Virginian Abroad: February 2018

1 Month in Italy

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VITERBO

Since my last writing, much has changed, and despite not traveling much, I am very pleased with the last four weeks.  At the end of January, I struggled with the fact I could not travel the amount I desired. In a moment of over-reacted self-irritation; recalling all the instances I essentially wasted money in Richmond buying dinner with Katie or buying from Korey, I grabbed my laundry line and divided it into two. The combination of my anger and curiosity led me to use it; not the intended advertised method, at least that I believe. It stung my back in the several instances, especially when the same spot is hit, but then after tired out, I was in the same position. It didn’t help me going forward, but was memorable do not put oneself in this again.

Now I proudly write, I have begun to remedy the situation and my irritation, best I can; and such I am no longer just a student here.  As I often have in the past, I called my parents and soon gained wisdom from them in two much-needed conversations.  The first discussion with my dad helped lead me to turn my course back to what I came here for, to improve myself. The second with my mom, as she always has, helped me accept my circumstances.  I decided to study abroad for many reasons, but maybe the most important was to see if it is plausible to sustain a normal life outside America, different than just being a tourist/traveler; like I have in the past.  This involved me concluding that traveling each weekend, as I had initially planned, would not lead me to accomplish this understanding, it would instead build my Instagram page!  I now can say I have bettered my situation by sinking into a more authentic life in Viterbo, with normal everyday tasks like work.

My first sit-in with Lisa did not scare me away, as she indicated the kids might do; instead it did the opposite, leading me to my current path I find myself today.  This week initially was scheduled for 25 hours in the classroom, both as a student and teacher.  Of course, the largest snow fall in the Lazio region in six years has changed the plans drastically (we’ll get there).  It is both beautiful to see the old town covered in snow and to be out of class!  I did, like the entire city, did not prepare for this however, with no snow clothes or boots!  The snow days, which have lasted an astonishingly long time, has relieved me of seven hours of teaching both at the Real English School and the local high schools.  To make up my missed hours at work, I worked a four-hour shift yesterday with all young kids!  These days, even if only half of a normal work day, are comparable to a Rocktown summer work day or a Friday night at Macados!

There is a difference however, I feel a certain excitement that this is what I meant to do, even if there is no desire to work with young Italian children.  None the less, it is truly unique to work with such a wide variety of Italian people, ranging in all ages and levels.  Along with struggling through learning how to “teach” and determining my “style”, I am also tasked with overcoming the language barrier.  I do not find really any difficulty conversing with the adults, either one on one or in a couple setting; and have encouraged them to help with my Italian during the sessions.  The children are a different story!  The classroom of teenagers is generally easy with their level of English comprehension high enough for me to engage with them, but the five and six-year-old kids are a different challenge.

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This past Friday after working with flashcards and a book, I found that the video stories on the laptop grab their attention the best! It is eye opening to see the kids notice after speaking Italian to me that I do not understand. I feel embarrassed that I cannot speak with them, but also grateful to have this challenge that I must overcome.  I never imagined having my first classroom experience with children in a foreign country, where the first challenge is not teaching but the language barrier; it can only be easier without the barrier right?  At least I feel less pressure to ensure a fully comprehensive look into the language in the high schools, since they are not paying for it nor are they to be tested.

My first presentation at the local high school, is an entirely different experience from the English lessons.  I liked it enough to jump at another opportunity, so now I have two sessions with the same instructor; each for an hour Monday & Tuesday morning. I felt my first duty was to explain why I was here; in Viterbo and now in this classroom; then to describe myself enough to prepare them for what I aimed to discuss in the coming months. I began with my studies; ultimately, the reasoning for coming to Viterbo. Studying history, international studies (European concentration), religious studies, and Italian studies, it is hard to find a better place to study than Italy. So, then I further explained, why Viterbo? I desired a smaller, more authentic experience to Italy, than what I had previous gotten from Milan and Torino, or years ago; Rome, Florence, Venice. Second, perhaps more importantly, I explained to them; I sought to be in this exact situation.

With finding a love of travel, then an interest in teaching, I wanted to pair them; so it became only natural for me to seek out an opportunity to volunteer teach while studying abroad. In my research the USAC program, located out of UNLV provided that chance, particularly in Viterbo. The classes matched as well with each one focused around Italy (ovviamente)-culture, conversation, cuisine, modern history & renaissance; which allowed me to keep pushing forward in my pursuit of completion in the two majors and minors. Finally, as time was closing in on me; I had only one hour, I wanted to explain some of my out of school, more personal interests; essentially what makes me-me. I tried to make it easy enough; love of studying culture, fascination with travel, active/sports fanatic, growing love to read and write; my connection with hip hop, r&b, etc. Seriamentee, try describing oneself; it’s not so easy, especially with so much to say, but so little time. Lastly, I got to photos and describing the immense impact my family and friends have had on me; then boom, class over.

I intend to continue with the initial 50-slide introduction, introducing myself, VCU, Richmond, Virginia history and American travel.  I then plan to shift gears toward weekly topics, revolving around American culture.  The first hour was empowering, I felt honored and humbled to have the opportunity to speak freely regarding American culture; acting somewhat as a cultural ambassador.  I learned however a funny lesson, due to the level of English comprehension, I do need to go less in depth!

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The high school classroom session is a nice change from just simply reading from a book at the Real English School.  It is difficult to say which I prefer since they are so different.  On the one hand I enjoy having free reign to create my own topics, which led to me spending several hours on my first session. Even if the work, regardless of age and level can be boring or frustrating, it is hard to complain after walking away with cash in my pocket.  I feel both ultimately can and will contribute to my mission of Teaching English as a Foreign Language!  This week while talking with Lisa, she offered to provide me with a reference before I left; so, one down, just need another; this is one of the reasons I came here!

Obviously as my responsibility at work has steadily increased each week, from working five hours each work up to now eight or nine hours, something must decrease; in this case travel! Since visiting Firenze, the second weekend in January, I have not spent a night away from my queen bed in Viterbo. Many facts make this truth; first of course I have an increased obligation to my position at the Real English School, now working both Thursday and Friday evenings. This month, marked with no weekend trips, does not mean I have not traveled; instead I have taken advantage of day trips.  In total, between using the Cotral bus or walking 16 kms one day to San Martino al Cimino; I have explored five surrounding towns. All these towns in the Lazio region were no more than an hour bus ride, although Proceno took some work to finally arrive to; but I’ll get to that.

SAN MARTINO AL CIMINO

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My first trip to a nearby, a small town roughly seven kilometers away, was the result of me being ancy on a Sunday.  The town very small, home only to a beautiful duomo; like all Italian towns, was mostly uneventful.  The day oddly enough, will be remembered because I stumbled upon the Campo da Rugby Sasso d’Addeo; an empty stadium, at least for the day!  Surprised to see what looked like an American football field, I soon became enamored by the high raise lights over looking the field.  I thought as I often do, would being atop that pole provide me with a clear view of the valley? Could I be able to see all the way to Viterbo? After questioning the decision, I climbed up about half way, to the first opening to remain, but went back down out of fear; I was shaking. I started to walk away, but with guilt I couldn’t accept that response. I was curious and interested, and to only be deterred by fear; che peccato! I turned around and faced my fear, I’d get back to that first part, I stopped at; with sweaty palms and the pole shaking, I eventually made it to the top.  This moment, thus the day is memorable because in that moment I conquered my fear of heights. As the video clearly shows I was slightly petrified about being that high up without being locked in!  Without falling (Grazie Dio) I made my way back down to the ground. I began my walk back to Viterbo, along the two lane, no side walk road; I got the feeling people don’t do this walk. Yet, soon enough I was back within the walls. The day was coming to a close and I still needed to prepare for another week of class, while impatiently waiting until my next trip.

VITERBO

With my second visit to the Liceo I planned to continue my drawn-out introduction of me and what I feel necessary to begin with; this included facts of VCU, RVA, and our history. In lesson planning, I thought they might find interest in the story of the Italian-Americans; why and how they immigrated, in effect putting millions of Americans, like myself, with Italian last names. I didn’t quite know how they’d receive our history, whether of Richmond, with the Revolution and then the Confederacy, or to a grander scale immigration. Between flooding them with knowledge of the homestead act and how the country was shaped by immigration; then, turning it personal and discussing my own roots.

After all, there was so much to speak about; divulging about mio bisnonno da Calabria working in the coal mines in West Virginia and mia bisnonna traveling by boat across the ocean, at the age of sixteen, into Ellis Island to make a life in upstate New York. In hindsight, desiring to go into such detail about separating factors between region (although it would set me up for the next week’s lesson), discussing America’s beginning into Imperialism; following the Splendid Little War, and turning to American isolationism, was too much. Leaving that Monday, walking the narrow streets back to my apartment, I second guessed myself in a typical highly critical-reflective thought process; which would turn to be the common standard, following these classes. Luckily, when I had the chance to try again in Tuesday’s class; although, often busier with occasional tests, I would work to correct my mistakes.

TUSCANIA

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That Wednesday, following two days of class; I had no class, which led to me scheduling a trip to Marta & Capodimonte.  I paid for 1.10 fare for the Cotral bus and headed to what I thought was the way to Marta.  It was only when the bus temporary stopped in Tuscania that I asked the driver how far until we arrived in Marta.  I did not like his answer, it sounded like too much work, having to ride for another 30 minutes then switch to a different bus.  To his surprise I exited the bus, explaining that it was ok, this will work, the town is beauty!  I didn’t know where I was until I looked at the map outside the city walls, but I had a suspicion.

I was correct I had arrived in Tuscania, since I had previously done my research I was prepared for the abrupt change.  Despite being rained on and spending the last hour underneath a tarp writing in my journal I enjoyed myself.  The old town, surrounded by walls, like Viterbo, is flush with churches, fountains, an interesting archaeology museum; filled with sarcophagus’, and a beautiful park overlooking the valley.  It was in the later where I decided to sit on a dry bench and enjoy one of my meals I packed for the day, a highlight of the day!  I then headed towards my last visit, the church of San Pietro, a church outside the walls filled with thirteenth century frescos.

ACQUAPENDENTE

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Over the next two days I attended class, Modern Italian History, and worked at the Real English School.  Then on Saturday, I joined Michael, Brock, Charlie, and Mariah on a trip to Proceno.  Using the Cotral bus service, we left Viterbo and headed to Acquapendente, a town about an hour north, nearby lake Bolsena; not far from Montefiascone.  Upon exiting the bus, we found an empty church; at least of people, instead filled with many beautiful canvas’ of art.  I later learned from Marco that Acquapendente is known for their local artists!  The artwork out shined the church and remained a constant theme, on buildings and in various  piazzas as we walked about the town en route to Proceno.  The murals, which I took plenty of photos of, reminded me of Richmond; prompting me to feel an odd feeling while abroad, a desire to be home.

The feeling was short lived however, as we walked into the wildness and headed towards Proceno.  Along our three-mile path, we came across a farm full of chickens that captivated Brock; he has an interesting connection with my favorite meat!  With the urging of Mariah, he did not step onto the barb wire fenced farm grounds; which would be something he would admit to regret and correct the next time!  We did not make it to Proceno that day, not able to find a path or navigate the woods, we settled to head back to Acquapendente, putting the blame on Mariah as the scapegoat! The next day, I finished my week with another day trip to Ronciglione however, since one of us (Michael) was set on creating an exciting redemption story to Proceno, I will fast forward for a brief period!

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Two weeks later we a continuation of our first trip; what we considered our redemption trip (for glory). We extended invites to both Charlie and Mckenna to join us on the day trip.  This time with a slightly larger group we bused back to Acquapendente and instead of trekking to the wildness, we followed an actual road to Proceno.  The journey, much smoother than before, was not without its difficulty.  We faced some faction, especially when it came to the farm with the chickens.  Encountering the same situation as before, Brock refused to incur another regret and feed those chickens, with my backing and waffles!  This caused, first Mariah to become agitated then a neighbor to meet us at the bottom of the hill to voice his displeasure.

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After this entertaining fiasco, which I was rocking to Michael Jackson in the background, we continued the trek through some woods.  After scaling the hill to the town, which was seriously empty and uneventful, it started raining!  This made the journey back down, now facing a few tired and demoralized members, both entertaining and difficult.  My highlight, separating from the pack to follow Brock up a hill, I thought to be a shortcut.  After not sure which path he went up, I forged my own.  When I finally made it up the steep path, after crawling on all fours, I met the group; whom at this point were yelling my name and looking for me.  Although these trips were short and simple; compared to Firenze and Roma, they helped contribute, along with a few other reasons to a good second month abroad.

RONCIGLIONE

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The Sunday before Carnivale, we drove together to Ronciglione, a nearby town to watch the annual parade.  It was there I met his girlfriend Giulia, and her parents, and watched the confetti filled parade of costumed people dance and march down the main street lined with townspeople.  It is this type of fun, authentically Italian event I had hoped to experience, a mall-town celebration; like the Sacro Fuoco in early January.  After the parade we separated from the crowd and headed back to his car, continuing our simple language conversation.  We then drove to his parents’ house for an Italian home cooked meal!  Despite the difficulty, again with the language barrier, we enjoyed delightful, educational focused conversation.  His parents, and dog welcomed me with full Italian hospitality that I have come to understand as the norm.

VITERBO

Along with becoming more comfortable with my fellow Americans on the weekend day trips, we also united together around a table or to share bottles! These dinners, which brought the likes of Michael, Charlie, Brock, Fiore, Alessandro, Shania, Chris (Rang.), Amber, Marco, and Mckenna to our table.  After the first dinner, Spaghetti Carbonara cooked by the two Italians, Kiarra held a Japanese food night, Indian night, and Lasagna!  Mason joined the most recent dinner, inviting people over for steak sub night.  The nights would always culminate in getting drunk off cheap wine and normally smoking in Kiarra’s room for dessert.  Opting to not being part of the settantasette crowd, I instead chose to make my social appearances in these settings.

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(Via Zazzera; Amber, Alessando, Fiore, Kiarra, Marco)

Another attempt at further socialization, as well as a chance to meet a local, I tried Tinder while home in Viterbo. Basing on my fortune while in Firenze, I gave it a chance; at the very least, it offered a chance to write in Italian, in hopes of having written conversation in the practice language. Several conversations over the course of the month came out of it, yet; ultimately, only one became memorable to this day. In opening the range all the way to Rome, which naturally provided more options, since the greater Viterbo area, didn’t give much, I got one interesting person; Sveta. Turns out my hope in finding an Italian to talk with, was for not; she grew up in Italy, but is a native Ukrainian. Her Italian is good though, so as I helped with her English, she helped in my Italian; mutually beneficial. She gave me some slang, and explanation for Italian usages; in return, I helped her (most notably) in a couch surfing response, to her host. Her depth and knowledge of Italian; the few weeks that we were in communication, was appreciated. In writing that they didn’t work out the best, in simple differences; she introduced me to the quote;

“Great Minds discuss ideas, average minds events, small minds people.”

Finally, the last reason for this memorable month, and for me becoming entrenched in Viterbo is my conversation partner, Marco!  Since first meeting him in later January I have built a friendship with Marco, a 23-year-old recent graduate from the University of Tuscia here in Viterbo.  This relationship, along with becoming friendly with several of the Americans, has caused me to become more comfortable in Viterbo.  What initially started as a conversation partner relationship, between Marco & I has blossomed into more of what he calls the tandem!  It is difficult to explain, as neither of us can fully engage with the other, due to the language barrier, but I feel we are very similar; both in mindset and ambition.  Those two attributes are important for me to share with someone; which is why I don’t believe the language barrier is a problem, instead it is an interesting challenge I believe we both aim to conquer!  Since meeting with him and his friend, Marco, that first night at Settantasette, we have hung out in a variety of settings. I am most grateful for him including me with his family, and girlfriend’s family.

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With the start of another week, I was given another opportunity to present American culture in the high school, while also learning more about Italian culture. It is very much a give and take, a push n pull; which work in unison to provide me the most thorough understanding of the bridge I play, between two cultures. To begin with the high school, in researching for hours and reading up, after mom inspired me with discussing the work by Colin Woodard; I presented on the topic of regions within a nation. This topic has a heavy sway both within the United States, and as I have learned in Italian history; which helps to explain the bizarre country that exists today.

I have found it incredibly useful to learn more about Italy and it’s past, to then turn on my own understanding of the U.S. and the make-up of the States. In discussing regionalism in American, and the controversial topic of federal-state relations; I took from the book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Yet, again, another book that I would never actually read, but still present about as if I did; a continuous theme for me.

I believe Italian understand this better than most since they have up to twenty one; perhaps more. Let’s see; Valle D’Aosta, Lombardia, Trentino Alto Adige, Piemonte, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Liguria, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Toscana, Umbria, Marche, Abruzzo, Lazio, Molise, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria, Sicilia, e Sardegna. I think that’s all of them; and I’ve visited, a little more than a handful thus far. Life goals; visit all before my time comes to an end; same can be said of the states, or at least of the different regions. So, comparisons; in the U.S. we have; per Mr. Woodard, The Left Coast, The Far West, El Norte, New France, Deep South, Greater Appalachia, The Midlands, Yankeedom, First Nation, New Netherland, the Spanish Caribbean, and Tidewater. I have visited the Left Coast (Cali), naturally El Norte, since Julia’s in San Antonio, the Deep South, and the Greater Appalachia, perhaps the Midlands with either Columbus or Philly, the New Netherland, Yankeedom, New France and the Tidewater region (ovviamente!)

This leaves me just the Far West and the Spanish Caribbean; not so bad, far easier than completing all the states. I would indicate a city in each region, along with interesting facets about each differing region; according to the author. Truly a fascinating topic, and again, proving to me that I am learning more about a country that I have lived in for twenty five years, while being seven hours away from it (by plane.) Throughout the lesson, I was able to make relations to the make-up of Italy and its region; and soon making connections to how these regions play into the creation and continuation of politics within the country. This lesson would set up, without me knowing it at the time, future discussions about American culture.

The following day, between Italian Renaissance and then Culture, later that evening, my attention would turn back toward Italy. First, our class took a field trip to the local government building, located within Piazza Commune; not far from me, to see the wealth of Italian artwork, dating back centuries. I’d walk by this building several times, but without knowing what lied within, until this day, I never took notice. Professor Marco played the role of our excellent guide, a position I’ve heard is more natural for him; and the class would get a chance to collectively (come pecore) to follow his passion about the buidling. Murals, ancient maps, and portraits of mythical hereos lined the walls, as we marveled and took photos. We’d laugh about it later, but Kiarra would either get lost or just leave, and out of all people too; he noticed, since of course he would with her. I’m sure he was thinking, wait no one is questioning me about the most random aspects, dove Kiarra, poi he said it; Mason and I just smiled, “non lo so.”

Later on that day, I was nervous to make my first presentation about an Italian figure. To lessen the stress, while also furthering the hatred of me from the self-proclaimed, miserable feminists in our class, I made a sexist joke. It would only add to their surprise when I opened my powerpoint to Maria Montessori! What a remarkable person, educator, and woman; truly an inspiration in a time when there seemed to be no hope, whether in Italy with the fascists and Mussolini, or in the world. She was the founder of a liberation movement; arguably one of the most important; “the liberation of children.” In watching videos of her world-wide implemented schools I became hooked. She broke some many barriers, from being a woman in a male dominated field and world, to having to flee, first from Mussolini then Franco in Spain, and finally being interned in India!

It seemed as if everyone wanted her to create schools in their country; ironically the U.S. despite inviting her; (the will of Mrs. Wilson, daughter of the president) the States would never implement her schools to the magnitude of so many other countries! As I did during the presentation, I want to have Maria Montessori explain her approach and viewpoints on children and education;

“Here then is an essential principle of education: to teach details is to bring confusion; to establish the relationship between things is to bring knowledge.”

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”

“I did not invent a method of education, I simply gave some little children a chance to live.”

Finally, a perspective by Cheryl Duckworth referring to Maria’s contribution to Peace Education, “Education was a means–perhaps the only genuine means–of eliminating war once and for all…Values such as global citizenship, personal responsibility, and respect for diversity…These values in Montessori education are every bit as crucial as the subjects of math, language or science.” I was truly entranced by the impact and strength of one woman, to reform education and, in essence, life. I am still amazed that it took this long to introduce her momentous life to mine; yet, another thought towards what did my own upbringing in education teach me? Yet, now I have become introduced and she has no doubt altered my perspective, and perhaps my life trajectory; to Educators!

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That evening was unique, making the first time abroad I have been accepted into a family’s home, it was very nice to feel included and comfortable in a homey setting.  The relationship between the Tandem, has since continued to grow and strengthen.  In the last week I attended Marco’s dissertation and subsequent brief graduation celebration Monday.  It was unique to see the Italian University experience, which required each graduating participant to defend their thesis in front of a panel of five, and the crowded classroom to their back!  Two days following, I accompanied Marco to a classy restaurant in Bagnaia for his graduation dinner.  The celebratory event, which included 25 family members, his girlfriend’s family and a few friends, lasted from 8 to midnight!

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The final night of the month, before I knew class would be canceled the next morning; I accepted Marco’s invitation to join him and his family for dinner.  Like last time, now with Guilia, we gathered around the dinner table filled with wonderful food!  I have become increasingly comfortable at his house and with his parents; even being included in on the marital back and back, reminding me of Mom and Mitchell!  Watching John Oliver discuss Italian politics, sitting on the floor near the heater and rubbing the dog; reminds me oddly of home in Dayton!

With a better grasp of my Italian life; with class in the USAC program, and confidence in my work/life balance, I now feel comfortable enough in my surroundings and routine. Soon, the whole routine would be thrown off by missing the entire last week; Italians do not handle snow well. Despite not having the four and half classes of school, nor any teaching obligation, I found myself able to continue to work toward improvement. Each day, I am entranced by learning more; the Italian language, history, cuisine, culture-it’s all fascinating.

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Magari, what has allowed me to learn the most are the growing roles I have here in Viterbo. My time split, between home with Kiarra and Mason, in class, at the high school assisting Cesira on Monday and Tuesday, then to the Real English School from three to seven/eight, and finally, experiencing the authentic Italian life in la casa di Mei. It is truly valuable to have so many baskets; the eggs dispersed across several sectors of life, allows me to have a life that isn’t directly attached to intense travel, like in January. Life here in Viterbo is interesting enough, perhaps not for all, as naturally a larger city would be more eventful, but the lessons each day are exactly what I sought in all this; months ago.

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Both Italian Renaissance and Modern Italian are interesting history classes, providing a much fuller understanding of both European and Italian history.  I am fortunate to have three very good professors, as Marco teaches both history classes.  Italian culture con Luisa, has given me, along with Modern History, a much more in depth understanding of this divided country.  I intend on going into written detail about Italy once I finish this semester.  I don’t think most people truly understand how bizarre and divided Italy is, between the history (regional), language (dialects) and politics.  Finally, an important aspect of me being here in Italy is the language comprehension.  We have not received any assignments, therefore no grades in conversation, but with my continued daily effort in Duolingo and the kids talking to me in Italian; I am confident I will eventually grasp this language.  Each day I am gaining new expressions, as it unfortunately is not a direct translational language; per esempio, my new favorite Italian saying used in un modo di sarcasmo, “dimmi di piu.”

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To end the month, I want to discuss an interesting development in the world of USAC Viterbo: Werewolf. I have been introduced to the game Werewolf, or Mafia; which we have played in several instances, as a group of ten to fifteen, in the only location big enough to house us all, la casa di Eliza, Francesca, e Mariah; used to also be Uliana, but she had to leave (yikes!). The social gathering spot for USAC Viterbo, whether for Carnival or now the occasional game night, has a massive living room with plenty of sitting area. After having nearly a week off due to the snow, we got the opportunity to play without worry of the next day’s classes, or work for me. It is nice to get together in a social setting and not be wholy revolved around drinking, although of course, there is/was always the option to drink; much to Mason’s displeasure, claiming it ruins the games. He has a point, as people become less carefree about the seriousness of the games, but as Kiarra and others argue, it is game night, so it should be carefree.

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I just enjoy watching Mason get so irritated; and have come to enjoy the foolishness of the games. Brock seems to always entertain, especially as he becomes unaware of what is going on; alcohol tends to do that to people. Unfortunately, alcohol has it’s downside; which is the story of Kiarra’s phone. Leaving one night from the game night, she lost her phone somewhere in the snow; believed to be near the kids’ park with slides and such. Yet, we never found it; so, we had to acknowledge the instance and submit a form to the police, in case it was found. Despite, the unfortunate lost phone, the ten-minute walks, from the house outside of the walls to Via Zazzera are always entertaining.