The Final Countdown

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One of the last times I'll look out over my balcony

One of the last times I’ll look out over my balcony

My last day in Rome is finally here. Forty-two days sounds a lot longer when you are waiting to board a plane to a foreign country than when you actually live through it. I am excited to go home, but very sad to leave this country. But on the pros and cons list of leaving, Wawa hoagies are a pretty big item so it’s not that bad.

Before I left for Rome, I was reading humorist David Sedaris’ book Me Talk Pretty One Day. Sedaris lived in France for an extended period of time and I remember this quote in particular about his experience: “Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.”

Although I cannot say I consider myself to be a “citizen of the world” without laughing at how pretentious I sound, studying abroad has changed me. I usually rush through life, getting one task done and immediately moving on to the next. Italians are not like that. Shops close down for several hours so people can go get lunch. Eating is not just a meal, but a two or three hour event. People have months of vacation time. Life just moves slower (though the language doesn’t).

It was a much-needed change of pace. On Monday, I head to my first day at my internship. Switching from classes on art history or discussing gender roles from an international perspective to an eight-hour workday will be strange. Part of the reason I came to Italy was so I wouldn’t have to have an internship, but here I am with just days separating my cubicle and me. As much as I have loved Rome, I am ready to start working. It was a great, relaxing way to finish 7 credits worth of classes, and I will still have a valuable internship experience that saves me from returning to my old high school job.

Studying abroad taught me patience (check out my post on TreeBar), culture (check out my post on art history), understanding (check out my post on… well, I don’t really have one for exactly that), living without constant access to technology and dozens of other lessons. I definitely developed my empathy for non-native English speakers. People here are great with helping out English speakers. The mentality is so much more accommodating than in America (I’m looking at you, Geno’s Steaks).

I hope to someday make it back to this wonderful country and further sand away those “provincial edges” that Sedaris talked about. Forty-two days is not nearly enough to discover everything the city holds, but I am fully satisfied with my time here. Studying abroad is something I absolutely must recommend. I have several friends studying abroad in Italy this fall, and I am extremely jealous that they have a full semester here. There are very few times in life you can put everything on hold and head to another country. College is one of these times, and I am glad that I will never regret this experience.

July is here.

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There are little moments when it dawns on me that I’m going to be leaving Rome soon.

I was taking the metro to class at 8 am, and I was miserable. The metro can be absolutely revolting—this particular morning, it was sweaty and suspicious-smelling, with people idly bumping into each other as the train sped, not quickly enough, toward the Flaminio stop. Completely inconvenient. There’s definitely less of a regard here for personal space than there is in the states. Uncomfortable and impatient, I suddenly felt a pang of something—was it affection? Sadness? Somewhere in my mind, it occurred to me that as horrible as the metro can get, I was actually going to miss it: the strange little songs that play in the station, the musicians that sway slightly on the moving train as they play violins and clarinets and accordions.

I’ve begun wondering how I can return to Rome. I haven’t even left yet and already, I’m itching to come back. I recall walking by a sign advertising apartments—cheap apartments—and I lingered there for a moment, conjuring up a world where I could drag a friend from back home to Italy and share a flat for a little while.

There are definitely things that I’ll be happy to return to once I get back to America—my friends back home, the familiarity of English, the easily navigable streets of Philadelphia. And peanut butter, strangely.

After a friend told me that he wished he had explored Rome more during these six weeks, my mind started swarming with questions. Have I explored enough? Have I learned enough about the city? I came here wanting to see not only the Pantheon and the Vatican, but a more intimate side of Rome. Did I accomplish that? I have absolutely no idea.

And has studying abroad changed me as a person? Am I supposed to come across a hulking and amazing revelation about who I truly am as a person? I feel like there’s definitely been change, but I may not be able to put my finger on what that is until I’m back in Philadelphia, immersed in American normalcy.

But here’s what I’ve realized: studying abroad isn’t a contest. It isn’t a test. It’s a completely different experience for each and every person who partakes in it. Because believe it or not, some people aren’t crazy about the food, and some have arrived to Rome already knowing a considerable amount of Italian, and some people get homesick at different and unexpected time.

I don’t think the study abroad experience is about measuring how much you absorbed the city. It sounds cliché and sentimental, but honestly, I think it’s about the moments. Like the taxi cab rides home at 2 am, where the car turns and suddenly you and your friends are soundlessly speeding towards the most wonderful and ominous view of the Vatican City. Or the sandwich, filled with tomato and basil and mozzarella that you can barely finish, although it only cost 3 euro. Or the time you dodged a VPICespa and you feel insanely powerful because of it. Or the foolishly triumphant feeling you get when you’re able to say something in Italian to someone.

So as the most incredible weeks of my life (so far!) come to a close, I have one simple piece of advice for those coming to Rome to study and explore: enjoy the moments. Write them down, whether it’s in your iPhone or on your hand, or take a blurry picture if you’re in a hurry. Rome in its entirety is overwhelmingly gorgeous, and I’m sure I will return one day. But it’s really the moments that adorn the big picture that make the entire experience so valuable.

Ciao for now, ragazzi!

Sprint to the Finish: Last Weeks in Rome

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View walking down from the top of Capri

View walking down from the top of Capri

They say time is money and I have very little of either left. With just over a week remaining in the summer semester, I still have a million things I want to do in Rome. I took a trip last weekend to the beautiful Amalfi Coast, including day trips to Capri, Positano and Pompeii. For three days, I was acting like a tourist. With limited time in each place, I had to do everything I could to make sure I ended up with no regrets or fear of missing out on something. A friend commented, “I kind of wish we did this touristy stuff in Rome… We would have seen everything by now.”

Old school Popemobile, as seen at the Vatican

Old school Popemobile, as seen at the Vatican

This comment really stuck with me. She is right. Sure, I’ve already seen the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican and a plethora of other monuments. But I haven’t even gotten to the Trevi Fountain yet (it’s under construction, give me a break. I don’t want to be disappointed). I haven’t been to Alexanderplatz jazz club or really enjoyed Villa Borghese in its entirety. I haven’t gotten to a laundry list of other amazing spectacles Rome has to offer. With such little time left, every day counts. However, with two papers, a project and a final exam to prepare for, I need to spend a lot of my time on schoolwork.

My advice for future Temple Rome students is to see all of the monuments on your list as quickly as possible. It will be a lot easier at the beginning of the semester when your workload is less and everything is still entirely fresh to you. It is easy to fall into a routine. In fact, I love routine. I love the fact that I am not a tourist every single day. I enjoy going to the local grocery store and living in a quiet residential neighborhood. But at the same time, I do not want to go home with a long list of regrets. If you get to the main sites early on, you still have plenty of time to delve deeper into the culture of the city.

Travelling is expensive. I purposefully stayed in Rome for much of the trip for two reasons: I wanted to really get to know the city, and for the sake of my wallet. I consider myself to be a cheap person. I walk an extra ten minutes every day to the further away, cheaper grocery store so I can save under a euro every time I shop. Even so, I am spending a lot of money. I am happy to validate this with the justification that this may be the last time I ever go to Rome (though I certainly hope not!). If I ever do get out to the Trevi fountain, I’ll try to lob a coin over whatever barrier they have set up so I promise to come back.

Definitely start setting aside money as soon as you decide to study abroad. You will thank yourself later when you can afford to dine out rather than make store brand pasta with store brand tomato sauce for the umpteenth time this week. Thankfully, even store brand here is better than most of what we have in America. I have actually grown to enjoy eating unrefrigerated generic brand eggs every morning.

Less of a tourist than before.

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It’s a thought that comes to mind with ease when you spot loud English speakers on the metro: ugh, tourists. Can’t stand them.

I’ve heard it from others; I’ve thought it myself. Who actually likes tourists? From a young age, I knew how to spot people in Philly who clearly weren’t from Philly: the Ride-The-Duck customers who created a deafening off-key symphony with their quacking whistles, the wanderers in Center City who wanted to know where in the world 14th street was, the constant string of people taking pictures next to the Rocky Statue with their fists raised high.

The presence, however slight, of tourists milling around Rittenhouse square or strolling through Old City (to see the Liberty Bell of course) instilled in me a selfish and pretentious sense of possession. Philadelphia is my home. You don’t appreciate it the way that I do. It was unreasonable of me. They’re just tourists.

Which begs the question, are we study abroad students tourists ourselves? A tourist is defined as someone who travels to a place strictly for pleasure. And studying abroad doesn’t exactly fit that definition. There are many things that we get the opportunity to see that the average tourist wouldn’t—the subtle patterns and routines of daily life in Rome, like where to grocery shop and do laundry and how to get there, and what time things open and close and which restaurants and nightclubs are a little bit too American.

That’s the beauty of spending six weeks in Rome instead of just one or two, the way one would on a vacation. You never know what you may end up learning or seeing with a little extra time.

Like the emergency room, for example.

On Sunday night, after returning from an amazing weekend trip to the Amalfi coast (a beautiful, sun-drenched spot near Naples that contains the colorful island of Capri and the sleepy little town of Sorrento), my friend Rachel convinced me that I needed to see a doctor. My throat had been hurting like crazy during the trip, and it wasn’t getting better.

So, we walked to a nearby hospital, which turned out to be a clinic for eye problems only, and a kind woman at the front desk wrote out an address to a general hospital a mile away.

One taxi ride and three hours later, I had a prescription written for an antibiotic to treat tonsillitis. Pretty bad luck, right?

But I have to admit, sitting in a waiting room and watching patients leisurely speak and befriend each other in Italian was quite an experience. So was hopping from hospital to hospital until we found the right doctor. And looking back, trying to tell an Italian-speaking doctor that my throat felt swollen and I was coughing a lot involved an incredibly comical amount of pointing, hand gestures, and facial expressions.

I’m not telling this story to scare anyone. Obviously, I had no idea that I would end up with swollen tonsils in a foreign country, but this ridiculous, inconvenient, and painful experience definitely taught me a little bit more about how to make it in a foreign country. Listening to friendly advice always helps—if Rachel hadn’t convinced me to go to the hospital, I might have ended up having to get my tonsils taken out. Despite the daunting language barrier, doctors and nurses have a job to do, and that is to keep you safe and healthy. And while emergency rooms in Italy aren’t the quickest-moving things, they provide a funnily friendly atmosphere. Studying abroad is teaching me in different ways to suck it up, deal with a bad situation, and solve it in a calm and rational manner.

Oh, and gelato definitely helps a sore throat.gl

Learning to Love Art

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Art has never been my forte. I look at paintings, notice how well done they are and move on to the next one. Rinse, repeat and I can probably be out of a museum as big as the Louvre in half an hour. The only works of art I have ever been able to discuss in depth are Kanye West’s albums. Let me know when Michelangelo creates something half as good as Kanye’s third verse on his song “Gorgeous.” But seriously, taking art history in Rome has helped my understanding of art and even the world tremendously.

I remember learning about Greek architecture in 6th grade and having to memorize the capitals on top of pillars (doric, ionic and Corinthian). I never remembered the difference because I was just looking at pictures in a textbook or on a projector. After 3 weeks of art history here, I can speak on the influence of classical Greek architecture on Roman architecture. I can’t walk a block in this amazing city without noticing fluted columns, pilaster strips or the Renaissance interpretation of the classical ionic column under an arch. That last sentence would have meant nothing to me a few weeks ago. By the end of this semester I’ll only discuss art with those distinguished enough to own monocles and describe wine as “oaky” or “structured” (what does that mean?).

One of the many fountains of Villa D'Este

One of the many fountains of Villa d’Este

I have seen so many amazing things here, but I have to say my favorite so far is Villa d’Este. Created in 1550, Villa d’Este has these beautiful, elaborate fountains. Somehow, the creators figured out how to use hydraulic engineering to supply water to dozens of fountains. I highly recommend checking out Villa d’Este. We did not have to pay to get in because it was for an educational trip, but it is definitely worth the few euros it normally costs to get in. Around every corner, you’ll find another fountain.

I know it sounds obvious; of course I will gain more from an art history class when I actually can see the works in real life. I knew that going into this trip. But I did not realize what a profound impact it would have. There is an incredibly eerie yet inspiring feeling that comes with viewing a work of art that dates back to 2nd century BCE. I have never really noticed how young America is; George Washington and the founding fathers seem like ancient history to me. But in Rome, there is literally ancient history.

Amphitheater of Sutri, created in the 2nd century BC

Amphitheater of Sutri, created in the 2nd century BCE

While standing above the amphitheater of Sutri on an art class site visit, I was amazed. In the 2nd century BCE, these people had found a way to excavate a mountainside into an amphitheater that could seat hundreds. Even today with our modern technology, I would not know where to begin on a project like that. What I found especially amazing is the foresight that some of the emperors of Rome had. Many of the projects spanned of over a hundred years. Creating something for future generations is a very noble endeavor, and a concept I wish we would focus on more now. Not everything we do needs an instantaneous result. I hear peers express the idea (though thankfully, this is not the majority opinion) that we do not need to worry about the environment because future generations will have to deal with it. Thankfully Romans did not have this shortsighted perspective. I’ll try to match their worldly perspective with one of my own: I’ll give that Michelangelo guy another look.

Food and Italian Culture: A Perfect Combination

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It feels ridiculous to write about living in Rome and not talk about the food, so here goes. I could easily go on and on about how fresh everything is and how many different pizza toppings there are and how you can find the strangest gelato flavors here, but I’d like to look at it from a slightly different perspective.

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Real Italian pizza- eaten with a knife and fork!

In America, restaurants push big portions. It’s not common for a group to stay too long at their table or booth after the meal is over. Takeout and delivery are standard forms for modern dining. And America loves to talk about dieting. Between South Beach and Atkins diets, low-carb and low-fat labels, calorie-counting apps, hundreds of weight loss advertisements that one sees per day, and billions of dollars spent per year on weight loss pursuits, diet culture is rampant in the states. So, in other words, America has quite a complicated relationship with food.

Living in a country where food is handled in an entirely different manner has produced a pretty interesting and amazing form of culture shock. When I come back to Philadelphia in July, not only will I know how to make a really good tiramisu, but I’ll have developed an entirely different take on how to enjoy it. Here’s a few reasons that the Italian diet is a unique and healthy one:

1) Italians take their time eating. During the first week in Rome, a group of us went out to a restaurant and ordered some of the most delicious pizza I’d ever tried. Before eating, though, my roommate pointed out that in Italy, you’re supposed to eat pizza with a fork and knife, not with your hands. Although “takeout” is becoming more popular in Italy, you usually have to tell your barista “da portar via,” or they won’t assume that you’re getting your espresso to go. And if you’re at meal with multiple courses, there’s a pretty big time break between each course. The effect of all this? It takes longer to finish your food. Instead of quickly wolfing something down, you have to make a little bit of time for the meal—and that’s how you can truly enjoy it.

2) Portions are smaller—but definitely filling. Italian restaurants back in the states often produce a misleading image of what a true meal is like in Italy. The whopping servings of spaghetti and meatballs and giant plates of chicken parm are not something you’d find in a restaurant in Rome. Generally, the food here is given in lower quantities, and it’s not as slathered in sauce, cheese, and condiments as it would be in the states. True Italian food comes in sizes that are filling, but won’t leave you feeling like you just ate a Thanksgiving Day meal.

3) It’s about energy, not calories. Maybe it’s because I’ve only had three and a half weeks of Italian class and I can’t quite read that much Italian yet, but I haven’t noticed a single weight loss ad since I’ve been here. While restaurants and grocery stores often accommodate those with food allergies (for example, senza glutine for gluten-free eaters), you usually don’t see “fat free” and “low carb” labels slapped onto containers of food. You can’t even find the word “caloria”—instead, the nutritional facts usually use the word “energia” instead.

The result is pretty great- the Italian culture really celebrates the nourishment that comes from good, fresh food.

Stumbling Upon Excellence

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Wildly enough, I’ve been living in Rome for almost a month. That realization produces a conflicting feeling. On the one hand, I feel accustomed to things, like how to order a cappuccino in Italian without freaking out (“da portar via” is the term you use to say “to go” or “for takeaway”). The street signs, which are often prettily engraved into the sides of buildings, are beginning to look a little more familiar. During rush hour, the metro cars will inevitably feel more overcrowded than a mosh pit, and the Termini train station feels more like a speedy obstacle course than Suburban or 30th Street Station ever will.

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Obelisk near Piazza Spagna

On the other hand, I’ve recognized that there are certain things to which I will never become accustomed, like the fact that there is literally art everywhere you turn. Every corner, every square and plaza, every side street is adorned with some fantastical form of art, whether it is a cluster of colossal statues, an intricate 400 year old fountain, or a 10-story-tall obelisk. In other words, you don’t need to enter a museum in Rome to see some of the most amazing and historically rich artwork in the world—you simply need to walk around. And that will always continue to shock and amaze me.

The fact that it’s been almost a month also instills an ever-so-slight sense of panic. Have I appreciated Rome enough so far? Have I explored enough of it? No doubt, I’ve seen a lot—like the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica on class excursions, or the beautiful Ostia beach and the enchantingly creepy Cripta dei Cappuccini with roommates and friends. But Rome is huge—over 1,200 square kilometers. To put things in perspective, Philadelphia is about 370 square kilometers. The pressing question has remained entrenched in my mind: how does one experience Rome in just the right way?

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Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome

This question was still in the back of my mind when I took the metro to the southern side of the city to get material for an article assignment for The Temple News. I write about gallery exhibits for the newspaper, and luckily, there are plenty of exhibits in Rome with unlikely connections to Temple University. For example, the artwork of Temple Rome students is currently on display at the Cimiterio Acattolico, or Non-Catholic Cemetery, of Rome. I’d never even heard of the cemetery before, so when I walked in, I was completely floored. The cemetery was filled with palm trees, overflowing vegetation, gorgeous flowers that glowed in the morning sunlight, and a silence that was occasionally punctuated by the chirping of birds. The graves were decorative and diverse: some displayed simple crosses, while others encompassed busts and sculptures or held inscriptions of Arabic and Hebrew text. It was, quite simply, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen in my life. Maybe my allergies were acting up from all the flowers, but I suddenly realized there were tears running down my face.

So, I still haven’t completely solved the question of “how to experience Rome,” but I will say this: you never know what amazing experience you will stumble upon in this city, and that’s what makes it so precious and incredible.