Saturday, December 31, 2011

MN vs. Italy- a look back on 2011

I previously wrote about my greatest accomplishments on 2011, and now it’s time to look back and see how I’ve changed as a result of everything. For the past three and a half weeks I’ve been on a whirlwind trip of seeing family and friends in MN for the holidays. It was absolutely great to see everyone again and I’m so glad we took a long trip instead of the standard 7-10 days. Although, let me tell you… It was definitely a culture shock coming back to the states after living in Europe for 10 months. Living over seas really opens your mind to new things and makes you really think about the way you live your life.

For example:

DRIVING: Driving in Milan is a little crazy and it scared me at first. People drive really fast and there aren’t painted lines on the city streets. But after a while, I realized that everyone on the road (with a few exceptions) understands the rules of the road and are good drivers. The only difference is that people drive faster. When I arrived back in MN and drove for the first time, I got really nervous. People in Italy may drive fast, but at least they know the rules of the road!! It was my first experience back on the highway in MN and some person was driving 10 UNDER the speed limit in the left lane (frustrating? YES!). That lane should be for passing only and Italians understand that. A man also wouldn’t let me merge onto the highway even though I had the right of way. With my Italian driving skills working at their best, I honked at him. He just looked at me like I was crazy. And roundabouts… Minnesotans think they are a place to just stop and wait for everyone else to go. Traffic should move faster when there are roundabouts, not slower.

Ok, I’m venting a little bit. But really, the roads are a lot bigger in MN and there is a lot more room for error. As a result, people don’t pay attention like they do in Italy. We saw more accidents during our three weeks in MN than I have in our entire time living in Milan. My point- I feel safer driving in Italy than I do in MN (which is a sentence I never thought I would say!).

FOOD: Its official, I’ve become a food snob. What seemed so good before seems mediocre now. The produce in Milan is excellent and has opened my eyes to many foods that I didn’t like in Minnesota. Things like cherries, apricots, peaches, tomatoes, and so on. As a result, I’ve become a more adventurous eater and I’ve found so many great foods! I love it.

HUMOR: Italians have a great sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously. When I went home for the holidays it made me realize that Americans take themselves very seriously. Yes, we know how to have fun and will crack jokes every now and then, but it just isn’t the same light hearted feeling that I get from Italians. (Maybe I was too serious when I lived in MN?? And I’ve lightened up since moving to Italy?? This will have to be explored in 2012 when we return to MN again.)

BUSINESS: The way of doing business in Italy is definitely old school- seeing people face to face before building a relationship, being successful means you are in the “good ole boys club”, etc. But at the same time, they are very up front and direct. It’s very refreshing! In corporate America I’ve noticed that people tend to be too politically correct and sometimes don’t attack issues head on. People tend to skirt around issues instead of laying them out on the table to be solved. In Europe, they like to attack things head on and solve them. America is more “rah-rah!”- Let’s give everyone a pep talk.

SMOKING: It was so nice to be home and not have to smell cigarette smoke everywhere we went! Although, a lot of people that I know in MN smoke… But, coming home to Milan, I know I’m home because the smell of cigarettes is in the air.

Overall, living in Italy has really been an eye opening experience for me. I’ve become more tolerant of people and situations, and I feel that I’m more open to new possibilities. 2011 was a great year for learning new cultures, languages, and traveling to new places. Hopefully 2012 will bring the same kinds of opportunities that 2011 did. I absolutely love my life and am so grateful for all of the wonderful experiences we’ve had and the amazing people we have met. Let’s keep the good times going!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Top 5 Accomplishments of 2011

It's that time of year when the holidays are approaching and the "Top whatever ...." lists are starting. It just wouldn't be the same if I didn't add my own lists of 2011! Wow, when I think of how many things I've done this year it makes me tired! But at the same time, this has been a wonderful year and I wouldn't change anything! Looking back, there a few things that I have learned to love, and a few things that I have grown to miss (more on that later). But, looking at all of the things I have accomplished this year, I am pretty proud of myself for getting through the tough times, and persevering to get to the good times. Here is a list of my top 5 accomplishments:

1. Moving to Italy! Who would have ever thought that we would actually do it?!? Well, we did and it has been so wonderful in so many ways. Not only have we been blessed with many travel opportunities as a result, but it has also allowed Josh and I to become closer and learn more about each other. This move has not only opened my eyes to other parts of the world, it has strengthened my marriage.

2. Graduating with my MBA in May! I started my MBA with Capella in January of 2009 and finished in May- that was a great feeling to finally be finished! Although, every now and then I find myself looking for that intellectual stimulation that comes with studying and research...

3. Leaving Capella- This was one of the hardest things I've done in a long time (professionally speaking). I had finally found a company who's values align with my own, and in an industry that I feel passionate about. I finally found my niche. My co-workers were fantastic and it was a fun place to work. It was a really sad day when I had to leave the company, but I hope to go back someday. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll want me back.

4. Starting my first official teaching role. In May I started teaching English as a second language in Milan, and it's been a really fun experience! It was quite a change switching from a sales role to teaching, but it's worth it. I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of Italians, see a lot of the city, and start practicing the art of teaching which is on my long term career plan. Eventually I would love to teach at the college level, so this is a great opportunity to start working on those skills :)

5. Learning a new language- Italian. At first learning Italian was strange- I would translate from English to Spanish, then to Italian. By no means am I good with the Spanish language, but what I did learn in High School and college came flooding back to me when I started working on Italian. Thankfully that has stopped and I am able to think only in Italian without Spanish getting in the way. Also, our new friends in Italy have been wonderful in helping me practice my listening and speaking skills. I'm not fluent yet... but I met my goal of becoming conversational this year! I can speak in present terms, present continuous, as well as the basic past tenses. Now I need to work on my vocabulary and future tenses... I've always wanted to learn Italian, and now I'm doing it!

Ok, maybe I am "tooting my own horn" a bit... but this year has seriously changed my life in many ways. These five events are the largest life changing events that I have experienced this year, so I thought I would share. I also have another list or two that I would like to post before the end of the year... so stay tuned!

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Italian Thanksgiving

For thanksgiving Josh and I invited our Italian friends over for dinner. This made me really nervous because I've never cooked Thanksgiving dinner before!! Not only that... our oven here is maybe 3/4 the size of our oven back in MN. It's perfect for roasting a chicken, but maybe not a big turkey. Luckily our friend Ilaria informed us that we have to order the turkey a week ahead of time from the Butcher. So, I was able to do that in time. I ordered a 12-14 lb turkey and kept my fingers crossed that it would fit in the oven. Josh wanted a bigger bird, over 15 lbs. Personally, I thought he was crazy! After all, there would only be six of us for dinner. We weren't going to eat two pounds of turkey each!

Preparing for dinner was an adventure... I went shopping for the essentials- groceries, pie pan, meat thermometer, roasting pan, etc. Unfortunately, I was only able to get the groceries. But, I was able to find pumpkin pie stuff at a specialty grocery store that has imported foods (including Mexican! I found our place for Mexican food when we have cravings! So excited about that...) At our grocery store they have most of the essentials, except the pans I needed. So, I ran to a kitchen specialty store and looked for everything and couldn't find one thing on my list!! After that, I stopped at another grocery store thinking they had to have everything. Again, nothing! So, I had to go to plan B for the pumpkin pie and leave the meat thermometer and roasting pan to Josh. I ended up making mini pumpkin pies in a cupcake tin and they were really good! That with homemade whipped cream- yum!!
I cooked mine in a cupcake tin, but you get the idea.

On Thanksgiving morning Josh was on duty for a few things- pick up a roasting pan, meat thermometer (from Ikea), and pick up the turkey and be HOME by 1PM. Well.... he made a few side stops and called me at 1PM from the butcher shop. He informed me that they were closed for lunch until 3PM. This was exactly why I wanted HOME by 1PM... So, we had to wait until 3 PM to pick up the turkey. They finally opened at 3:15 and Josh rushed home so we could get it into the oven. Again, we ordered a 12-14 pound turkey... well, we ended up with a 16 pound bird!! It barely fit in the oven! It roasted for a solid four hours and it was not even close to being cooked all the way through. Unfortunately the only edible part on the bird when everyone arrived at our house at 8:30PM was the breast. So we ate that along with the stuffing, potatoes, and other sides. Our friend Marina wanted to bring something for desert or a side, but I told her we had plenty of food and not to bring anything. When she sat down and saw all of the food she was amazed! She laughed and understood why I told her not to bring anything.

We had a great time sharing Thanksgiving with our Italian friends. It was their first Thanksgiving and they really enjoyed learning about our tradition and experiencing it. We even went around the table and said what we were thankful for this year. It was a really fun night! Overall, it was a success even if a few things didn't turn out as planned. I have a new appreciation for all of those people that cook Thanksgiving dinners every year- you are amazing!! It's so much work!