Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Florence Study Abroad Part III: Weekend Trips; Rome

So I know this is about a month after returning from Italy, but I got caught up in the beginning of the semester and forgot to finish this post.

So! One of the best parts of my trip to Italy were the weekends; we had them completely to ourselves and with the amazing railway system, nothing was really too far away. Rome was an hour and a half, Venice just two hours, Bologna a mere 35 minutes. We only had three weekends there so we made the most out of it and took a trip on each one. Each of these trips ended with lots of pictures, so I plan to write a post for each one.

The first weekend, we went to Rome. My group of nine friends stayed in an Airbnb apartment just outside of Vatican City. The first night we relaxed and planned our weekend. A huge part of studying abroad is planning, especially if you're on a short trip like mine, and especially for weekend trips. Rome is a huge city with tons of things to do and see. We basically had to do the Rome 101: Vatican, Coliseum, and (my personal favorite) Villa and Galleria Borghese. Since Sunday is a crazy day to go to the Vatican, we decided to get up early on Saturday and spend the whole day there. Vatican City is actually a small country within Italy, in fact the smallest country in the world. It has its own postal offices, but not its own jails. We started in the morning with the Vatican Museum, which is filled with priceless artworks.

You get the picture. We decided to wait on line to see the Sistine Chapel and then St. Peter's Basilica. Walking through the Vatican just to get to the Sistine Chapel, I kept thinking we had gotten there based on how beautiful the ceilings were. 

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the Sistine Chapel, as they were very strict about cameras (and speaking). But suffice it to say it was breathtaking. St. Peter's Basilica was immense and impressive. It was about the size of 8 churches put together. I didn't know this, but apparently a lot of churches are actually shaped like a cross, with two chapels on the side of the main church to form the cross. Again, St. Peter's had a collection of priceless art, including the original Pietà by Michelangelo. 

(It's much more impressive in person, since there's a wall of glass that makes pictures terrible)

You really start to get a sense of how much money the church had, huh. St. Peter's Square was equally impressive and beautiful.

On Sunday, we went to Galleria Borghese and the Coliseum. In the morning, we made our way over the neighborhood of the museum, right next to the park, and had some breakfast. One of my friends ordered a hot chocolate and we couldn't believe what came out: an entire cup of melted chocolate with a spoon. Apparently that's a common breakfast drink in Italy. How do these people stay so skinny and pretty??

Galleria Borghese is an art gallery located on the grounds of Villa Borghese grounds and gardens. It's filled with (you guessed it) Priceless Artworks. This is where some of the best Bernini sculptures are housed including Rape of Proserpine and Apollo and Daphne.

Rape of Prosepine

This sculpture refers to the myth of when Pluto, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone, a vegetation goddess, from the earth and made her his queen of the underworld. Demeter, her mother, searched in grief to find her daughter for months, her despair driving the earth to keep from reproducing. Ultimately Zeus couldn't stand it anymore and told Pluto he had to give Persephone back, and Pluto agreed but he was tricky. He made Persephone eat some food from the underworld, some pomegranate seeds, which forced her to return there for a couple months each year, a time which we now call winter. 

This sculpture is beautiful from every angle; you can actually see where his fingers indent the skin on her thigh. Her marble thigh that is. She's even crying tears. Bernini was a genius.

Apollo and Daphne

Again, you can see the amazing craftsmanship that went into making this sculpture. We actually studied this myth in my class. Apollo, the god of the sun, is struck by Cupid with the arrow of love, while Daphne, a nymph, is struck with the arrow of hatred. Apollo pursues Daphne until she turns into a laurel tree to escape his affections. This myth was a huge inspiration to Petrach's (inventor of the Petrarchan sonnet, and kind of the sonnet in general) tortured love poems about his unrequited lover Laura. But here's where it gets great: he talks about the air (l'aura in Italian) and her hair being like gold (l'oro) and her name itself being Laura. So lots of in-jokes and rhyming (creepy much?). But most importantly, poets are crowned with laurel once they achieve fame: Nobel Laureates. So Petrach was basically comparing himself and Laura to Apollo and Daphne, and in this way using the unrequited love to achieve fame as a poet. And it worked. The original nice guy, friendzoned into the eternal history of poetry.

We ended the weekend with a quick tour of the Coliseum, then we caught the train back to Florence.

But not before some gnocchi, of course.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Astoria, the MCAT, and Tablets

Hi, everyone.

Today marks the end of another great week! Woo.

There was a medical school fair at Columbia today so I took a trip up there (it was my first time). The campus is absolutely gorgeous so I didn't mind neither the trip from Brooklyn nor the cold. A good number of medical schools that I'm interested in applying to were there so I was able to get some good information. And a ton of informational pamphlets too! haha

Speaking of med school stuff, on Wednesday, I got my score back for the MCAT that I took in January, and I was sooo relieved. Months of tension have finally come to an end. Now for the applications...

Earlier that same day, I found myself in Astoria again after more than a year. The last time that I was there I was visiting the Noguchi with my dad. My friend and I had tacos at this Mexican place, which were yummy. He's been going there for years, and he says that it's one of the best in the area. We then headed to Socrates Sculpture Park and tried to walk around without slipping on the ice and snow. haha. There were only a couple of other people there so it was quiet, and we just enjoyed the view of the river.
View from the last time that I was there (Dec 2013)
This past Sunday, my fellow co-editor-in-chief at The Macaulay Messenger and I held a meeting with our section editors. We ended up having the meeting at a Starbucks instead of the Macaulay building because unbeknownst to us, the building was closed that day. So we had to email everyone last minute to meet us at Starbucks. It was so cold that day too so it was not fun to run around in the biting wind but such is life. Always an adventure...

Both of us will be graduating by the end of the semester so we talked about how we will go about choosing next year's editor-in-chiefs. We also listened to any ideas that the section editors had about how to make the site better. I've loved running The Messenger this year because I'm learning what it means to run something with all of the perks and difficulties that comes with that responsibility. Something important that I've learned is that it is equally as important to be assertive as it is to listen to the opinions of others. That's what ultimately makes a great leader.

Something that I forgot to mention in my last post is that I recently bought a tablet for myself. Besides getting yourself a good laptop (Macaulay gives you one for free. Another reason to choose us for college! haha), getting a tablet is also a must. It doesn't have to be an expensive one. Just something that you know has proven to work well over time. I wish I had bought myself one earlier in college because it saves so much time, money, and space. I no longer have to rush to student computer labs to print PDFs. I can just download the file on the tablet, and read it whenever I have free time. Since I don't have a smartphone (Yes, I know. I'm probably one of the only millenials who doesn't. haha), I can use the tablet to quickly look things up like when an NYPL branch opens. Plus, it's great for the environment! So much paper was wasted on printing things out over the last 4 years. It's also a great way to save money on buying textbooks since there are ebook versions of many books these days.

Stay warm, everyone!


For this last semester, I've decided that I'll share one cool/interesting/thought-provoking thing that I happen to run across during the week:

(This one is an oldie but a goodie!)

Oprah interviews Thich Nhat Hanh.  

Responsibility: The Hidden Requirement of Passing College

               Recently, when people asked me how my classes were going, I would just look at them for a few seconds and say, "I completely underestimated the workload in college." Compared to last semester, my workload has become much larger. In addition, I was unable to keep up with the pace of my classes. Just today, I found out that there was an assignment due that I have no idea about.
              So here I am, writing to you guys about what I realized within the period of disappointment I felt about missing the due date of an assignment for the first time: I need to become more responsible for my own education. Had I taken it into my own hands to read through every one of my syllabi carefully and write down all the important dates, I wouldn't have missed this assignment. If I wanted to graduate college with a degree in hand, then I needed to learn to manage my own time better.
              It might sound cliché since everyone that we ask about college would tell us that college teaches us how to be responsible and manage time. But let's be honest here. Even if a million of people told us that we will learn to be responsible in college, we wouldn't really understand it until we experience college for ourselves. All it took for me to recognize that I was on my own is for my college teacher to hand me a syllabus without explaining it and expecting me to understand it.
               But I know that I would eventually have to grow up. I also know that understanding instructions on my own is what it takes to be a responsible adult. Nevertheless, this is hard for me to accept because it only took 8 months for me to go from a high school student who depended on his teacher to a college student that had to learn the rules of the classroom on his own.
               At the same time, I am excited to see how I might change within these next three and a half years. I hope to become an independent student who my teachers and peers could depend on to get everything done on time or even better, early.
              I am also wondering how you guys feel about this transition, especially since I know that I am not the only one who noticed a considerable increase of difficulty between my first semester in college and my second semester. Feel free to post comments about the changes you are going through right now or how you changed if you already experienced this kind of transition in college.

~Justin Chen

"The price of greatness is responsibility." -Winston Churchill