Engaged and Connected

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I have this bad habit where I always walk around with headphones in my ears. Since I was in middle school, my mom has warned me not to walk or ride my bike with my headphones in, for fear of me being unable to hear a car approaching. For years I have been listening to her chide me to take out my earphones, but for years, her reasons for asking me to do so have been very specific. Take your headphones out, so the car doesn’t hit you. Simple, right? However, last summer I worked at a school that had a mandatory headphone rule, and this time the rule wasn’t for the purpose of road safety. From 7 AM to 7 PM no one on campus—student, staff, or faculty—was allowed to have headphones in their ears. When I first starting working here, I didn’t understand why we couldn’t wear headphones. But, another staff member explained to me that the 7 AM- 7 PM rule existed with the intention of making sure each community member was fully engaged with their surroundings.

I promise I haven’t spent so long rambling about headphones for no point. Engaged. Connected. This was the purpose of the 7 AM- 7 PM rule. Of course, I don’t want to disregard my mom; road safety is important, but there is something to be said for being fully engaged. Here in Rome so much is happening all around, all at once. People are laughing in the mini-market, the bus is picking up passengers, someone is buying a croissant at the bar. And to be honest, so far, for the majority of the time I’ve been in Rome, I’ve had my headphones in. Yesterday, though, I went for a run in Villa Borghese (which, by the way, is becoming one of my favorite spots in Rome), and I listened to music the entire time. When I finished, I sat down to cool off, and it wasn’t until then that I took my headphones out. Immediately after doing so, everything was amazing. That may sound like an over-exaggeration, but it’s the truth. For anyone’s who ever been to Villa Borghese, you know that this park feels like a fantasy. It’s like a little oasis, isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. Once I took my headphones out, I felt so at peace. I realized that I didn’t need to fill my surroundings with anything extra; the latest Top 40 hit could wait. Sitting there in Villa Borghese, listening to the sound of life all around me, and watching the sun slowly start to set— this was enough. It was more than enough. (Look below for proof of Villa Borghese’s wonderful running trails!)

Rome, and this entire experience, has so much to offer, and sometimes I worry that we forget to remember that. My roommate and I were visiting the Colosseum the other night, and then we saw some beautiful ruins. Everything was lit in a way that reflected the sheer majesty of the entire structure. We both looked at each other and paused. We stopped taking pictures, put down our phones, and just stood taking it all in. I am finding that wherever I am in this city, whether it be in Villa Borghese, outside the Colosseum, or along the Tiber, I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed thinking about the history of this place, and overwhelmed knowing that I get to be a part of it. There are so many outside distractions we let ourselves fall prey to, most of them technology-related, but I want to remain engaged and connected with the city, and not lost in my own world. The 7 AM- 7 PM rule existed for a reason, and I want to remember that while I’m here. Living in Rome feels like a fairy-tale, but I am constantly reminding myself that being here is in fact very much real.

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Amazing lookout point from Villa Borghese

Engaged. Connected. That’s how I want to spend my time here. So from here on out, the headphones are coming off.

Rome as the Classroom

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Classes are officially underway at Temple Rome. The professors here are not only well versed in the subjects they teach, they also have plenty of valuable knowledge on Rome and adapting to the city. My professors happily go off topic to recommend places to visit and where to eat during our semester abroad. In a business and ethics course I am taking, there are PowerPoints with Italian expressions we should know to get by easily. The sayings ranged from ordering food by saying vorrei… meaning I would like… and how mi scusi is a polite way to say excuse me versus scusa while getting through a crowd. The class was warned that at least once they’ll probably walk into the wrong gendered bathroom or il bagno. Altogether, Rome is always included in part of the lesson plans.

 

So far my favorite thing about the courses here is that a lot of class time isn’t spent in the classroom, but throughout the eternal city. Classes are often going on field trips and meeting at different destinations. It’s great to see museums and monuments while having professors discuss the history behind them. In one week, I have been to three different places with my classes. My digital photography class met at the Colosseum to capture the ancient ruins while learning about exposure. The next day in the watercolor painting class, we spent the morning walking through the Borghese Gardens and painting the lake and other landscapes. Far better than sitting in a classroom, especially when it’s warm and sunny weather in January. A lot of classes go to museums, which is great when you have a professor who describes pieces in depth and allows time to freely roam around.

When it comes to getting to these outings, public transportation is often utilized. It’s not hard to get around Rome, although it’s not laid out on a grid system like Philadelphia or New York City. For all the Temple kids reading this, the metro here is just like Septa. Just think of line A as the Broad Street line, line B as Market-Frankford line and Termini as the City Hall transfer. Too easy. As for the buses, still trying to figure that out… go with a friend who knows what they’re doing until you get the hang of it. That’s advice I’m currently living by.

 

Even with easy access to public transportation, sometimes taking a walk to your destination is more rewarding. Go the long way home, take different streets and walk down the charming alleyways. I’ve noticed that’s how you find the less touristy spots. Try to find where the Italians go–it’s certainly not where people are calling out for your attention or have large pictures of mediocre looking pasta posted out front. The open air markets are great for food shopping. The produce and products are far fresher (and usually cheaper) than the supermarkets. Go bright and early to get the best selection, just like my friend and I did after going to the market at 7 a.m. after a long night of dancing and postponing our sleep. Maybe Rome is the city that never sleeps, but it’s definitely the city with great produce.

Better Late than Never

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View from behind the Residence

 

A wise friend once told me, “Expect the unexpected, but prepare for everything.” What a bewildering statement I thought–how can I possibly do both of those things at once? Well, I think I understand his advisement now. After ringing in the new year, I became terribly ill. I spent the first three weeks of January in bed and on the couch, leaving only for medical reasons. I feared that my opportunity for study abroad would have to be cancelled and I would be stuck in central PA off for the semester. I soon prepared for the worst… I felt awful. After I just about gave up all my Roman hopes for this spring, the unexpected happened: I recovered.

After missing orientation week and the first week of classes at Temple Rome, I just made the deadline to get my *healthy* self to Rome. I kept the study abroad offices in Philadelphia updated on my health and whereabouts, and they informed Temple Rome. So when I shared my great recovery news, I was instantly receiving warm emails from the Temple Rome student coordinating staff. It was too easy. I was instructed what to do once I landed in Italy, who my roommates were (surely they assumed I was a no show) and my professors were contacted on my behalf about my absence. I had nothing to worry about besides beating the great northeast snow storm that loomed around the same time as my departing flight.

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My first dinner in Rome

I am surely disappointed to miss the orientation events–believe me I was excited for the trip to Todi and learning how to make the beloved tiramisu. I knew coming late would make me culturally behind my classmates, who had two weeks of roaming around Italy and experiences already made. I spent my time reading books and blogs to catch up. Since food is an interest of mine, reading Elizabeth Minchilli’s book “Eating Rome” was a pleasure (I also recommend reading her blog). She shared tips on Italian food

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Spanish Steps at sunset

culture that varied from the U.S. including how a bar in Italy is actually a coffee shop and when you order your caffeinated beverage be sure to keep your receipt. When shopping at open markets, do not pick up the produce but point to what you want… also this not the time to bargain. Unlike in the states, Italians don’t eat their meals on the go besides for three things: pizza bianca, panino (sandwich) or gelato.

 

With a little research and help from roommates, my first weekend in Rome consisted of multiple walking tours around Residenza Candia and Temple Rome. I experienced the great food, fast drivers and the charm of Rome. Not to mention the fantastic gelato. I don’t care if I am wearing a winter coat and chilled, gelato is always amazing. Although I haven’t been here long, I have already seen the classic tourist spots: the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. I look forward to spending the semester here and discovering the hidden gems of the eternal city.

Be Still and Celebrate

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Anyone who has seen me recently knows that the past two weeks have been filled with an enormous amount of stress and anxiety. This may seem like a rather dark way to begin my first blog post, but there is a happy ending, I promise! But first, some context. About six days before I was supposed to leave for Rome, I found out that my passport and visa had been lost in the mail. Cue panic. For the next few days, my mom and I travelled around New Jersey (where I go to school) on what felt like a wild goose chase. We went from post office to post office, attempting to recover the missing passport. After no success, we decided to accept the fact that I would not be leaving for Rome on time.

After we accepted the situation, what followed can only be described as absolute grace. During the time I spent trying to obtain a new passport and visa, I was shown such incredible support and kindness from everyone around me. Everyone who was involved in the process—friends, family, officials, and administrators—made the entire process so easy. I was able to get a new passport in 5 hours, a new visa in a day, and a new plane ticket in 30 minutes. In addition, my professors from school were extremely gracious and flexible in allowing me to rearrange my work schedule. At my school, we take our fall semester finals after break, so on top of figuring out how to leave the country, I was also figuring out how to pass my classes… I wasn’t lying when I said these past two weeks were stressful!!

When I think about all that happened before I could make it to Rome, I understand that it needed to happen, and in a way, was a small blessing in disguise. Of course, it wasn’t fun to pay for all the last-minute changes and expedited fees, etc., but there is something to be said for being completely broken down. I feel like everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I became stronger for it. I was completely broken down to a place of humility, where I had to accept things one day, heck even one minute, at a time, and that is a very interesting position to be in. But as such, I truly believe that all this crazy happened for the sake of reminding me to slow down and be still. I was so caught up in the stress of things that I hadn’t even processed the fact that I was going to be living in Rome. Rome! I hadn’t stopped to pause, admire, and be thankful about that. I have been given this opportunity to immerse myself fully in another culture, and I wasn’t celebrating that, which is crazy, because there is so much to celebrate!!

And now I’m here! I’ve made it, at last. I may have missed Orientation Week, but that just meant that I was to dive headfirst right into things. Knowing absolutely no Italian, I have spent the last week blubbering my way around, butchering almost every word, and accidentally letting my Spanish vocabulary slip through at times. But, I am confident that things can only go up from here. I had my first Italian class this week, and just now, I successfully ordered a glass of wine in Italian: “Un bicchiere di vino bianco”! To be fair, I guess that might be one of the easier phrases to say, but we’ll just celebrate this tiny success for now…

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Beautiful view on my walk home

As the first week of classes comes to an end, I can only look back and smile about what has happened this week. In just a matter of a few days, I have visited the Umbrian countryside, learned to navigate the bus system, made my way through an Italian grocery store, and accidentally purchased (and used) bath soap that I thought was lotion. So far, no complaints— except, I still keep getting lost trying to find the Colosseum!! That’ll be next week’s mission. But for now, I am content, and remembering to be still and celebrate.

Roman Holiday

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As Temple University’s President Theobald once said, “Temple Owls take charge of every opportunity,” and this statement has really resonated with me through my commitment to study abroad in Rome. I will admit, I am unsure of my future and am often indecisive. Coming into college, I did not know my major, but I knew one thing: I wanted to study abroad. Without a doubt in my mind, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to broaden my educational and personal experiences in a foreign land.

To travel is to seek an opportunity that is diverse from our daily lives; travel allows the ability to broaden the mind through connecting with different cultures, history and people. Although most of Temple Study Abroad locations are incredibly tempting to pursue, Rome has always been on the top of my travel list. I am intrigued by the beautiful architecture and historic monuments, the seamlessly flowing language and of course the fantastic food. As you will see, food is often my main motive. But besides for the delicious pasta and gelato I will be enjoying, I love the laid back culture of Italy and look forward to having the local Romans help me with my not so flawless attempt at the Italian language.

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Books to help prepare me for my time in Rome

In my preparation for my Rome study abroad experience, I have read the Rome Temple U blog and made notes of places to visit, where to eat and culture differences that I will encounter. I refuse to feel like a tourist during my months abroad! I have been reading books and blogs to help get me acquainted with Italy. I have even completed my first course in the Italian language with a great professor, who intimidated his students the first day when he spoke only Italian until the last ten minutes of the class! I can now describe myself in Italian: Sono espansiva, socievole e allegra. Mi piace ballare e mangiare la pizza. Meaning I am outgoing, sociable and cheerful. I like to dance and eat pizza. I basically know the essentials such as asking for directions or ordering wine.

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Photo taken in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia

I have brushed up on my photography skills, using Philadelphia as my backdrop as I anticipate all the gorgeous sites I will try to capture with my camera in Rome. I have signed up for a course in photography that I cannot wait for, with Rome as my subject it will be nearly impossible to take a bad photo! I even went on a wine tour to better understand the process of creating wine and how to properly appreciate the beverage. Perhaps owning an Italian winery will be in my future.

With all my preparation and excitement for my semester in Rome, it is hard to feel nervous with so much joy for my adventure. The next few months will be a journey of a lifetime for all students participating and I am incredibly happy to share my study abroad experience with all on Temple U Rome blog. Ciao for now!

Thoughts Before Rome

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When I was in sixth grade, I started taking Latin. I had this Latin teacher named Ms. Lacy. She was cooky, spontaneous, and fun, and I loved her. Ms. Lacy had no greater love than Latin language and culture, and she made sure we knew of and understood that love. Since 6th grade, ‘Rome’ has been built up in my head as this sort of ‘fantasy world.’ The whole concept of the Roman Empire seemed like something only a great storyteller could conjure–but Rome, and everything it represents, is very much real. Since 6th grade, I have wanted nothing more than to see this fantasy world in person. It’s now nine years later, and the moment is finally here.

Over the past 9 years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time and taken a fair amount of classes that have been dedicated to studying the old, or Ancient Rome; but now, I’m feeling the need to move forward into the present (and I am about to!). What became of my beloved city? What happened after the Eastern Roman Empire fell in 1453? I can’t wait to be in Rome, and when I’m there, I hope to use a combination of the old and the new in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of Rome’s history. Rome is a city whose history knows no bounds, and I can think of no better place where the academics are enhanced by being onsite. Visits to ruins and old sites will allow me to appreciate the history that serves as the foundation of the city, but then living, breathing, and experiencing present day, cosmopolitan culture will allow me to see what Rome has become. I truly believe that in order to move forward, we must learn from our past, and Rome, I believe, is the perfect place to do just that.
While there is so much to be excited for, this is also a time where I can feel all my nervous energy circling around. I am about to step into a complete unknown, and as someone who likes to micro-manage and always know what is coming next, I cannot predict what is ahead, and that scares me. However, while abroad, I think that the biggest personal goal I have for myself is to learn that ‘it’s okay to not have it all together.’ One of the biggest things I struggle with is hating the feeling of being an outsider, or that I’m not 100% on top of things. For example, when I toured colleges, I would wear a backpack and purposefully stand away from my tour group, so that I’d look like a student at the college–it was ridiculous! As an African-American girl, I know already that I will naturally stand out, and my skin color, hair, etc, will be an automatic giveaway that I am an ‘outsider’ of some sort. Who I am is something I cannot change, and I need to learn how to be okay and comfortable with that.

It may seem silly or over-simplified, but I think one of my personal mantras for my time abroad will be “And that is okay.” Because it is, it is okay. I truly believe that everything always works out for the best, and we are exactly where we are supposed to be, no matter how temporarily challenging/awkward/scary it may be. Bring it on, Rome- I’m ready for you!!

Why We All Need To Take A Moment And Appreciate What We Have

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At some point we all forget that the world does not in fact revolve around us. I think focusing on ourselves and being selfish, to some extent, is very necessary at times. But the hardest part of being selfish without feeling bad about it is knowing when we can and when we cannot only worry about ourselves. Unfortunately, I am not about to give you a fool proof formula or a step by step manual on how to be selfish without being too selfish. What I am going to advise though, is to not worry about ourselves or worry about how often we talk about ourselves, but worry instead about what we have and how we can be thankful for it all.

If we are being honest, at this point in our lives we generally get the privilege of knowing it could be worse. I am not trying to equate all of our life’s experiences and possessions, but when I am equating is how crucial it is to be thankful for everything we do have. This concept really started to hit home with me when Paris was attacked on November 13. I am not educated enough or brave enough quite frankly to talk about this topic given how often such topics become controversial, offend others. etc.; but I am interested in saying how it impacted my current perspective about being abroad.

When I first heard of the attacks I was in Greve with friends, drinking wine and having dinner. My dad had texted me about them, ensuring my safety and informing me that he had yet to hear from my uncles who live in Paris. Immediately, my current privilege slapped me in the face. Here I was drinking wine and thinking of nothing other than myself and my friends, and the world was in crisis.

I tried to think back to when I last spoke to my uncle, to when I last thanked my parents for always keeping in touch, to when I last did anything that wasn’t solely focused on me, and I couldn’t think of anything. Trying to make sense of everything that had seemed to happen with a single text from my dad was nearly impossible. All I wanted to do was thank everyone in my life for being in my life. I am not sure what the Paris attacks should have made me feel, and to this day I still do not know how to summarize my feelings into words, but I do know that I will never take for granted the people in my life or the things I have in life.

IMG_1829.JPG.jpegWe have so much more privilege than we know what to do with. We need to take time and think about what we have and how we can take advantage of it. Thank those you love and those who have helped you get to where you are today. Keep doing you, but don’t forget to be thankful that you get to keep doing you.