This week was definitely a ‘down week’ for our group, we took it easy as far as night life and tried to get more into the mentality that finals are just around the corner somehow, but we still had some pretty good highlights.
Thursday we went to Monteoliveto, a Benedictine monastery in the hills of Tuscany started by Bernardo Tolomei. There were dozens of beautiful frescos by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma, and we got to see the Abbey, which was pretty cool. Some parts of the monastery are still strictly cut off from outsiders, so we didn’t see all of it, but we did get to visit the library and the pharmacy. It was crazy to think that people never had to leave that place for anything.
Afterwards, we went to Pienza and learned about how Pope Pius II (whose family was from Siena) basically wanted his own perfect Renaissance town, so Leon Battista Alberti created it for him. Its interesting because the main cathedral doesn’t have any Christian symbols like Mary or Jesus on the facade, but only the crest of Pope Pius II, which according to our professor proves that the town was to assert and boast the power of the Pope. The main square in Pienza is formatted in the same manner as an ancient Roman Theater, with a clear focal point in the center of everything, proving it truly is a perfect Renaissance town.
This weekend, our group truly came to understand the meaning of the Tuscan phrase ‘Il dolce far niente” – The sweetness of doing nothing.
This was our last weekend to get away without having to worry about school, because next weekend is the weekend before finals and no one will want to go too far from Siena. We have been kind of burnt out by the hustle and bustle of running around big cities littered with tourists and long lines, so we decided renting a villa in Tuscany would be the perfect way to spend the weekend. It took a long time to find one that slept 12, wasn’t too far, and that was within our price range, but luckily, Nicole came through again and found a great place in the Chianti Region near Monte San Savino!
Friday afternoon we took a bus to Monte San Savino, and the people we were renting from sent a big van to pick us up from the stop and bring us to the grocery store. We ran into the store and proceeded to buy way too much food, and when we brought all of our bags out the guy who was driving us must have thought we were crazy to have bought that much food for 3 days. After filling the entire trunk with our groceries, we hopped in and drove to our Tuscan paradise! As we pulled into the driveway we all started freaking out, it was absolutely gorgeous! Our own little secluded oasis – complete with an infinity-edge pool and an outdoor balcony! We spent all of Friday and Saturday by the pool asking ourselves over and over “What did we do to deserve this?!” We all decided we have to say “Thank you Mom and Dad!!”
This morning it was full on cleaning-brigade to make sure the house was left the same we found it. We realized we didn’t have return tickets to Siena (oops..) and we didn’t know where the closest ticket office was (double oops). We asked the lady who we rented the house from and she said that her friends could drive us back in their car for 10 euro each. We’ve come to realize we have a ‘Study Abroad Goddess’ looking over us, who consistently has been getting us out of could-be problematic situations. So, rather than paying for an hour long un-airconditioned bus ride, we took about a 35 minute car ride with the music turned way up.
So, [this week is our] last full week of class, Friday we’re going to the beach, Saturday we’re going to Florence to see Roberto Benigni’s “Tutto Dante” (Everything Dante), and then next week is our last week in Italy. After this weekend of relaxation, with a chance to recenter, and again be reminded of the beauty that exists in this world and in this life, I’m ready to make the most of the next 13 days.
“Happiness is a consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”
Although I still fully intend to update all of you with what is going on with our projects and life in Quang Tri, I’d first like to tell you about the amazing day I had today. I think it’s safe to say that this is the farthest I’ve ever been away from home for my birthday, but everyone here has really made me feel loved and appreciated… I couldn’t ask for anything more.
As a treat to both myself and my class, I set up my computer and some speakers and had them watch Monsters Inc. (with a loose suggestion that they might want to jot down words they wanted to ask about). At our accustomed break time, I paused the movie, and my students proceeded to kick me out of the room for twenty minutes while they prepared the most impressive surprise birthday party I’ve ever seen. Colin and Bryn picked up two AMAZING cakes (french cream, vanilla cake, and a chocolate
cream inside) and my class went all out with decorating… homemade party hats, balloons… you name it. They also brought tons of fruit and prepared the coolest video with some photos from class, different groups of them singing happy birthday (in both English AND Vietnamese), and reenactments of things we had done in class. It was all incredibly thoughtful and I was speechless just standing there. What do you even say to kids like that? I’ve only known them for four weeks, and yet it was clear that they really spent some time preparing that party. I was overwhelmed.
After shoving ourselves full of cake and singing various American and Vietnamese songs, we proceeded to have literally a 30 minute photoshoot. Everyone wanted individual photos with me (and a few with Bryn, who stuck around until the end) and then GROUP photos and THEN photos with the entire class. Plus everyone had their own cameras and it was just a constant barrage of flashes. My mouth actually hurt from smiling.
The best part, however, was when the kids took turns saying things about me. I guess I was a little surprised to hear how much they enjoy the class, how they really believe that I have helped them with their English. After the rough start that I had with teaching, and after days and weeks of lesson planning, there are few things more rewarding than hearing that. And there are still two more weeks to go!
So thanks to my Vietnamese high schoolers, this will definitely be a birthday I will never forget! Look for another post tomorrow!
Well, I’m more than halfway through my time here in Vietnam (and a few blogposts too short). But it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, so I intend to have an amazing second half with more frequent updates. If you read this, hold me to it!
Our days in Quang Tri are busy, just as you saw from the last blog post, but they comprise a comfortable routine that we’ve become accustomed to. The playground is nearing completion. After spreading a roughly two-foot layer of dirt over the entire surface, we built a retaining wall around the perimeter, spread sand, mixed, shoveled (hence the name of this post), and poured more concrete than I care to recall, and, at this point in time, are assisting the contractors with laying the tiles. The latter is a job best left to professionals, which means that only a few of us go to the playground worksite each day, while the rest bike to the other side of the river to help with the fence. The fence is also nearing completion, but we’ve been asked to paint both the inside and outside of the school on the property, so that will keep us busy for another week or so. After that, who knows what we’ll be doing! There was talk of building a house, but unless we plan to work around the clock a la Extreme Home Makeover, it’s unlikely that we’d finish. There are plenty of worthy projects that could make use of twenty four college students though, so I have no doubt we’ll be busy for the duration of the trip.
I will definitely miss the playground worksite. The place has become very familiar over the past three weeks, and we’ve left a permanent impression on the surrounding community after playing hour after hour of popular American music through the school’s speakers. All of the preschool faculty were very welcoming and often brought us fruit or candy; they even made fresh squeezed limeade once! We felt like gold miners, all grubby and dirt stained, as we stood drinking from small steel cups. It was quite the sight. Another sight to behold is my Ireton Cross Country shirt that I have (no joke) worn EVERY day to work in so far.
I’ve also worn the same shorts and socks, but I shower with them all everyday, so they’re still fairly tolerable. I figured there’s no sense in getting any other clothes dirty! In addition to the food the preschool faculty brings us, we all briefly frequented a little cafe next door that made smoothies for us. We would take a break about halfway through the morning and play chinese chess with our contractors. That routine promptly ended, however, when “smoothie lady” decided to up her prices, and one of the Vietnamese students told her we weren’t coming back if she was going to continue to overcharge us. We haven’t been back since (although I think I’d be willing to pay $1 instead of 50 cents for a smoothie).
Teaching has had it’s ups and it’s downs. I’ve never taught before, and finding myself directing a classroom has very much been a learning experience. The students are sixteen and seventeen years old, but still very shy when it comes to volunteering and speaking. Plus, they already know SO much grammar and vocabulary that lectures are difficult to construct. I’ve been focusing more on American culture, pronunciation, slang, conversational English, things like that. There are good days and bad days, but lately more good days as the kids warm up to me and the other teachers and I get more experienced. They love hearing about America and seeing photos of my family and Duke and they are viciously competitive when we play games (especially when candy is involved). They are also such quick learners when it comes to singing. “Hey There Delilah” and “Yesterday” are the two songs they have perfected so far, and they sometimes ask to sing them at the end of class so they can continue to remember the words. Many of the students are also very motivated when it comes to learning how to converse properly, and will approach me during breaks or before/after class to ask me any number of ridiculous things like “How may I run faster?” or “Do you miss hamburgers?” Yes I do miss hamburgers. The biggest frustration that comes with teaching, however, is definitely the lesson planning, which can be a HUGE nuisance since we are either busy or tired throughout the entire day. After my roommate successfully brought WiFi to our guesthouse (after a new router purchase and some communication with the provider) though, lesson planning has become much simpler, given that we can print our flashcards, download songs and videos, or look up teaching strategies for different topics. It definitely makes MY job easier and class more fun for the students.
The CET China team would like to take this opportunity to let you know that none of our students has been harmed by the recent flooding and heavy rains in Beijing. We are happy to report that, to date, none of our Beijing campuses has experienced flooding; all of our programs are running as usual, though some activities have been postponed due to rain. We receive daily updates from all of our programs and are carefully monitoring the situation. We will provide updates as they occur.