Weeks 73 through 78

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The view outside my window at work (in Povo) last week.

The last couple of months have gone by really fast. It’s been cold and snowing, which has been quite lovely, but I am certainly looking forward to spring. This month, I started my new internship at FBK, I took an intensive Italian language course, and I’ve been training my aerial silks skills as well.

At work, my main project deals with understanding the speech of second language learners. In the Trentino area, there is an examination company which administers English proficiency exams to Italian high school students. The goal of the project is to write a program which recognizes the spontaneous speech of the students, and to give their answers a grade similar to the way a teacher would grade them. The difficulty of the project as a whole comes from the fact that we have relatively little data of the students, they are speaking with an Italian accent, and the teachers’ grades may not always be consistent.

There are further difficulties that I’ve encountered in my own work. Firstly, I’m constantly fighting with Kaldi (an open source speech recognition toolkit). It’s basically written in C++ and shell script. I have to admit to you now, that I haven’t worked much with compiled languages in general, and certainly not C++. Fortunately, I haven’t had to dig too deeply in that part of the code yet. In terms of the shell scripting, well, it gets rather messy in Kaldi. I’m certainly getting a lot more comfortable with the linux command line now, although I feel that might be a never ending process.

A few weeks ago, I started attending an intensive Italian language course. The language courses here are organized by the CEFR levels, but they further split each section into two parts. When I first came to Italy, I took a placement test, and skipped straight into level A2a. It was a little bit higher than I was necessarily comfortable at, but I find that that’s a good way to learn quickly. During the next round of intensive courses, there was no A2b (the next level) available, so the teachers let me skip straight into B1a. This was again a fair bit harder than I was entirely comfortable at, but the course was actually really good. We got a lot of practice speaking, so I began to feel like I could start making proper sentences. I still feel pretty far behind in terms of grammar, but I am at least able to reason about it, if not speak it properly in the heat of the moment. The main difficulty I had with the course was that I had to wake up super early to get to work early so that I could leave early for the course. I didn’t have much time to eat after lunch, and sometimes I went straight to aerial silks even after Italian!

Speaking of aerial, I’ve been practicing 2-3 times a week (trying to get closer to a consistent 3 times now), and I have really begun to see improvement. The week before last, I couldn’t hardly do an inversion, except from the ground with a bit of a jump. Now I’m able to get into them in the air, if I give it a bit of a swing. It still looks all wonky, since I really can’t keep my legs straight while doing it, and I still struggle to throw my legs back at the very end so I end up sort of awkwardly catching the silks with my feet and bent legs, but I am seeing progress. Now I need to work on flexibility and lifting the weight of my straight legs (rather than bent legs) during inversions. This last Sunday, I learned my first drops– three different ones!

I really like the feeling of achieving new things in aerial. It’s nice to know that something that I couldn’t do yesterday, has become routine today. It’s really cool to feel like I can hold myself up in the air long enough to start playing around and experimenting with the silks. It’s also nice to work with people who are better than you in the class, because you can see what you’re working towards. All in all, this is one of the most fun things going on right now.

Costs:

  • €225 – rent
  • €31 – trash fee
  • €50 – utilities/internet
  • €21 – phone
  • €167 – groceries
  • €6 – dining
  • €30 – education (text book)
  • €21 – gym
  • €5 – video games
  • €180 – train tickets, souvenirs, etc. in Venice
  • Total: €736

Weeks 66 and 67

IMG_20171211_092159The last couple weeks have been short but packed. We had a lovely dusting of snow, so the view outside my window became a winter wonderland, just in time for the holidays. Although I am not a big fan of the cold, I have to admit, the snow is so lovely and festive.

Also on the topic of festivities, since our window is in the very center of town, every single Saturday and Sunday since the second half of November, there have been full bands marching in the evenings down the red carpet just outside our window. I cannot emphasize how over-the-top the Christmas festivities are here, as I mentioned in my last post already: almost two months of Christmas markets, marching bands, hot spiced wine, lights, shows… I mean, it’s a small town… how can it support all of this?!IMG_20171217_172725

Speaking of shows, this last week, the department had a sort of informal variety/talent show for Christmas as well. For the first time ever, I performed on aerial silks! My awesome silks teachers set up the apparatus in the theatre, and helped me come up with a routine, although I only had time to practice it a few times before the performance. I made some mistakes during the performance, and I think you can really tell that I am a beginner, but considering I’ve only been at it for around 2.5 or 3 months now, I’m still really happy with how it went. The best part too, is that my husband, who is a musician, played one of the songs we wrote together for my performance!IMG_20171210_113242_1_2

Apart from the fun, there was also plenty of work to do the last couple of weeks. It’s probably the first time since I got here that I’ve felt actually busy. Mainly, I ended up doing four presentations, which took a lot of preparation. I don’t feel very comfortable as a public speaker, so I tend to practice these things at least 3-4 times each, and redo my slides countless times, before I feel ready. It took forever.

Tomorrow, my husband and I are leaving to go back to the US for the holidays. I’m really looking forward to visiting my family and friends, some of whom I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen in a couple of years now. I wish there were more interesting and local things to bring home as gifts, but with our globalized world, the stuff you can get here is mostly the same as at home (except for cured meat, which you can’t import into the US at all, unfortunately). I guess I’ll just have to bring home sweets.

I have to admit, I’m actually a little nervous to go back. Last time when I came home after such a long stint away was after college and a study abroad period in Russia. I remember how strange it felt being back home– like everything was the same as it had ever been, and yet completely different. After such a long time away, I remember realizing that I had changed a lot in that period after all. Now, too, I expect I’ve changed a lot. I guess I’m nervous-excited. But it’s hard to worry too much. After all, the holidays are all about family, friends, and food! It’s gonna be great.

Happy holidays from Rovereto to everyone out there, at home, in Europe, and all around the globe!

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