Art History in Florence

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This past weekend, my High Renaissance Art in Italy class traveled to Florence for two days of immersion into the Renaissance architecture, painting, and sculpture that fills the city. Upon getting off the train from Rome and arriving at our hotel, most of the class headed to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, about which we had a written assignment to complete for the course. Seeing this ubiquitous icon in person for the first time was quite a similar experience to visiting the Sistine Chapel (also for my art history class). It is imagery I have seen dozens of times throughout my life; however, actually coming face to face with it, you are for the first time actually confronted by the marvel and grandeur of it.

This feeling continued for the rest of the trip, and I quickly found Florence to be a heaven for art and architecture. Visiting the Uffizi Gallery, I was enchanted by the Botticelli room in particular, and could have spent hours examining the intricate details of the Allegory of Spring. As a class we also took a Renaissance walk through the city, stopping to analyze and learn about the palazzo’s and squares we’ve seen in our textbook. This was yet another reminder of the wonder of studying art and art history in Italy – it is a uniquely privileged experience to be able to study the material from life rather than from text, and immerses you in the subject matter in a much more personal and intimate way.

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In the free time of our trip, I walked up to see the panoramic views of the city, the Duomo, and the surrounding water and hillsides from the Piazzale Michelangelo. I wandered through the quiet streets, and discovered how picturesque and idyllic of a place it is. The serene morning hours were especially atmospheric: walking through gardens of dew and raindrop covered roses, with a golden glow from the sun reflecting in the windows, smelling smoke drift out of chimneys and imagining the warm and cozy residents huddled inside.

These moments are some of my favorites of the semester, and evoke the idyllic Italian environment I have loved getting to know. While I think that Rome provides perhaps the most authentic, immersive, and stimulating environment to live in in Italy, it is amazing to be surrounded by so many interesting cities rich in culture and beauty throughout the country, just a short train ride away.

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Seeing Rome Through New Eyes

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This past week, I was visited by my mom and her best friend. The morning they arrived we headed over to see the art collection in Galleria Colonna, walked through the Piazza del Campidoglio, and headed down through the warmly colored streets of Trastevere for a long and lazy lunch. In these few hours following their arrival I could feel myself seeing Rome through fresh eyes again, almost as if it was back to late August when I was seeing Rome for the first time. At each corner we turned we noticed a beautifully colored building, flowers pouring out of a windowsill, or relaxed Romans reading the paper on a sun-drenched bench. Although I do notice these expressive and evocative details when I wander Rome on my own, there was something special about experiencing the awe and appreciation of a visitor. Unlike when I first got to Rome, however, this time I felt utterly comfortable in my environment, not constantly having to pull out a map or worry I was heading in the wrong direction.

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After indulging in ricotta and spinach filled ravioli and white wine, we meandered through the maze of streets with no schedule to follow, stopping to enjoy every interesting sight we passed. We stepped into the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, a beautiful church I have passed countless times without ever actually going inside. This stop was the beginning of a wake-up call for my last month here—a reminder to take all the opportunities for cultural immersion and exploration that naturally arise from living in Rome.

Throughout the rest of the week I took full advantage of their stay, and went with them on each of their excursions to museums, monuments, meals and long walks. I was forced to think about how much of Rome I haven’t yet seen, and became almost overwhelmed by how much more there is to do before the semester ends. It also spurred in me a resolution to not take any moment in the next 6 weeks for granted, and to actually take the initiative to accomplish my goals and hopes for the semester.

It is almost as if the fact that I am staying in Rome for so long has made me less inclined to rush to do everything that is so classically emblematic of the city. However, I’ve come to realize that no matter how many touristic outings I go on in Rome, there is always always more to see and absorb. I feel so inspired and enriched by my daily life in Rome, whether it has been hearing in-depth analyses of Renaissance art work, or having fleeting interactions with locals. The more my days are filled with the overwhelming artistic and historical stimuli of the buzzing city, the more I crave to stay here longer, and the more I wish to discover the monuments and hidden wonders that make up the full Roman experience.

Soccer Games, International EU Relations, & A New President

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This past week I went to my first soccer game and we got a new president. (Woah. It was kind of a lot). The soccer game (Rome versus Bologna) was a lot of fun and really cool! The game was held in the old olympic stadium; there were very cool mosaics on the ground of various olympic events. We had awesome seats and while I know next to nothing about soccer, I was sitting next to some very knowledgable friends who didn’t mind me asking a lot of questions. (Rule #1 of going to a sporting event of which you know nothing about: Go with someone who knows everything about said sport and don’t be afraid to ask them questions!) Our team (Roma obviously!) won by a 3-0 shut out and it was an incredible experience to be there with all of those fans, singing their songs and chanting with them. (Also, the Roma scarves we got resemble the Gryffindor scarves from Harry Potter so that was a definite plus.)

Then, the rest of the week was shrouded by a cloud, a weird, “I’m not too sure how to talk about this, but all Italians keep asking me about this,” sensitive, unpredictable, election cloud. Everywhere I went people mentioned the election to me, and all of my Temple Rome colleagues were excited (in a way), nervous, and overall stressed about the turnout. It’s no secret that this election cycle has been gritty, dirty, and particularly whirlwind-ish. There are people in our program who were rooting for one candidate and people who were rooting for the other; it was tense. When Wednesday emerged and we had a new president, there were mixed feelings and no one really knew what to make of the outcome.

In my political science class with professor Bordignon, we had the opportunity to go to a discussion/debate on the impacts of a Trump presidency on the US’ relations with Europe, specifically the EU. We got to hear the vice-president and one of the former vice-presidents of the EU speak. We also got to hear various ambassadors (Italian and American) of the US for Europe and vice-versa give their take on what they believe the outcome of this presidency will mean for them. There were speakers that were liasons, members of the EU parliament, and journalists from the Associated Press. It was really interesting to get the European prospective, especially since the US has had such a close relationship with the EU beforehand. While we were a bit underdressed and unprepared, we were stationed to watch in the overflow room with the refreshments and the press. So, naturally, we had our pictures taken and were interviewed by Italian news personnel and journalists. It was fun getting to give our point of view to the people who asked and who were surrounding us, and we even ended up on Italian news for a couple seconds! We also got to keep our badges which was very awesome.

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Overall, it was a crazy rollercoaster of a week. I spent it elated, worried, stressed, and then happy again. Lather, rinse, repeat. But my main take away was the invaluable experience of being a part of things that exist at home, but have an impact or are treated differently abroad.

It’s Okay to Feel Homesick

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So, let’s talk about homesickness. I’ve been hearing from some of my colleagues in the program that these most recent couple of weeks since fall break have been slightly challenging due to a bit of homesickness, and to be honest, I was feeling it too. Over break, my mom came to visit as did many family members of other students in the program, and the thing we can all agree on is that it was hard to say goodbye. Many of us traveled to other countries with inhabitants whose native language is English or traveled to countries where citizens spoke more English — making that transition back was hard as well. And some of my friends went to the countries that were home to their family’s history and nationality. Having those experiences was great and incredible and making the adjustment back was a bit harder than the rest of us realized.

All of a sudden we were missing brunch (particularly pancakes), an actual fall, blankets and fireplaces and sports (Congrats, Cubs!), iced beverages, and all of the things/people we can find in our hometowns and cities. It wasn’t that we didn’t miss them before, it’s that we were missing them a lot more now. I can say that personally, it was weird and I didn’t like it, or better, I felt a bit guilty for it. Here I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I want to go back to Vienna and stay with my mom for a couple days, or am wondering what it would be like to come back home. I also felt the awareness of this weird stigma about homesickness, one that made it out to be something weaker people felt. But the reality is: we (as in my fellow Temple Rome students) are all bound to feel it at some point.

I think the best thing you can do is let yourself feel it and let it pass, be honest about it and talk to your friends because the odds are that you are not the only one feeling this way at least to some extent. And even your family would understand, so it may help to talk to them about it. But, it’s also nice to remind yourself of the beauty that surrounds you and the home you can find in your new environment (even if it’s not what you have at home).

As time goes on, the urge to be home will most likely pass and everything will return back to normal. This doesn’t mean you won’t miss anything, but that you’ll miss it casually as you most likely did before (except pancakes, I would sell a kidney for some IHOP right about now), but just remember that it’s a part of the natural process and it’s not worth stressing over. Everything will be fine and you’ll be back home in no time…most likely wishing you were back abroad haha!

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Spending Weekends in Rome

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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

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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?

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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!

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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.

Rainy Midterm Days in Cute Cafes

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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.

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Getting Sick While Abroad

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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.

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  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

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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.