Photo Essay Contest

Chiara Castelbolognesi
Spring 2008
All Year 2007/2008
Contest Winner

Host Institution: St. Lawrence University -New York-
Home Institution: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
Period: Spring 2008

Knowing the world is the best thing ever

“Knowing the world is the best thing ever”. This is the sentence I chose when I had been asked to write something about me for an art exhibition about I-House residents in my host university in the US. I chose those words because they can summarize what I really learnt from my semester as an exchange student. Going to the Us doesn’t mean you will learn only about US: I found out new aspects of my character, I discovered how interesting is to meet people and to know about their backgrounds. What I liked of the US is its multiracial population and culture.

The student center and the snow are in my mind the symbols of my life at SLU (St. Lawrence University). When I got off the taxi in the middle of the night in Canton, the campus and the countryside surrounding it were completely covered by snow. I learnt how to live in a place always cold and snowy, I learnt which jacket to wear and which one were the best shoes. I ended up loving it and when in April it started to melt, I was sad for not seeing anymore the campus white and shining under the moonlight.

The student center and the snow.
The student center: the first time I went there it meant nothing to me, just a place with offices and many rooms. But later on it became the place where I spent many nights and afternoons, where I had snacks and dinners. Located in the center of the campus, it was the best place to meet up with friends, to play some pool or ping pong, to eat something at the pub, to watch a movie on the big screen in the Winston room, or just to stop by for a talk. The walls were always covered by posters of all the clubs and organizations of the University proclaiming the incoming events of the week.

Inside the student center, playing pool with Kae, Japanese, and Nevin, from Palestine.
The I-House, where I lived, was the best place I have ever been. Home for exchange students, international students, American students just got back from a semester abroad and for whoever was interested in meeting new people, knowing new cultures and sharing life experiences, it was like a big family, where also non I-House residents used to come to hang out with friends. I never felt alone there, even if I had a single room, as I always knew that I could just go the lounge or sit on a couch in the hallway and find someone to study, chat, eat a snack, or watch some TV with. I-House coordinators were in charge of organizing events, two of those I keep best memories of are the Asian night and the Tea-time. I helped to set up decorations for the Asian night, then I was ready to eat all the Asian food displayed on a buffet and to watch the shows (traditional songs, dances as well as videos and pictures of some Asian countries) performed by my friends. But just before it all started a friend came to me asking if I could help her in making a presentation about her country, the Maldives, as I was the only one she knew on campus that had been there. Feeling honored for the request, I happily accepted, but I was very nervous as it was my first time to speak in English in front of a numerous audience, improvising a speech. It turned out to be great experience, and I started to become more confident about my English.

What was tea time? Every Wednesday night, at 10 pm, the common kitchen and lounge of I-House welcomed I-house residents and friends from other dorms, everyone with a mug in their hand, to enjoy the company of good people, good tea, and snacks. It was a nice time to relax after a tough day, to take a break from study, and to meet people that you haven’t seen for long time.

The people who took part in the Asian Night. Some of them are wearing traditional clothes from their home countries.
Catamount trip was organized by our international advisor, Deborah, and by I-House coordinators for I-House residents and for the all international students’ community. We spent a very relaxing weekend in a lodge 40 minutes away from campus in the woods of Catamount. We walked in the wood full of snow, had the chance to know each other better, sitting in front of the fire place talking and playing board games. The best moment of the all weekend was when, after going out to pick up sticks under the moonlight, the American students taught to the surprised and confused International ones how to use those sticks to make marshmallows on the fire.

Alan, the Brazilian guy, teaching a typical Brazilian dance
Besides the fun of campus life, which was actually a real surprise for me since in Italy the idea of campus does not exist at all, there had been a lot of studying too. For me, taking classes in a US university meant first to learn and adapt to a totally different system of teaching and studying. Contrary to Italy, at SLU I was supposed to speak in class and express opinions on various issues, and to write so many papers! It took a while to get used to it, but finally I found myself almost comfortable in doing all of this. I had hard time to explain to my American friends how the Italian university system works, and we liked to compare the two systems and find pros and cons of each one, imagining a new university that gathered the best aspects of both. I took three government classes and a Chinese class. The Chinese class was very small, only seven students, and at the end of the semester the professor proposed to change our last class into a Chinese dinner, with everyone cooking a Chinese dish. My classmates laughed so much at me, as I am not a great Chinese cook, but then the dinner was actually very good!

Classmates and professors of the Chinese class taking a picture after a delicious Chinese dinner.
Canton is a small village in upstate New York, surrounded by countryside, fields, farms, woods and a river where we went on a canoe trip. In Canton there were only few places where to go eat or hang out, that is why almost all of the student’s life was focused on campus activities. Notwithstanding this, we had some places where we used to go, like the cinema, or a bar, or the Asian Buffet, our favorite place where to eat besides Dana, the campus dining hall. What makes Canton special is that it is not rare to meet Amish people on their wagons in the streets.

Beautiful countryside surrounding Canton
Canton was very close to the border with Canada, so one Saturday, thanks to a friend who owned a car, we spent a day in Montreal. While crossing the border, the policeman looked at us in a very surprised and concerned way: in our car there were five people, everyone with a different nationality!

Dinner at Asian buffet, downtown Canton
In April the snow finally melt and from the bare branches of the trees wonderful pink blossoms came out. I would have never imagined how beautiful the campus could be in spring! All the students started to wear flip-flops (a must of the American style) and we all moved to study on the benches and tables outdoor, enjoying the new sun and warm weather.

Typical staircases of Montreal’s houses
Campus in spring time
The semester couldn’t end in a better way. After the stressful final week, exchange students had been allowed to stay on campus for senior week and to take part in the commencement. During senior week only seniors and internationals students were allowed on campus, and it was our first week of real holiday: we didn’t have to think of any papers or exams, we only had time to relax, start packing, say goodbye to friends and join the activities organized by the university. The day of commencement everyone wore his own cap and gown, and a sash of his home country: I felt so funny and embarrassed with those clothes…for me it was like a dream, as in Italy we don’t have any ceremony similar to the graduation one, and I had always saw caps and gowns only in American TV shows: I was in a movie! Even if I knew I wasn’t really graduating, walking on the stage and hearing my name called on the microphone was a real emotion! My “diploma” says I am an honorary member of the Class of 2008.

Graduation day! Kae and I taking a picture with our home conutries’ flags
Most of my pictures are focused on people, because this is what this semester really meant to me: I met new people, I could overcome my shyness, I grew up, I learnt from them how the world is different in some aspects and similar in others. The world is so diverse, everyone has a story to tell, and having the opportunity to listen to it is a great chance.