Schoolwork and Adjustments

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As my 3rd week comes to a close, it’s tough not to reflect on the time I’ve spent in Rome up to this point. Since my program is only 4 weeks, a lot of work and experiences are condensed into a short amount of time, and considering this is the first year of implementation, many aspects are experimental. However, with proper planning and determination, any time of adjustment can be made easier.

My class, Honors Mosaics II, typically meets in the classroom for a few hours once a week (Wednesday) for in-class discussions on our texts. We generally read one book or major text per week and write notes and discussion posts about them. Furthermore, on Tuesday and Thursday, the whole class goes to a unique site in Rome which pertains to the text for that week. For instance, we visited The Vatican this past week in anticipation of reading Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, which we then discussed in class this past Wednesday. In this way, not only do we get to delve deep into the locations and texts, but we also get to explore every major part of Rome as a class, with all entrance fees and transportation passes included in the course fee. As a result, I get ample time on the weekends to travel outside of Rome to other Italian cities. Having visited Florence, Pisa, Milan, and Venice with my parents when they visited this past weekend, I certainly packed in a lot into a short amount of time. Nonetheless, the experience of touring all over the northern half of the country was amazing, and I even got to incorporate my travels in my class discussions!

As with any new place, there is a certain level of adjustment one needs to make to attain comfort. In Rome (and Italy in general), it is common for many stores and residences to not have A/C, so I find myself having to increasingly get by with fans. I did anticipate this, however, and prepared by living at home with no A/C the month before I flew in. What I had not anticipated as much, however, was how much I would have to plan for water. Since water isn’t free here, and in fact can be quite expensive at a restaurant or cafe, I find myself carrying a full water bottle with me everywhere I go. Thankfully, Temple Rome has a great water fountain in the building, and there are public fountains with clean water located all over the city. Surprisingly enough, the language adjustment – which many think to be the biggest one – was one I didn’t have much trouble with, partially because of my background in Spanish. While I don’t speak Italian well at all, Google Translate has helped in my endeavors to learn. In a pinch, I can use it to look up a phrase or ask a question, and as such I’ve quickly learned the most essential phrases (ex. where is, how much, how long).  It even gives me the option to save the Italian language offline for translations when I don’t have service! Of course, Google Maps has helped me tremendously as well, as it provides all necessary transit directions in every Italian city, and can also be saved offline.

As I approach my final week, there’s a strange bittersweet feeling slowly creeping into me. I’m definitely at a point where I miss being home in my familiar surroundings, but at the same time the reality that I’ll have to leave the wondrous adventure that is Rome is certainly disappointing. Fortunately, it’s nothing a good cup of gelato can’t solve! Our class this week will have visited the mysterious Catacombs of Callixtus, as well as the beautiful Museum of Villa Borghese. I’ll also be flying to Sicily this weekend with my roommate as well as visiting Bologna, so I still have some adventure ahead of me!

Journeys In and Outside the City

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In the short period of time I have in Rome, every event seems like it was forever ago, even though it may only have been a day or two. Every moment is a new memory, and every day is another adventure to be had. I’ve learned so much already about the culture, the people, and especially the food here that every new day excites me!

For our class’ first two field trips, we did a walking tour of the main historic center including the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain, followed by The Colosseum and Roman Forum. The Pantheon in particular is quite a marvelous sight. It’s one of the few monuments offering free entry in the city, and features the largest concrete dome in the world. All of the attractions were an amazing lesson in culture and history which predates most modern civilizations. One of the wonders of Rome is how well preserved many of the 2000+ year old buildings are, and it truly came through on our walks with the class.

After having had my first gelato in Rome 2 weeks ago at La Gelateria Romana (absolutely amazing by the way), I’ve tried so many new foods here. One of the best things this city does is Aperitivo, which loosely translates to appetizer, but it is much more than that. All you do is buy a drink which ranges from 6-10 Euro, and you get to enjoy an unlimited buffet of pizza, pasta, bread, and various sweets. Moreover, there’s many small bakeries and sandwich shops where you can get a Panino (sandwich) with anything you want for less than 3 Euros (there’s a fantastic one less than 2 blocks from campus)! Interestingly enough, the city is filled with halal eateries, mostly called “Istanbul Kebab,” which offer items similar to the halal trucks on Temple’s campus, so my cravings are never unfulfilled.

No study abroad program to Rome can be complete without travel around one of the world’s most beautiful countries, Italy. My roommate, Mike, and our friend Nikhil, embarked on a Journey to Naples this past Friday. There, we explored the magnificent cathedrals of Naples and toured the mysterious Galleria Barbonica. Nothing however, could beat the experience of eating at the number 1 rated pizzeria in the world, Da Michele. For just 4.50 Euros, we each got a massive pie, which was absolutely amazing. The following morning we visited Mt. Vesuvius, as well as the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, all by train and bus. We capped off our trip to the south on Sunday with a visit to the Amalfi Coast by bus and boat, an unforgettable experience with scenic views out of this world. Then the next day we took a train to the medieval Tuscan town of Siena. It was nothing at all like Rome or Naples. There is an old, rustic feel to the town that really made it seemed trapped in the 15th century, and I felt a sense of calm as I walked down the narrow alleyways which were devoid of throngs of tourists.

I’ve realized so far that sleep is a secondary concern of mine on this trip. There is so much to see and do and time is such a luxury. My parents are actually visiting Italy right now so I am looking forward to this upcoming weekend with them. We shall be visiting Florence, Pisa, Milan, and Venice along with Rome so there will be lots to cover!

Exciting Beginnings

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As my first week in Rome comes to an end, there is already so much I have seen and done. From archaeological ruins, to historic buildings, to the most delicious gelato I’ve ever had, the first week was definitely filled with adventure and new experiences. Even though there is a slight culture shock, on every street corner there is something to be discovered, as everything is brand new! I’ll make a list of the things I’ve learned and experienced while I’ve been here so far, as well as the things one might want to do during their first week in either Rome or any new location.

Bring an appropriate debit/credit card
People don’t realize this early enough but exchanging money at the airport/your local bank causes you to lose a lot in transaction fees. The best way to save on conversions is to get a debit card with no foreign transaction fees and no foreign ATM fees, because you never lose money withdrawing Euros at an ATM. I personally got the Capital One 360 debit card, but if you search around you’ll find even better ones. Alternatively, you can opt for a credit card that doesn’t charge transaction fees either. Regardless, do this at least 3 weeks before you travel to ensure the card comes on time.

Take random walks
On my first day, I went and walked around Termini, the central train station, and found throngs of Halal pizzerias where I had my first Italian margherita pizza for only €6, and it was both filling and delicious! Afterwards, I went in search of the Temple Rome campus so that I could find it easier the next morning for orientation, and I chanced upon the Coca Cola Summer Festival in the Piazza del Popolo just 10 minutes from campus. There were thousands of people packed into the square and the atmosphere was amazing. After this experience I tried taking random, spontaneous walks as much as I could to find any hidden gems in the city, like an amazing bakery or a monument I might not have heard about from class.

Balance between spontaneity and careful planning
My spontaneous adventures in Rome with my new-found friends and roommate have been amazing. On one trip, I decided to visit a bakery in the southern part of the city outside the Piramide metro stop, and chanced upon the amazing Porta San Paolo castle! On another, me and some friends decided within an hour to visit Santa Severa beach just outside the city and had a fantastic time there with little planning. Nevertheless, what CAN be planned in advance, definitely should. With regards to Italy, anything requiring long distance travel outside Rome to other major cities (and especially flights to anywhere) should be planned at least a month in advance. My roommate and I were able to save hundreds of Euros by getting “Super Economy” tickets on all our train trips to the major Italian cities well in advance, as well as by booking the cheapest RyanAir flights we could to Sicily.

Proactively try and speak the language
In every store I visit, I do my best to converse with the employee in Italian. The Google Translate app is amazing as it stores the Italian dictionary offline so I can even use it with a poor connection. Not only does it help develop my language skills so that I use the translator less and less, but it also brings out a level of appreciation from the employees because they can see my effort. In fact, at the Santa Severa beach, one restaurant worker was so pleased with my attempts at Italian that he gave me two free shower tokens! A little bit of linguistic certainly has gone a long way in my readjustment to this beautiful new region.

My next adventure will take me to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, and in the coming week, The Colosseum and Vatican with my Mosaics 2 class. I am thrilled to continue trying new things and having amazing experiences!

Standing on a bridge on the brink of the Tiber river, minutes from the Temple Rome campus.

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Piazza del Popolo on the night of the Coca Cola Summer Festival

 

“Può parlare più lentamente?” Anzaldúa, Cultural Sensitivity, and My Awful Italian.

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Before coming to Italy, I spent a few days in Paris– partly because I found an unbelievable fare from XLAirways, but mostly because when life offers you the chance to go to Paris, why not? Always go to Paris. And before I begin reflecting upon A Moveable Feast or marveling the joie de vivre of Paris (because I could and would do just that), let’s focus on one of the most critical reasons people decide to study abroad.

 

Upon arrival, even in my beleaguered post-transatlantic state, I was able to comprehend the language. Luckily my interactions between Charles de Gaulle and the hotel involved very little communication, but I was still able to follow directions, find the hotel’s location, and check myself in. (I’d like to extend a sincere merci beaucoup to all my French teachers from 7th grade up until undergrad for making that unbearable post-transatlantic flight experience as short as possible.) Within the few short days that I was in Paris, I found the language returning to me. Suddenly I could not just ask for coffee, but request cream and sugar. I could watch the news and know to avoid the 7th Arrondissement because of the protests happening there that afternoon. I could explain Wichita’s location when the bartender asked where I was from. The anxiety I experienced prior to this trip regarding the language barrier seemed less opposing as I gained more confidence as a long-dormant Francophone. Furthermore, after working in the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Kensington, Philadelphia for 5+ years, I had an elementary grasp on Spanish.  “How hard could Italian be?” I asked myself. It’s just another Romance language. I’ll pick it up in no time. It won’t be hard at all.

 

20 minutes after landing in Pisa, I learned precisely how hard Italian could be. My idealism dismantled itself pretty quickly as I struggled to request a passport stamp (a requirement for TU) from the customs office of a small regional airport. I eventually gave up. In my last post, I wrote about Culture Shock– and one of the leading factors for people to become disoriented with their surroundings is the language barrier. You can prepare extensively to live in a non-English speaking country with classes, guidebooks, youtube tutorials, but nothing truly prepares you until you find yourself staring at a door wondering if “solo dipendenti” means bathroom or something else. (FYI: it’s something else.)

 

I wonder what my mental state would be like if my classes were being instructed in Italian. Luckily for me, my class is offered in English– which means that my use of the Italian language is significantly decreased. My day begins with my class, my afternoon revolves between reading in English and visiting sites that are nearly always welcoming to American tourists or have ample signs in English, and my day ends with watching a show in English over Netflix. Very little of the  Italian language factors into my day-to-day routine. With less of a language barrier, I find there is significantly less frustration.

 

Except, of course, I am frustrated with myself. Earlier this year, I read the amazing Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa and I keep finding myself guilty of what Anzaldúa calls “linguistic terrorism.” In Borderlands, Anzaldúa argues that language is one of the foundations of our identity. In assuming that everyone who can speak English should speak English just because my Italian is pitiful, I am imposing my linguistic identity upon another. By not speaking Italian, I am declaring my language and my culture as superior. And how awful is that?

 

As study abroad students, we are guests to this country; we have a diplomatic obligation to be active participants of the Italian language, and to a greater extent, Italian culture. Yes, it’s easier to take a passive role and rely on the fact that the majority of Italians, beginning in grade school, are educated in English, but it’s also imperialistic and xenophobic. So even though my class is offered in English, and even though it’s only 4 weeks long, and even though I am discouraged by  blank stares or apparent confusion when I try to converse with the people in my neighborhood, I continue to pursue Italian. I carry a little notebook filled with the common words and phrases I pick up throughout my time here, I watch youtube tutorials such as this one, and every couple of days I have “Ora Italiana” where I try to only speak in Italian for an entire hour.
To be transparent, I must admit that 9 out of 10 conversations with Italians shift back to English. What can I say? I tried. I try. Despite this, I encourage anyone who plans to come here, whether through a study abroad program or through your own endeavors, to actively participate in the language. Is it scary at first? Will you make mistakes? Will you confuse yourself and others? Yes. Yes. Probably yes. However, you will find, it becomes significantly less daunting the more you partake in it.

A Final Evening In Trastevere

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It has been a bittersweet week. My parents have arrived in Rome, the semester has ended, and the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. As I have shown my parents the many areas of Rome I have come to love, it has been strange to think just six weeks ago these places were new to me. While it has been incredible to share these experiences with my parents, it was strange to think these were last times I would see these places during my study abroad program.

I had to finish the last night of the semester with a large Italian meal. I took my family to what has been my favorite restaurant in Rome, Hosteria del Moro de Tony, or Tony’s as we have come to refer it. It is located in the section of Rome called Trastevere, known for its restaurants. As I mentioned earlier in my blog, for just 20 euros a person this restaurant serves four incredible courses. The table was overflowing with antipastas like bruschetta and calamari, pastas, chicken parmesan, and tiramisu. Our only complaint was that our stomachs filled up far too fast.

In traditional Italian style, we took our time with our meal, enjoying the food and company. Eventually we left to walk the streets of Trastevere. Even on a Thursday night, the streets were crowded with people going to and from dinner or exploring the shops. Trastevere is located on the Tiber River and when our walk took us across a bridge we noticed a long row of tents along the river beneath us.

This was not here at the beginning of my trip. I was amazed to discover how extensive this seasonal market was. On and on down the river bank were restaurants, bars, stores, and even live music. The warm Rome night provided the perfect atmosphere to stroll along and stop anywhere we found interesting. Unfortunately, all nights must come to an end and we took a taxi back for my last night in the Residence.

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The next morning I awoke to find the UK voted to leave the EU. After spending six weeks studying this, I became immersed in the news. I was impressed with myself how much of the jargon I now knew from my class. Terms like Article 7 or references to people like Jean-Claude Junker now made perfect sense to me. I was disappointed in the uncertainty the vote cast upon the EU. As my professor, Dr. Pollack, put it, it was a surreal morning for EU scholars. However, I am excited to see how everything will unfold.

It was also a morning of many goodbyes. I said goodbye to the room that had become my home away from home and my roommates and friends I had made on this trip. I spent one last day in Rome with my parents. However, I am not saying goodbye to Rome. Instead, until next time because there will definitely be a next time.

Creative Ways to Save Money for Your Trip

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Having committed to the Rome 4 Week Mosaic II, my excitement to travel is through the roof. However, there are some items which cause less excitement in the travelling department, and the topic of money is probably the biggest one. Temple’s Study Abroad website and office are by far the two most fantastic sources to learn how to fund a study abroad experience. Nevertheless, as someone who has been going through the process of finding the appropriate funds, I believe my personal experience can be of help to many looking to study abroad. I have, thus, compiled a list of the strategies I have used, am using, and will continue to use to finance my program to the best of my abilities myself. Of course, the Study Abroad Office has a girth of information on scholarships and grants to fund a study abroad program, but this list goes into other, perhaps uncommon options to save money. Without further ado, here are a list of things you can do to help make financing your program easier:

Take Advantage of Airline Miles/Reward Programs
My parents were excited about my desire to study abroad, but made it clear from the start that they would fund very little of it. Nevertheless, due to his need to travel for work, my dad has points on some airlines which helped me cut down on the cost of my flight. Moreover, I myself signed up for my airline’s reward program (I am flying American Airlines direct to Rome from JFK, and the signup was free!) and as a result got many great offers on flights throughout the weeks leading up to me receiving my program acceptance letter. I ended up saving hundreds of dollars on comparable flights because only a few days after signing up for the rewards program, thanks to an email which notified me the price on the flight I wanted was reduced by almost $200!

Don’t Limit Yourself to One Airport
As I mentioned previously, I am flying to Rome from JFK, which is in New York City. I am originally from Washington, DC so I have an extra 4 hour drive built into my itinerary. Needless to say, the money I saved by choosing to fly from New York vs. DC was high enough to warrant a few extra hours of driving. Be open to checking all airports in your area, even if it’s a few hundred miles away because you could end up saving a lot of money!

Cut Down on Unnecessary Expenses
As obvious of an option this seems, many people do not go about cutting down early enough, or in the right way. This could be cutting down on anything, from going out to parties or even the type of food you eat. I personally eat out for 5-7 meals per week while I am at school. Ever since I got accepted to my program, I cut that back to 3 meals per week, which is saving me on average $20/week. That equates to $80/month, or almost $500 leading up to my study abroad program, which is no small sum of money. One could easily use that cash to go on a trip to various parts of the country they’re visiting (personally, I plan on going to Sicily and the Amalfi Coast using the money I’ve saved up the last few months).

Sign Up for an Appropriate Phone Plan in Advance
My friends who have gone abroad have all had access to the data on their cellphones to help them navigate the foreign country. However, none of them got their international plans until they arrived in their host country, and realized their dire need of a phone with map and translation service. As such, they got enormous overcharge fees. If you know you will be going abroad, contact your cellphone provider immediately to see what international plans they have, and get the appropriate one for you. You’ll save potentially hundreds in the long run the earlier you do this research and sign up for something. Ideally, you’ll want to have a plan that allows at least 1-2GB of data for any directions or translations, and cheap texts that are under $0.30/text.

Watch Currency Rates and Notify Your Bank
You don’t want to ever lose big when converting currency. Watch and keep track of how the rates are fluctuating and make sure that when you convert your currencies, it is not at a time when the exchange rate is unfavorable. Moreover, visiting your bank can often save you big time as compared to exchanging money at the airport. Do your research well in advance, and make sure to check your bank’s policy on using your credit/debit card abroad (many banks don’t have an exchange fee when using your card abroad).

My flight is just days away and the time can’t pass quickly enough! I hope these tips help anybody who’s planning on going abroad soon. Even if your flight is coming up (like mine is), you can easily implement some of the aforementioned practices to continue saving money on your study abroad experience.

See you all in Rome!

Keshav Mantha, Rome Summer 16

 

Day at the Colosseum

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After spending a day last week like a Roman, it only made sense to balance it out with a day like a tourist. Last Saturday I finally made it to the Colosseum. Although I had seen it from the outside several times on this trip, I had yet to make it inside. It is certainly spectacular from the outside, but it is absolutely breathtaking inside.

Of course my friend Andrew is almost always late and this has not changed in Italy. Once I had made it to the Colosseum and learned he was still half an hour away, I began looking for lunch. Despite this being a day spent like a tourist, I was not ready to sacrifice the delicious cafés I have grown accustomed to for the crowded tourist areas around the Colosseum.  With a quick Google search I found a sandwich shop a short walk from the Colosseum. Once again, I was amazed at how fresh and crisp the sandwich was.

I then returned to the Colosseum and finally met up with Andrew and his family friend, Luigi, to go inside. Because of the surprisingly low price of admission we decided to splurge and also buy the audio tour. We climbed the steps up to the second level and I was immediately blown away. It is difficult to describe in words what is like to be in a structure that massive and ancient. I strongly recommend the audio guide as it provides information I never would have learned otherwise. For example, many of the missing areas were taken throughout history as building materials for Rome.

The most amazing aspect of this arena is how advanced it was for being so ancient. People received tickets for an assigned, numbered seat, just like sporting events today. Senators have their names carved into their seats. Even better than sporting events today, the entire arena was designed to be filled or emptied in only fifteen minutes. The most obvious aspect of how it advanced it was is the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the arena, used to house the animals and keep the games running smoothly.

The Colosseum was certainly the highlight of the week, but there were also other fun moments. Monday evening my roommates and I had a great experience with Italy’s famous many course dinner. For just 20 Euros a person, we got drinks and more plates of food then we could count. There was calamari, bruschetta, Chicken Parmesan, fried vegetables, tiramisu, and some plates we could not even recognize. All of it was delicious and I hope to go to more before the trip ends. It is hard to believe next week is the last week of classes. Of course, in some respects I am almost ready to go home, but I still have plenty to do here in Rome.

Living like the Romans

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Coming to Rome for six weeks as student has been a unique blend of being a tourist and living like an Italian. Of course there are days when we embrace being tourists and wait in line to see places like the Colosseum. Today, however, felt like the perfect example of living in Rome like an Italian, rather than experiencing it like a tourist.

My day started out by joining the rest of the commuters on the metro. It is hard to imagine that it was only a couple weeks ago I struggled to figure out how to buy a ticket and which stop was mine. Now I speed through the entrance with my monthly pass and head to my platform without even glancing at a map. I am definitely not a morning person and mastering the metro has made my morning a breeze. I even get to Temple with enough time to get an espresso.

Spending a day more like a resident than a tourist is great at removing assumptions. Most places I have eaten lunch at have catered to tourists with typical foods people associate with Rome, like pizza and pasta. Today, on the other hand, we went to a restaurant much more for Italians. It was away from major landmarks and tucked away between office buildings on the way from Temple Rome to Piazza del Popolo. Here the employees did not speak English and I managed enough Italian to order a delicious pork sandwich with a pepper sauce.

Even my afternoon was not spent searching for a certain monument, but running errands with my friend, Andrew. He had recently warn his shoes out and needed new ones. Like other Italians, we spent our afternoon wandering down Via del Corso, a street perfect for casual shopping. Suddenly, it was just like a day in Philadelphia, but with unique twists. Rather than the malls I am used to, these stores run along a cobble stone street and alternate with ancient temples.

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After browsing through several stores, Andrew found a pair he liked. Just like the sandwiches, we were pleasantly surprised once more. Instead of the unfriendly employees we were expecting, they were eager to bring Andrew any size he needed and make sure he was happy with the pair he chose. Content with his purchase, we continued to enjoy our afternoon strolling around this historic section of Rome. Of course, the day would not be complete without gelato. Having found a gelateria on one of the many side streets, we ate in front of the Spanish steps before heading back to the residence on the metro.

A Smidge of Culture Shock

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I did not think that I would be writing a post on culture shock and homesickness. Firstly, the graduate seminar is just under five weeks in duration–there are Groupon vacations that last longer than this. Secondly, I hate to keep the “I’m OLD” repeated motif going, but I definitely thought of myself as a seasoned traveler, able to handle herself abroad. Wichita State, my home university, even required all students studying abroad this summer to attend a lecture exclusively on Culture Shock; but in my hubris, I didn’t pay much attention. And when I arrived in Rome, I couldn’t believe how anyone could have a negative emotion in this wonderland.

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But, as fortune would have it, sometime in the last week, I procured a pretty nasty head cold. What started out as mere allergies (1) probably progressed into a sinus infection, which led to a full blown assault on my immune system. I tried my best to ignore it for all the right reasons: I’m only in Italy for a short time, and my class was going to Florence to study the works at the acclaimed Uffizi Gallery, and how often do you get to spend the day in Tuscany? But the body has a way of getting its way in the long run. After a day of hacking, endless sniffles, and the dull but continuous ache of a low grade fever, I decided dismally to not extend my stay in Firenze. Even though I wanted to explore the Duomo, and the Pitti Palace, and sample Ribolitta, and eat Pizza with my classmates, I was sick and miserable.

On the train ride home, I got to watch the Tuscan sunset. As lovely as that sounds, I found myself overwrought with guilt, because, despite the beauty and grandeur I was witnessing as the train traversed through the rolling hills, at that particular moment, I wanted to not be on this train, but in my car, heading back from a CVS, to my home, thousands of miles away. All at once I realized that I was knee-deep in Culture Shock, which is described as the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life. It is a peculiar feeling, to be simultaneously in awe of Rome’s essence as well as frustrated by the complexities of it; to be grateful for the experience of getting to walk along the Tiber each morning and yet, at the same time, panic-stricken by the idea of just crossing the street.

It’s important to acknowledge Culture Shock when it strikes. Additionally, as I have learned from my most recent bout, it’s probably best to anticipate its arrival. Even the most worldly know that the information overload of living in a new place is a monumentally big deal. The language barrier, too, should not be dismissed. You’re not culturally insensitive or ungrateful for feeling pangs of homesickness. And, it should be also noted that the frustration of Culture Shock is typically fleeting. For me, I needed an OTC cold medication, a good night’s sleep, and a call to my mom; not long after, I was back to strolling along the Vatican’s cobbled streets, taking in the omnipotent scent of honeysuckle, declaring my love once again for this city.
Happy Via Cipro

  1. It should be noted that if you are interested in studying abroad in Rome, you should begin stockpiling Benadryl and other OTC allergy medications now. You will never have enough.

Tiramisu Night

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It is hard to believe I am at the halfway point in the semester. Highlights from this week include catacombs, mausoleums, a day trip to Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este, and a weekend trip to Florence. My week would not be complete, however, without dessert. Last night Temple University hosted a Tiramisu night, with the help of Gianni and several faculty. This was a chance for me to learn how to make a classic Italian dessert I have had many times.

Tiramisu night was not just a baking lesson, but a competition complete with judges and a pizza party prize. With a program as large as Temple’s, it is not easy to meet everyone in three weeks. This means that when we were placed into eight random teams, it was inevitable some team members would not know each other. With the charismatic Gianni as host, though, this did not matter.

With the exception of one member of my team, none of us had ever made this dish before. Even the Temple faculty member helping our team had limited experience with Tiramisu. The clock was ticking and we quickly divided into two groups. My group made the batter for the lady fingers, while the other made the cream filling for the layers. We were given basic directions, but the competitive nature of this forced us to get creative and think outside the box.

As Gianni spoke encouragement into a microphone, the noise in the room grew with excitement and tension. The recipe quickly became mere guidelines as my group went from strangers to teammates struggling to figure out the perfect mixture of coffee with a small splash of wine. First our coffee was far too weak, but we then went too far and decided to balance it out with sugar. Finally, we felt confident in our mixture just as the other half finished the cream mixture for the layers.

At this point we were a well-oiled machine, dipping and layering lady fingers in rapid succession as Gianni warned us to finish up. Of course, presentation is a large part of winning this competition. We finished off our dish with a cinnamon layer in the shape of Italy with crumbled lady fingers as the Mediterranean. Traditionally, tiramisu is then refrigerated for several hours, but for our purposes we only had twenty minutes.

In these twenty minutes, a mini-competition took place in which we had to name as many dishes as possible from a scene of Eat, Pray, Love. Immediately, the team crowded around a piece of paper and frantically whispered the plethora of dishes we saw. Both unfortunately and fortunately, I learned there are plenty of Italian dishes I still need to try. Although we lost the competition, we still felt hope for the tiramisu.

Following a gameshow like presentation of each team’s dish, the excitement in the room was growing as the judges began tasting each dish and whispering to each other. Despite our high hopes and creativity, another team managed to make a better dish (or so the judges say). It may have hurt our pride and a pizza party sounded wonderful, but I was still grateful for the new dessert dish I could make and the friends I made on that team. I went on this program to learn more about Italy and its place in the EU, but between staying in the Residence and programs Temple provides, it has been incredible finding people to share this experience with.

Tiramisu night