Spending Weekends in Rome


A common pattern amongst study abroad students, particularly those studying in Europe, seems to be travelling to a different city every weekend. The convenience and ease of travelling within the EU, coupled with the innumerable sights to see across the continent unquestionably leads to the appeal of planning trips for every weekend of the semester. Especially for people who do not have many opportunities to travel in this part of the world, this time in adolescence is a great opportunity to do so. Once we return to the U.S. and soon enter our senior year of college, many of us will be looking for jobs and don’t know when we will have the chance to travel for such an extended period of time again.

However, while I do understand the appeal as well as the benefits and learning experiences that come out of this city-hopping, in my personal experience of the past couple of months, my weekends staying in Rome have been some of the most significant. I personally love travelling more than anything, and while I know that I would also learn from jumping from city to city, my hope and goal in choosing to study here in Rome was not to travel all around Europe, but to really immerse myself in the Italian culture, and get to know the city as my home, not just as a visitor. Before coming here, I was a bit hesitant in deciding to study abroad in Europe, as I am originally from Europe and I knew that I wanted a very different, eye-opening experience that would significantly impact my perspective and my cultural awareness. Choosing to stay mostly in Rome and travelling around Italy has therefore been the best way for me to get what I wanted out of the semester. I wanted (and want to continue) to learn the ins and outs of the city, step off the beaten path, meet locals, and engage critically with my environment. I hoped to learn about the customs and traditions, pick up ideas and mentalities that may improve my own perspective and mindset, as well as be able to critique and understand the pros and cons of the culture.

During the busy weeks of classes and packed schedules, it’s rare to find moments that feel truly Italian, moments that exude the slow, laid back ideal many of us picture when we think of Rome. Weekends, however, have held some of my favorite memories, filled with countless moments that felt truly and iconically Italian: lazy, sun-drenched Sundays sipping cappuccini and wandering around flea markets, and hours spent in Rome’s many breathtaking museums and tranquil parks. I would not feel nearly as at home or as comfortable in this city if I didn’t have this uninhibited time to take in these moments and experiences, and would recommend to anyone studying abroad that you take all the chances you get to really get to know the place you are living: the good, the bad, and all that lies in between.

Doing the Touristy Things


Okay, I’m just gonna say it: It’s important to do the touristy things, you definitely *should* do the touristy things. The reasons why they’re so popular for tourists visiting a country or experiencing a new culture is because most likely they’re historic, integral to understanding the basis of the country’s culture that you are partaking in, or they’re just plain fun. Over break, I went and did all the touristy things I could imagine in Rome and Florence. I fully expected for many of them to be overrated, like too much hype has been created for these specific things. [Spoiler Alert: I was wrong.]

For instance, last week I went to go see the Spanish Steps (they had recently been re-opened after being closed for a period of time so that they could be cleaned). I expected them to just be…well, steps. I had walked past them plenty times as they were closed, but I finally walked up them. It was beautiful! I met a lot of nice people on them and I got an incredible view of Piazza di Spagna. I don’t know if it’s because the sun was setting, because I had just come from a nice meal, or because I was in a good mood; but I like to chalk it up to the fact that the Spanish Steps are just cool.

The same thing happened with the Trevi fountain. In all of my dreams and Lizzie McGuire imaginations, I expected the Trevi fountain to be really cool. I wasn’t prepared for it to be one of the most beautiful pieces of artwork that I have ever seen. When you specifically go to see the fountain at night as it’s lit up and you throw your coin in, you feel a sense of wonderment at it all. It’s huge! And it’s full of incredible detail and history. And who doesn’t love a good chance at ensuring your return to Rome with the simple throw of a coin?


And the Colosseum, in all of its colossal glory, was also astounding. Getting to go on the stage where the gladiators and wild animals battled, getting to go underneath where the slaves and animals were kept, climbing to the third level to get the view that actual Romans would have had at the time, was incredible. I don’t think I’ve experienced something as evocative as that; standing in a space where hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people were murdered left me awestruck. Not to mention the sheer size of it all; the fact that it could have potentially fit as many people as the Lincoln Financial Field fits now is wild!


From the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City to the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, there are so many things I am glad to have experienced over this past week. None of them, not even the most publicized (through culture and hollywood) artifacts, places, and buildings (like the Colosseum), were a let down. Each one had its own charm and history making it well worth the trip. I know the idea of being a tourist is one that’s particularly taboo, and that’s because there are many things that tourists might do that one shouldn’t, such as be disrespectful to a culture in some way. But, the things that are specifically set up to entertain or educate tourists are worth experiencing because whether you like it or not, there is a part of you that is a tourist when you’re studying abroad. And in some ways, in order to understand what a country and/or culture has become, it is vital that you experience the uber popular things. After all, if they are wildly popular, there’s most likely a good reason for it.

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Rainy Midterm Days in Cute Cafes


This week I learned that it is incredibly difficult to study for exams and midterms while you are in an interesting place that you just want to explore. There’s wonderful piazzas, cool places to go out and eat or rest with friends–there’s so much potential. You want to go to the Jewish ghetto, you want to spend your day sight seeing, but you have exams, papers, and planning your future break to think about. Maybe your family is coming, so you’re planning what you want to do with them. Maybe you’re just in a funk. It’s easy to get restless here. It also doesn’t help that this city can be a serious time vacuum; you leave for school at 9 am, turn around and it’s already 5 pm. Not to mention, it’s the middle of October and you could’ve sworn you got here a week ago.

But, here’s why you shouldn’t worry: it’s all going to be okay, you still have more time. Yes, it’s running out fast, but planning is an option. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and study with your friends (especially if you’re taking an exam for a class with Jan Gadeyne). Take a break every once and awhile to try a new quick food sport or to go to a nice cute place. My friend Fiona and I found this really cute coffee shop a bus ride away that was a really good place for studying (they also had really delicious cappuccinos). It was beneficial to have a change of scenery to refocus ourselves midway through midterms. So, even though we were busy and studying, we still found a way to explore that didn’t seem like a waste of time. This is probably easy to do in general and you can probably find some cool places just from finding different places to study.


Also, this week was voting crazy! In Rome, they have stations set up (they move everyday) for people to hand in their completed ballots, and the election is almost upon us! With the recent debates, the election drawing near, and the confusion and learning process concerning receiving an absentee ballot; voting comes up in almost every conversation. It’s really cool to talk to my fellow Temple Rome students and get their take on the upcoming election, especially my colleagues in my Contemporary Politics in Europe class. What’s even more interesting (possibly) is hearing Italians’ take on the American election. Hearing their perspective on things made me realize just how much our politics are pushed to the forefront of the global political arena, and how media-oriented this election has become.

This hasn’t been the most eventful week, but it has certainly been trying, tiring, and even rewarding in some ways. I definitely learned more about myself, different topics which I’m not used to studying, and the secret treasures Rome has to offer.
Here’s also a general tip for midterms week: gelato. Gelato makes everything better, always.

8 Hours in Pompeii, 3 Wines, and 1 Symposium


This past week has been a whirlwind! It started with this really cool wine tasting hosted at Temple Rome. A professional sommelier came to Temple and taught us about the process of wine-making and what influences the taste and cost of various wines. Then we got to try three different types: a red, a white, and a sparkling wine. It was fun to spend time with friends while trying to guess the different flavors and fruits that were in each wine. Now we can somewhat pretend that we know what we’re talking about when we taste wines at restaurants or go out to buy them! We can offer cool information to our friends, such as: “This wine has more tannins than the other one,” or “This wine definitely came from the Northern region of Italy.” We also learned about how to pair various wines with food, which is a knowledge that our sommelier ensured us comes with practice (I don’t think any of us rejected the idea of more practice).


After the wine tasting during the week, I prepared for the craziest class excursion I have ever had. This past weekend my Roman History class and an Art History class trekked across certain regions of Italy with our professor Jan Gadeyne. We went to Terracina, Sperlonga, Pompeii, Paestum, and Naples to analyze the art and history of the regions. We saw many ancient temples, forums, villas, and ruins. We learned about the importance of their presence in society at the time through a historic lens as well as the importance of the decor/architecture through an art history lens. We ran through Pompeii (and I do mean “ran”) for 8 hours, learning about the city that was frozen in time, incredibly well preserved due to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. After the weekend we were certainly tired and our brains were kaput, but we had an awesome time. I had the best gnocchi at the hotel we stayed at and we even got to buy some of the best mozzarella I have ever had from Paestum/Campania (which apparently makes the best buffalo mozzarella)—It. Is. So. Good.

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This week we also attended a symposium on the refugee crisis/situation in Europe (specifically in Italy) hosted by Temple University, specifically by one of my professors here, Professor Bordignon. That was an incredible experience as we learned about the difference between migrants and refugees and the way Europe (and the USA) has responded to the influx of refugees. We heard personal stories from two refugees from Afghanistan and Mali. Hearing their stories put a lot into perspective for me and my friends. We walked away feeling grateful but also determined to find solutions or ways for us to help with the refugee crisis here and back at home. It was also interesting to hear about the crisis from a European legal/political perspective as well as a personal one.

This past week has been full of a variety of different experiences from present to past, fun to serious, important to leisurely. The cool thing about it is that I didn’t have to go further than Temple’s resources to experience all three of these things, they were waiting right there for me.


Getting Sick While Abroad


Balancing schoolwork that is quickly piling up towards midterms, traveling around and outside of Rome, and a less than ideal amount of sleep all adds up to one unfortunate side effect that is bound to affect everyone at some point during the semester: sickness. I got hit with the flu last week, and quickly realized how frustrating getting sick is while studying abroad. Not only is everything just a little more difficult when you’re sick (studying, doing homework, grocery shopping, commuting, etc.), but you’re also left feeling limited in your capabilities and that you’re wasting a part of the precious time we have here. As I found myself stuck in bed, staring at the window at the beautiful weather and Roman skyline, I felt guilty for not being able to go about my daily life as usual, and explore more of Rome between classes.

I quickly became frustrated with my inability to commit to things I had been planning throughout the week, and coupled with that was frustration over the language barrier and cultural divide that has been constantly present, but suddenly became more apparent while being sick. The inability to find the correct medicine at the pharmacy, for example, was a relatively small problem, but it highlighted the everyday struggles that can come from living in a foreign country and not knowing the language or all the customs.

I knew, however, that studying abroad was equally about the positive and the negative experiences. I knew that I would learn the most from the all the small obstacles I would face, in travelling and in daily life in another culture. It is easy to sometimes feel that you are not taking full advantage of every day while studying abroad, but sometimes mental and physical health have to take precedent, and I think it is important to appreciate the lessons that can come from these situations as well. While I couldn’t explore Rome and do all the high energy activities I wanted to do, I took the opportunity to do what I had felt like I didn’t have time for prior. There are always a thousand opportunities and activities to do in Rome, and so I rarely feel that I have time to fully relax and get organized in my schoolwork, planning, and “home” life. Therefore, while I was stuck sick in my apartment, I came up with a shortlist of what to do when sick that would make me feel both productive and ready to take full advantage of my time once I felt better.

  1. Get caught up on/ahead on homework

During the weeks, it is easy to fall a bit behind on reading, or suddenly find yourself with an assignment due that you haven’t had ample time to prepare for. Getting ahead on this work while sick means that you won’t feel guilty exploring the city later on, when those papers or readings are due.

  1. Take time to cook

I always imagine that I’ll have plenty of time to go to the open air markets and try out different Italian recipes in my kitchen, but with so many other outings and schoolwork, it can be hard to actually execute these plans. Staying in is the perfect excuse to finally do so.



  1. Organize & Make plans for when you feel better

Instead of being frustrated about all the things I couldn’t do, I decided to get organized in my planning for Fall Break, and make a list of things I want to see and do around Rome as well.

While everyone will deal with these situations differently, all of this is to say that learning to turn frustrating situations into positive and productive opportunities is one of the best and most valuable lessons that can come from studying abroad.

Street Art and Chit Chatting with Italians


Over this past week I have done so much and not enough! While I *still* cannot say that I’ve been to the Trevi fountain, I have done a couple of other cool things in terms of exploring the city and assimilating to Italian culture. I attended Temple University’s “Chit Chat with Italians” night where I got to meet many other Italians (mostly students) who were in high school/college. I learned about how their high school/college system is set up completely differently than ours—their high school classes are specialized, meaning you basically choose your career path/main interest of study when you first enter high school—and I talked with this student named Eduardo about how he learned to have the perfect American accent (his answer was: YouTube videos) as well as what makes him so interested in linguistics. There was also this forum/panel-like session in which the Italian students and us American students got to ask each other questions that were open to everyone to respond to. It was a lot of fun getting to practice my Italian and learn more about Italian culture and the various stereotypes that American’s hold towards Italians and vice versa. One of the more interesting things that we discussed was America’s drinking culture vs. Italy’s smoking culture.

Later in the week, I went on this walk to see graffiti with my Anthropology class. We walked around parts of Rome (near the Pyramid subway stop) and saw the many different displays of graffiti that exist there. It was very interesting learning how a lot of the graffiti (if not all of it) is very politically and socially charged. Our teacher explained the various ways in which communists had taken over entire buildings to create street art on them, conveying a certain message to the entire area. A lot of the pieces of street art we saw around that neighborhood were along the lines of saying no to global capitalism, not letting it brainwash you and change you. It was also interesting to see the way American culture had influenced and continues to influence the street art scene. One of my favorite pieces that we saw was the A-Z wall that depicted many different influential/popular figures with names from A to Z.

While I make it my mission to tour the Colosseum, take the classic coin toss picture in front of the Trevi fountain, and crane my neck looking up in the Sistine Chapel, I’ve learned that there are so many other things that I can do to really see Italy and Rome besides those! I still have time to do the most popular things and see the most historic sites, but it’s also worth spending the time to do the things that not many people would immediately think to do. For instance, I really want to make a trip to the Jewish Ghetto. It may not be the Forum, but it’s still an incredibly historical area that I think would be worth it to visit.

Explorations and Obstacles around the City


Now that we have been living in Rome for over 3 weeks, we are starting to notice subtler differences between our homes back in the U.S. and this home, as well as noticing the small details of Rome that generally hide from tourists on their short trips here.

This past weekend, I travelled down to the coast to see more of Italy’s natural diversity and have a short break from the busy city atmosphere.

I wanted to bring along a disposable camera, to record my trip in a more authentic way, to be disconnected from technology, and to live in the moment and what not. I did not anticipate, however, the many obstacles I would face to accomplish this seemingly simple goal…

To start with was my incorrect assumption that something like a disposable camera would be as readily available in Italy as it is in any drugstore in the U.S.. Granted, as digital cameras are increasingly becoming the norm, it makes perfect sense that this would be much harder to find. However, one might assume that at one of the top tourist destinations in the world, there would be more access to this kind of item; instead what I found was that each shop or stand that did sell disposables tried to get me to pay upwards of 17 euros for it, compared to the $4 fujifilms you can find back home. While I finally, after a few failed attempts, did end up paying about 7 euros for a slightly offbrand camera, this turned out to be a funny example of how even after weeks here I still get surprised by the price hikes on certain everyday goods. On arrival in Rome we all marveled over the access to cheap (and delicious) food and coffee; now, however, I am discovering that this comes at the cost of other items we may think of as staples (toiletries, some groceries, etc.).

After finally finding one and bringing it along with me on my trip, I then faced the second adventure of trying to get the film developed. Needless to say, this involved a great deal of hand signaling, google translate, and broken Italian/English. In my attempts to find a photo store that could help me out, however, I stumbled upon an almost unnoticeable little art “exhibit” on the side of the road, across the street from Museo dell’Ara Pacis by the Tiber. As I looked down to my side I noticed a leather glove with a coin in its palm, and a sign in both Italian and English beside it reading: “Meglio di niente/Better than nothing”.


I backtraced my steps and found the ledge along the sidewalk to be lined with letters and other small, metaphorically meaningful items that one could find abandoned in street corners and bushes throughout the city. Below is a sampling of a few of the little displays:



Lastly was a small sign that read: “Saying or writing that Rome is an open air museum is too easy. It should be demonstrated even in the little details.”


I thought this was the perfect summary of this little exhibit, which one could either think of as abandoned trash, or as little examples of the less obvious art that permeates the city. It got me to thinking about Rome as one enormous living, breathing art exhibition.

Tourists are the museum goers: coming to admire the ancient monuments, masterful paintings, and artisanal food; the “artwork” of the city so to speak. The Pantheon, Colosseum, and hundreds of other sites form the main exhibition. But the inhabitants, the graffiti, the sounds and smells are what fill the city with life, give it energy and vibrance, and keep it from fading back into history.

Standing on History


On Friday, a few fellow students and I went to the town of Artena with our professor, Jan Gadeyne, to visit his archeological excavation site. Artena is a small town only about an hour outside of Rome with a small population of friendly people. Our first stop was at the museum of Artena, where we saw many of the pieces that had been excavated from the ancient villa that Professor Gadeyne is currently working on (others had worked on this same site before him). There we saw pieces of pottery that had weathered with time, but still managed to survive. We saw beautiful painted pieces of tile and cement that were used in the buildings along with coins that help historians place the villa in an era/time period and give clues as to the type of people who lived there. We were also shown pieces of a cistern, most likely used for collecting rain water seeing as the villa resides on a tall hill. Along with many other artifacts, Professor Gadeyne painted a nice picture for us of what life was like in this villa.

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After we toured the small museum, we went to see the actual excavation site. We took a bus up to the hill in Artena and walked to the relative top where we saw what looked like a blueprint of a house except made in the ground with the outlines defining the rooms made (in actuality) from stone in soil where the walls of the separate buildings had since been buried over time, originating from centuries BCE. We were told that the villa being excavated had been created from a succession of people coming in, building structures, abandoning them, and then another group coming in and doing the same thing. As we walked around, we saw enormous storage pots that had been left there, the other part of the cistern that was not exhibited in the museum, rooms that looked to be storage rooms, common areas, etc. Professor Gadeyne told us that, in its most recent state, the area was probably some type of factory/storage. They would store the product that the factory made (maybe legumes) in the big pots which where then put in the storage rooms. We also saw the places where Professor Gadeyne and his team had excavated many graves of infants/newborn children who had been placed in clay pots and buried.

We were standing on tangible history from around 4th/5th century BCE learning about it first hand with an expert who was able to divulge all the details. While going to the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, etc., it’s also very interesting to find the history that’s not so famous but just as important. Sometimes it’s even super close to where you currently are! Rome is full of so many incredible historical areas and evidence that it’s easy to stumble upon an insane piece of history, like the plaques on the ground commemorating the lives of the Roman Jewish population that were taken from their homes during World War II. It’s also a great place to ask your teachers for advice on where you should go based on your academic interests. They know where the coolest places are for art history majors, classics majors, and so many more.


Understanding Rome


The first week of classes here in Rome has come to a close, and although it has been a tiring week full of reading assignments, meeting new people, and getting adjusted to my class schedule, it feels great to start getting into a routine. Orientation was a good opportunity to get to know this new environment without the constraints of homework and classes, but it did leave me painfully aware of my tourist status as I wandered through unknown streets and struggled with the few words of Italian I had picked up before arriving. After my first week of Italian classes and slightly improved awareness of the city’s geography, I now feel I at least have the basics for living here down.

I’ve been appreciating the more authentic experience of living here knowing I have months in Rome ahead of me, rather than being on a vacation here and trying to fit every activity and sight into a week’s time. I’ve enjoyed quiet mornings on my balcony drinking tea and eating breakfast, reading on the steps of a fountain in a sunny piazza, and exploring small side streets on long walks, accidentally bumping into crowded monuments on the way.


Along with settling into daily life, starting classes has filled me with new inspiration and excitement for learning more about Rome. Each of my classes, though all in different subject areas, are focused on getting to know Rome and Italian culture. Through each course I am gaining a distinct perspective through which to immerse myself in this place.

Through Rome Sketchbook, I will discover new areas of the city through my own artistic lens, noticing the small details and atmospheres of the places through drawing.

In Classical Mythology, I will learn about a part of Roman history that has informed much of its culture, values, and artwork. I will be able to recognize the stories I see in paintings and architecture in the city, and understand beliefs that still show in traces of Italian culture today.

Taking Italian will help me practically in navigating the city and talking to locals, and will perhaps be the most significant vehicle for immersing myself (not just in being able to speak to others, but in understanding the foundation of communication and connection in such a socially centered culture).

In High Renaissance Art in Italy, I will get to learn about what (in my opinion) rules the city: history and art. Through on site visits I will be able to absorb the works I study in a way I could never do in my classes in the U.S.

I look forward to gaining a deep and thorough understanding of the city, through my classes as well as my own exploration; however, I already know that there is enough to see and learn in Rome to keep me coming back long after the semester ends.

Utilizing All of Italy


This may sound obvious, but it’s hard to conceptualize when you’re here: Italy has a lot more to offer than simply Rome. Once I truly internalized this message, I became a bit overwhelmed with all of the things I wanted to do and all of the places I wanted to go. From Tuscany to Sicily, I realize that Rome isn’t my classroom: Italy is; and all of the ways in which the Italian culture shifts, changes, and is influenced by the different regions within itself provides interesting levels to the topics we discuss in class.

This weekend I traveled to southern Italy and spent the weekend in the Amalfi Coast. My first day there, I took a ferry from Sorrento (the town I was staying in) to Capri (an island just off the coast). After taking a boat tour around Capri, seeing the many grottos and rock formations that lend themselves to certain Italian traditions, we took a funicular to Capri Town, a town of higher elevation than the marina. After walking around in Capri Town, we were scheduled to take a bus to Anacapri (even further up the mountains). However, the bus was about an hour late. This was the first thing I noticed about southern Italy: in comparison to Rome, which (especially judging by its transportation) seems to be go go all the time—albeit, not quite to the level of places in the US such as New York City—southern Italy is well-rooted in leisure. Everything there is about taking your time, not worrying about the specifics, and throwing away whatever sense of a frantic urgency you may have. We waited an hour for a bus that should have already been waiting for us and our guides’ response was: “Welcome to southern Italy.” **We also got the same response when the number of the dock for the ferry back to Sorrento had changed last minute and our entire group had to hustle to the opposite side of the marina as to not miss our way back home.**

Besides the incredible view and lax atmosphere, there was something incredibly charming about southern Italy. [To preface, I need to admit that, to me, there’s something incredibly charming about Italy in general.] When I went to lunch in Anacapri, a man who was seated next to us in the restaurant dining with his wife, educated me on the best way to eat calamari (with a bit of lemon squeezed on top, *not* the standard marinara sauce). As we went through the towns, many people complimented my hair—unsurprisingly, it seemed as though the texture and style of my afro was something they were not familiar with—and were more than willing to talk to us. We joked around with the shoemakers who worked at one of the shops where you could get custom Italian leather sandals made for you. While there were many other differences between Rome and the coast that I noticed, the main one (in addition to the one discussed above) is that: if you’re smart and into that kind of thing, then you really want to order a meal that includes seafood rather than just pasta, because there is no better seafood in Italy than directly by the Amalfi Coast.


I also traveled to Positano this past weekend and that was the icing on the cake. Paddle boating on the Mediterranean Sea, the importance of which (at least in antiquity) to the founding of Rome I had recently discussed in class. It was very interesting witnessing the different atmosphere of southern Italy compared to Rome and applying that surreal classroom to my real one, in which we discuss the Mediterranean and the importance of the different regions of Italy and how they influence each other.