Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heavy Weight Lifted

Have you ever had the feeling where you just feel so scared out of your mind that you feel miniscule in the face of something huge? Well, that was me at the exams.

To help you understand what kind of pressure the Italian State exams put on fragile fourteen-year-olds, I will explain how everything works.

The 8th grade final exams are divided into two phases: the written and the very infamous orals (and I will explain why).

Phase 1 is easy enough to understand. It’s a series of written tests that test you on how much you’ve learned so far during the year. It focuses more on the techniques you’ve learned so you can’t study for them. For me it was 6 tests that spanned over the course of 5 days, Tuesday through Saturday (and you’re already feeling bad for me).

Day 1: Essay in Italian. This targets my main struggle in Italian public school, and that is expressing myself in correct grammar in an essay. I may get good grades in Italian grammar tests, but putting it into action is extremely difficult. The professors give you four hours to write an essay from start to finish, writing a rough draft first to make your corrections on and then rewriting everything you just wrote on a corrected draft (ridiculous, I know). BUT!! (there must always be a “BUT!!”) you are first handed three envelopes, each containing three essay assignments. You will pick one of them at random and then choose which of the three assignments you feel most prepared for. However, my nervousness for that day completely altered my perception of time. Mere five minutes felt like twenty! Also, the whole envelope madness NEVER happened: the teachers only gave us one because everyone was running out of time just to start the test. I managed to write it all down in three hours and leave the room before I was the last one remaining. From here, things went downhill on the difficulty level.

This is me arriving home after Day 1 of exams
Day 2: French. In this test I had the decision between responding to comprehension questions on a paragraph in French or writing a letter to a hypothetical friend in French. I chose the letter, and I pretty much had this one covered.

Day 3: Invalsi tests. The “Invalsi” are a form of national Italian testing that is split in two between Math and Italian. You have 75 minutes to complete each test, which is a very tight time budget. It heavily tests your logic and attention span as the test was specifically designed to fool you. In the Math test I obviously had to respond to 29 Arithmetic/Geometry questions, which was easier said than done. Once I was done with the test there were literally thirty seconds left on the clock. It’s kind of like those shows on Food Network. Once the time is done, you have to have hands up, close the test, and give it immediately to the teacher. Fortunately there was a fifteen-minute recess for everyone so they can recover. The Italian test is divided into three parts: the first two are comprehension questions on excerpts from a narrative book and a research paper, and the third is questions on Italian grammar. Ironically, I had this one done 15 minutes in advance. Oh, the list was posted this day for the oral exams giving both dates and times for the 150 8th graders undergoing examination.

Day 4: English. I’m not even going to be talking about this one. 

Day 5: Math/Technological Drawing. In this one I had to solve one geometry question, three equations and do a technological drawing of a parallelogram. Sound easy? Well, actually it was. I was one of the first people to finish.

Phase 2. Oh, phase 2 how much I hated preparing for you. The oral exam requires the students to study the entire program for every subject, which is 90+ units of information!! If that wasn’t enough, you also need to prepare a presentation on a topic of your choice, connecting it with all ten subjects, writing a thesis complete with a PowerPoint. For example, history was connected by discussing the Cold War, music I talked about Bob Dylan and was prepared to play "Blowin' in the Wind" on my recorder, physical education I talked about hockey and the famous game between USA and USSR called "Miracle on Ice", geography I focused on the USA, English I talked about the Marshall Plan, Literature I talked about a period author and his get the idea of everything having to connect to the Cold War. This is why everyone who has done this exam hates it, and why every student who hasn’t done it yet dreads it.
I started writing my thesis two weeks before the end of school (when most of my classmates had already finished theirs) and I completed the PowerPoint only after Day 5 of my written exams. My thesis ended up being 35 pages long. The presentation also had to be within a forty-minute time limit. I started practicing presenting my work Sunday, which was right before the exam day (I was tested on Monday afternoon). The first time I tried presenting, it came out as an hour and a half long. The second time it was one hour. No matter how hard I tried that day it could never be less than an hour.
But I’ve had some amazing support from my family, friends, even prayers from people I don’t even know. Sunday night I was feeling slightly better when my dad said, “I have no doubts in you”. At least eight people from Grace Baptist Church in Cedarville were gathered to pray for me during my exam time. It was comforting to think about, but the “Why me?” question was always dogging me. It wasn’t that I didn’t accept this prayer, but I just felt I was taking too much attention, possibly distracting them from people who need it far more than me. The people who prayed for me, if you’re reading this post now I want to say that words can’t describe how humbled I am that you care about my life and I really appreciate all of your prayers.
However, the next morning I was cracking under the stress. I woke up at 6 in the morning and I prayed for a full two hours. I started practicing in front of my mom, but I constantly blanked out and then just broke down in tears.
If I’m breaking down in front my own mother, who knows what I’ll do in front of the profs?
Then a friend of mine was giving me updates on how the orals went for other people. They all said it was easy, but I wasn’t sure I could believe them struggling as much as I was just preparing for it.

Oh my nerves having to wait to be called in! I was 2nd for the afternoon group of testing.
 Then I went to the school in which I was going to be presenting. I waited painfully long for 45 minutes before one of my friends came out with a smile on her face, soon followed by my French professor to usher me into the room. I was asking God for help far too many times to count while I was trying to relax. 

However, once I stepped inside the room I was filled with a strange feeling of calm that almost felt like it wasn’t mine. Seeing the familiar faces of my teachers that I’ve had for the past three years helped, coupled with the fact that I would get some room (I am claustrophobic around people). They were complimenting the fact that I was well prepared for this exam (well, duh. Isn’t that what they want?). Plugging in the flash drive, I started presenting my thesis. 

Powerpoint presentation
I was thankful they let me sit down since it was like 90° in the room!
My French Professor asked me to stand as I recited a
poem in French and spoke about the author and meaning
of the poem all in French.
I was silently surprised by the fact I spoke with authority in Italian, English AND French. In the end I was only asked a few things about my thesis. I never even got to present all of it as the 35 minutes flew by. They could have asked me questions outside my thesis on things I’ve learned the past year because they have the authority to do so. But they didn’t and they just let me go.

It’s over… It’s finally over!!!

The feeling of that heavy weight lifted from my back was indescribable. I was just so overjoyed, beyond giddy.

Now that I think about what happened during that exam, I noticed that I couldn’t have done that on my own at all. The authority that I spoke with, the confidence I had didn’t come from me, but from the Holy Spirit.

Again, a shoutout to everyone who prayed for me: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PRAYERS!!!

Celebrating with a much deserved gelato!
(Forgive the crazy eyes; I was literally mad with joy)



Monday, June 19, 2017

Last Day of School

The 2016-2017 school year concluded on June 9th. This was a milestone school year for our family with the closing of a chapter in our lives. We no longer have elementary age school children! That means no more walking to and from school with our children. No more gathering and conversing with parents at school gates. No more long days of school because now everyone will be done with school each day at 2:00pm. And a whole lot more of little things that I probably won't notice until September begins again.

My Elementary and Middle School Graduates
Sadly, there is no fan fare or graduation ceremonies nor any kind of special recognition made for the students who have worked SO hard over the course of five years in elementary school or three years in middle school. That is left to the parents and depending on how tightly knit that group is for each class determines the level of corporate celebration. Luca's class was all smiles when exciting school on their final day, a complete contrast to the tears and affection for Emma's class. Class 5A came out and said goodbye just as if it was any other day of school.

Luca bringing up the rear
His graduation cap was on a cup with a poem from his teacher inside
Classroom decorations were torn down and given to the kids to take home. Thankfully this was not Luca's too keep.
After school we headed to the park for the annual picnic for Luca's class. The traditional water fight ensued all afternoon and this last hoopla marked the end of Luca's elementary years. We did gather on Sunday night with two families that are close friends from Luca's class to celebrate over homemade pizza in a more intimate setting.

Arriving home from dinner at 12:30am had its benefits as we were able to see the "Strawberry Moon". Pictures don't do it justice! It was SO pretty! Did anyone else see it? 
We will receive Luca's report card on June 23, but we are sure he did wonderful. He has come a really long way and has had lots of hurdles to surpass along the way. We are greatly encouraged as we look back and she how much growth he has made since first grade. We could not be prouder of him!!

Emma is stuck in the middle of her brothers and will maintain status quo this year moving from 7th (seconda media) to 8th grade (terza media). She received her report card on June 13 and is soaring with high marks across the board. Emma has very strong study skills and is so self-conscious of her work that you almost want to tell her to chill and relax. For example, she began her summer vacation homework before school even ended and has not let up this first week of summer. But I suppose she is like me in which she likes to do things just so she can check things off her list.

She was treated to a haircut at the salon when school let out. 
Emma had eight works of art chosen for an end of the year art display at her school. She thought that her teacher chose her bad ones. haha! She is a talented artist and hopefully we will get them back in the fall to keep.

The gondola is by Emma
Top left and top right are Emma's

Bottom left, bottom middle and right middle by Emma
Samuel concluded his classes on June 9th as well, however the following two weeks are dedicated to both written exams and oral exams before he officially concludes his 8th grade year. Stay tuned for more on this unbelievable and intense conclusion to middle school...

Gymnastics: Spring Edition

Emma's first season of gymnastics ended with the academic school year. It was a wonderful experience as she faithfully worked out 4-6 hours per week showing much dedication and initiative even outside of class. Her coach compliments her quick learning ability and commends her work ethic. We are thankful for this opportunity allowed for her to grow, gain confidence, make new friends and enjoy something that she loves so much! We are so proud of her and her efforts especially on top of a heavy school load.

CSEN Regional Competition
Emma competed in her second and final competition of the year in April. It was extra special for Nano to be able to see her perform live and we treasure her presence at a significant event. Most every big life moment and special event has to be shared via phone, Skype, photos, videos and through this blog for family living far away. So in those rare times we get to celebrate and share an experience together it means the world to us and them!

Watching her performance on Nano's iPad

Emma's goal is always to just have fun and she indeed fulfilled that goal.

The end of the year Fenix Nova Gym recital was held on June 8. The theme for the evening was "Alice in Wonderland" and each of the four coaches had their students coordinate group dances, followed by individual floor routines and trampoline exhibition. It was a fun, light hearted evening that all the girls thoroughly enjoyed. Okay, well Emma did NOT enjoy the black lipstick they had to wear!

The music was reminiscent of a clock

Emma is the one doing the split leap

We look forward to how she will continue to improve and progress in the sport. We are not sure what gym she will attend next year as her friends are moving on to other gyms in the area. She might return as we really appreciate coach Lara's laid back attitude that fosters enjoyment of the sport rather than an intense pressure placed on the athletes performance that is often seen with other coaches. Regardless we want to encourage this passion of Emma's and provide her the opportunity to continue to grow.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Our week in Berlin for the annual leader's meeting was topped off by a day trip to Wittenberg. I figured this trip warranted its own post. We took an hour long train ride to the birth place of the Protestant Reformation and home of Martin Luther. It was in Wittenberg where Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church doors on October 31, 1517.

Another bucket list visit in the books for Jonathan.

The quaint little town is gearing up to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in October. However, a steady stream of visitors over the course of 2017 is already in progress and thankfully not everything was under renovation.

Town well with original and still working oak pipe system
We began our visit with a 2-hour guided tour of the city before being left to explore on our own. It was a very relaxing day visiting museums without having anyone ask for food or drink or complain about being tired or bored. Don't get me wrong, I love my kiddos and I love traveling with them for sure, but it was definitely a visit in which we were allowed to linger and soak in the experience without distraction.

Philip Melanchthon's House
Luther's close friend and fellow theologian, who contributed enormously to Lutheran doctrine and the Reformation.

Melanchthon's living and study room 
His bed where he died
Wittenberg University
Attached to the Melanchthon house. The University was established in 1502 by the elector Frederick the Wise. Luther and Melanchthon both taught here.

Entrance to the University
Town Church (Stadtkirche)
Where Luther preached and was married.

Inside Town Church
Pulpit from where he preached
Altar piece painting by famous painter, Lucas Cranach, also an elder of the church
Market Square

Statue of Luther in Market Square

Castle Church
The actual church where Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church doors. Today it definitely has the ode to Luther memorial feel to it. It is also the burial place of Luther, Melanchthon and others.
Church tower 

Church Entrance
The original wood doors have now been replaced with bronze doors engraved with the 95 Theses.
Cedarville University Alumni
Go Jackets!
Inside Castle Church
Martin Luther's Grave

 Martin Luther and wife, Katharina von Bora's Home
Although little of the former monastery and home to the Luther family is left in its original state, it is now a fantastic museum that is well worth the visit.

Chest used to collect money for indulgences
Luther's pulpit used for preaching
Luther's library of first editions and other fascinating works
"In this tower the Holy Spirit revealed Scripture to me." Martin Luther, 1532
(Sealed stairwell that went to the tower)
Luther's last robe
The 95 Theses
Original living area where evening conversations were held with family and friends. Luther's students took notes and later published these conversations called "Table Talk".
If this table could talk...
Original furnishings and decor

We just couldn't resist this photo op

Thanks for bearing with me on these delayed posts. Stay tuned for more Reformation noteworthy sights as we take advantage of living in Europe and celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.