Yesterday I arrived in Florence, Italy. I had never been here before, and had no idea how gorgeous the city is! It’s absolutely incredible! I wandered through the streets a lot that first day, and found it shocking how often you go around a corner only to run into some giant, beautiful structure, statue, or piece of architecture! I kept catching myself saying „Wow!“ „Woow!“ „Wow!!“
It’s beautiful here.
Today was the first day of my educator mobility course.
The course I am taking is called „Photo & Video Making in our Classroom: Creating and Adapting Original Visual Resources.“
You can read more about it here.:
The first day was phenomenal! I didn’t really know what to expect, except that it would be about photo- and video-making. I chose this course, because I am not very good with technology, and yet I often find myself working with photos & videos, so I wanted to improve my skills.
The methodology of the course is to teach us participants how to use specific photo/video programs and apps. Today we learned how to use the program OBS Studio (Open Broadcaster Software).
You can download it for free here.: https://obsproject.com/download
When you first open it, it looks really complicated, and partly because it is, if you have no guidance. Our teacher, Lorenzo, was an amazing guide, however. Over the next five hours, we learned various features of the program, how to make screen captures (record our screen), how to „remux“ files from .mlk to .mp4. By the end, each of us had prepared a video about about ourselves, especially focusing on sharing about the places we teach.
To describe what type of videos we made– it was the type where multiple different screens are built into one presentation (for example PPT slides and web browser pages like Maps or Vimeo), as well as one’s voice recorded. This can be used for making homework instruction videos, informational and educational videos, and presentations that „present themselves.“
Mine wasn’t perfect, but it was a good first attempt! 🙂 The mistake I made was, when layering the video of me with the Power Point, I covered parts of the Power Point text with my video box. I created a second shorter video for you to show the kind of video you can create with OBS. 🙂
Today’s class time was organized a bit differently than yesterday’s. Instead of taking the whole day to learn how to use one more complicated program, we were taught to use five different simpler tools (programs and/or phone apps).
Instead of Lorenzo, a guy Jacobbo taught the course. He’s also Italian, and a local of Florence. I don’t think Lorenzo is originally from Florence, but I guess I’m not sure. (I do know though that Lorenzo’s girlfriend is Polish, because she works in the office and she and I talked in Polish…;))
Anyway, one app of the ones Jacobbo showed stood out to me as especially useful. Next time I teach an English Workshop at the VHS, I will recommend it to my participants, especially to those hoping to improve their listening skills. It’s called Lyricstraining, and it exists both in a web version and a as a phone app.
There’s multiple ways to use it. The simplest way to use it on your own on your phone is to 1. choose what language you want to learn, 2. select a level, and 3. select the „multiple choice“ version. When the game starts, a Youtube video with the music video of a song plays, and you see the lyrics underneath, except there’s circles where certain words are missing. Each time the song gets to one of those spots, you have to choose the correct work to fill in the blank. You need to be fast; the song doesn’t stop. Unless you miss one or get it wrong, in which case you can listen to that line again as many times as you need till you select the correct word.
At first, I wasn’t convinced it would be an effective tool, but I tried playing the game in Spanish since I know less Spanish then German, and in only a few songs I did in fact notice myself hearing individual words in the text better than at the start. I think it’s because the game really forces you to concentrate your eyes on the entire text as you hear the song, not just on the missing words, so you’re learning even in the moments when the words are there.
The free version of the app allows you to play three songs every 30 minutes. Which, by the time you’ve played three songs, you only have to wait about 20min.
So that’s one app we worked with. It’s very straightforward to use, and fun if you like music anyway. You can select different musical genres so you’re not stuff listening to something you don’t enjoy.
Our classes end at 18:40, but I tend to be at the school till at least 19:15 asking the instructors additional questions. Their professional computer knowledge is incredible and has far exceeded my expectations! I am so grateful for everything I’ve been learning under their guidance!
On the way home after class every day, I work on my homework, which is to collect as many video clips as we can about one aspect of Florence. We’ll use them later this week to work on a video in another program.
For the needs of the project I made up, I need to be in my videos, which means I always need to find some trustworthy-seeming stranger to record for me. Today, I was helped by a group of four travelling German students in their high teens. They were from a village in NRW and travelling for fun. Having people record for me is helpful but extends the process (the time it takes), because each time it involves explaining my homework and idea, recording multiple times, and some small talk in between each recording.
In other news, I stopped into a grocery store. I love to grocery shop. It’s one of my favorite activities when travelling too, because it tells you so much about a place!! It took some effort to find the store, because there’s no supermarkets even just the size of a German ALDI in the city center, their all smaller and more rare. The one I went to was called Conrad, and the other chain is called Coop. I’m told Coop is slightly cheaper, but Conrad was a decent bit closer, so I went there.
Besides grabbing some normal items for my breakfasts, I picked out some whole grain pasta and colorful pasta to try. I’m in Italy after all! 🙂
Here’s a sight to imagine.: Me walking home from the grocery store, munching on a bag of rucola while walking home by Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Guess, and a bunch of other extremely fancy brand name clothing stores. It’s crazy how much high-end shopping they fit into this relatively small city! (Florence is only about x4.5 the size of Neumuenster, 382000 inhabitants.)
DAY 3 – WED
Today we went back to a similar model as day one. Lorenzo was back with another program. I don’t think I mention this the first day, but Lorenzo a really funny and engaging Italian, with a very large body of computer-related knowledge. He’s a calm and patient teacher, with a rather strong Italian accent that took some getting used to, but his way of being is appreciated by all and his jokes make the whole class laugh/ He’s professional and clearly passionate about teaching.
The program for today was quite a bit more complicated even than the Monday program, so we really needed the whole day to learn about some of its main features. The program is called DaVinci Resolve, and we used the free Version 15, which can be downloaded from here.:
It’s video editing software with a LOT of options. It turned out that my laptop is too old to accommodate the powerful program, so I borrowed one of the Europass ones. It was fun learning about zooming, cropping, flipping images. It was exciting to see myself succeeding at working in this extremely complicated program.
Lorenzo says it’s actually comparable to programs that competitors like Adobe sell. So, he emphasized that it’s possible to find free high quality software for nearly all media arts. Here’s the list of programs he recommended to us, emphasizing „Use free software!“ I’d like to share his recommendations with you.:
USE FREE SOFTWARE
GIMP – for picture & graphic work
BLENDER – for 3D modeling
AUDACITY – for sound
DAVINCI RESOLVE – video editing
All three of the days, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity of being here! The course as been SO educational for me. Nearly everything we’ve learned so far has been completely new to me. I’m blown away by how little I knew before about what’s even possible through free programs and apps. I’m happy to report that, when concepts are explained as patiently as Lorenzo does it, I’m finding I am able to catch on alright. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to follow, but the truth is, these programs aren’t that difficult, they just need to be explained by someone experienced in them.
One of my favorite aspects that I have discovered about Florence so far is that Florence is a city FULL of art, both historically and currently. Full of art, full of artists, and full of individuals open to consuming a wide variety of art forms, from sculpture and paintings to music, dance, architecture. For me as a professional dancer and choreographer, it is an incredible experience to be immersed in such an culturally and artistically richly saturated place. I was able to contribute to it a bit myself today. 🙂
Tonight after class (which ended at 18:40 again), after staying late to get Lorenzo’s advice on a laptop problem, after collecting more videos for homework (tonight three Korean guys were the ones who helped me record), I went up to two different street musicians and asked if they’d mind me dancing to accompany their music. Both agreed, and in both places, the audience responded very positively to my dance improvisations. It wasn’t totally random for me to do– I’m just finishing my masters in Performing Public Space at Fontys University in Holland. I can truly say, through my masters, I’ve become more and more comfortable in improvised dancing in public. In one of the locations here in Firenze, a child even ran out and danced with me a while.
The weather here has been incredibly hot. In fact, from what I understand, today was what they call a „red alert“ day. It’s recommended to stay out of the sun and drink lots of water. For reference, the temperature is according to the weather will be around 38-40 C, but it’s even higher in the direct sunlight. It only takes about 20-30min outside to catch a bit of a tan.
Yesterday I forgot to tell you about Florence’s boar. It’s a statue. You rub it’s nose if you hope to come back to Florence. I’d love to return someday, so I rubbed the nose. 🙂
DAY 4 – THURS
Today in class, we started creating our own videos. Yesterday we had an introduction to Da Vinci Resolve 15, where we learned and practiced using a couple of its basic functions like zooming, etc. Today we had to use the program for creating actual videos! Our homework for the last three days has been to collect as many video clips, sound recordings, pictures, digital materials, etc. as possible for the purpose of making videos today and tomorrow. The task: create a video highlighting one aspect of Florence.
I decided to highlight ‚the beauty of the setting,‘ meaning, the beauty of Florence as a location as well as a site for art. I did so by gathering dance movement in various public space locations in the city. In total, I collected several hours-worth of little recordings, both video and sound.
Working with Da Vinci Resolve is extremely time-consuming, so we were given the entire day to start the task. Unfortunately the graphics card in my computer turned out not to be good enough to run the program, so I had to rent one of the EUROPASS ones. I made progress very slowly, because the first step was to choose the music, and it was difficult to decide on music before having my video ready! Then, once I chose my music, questions kept coming up. It’s a really complicated program. Even so, it was really exciting to work on the video! Lorenzo had an answer for every possible question we asked him, which made the program a whole lot less overwhelming. We’ll be finishing our videos tomorrow.
On the way home, I popped into a couple clothing stores. I normally don’t buy too many new clothes, but I loved the style in Florence. They have a lot of flowy clothing in pretty colors; more colorful than Germany or Poland usually wears. I ended up buying some clothes, and I’m excited to wear them! Florence in general is very stylish, so it’ll be fun to blend in a little better with my new outfits during my last few days here.
Tonight I had the best Indian food I have had since moving away from India! I found the place on accident and stopped rather spontaneously. It was a tiny shack of a take-out restaurant with only four tiny tables herded together in the small space for eating in. I peered inside and saw they had what seemed like authentic Indian food. I lived in India for 6 months in 2015 and I miss it of course, so, even though I didn’t believe it would entirely taste like real Indian food, I decided to order something. So many of the dishes looked so good! I asked the owner whether I could combine several dishes to have a little bit of everything and the owner readily agreed. The meal cost only 5euros and was the best Indian food I have found so far outside of India! It was perfectly spicy and made me really happy, haha. It was very good quality despite being so affordable. The owners were a Pakistani family living in Florence, and tasting the food it was evident they cook with real Indian or Pakistani spices! It was a little funny sitting there with my plastic fork & knife (since that’s what they provided) and tin bowl eating divinely tasting food, but I was really delighted to have found the place!
Today I started feeling a little sad that the week is nearly over. It’s been such a great learning experience! I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know my colleagues as well. One is from Germany, four from Poland, one from Czech, and the two men were from Spain. No one knew each other before, except three of the Polish teachers. I have to say, there’s something truly exceptional about being in a classroom where the students are all teachers. Not teachers of the video course; there, we were students learning about photo-video editing for the classroom from Lorenzo. Back home, however, we all teach (a variety of subjects). I have found this dynamic of being a part of a classroom full of educators to be very refreshing! Each of us wants to be there, is happy to be there, and is motivated to learn & work together well. This has been really great! Thank you, fellow professioanls and classmates!
DAY 5 – FRIDAY
Today we were working on finishing our videos. It was the last opportunity to do so, because tomorrow is a Tuscany tour, instead of typical class. We had class from 9:00 till 14:00, but I didn’t leave the EUROPASS school till 19:00, because I was still finishing my video! I didn’t have a lunch with me so I hardly ate until the evening. Luckily, I had brought some snacks to share, but I was so focused on the work though that I didn’t really feel hungry. Besides, normally I do sports nearly every day, but during my time in Florence I haven’t been working out since there hasn’t been much time to, so I just haven’t felt as hungry in general.
Anyway, I finished my video! Our task was to highlight one aspect of the city, so I chose to highlight its beauty through a dance video, where the dancing is accompaniment to the beauty. You can see my video here 🙂 https://vimeo.com/350348299
I’m really proud of how it turned out, especially considering I’ve never really been that good with technology in the past. But that’s precisely why I took this course! It’s been an amazing time of learning and growing in my technological skills. I’m excited to tell my English language students about the new apps I’ve come to know about this week. I’m excited to use my video-making skills for preparing engaging class content in OBS Studio, and I hope to be able to use Da Vinci Resolve again too! Lorenzo told us that the important thing now is to practice, so we don’t forget how to use the programs. That’s one reason I created the extra little intro video for the Nuemuenster VHS on Monday; I wanted to practice using the OBS program a bit more. You can see that video here.: https://vimeo.com/352702163
In the afternoon, we watched the videos of those who had already finished and had a little contest voting for the best one. The winner got a traditional Italian pastry, which Lorenzo called a „Bombolonidoro“ (? or something like that– I can’t find the actual name online just now, which tells me that what I heard isn’t quite correct…) My video wasn’t done yet, so I didn’t enter the contest, but I still got to vote. It was a fun way to end our week together. 🙂
Also today, Lorenzo gave a presentation about photography functions. He explained terms like focus aperture, shutter speed, and frame size as well as what different values of each of these mean.
I didn’t do too much more tonight after leaving the center so late. Tomorrow I have to be up early for the tour! I did go record one last improvisation by the river though, even though my video is done.
UPDATE.: In the following days, it rained so hard that my spot in the middle of the river where I recorded most of my video clips was totally inaccessible! The spot became a waterfall! :O
DAY 6 – SATURDAY
Today instead of class, we participated in a day tour. I could choose between visiting Piza for a half-day or seeing three Tuscan towns on a full-day tour. My friend from Florence recommended I go on the full-day tour. So, I saw San Gimignano, Siena, and Chanti. The way it worked was that we rode the bus to a given location, and were given free time in each place to wander independently. Then in Siena, the guide also gave an actual tour. Tuscany is SO beautiful!! I thought Florence was gorgeous, but I liked the architecture of Siena even more! The tour guide said that the architectural style the cathedral there is built in is unique to Tuscany, and I dare say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The use of colorful marble (green, pink, white, etc) is absolutely incredible!
We ate lunch near Chanti at a winery where we had the option to taste several wines, olive oil, trufle (mushroom) oil, and balsamic vinegrette. I’m not that into wine, and normally not that into olive oil, but I found I really like the oil there! And I absolutely loved the balsamic vinegrette. The meal was a salad and (of course) pasta with a tomato sauce. I bought some whole grain pasta, olive oil, and vinegrette to bring back home.
San Gimignano was a wonderful town of tightly-packed buidlings, mostly shops. (By „tight“ I mean, the buildings seemed to mostly all be connected to each other.) I bought a shirt made of linen by a local company. San Gimignano is also where you get „The World’s Best Gelato.“ When the tour guide said that, I sort of rolled my eyes. „Yah, right,“ I thought. But the Colombian couple I befriended in the tour bus and I got some gelato anyway, and sure enough, it was the best ice cream I have ever tasted! Especially their pistacio flavor. They also had a unique flavor called „Caprese“ which was mozerella and tomato flavored! I know that sounds a little gross, but I tried some from a friend, and it was actualy quite nice!!
The Colombian couple I befriended was about my parents‘ age. We spent most of the tour together, speaking nearly only Spanish. This was fun for me, and I’m grateful for their patience, because I don’t actually know that much Spanish, I only learned it for a year about seven years ago. It was nice to practice, nice to learn a few new words and to refresh some old ones. I didn’t nesecarily expect to practice my Spanish in Italy, but so it happened. 🙂
During my time in Italy, I learned a little Italian too of course! (I personally consider it very important to try to learn some basics of the local language wherever I travel. I often start even before going to a place, but in this case I didn’t manage to do that.) Some Italian words I remembered still from the music education I received as a child. Additionally, some Italian words look or sound related to Spanish or other langauges I speak. Thus, I often found myself understanding words that I never learned, per say. For example, I recognized that „rosso“ is red, without anyone telling me. I think it would be fun to learn more Italian, though to be honest, I question how practical it would be in other places in the world. If I were to ever live there, it would definitey be practical, but if not, I’d barely ever have the chance to use it.
All in all, I have had a phenomenal time on my educator mobility program to Florence!! I am in love with the beauty of Tuscany. My brain is reinvigorated by all the new tech skills I picked up this week. I’m excited for the souveniers I’m bringing home (all useful ones– some Italian clothes, pasta, oil, and balsamic vinegrette, and a mug from Siena).
My deepest gratitude to those who applied for the funding, to Erasmus+ who provided the funding, and to my employers for making participation in the mobility available to me! Thank you!!