Time Flies When You’re Having Fun! Mindfulness, Projects, Family, and Two Historic Italian Cities

Written by John March 11, 2014

And yet another week flies by at CIMBA.  I cannot believe that we are already more than halfway through our semester.  I know that I have said it before, but there is just so much happening on campus that, before you know it, you are leaving to travel on the weekend and thinking of everything you accomplished in the prior 5 days.  That is how I would describe my 8th week here at CIMBA.  Beginning with my unanticipated participation in Mindful Yoga on Monday, it feels as if I did 10x the amount of activities I would have done in a normal week at home.  In addition to managing my virtual team, my persuasive speech presentation, the Little Field Laboratories Operations Management project, and the plethora of normal class work, I completed a mindful yoga session, compassionate mindfulness, daily mindfulness,  2nd formal dinner (in my new ITALIAN suit!), received a wonderful letter from my aunt, and organized / experienced an amazing weekend in Padua and Bologna!  Now that I laid out some sort of an outline for you, let me begin!

I want to begin this week’s post by describing some of the class work.  Sounds boring, I know, but bear with me because many of the class assignments we have here are actually pretty cool.  As I mentioned in a previous post, throughout the semester those in the Intro to Management class have been working on a class project that involves outsourcing research to a real employee in another country.  The class was separated into four groups comprised of  ten individuals who are then divided into five, two person teams.  Each team has a different role within the group and the entire group’s success depends on the successful integration of the teams: for example, my Sales team cannot complete our requirements without input from the Marketing team.  It can become quite difficult to keep on track!

Two other “homework” assignments that were interesting were our persuasive speeches in business communication and the Little Field Labs operations management game.  I am comfortable with writing essays, however I had never written a speech before.  Thus, writing my speech for business communication with all the pauses, jokes, and commonalities associated with speaking rather than writing was intimidating at first.  We then had to present our speech and while doing so, wore heart rate monitors to monitor our stress and see at what level of beats per minute (stress) we perform the best.  Over 130bpm means you have lost your ability to think deeply and is not where you want to be during a speech … unless, of course,  you are leading a rally and getting pumped up! I discovered that I was at my peak when my heart rate was between 90bpm to 100bpm.

In Operations Management, we were divided into groups (see a theme here ?) and walked through an online educational game.  Little Field Labs is an online educational tool, used in many MBA programs, in which you must act as the operations manager for a business.  Responsibilities include how much inventory to order, at what amount of inventory to re-order to avoid a stock-out, the amount of machines to own, setting the most optimal process time to earn more money, etc.  Each hour of real life is one day in the game.  Using formulas we have learned in class, my team has set a new re-order point and optimal quantity per re-order and so far appear to be in good condition.  That is, until fluctuations begin to appear in the demand for our product, then it’s back to the drawing board to reassess.

I mentioned these three assignments because they are good examples of CIMBA’s hands-on academic approach. The method is much less “read and memorize a textbook” and more project-oriented / real life applications.  It is learning by doing, rather than learning by memorization, which I feel makes the crazy workload much more engaging and thus more doable.

Besides the regular classes, there are many more activities going on which keep us busy.  Let’s start with mindfulness as it consumed a good majority of my week and is one of the best tools CIMBA has taught me. Each day after lunch, students are asked to do mindful breathing together in a large classroom.  Mindful breathing is the act of focusing solely on your breath in a seated, unsupported upright position.  It is much easier said than done as you would be surprised at the variety of thoughts that pass through your mind.  Research has shown that mindful breathing can make positive changes to your brain chemistry within weeks.  Personally, I have noticed an increased ability to focus on school-related activities and more calmness in stressful situations.  Sound crazy?  Give it a go for yourself for as short as one week and I guarantee it will not sound as crazy as you originally may have thought.

This week I took my mindfulness training to a new level by completing mindful yoga and compassionate mindfulness exercises as well.  In mindful yoga we did some breathing exercises, as well as stretching, that showed how our breath can stimulate our energy levels.  I knew I had a good yoga session when I awoke the next morning to the sorest body I have had in awhile!  Compassionate mindfulness is, as the name suggests, a mindfulness exercise that focuses on increasing empathy. This was  another unique experience.  It involved listening to an audio tape to guide us through a process to envision our feelings for other individuals. I found out that I am not the exactly the most empathetic person ever so I may incorporate some compassionate mindfulness into my routine when I return home!

Mindful Yoga!

Mindfulness Yoga crew with our awesome instructor !

The highlight of the week had to be the second formal dinner!  Why?  Because it gave me an opportunity to wear my new Italian suit!  I did not mention in my last post, but we had the opportunity to go Italian suit shopping!  Being that I have an internship arriving in summer and was currently suit-less, I figured it was the perfect  time to purchase a suit  — so I did!  The formal dinner kicked off at 8pm and we were quickly seated and served.  We started off with three small appetizers.  The first had, what appeared to be cheese filling, but was actually some sort of sauce that just melted in your mouth.  My favorite was the third which was an eggplant slice with sauce and cheese.  Simple yet delicious!  Their meat dish blew everyone away.  The restaurant served roast beef that was cooked to perfection and glazed with a mouthwatering sauce.  You could smell the savory aroma as soon as they placed it on your plate and it took all the self-control I had to refrain from eating until my entire table was served.  Seriously, it was that good.  Then there was a short break in which everyone moved around to talk with their friends at other tables, comment on the outstanding cuisine, and, of course, take pictures!  Following the short break, we were again seated and prepared to be served  a “sinful” dessert as CIMBA’s associate director, Cristina Turchet, called it.  She was not lying.  It appeared to be the Italian equivalent of a hot fudge sundae.  Gelato served inside a biscotti bowl and drizzled with fresh hot chocolate.  By the time we arrived back on campus, after midnight as usual, our taste buds were content and it was time for sleep!

2nd Formal Dinner!

A few students from our International Econ. class with our professor at the 2nd formal dinner!

I awoke Friday morning and had a nice surprise waiting for me in the mail.  I always feel like a celebrity when I am told that I have mail to pick-up in the office.  My aunt had sent me a card with the words: “Do not bend” written on the envelope so I wondered: 1. What could it be and 2. Did the Italian postmen even know what it said?  I brought it to my room and eagerly opened it. I was greeted by a familiar picture of my family following the last party at my grandpop’s house. The note read: “This is so you do not forget what your family looks like!”  It was a heart-warming experience.  Life has been so fast-paced at CIMBA that at times my family was not really at the forefront of my thoughts.  Receiving the picture from my aunt brought with it a pang of homesickness, but even more so it made me happy.   I know it’s not going to be fun leaving Italy at the end of the semester, but knowing I will be returning to my supportive family back in the States will make it not seem as bad.  As strange as it sounds, I am looking forward to my family’s homemade Italian cooking even after eating pasta twice a day in Italy! As they say, it’s the little things in life ….

Weekend time!  After coordinating with other students – Adam and Seamus – we decided to keep it Italian this weekend and head to Padua and Bologna.  Coincidently, these cities also boast the two oldest universities of the western world!  We booked an evening train to Padua after classes on Friday and immediately searched for food when we arrived.  “Molta fame!” in Italian.  We found a neat student restaurant that had a happy hour buffet until 9:00pm for a reasonable price with an included aperitif and felt that was the best way to start the weekend.  We learned that Italians do not use these happy hour buffets as their dinners so we received some curious stares when we returned for our third plates.  Following dinner, we located the apartment we booked on Airbnb.  It was our first time using Airbnb, a site where people post their properties for rent that is a good alternative when hostels in the city are more expensive.  Unfortunately, this means there is no reception as there is with a hostel so when we arrived at 8:30pm and rang the bell to enter the apartment complex, we were welcomed with silence.  Nobody answered.  Somewhat perturbed, we began searching the local restaurant and bar scene asking for our host’s name or wifi connection to contact him.  An hour later, we began to worry and were thinking of the best places to sleep outside. ( We saw some benches that looked comfortable…) Thankfully, there was one pizzeria left that I had not checked and the owner allowed me to use his phone to call our host.  Our host informed us that we needed to check in at a hotel that was a ten minute walk from the apartment.  I still do not know why he could not have relayed that information to me when we were exchanging emails and I was informing him how “excited” we were to go to Padua.  Regardless, it was a learning lesson and it did not kill our excitement to explore the city.  Padua has three large squares where the students congregate in the evenings.  We entered into a conversation with a few locals, found a popular hang-out spot, and enjoyed a nice night in Padua.

One of the major squares in Padua!

One of the main squares in Padua

In the morning, we awoke bright and early to make it to Pedrocchi Cafe before our train to Bologna.  Pedrocchi Cafe is a popular historical cafe in Padua where intellectuals and artists have met to talk over coffee since the 18th century.  It was currently closed for renovation so we decided to walk around the city instead.  Along the way, we met an extremely friendly university student who was on her way to an exam, but still offered to show us the older parts of Padua university. She was actually from Bassano del Grappa and if we had more time in Italy she said her and her friends would have loved to come to the sports complex in Paderno del Grappa where all the Americans hang-out.  Maybe next semester’s CIMBA students will be fortunate enough to meet up with them!

A short train ride and we arrived in Bologna!  Without thinking, we paid 6 euro and hopped on a bus that said “city center” thinking that the city center was far and that the bus would take us there.  Both those assumptions were wrong.  The bus actually took us to the Bologna airport, then through the city center and back to the train station!  We called it our “budget bus tour of Bologna”! After hopping off the bus from where we began, we checked with a local hotel  and learned that the city center  was about a 20 minute walk.  Great travel tip:  Whenever you are lost, need a city map, or just want some local information, just stop in a local hotel and the clerk is always willing to offer assistance.  For lunch, we ate Bolognese pasta.  For those who do not know, Bologna is famous for its ragu sauce.  I had tagliatelle with Bolognese ragu sauce… it was delicious and filling; the best combo for a traveling student!  We then treated ourselves to some gelato and began our sightseeing journey!  We saw the Two Towers of Bologna (two medieval towers that tower over the city landscape), Piazza Maggiore, the Fountain of Neptune, the Basilica of St. Petronio, and attempted to view the university, but it was closed for the weekend!  A fun fact about the Basilica of St. Petronio is that it was originally planned to be built to be larger than the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, but the Pope pulled the funding for St. Petronio’s basilica when he learned of this ulterior motive. Now, it is the fifteenth largest church in the world and you can still see the section where it stops abruptly when it lost its funding.  I really loved the arched walkways in Bologna!

The Two Towers of Bologna!

The Two Towers of Bologna!

Arched walkways in Bologna!

An example of the beautiful arched walkways in Bologna!

That evening explored the university section.  Bologna was alive with students and we felt very comfortable moving around and conversing with them.  I had read an Eramus student’s blog about living in Bologna and heard of a favorite cafe the students’ attended in the evenings called Cafe Paris. The cafe had an unlimited selection of 1 euro shot specials of all kinds of mixtures that were really interesting and something new.  We started a conversation with two university students and learned that they were not Italians, but instead were from Moldova! Both our friends’ names were Michaela and they were studying economics (like me!) at the University of Bologna. Maybe my world geography is not the best, but I had never heard of Moldova prior to our conversation.  I learned that Moldova is a small country that borders Ukraine and was previously a part of the Soviet Union.   Curious, I questioned them further and learned that Moldova still has close ties to Russia as many Moldavians speak Russian.  As a side note for those up-to-date on their current events, this means that Moldova, and thus these two students, support Russia in the Ukrainian Crimea conflict.  I thought that was an interesting thing to note because their information regarding the conflict is so different than the information I have heard about the conflict.  Later that night, they informed us of a local club, Corto Maltese, where we had a blast dancing the night away!

Our friends from Moldova!

Our friends from Moldova who are studying at the University of Bologna!

On Sunday, we spent most of the day relaxing at a local park as we waited for our 3:00pm train back to Paderno del Grappa.  We had enjoyed a fantastic weekend sightseeing and meeting students from the two oldest universities.  We managed to catch some sleep on the train ride home which was good because we had quite the homework load to catch-up on.   I am still catching up on school work, but I am motivated by the travel week that is fast approaching.  Beginning Saturday morning, my friend and I will be traveling to London, Dublin, Brussels, and Amsterdam.  Yes, we will be in Dublin for St. Patty’s day!  Will talk to you soon!