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My grandfather and grandmother with her sister Masie and sister in-law Eleanor .

When I was growing up I had a really wonderful grandfather.  I spent a lot of my time at my grandparents house and most of my memories from childhood are of him. He made a lot of time for me. I remember playing, learning, and  hearing stories about growing up in Jersey City. Technically Albanian his family lived in Italy for generations before migrating to the states. He always said he was Italian and we never thought to disagree.

He passed away when I was seven, so all I remember is how fantastic he was. Its like my brain squeezed out all other unnecessary memories so I could save those.

Poppi, Mimi, My mom (the little one) and her sister.

As I went through childhood, we followed Italian traditions like La Vigilia or Festa dei sette pesci  The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas eve. I remember my mother telling me the story of her big trip with poppi back to Italy. I can picture her as a young adult guilting her 6ft 4 father to get into a gondola he was scared of. I remember knowing that I needed to go and see this place, maybe it would help me feel more connected to him.

During my sophomore year of high school I got an opportunity to join a exchange program at my school following a student failing and getting kicked off the trip. I consider this fate taking action. I got to live with a family in Lucca for a week and take day trips with my school. I went to Florence, Rome, and Venice. I saw art and culture mix in a natural way that seemed like it was part of the peoples identity. I think it made me feel very comfortable in my own awkward teenage head. I could identify and appreciate it. I loved paintings and so did they. Soon after that trip I felt a pull to go back, I knew it was a place I needed more time with.

My college offered a study abroad program my third year, and I knew where I wanted to go before I knew there were any options to go there. My Parsons teachers didn’t really approve of these programs, because of the party like reputations they had. I was not interested in hearing negativity and set up plans full steam ahead.

After landing in Florence I got into a taxi by myself and set off to find the office that had a key to my new home. I didn’t know anyone, I was alone and scared shitless. It sounds odd , especially after living in NYC, but you never feel totally alone in the US. Everyone knows your language and its relatively easy to talk to people. When I went to Italy I had never been on a plane alone, and didn’t know any Italian.

After I got my key and arrived at my new studio apartment; I looked out my window, down at the leather market below, and breathed a sigh of relief. I decided to go for a walk, because I was scared to.

I think this was an ‘a ha’ moment. Being able to get over something by getting through it has helped me accomplish a lot. When I got out side I made a left, walked about half a block, and stepped into a bakery. I saw a young girl behind the counter and asked if she spoke english. After asking how to order the correct way in the language, I got huge smile and an enthusiastic short Italian lesson. This was a wonderful introduction to the hospitality that is Italy and how the rest of my time there would be.

Through out the seven month period I traveled all over Europe. I learned how to bargain confidently, see a major city in 2 days, sleep in a hostel with 10 strangers,  I learned how to get lost and not freak out, I learned how to enjoy a quiet walk, and among many other things I learned how to oil paint for myself not for a project critique. I spent a lot of my free time in the  many Florentine galleries sketching, and started feeling a big connection with the way renaissance and pre-renaissance painters used colors and movement. I was studying illustration at Parsons before I left, and when I came back to the states just wanted to paint. I think a few of my teachers thought I went a bit batty.

Following  my study abroad experience I went back a couple times with friends and still couldn’t shake the connection. Each time coming home with feeling that I couldn’t get back soon enough. A few years later, after I decided teaching would be a great way for me to give back to the world, I found out about teaching abroad.

I thought it would be a great route for me to possibly live in Europe and have the opportunity to go to my favorite place more frequently. But after going to the job fairs I soon learned that this was everyone elses idea too and Europe would not be so easy to get to. I took the job in Cameroon on great faith that I needed to experience living abroad. Maybe that was what I was really craving, a new culture.  After being here a year I think that might be the case in a lot of the ways because I’m very happy and having a great time. During my time in Yaounde I’ve gotten to think about who and what I find important, and have made big choices, felt the consequences, failed and succeeded. I’ve learned more about myself and what I am able to deal with. But I still feel that original pull towards Europe, how annoying.

In the last two months I’ve been back to Italy twice. The first time a vacation to Florence the second Turin, both ended up having a purpose. I got to visit two international schools and meet the people who run them. The concept of actually reaching my goal is a bit overwhelming and maybe to good to be true. Apparently it is very difficult to get an American an Italian visa so they will be looking more to see IF they can find an equivalent or better candidate from the EU. I won’t know for a few months from now if this is a real possibility, but I am content with any outcome. I feel like what ever happens I am closing a huge chapter and opening a new one. I have tried my best and taken risks. I have never been this close to realizing this ‘dream’. Its all very wishy washy in my mind and I think of my grandpa. Its like he’s taking me on this adventure indirectly. He implanted this seed in my brain as a kid that has helped me find opportunities now.

Ah Bella Italia..


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So yes, I know, I’ve been absent from this blogging thing. Where the heck was I!? A lot has happened this month. I’ve gotten to see gorilla’s, bats that live around the corner and gone boating in a hollowed out tree, killed my 1st shoe size cockroach, named a gecko that I think is still living in or has died in my bedroom, and bought a 6,000 dollar 1997ish (not really sure on the year) Toyota Corolla (remember the taxing I talked about in my previous blog…). In short, Yaounde has been a very interesting and challenging place to move to. The last month has been filled with wonderment, and major homesickness… But luckily the people here are kind, and I am starting to form new friendships. When I arrived here three weeks ago I felt like getting comfortable was a ridiculous challenge. The driving here is like NYC taxis on speed, there really aren’t any benches so sitting and observing is not really an option with out being savvy. Even taking pictures of people is awkward (many don’t like it) and there is so much to photograph! Although I still think it is challenging and intimidating, it is no longer ridiculous to imagine calling this place a home away from home. Life is simple here and Cameroonians feel a lot of pride in their culture. The clothing is colorful, and the food is spicy.

I’m learning a lot about myself. Like how to ask others for help instead of always going it alone. With the locals, a smile gets you a long way and there are a couple bars where I can sit and observe people, I just have to push my self to find these places on my own. Now that I have a car, I feel freer. Driving is sort of fun. (it’s a lot like city driving and feels better when your not a passenger). I haven’t been able to drive with out following or having someone in my car. The roads are jumbled and unnamed, I got lost walking around the corner the other day, so memorization is the way to go. I am not the most talented in this area but I’m keeping the faith, and I can drive to the school now!

The school is pretty great. The students are smart and have tons of potential. The classrooms are set up like a regular American school, but the hallways and gym are outdoors. My office and art room over look the street and rec center’s pool and I have an excellent view of the mountains.

So now that I’ve made you all wait patiently, I will try and keep up with this more!

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How lucky am I? The school is paying for my personal items to be shipped abroad! Seriously, if you’ve ever lived in another country you’d know what a big deal this is!

Yaoundé, from what I’ve learned, does not have any art stores or clothing stores. They have seamstresses that make clothing, and their local art scene is all woodcarving.. I am told taxing is 100% on imported items; this includes things like sneakers, certain foods, and cars. It is hard to get items through customs on a timely basis. I read in a 3-year-old teacher’s handbook to bring things you felt needed to be a specific brand. So if a Walmart was built there in the last 3 years, I will feel a little silly. Either way, I am taking advantage of this wonderful offer.

If you were trapped on an island and had 5 boxes you could fill with things to take with you, what would you bring? What couldn’t you live with out? I repeated this to myself, staring at the art supplies and peanut butter I’d artistically wedged between my shampoo, soap, and contact lens solution.

"the big one ended up being 97lbs"

Ha-ha…5 boxes. I think not!

6 personal boxes and 5 boxes (filled only with art supplies) later, my life is packed securely and on its way to Kingwood Texas where it will be placed in a big container and shipped to Yaoundé. Clearly my top priorities are my everyday items, and art supplies. I am hopeful that during this experience, I will be painting every chance I get.

Beyond the things I absolutely can’t live with out, I got to pack stuff that will help me get settled and feel happy. The top items in that mix are:

Art Books: Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings, Lucian Freud, Picasso and Matisse, Tim Burton, Frida Kahlo.

Novels: The Fountainhead, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Human Stain. My NEW Kindle is joining me so I really have no need to bring too many.

Food: Peanut butter, ketchup (it’s very different once you leave the US, probably made more naturally, but I like the stuff with the corn syrup) and Oatmeal. Brownie mix (if anything this will help me make friends), Wheat thins, black liquorice, and ginger snaps. During my stay in Italy, not having certain American food products, (and spending 12 euros on peanut butter) helped bring on a bit of homesickness.

I know when I get there, there will be more things I wish I had, but adapting to my surroundings is part of the experience. I’ll probably find even better substitutes. Who knows? But it will be OK, and I’ll have my ketchup and art supplies to keep me happy!

Lesson of the month: If you forgot to pack something, it probably wasn’t that important.

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I am by no means a writer, I consider myself a painter, museum lover, observer, and now an art educator. I am moving to Cameroon in August to be an art teacher at an American School in its capital Yaoundé. SO I thought, if I ever started seriously thinking about blogging NOW. IS. THE. TIME. This blog will give you a look into what its like teaching abroad in Africa and maybe eventually other places, what I’m doing to get prepared and what my life is like while I live and teach there.

So why do I have MAP LOVE?
“My Senior Art Show in NY, me with one of my paintings”

I went to Parsons School of design to become an illustrator, and in my 3rd year went to Florence Italy to study painting. This 7 month trip to Italy sort of changed my outlook on my life. After graduating I decided to move home and freelance as a painter (kind of crazy). No more New York everyday, which at the time was good, I was tired of the way New york made me feel. This is weird, I know coming from a 21 year old. But I missed the slow life, I missed seeing the same people every day. New York, which I love now again, was not doing that for me at the time. During my 4th year of college I was living by myself in a part of brooklyn over an hour from every friend I had in the city and hating it. I wanted to paint, and spend time with my family. So I move back to Jersey.

I went back to Europe with my good friends, went backpacking for a few weeks at a time spending only a few days in most cities, getting a taste of the culture, and meeting many characters in short intervals. It always felt different and a little disconnected after actually living in Italy where I was forced to stop and look around… and I mean STOP. When I lived in Italy I saw the same people every day, visited the same cafe to get the same cappuccino, saying “bon journo” to the same locals and visiting the same museums over and over. Yes I traveled on the weekends but Florence felt like my HOME. It was beautiful, and filled with tradition. I have learned that knowledge and respect of tradition is a one-way ticket to connecting personally with people.

“My cousin Lisa and I in Roma”, “Venezia”, and “Tami and I in a glacier- Luzern, Switzerland”

After 3 years of trying to make it as a painter, rediscovering Asbury Park, my love for Springsteen, old and new friends. I went back to school to get my masters in education.

Why on earth would an artist want to put herself in a classroom EVERYDAY?

I love painting.I love making things with my hands. It is hard for me to describe what creative expression feels like. It is emotional, exhausting some times, but mostly invigorating and I always feel accomplishment. It is one asset that I know will always be a part of my life, and I will always do. Yet in the end, I don’t feel like I’m individually making a real impact on the world by only painting. We only live once! Teaching kids to reflect on their thoughts at ages where they can be impacted, is a way for me to make my mark on this planet. I can give them an outlet, I can show them a way to reflect on their history in the making, on different cultures by introducing art history and those artists who felt it profoundly. Teaching makes me feel like painting does. It is emotional, exhausting at times, but mostly invigorating and I always feel accomplishment. It’s really fun most of the time too!

So why Africa? Ok so really I think most people reacted with excitement and some not so much. I was actually asked more than a couple times by different people “you couldn’t find some place closer to get a JOB?

“Yaounde, the Capital of Cameroon”

Well yes but it wouldn’t be as exciting.

I am considering this an adventure, with only fear of the “unknown”. I will have the opportunity to be inspired by situations that I would have never encountered before, and get to envelope myself in a new culture. No matter what it’s like, I’ll get to teach kids about ART. How great is that?

So stay tuned, there’s ALOT more to come!

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