Christmas in Italy is not that different than in America, but living here and watching it happen gives it more feeling than it usually does. It starts later in Italy than in some other European cities, I was in Madrid for Thanksgiving weekend and before I arrived they had all of the Christmas lights, trees, and markets up already! Without the marker of Thanksgiving they just start earlier I guess!
The Christmas markets are my favorite. We have a similar thing back home in Philadelphia, but it’s just in the one square and isn’t nearly as expansive. Seeing the market in Piazza Navona makes me miss the Philadelphia Christmas Village and city lights, but they’re incomparable really. Now, walking through Rome is an exciting way to find new Christmas markets that you’ve never seen before! They’re all over, in random little piazzas that you’ve never thought to look at.
Plus, the Christmas lights here are amazing. It seems like every little corner of the city has decorated itself almost overnight, with new lights going up everywhere. They range from pretty snowflakes and simple light strings to the huge ropes of rainbow lights strung down Via del Corso. The lights are all over the city, and it’s really fun to walk around trying to find all the little side streets and alleys that have their lights up already.
Even though it’s cold out doesn’t mean it’s not time for gelato still! I thought that the gelato places would close at the end of summer and the tourist season like the little ice cream shops in America do, but they’re still going strong and gelato is still as good a treat now as ever.
One of my favorite things my class at Mamiani taught me was the legend of la Befana, who is the Italian version of Santa Clause. She comes on the Epiphany to give presents to all the good girls and boys of Italy. The legend goes that the 3 wise men stopped on their way to see the baby Jesus at her house and offered to bring her with them. She declined, but later regretted it and tried to find the child on her own. She could not, but she still goes around giving presents to the children of Italy instead. It’s a really nice bit of local folk lore, plus it explains why there are so many women riding brooms around the Christmas markets! Without knowing the story, they look like they’d be more suited to be witches for Halloween!
Seeing all the Christmas cakes on sale and the bright and colorful Christmas markets makes me miss being home for the holidays. I hear it’s snowing in Philadelphia, maybe I’ll be welcomed home with a white Christmas!
So this weekend Temple Rome held their annual Jam Session Show! This was an opportunity for students to come out and show off their talents in a fun school show. Not only did students come and show off their skills, there were Italian guests who came too!
There was such an amazing variety of student performances this year. Students did everything from singing, to skits, to even performing a song in sign language. You never knew just what was coming up next. The Italian guests were also entertaining, with an American woman who does stand up in Rome and several other Italian musicians playing as well. Even the Temple Rome merchandise got its time in the spotlight as students helped model it down the runway.
Of course, it was Ke$ha and Beyonce that really stole the show.
Later that week Temple students got back together to perform one more time at Scholars at an open mic night. That was a great break in the middle of the week papers were due to just all hang out and remember just why we all love this program so much, not just how much we all want to set everything on fire because of stress.
Not only was the Jam Session this week, but Temple Rome had a poetry reading by the amazing contemporary Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli. Listening to the differences in the poetic style of her translated Italian works and the English results was an interesting experience. She was an entertaining and engaging speaker, plus it was pretty funny to watch a room full of Italian speakers confused about what ‘bad ass’ meant and how to translate it for her to understand!
Continuing with the jam-packed week of awesome students, the Temple Rome art show was this week as well! Here the talented student artists displayed the pieces they’ve done during the semester, showing off their skills to all of Roma. Some even managed to sell some of their work!
All in all, this was a great week for the celebration of the students of Temple Rome and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Just when all of us thought we were just going to die of the stress of papers and the looming terror of finals, this week helped remind us all of how much fun we all have together.
I honestly did not know how hard saying goodbye to Rome would be. I’ve enjoyed my time here, had an amazing experience in a great city, but I thought that going home finally would feel like a relief. It doesn’t. Instead, I feel like a whirling mess of emotion.
This semester has been so good for me. I love Temple University, don’t get me wrong, but I just needed a serious change for a while. Rome has made me so much more confident in myself and my abilities. Not only did I survive by myself in a foreign country starting with only a basic grasp of the language, but I managed to get myself to 6 other European countries and plan a weekend trip to Morocco by myself. I honestly didn’t know I was capable of it. And this all while taking classes and actually managing to make some of the best friends I’ve ever had. This experience has been surreal, its like simultaneously a vacation from reality and the most vividly real experience I’ve ever had.
Some of my favorite memories of Rome are just hanging out with the city. There’s nothing more entertaining than sitting in front of the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps watching all the tourists take ridiculous photos, or just hanging out and getting gelato after a day of walking around the city. Rome is a city that’s easy to get lost in, but that you can’t complain about it because you’re going to find something awesome down the road.
I’m so glad I was in Europe for Christmas. Seeing the Christmas traditions so similar to ours and yet so different has been so interesting. Shout out to the students at Mamiani for making sure I fully understood the Italian Christmas traditions!
Being in a city with so much history was my favorite. My family is visiting this week, and I didn’t realize how much I had learned about the history of Rome until I was able to answer all of their questions about buildings and give historical backgrounds for the artistic masterpieces everywhere and the historic buildings. Even with as much fun as this trip was, it still managed to be educational!
I don’t exactly know where this was going, I thought that just writing out my feelings would help with the mess that they are right now. Saying goodbye to everyone tonight is going to be really hard. I know that Gianni told us that we’d make some of our best friends here, but I didn’t believe him. Now I don’t know how I could have ever doubted it. It’s definitely been an amazing semester, and one that I will never forget.
Traveling by yourself is an absolutely terrifying experience. When you travel with friends, the responsibility is at least partially deferred. You might have to get the flight, but someone else can find the hostel! I don’t have to figure out how to get to the city from the airport an hour away! Traveling by yourself means that all those responsibilities are yours, but it is so incredibly worth it, if only to prove to yourself that you can do it. In the final weekend before the end of the program, I decided to take a trip by myself to the city of Fès in Morocco.
While taking trips by yourself is amazing, it’s also terrifying for parents. When I told my mother about it, I knew she was going to be worried. Through in some paranoid family friends who had ‘one time seen a movie where something bad happened in Morocco!’ and it’s a worrier’s worst nightmare. Traveling by yourself can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but just be safe about it. Plan in advance, know the local culture, and just don’t be a jerk and you should be fine!
Morocco was unbelievable. It was so different from the European cities I’ve visited so far, but that was definitely a good thing at this point in the semester! The center of the city is all the original medieval structures, which makes for a very confusing layout for tourists! I didn’t have many problems navigating, if you don’t count about an hour lost trying to find my way out of the Medina the first time I went in!
Plus, I got to play with monkeys! A trip up to the Atlas Mountains was a great break from the bustle of cities. We visited a beautiful park with waterfalls, a lake, and last and most fabulously the forest where you could play with monkeys. They were a lot friendlier than I thought they would be, but with tourists feeding them all the time I’m not actually surprised. The surprise came when they managed to outsmart us and get away with stealing 3 whole bags of peanuts from us!
Traveling by yourself seems like it would be a lonely experience, but hostels are actually great places to meet other travelers. Most of them are college aged, and they’re from all over the world. Many of them are traveling alone as well, so you know that you’re all in the same boat! The people at my hostel in Morocco were incredibly friendly and welcoming. I thought I’d be antisocial the whole time and hide when not out and about, but instead I managed to make some friends that I plan on keeping in touch with.
One of the best experiences I’ve had studying in Temple Rome has been the opportunity to work with the Mamiani Project. It’s only the second year, but this program is a volunteer project that has allowed me to go to an Italian high school for a cultural exchange program. Once a week, I go to work with the students on their English skills by giving presentations on American culture and listening to their presentations as well. This is a great program that has really helped me to understand the average Italian life. As a study abroad student, I’m a little separated from Italians. My Italian is functional, but not fabulous and meeting people is always hard.
Italian high school is weirdly different and the same all at once. Italian high school is 5 years long, so students stay until they’re 19 rather than the typical 18 of the United States. But the way teenagers are is the same. My students complain about how school is not fair, about how their teachers don’t care about anything but their subjects or about making school an enjoyable experience, and that it’s hard to find other students with the same interests. Listening to them talk about their workloads and complain about teachers was like teleporting back to conversations between High School Beth and her friends.
One thing that Italian schools have that there is absolutely no comparable American phenomenon is the ‘occupazione’. It’s a form of student strike where the students take over their class buildings and don’t let anyone in. Classes are completely stopped until the occupazione is over. I still don’t really fully understand it, my class tried to explain it to me but it ended with the students and teacher disagreeing on the way some pretty crucial parts work, but suffice to say nothing even close to this happens in American high schools!
Through working with the students in my class I learned a lot about Italian life and culture! The students did presentations in English for me, so I learned all about Italian Christmas traditions, the roots of popular music, and of course Italian food! The students even brought in food they had made for me to try. It was delicious!
This project was a truly amazing way to get in touch with the lives of average Italian families. If you’re living in the Residence and not a home stay, it can be the only real connection you make with daily Italian life. Working with the students at the Mamiani school was a great experience for me, and definitely one of the best programs I participated in through Temple Rome. I highly recommend that any prospective students with a real interest in Italian life, or who just want to be part of a really cool community outreach program, participate in this program when they get here too!
Thanksgiving in Europe was really weird. Mostly because it doesn’t exist. One of the most important American holidays, and it has absolutely no relevance to any culture except our own. It’s weird to think about. Having Thanksgiving here was interesting. It’s a holiday dedicated to family and food, and family is pretty far away now for most of us. Luckily, I have a cousin who is currently living in Madrid! Not exactly right next door, but definitely close enough to visit!
One of the weirdest parts of European not-Thanksgiving is the fact that because there’s no holiday before Christmas, there’s Christmas decorations everywhere before the month of December even begins! Thanksgiving marks the end of fall and the beginning of American Christmas celebrations, but without that marker things start much earlier here. While I visited Madrid I got to see all of the Christmas lights in the city and the Christmas markets as well!
It was difficult getting the food that we traditionally associate with Thanksgiving too. Cranberry sauce and pumpkin to make pie had to be bought at the American import store, thanks to the efforts of my cousin Becky! Even with the pumpkin pie taken care of, there wasn’t a turkey to be found. We substituted with a roast chicken, which while not the festive turkey we’re used to, was still delicious. Most of our Thanksgiving feeling came from the potato dishes we made! Mashed potatoes and candied yams were a great reminder of the holiday season. Of course it really felt like Thanksgiving when we ate pumpkin pie!
The rest of my time in Spain was amazing as well. Not only did we walk all over Madrid and eat chocolate and churros, we also went on a day trip to Segovia! The city was absolutely gorgeous, and houses that castle that the one in Disneyland is modeled after.
One of my mother’s favorite holiday traditions is for everyone to go around the table and say what it is they’re thankful for this year. It’s like pulling teeth usually, with a lot of groans and complaints, but it really is a nice family tradition. I have so much to be thankful for this year. I am studying abroad in this amazing city of Rome, I’m traveling all over the rest of Europe and really experiencing the continent, and even with the distance from my family, I could still have a nice Thanksgiving dinner with a cousin I haven’t seen in forever. Thanksgiving in Europe took a little more effort to pull together than normal, but it was definitely worth it!