Monthly Archives: September 2013

Finally Feeling Homesick

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This week I’ve been much more homesick than I ever have been here. Usually I get sad thinking about my friends and family back home, and how it almost feels like my life is static here while everything just continues without me at home. I get worried that this experience is changing me in ways I won’t recognize until I get home, and that I won’t fit back into my life in America anymore. Sometimes though I just want to go home and get a huge plate of terrible Americanized Chinese food and watch an unhealthy amount of Netflix. This weekend has been particularly hard for me, because it was my little sister’s birthday on Saturday. Even when I’m at college, I always come home for her birthday. Even though we Skyped, I still felt incredibly disconnected from my family.

The first strategy I’ve been employing to stave off homesickness is to keep busy. Rome has no shortage of museums and other activities to do, and keeping occupied can definitely help take your mind off of homesickness. Luckily, I had the opportunity to have one of the busiest weekends of my trip so far as European Heritage Day and the free opening of the Vatican museums on the last Sunday of the month coincided.

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European Heritage Day meant that there were many national museums and other activities in Rome open to the public for free. Unfortunately, before we left we didn’t look up exactly what was free and what we would still pay for.. Travel tip: if there’s ever a free museum day, make sure that the museums you want to go to are participating! We went to the Colosseum hoping to get in free, but as a tour guide outside informed us, the Colosseum is never free. Walking around the area was really fun though, and we ended up seeing the Basilica of San Clemente instead, which is an operational church built on the ruins of a medieval church, which is in turn built on the remains of an ancient Roman house.

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The Ara Pacis and the Castel Sant’Angelo were also free on Saturday. Everyone knows that the Vatican is a must see when visiting Rome, but the Castel Sant’Angelo is amazing to see and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Rome. It’s a great example of the complexity of Rome’s history. It was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family, and later converted to a castle by the Popes and used as a fortress and prison for the Papal states. It’s a gorgeous building that houses several interesting museum collections, and the view from the top is absolutely phenomenal. It’s definitely the best view of the city I have seen so far.

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At the end of the day, and when everything is closed, it is even easier to get caught in a wave of homesickness. Honestly it helps to just cry it out. Bottling it up just makes it that much harder to deal with. I always feel much better after having a good cry. Keeping a journal is also a great way to keep your feelings under control. After writing out all of your homesick worries, even if they seem to stupid and ridiculous to say out loud, you genuinely feel better. All in all, ignoring homesickness only makes it worse and harder on yourself. Homesickness can make your time here feel like a waste of time, but it will get better! Wallowing can only make it worse.

Viva Vino!: Wine Tasting Night

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Wednesday night, my fellow students and I arrived at the Villa Caproni at 9 pm, excited for Temple Rome’s official wine tasting night event! We signed up for the event at the beginning of the semester and had been anxiously awaiting its arrival! The night featured a tasting of three different Italian wines: a white, a red, and a sparkling.

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But, before the wines could be served, a lesson on wine was given by the host of the night. She went over everything you need to know about vino, including how it’s made, what foods each individual wine can be paired with, and how to correctly taste it.  Saying that she really knows her wine is an extreme understatement! The presentation was interesting and informative and helped us learn more about the art of wine and understand why it’s such an important part of Italian culture.
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During the presentation, students were taught how to correctly open different wine bottles. When it came time to open a sparkling wine, Gianni was challenged to open the bottle without making it pop- which he found difficult to do. After hearing our laughs, Gianni decided to challenge students to top him, by opening bottles without a single sound! It proved to be an equally difficult challenge for the students who bravely participated.

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After the presentation and these hilarious attempts , we were anxiously awaiting our wines to be served! They were served in our beautiful “Temple University Rome Wine Tasting Night 2013” wine glasses that we received as a gift for the evening. The wines were served as sparkling first, white second, and red third. Before we drank each one, we took a close look at the color, smelled the wine, and finally took a proper taste. All of the wines were incredible! We were in awe of the rich colors and smells coming from them and found ourselves savoring each taste of the absolutely delicious wines. My favorite wine that was served was the sparkling prosecco. It was the perfect sweet and bubbly combination!

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And so the best part of the night had begun! We hung out together and did everything we had spent all night learning about! We all had a great rest of the night as a group- enjoying bread, grapes, and wine together while talking and sharing laughs. With a full schedule of classes, homework, and excursions- it was a nice night to slow down and take a break with friends!

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Once the night came to a close, students gathered their gifts and headed home, feeling satisfied and full from all of the delicious tastes of the night! I think I can speak for the group when I say that we feel more in tune with this large part of Italian culture and that we’re more than ready to go out and put everything we learned into practice (and simply enjoy some more delicious wines!) This was just added onto the list as another fun and unique memory made here as a group at Temple Rome!

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Roma, the City Where Everything is Historic

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One of my favorite parts of Rome is the fact that everywhere you go,  you’re sure to run into some obscure, out of the way historic site. The city is absolutely filled with them. Even though there are so many interesting places, you still get a little thrill every time you discover something new. The best way to do it is to walk around with someone knowledgeable about the city who can point out the little things you wouldn’t notice. Luckily for Temple Rome students, we have Professor Jan Gadeyne who organizes the Wall Walk every year!

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The Wall Walk is an ordeal. It’s an 8 hour trek around the center of Rome, following the ancient Aurelian walls that used to surround the city. Now, only 5% of Rome is located within the walls. Still, the walk is an absolutely amazing introduction to the city and its different neighborhoods. Of course, the Wall Walk is considered a rite of passage for Temple Rome students normally, but this year it was extra difficult. It rained. The whole time. We stopped at least twice to see if the walk should be called off, but it wasn’t. We didn’t even stop for lunch as usual, we just kept walking to get as much distance in before the rain started again! It was incredibly beautiful thought and well worth the trouble.

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One of my favorite parts of the Wall Walk was found in Monte Testaccio. The source of its name- a huge mountain of ancient pottery that was used by the Romans. After they got the olive oil out of the great amphoras, they would simply throw the leftover pots away instead of reusing them. The pile of pots grew so large that it exists as a noticeable hill today, and gives the name to the neighborhood of Monte Testaccio. It would be so easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it and just hurrying along, but once you notice it becomes a glaring anachronism that symbolizes Rome- a modern European city with an ancient past that is still continuously, amazingly, present.

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Not only that, but Romans are incredibly conscious of their ancient city. They have to be, the reminders are everywhere. Not only are there relics of ancient buildings, but the Aurelian walls are mostly complete and surround the historical center of Rome with the memory of those ancient times. Their piazzas are finished with ancient Egyptian obelisks, and of course the presence of the Pantheon and the Colosseum cannot be ignored. The ancient history of Rome is tangibly present in ways that it simply can’t be in America.

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Added to the experience of seeing the ruins in Rome the experience of visiting the ancient town of Ostia Antica and the other local sites, this time studying in Rome has become an incredible opportunity to connect with the past. As a history major, I particularly value the connection made here. It is a powerful experience, seeing statues and villas constructed thousands of years before you were born. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had here in Rome has been wandering around, looking for more of these connections to the past.

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Finding Peace In A Crowded City

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Since arriving in Rome on September 3rd, I have been anxiously seeking little escapes from the busy crowded ways of the city life. Those escapes can often be hard to find in any city, especially when you’re in one completely foreign to you. Although i’ve been having an amazing time in Rome and I have been seeing and doing so many new things, I’ve found the past week to be stressful and full of bits of homesickness. The language barrier and cultural differences have found me at times overwhelmed and exhausted. I say this so you can understand why I was so relieved and excited when my creative writing professor told my class last Wednesday that we would meet in the charming and gorgeous Piazza Novana for class Monday morning.

I was delighted to wake up this morning and go outside to find that it was a perfectly chilly morning. Some of my classmates and I headed to the Piazza Novana around 8 am and met up with the rest of my class.

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Our teacher gathered us together and gave us the best assignment a creative writing teacher can give his students in Rome – go explore the piazza and write! So with these words, I found a bench close to the center fountain and began to write.

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I looked around me at the quiet and peaceful piazza and for the first time, I truly took in the beauty of this city. I felt the perfect combination of the sun and the breeze on my skin, I smelled the fresh morning air, I saw friends and couples walking together and enjoying each others company, I explored the wonder in the amazing history that surrounded me, and I heard a talented musician play familiar songs somewhere close by.

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It was just then that an old man approached me with a joyful “Buongiorno! Come va?” and I replied with a “Bene! Y Tu?”. The man then explained to me in Italian that he was not doing so well due to the fact that he was old and his legs weren’t working so well anymore but that it was a beautiful morning and he was happy just to be alive. He took an opportunity to explain to me the story of the fountain I was writing about and he left me with a smile and a closing “Buongiorno, Bella!”

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To this man, I was probably just another person he greeted on his morning walk through the piazza near his home, but to me he was a reminder that every day is filled with joyful interactions and beautiful moments that make the stressful ones seem a lot less stressful after all. It’s times like these, times where I slow down, look around me, and take a moment to appreciate where I am and the unique experience that I’m living out, that I truly find a sense of peace and all of my trivial moments of stress melt away. I have time to think and reflect on my experiences and grow as an individual on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in an ancient city. These simple moments make this semester in Rome something I will never forget.

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re In Philadelphia Anymore

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And how do I know this? Oh, Let me count the top ten ways…

1. I see nuns walking around, everywhere. Yes, nuns.They wander around casually all over Italy, which is something those of us from Philadelphia are not used to.

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2. I desperately search for ancient fountains to fill up my water bottle. They’re little gems hidden all over the city of Rome. They appear to be a historical fountain but they double as a source of fresh and delicious drinking water. After long days of exploring in the hot sun – they are a lifesaver. (TIP: Press your thumb against the spout and water will come out of the top hole, making it a way cooler version of a water fountain) 

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3. Carbs make my world go round. My days consist of bread, pasta, cheese (lots & lots of cheese), a gelato or two or three or…, more bread, a piece of pizza, and the OCCASIONAL fruit or vegetable. This isn’t necessarily by choice – this is Italy people! This country has a love affair with Carbohydrates. Good thing I walk a 100 miles a day or i’d be taking up three seats on the plane ride home!

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4. I feel a warm fuzzy feeling when I see those yellow arches or a flashing BK sign. I think I can speak for everyone in the program when I say how exciting it is to see a Mcdonalds or Burger King when walking through Rome. I never thought i’d be so happy to see fast food places in my life! It gives us that little connection to good old America (and hilariously makes us desperately crave a double cheeseburger!)

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5. My friends and I stop and take pictures…OF EVERYTHING. Doorknobs, City Walls, Steps, Alleyways, you name it! Rome is beautiful and you find it’s beauty in the smallest of details. My friends and I can make a 30-minute walk into an all day adventure by stopping to explore every little thing in our surroundings. One man’s every day is another man’s adventure- right? (Okay…so maybe i’m just justifying the tourist in all of us?)

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6. There are no food trucks. There are fruit stands. Ah…the beloved food trucks. Philadelphia is home to many delicious, quick, cheap, and easy trucks to grab your favorite cheesesteak, breakfast sandwich, or beloved crepe! Here in Rome- there is no such thing. Instead, they opt for a much healthier alternative. Fruit trucks! I love grabbing a delicious pesche aka peach on the way to class.

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7. I hang out at world famous historical sites. Words commonly exchanged between classes: “Hey wanna meet me at the spanish steps after class?” “Lets all grab dinner by the colosseum tonight!” “I need to go shopping. Wanna go to the shops behind the Piazza Del Popolo?” Much different then the common Temple University hang outs- such as the Bell Tower, Rittenhouse Square, or Boathouse Row. I think I can safely say that this reality is still surreal to all of us.

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8. You get asked to buy flowers wherever you go. Walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant, or even while having class outside in a park. You will be asked to by flowers, several times a day, every day. And yes, even though they’re one euro, you must resist. Even when called “Bella” and told that they’re “Very good, Very good”.

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9. Apartment Buildings look like they’re made for royalty. Not they are not old warehouses that have been made into loft apartments. They have stained glass ceilings, paintings comparable to Michelangelo, and gorgeous chandeliers. Um…So, can I move here?

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10. I feel inferior to everyone when it comes to fashion. Everyone just seems to know how to dress around here! Not only am I surrounded by stores like Gucci and Tom Ford, but women ride around on their vespas in dresses and high heels and men stroll through the streets in well-tailored suits. Even in the hot sun, nobody breaks a sweat in their million layers – they just manage to remain calm, cool, and stylish. There must be something in the water from those ancient fountains!

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A Wake Up Call..

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Being a queer student studying in Rome doesn’t usually feel all that different from being queer in Philadelphia. I’m a girl and usually straight-passing at a glance, at least until I open my mouth. There’s the same dangers here as in Philadelphia, but they’re more abstract for me here. I’m not walking holding hands with anyone, I don’t anticipate having slurs yelled at me on the streets, and Rome is a major European city, right? It’s so beautiful here I can’t imagine anything bad happening. As long as I’m careful, I won’t be subjected to any incidents to really be concerned about, right?

But then, just like in Philadelphia, something happens that jars you right out of your bubble of security and reminds you that while you may be confident and proud of your sexuality, the world isn’t quite there yet. Walking through Rome on my way back from class, I spotted this billboard campaign for the first time.

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The text there reads “I am with Putin” and the ads are explicitly anti-gay messages being put out by the Italian political party Fronte Nazionale, a far-right party that has said these posters stand in support of Putin’s rejection of war in the Middle East and “because he is fighting the gay lobbies.” Seeing them for the first time was incredibly jarring. “Io sto con Putin” is just ambiguous enough that I doubted my original instinctive assessment that it was about Russia’s recent extreme crackdown on homosexuality and the controversy around it. I thought I was just being hypersensitive, but a quick Google search confirmed my assumptions.

We don’t get ad campaigns like this in America. Not that we’re a homophobia free utopia, because we certainly have our fair share of idiot politicians and political parties demonizing queer people, blaming weather disasters on them and the like. But the idea that any Republican politican would voluntarily support Putin, the leader of Russia and the ‘biggest threat to the United States’ is laughable. We’ll talk in circles agreeing with him but trying hard not to outright endorse him.

I knew Italy had some seriously concerning attitudes about homosexuality before I came here. I knew that while I most likely would not experience any actual danger or conflict while I was here, I would probably experience some of that prejudice first hand. Still it feels like I was blindsided. I was made complacent by the beauty of the city, by the extreme helpfulness of the Roman people, and by the exciting novelty of the country. It now feels like I’m awake. Rome is a beautiful, magical city, but it is not perfect. It can be damaging, however subtly.

The posters have mostly been taken down, since they did not have approval from the city for placement. But I still remember the shocked incredulity I felt seeing them, and its not something I’m going to forget any time soon. My rose colored glasses are gone. But it’s not all bad, one set of posters I saw was defaced with graffiti, with “guillotine” and “assassine” written across Putin’s face. Politics are complicated here, just like they are in America. Not everything is black and white, and Italy is no different. I’m more determined than ever to find and experience queer spaces in Italy and learn more about the Italian queer experience!

The Saga of Bus 3

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Yesterday we went to visit the beautiful medieval town of Todi. It’s located in Umbria, the PROVINCE to the north of Lazio, where Rome is. It’s a wonderful trip filled with historic buildings and churches that ends with a visit to an old Italian manor and a full Italian wedding banquet. Sounds like an exciting trip, right? And it was! Except for when things went wrong.

The buses left from the piazza by the Residence at 8. Driving through the city, our faculty guide Daniela Curioso pointed out some of the interesting sights and fun facts about the city. Everything was going great, the bus was on time and everyone was excited for a day of sight seeing and great food.

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Then, our bus pulled on to the high way. Something was definitely wrong. We immediately pulled onto the side of the road and kept slowly moving backwards. It was clear that there was something wrong with the bus, but we weren’t sure what. Finally the driver came and said the gear shift was acting up and that we would have to wait for another bus to come pick us up. Not a problem!

Except we waited for an hour for that bus to come get us. It felt like forever! Thankfully, just when it felt like we would never leave, the bus pulled up and we were on our way! Our whole bus had a pretty good attitude about it, no one was freaking out.

Todi was gorgeous. The views were spectacular, from the top of the hill you could see out over the countryside perfectly.

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We ended up rushing to the bus at the end of our time there, hoping not to be that last ones there. But that was because two students on our bus had gotten lost. So we waited for another half hour for them. It was all worth it when we got to the wedding banquet though. The food was wonderful, there was plenty of wine and dessert was amazing.

Being on a trip with other students and not only yourself can be challenging. Especially in this past week, I’ve been trying to meet as many new people as possible and that means going to see landmarks and doing other activities with them. Working with people I’m not very familiar with has been a challenge for me. I tend to be very quick to judge people for things like being late, while I am frequently running behind schedule myself. I’ve been trying to be less stressed out and worried about what’s happening during this trip, and I think today was a big success. Not only was I calm and alright with all the delays and problems that Bus 3 had, but the whole bus was very accommodating and understanding to the issues that inevitably pop up on group trips like this. Even with our limited time in Todi, yesterday was filled with beautiful sights of the Italian countryside and medieval history. It just goes to show you that even when everything is going wrong, a day trip can still be great!

A Sunday Outing in Italia is Not Your Average Sunday Outing

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Speaking for all of the students in the Temple Rome program, I can confidently say that this past Sunday was a memorable experience for all of us. The day started at 8 am when we crowded to the buses outside of the residence with tired eyes and excited spirits! After the 2 hour trip to the medieval hill town of Todi, not even bus troubles could stop us from piling off and running to get our first glimpse of the gorgeous views. After taking a million pictures of the breathtaking italian countryside, we were eager to walk around and experience Todi.

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It is easily the most peaceful place I have experienced so far in Italy, with residents casually strolling through the streets, popping into cafes and little shops, while surrounded by buildings and churches that have stood for hundreds of years.

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With a very hot day at hand, the cool breezes that hit you when walking through old alleyways exploring quiet corners of Todi added to the amazing experience. This is where I began to truly fall in love with Italy. Around 12:30, with one last run to the cafe for some pistachio gelato, we traveled back down the hill and returned to the buses for our trip to Titignano.

The trip to Titignano was much anticipated after the long and winding roads (and inevitable motion sickness) that we experienced on the journey there. Riding in a tour bus through the roads in the Italian countryside seemed out of place, considering the only other life we could see for miles were sheep and goats! It was hard to tear our eyes away from the windows as we looked out at the untouched land until we arrived at the estate where we would enjoy our feast!

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Now this wasn’t just any feast, it was a traditional five course meal made with the resources of the estate. The wild boar sauce was made from boars caught on the land, the wine was made on the estate from the grapes in the vineyards, and the same among all of the other incredible foods we enjoyed. The best part of our meal was the feeling of community we had at the long tables where we ate the meal inside the estate.

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We began talking about the foods and drinks with each other, proposing toasts to the semester, sharing many laughs and jokes, and even questioning why anyone wouldn’t study abroad! Our meal concluded with some dessert wine, tiramisu, and espresso. With this, we made our way out the balcony to take in the views for the last time and get our pictures taken by some friendly and hilarious italian men. They seemed to share in our general feelings of joy and gratefulness for the place that we were and the the things we were experiencing.

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After we all said goodbye to our quiet, peaceful little piece of Italy, we made our way back to Rome with full and happy stomachs! Our trip was the perfect way to end our first week abroad, right before the first day of the classes the next morning. These memories will always remain some of my favorite and I can’t wait to someday return to Todi and Titignano, if i could only be so lucky. Now, on to the first week of classes!

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This week has been a whirlwind! You’d think I had temporarily moved to a foreign country or something! Oh wait..

Rome is magnificent. I’ve walked more in the past three days than I have in years, and there’s still so much to do and see! It’s a weird feeling, living in a foreign city. On one hand it feels a lot like American cities. It’s busy, filled with gorgeous old buildings and you can walk everywhere. But there’s no mistaking Rome for Philadelphia. Beyond the fact that everything’s in Italian, people just behave differently. Some buildings are hundreds of years older than America! Even the trees look different, with all of them trimmed to the top.

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what?

I think I witnessed the best example of the Italian way of life that I’ll see. Yesterday, I watched a man get hit by a car. There was a green walk sign, so the driver was clearly at fault. The car wasn’t going very fast so it wasn’t bad at all, the guy didn’t even fall all the way to the floor. He got up angrily, yelled something in Italian at the driver, and then checked to see if his sunglasses had broken. As soon as he had confirmed they were fine, he waved off the driver’s concern, shook his hand, and walked off. There was no yelling or threats of calling lawyers, and it was all resolved before we made it all the way across the street ourselves. That’s so mind blowing.

Another glaring difference for me between Rome and Philadelphia is the graffiti. It’s everywhere here! From just scribbled tagging to anniversary messages, there’s graffiti all across the city.

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I’ve been worrying about my Italian skills (or lack thereof) since they’ve kind of deteriorated since I hadn’t really been speaking it frequently. Thankfully, it’s not a big issue. Everyone has been super nice and understanding!  The Italians really are just happy you’re making an effort. When you try to speak Italian with them they’re incredibly helpful, telling you words you don’t know and helping with pronunciation.

I just bought some stamps to write letters home. I’ve been keeping in contact with people through facebook and email, but there’s something more real and personal about a letter. The tangible experience of putting thoughts on paper feels entirely different than typing online. I wasn’t feeling very homesick until I started writing letters. I really like doing it though! It feels more personal than emails, like I can reach across the distance and still be connected to my family and friends back home. Italian mail is famous for its slowness, though it’s apparently become more efficient, but hopefully I’ll be here long enough to exchange a few letters!

Well that’s all for now! Ciao!

Ciao da Roma!