Some of my classmates surveying a spread of tomatoes, pasta salads, lemon cake and lentils.
Class is over. No more 3 hour lectures stuck in uncomfortable chairs, no more attendance checks, no more bus rides to Pollenzo. By comparison to my last day at Middlebury, yesterday afternoon felt quite unremarkable. We each brought a dish that we could tell a story about, we sat down together around a large table, there was some wine, we cleaned up, and that was it. No fireworks. No nothing. I think it was partly because the visiting professor offered up some of his very apt observations about our class, namely that we were a fragmented bunch each looking ahead to going our own way. I can certainly say that I feel and have felt that way for a while–being in and around a group of 24 students was overwhelming for me at times, so I snuck in some alone time wherever I could. And now we’re headed off for a few months of internship. Some to work in kitchens, some to work in offices, mostly in Italy. In November we’ll reconvene back in Pollenzo to “defend our thesis” (the quotation marks are there because it’s more like a 20 page story) and then receive a piece of paper that says we have a Master in Food Culture and Communications.
As for my plans, after some traveling to reconnect with friends and family, I’ll be based in New York and diving headfirst in to the big wide world that is journalism with an Editorial Internship at Saveur and a Research/Writing Internship with Food Tank: The Food Think Tank. When I look back at my intentions for coming to the University of Gastronomic Sciences and in particular to the Representation, Meaning and Media stream, I wanted to learn more about food writing, an area I felt I wanted to pursue but had no experience in given that I had just graduated with a degree in Latin American Politics. Yet the courses that touched on food writing in my Master’s program reached a grand total of two. Instead, there were hours and hours of food history classes in which the professor didn’t even seem to care that everybody was typing away on their laptop and days when only 7 or 8 students showed up because the content from the day before was so dull. When I look back at my coursework since November, a few professors and lectures stand out in my mind. But that’s a few out of almost 40. In the end, the University of Gastronomic Sciences is a young university and I would caution any prospective students from attending before they sort out the curriculum to make it a little more coherent. Instead of having 40 classes that each meet for 3 or 4 days, I would suggest having a few recurring classes and then electives that students can choose from. In that sense, I think there would be more of a building towards a base of knowledge that the student can then develop further in the internship and thesis.
Despite all of this, I discovered quite early on that the physical university formed only a teeny tiny part of my experience here. I had dinner parties even though I had no oven and no cooking skills to speak of. I took advantage of RyanAir’s cheap tickets (even though they’re overall a miserable experience) and traveled to London, Madrid, Amsterdam and Munich. I went to events run by students, for students at the Gastronomic Society. And most of all, I took my learning about food and food writing into my own hands. I revamped this blog and wrote on it as much as I wanted to. I read and read and read so many blogs and books and websites. I started to keep track of articles that inspire me to be a better, more thoughtful writer. I began to take long walks and listen to podcasts like Burnt Toast and Gastropod, returning home afterwards to look up the protagonists of the show. I watched food documentaries like King Corn and A Chef’s Table. I even attended an academic conference on the topic of food and communication not to present a paper, but just to meet people and to listen.
So when I thought having a Master in Food Culture and Communication would teach me how to write about food, I was wrong. That is something that I have found within myself. If anything, the last 9 months have allowed me to prove to myself that I have what it takes in terms of vision and voice to communicate with the written word. I feel prepared and excited for what is ahead at Food Tank and Saveur. By choosing to pursue these two internships at the same time, I feel I can stay grounded in food politics while also getting a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing industry.
When I came here in November, I envisioned myself sticking around in Europe for a year or two after the program ended, but a few months ago I started to feel a strong pull to return to the U.S., not just because of the crazy inefficiencies of life in Italy, but because I want to establish a life for myself back there while being closer to friends and family. This experience of living abroad has been vastly different from the one I embarked on 3 years ago in Buenos Aires because I now have a better understanding of who I am and what I want. And for now, that is to be in New York City for a few months to start to build my portfolio of writing clips.
So as I’m packing up my suitcases and cleaning out my apartment, I’m feeling content. I’m glad that I met so many people in this tiny town in Northern Italy by means of this university. I’m glad that I had a few classes like cheese tasting and food journalism that will stay with me for a long time. I’m glad that I took advantage of my geographical location and traveled through Europe as much as I wanted to. I’m glad that I had the time to read, write and just think. I’m not sad that things are ending. To me, it’s just another beginning.