During my first week of classes on the Bologna University campus, I realized that my study abroad program left very little time to acclimate to my new surroundings. Everything felt new, fresh, chaotic, exciting and overwhelming and it was the exact kind of adventure I wanted in a study abroad program. Back in the States, home and school life can sometimes feel monotonous and boring as we execute our routines as the days, weeks and months seem to slip by. For me, my time in Italy seemed to pass by more slowly. I think I accounted for time more consciously as I became overly aware and stimulated by my new surroundings. The mornings consisted of “survival” Italian classes. We were taught basic commands of the language so we could navigate through Bologna and interact with the local people. In the afternoon, our time was split and merged between the literary and film production portions of the program. We screened two films (“S.O.S Submarine” and “Rome, Open City”). The subsequent class discussions allowed us to critically analyze the narrative structures and production values of each film. Learning world history in a classroom setting is one thing, but when it is physically possible for me to occupy the same historical spaces being portrayed on the big screen, I walked out of each class with a profound understanding of how World War II affected Italy, its people and the world. The way Italian filmmakers realistically dramatized historical events made me feel, at times, like I was watching a documentary film.
By the fourth day of classes, I was able to politely ask for “this” or “that” from the nearby café at lunch. As I sat there eating my panino (a sandwich made with non-sliced bread, salami and mozzarella), I started to feel like I was living the Italian life instead of observing it. My confidence was at an all-time high when I pronounced “Ciao” to the café owner as I headed back to campus for my afternoon class.
My well-earned confidence was put to the test when we were given our first film production assignment. The next morning, the entire class boarded a train and traveled about fifty miles east of Bologna to the ancient city of Ravenna. We were divided into groups of three and we were instructed to produce a three-minute documentary film exploring the reality and imagination of Ravenna.
We were told Ravenna was once a thriving port along the Adriatic Sea but the water has since receded about seven miles. Like Venice, Ravenna is slowly sinking into the marshes. Each group was given a camera, a boom pole with a microphone and we were set free to roam Ravenna. My team quickly headed for the nearest café and we started to strategize. We each pulled out our cell phones and connected to the café’s free Wifi. We quickly learned that Ravenna was known for its colorful mosaics and it was the capital of the Roman Empire between 402 and 476. We decided that a three-minute documentary about Ravenna would not do the city justice, so we decided to capture the “feeling” of Ravenna through her natural environments, her buildings and her people. Unlike some of our fellow students groups, it was going to be a little harder for us to insert ourselves into the city without being noticed. Our team was comprised of an American Indian (me), an Indian from India and an African-American. Our recordings included visits to Dante’s tomb, the churches, and the newer port of Ravenna along the Adriatic. Any trepidation we had about our Ravenna adventures was only in our heads. We found the people of Ravenna to be modest and polite, even when we spoke Italian with our American accents.
Before I visited Italy, my impression of this country consisted of mental images of the canals of Venice, Vatican City in Rome or Santa Maria del Fiore (the domed church in Florence). At the end of the day, I was extremely happy with my visit to Ravenna.