Explorations and Obstacles around the City

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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”.

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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:

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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.”

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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

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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.

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Understanding Rome

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Day Trip in Umbria

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This Saturday the Temple Rome program ventured to Todi and Titignano for a day trip before the start of classes on Monday. We drove off on three buses into the countryside in Umbria, soaking in the breathtaking scenery on the way. Once we arrived in the medieval hill town of Todi, we left our buses and began the climb up to the small town. Climbing up the side of the steep hill was a reminder of the historical significance of developing towns in this way: high up above the countryside, so that the inhabitants could spot foreign invaders headed their way. With each turn through the town, there was another small piece of history to be discovered.

At the top of the walk were viewpoints of the rolling hills and plains below:

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After a cup of coffee, we explored the picturesque town, its small alleyways and panoramic views. Looking up we saw tiny balconies cluttered with plants and noticed lines of clothes hanging out to dry, filling the air with an atmosphere of slow living, free of anxieties or tensions.

This continued to be a theme throughout the rest of the day, as we moved on to our long 14 course lunch in Titignano, taking our time sipping wine and gazing out at the lake and vineyards in the distance.

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It was the kind of idyllic afternoon that gives off the most romanticized impression of Italian culture; one that I have found (in the short week I’ve been here) enraptures me at times, even if the feeling is quickly halted with the honks of traffic or some other reminder of the more hectic aspects of everyday Italian life.

These moments allow me to reflect that while my daily life here won’t be exactly like this picture-perfect afternoon in Umbria, the overall Italian attitude we experienced here persists throughout my days in Rome. It is the attitude of taking time to enjoy each part of life, whether that be a three-hour dinner, a long walk to an on-site class, or even a brief moment enjoying the light through the trees along the river.

As I begin to settle in to Rome and prepare for the start of classes, I hope to adopt this attitude I am surrounded by, and not just revert back to the usual, more fast-paced and future-oriented lifestyle of the University system in the US. I hope for this not because I dislike the efficiency or productivity of American education/work environments, but rather because I admire the Italians’ enjoyment of the present. I so often find myself thinking ahead to what’s next: what grade I will get on my midterm, what summer internship I will find, and even what job I will look for after graduation. I hope that experiencing a lifestyle so focused in the present will help me to make each moment of life more enjoyable, inspiring, and significant, rather than constantly fixating on what lies ahead.

Saying “Hi” to My Neighbor Pope Francis

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It’s been a crazy week full of meeting people (both Italians and my American colleagues), walking all over a new city, eating great food, and becoming acquainted with…well, everything. At first, it was the odd things that stuck out to me (Italians apparently take their dogs everywhere from weddings to supermarkets and casual mass gatherings in the Vatican City.); but now that I’ve had time to introduce myself to the city, I’ve been able to really take in this change. I’m constantly hit with that feeling of “oh my goodness…I can’t believe that I’m in Italy right now,” and while I have yet to see the end of those realizations, I’m starting to feel comfortable here. This week was all about getting acquainted with Italian culture: how they shop, get around, eat (and what they eat), as well as noticing what parts of other cultures they seem to have adopted. For instance, you can find french fries in many food places, there’s a McDonald’s and a Burger King down the street, and almost every Tabacchi store (a convenience store of sorts) seems to have some trinket involving an American TV show or movie.

On Saturday, Temple Rome took a trip to the beautiful town of Todi in the Umbria region of Italy. A real “city upon a hill,” I was astounded by Todi, the breathtaking beauty of it and the idea of looking below you and seeing the world. The ride was two hours of rushing past the city of Rome and reaching the stretching farmland. The city itself seemed to be as untouched by time as you could expect to find, with alleyways, arches, and cobblestone sprinkled across hills upon hills. It not only reminded us of the Italy that you find on Google Images, but it also reminded us of the beauty that can exist outside of Rome, how much of Italy there is to see and how 15 weeks is plenty of time, but almost not enough to experience it all.

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From there, we went to Titignano to have a seven course meal in an ancient castle. The castle, built by a member of the Montemarte family in 937 A.D., is known as a vacation spot, wedding venue, etc. In fact, there was a wedding about to take place as we were leaving. With a large dining hall and an incredible view of the landscape below, we dined on two different kinds of pasta, three different kinds of meat, cold cuts, tiramisu, and more.

To top it all off, my week ended with witnessing the Canonization of Mother Teresa at the Vatican. Me and two of my friends stood in a crowd of people as Pope Francis officially declared Mother Teresa a patron saint. It was a piece of history that we never thought we would have the opportunity to experience, let alone be a part of. There were so many people from around the world standing around us and we were able to witness something incredibly important together.14231787_10209060449422012_3119729298408355701_o

The entire week, from orientation to the dinner and the canonization, was full of experiences that solidified it for me: Yes, I can believe I am in Rome. It’s different; it’s confusing and embarrassing sometimes (especially considering the language barrier), but it’s always new and never not entertaining.

Arrival in Rome

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I am now up early in the morning after my first day in Rome, enjoying the one benefit of jet lag: watching the city wake up and become the colorful, bustling place I experienced yesterday. The sky is painted in delicate and glowing colors as the sun rises, and the streets are quiet, save for the smooth whir of cars rushing by.

My first day in Rome felt surreal. Because of my packed schedule in the weeks leading up to my study abroad program, I hadn’t really mentally prepared myself for starting the semester. Once I arrived, it all hit me at once. Partially, it was the excitement of being in a new city, thinking about how I would spend each day exploring its streets, foods, and sites. On the other hand, it was also the realization of everything I hadn’t done, hadn’t prepared for or hadn’t researched. Which phone plan should I get? Which areas of the city are the most dangerous? Do I have what I need if I get sick? I suddenly felt as if my arrival in Rome had completely snuck up on me, even though I have been daydreaming about it for months.

However, the day continued on and those worries became smaller and smaller as I began to feel the magic of the city around me. As we wandered through the piazzas and side streets searching for a place to get dinner, we by chance ran into the Spanish Steps, a site I have seen through photos and films all my life, and here we were walking right past it completely accidentally. It seemed there was history at every turn, placed in stark contrast with the modern shops, graffiti and signs of contemporary life that was weaved throughout. Continuing to stroll past hundreds of years old sites helped these stresses to fade as I realized what I small part of this city’s history I am. There is a strange comfort in reflecting on how many people have walked these streets, from historical figures to travelers and even students probably feeling some of these same worries as me. While the city is new to me personally, it is not new to the world—many people before me have learned to live as the Romans do, as will many people after me. I am thankful to be a part of that, and will try to think from this perspective any time a situation or challenge here feels daunting and overwhelming.

This morning, I am reminded that I will continue to face these small challenges and worries beyond just the first day. After writing this post, I walked out to find a café to get some breakfast, when I suddenly found myself caught in a thunderstorm, drenched from the rain with no map to find my way back. Soon enough, however, I ended up safely back in my apartment, and laughed looking back at what was at the time a stressful turn of events. This may be a silly example of the challenges we will face in our time abroad, but it is a reminder to be ready for the unexpected, and to learn from every opportunity and surprise that is thrown your way.

Approaching Preparation for Rome

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Approaching Preparation for Rome

As I’m preparing to leave for Rome, I’m starting to realize that preparation is simply decision making. In some ways, thinking of preparation this way makes it easy to stomach: it’s just one choice at a time. You decide to practice tirelessly for a performance or recital; you decide to study in the most effective way for a final exam; you decide to sit in silence as you brainstorm for your next big project. Preparing for a semester abroad in Rome means that I have a lot of decisions to make. How much stuff should I bring? Four pairs of leggings or three? How do I budget my time and money? I’ve come to realize that the most important question, the one I’m still thinking over in the shower, is what type of experience do I want to have? This is the essential question of every type of preparation: Do I want to do well during this performance? Do I want to ace this final? Do I want my next big project to be outside of the box?

Obviously, I can’t control everything about this trip; there is no magical button I can press to ensure that I have a great time, all the time. However, I can control my attitude, the people I surround myself with, and the chances I take. If I put myself out there and speak Italian, if I go shopping mostly at a market in a piazza rather than a supermarket—these choices will shape my experience. A “full experience” (whatever that means to you) will not just come to me. I must go out and seek it for myself. There’s legwork and risk in truly experiencing another culture. I could approach Italy with a surface-level amount of immersion and exposure, or I could really delve into its personality. Of course, it’s a lot easier to convince myself to take chances when I am sitting comfortably in my Pennsylvanian-Suburban bedroom; but this is the preparation everyone traveling to a new place should be going through.

In many ways, these types of decisions are more difficult to make than most because no one knows how things will turn out before they happen. Maybe on the plane, I will feel a sudden nervousness and sense of fear that will cause me to stay in my shell throughout the entire trip. Maybe I’ll find that I am braver than I thought. The scariest part about this decision is that whatever experience I have while abroad ultimately says something about me as a person, about my sense of adventure and spontaneity. While most decisions say something about you as a person, this one has a lot of gravity to it. My time in Rome will show me how I deal with change and unfamiliarity, how well I can handle being alone or lost and communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the same language I do.

I’m not saying that this trip will change my life. I’m saying that it could. And no matter what I choose, it will be different. No, not everything will be perfect. But, I’m making the choice to learn about Italy, Europe, and, hopefully, myself as well. I’m putting myself in the mental state to speak Italian and make mistakes, travel and navigate in an unfamiliar space, and confront Rome face-to-face.

Final Thoughts

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I’m back home! After an extremely early morning, delayed flight, excessive line at customs, and 3 hour train journey from New Jersey, it feels good to be back home with my family. I can’t help but think about my study abroad experience every single day. I find myself comparing each aspect of my life here to how it would’ve been back in Rome. The food is absolutely different, and it’s strange not having to translate everything before I speak. It’s even weird to see bigger cars, considering most cars in Italy were Smart Car size. Nevertheless, after finishing the experience of a lifetime, there are some major points that I think summarize not only the experience I had, but key facts I believe would be important for anyone to know before going on a month long study abroad journey to Italy (or any country for that matter).

Have a good credit/debit card – Keeping a debit card with you which has no ATM and no foreign transaction fees can be extremely useful. When my parents visited halfway through the program, my dad brought me a Charles Schwab Online Banking Debit Card which has no fees whatsoever, and is free and easy to acquire. It made getting cash stress free and easy!

Bring lots of snacks – Having snacks like bars and protein shakes was immensely useful on those mornings when I didn’t have time to grab my usual cornetto al ciocolatto (croissant filled with chocolate). It also helped keep me going through the day on long class excursions when we didn’t have time to stop for food.

Keep a strong bag and water bottle – I had a very large, sturdy water bottle which didn’t leak that I was able to fill up whenever I wanted at one of Rome’s many public water fountains. Since water at most restaurants in Italy wasn’t free, having my bottle with me wherever I went was extremely useful. Moreover, having a small but strong bag to keep some necessary items in (water, snacks, chargers, etc.) was invaluable to my survival around the country.

Backup your photos often – Most of us will use our phones as our main cameras, and as someone who doesn’t take pictures much even I took thousands of photos. I personally used OneDrive to automatically backup all the photos I took, but I know both iCloud and Google+ work really well also (and the latter is completely free). It was certainly relieving to be able to delete photos at the end of every day and having space to take hundreds more throughout the week.

Bring a reliable portable charger/battery pack – It’s 2016, and for many of us our phones are almost like lifelines (or at least mine is for me). I had a portable charger (read: battery pack) with me everywhere I went which carried one full charge for my phone. As I used my phone much more often in Italy than I do at home (directions, translations, transportation schedules, etc), I also found my phone dying faster than usual. My portable battery pack was a lifesaver many times, and the only thing I regret is not having one with a larger capacity!

Purchase cosmetics in advance – In Italy, things like soap, shampoo, and especially sun-screen are exponentially more expensive than they are in America, so being well prepared and having the right amount of these things is crucial. Moreover, most electronics are exponentially more expensive as well, so plan ahead!

I tried my best not to repeat tips that I gave in previous blog posts. Thinking back on the month I had, it’s certainly been one of the most memorable of my whole life. People are already having conversations with me about my trip. Unfortunately, when I tell them in return “you should study abroad!” most responses are in the realm of “I don’t have time” or “I don’t know how I could.” This has shown me that it is never to early to walk into Temple’s study abroad office, even if you’re 2% interested in studying abroad, and firing away any questions you have for the wonderful staff there. I’ve realized how truly privileged I am as a Temple student, having campuses in some of the most beautiful cities in the world (especially Rome). For anyone looking for the most fulfilling undergraduate experience, look no further than the Study Abroad Office and the opportunities they offer. I’m still beaming ear-to-ear just thinking about my experience. Thank you all for reading my blogs, I hope reading about my tips and experience helps you have a more enjoyable time with yours!

The Final Countdown

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My flight is approaching faster than I would like it to, but it hasn’t really hit me yet. I’ve tried as hard as possible not to think about getting on my final metro and bus rides to the train station and airport, respectively, but alas the time has come. As I slowly pack my bags and finish up my last assignments, I’m trying to catch every last glimpse of this beautiful city that I can.

This past week certainly went by faster than the others. As a participant in the pilot 4-week program, a lot of course content was very experimental in the use of the city of Rome as our classroom. This very aspect, however, of going out and seeing the sights and events we were discussing, is what made it so unique and interesting. There’s no experience like discussing the sociopolitical implications of the Vatican after having actually visited the museums as a class. Needless to say, I’ve had an extremely enjoyable time in the course. While Mosaics is traditionally seen as a course which is classroom heavy and writing intensive, experiencing it here in Rome didn’t make it seem like that at all. Of course we had our weekly assignments and a final project which included a reflection paper, but that was all dwarfed by the amazing class excursions we got to go on. Notably, this past week we visited the EUR district – Benito Mussolini’s take on contemporary Roman architecture in the mid 20th century – as well as the magnificent Galleria Borghese, an art gallery with priceless, exquisite paintings and sculptures. The class had an extra depth of engagement in our professor’s use of current events as they related to the course material. We discussed the pending election extensively, as well as educational rights issues gripping America today. On my own I got to visit Sicily and Bologna with my roommate. The Sicilian cities had a rustic Italian charm to them unperturbed by pop culture, and Bologna had a medieval flare which was intriguing to say the least.

My project in the course focused on the use of science and power in the construction of Western civilization especially with respect to the Roman Empire. Working on this project and having Rome as my backdrop was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had. In fact, after giving my final presentation, it’s tough for me to think of a time when I’ve felt more comfortable, knowledgeable, and excited to present on a topic which I knew almost nothing about just 2 weeks ago. After the presentations concluded, I decided to go out for one last panino (sandwich) and pizza at the cafes right across the block from campus for a quick, cheap lunch before heading home for a well deserved break. I found myself taking more time than I usually do to get home, however, in an effort to appreciate every tree lining the blocks and every old building that appeared in my sight.

With my flight Saturday, the name of the game now is to pack as well as possible and make sure I’m all set to head back. I’m hoping to be able to have one more Aperitivo (appetizer buffet) and gelato before I have my final night’s sleep in my apartment, and I definitely plan on savoring every moment of it. My final goodnight to this beautiful city and country will certainly be bittersweet. As much as I miss home and am looking forward to going back to my family, nothing can take away from the indescribable experience I’ve had in Rome these past 4 weeks.