A Weekend In Tuscany
So this past weekend I finally got to travel a little and I went to Tuscany. It’s not ridiculously far from us here in Tortona, but it was 4 hours in the car. I stayed in a little hotel in Montalcino and it was very pleasant- air conditioning FINALLY! The first day we went to the hot springs, which unfortunately I don’t have a photo of but I managed to find one online. Some of the pools here are hotter than others. The lower ones, since they are further away from the source were cooler, probably about 75-80 degrees. But we decided to climb up the giant calcification mountain (sorry mom) and the water was 100-105 degrees there. This hot spring is called San Filippo and it is free, but it is quite a hike down to it and it can be dangerous without the right shoes. Overall it was a great first day.
The second day was also dedicated to the hot springs. But first, here are some photos from the hotel.
My view at breakfast
Breakfast options (I could get used to this!)
So we went to different hot springs the second time. These were much larger and the pools were deeper, but the water wasn’t as hot, even as you got closer to the source. The top is my photo from the source waterfall, it was inevitable that a bunch of people would be in the shot. I also found the bottom photo online that provides a more complete view. These thermal baths are called Saturnia and they are also free. However, there is a bar (food and coffee not alcohol) which is nice if you’re going to be there all day and can’t bring a packed lunch.
And finally, after the hot springs I had previously reserved a tour and tasting at a winery. I have been to this winery before but my friends had not and I’m always willing to go back.
Name of the Winery
The drive up to the winery
Winery offices, where we started the tour
The beloved tasting room
And finally, we had a quick photo op after with the olive tree (they also have several hectares of olives for their olive oil)
I’m back at work now and this is my last week!
The Never-ending Heat
So, in case anyone was wondering about the heat here… Yesterday they actually sent me home because I was showing symptoms of heat stroke. Our heat wave has yet to break and we’re hitting temperatures of 100 degrees or more with 60-100% humidity every day. Unfortunately, I’m in a dense industrial area with a lot of pollution (from the trucks), so that holds onto the heat even more. In Rivalta Scrivia/Tortona the heat doesn’t start to dissipate until at least 9pm when the sun goes down, and it’s coolest at around 5am. It’s usually still around 90 at 9pm and the coolest we can hope for is 75.
I’ve never had this happen to me and honestly I thought it would pass, but I’m glad they sent me home. If you’re in a very hot city/town/area you have to be very careful. It’s always best to avoid the peak heat of the day. Even 30 minutes outside and an hour in a place without air conditioning can be dangerous. I was just walking to lunch (15 minutes each way) and this happened to me.
Furthermore, drinking water, something I thought was good, can be dangerous. Because of the heat, I have been drinking close to 4 liters every day, to stay hydrated. But, if you drink too much water it can start to leach minerals from your body. So honestly drinking a Gatorade or two every day is not a bad idea, even if it’s classified as a sugary beverage it will help keep your electrolyte and mineral levels in check. I think the other thing that’s important is to eat a little something every two hours at least.
Know the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and stay safe and aware in very hot places and look out for others.
How to Secure an Internship: Top Tips
I don’t have any big updates this week, I’m still working on the same project. Research isn’t as easy as you would think! Anyways, I thought long and hard about this post and decided that I would give some advice to people looking to secure internships or those who need to secure an internship as part of a major requirement (like me).
First things first: how do you find internships? the best place to start is to ask your parents/fellow students/professors if they know of any. Then maybe they can give you an introduction. My father was especially helpful in my internship search because he works in the same field that I want to go in to. If none of these people happen to have ideas for you, I recommend talking to your college’s career center, they will definitely have ideas for you and will point you towards the college’s resources for finding internships. If that doesn’t happen to pan out there are always sites that are industry focused. Some are free services where you can directly apply for jobs, and sometimes these services require payment. You are guaranteed to find internships if you go through all of these methods.
Next, you need to have an open mind. Apply to EVERY internship that sounds interesting or ones that you know will expand your knowledge (of whatever field you want to work in). You will likely not be offered your first choice and you have to apply to countless places to even get a few options back. I applied to be an intern at 30+ places and only got responses from a couple. Companies don’t always hire interns, even if they’ve had them in the past. Some of the responses I got back were “We don’t hire interns” or “We don’t have the proper resources to host an intern this summer.” My advice is when you inevitably receive those responses don’t feel defeated and don’t just ignore that response. It is very common for this to happen and what you need to do is thank them for their time (they could be a useful contact in the future and they will be more likely to save your resume for when they are looking for an intern/new hire in the future). Sometimes they will even tell you to apply the next year! Always keep in contact with these companies so that you remain on their radar. I’m not saying you should email every day/week/month, but when you accomplish something new it’s ok to tell them about it and let them know you’re following what the company is doing, etcetera.
It would also be my recommendation to start early, especially if your major requires an internship. Depending on the field you should start your search in August/September. And there’s no harm in doing one after your sophomore year as well as one after your junior year. Most companies will take all years (except maybe after freshman year). Doing an internship after your sophomore year will also help you get an even better one the next year, because it shows you have more experience than someone who’s maybe applying for an internship for the first time.
In my case, I worked at a start up renewable energy company after my sophomore year and attended a few industry conferences, that helped me secure my first choice internship for this summer. I also have a couple of companies that I greatly admire that I will be checking in with and seeing if they have any spots opening after I graduate and down the line.
These are my main points of advice based on my own experiences, but depending on your field there may be other important things that I haven’t touched on. It’s always best to consult as many resources as you can in your search!
Alla prossima volta
So You Want to Work In Italy…
Happy Friday everyone! Just a little update from last week. I went to the cellulosic ethanol plant and I had a great time. I can’t talk about any of it but maybe they’ll let me post some stock photos (fingers crossed).
As for this week, it’s currently 100 degrees here and half the office (maybe more) is without air conditioning. Furthermore, I have no air conditioning in my apartment. It’s been a very hot, humid, and interesting week. A lot of people have either moved to offices with air conditioning (like me) or dressed very light. I have never seen so many people in dresses, skirts, or shorts in an office setting.
After priming you with that little story I’m sure I’ve convinced you to move here.
There are a lot of things to consider when deciding to work in a foreign country and you should be aware that because it’s not somewhere you grew up you will tend to romanticize it. I’ve visited Italy extensively, studied here, and now worked here so I’ll try to give a little insight with a pro/con list.
- It’s Italy…
- Food and Drink: You will always have good wine to drink, you will always have access to good and fresh food (especially if there’s an open air market near by), groceries are relatively inexpensive, and Bologna was crowned the best city for food (in case you didn’t know it’s located in northern Italy). Also, COFFEE! You won’t find any better coffee than in Italy.
- Work/Life Balance: Most Italians report that the balance is pretty great here which is probably due to the extreme importance of family. And, you get holiday (a week usually), vacation days, sick days, and the whole month of August off (beach anyone?).
- Work: Most companies allow employees to do a lot of independent work and research, pretty nice to have your own projects and work at your own pace.
- People: You will never find a nicer group of people. Even if you’re foreign and don’t speak the language Italians will always try to find a way to communicate with you and take care of you. Any time you meet anyone they will always tell you that you can call them for help any time. If you make good enough friends and there’s an age gap they will basically adopt you. Every nonna (grandmother) is your nonna. Extra bonus if you speak Italian, and they will never correct you and they will always say your Italian is perfect (even if it’s not).
- Entertainment: There is always something going on. If you’re a fan of buzzing nightlife then you will find it here. If you want a casual night out for drinks yup that’s here too. And for all you music fans there is always a concert going on.
- Fashion: You will always have access to great fashion. Italians care a lot about their looks and have effortless style.
- Hygiene and Beauty: They have a pretty great healthcare system. Little to no waiting at doctors offices, cheap medication, and access to services when you need them. For beauty I’ve found that the hairstylists here are some of the best. I’ve also heard that they give some of the best facials.
- Transportation: Trains. If you’re in a city that has freccia service (the fast trains) you can get anywhere in Italy so easily. Why has the U.S. not adopted this system??
- The Amalfi coast is the most beautiful thing you will ever see (photo below)
- So are the Tuscan Hills (photo below)
- Food: You may get tired of the food. If you have a taste for international cuisines you will not find them here. This is changing but just be aware. This can especially happen if you’re always cooking and not going out as much to eat. My advice is to find international ingredients and use amazon in order to recreate some of the dishes that you’re craving.
- Climate: If you aren’t used to the heat in general, this would be a bad place to be in any of the summer months. Air conditioning? Not so common…
- Work: Be sure you have a job before you move here. Italy is experiencing an economic downturn and thus a lack of jobs. The pay is also not so great; starting salaries don’t pay very much and sometimes you’ll find yourself applying for a job that someone out of high school does. For example chemists can be as young as 19 because they come straight from technical high schools. As such pay is about 17,000$ a year
- Taxes: They’re really high… so that salary will decrease significantly. Not quite by half but close.
- Living situation: If you see yourself only ever living in a house maybe this isn’t the place for you. Everyone lives in apartments here and the only houses are in the deep countryside. The apartments also tend to be pretty old and dated but they are usually maintained very well. Apartments also have a lot of taxes on them, so beware of that. (these taxes go to the community, trash service, etc.)
- Utilities: Electricity is ridiculously expensive. Furthermore, if you try to run too many things at the same time (e.g. the oven and the shower) you will lose all power and have to go and reset it. Also, you know that dryer you love so much that makes your clothes warm and fluffy? Be prepared to say goodbye because it’s all about hanging to dry here.
- Bugs: MOSQUITOS. If mosquitos like you, you’re gonna have a bad time. I have to douse myself in repellent several times a day. And without it? 50 bites on one arm in a very short timespan. In Italy mosquito season is from the end of June to the end of August.
- Immigration: If you are studying or working here for more than 3 months you must have a permesso di soggiorno (permission to stay). This can be revoked for a lot of different reasons and you cannot become a citizen unless you have Italian blood, marry an Italian, or have worked in Italy for 10 years (if non EU citizen) or for 4 years (if EU citizen). I won’t lie it’s not easy and even the Italians are pushing for reform. Even children that are born here (from immigrant parents) have to wait 7 years to get citizenship and can’t travel outside the country in that 7 years. I have Italian blood (from both sides of my family) and proving that I can apply to be a citizen of Italy has been a bit of a nightmare.
Hope this helped/was interesting
Alla prossima volta!
Advanced Chemistry Lessons in Italian
First things first a weekend update. I did go dancing on Friday and little did I know I was being taken to a salsa/bachata dance place where everyone dances in couples. So of course everyone there, except me, had definitely taken lessons. (Embarrassing thing #1 of the night). Next I found out that it’s kinda like a middle school dance. Everyone stands on the edge of the dance floor and guys come and invite you to dance. I’m proud to say I danced both salsa and bachata, but I found the salsa much harder, especially for someone who had never taken any dance classes before. For the first hour of the night I watched the dance floor intently, in order to learn the steps, and then my friends tried to practice with me. To come to a club like this it’s a 10 euro cover charge, which I also found strange, and they give you little fruit juices to take home at the end. Then I finally returned home and went to sleep around 4am and slept until very very late the next day. I’m not sure how people do this every weekend (both Friday and Saturday as well).
Next, a little bit about last week. We do have another intern in the office with us now, but only for two or so weeks. All Italian technical high schools have relationships with companies and send their students to them for a brief time during the summer. So the intern is quite a bit younger than I am, by about 5 years (feeling old here). On Friday we were both given a presentation about what goes on in the lab and ethanol plant in the way of their patented processes. This is so we wouldn’t be totally lost when we were given the tour of the laboratory. Then we went to the R&D lab in our office where one of the technicians explained what they do there and gave us a brief tour of all the different machinery and processes. We also got to see all the steps and how some of the machines worked (which by the way cost more than a college education in the U.S.). Unfortunately I can’t talk much about it or give details (patents, new technology, and we all have to sign NDAs) but I did manage to take a couple of pictures! (with their consent)
A close up of the lab coat I wore:
Here are all the different materials they use in the lab and ethanol plant: (biomass sources)
On Friday after the lab tour and lunch I did my informational interview. For those of you that don’t know it’s something that is required by the INP (Internship Notation Program) at Dickinson. I interviewed two of my colleagues, one that works as an R&D Project Manager and one that works as an R&D Scientist, so I was able to get slightly different perspectives. I think this is a great part of the INP because it helps me determine my career path as well! I’m so grateful to Dickinson and the donors who made this internship possible for me.
Fast forward to Monday. Another colleague gave us a more technical lesson about the lab processes. By that I mean I got a lesson in advanced chemistry in Italian. A little background on me, I’ve taken one year of basic chemistry (5 or 6 years ago). So this was quite difficult. At least the intern had little to no chemistry knowledge as well so I didn’t feel too embarrassed when she was asking us if we knew that certain things were. I did however have the upper hand about the ethanol process and the different steps and components of it, it’s the tiny victories that count!
Alla prossima volta!
Have no fear: Foreign Haircuts
So I did it, I got a haircut in Italy. I thought it might be helpful to blog about my experience so that anyone in Italy, for however long, could feel confident going to get a haircut when they really need it and not have fear.
First piece of advice, if you can, find a friend (someone you work with perhaps, someone you know well, etc) whose hair you really like and ask them where they go. I mentioned it to a colleague that I have become good friends with that I liked her hair and I was thinking about getting a haircut here, since it’s been many months for me, and I wasn’t happy with my hair at the moment. She told me who she goes to and said she needed to go anyways and that we would go together. She asked me what I wanted and that she would call her hairdresser to get the appointment.
*Fast forward a bit to me sitting in the salon chair* The hairdresser asked me what I wanted in terms of color and cut and absolutely agreed with what I wanted and that it would look great.
Some important phrases and words:
Hairdresser (for women)- Salone da Parrucchiere
Barber shop (for men)- Barbiere
Asking for an appointment- Buongiorno, vorrei prendere un appuntamento per ____ (insert day, time, and what you would like) for example, il 3 agosto alle 13 per un taglio di capelli, stilo, e colore. Remember you can always ask if they speak english too! (Buongiorno, parla inglese per caso?)
Trim- taglio solo un po’/spuntatina (remember they use centimeters!)
Hair part- la riga
Highlights- colpi di sole
Thin out- sfoltire (for those of us with thick hair)
Split ends- tagliare le doppie punte
Bangs/fringe- la frangia
Blow dry- piega
These are just a couple of important phrases and words, if you need to look up how to say anything else you can always consult wordreference.com (NOT google translate)
So back to me in the chair. At first I was terrified because she kept saying biondo, which means blonde. And she asked me if I liked ash blonde or golden blonde. And I’m just like, oh great, I’m going to end up a blonde! I just kept saying “i miei capelli sono troppo biondo, non mi piace” which roughly translates to my hair is already too blonde and I don’t like it. I said I wanted it darker, “capelli scuro/più castagna” (darker, more brown). I must have sounded like an idiot constantly repeating that but I did not want to come out blonde after this experience. But she totally understood apparently. Someone else came over to apply the color, which was in fact a darker brown with gold tones. This is why she asked me if I liked ash blonde or golden blonde (I realized later). For the color, it turned out that she completely listened to me and knew what was best for my hair and mixed the literal perfect color. Now for the cut, I said I wanted a trim and long layers. THIS is very very important. If you say you want layers you must specify what length you want, because they could end up thinking you want short layers and completely feather your hair until you look like Farrah Fawcett from the 70s. After my color was done I sat for a while and then had a shampoo and hair mask (because they recommended it to combat dry hair). Then the head hairdresser cut my hair, and she has apparently trained in Spain and Switzerland. She actually asked me if I was afraid of the hairdresser and I said no. She looked at me for a bit and then said ah! I know, you’ve had a bad experience haven’t you? And I just sat there incredulously and was like yes how did you know! When I was younger I asked for an inch off and the woman literally cut 5-6 inches (worst experience ever).
And that ends my experience, and I’m very happy with the results. I also want to mention hair cuts, color, style, etc. are much cheaper here. You may pay over 200$ in the U.S. plus tip, but here color is about 20 euro and a cut about 30 euro. They do also charge for shampoo/blowdry/hair mask. But even with all those things my bill was only 80 euro (90$), about half the price I would pay in the U.S. or less! I don’t get haircuts often so I feel that the price is justified, and they did such a good job.
I hope this helps anyone considering a haircut in Italy!
Side note of the day: in case anyone cares, goosebumps in Italian is “pelle di oca,” literally, skin of a goose
Alla prossima volta
How does trash work?
The internship is going well and I just recently visited some of their other offices to do some work there, and soon, I will be visiting their cellulosic ethanol plant! Today I have a meeting with the team to start my next research project and I’m very excited!
As for home life, I was musing about where to take the trash, because I didn’t see a dumpster anywhere close to me. As I was driving home with a colleague I decided to ask her. Except what came out of my mouth was “come funziona la spazzatura?” and then she launched into an explanation about how it needs to be separated and I realized, oh my god.. I just literally asked her how trash worked… And while it is different here I already knew that from my time in Bologna, I just needed to know where to bring it. I eventually stopped her and said sorry I meant where do I bring it to dispose of. Embarrassing moment #329084.
In other news I’ve somehow agreed to go dancing on Friday, and I don’t know how to dance. So that should be interesting and awkward and lead to many more embarrassing moments. I’ve also agreed to get my first Italian haircut, which for me is terrifying. All my life I’ve gone to the same person and never had to explain what I want. Now I have to explain in somewhat coherent and comprehensible Italian, so that’s going to go well… I hope!
Last week I did go to the food festival, and it was nice to walk around. But I ultimately didn’t end up buying anything. I also had my first sushi in Italy, which was actually surprisingly really good and I would go again.
Last week I also saw a 90 year old man on a bike, it’s actually really common here to see older people walking without canes and riding bikes. This makes me determined to figure out their secrets, I bet it’s red wine. I’m just going to assume it is…
alla prossima volta!
It’s Friday! I have finished my first project and we’re going to present our research next month. I can’t wait to get started on the next project.
Everyone in the office is excited for the weekend. This particular weekend in Tortona there’s a festival, of food. What greater festival exists? I will definitely be attending to try the local dishes, buy some food, and listen to the music. This will give me an opportunity to meet some of the locals, because I’m usually out the door before anyone in the town gets up and I return when everyone is already in their respective apartments making dinner.
I realize my internship experience will likely be different than everyone else’s, due to the fact that it’s in a different country. This also means I have higher costs associated with it, and I’m so grateful that I received a grant from Dickinson! Without it I’m not sure I would have been able to come here. I’m also grateful because this isn’t jut an opportunity to further my studies and explore career opportunities but it’s also an opportunity to further my language skills and deepen my interest in the Italian culture.
I go to lunch with about 8 of my colleagues every day and I’ve noticed that they all speak much faster and use more slang when they’re in a relaxed setting, which makes it slightly more complicated for me. I try to pick up on the conversations but sometimes it’s hard, and I hope to improve my comprehension and speaking skills by the end of the internship. They always tell me my Italian is great but non ci credo (I don’t believe them). I think while I’m here I’ll also try some of the Italian-English exchange programs that exist online, that way I can connect directly with an Italian that can help me with comprehension, speaking and vocabulary and I have an opportunity to help them with their English!
Alla prossima volta! (Until next time)
The Key to the Coffee
Coffee, from a vending machine…?
Before I get into what Biochemtex does, I want to talk a little about the work environment. First of all, vending machine coffee. I know it sounds terrible but the quality is quite good, and its about 40 cents for a cappuccino… So think about that the next time you order a small coffee at Starbucks for 5$ (plus who can stomach Starbucks’ bitter coffee anyways). At the office each employee gets, literally, a coffee key. (photo below) For it to work you load a couple euro on it and that will get you at least 5 coffees. Which for me, lasts a week. For others a day or two. I feel terrible always turning down people to have a coffee break but if I drank four cappuccinos a day I would never sleep!
Naturally, food is going to be one of the first things I talk about in relation to work. Here we have two options: going to the mensa (cafeteria) or the cafe. After going to both I definitely prefer the cafe. The cafeteria has decent food but not so many options and it’s actually more expensive. The cafe has many more options but can be a little frenetic because everyone’s lunch break is at the same time (1pm-2pm). So I always expect to wait about 20 minutes for food. But anyway, yesterday I had some of the most flavorful juicy chicken, some potatoes, and water, for 5.80! I don’t know if it’s the town I’m in, the fact that it’s a work cafe, or what but food here seems to be pretty cheap. Especially when contrasted with the big cities like Rome or Florence. I don’t know anywhere where you can get a main dish for lunch for under 10 euro or a cappuccino for less than 1 euro.
And finally, what does Biochemtex do?
So Biochemtex is a part of a larger company, M&G (Mossi Ghisolfi Group), and they also own Beta Renewables in partnership with Novozymes and Texas Pacific Group. Biochemtex builds cellulosic ethanol plants that are powered by Proesa™ (their patented technology which Beta Renewables is the exclusive licenser of). “Proesa™ is used to produce bio-fuels and chemical intermediates and it has been demonstrated on an industrial scale at the Crescentino plant, that is the 1st demo plant in the world that produces 2nd generation bioethanol on industrial scale.” In addition to cellulosic ethanol, which comes from non-food biomass, they are a global leader in the development and engineering of technologies and bio-chemical processes which also use non-food biomass (as an alternative to oil).
I work at the Rivalta Scrivia R&D center which is comprised of engineers, researchers, chemists, etc. This past week I have been doing bibliographic research on renewable chemicals and I just finished a technical presentation on it today. The company is working on many new projects, one of which is MOGHI, which aims to research conversion of lignocellulosic feedstock, by investigating the possible routes to transform lignin co-product produced at the Crescentino plant, into higher value molecules and/or products with already consolidated existing markets. This would eliminate the need to get these products from fossil fuels, and instead use an end product from the production of cellulosic ethanol, to create useful renewable chemicals and even renewable jet fuel. Which I think is pretty cool, because it’s essentially using a waste product to produce even more renewable energy sources. #nerdalert
Funny side note of the day: How many people does it take to set up wifi?
Yesterday I figured out that I had gotten the wrong form of internet, so that involved going back to the store and purchasing the right one and canceling the first contract. I brought the new device into work so I could set it up with the help of my colleagues, however, between three of us and consulting the internet we couldn’t figure it out. After about an hour of reading instructions and trying things, we eventually got it to work. So now, finally, I have wifi in my apartment! Only 12GB per month but it will have to do.
Just Another Italian Adventure
Ciao a tutti! and welcome to my blog
Over the course of the summer I will be blogging every week about my internship experience. My internship is at Biochemtex in Rivalta Scrivia, Italy which is part of the Alessandria area in Piemonte. This internship is unique in the fact that it lets me combine both of my majors: Environmental Studies (focusing on renewable energy) and Italian Studies.
So how did I secure this internship?
I initially found the company by speaking with my father who luckily works in my field of interest. I sent in my resume to his contact at the company who directed me to speak to the head of HR. Her only concern was the feasibility, since interns normally start the first of May, but she was able to start the internship program a little later for me since I didn’t finish classes until the 6th of May. She was also able to help me get an apartment in Tortona, which is about a 15 minute car ride from Rivalta Scrivia where I am working.
I arrived in Italy with my mother knowing that I had secured an apartment but I had no idea that the process hadn’t even begun. When we arrived in Tortona we met a woman from the agency and listened to the rent contract which was just as complicated as contracts in the U.S. but this was in Italian. Oh yeah, did I mention I’m in an area where no one speaks english? Which is fantastic for my language skills but also terrifying. Three years of Italian feels like nothing here! I served as our sole method of communication since my mother doesn’t speak Italian. This involved making all phone calls and being a translator at meals, when navigating, in stores etc.
Posso avere Wi-Fi? (Can I have wifi?)
In addition to securing the apartment I found out that there was no wifi, and while I have an Italian phone I want to be able to use my computer and American phone here. So the next adventure was trying to figure out how to get wifi which involved going to the WIND store and explaining my predicament. Luckily they gave me a contract and the technician will install it in a week or so. I will survive!
Day 1 on my own
Since my mother was only here for a short while to help me get set up, I no longer have a car. Which means navigating by foot and finding rides to and from work. Tuesday was my first day finding a ride and of course I got lost and someone had to come back to get me.
In summation: let the games begin
Long story short, I have secured the apartment, paid rent, navigated the city successfully by myself, successfully been understood by people, and got lost twice with my mother on the way to work. Next adventure: find the grocery store
Funny side note:
Whenever I hear the words “enter roundabout” I immediately replace them with “you are now entering the bottomless pit of suffering, best of luck to you!” Because while I understand the convenience, you have about .2 seconds after you enter the roundabout to figure out which exit your GPS wants you to take. And if you hear the words “recalculating” it may as well be the end of the world.