Viva il Vino!

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Don’t get me wrong, I chose to study abroad in Rome for all the right reasons: I wanted to ride a vespa, eat my weight in gelato, and become Lizzie McGuire. Having said that, there have definitely been some perks that I didn’t initially factor into my location choice. I’ve fallen in love with the language, the people are overwhelmingly friendly, and the city is really just gorgeous. (Fun and completely true aside: On more than one occasion someone has said to me, “You’re a Religion major studying in Rome? You know the Pope lives like right there, right?!” For the record, that one wasn’t a coincidence.) Anyway, one of the biggest cultural differences that I hadn’t anticipated was Italy’s connection to wine.

When I told people last semester that I would be studying in Rome, one of the most common pieces of advice I got was to get nice wine. “You can get good wine for so cheap in Italy,” they said. “It’s worth it to spend a few more euro in order to get a nice bottle,” they said. So naturally, I’ve been buying whatever’s on sale at the grocery store, because a) I spend all my extra money on pastries, and b) I don’t know the first thing about wine.

Roberta, our sommelier

Roberta, our sommelier

Luckily, this week Temple ran a wine tasting program, bringing in a professional sommelier to teach us all we could ever want to know about wine. She started by showing us how wine is made, explaining the difference between the production of red, white, and sparkling wines, and teaching us about the proper glasses for each type. Along the way I learned that I’ve been using the word “champagne” incorrectly for my entire life; apparently champagne technically only refers to bubbly wines produced in the Champagne region of France, and everything else is really just sparkling wine (or vino spumante, in Italy). In other words, if you’re ever looking to come off as really pretentious, that’s a great fun fact to pull out at parties.

Then we got to matching wine and food, for which there are two approaches: accordance and opposition. The first strategy, simply put, consists of matching the intensity of the flavors in your wine and your food. That basically boils down to the concept of pairing a flavorful meat with a heavy red wine, as opposed to a blander fish with a lighter white wine. The contrasting approach has more to do with offsetting flavors to create a rounded experience. Salty foods, for example, should be paired with either a sweeter wine or a wine with a higher alcohol content, while fatty food goes better with a bubbly or acidic wine.

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Wine Connoisseurs

Finally, we got to the actual tasting. We were instructed to hold the wine glass by the stem, never the chalice, so as not to accidentally heat up the wine past its intended temperature, and to smell the wine before drinking it (I’m honestly not sure what the point of this is, other than shaming your friends for not being as in-the-know about proper wine drinking etiquette as you are). We tried three different wines—a sparkling, a white, and a red—according to the correct sequence of wine drinking, which is white to red, lowest alcohol content to highest, and youngest to oldest.

Moral of the story: drinking wine is complicated, but rewarding. Also, 12-euro bottles taste a lot better than 1-euro boxed wine.

Being Sick (and Homesick) in Rome

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As I have found out, being sick in Italy is not fun. Constantly reaching for tissues, coughing up a lung and going from an arctic tundra to a sauna is less than enjoyable. The one nice thing about being sick in Italy is that there are ways to fix it. They have amazing pharmacies where you can go in, describe your symptoms, and they can give you the cure, all without a prescription. Stuffy nose? Yeah, they can fix that. Migraines? I’m sure they have some Tylenol. Deep cough? They have cough syrup. Missing chatting with my mom? Wanting to laugh with my old friends? Craving chicken tenders from Richie’s? Sadly, they don’t have the cure for those.

Symptoms of various illnesses are typically the same for most individuals. The common cold has a stuffy or runny nose, cough, sore throat and maybe a low grade fever, while people with the flu typically suffer from body aches, high fevers, fatigue and body chills. Unlike a cold or the flu, homesickness is different for each and every person.

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I Did Not Listen to Too Many Sad Songs, But I Sure Did Eat Pasta

Coming into this trip, I expected to get homesick roughly around week four or five. A huge wave of sadness would come over me where I binge eat pasta and cry to sad songs. Contrary to what I expected, my homesickness was not a slap in the face of emotions and longing for the familiar. It is more like this dull, constant hum in the back of my head. When all is quiet around me, it is easy to focus on this hum. I think of home-cooked dinners with my grandma, playing cards with my dad, watching TLC with my best friends, and playing with my nieces and nephews.

A lot of the time, the hum of homesickness is easy to ignore. Between the Italian phrases I need to memorize, directions that I have to remember, and trips that I need to plan, my mind is preoccupied with a lot of other noises. While the amount of things going on around me may be a little overwhelming, it is helpful to stay busy.

This brings me to the four best treatments of homesickness (I say treatments because I do not really believe there is a true cure):

Stay busy: There is so much to do in Rome; try new foods, meet new people, take a walk around Flamino, study for a class, read a book, go to the movies, take the metro to a place that you have never been, go to a museum, etc. The options are practically endless.

Talk about it: One of the biggest mistakes that I made in the beginning was trying to act like I was not homesick. I did not want the people that I just met to think that I was whiny or too emotional. The funny part is that they were homesick too, but until one person was confident to talk about it, nobody wanted to say anything about it. We all took refuge in each others’ stories of our loved ones at home, and the things we miss about the U.S.

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Group Hugs Always Help

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A Care Package From My Mom With All of My Favorite Treats… And a Pillow

Reach out to those you miss: Wanting my family and friends at home to think that I was independent enough to get through this experience on my own, I did not talk to them about how much I have missed them in these past few weeks; however, I soon came to realize that plan was not going as well as I thought it would, so I reached out. After talking to everyone at home, I felt revived and content. There might be an ocean between me and the ones that I love, but they are only one message away.

Eat Gelato: Just do it. I promise that it helps.

While I hate to admit it, it is true: I have been homesick while in Rome. Luckily, I realize that it is not the end of the world because treating homesickness is completely under my control. I have great people in my life that I am able to talk to about it, and there are plenty of things to do in Italy to keep me busy. Most importantly, I am sure Rome will never run out of gelato.

Feeling #blessed

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I think we can all agree that the main reason you would spend a semester in Rome is the opportunity to live out your lifelong dream of becoming Lizzie McGuire. Sadly for me (and all the folks at home living vicariously through me), the Trevi Fountain is under construction, so it’s looking like I’m going to need to find a new focus for the next few months.

Luckily, Lizzie isn’t the only star associated with Rome. Over the past two years Pope Francis has become an international celebrity, making his way out of the strictly religious sphere and into the world of secular news and media. And although the resemblances between me and the clumsy, blonde sitcom star are uncanny, as a Religion major interested in interfaith work, Francis wins for being slightly more relevant to my life.

Anyway, thanks to a professor who believes in incorporating the city of Rome into our courses, I got to see the Holy Father in person this week. As it turns out, the Vatican holds Papal Audiences every Wednesday when the Pope is in Rome as long as it’s not a holy day. Tickets are free and relatively easy to get, assuming you’re not trying to go in a large group—all you have to do is stop by St. Peter’s the day before and pick up your ticket from the (fantastically dressed) Swiss guards.

St. Peter's, not too shabby

St. Peter’s, not too shabby

Pro-tip: show up EARLY. I mean it. Early. The event was called for 10 a.m., and we got there at 8, which was early enough to get us seats about four rows from the front (it’s first come first serve, and the seats behind us filled up quickly). If you don’t make it to the front, try the back or one of the sides of the section. When Francis first comes out in his popemobile he drives around through all the sections (as the crowd cheers like they’re at a Beyoncé concert) and anyone standing at the partition has a chance to get close to him. He also stops every couple minutes along the way to give a quick blessing or kiss a baby, so presumably if you’re looking particularly godless that day you have a shot at talking to him.

The program started with a bible reading, subsequently translated into an impressive assortment of languages—this week’s installment featured Italian, Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Polish, German, and Arabic. Francis then gave a short sermon about the importance of family, namely the power of the parent/child relationship, which he likened to the relationship between man and God. Shout outs to the various groups of visiting pilgrims were sprinkled in throughout the program.

The main man

The main man

The audience concluded with the singing of the Pater Noster (or the Lord’s Prayer, for my fellow non-Christians), which felt kind of comparable to a Christian version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Even as an outsider looking in, it was a powerful experience—the people around me, who had been chatting throughout the service in at least five discernible languages, all joined together to recite the same Latin words, variously accented by the inflections of their native tongues.

Rome is an amazing place to be for its ancient history, but the history being made right now at the Vatican is pretty incredible, too. Regardless of whether or not you’re Catholic, it’s definitely worthwhile to check it out!

Seeing the Bigger Picture

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They say you can take a girl out of the small town, but you cannot take the small town out of the girl. I would say that the saying has some truth to it. I am a small town girl from the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania who enjoys stargazing, hiking, kayaking and walking barefoot through the grass. Oddly enough, I just happened to go to the big city of Philadelphia for college. Keeping with that pattern, I deviated further from my roots and decided to study abroad in Rome.

The city of Rome has so much to offer. It is a bustling place with people from all over the world. There are constantly new people to meet, and different things to explore. I could meander around for endless hours in this beautiful city as I discover ancient ruins, try new foods, attempt to have conversations in Italian and travel to the most popular local flea markets.

While Rome is an amazing place to be, as a small town girl, I felt the need for a break from the crowded streets, noise and cobblestone. I wanted grass, quiet and fresh air, so a couple of my friends and I hopped on a train to Cinque Terre for a weekend: a beautiful compilation of five small, colorful towns along the northwest coast of Italy. Not only did Cinque Terre offer the sweet serenity that I can experience in my hometown, but the five towns were connected by hiking trails that just so happened to have some of the most breathtaking views that I have ever laid my eyes on.

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The never-ending stairs!

During the five hours of hiking, my lungs were screaming for air, my thighs were burning and my heart was racing, but I loved every minute of it. Well, okay, maybe not every minute. It was more of love-hate relationship, considering the fact that the stairs on this trail were never-ending, and my body was fighting me each step of the way, but it was worth every ounce of effort that I put forth to get through the hike.

After hiking to one town, we would take a break for lunch or a snack. For lunch, I had some of the best fried calamari that I have ever eaten. Seafood just so happens to be the specialty of the area, so if you ever visit, make sure to order some. Because we did not go during high tourist season, it was not busy. The only people we came across were the occasional locals walking their dogs, or older men playing chess outside of cafés. Many of the shops were being renovated before the tourists arrive in a few short months with their fanny packs and cameras; the lack of activity gave me the opportunity to truly look at the landscape and the architecture of the buildings. I could clearly hear the waves of the Mediterranean Sea as I strolled through the towns. A lot of times, we do not really get the chance to grasp the world around us because of the busyness of everyday life, but at that moment, I could truly appreciate everything that I was seeing and hearing.

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My view when I first stepped foot on a beach along the Mediterranean coastline.

The weekend at Cinque Terre was the refreshing experience that I needed. Now that I was rejuvenated with some physical activity and fresh air, I was more than ready to go back to Rome. My next challenge is to apply what I did in Cinque Terre to Rome: I want to look past the people, block out the sounds of car horns and mopeds, look at the city in a deeper way and see the bigger picture. Italy is such a diverse and rich country, and so is the city of Rome itself. Rome has so many different aspects that make it great, and this small town girl is ready to continue exploring.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Spend a Semester in Rome)

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As I approach my month-iversary with Italy, the newness is finally wearing off and  I’m starting to feel more at home in the country. Having said that, there are still a few things that seem pretty strange about my Roman life. So, fueled by my inner Buzzfeed addict, I have compiled this listicle for your enjoyment:

Things we have in the US that don’t exist in Italy:

-Starbucks: If you’re anything like me circa junior year of high school, the prospect of a Starbucks-less life is pretty terrifying. No need to fear, though—the general consensus seems to be that there are no Starbucks stores here because they wouldn’t be able to compete with the personal, intimate experiences offered by the local coffee shops in Italy. The fact that every coffee drink I’ve had in Rome is tons better than any Starbucks drink I’ve ever encountered probably also has something to do with it.

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Hit me with your best shot…of espresso! #badpuns

-Netflix: As a recent Gilmore Girls addict, getting the Netflix error page for the first time was kind of like taking a bullet. Luckily, all is not lost. Many schools (including Temple) offer access to a VPN (or Virtual Private Network) that basically tricks your computer into thinking it’s in the U.S. Other solutions to this issue include going outside and enjoying one of the most spectacular cities in the world.

-Traffic Laws: I know this one sounds ridiculous, but as I’ve yet to experience any evidence to the contrary, I’m not totally convinced there are traffic laws here. Red lights and lane dividers seem to be interpreted as a suggestion, cars park anywhere they please (in the middle of the sidewalk is not off limits), and I once saw a car back up into another without eliciting any concern from either driver. Pedestrians are also recommended to pointedly make eye contact with approaching cars when crossing the street, presumably to guilt drivers into not hitting them. As I said—existence status: questionable.

Things we have in Italy that don’t exist in the US:

-Amazing food: I don’t even like pizza at home, but I can’t get enough of it here. Same goes for pasta, and don’t get me started on Italian pastries (this week I’m obsessed with the ciambella, or doughnut). In fact, the only flavor that rivals my carb obsession might just be the delicious fresh produce I use in my salads. Honestly, the food is so good here that I almost don’t miss Chipotle. Almost.

-Beautiful buildings/piazzas/views around every corner: The pictures speak for themselves on this one. I mean really, where else can you turn a corner and see this:

Rome just being casually gorgeous

Rome just being casually gorgeous

-Locals who don’t hate tourists: This might be specific to my experience as a New Yorker, but where I come from, we categorically hate tourists; they’re always in our way, halting in the middle of the sidewalks to stare at billboards, stopping us to ask for directions, and otherwise interrupting our very important and busy lives. In Italy, though, it’s something else entirely. Venders love to ask you about where you’re from, locals are happy to help with directions, and I’ve actually been stopped several times by excited Italians who want to tell me about the historical significance of various sites and buildings. It’s a really nice change of pace.

Finding My Balance

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I hate to admit it, but I believed one of the biggest myths about studying abroad: that it would be mostly play with a little bit of work! Oh boy, was I wrong. Coming into the experience with sixteen credits (five classes), I knew I was going to have a decent amount of work ahead of me, but I believed that because I am studying abroad, the classes would be a piece of cake, so I had nothing to worry about, right?—wrong.

The realization that everyone at Temple Rome has been hit in the face with is that we are still in college. Yes, it may be a surprise to you as well, but it is true, studying abroad still means college, and with college comes seven-page papers, readings that can get a little lengthy, multiple group projects, anxiety-provoking pop quizzes, midterms and final tests. Deep down I knew all of those things still existed, but the hopeful part of me just replaced all of those aspects of study abroad with cups of gelato, trips to the twenty-four hour bakery, walks along the Tiber River, roommate dinners at cute restaurants, and weekend trips around Europe.

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Eating Gelato With Some Great People

That daydream soon ended when I was thrown into my classes. The classes here are kind of different, and can be difficult to get used to at first. For instance, many of my instructors are Italian, and while they speak great English, they can have heavy Italian accents. At times it can be difficult to understand them, especially when they really know their facts and talk very fast, but it is something I got used to within the first week of classes. Also, using power point is not as common here as it is in the States. In practically all of my classes, I simply sit there and scribble down notes as my professors lecture to the class. While the classes might be unlike the ones I take at Temple’s Philadelphia campus, I figured that I could easily adjust to the differences and still be able to continue my never-ending, fun extracurricular activities of exploring and experiencing Italy.

Before I knew it, I had multiple chapters to read for various classes, term papers being assigned and group projects being explained to me (and it was only the second week of classes). It seemed like there was not enough time in a day to do everything that I wanted to do along with everything that I needed to do. The truth of the matter is, in order to succeed not only in my classes, but in the entire study abroad experience, a balance needed to be found. Sometimes I might have to skip the three hour dinner in order to read the fifty-something pages my history teacher assigned me, and other times I need to stay in Rome for the weekend to study for a test.

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On the other hand, I do not plan on locking myself in my room studying all evening, either. I’m going to go to the fresh market and practicing the Italian words that I learned in class! I will travel to the places I am learning about in my Italian Sociology class, or my Greek and Roman Mythology class. Instead of socializing during the gaps between my classes, I go into the library to get ahead on the work that I need to do for the next day, so I can go and sing karaoke in the evening with my friends. Like I said, it is all about balance, and I am slowly but surely finding mine.

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The words in my textbooks brought to real life. Ladies and gentlemen, the Pantheon!

Are you there, Wi-Fi? It’s me, Jessica.

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All in all, the residence is a pretty convenient place to be as a Temple Rome student. It’s not exactly in the center of the city, but the immediate neighborhood has everything you need. For example: my foremost basic need is coffee, so I’m lucky that there is a bar (café) right downstairs and across the street. They make a mean cappuccino, didn’t judge me too much when I asked for double espresso, and the men who work there even speak some English (emphasis on the “some”—one day I asked them, “What do you call this in Italian,” pointing to a pastry. “Call?” he said, and very generously offered me the telephone).

Next door is a tobacchi shop where you can get passes for the bus and metro, candy, notebooks, and a wide variety of pipes, if you’re into that sort of thing. Across the street is a restaurant and a sweet shop, the latter of which I’ve been trying to avoid in a (probably futile) attempt to not become obese by the time I come home (I’ve decided that between me and my suitcase, only one of us is allowed to be overweight on our return flight).

If you venture out a few minutes further you’ll find the Carrefour market for all your grocery shopping needs. It’s pretty much your average American supermarket, the one main difference being that it is crucial that you weigh your produce before getting on line to pay, as you cannot do it at the register (my roommates and I learned this the hard way when we forgot to weigh some oranges—the cashier got up and did it himself, delaying the check out process by about 5-7 minutes, and consequently earning us the most positively scathing looks I’ve ever seen from the formidable line of Italians behind us). There are also a few restaurants and minimarkets nearby, which have all proven to be very helpful throughout the many instances of our late night snack cravings. On a related note, the most useful Italian sentence I’ve learned so far has been: “Scusi, voglio comprare questi dolci”; translation: “Excuse me, I would like to buy these pastries.” Trust me, this is valuable knowledge.

Doesn't get much better than this

It doesn’t get much better than this

A few blocks away is the Cipro metro station, which is pretty easy to navigate if you have any experience with subways whatsoever—coming from the New York subway system, the two line Italian metro is a breeze. There are also a few bus stops nearby, and a cabstand.

Easily the gem of the 10-minute walking radius around Temple is the Mercato Trionfale, one of the largest markets in Italy. Open Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., there is a huge selection of items for sale. Most impressive is the market’s selection of food, from fresh produce to eggs to meat to cheese, but you can also find anything from home and kitchen supplies to clothing and shoes. It can be a little overwhelming as a clueless American in a sea of determined Italians, but the delicious dates and clementines I picked up on my first trip made it completely worthwhile.

Il Mercato Trionfale

Il Mercato Trionfale

The only real complaint to be made about life in the residence is the immensely temperamental Wi-Fi, which is moderate at best. In all fairness, I was warned about this well in advance, so it’s mostly just disconcerting to realize how reliant on Internet access I normally am. In a way, though, it’s proven to be a hidden gift—with no one to talk to but each other, my roommates and I have gotten really close. Keep posted for more of our misadventures and late night snacking escapades!