that I am enjoying every moment. Especially, as I spend time abroad–expensive time!!!

This course has been really enjoyable for me, but also extremely difficult. My brain is wired for chemistry–not biology. I do not enjoy memorizing things and like to think in a more thoughtful and meaningful way. Chemistry better makes sense to me in this way, as we are taught a concept and taught how it is carried out and how that affects how compounds are formed and why things are the way they are. I dread memorizing anatomy and compound structure names. I learn by doing and seeing it be done. I like the mechanics of problems, and the reliability of atoms and compounds. It makes great sense to me, and I feel at ease when my question of why can be answered. Organic Chemistry works in both of those ways. Many people here are wired for Biology. They like learning things by memorization, and much of the vocabulary and mechanics that we learn in Organic Chemistry have a lot to with memorization. Unfortunately, chemistry can come off to people as extremely abstract and miniscule, and irrelevant. While I like to understand the mechanics, the compounds have certain skills that need to connected in your mind just by memorization. Organic Chemistry is a lot of connecting products to reactants to substrates by memorization. Now all the future doctors, biology or chemistry oriented, feel lost and frustrated and screwed over, as we try to grasp concepts of a full semester of Organic Chemistry in 4 weeks.

While we are all fish out of water, flailing on a dock in lecture, our professors struggle as well. This week has been especially hard as we switch professors in our classes and must get used to a new teaching style while learning harder material. While still getting comfortable with each other and our professors, we are spending a lot of time together, and this usually becomes how people begin to hate one another as we become too close for comfort. Many others in my program have gotten touchier and touchier when it comes to ochem. As we continue, we are feeling the mid-term crisis, and hitting a wall. The way that this program is taught, many people feel overwhelmed by the amount of information shown to us in a day, and miss that time to process that you would during a full semester. For me, it has been a mix of that and a push to understand more faster, as things seem to click easier as we something we learned in the past would be the day before and not a week ago. Without this time to process and understand, many people are left confused and want everything to be explained to them because the information is not sticking and thinking hurts. Today, our professor became extremely frustrated and had to rush out of the room for air. We were left feeling terrible and remained silent. I know that some students felt it unprofessional and looked down upon it. I did not. We all feel the exact same way as he does. Even a few days ago, I had to spend time alone to regather myself after spending so much time with Jena and going over the same things over and over while studying for her sake and for mine. Taking this intense of a course is overwhelming. It has sucked a lot so far, but judging by our A average on tests, many of us are successfully retaining the knowledge.

Organic Chemistry in Arezzo is going to be hard. Organic Chemistry is not something that comes easily to anyone. It combines memorization, chemical knowledge, and spacial reasoning into one science. Many of these things are separate in our minds. Many people are not extremely accomplished in all three skills. A little over two weeks in, I am enjoying myself greatly, and finding myself learning so much about Italy, about myself, and about others (and a hell of a lot about ochem). Everyone is different, and we push ourselves and others to be better versions of ourselves. Individuals learn in different ways, and we should use each other’s strengths to inspire ourselves. I have also learned greater respect of other people. Our differences mean other strength and weakness. We have to respect each other for both and not judge others for their strengths or weaknesses. I have learned that being on your own can be a good thing, and that it is completely okay to feel better alone sometimes. Silence in a group can be a source of comfort not awkwardness. Everyone learns in very, very different ways, and it can take longer for some people than others. I have learned so much about Italian culture, and I have learned so much about why I am so in love with Italy and what that says about who I am.

I’m praying for everyone to simmer down in the next week and a half and to find some chill. I have to constantly remind myself and check myself before I say exactly what I think, and rewire my thoughts. I think that all of us have a tough week and a half ahead of us, but that we all can do it. I know that I still have a lot to learn from this country, my professors, and the other students in my class. I can’t wait to see what the rest of June brings. Hopefully all good things.

AREZZO

Arezzo is a smaller city in the region of Tuscany. Only 45 minutes and €8.40 away from Florence, the city is actually quite larger than you would think, but much calmer than the bustling tourist centers of Roma or Firenze. Still, like the rest of Italy, Arezzo has a rich history, and I am enamored by this city.

Rome was so breathtaking and amazing, but it was extremely overwhelming. I loved how busy the city street got at night; however,  I was also rather nervous and scared in the city, as exhilarated as it was. I was exhausted on our bus ride from Rome to Arezzo, and I do not remember much, but arriving in Arezzo, I felt much safer. It felt much homier and less touristy than Rome did. The only overwhelming part of Arezzo was all the hills–which is why most of us were winded pulling our suitcases up to the monastery from outside the walls of the citadel. Even further up the hill, you can find the Church of San Domenico and a Medici Fortress. An important part of Italian history is tangled in a power struggle between the Emperor and the Pope. The Medicis controlled Florence and were large supporters of the Pope, while Aretini were historically ghibelline, against Florence and the Medici. Between the Fortress and the Church is a large park with an overlook that is breathtaking. Our first day in Arezzo was the monthly first Sunday antique market, creating a much different atmosphere than any of us were used to.

The biggest event in Arezzo, is the Giostra del Saracino. Jousting  began during the crusades during raids of the Saracens and declined into the 18th century. In 1931, it was reinstated as a historical reenactment of the Saracen Joust. Arezzo is separated into 4 different quadrants: Porta Santo Spirito (4 time consecutive as of this year), Porta Crucifera, Porta Sant’Andrea, e Porta del Foro (where the OU Santa Chiara Monastery is located). The Joust takes place the second to last Saturday of June (and again on the first Sunday of September), but the party and celebration begins the weekend before. Parades will go through town as they practice for the Giostra, with trumpet players, drummers, horses, and people historically costumed. The Aretini begin to wear scarves of their quadrant around their neck, in their hair, or even just tied on their purses. Friday night, mostly all Aretini remain in their quadrants, and large “block parties” take place in a large common area. Wandering after dinner, Jena, Sam, and I found ourselves walking towards the fireworks and flares of the del Foro block party, after hearing chanting and singing. Tables (slabs of wood) with plates on them were carried out again and again. As we walked into the piazza, there was a man standing on top of a table with other people fervently waving the del Foro flag and singing along with him. People talked and laughed with one another, and there were so many people gathered together to enjoy themselves before the Joust the following night, scarves all tied around their necks of course. We were waved at by several people for our scarves as well. Walking back at midnight, we were surprised to see so many people still eating dinner, drinking wine, and talking each other’s ears off at the party, in restaurants, or on patios. The next day was completely different from the Arezzo we had come to know. 

The Saracen Joust is “the greatest, most fantastic event that Italy has to offer,” as told to us by a British man we met on a patio, now living in Italy. The Joust was so different than what I had imagined, and the pride that the Aretini had for their city, history, and quadrants showed as we sat and watched the largest event in Arezzo. Excitement filled the air, and it was easy to tell that both tourists and locals were enamored by the event. It started with traditional processions of each quadrant, and flag throwing! (After watching Under the Tuscan Sun that afternoon, the flag throwing was so exciting to see in person.) Then the joust began. We watched as horses galloped towards a wooden target, and awarded 1-5 points based on where the jouster’s long lance would hit the target. The crowd leaped to their feet to see the point of impact, and scorekeepers would quickly cover the target to bring back to judges. Minutes later, when the announcer began to speak, the crowd would become dead silent, ready to hear the score. Cinque!  or Tre! or Quattro!  This year, Santo Spirito scored two 5’s and won the Joust for the 4th time in a row. As the joust ended, people swarmed towards the Church of San Domenico to see the Archbishop of Arezzo bless the Jouster, and see the Golden Lance prize be paraded through the Church. We made haste and quickly found spots with our del Foro scarves hidden away, and watched excited groups of Santo Spirito pile into the Church. They yelled, grinned, laughed, and waved their scarves in the air in triumph. They sang their chant and reached out to touch the Golden Lance for good luck as it was carried down the aisle. Their excitement was overwhelming; the moments in the church surreal. There is no greater moment than this that showed me the passion and pride of the Italian people and more specifically, the Aretini of Arezzo.

We leave Arezzo in under a week and a half, and I dread that day. We have been here for so long, and it is just started to feel normal, like home. There is still so much here that I want to experience, and I will desperately miss the entire culture here.

Spero di rivederti, Arezzo. I desperately hope to see you again, Arezzo.

Reflection of Arezzo

Despite being a small town, Arezzo, Italy has been the perfect place to study abroad with its long and rich history and culture. Even though I have never taken a class about Arezzo, I have learned so much about this place through the many trips to various historical sites and events such as the Fortress and the Joust.

On the tour around Arezzo on the first day, we passed by the park with the fortress but we weren’t able to see the fortress. I just made the assumption that it would be remains of a small fortress. When we finally visited the fortress, I was amazed at the shear size of the fortress and how well preserved it was, though I know that they must have done much reconstruction. The Italians who designed and constructed the fortress had to be highly intelligent in order to even consider allowing cannons to be able to shoot at the other side of the fortress in case invaders ever took over. I know that I would have never thought about it. That fact puzzled me until the tour guide explained the logic behind the design.  As I walked around the fortress, learned that the current fortress is actually a fortress built around a previous fortress, and found out that type of stone used in the fortress was found in India, it finally hit me just how old Arezzo is and how much history it has. Compared to Arezzo’s history, the United State’s history is minuscule. While the fortress may seem very barren with its large empty rooms and bare structure, I can just imagine how busy and full of people it must have been when it was active. When the tour guide was telling us that old Arezzo decided to side with the emperor during the conflict between the emperor and the pope, I was extremely surprised. Looking around current Arezzo, it is clear that the Catholic religion is a huge part of Arezzo’s identity with the many cathedrals and the blatant displays of the cross nearly everywhere. I assumed that the Arezzo people would have sided with the pope since they have such a strong Catholic presence. Through learning about the fortress, I learned that Arezzo has a long and complicated history and that what is a current major presence in the city may not have been many centuries ago. I was shocked to learn about the numerous wars and conflicts that Arezzo has been in. Current Arezzo is a small peaceful city and I never thought that it would be a place where wars were fought.

The joust is probably my favorite event in Arezzo so far. I love how competitive the four quarters of the Arezzo get. The chanting and screaming at the different quarters reminded me of my high school chant where we would yell back and forth during pep rallies. I am curious how people decided to split the city into those specific areas since someone once told me that the four areas aren’t equal in area. I also wonder if there is any special meaning to the colors of each quarter’s flags since most country flags have meaning behind the color and design. Despite the joust being hosted twice a year, the people of Arezzo are really excited about the joust. There were so many people; the standing area was packed, the stands were completely full, and there were even people standing on their balcony watching. The performers were dress in full costumes from head to toe. I wished I knew what the significance of the different costumes they wore and if there was a historical meaning behind it. The flag performance was amazing! I can’t juggle and I can’t imagine the amount of practice they put in to be able to throw a massive flag in the air and then catch it. It is very clear that the joust is a historical reminder and tradition that the people of Arezzo are very proud of. The jousters train all year for the event and there are practices every night the week before the joust. Also, the locals take their quarter flags very seriously. The morning of the joust, I was walking to the flea market with the Porta del Foro flag around my neck and this man from another quarter started to make mean comments in Italian while pointing to my flag. This shows that despite how frequently the joust occurs, the people are still very proud of Arezzo history and their quarter. People are so loyal to their quarter to the point where if a man is from a different quarter than his wife, they will both return back to their respective family homes and sleep there the night before the joust. I went to the blessing of the winner after the joust and it was definitely an unique experience. While normally it is required to cover one’s shoulders and legs when entering the Duomo, on this night, people didn’t bother to abide by that rule. In fact, there were people standing on top of the pews. The winners were blessed by the pope; it shows that religion is still a major component of their identity. In America, if someone wins a major competition, they might be able to go see the president, but most people don’t go to their church to celebrate.

Even though Arezzo may seem like a small dot on the map, it has a very long and rich history. The town has experienced many wars which is evident in the architecture of the fortress and surrounding walls of Arezzo. Like almost every Italian city, Catholicism is very significant to the city’s identity and its people. The people of Arezzo are very proud of its long history and are very competitive and loyal to their quarter. Arezzo has been the perfect city in Italy to study abroad in! I’m going to miss it very much when I have to leave.

WE ALL SCREAM FOR GELATO

No trip to Italy is complete without a lot of gelato. The dessert is a staple in Italian culture; it’s not abnormal to see a middle aged man in a suit, toddlers, or angsty teenagers all with gelato cones at the same gelateria. With countless flavors, it’s easy to see the universal appeal. In my 2 weeks in Italy, I have had gelato 10 times so far, and 14 different flavors. The gelato industry is very important to the Italian economy, as it is so integrated in the Italian lifestyle.

Today, we took a trip to a gelato factory led by the president and vice president of the association of gelato makers in Arezzo. There were we shown how gelato is made. Gelato has a thicker and creamier consistency than American ice cream. Gelaterias each have their own special recipe for making gelato that makes each place unique. The vice president of the gelato association of Arezzo showed us her own special recipe of assorted powders and whole milk. Marinella said that she tries to use fresh, local milk. One of her special ingredients is cream. Once the milk is thoroughly mixed with the powder, the liquid is poured into a machine. This machine is where the gelato is made. The liquid heated to near 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and then it is quickly cooled in the machine again to form gelato. after around 20-30 minutes, with a flip of a switch, thick, white custard-y looking gelato comes out of the machine into a frozen tray. The gelato made by Marinella was a base flavor used to create other flavors. There are three main base flavors: fior di latte, cioccolato, and crema. Fior di latte is the main base used for many different flavors including most of the fruity flavors. The consistency of the fior di latte was almost like ice cream concrete in the United States. I have tried not to order basic flavors when getting gelato, but the fior di latte was incredible. It was sweet, and I could almost taste all the possibilities of the flavor. At the same time, its own flavor was phenomenal and unique.

Cheese Factory

The cheese factory that we visited is a part of the cheese association in that valley. The milk is fermented in a metal container. The machine pasteurizes the milk, heating it to 70°C for 2 to 5 minutes. The milk is then cooled to 35°C before being transferred to another tank.  They add animal rennet and mix to form curds. The curds are dumped onto a metal table where they use a chitarra to cut the curds. They use plastic containers with holes on the bottom to separate the curds and whey. They turn the cheese 6 times for symmetry. After 10 minutes in the container, the cheese is kept for 24 hours in the hot room for evaporation and slow down formation of crust. They add salt manually and then store in cellar.

They produce many types of cheeses based on the temperature of the milk and size of the curds. The best cheese is from colder milk which turns white with fine grains which makes intense flavor. The warmer milk makes yellow cheese. Bigger cheese grains is more common. The leftover whey is used to make ricotta by boiling it in a large tub to 80°C. When ready, it floats to the top. In the cellar, they store Pecorino Stagionato up to 1.5 years. They wash off the mold, which is a good sign of aging, every 15 days. The softer cheese is stored for 6 months. They paint the cheese with natural coloring: yellow for fresh, red for semistagionato, and black for old. All the cheeses are in groups of 120, with stamped information. I noticed that they follow strict sanitation rules with needing to wear hairnets even though no cheese was being made. All the equipment were stainless steel and clean. I never thought that there were so many steps to making cheese.

We tasted pecorino fresco, pecorino stagionato, and pecorino stagionato with pepper, and ricotta. The fresco was nearly white, soft, and chewy. The taste reminded me of American cheese. The stagionato was yellower and harder. The taste was sharper and dry. The brine taste weird. The stagionato with pepper was decent. It had a slight peppery taste, but when I ate the peppercorn, it overwhelming pepper. The ricotta was amazing. It was white, fluffy, and creamy. The texture was like a better tasting cottage cheese. The shape was like tiny clouds. The taste was slightly sweet and was a good topping on bread.

CHEESING!

Let me preface this by saying that my body does not handle large amounts of dairy well. The week before I left for Italy, I had the best mozzarella sticks–from Buffalo Wild Wings–and I ended up feeling sick and throwing up that night. Needless to say, I was hesitant about going to cheese factory, as curious as I was about the entire process for my cheese loving sister.

The cheese factory was not at all like I imagined. Most of the cheese that they make is produced in the morning, and nothing really operates later in the day. The factory is actually a collective organization of local farmers that all make cheese together. This association was created in the 1960’s in an area where historically, farmers of olden times moved sheep and cows to regulate the temperature in which these livestock lived. The factory produces around 1.5 million kilograms of cheese per year–this is more than 3 million pounds of cheese per year. We were told that they produce around 4,000 kilograms of cheese a day. The process to make cheese is almost not unlike making wine–with many alterations of course. After milk is collected from a certain type of animal (sheep, cow, goat, water buffalo, etc), this milk is then pasteurized to kill any unwanted bacteria up to 70 degrees celsius for around 5 minutes. The milk is then moved to large metal vats, where it will be cultured–similar to fermentation in the winemaking process. This will affect the k-casein in milk to cause coagulation. Then the semisolid liquid is moved to large pooled tables. In these tables, the curds are collected in plastic bowls (in the shape of cheese wheels) and the whey is then recooked to create fluffy, light ricotta cheese. Once the curds are collected and compacted, they are moved into the “hot room”. In this room hot temperatures turn the curds into the solid wheels we are familiar with. Afterwards, these wheels are moved into cellars, where they will be kept to age various durations. This was the craziest part of our visit. We walked into a cellar will probably hundreds of wheels of cheese just sitting on the shelves. Many seconds of them were also covered in mold. We were told that the mold was a good sign, and it is cleaned off every week! A pecorino cheese is made from sheep milk and is typical in the Tuscany region of Italy. Pecorino cheese are named for how aged they are. We tried 3 different types of pecorino. The first was a fresco, or fresh/young cheese. It was very, very light in color and tasted extremely fresh. It is similar to a lighter cheese in the United States, but with an unparalleled fresh taste. It was soft and easy to bite into. The second cheese was semi stagionato, meaning semi seasoned or medium age. This one was browner in color, and was saltier and more bitter than the first cheese. It was much more pungent as well. The last one was another stagionato, but this one was slightly older and was seasoned with black pepper. It had an even stronger smell, and was darker with visible black pepper pieces. The last two cheese were harder and broke in half more easily than the first. None of the cheeses had holes in them.

The cheeses were so amazing, and I have not yet gotten sick in Italy from eating too many dairy products in a day. After our tasting, I bought some of the cheapest high quality cheese I will probably ever buy in my life. They were vacuumed packed for me to bring back home to the States! I am looking forward to bringing a piece of Italy to set in motion my sister’s path to becoming a cheese connoisseur.

Ballet in Barcelona

Saludos de Espana! (Greetings from Spain!)

On my first study abroad adventure, I find myself in the majestic city of Barcelona! Before arriving, friends and family had showered the city with compliments when I mentioned I would be traveling here. And since my arrival on June 2nd, I have stood in awe of just how incredible it truly is!

I am officially participating in the OU School of Dance Barcelona Program. We spend between 5 and 6 hours Monday through Friday in the dance studio, working hard and sweating in the Barcelona heat. The studio where we take class is a regional academy called the Centre de Dansa de Catalunya. Our modern dance classes are taught by our sponsoring OU professor, Austin Hartel, but for out ballet and repertory classes we are lucky enough to be able to take class from Roser Munoz and Joan Boix, the owners of the studio. They come from a completely different background, and it is exciting to be exposed to a new perspective on ballet.

One of the coolest aspects of being here is the constant exposure to the Spanish language. Although I haven’t taken a Spanish class since my senior year of high school, I have been surprised at how quickly I have picked the language back up. To be able to practice with native speakers and communicate effectively has been amazingly satisfying. Taking ballet class in Spanish has also been an eye-opening experience; although the language of movement is universal, it is a very different hearing corrections and connecting ideas in Spanish rather than English. The teachers do try and communicate some things in English, and because ballet steps are in French, ballet class here is a potpourri of the three languages!

I am off to rehearsal – hasta la proxima vez!

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