Monthly Archives: May 2014

Celebrating outside Rome: Todi and Titignano

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Orientation ended with a trip outside of Rome to see past city life and discover real Italian culture. In order to do this, we went to Todi and Titignano. This day trip, often noted as a highlight of students’ study abroad, is a refreshing and inspirational experience to start the semester.

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The day begins in Todi, a medieval town that sits on top of a hill in the province of Perugia in central Italy.

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Students enjoy the view from this hilltop medieval town; it’s a view that reflects the relaxed and laid-back Italian culture.

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Students take a break and grab a cappuccino in the Piazza, a typical way to start the day in Italy.

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Students freely explore the winding alleys of Todi, much less crowded than their Roman counterparts.

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Students are relieved this local vender speaks English. They sample some delicious, locally made jam and decide to buy it.

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Todi is a quaint town with many small restaurants and shops, most of which are closed this Sunday.

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Awe-inspiring sights are not unusual while wandering the streets of Todi, and are the reason it was voted the most livable city in the world.

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After Todi, students take a bus over to Titignano to try some authentic Italian food for dinner, including risotto and tiramisu!

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Titignano continues to offer picturesque views students don’t get while in Rome.

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Students make new friends while walking around Titignano and enjoy appetizers such as pizza before sitting down for endless amounts of wine and the rest of the meal.

When in Rome, Walk Uphill

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According to my Program Manual, I am supposed to be in the Honeymoon phase of culture shock. That is incredibly accurate. In fact, I just got married to the hunk of fresh mozzarella that was on my sandwich, and I think we’re going to be very happy together.

Caprese Baguette

Caprese Baguette

But I knew that I would fall in love with the food. I did not anticipate falling in love with the city. Rome is a city of balance. Ancient buildings are accessed via modern transportation. Tall, healthy trees tower over the crowded, urban streets. Graffiti and honeysuckle share the same concrete wall. Cold, public water fountains provide relief from the bright sun. And a seemingly laid-back lifestyle accompanies the rush of traffic.

After living in both south Philly and The-Middle-of-Nowhere, PA (think surrounded by farmland with an unobstructed view of the mountains and a 20-minute drive to the grocery store), I craved that balance, and I’m so glad I found it here.

I spent the weekend making friends and making memories. Saturday I got lunch at a baguetteria with a group of Temple students. Then Maya and I walked to the Borghese gardens and found a “quiet” place to work on our reading assignment – quiet meaning as far away as possible from the Italian man singing “I shot the sheriff…but I did not shot the deputee” and strumming along on his guitar.

Saturday evening I set out for a walk. There were whispers going around about an amazing view near the Residence, and I was determined to find it. After grabbing a gelato, I started walking uphill. Sure enough, I got to the top and there was Rome. All of it. I peeled myself away, but only because the sun was setting and I wanted to get home before dark (that’s right Mom, safety first!).

Just a short walk uphill from the Residence

Just a short walk uphill from the Residence

Sunday morning we all hopped on a bus to visit the hillside towns of Todi and Titignano, in the region of Umbria. We had a couple short hours in Todi for “Operation: Take as Many Pictures as Possible.” Then we hopped back on the buses for a twisty-curvy ride to Titignano, for “Operation: Eat as Much as Possible.” Titignano is an agriturismo, so the majority of the food served was either grown, hunted, or produced on the premises.

That’s impressive, considering we were served 14 courses: pizza, crostini, fried olives, salami, a cheese-filled pastry, asparagus risotto, fresh pasta with wild boar sauce, venison and mushrooms, lamb and potatoes, salad with olive oil vinaigrette, tiramisu, almond biscotti (for dunking in the dessert wine), fresh fruit, and espresso. Lunch lasted three hours, and then we took one last look at the view before returning to the buses and riding home.

Selfie at Todi

Selfie at Todi

Agriturismo Titignano

Agriturismo Titignano

The transition from tourist to student began on Monday, with the start of classes. I will be taking Urban Health and Art History. In addition to figuring out my class schedule, I spent the beginning of this week figuring out some of the little things: hand-washing laundry and hanging it to dry on the balcony, weighing produce at the grocery store, lighting the gas stove, buying a sponge to wash dishes and drying them in the cabinet…?

European Dish Drainer

European Dish Drainer

Being unsure of how to conquer basic tasks can be scary, but when you do it – when you order that sandwich in Italian and the mozzarella cheese changes your life – it feels like a major accomplishment.

This week’s fabulous drivers deserve that same sense of accomplishment.

This week's Bronze medalist parked the wrong way on a one-way street

This week’s Bronze medalist parked the wrong way on a one-way street, but he left a whole centimeter of space between himself and the next car…that’s gonna cost him.

Earning the Silver, this driver is commended for blatantly ignoring the no parking sign, among other things.

Earning the Silver, this driver was lucky enough to find a space directly under this No Parking sign.

And…the moment you’ve been waiting for…

Congrats to this week's Parking Award Gold Medalist for taking up the entire crosswalk!

Congrats to this week’s Parking Award Gold Medalist for taking up the entire crosswalk!

The Gelato Flavor of the Week was slightly less challenging from a judging standpoint – coconut was my favorite, followed by chocolate chip and coffee.  That coffee was good, but I wish it came with a warning label.  Anyone know how to say “caffeine content” in Italian?

Until next week!

My first 2 days

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As I made it through the U.S. Customs check at the Newark Liberty International Airport in Northern New Jersey on my way to Rome, I could not help but feel a sense of déjà vu. Now, I have only ever been out of the country once, which was for vacationing purposes with my family. Needless to say, I depended on my parents in order to get us to our destination. So then how could I possibly be feeling some sort of  familiarity if I’ve never done this on my own before? After being bored on my 7 hour flight, I thought “I’ve got it!” I had the same feelings when ordering at Qdoba for the first time (which, if you are unfamiliar, is basically the same thing as the Chipotle food chain). Yes, I’m serious. If you’re not quite sure what these feelings are that I’m referring to here, don’t worry, I’ll fill you in. For starters, the line is long. You might think that one would be able to get a head start on reading the information so that he or she may order quickly, or in my recent case, get through a terminal gate with efficiency. Wrong; information is displayed in what seems to be size 12 font or smaller. Now, as you begin to edge closer to the front of the line, unprepared as ever due to the tiny font on the information boards, an associate is rapidly questioning you. This person expects you to fire answers quicker than he or she can spit questions out at you, and anything less is an annoyance.

Okay, so maybe it’s not THAT bad, but I can at least blame my described state of mind on the pace at which certain aspects of the flying process operate. If racing…no, sprinting at Olympic speeds in order to catch a transfer flight, and receiving large amounts of stress when going through U.S. Customs are the only sacrifices that need to be made in order to arrive in Roma, however, I can assure you that I would do it every time.

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Lisbon Airport, in Portugal, where I managed to take this picture during my chaotic transfer.

 

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The Residence Medaglie D’oro, where we Stay in Roma. I was finally able to unwind after a long day.

When I did arrive to Italy, all the chaos began to go away, as everything slowed down. The culture here seems to be much more relaxed. Although this may be true, their roadways here still mimic the chaotic scenes of the airport. You learn very quickly in Roma that mopeds are not just for the mid-life crisis Dads. Everyone has one, and those who aren’t buzzing through traffic in these little scooters drive something similar to a small go cart, but whatever the case, they move fast. Even the traffic lighting is different. They have lights for cars, and lights for pedestrians, similar to those in Philly, but the yellow pedestrian light, in particular, is extremely odd. As opposed to the one in the States, the yellow pedestrian light in Roma stays on for a long time with no countdown, and turns red rather abruptly. You can pick the Americans out in the city because we all hesitate to cross during these yellow lights, while it doesn’t phase Italians, who cross without even thinking twice. It’s the little things that really pinpoint the tourists, and if you plan on staying in Roma for six weeks, I can already tell you that by fixing little details like the one described in this example, Italians will be more welcoming.

The demon mopeds and their small car counterparts.

The demon mopeds and their small-car counterparts.

 

We finished up our first day in Roma by walking to the University for a pizza social dinner.

We finished up our first day in Roma by walking to the University for a pizza social dinner.

Ciao!

Pizza and the Colosseum…I must be in the right place!

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Buongiorno from Roma! After months of anticipation, days of packing and preparation, and hours of travel, I arrived at the Fiumicino Airport. I got my passport stamped, put way too much thought into saying “Grazie!” to the customs officer, found my luggage, and met Gianni from the Temple Rome Staff. He arranged a shuttle to the Residence Medaglie d’Oro, where I will be staying.

I expected to notice a lot of differences from the United States during the ride, and I did: drivers completely disregard any lane lines that may exist (to the extent that one car could be perpendicular to the next), bikes swerve in and out and in between and on the wrong side of the median with extensive grace, cars do not slow down for pedestrians (in fact, the local Italians can be distinguished as those who continue to take their time crossing the street when drivers are accelerating towards them), and the metric system can be found on street signs, at gas stations, and on our driver’s odometer – phew, that wasn’t miles per hour. Some of the streets are cobblestone, which adds a whole new dimension to the unpredictable left and right swerves. And I loved every minute of it. There are similarities as well, such as the American music streaming from the radio, a McDonald’s every so often, billboards advertising Disney’s Maleficent, and of course, the indistinguishable (and yet very distinguishable) grunts made by the taxi driver as he continued en route to the Residence. I was overwhelmed, but anyone in my sleep-deprived state could have recognized the Colosseum passing by, and that’s when I knew I was here.

I got checked into my room, and I was the first one here, so I quickly unpacked, claimed the top bunk in our quaint bedroom for three, and took a shower – I blame my jet lag for any difficulties that may or may not have occurred in there. I tried to take a nap before my roommates showed up – having flown in at 8:30am, I was unsure of how long I could go before crashing, but I felt like I was putting myself in timeout because I just wanted to go outside and play. I eventually wandered outside of the Residence and ran into a group of Temple students who had just flown in from Philly. I helped them find their rooms, and I had to chuckle at the 5-person-capacity sign on the elevator…we could barely fit 2 with luggage. I met my roommates, Jessica and April, and after they unpacked, April and I set out to get groceries. We stumbled into a store called Despar where we found cereal, fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, pasta, sauce, and milk. The milk was very much not labeled with anything of meaning to us, but the nutritionist in me checked the fat content on all of the European nutrition labels, and we found the closest to skim that way. The other foods we bought were recognizable enough, they didn’t seem expensive, and to add to our success, we found our way back to the room!

After some lunch, we were ready for another adventure. We walked the 45 minutes or so to the Temple Rome campus, over the Tiber River (but not through the woods) and then continued on to the Piazza del Popolo. Beautiful buildings, an obelisk, and amazing views in every direction, but I found myself wishing I knew some of the history, or at least the names of the things I was looking at. I later learned that it is safe to assume that most buildings are churches. We walked up a hill for an even more incredible view, and after stopping for some pictures and wandering through a row of tents where people were selling their wares, we walked into the Borghese gardens. Beautiful trees and plants and a fountain where we were blessed with the good luck of Saint Maria. Kind of.

Temple Rome, as seen from the bridge crossing the Tiber River

Looking down at the Piazza del Popolo (and the obelisk)

Looking down at the Piazza del Popolo (and the obelisk)

Owl always love Rome, but whoooo know’s we’re here?

We found our way back to the building housing Temple Rome’s classrooms and art studios for a pizza party with the others study abroad students. Pizza with every topping imaginable, all laid out on a table before me – yes, I really am here. I easily downed four slices, one with a meat similar to kielbasa, one with mushrooms, one covered with very thinly sliced ham, and one with thinly sliced and seasoned potatoes (my personal favorite). I walked home with a full belly and climbed (literally) into bed.

Today, after a brief orientation, we were split into small groups for a walking tour of the area around Temple Rome. My group was led by one of Temple’s amazing Italian professors, who took us to one of her favorite delis for lunch and taught us how to order sandwiches in a mixture of Italian and hand gestures. She also took us through the Piazza del Popolo and the Piazza de Spagna to see the Spanish steps before returning to campus.

Our first Italian sandwiches - prosciutto and asiago - and certainly not our last.  Meet April, one of my roommates!

Our first Italian sandwiches – prosciutto and asiago – and certainly not our last. Meet April, one of my roommates!

Piazza de Spagna - the Spanish Steps!

Piazza de Spagna – the Spanish Steps!

On our walk home, I decided to start a Parking Job of the Week Award and a Gelati Flavor of the Week Award…so you’ve got that to look forward to.  You’re welcome.

Preparing for the experience of a lifetime can be a bit overwhelming

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It’s 2 a.m. in the morning. I have to get up for class in 6 hours, but I can’t sleep no matter how hard I try. I’ve read my book, watched some television, I’ve even counted sheep. That’s when you know you should just stop trying. Sleep deprivation seems to be a normal thing for me in recent weeks though. This kind, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. I blame Rome. It seems to be the only thing on my mind, and it’s getting worse as the days countdown to takeoff.

You know when you see something and it reminds you of another thing? That’s how I’m feeling about EVERYTHING; pasta, suitcases, planes, currency exchange offices in Center City. Rome, Rome, and more Rome. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t bet against every search in my Google history containing the word “Rome” or “Italy.” It’s safe to say that I’m excited, and despite this being the only emotion that is surfacing, I ensure you that it is NOT the only emotion that I’m feeling as I prepare for the summer.

Navigating the large campus of Temple University and exploring the large city that is Philadelphia has certainly made me quite the expert with directions, bearings, and traveling into newly discovered areas in the city. But man, am I nervous for Rome. For starters, I only know two words of Italian; hello, and goodbye (which are the same word; Ciao). Add my unfamiliarity with basically anything and everything in Rome – the metro system, the food, Temple’s campus – and I’m pretty much a tourist beacon. I might as well carry a giant sign around with me: “Warning I’m a Tourist.” The bright side to this, however, is that I am willing to try to understand and accept Italian culture, which kind of takes away from the “touristic” model.

Despite being scared, I’m prepared. But being prepared does come at some cost. I’m talking about stress. Finding a flight, applying for loans, and searching for solutions regarding communication and the U.S. dollar should come with a “potential hair loss” warning. Luckily, I like to stay on the ball and get things done early. What I’ve come to find so far:

  • I’ve never flown alone, so it was fun to book a flight.
  • I forgot how lengthy of a process it was to apply for a loan, so I’m glad that’s over with.
  • Verizon Wireless thinks college students are made of money and expect me to pay over a dollar a minute to talk on my phone in Rome, so good thing for social media.
  • The value of the U.S. dollar is sort of sad, but I would be really rich if I were to study abroad in Japan, so I guess it goes to say that I had a laugh while figuring out solutions to paying for things in Rome.

The countdown on my phone reads 44 days. In 44 days, I plan on embarking on perhaps the greatest experience that I will have in my life. It is evident that I am feeling quite the melting pot of emotions as the days close in and as I check things off of my list, but until then, wish me luck getting 6 hours or less of sleep a night. Thanks, Rome!

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Just some essentials needed in order to depart. I would suggest allowing a reasonable amount of time in order to get your passport. They take a while to get, and they’re rather expensive. A small price to pay in order to study abroad, however. Also, many banks will exchange currency for you in the States. Definitely exchange some currency in order to carry in your pocket before arriving in your foreign country.

The Game of Life – Rome Edition

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When scheduling time rolled around this past fall, I started planning out my last five semesters as a Temple undergrad. I stared at the Kinesiology bulletin until my eyes glazed over, scribbled down (okay, neatly printed in a color-coded chart) everything that is incomplete on my DARS report, consulted with two different advisors, and called my mom. I came to the conclusion that my Temple experience will mimic college in The Game of Life. The game starts. I load up my mini mini-van with a little pink character and decide to go to college. First turn, I spin a 10. BOOM. Graduate college. Done. Over. Here are some student loans so you can remember your experience. Bye.

That’s what it felt like when I realized I was about to graduate from college a full year early. There were so many more things to do and people to meet and places to go and cheesesteaks to eat and football games to attend and pictures to take and restaurants to try and owl things to collect and…I was overwhelmed. So I made some metaphorical alterations to The Game of Life board. My new and improved game board provides me with the opportunity to collect all kinds of Life tokens between now and graduation. One of those tokens says Temple Rome.

“I’m going to Rome” – that’s what I tell everyone who asks what my summer plans entail, and that’s exactly what I mean. No expectations, no crazy travel planning in advance, no dieting to prepare for carb city. I’m going and I plan to appreciate every moment while I’m there. I have been gradually preparing for those moments since I was accepted to the Temple Rome study abroad program in January. I got new luggage, bright blue and big enough for a friend to crawl inside. I found the empty Rome journal on my bookshelf, waiting to be filled with every detail of my trip. I got a travel book, which doesn’t much excite me now, while I’m still in Philadelphia, but I’ll end up reading the whole thing on the plane, in eager anticipation. I got plane tickets. These individual pieces are starting to add up, convincing me that this trip is more than a dream.

Now, I’m waiting for “I’m going” to become “I’m here.” Because the moment I arrive in Rome and see a space on the game board with an opportunity for a Life token, you better believe I’m running towards it, head held high, eyes open wide, with a big grin on my face, ready to experience whatever lies ahead. I don’t know Italian. I’m terrible with following directions and getting oriented in new places. Spontaneous wasn’t even in my vocabulary a couple years ago. And I’m not so great at meeting new people. But I have a feeling I’ll be highly motivated to get out of my comfort zone and figure those things out when in Rome.

I’m already Temple Made. I can’t wait to be Temple Rome Made.

Half-packed!

Half-packed!

Home From Rome

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It’s almost impossible to believe that I’m home. Sunday was a blur of airport terminals and mixed emotions. While I told myself I was more than ready to go home, there was still a part of me that wishes I could stay. (And just bring all of my family and friends to Rome permanently.)

Now that I’ve been home for a few days and gotten over the initial shock of the ten hour flight, I figured it was the perfect time to write my last post as a Study Abroad Blogger.

Academically, this has been the hardest semester of my college career. On top of the basic curriculum, my professors taught me things I never would have learned in Philly. I didn’t come to Rome thinking classes would be a walking in the park, but I definitely didn’t expect them to be harder than Philly- so heads up to future Rome students- it’s still school… for real.

Living on my own was something else I didn’t think would be much more different than back at home but actually ended up being harder. Little things like not relying on a meal plan were harder to adjust to than I thought. If I didn’t want to eat undercooked pasta and tomato sauce every night I had to make an effort to plan something to make or go out to eat, and let’s be serious… I didn’t have the money to eat out 5-6 nights a week.

I also learned a lot about the other students around me. It was interesting to see how people from other schools handle their studying, or lack thereof, and what was important to different people. Some people focused on traveling, some on drinking and partying, and others on exploring Rome. It all really depended on what you were looking to get out of your study abroad experience.

With this being my last post, I figured I would share one of my adventures during the last week of my stay in Rome that I didn’t get to blog about before.

The week before finals I decided to visit the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma to see the ballet Verdi Danse. The ballet took music by composer Giuseppe Verdi’s ballabili opera pieces.

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I specifically wanted to see Verdi Danse because of the huge cultural impact Giuseppe Verdi’s work has on Italian ballerinas.

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The Teatro dell’Opera was absolutely beautiful. It felt like you were stepping back in time when you walked through the glass doors. There was red velvet everywhere, men in full suits, women in pearls, not to mention the HUGE crystal chandler handing from the ceiling; the building itself was a piece of art.

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Another thing I got to experience my last week in Rome was the decorating of the Spanish Steps for spring. The Spanish Steps by far are one of my favorite “tourist” spots of Rome.

Spanish Steps

I want to thank everyone at the Temple Rome campus who made my experience in Rome so memorable. Given the opportunity to blog about my travels and experiences in Italy has been one of the coolest experience I’ve had. I hope my blogs were able to give an insight into what it’s like to study abroad, and were as much fun to read as they were to write.

Thank you Italy for letting me call you home for a semester, it was an incredible experience and I hope to return soon.