Monthly Archives: May 2015

Surviving Roma 101.

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After living here for only 5 days, how do I even begin to describe Roma?

My head is still spinning from the fragrant assortment of artistry and peculiarity that graces this city. There are the obvious landmarks: the wide, teal fiume Tevere that flows across the street from campus; the expansive and bustling Piazza del Popolo, which holds a concoction of regal stone buildings and stylish shopping centers.

River

Fiumi Tevere

And then there are the nuances: the constant friendly “ciao” emitted from complete strangers; the supermarket tomatoes that resemble rubies and taste like candy; the flowers that elegantly spill over the side of balconies and fill the air with potent streams of pollen and perfume.

I feel like I’ve acquired about 1% of knowledge that the average seasoned Italian possesses. OK, maybe 1% is a bit generous, but I’ve learned a few lessons so far in Surviving Rome 101:

Lesson #1: Crossing the street here is comparable to looking death in the eye.

I promise I’m not being overdramatic. As someone who grew up in Philly, where the streets are contaminated with honking horns and profanity, my fear of the Vine Street Expressway has quickly dissolved and been replaced with a new nightmare: Vespas.

Weaving among tiny cars, sleek bicycles, and innocent pedestrians, Vespas defy all American rules of the road— and they do it in style. While walking to campus, my roommates and I stopped to gawk at a woman effortlessly maneuvering her way through traffic in a pink Vespa and barking authoritatively on her Bluetooth- all while wearing sparkling six-inch stilettos.

The key to dodging Vespas? Don’t freak out. The driving in Italy may be a little chaotic, but road rage isn’t a thing here. If you cross the street at a reasonable pace in front of a moving vehicle and make eye contact with the driver, he most likely won’t yell at you —in fact, you’ll be fine, and he’ll drive around you. It’s similar to a staring contest, but the stakes are un poco higher than usual.

Lesson #2: Don’t act too much like a tourist, but don’t hesitate to be a nerd.

It’s not difficult to tell if someone here is from the States: my Ked sneakers, Jansport backpack, and bulky camera are dead giveaways. If people in Rome think you look American, they’ll launch right into English. This might be convenient for study abroad students, but it’s not something that should be taken for granted. Making the effort to speak Italian– even if it’s a small phrase like grazie instead of thank you— is not only respectful; it can enhance the learning experience immensely.

That being said, don’t be afraid to be “that person” listening to every audio tour and reading every sign at the museum. When my graphic design class visited the Pantheon, we stayed for over an hour and I still feel as though I don’t know nearly enough about it. The history here is unbelievably rich. Its thousands of years dwarf the couple hundreds of history that we explore back in the U.S. When they say Rome wasn’t built in a day, they’re truly not joking.

5 Reflections on 5 Days in Rome

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I think I’m still in the honeymoon phase, but so far I am absolutely loving Rome. The adjustment process was easier than expected and I really enjoyed the orientation. I was nervous about traveling and meeting new people since I don’t go to Temple, but everyone has been really friendly. Here are a few of my initial observations from my brief time here:

  1. We are undeniably American

It is ridiculously easy to spot Americans. From our dress to our mannerisms, we tend to stand out like a sore thumb. I can usually spot Americans from 50 yards away, and I’m sure I am just as conspicuous. It will be interesting to see if I can blend in by the end of my six weeks. I’ll never look Italian—my pale skin makes sure of that—but my goal is to be able to cross the street like an Italian. This brings me to my next observation.

 

  1. People drive like maniacs

The scooters (or motorinos) weave in and out of cars and pedestrians in a well choreographed but hectic dance. This makes it difficult to tell when to cross the street, but thanks to some tips from Gianni, I now know to stare down drivers and keep a constant pace while crossing. I’m getting a lot better at it already.

Coming from America, where SUVs and minivans are the norm, it’s strange seeing so many small, compact cars. People will park just about anywhere they can fit their car. I cannot imagine driving a big car in Rome; even driving a small car would be incredibly difficult for me.

 

  1. Italians know how to drink
View from Todi

View from Todi

It is really refreshing to see so many people drink without the goal of getting as intoxicated as possible. It may be because drinking is not as taboo since it is allowed at a younger age where parents still have some control over their children, but generally no one overindulges. As part of the orientation for Temple Rome, we took an amazing trip to Todi, a beautiful hillside town. As part of our three-hour meal with more courses than I can count, we had wine. As far as I could tell, students adhered to the Italian culture of being able to casually drink alcohol without overindulging.

 

  1. Italians are friendly

I took three semesters of Italian in college, but I have forgotten some of what I learned. Even so, I find it very easy to converse with people in Italian or English. I always lead off with Italian but sometimes slip into English when I cannot remember a word. People definitely appreciate the effort in using Italian. The cashier at the Carrefour (a supermarket chain) taught me that the word for bag is different in different parts of Italy. In Rome, it is called a “borsa” and unbeknownst to me, you pay €0.10 if you don’t bring your own.

I have heard, however, of some of the Italian men being a little too friendly. The men are direct in their intentions and will call out “bella” to girls walking down the street. Also, the street vendors selling roses and Authentic Roman Selfie Sticks™ seem to target the American women more than anyone else.

 

  1. It’s easy to get around
Piazza Del Popolo, as seen from Villa Borghese

Piazza Del Popolo, as seen from Villa Borghese

I have a terrible sense of direction. Even in my hometown, I still sometimes get lost. I find it pretty easy to navigate Rome. Luckily my residence is only a ten-minute walk from Temple’s campus. On the way there, I pass the Carrefour market that I go to every day as well as the street that would take me directly to the other Temple residence. If you walk just a few minutes past Temple’s campus, you get to the Piazza Del Popolo, a great public square. This public square just happens to contain three main roads that lead to many famous monuments. Basically pick a street, walk for five minutes and you can’t help but to stumble across something famous and/or beautiful. Despite my terrible navigation skills, I think it is relatively easy to navigate the city. While landmarks at home might be “the gas station Wawa” and “that one church,” landmarks here are the Pantheon and Colosseum. The buses and metro are another story, but I’ll conquer them eventually.

 

Internship or International?

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Jack_Delaney_RomeSS15_bloggerI am a business major and the curriculum demands I take certain courses. Beyond that, I feel like there’s also a standard path I must follow outside of the classroom. I’m supposed get the right grades, join the right clubs, get the right leadership roles and network with the right people. All this leads up to an internship and eventual job offer. I’ve gotten the grades, joined the clubs, earned the roles, networked with the people and landed the internship offer.

But I don’t want an internship this summer. I’m 20 years old and — by the standards of my peers – my rejection of this standard places me behind the ball on the job I’m supposed to land after graduation. I surround myself with motivated people, and nearly all of them have internships lined up for this summer.

I’m studying abroad in Rome this summer. I’m traveling the world while I’m young and can afford (perhaps not financially) to make the mistakes that naive 20-year-olds can make. I turned down the opportunity to intern in a finance position at a highly regarded Fortune 500 company. I would make three times what I made at my old job at a bagel shop and it would look great on my resume. For a few weeks, I had almost signed the dotted line to surrender myself to corporate life before I’m even halfway done college.

All my life, I’ve focused on doing the “right” things for my future. My grades, my extracurricular activities and my college choice were all calculated decisions on how I can achieve some goal I’m not that enthusiastic about. I don’t see myself loving finance. I don’t want to work on Wall Street or crunch numbers for a corporation whose message I don’t support.

All my life, I’ve paid too much attention to what I think I’m “supposed” to do. When choosing my major, I selected finance, not the journalism degree that I wanted (and later added back in).

“It’s fine,” I told myself. “I’ll thank myself later.” It’s not fine, and I’m not thankful. I wish I had spent my time and effort developing myself as a person, not a robot. I would rather see the world than the interior of a cubicle. I don’t fault my friends that are headed to amazing internships this summer. That’s just not for me at this point in my life.

To me, college is about self-discovery. When the dust settles and I’m back in Yardley, Pennsylvania to face another year of school, I can panic about “real life.” Because somehow, spending a summer traveling isn’t “real life.” I view studying abroad as getting a chance to experience another culture, live a whole new life and enrich myself. There are aspects of studying abroad that I will never be able to replicate for the rest of my life. This is truly an amazing opportunity and I could not be more excited about it.

So this summer, I’ll exchange my briefcase for a suitcase and my internship for the experience of a lifetime. My safety net of friends and family will be here when I get back. For the first time in my life, I’m heading into unfamiliar territory.  As I pack my bags to head off to Rome, I am nervous. I have limited knowledge of the Italian language and because I go to Penn State, I don’t know anyone else going. However, in a lot of ways, this adds to the excitement. I know in the long run, it will benefit me just as much as (if not more than) an internship.

Pre-Departure: When in Rome? 

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My second semester at Temple was speeding by, and suddenly it was March: I was leaving for one of the world’s loveliest cities in less than two months, and I still hadn’t booked my flight.

“Do you know the name of the airport you’re supposed to fly into?” my dad asked while I was home for spring break.

Yes, I knew the name, but could I say it out loud?

Fiumicino.

It baffled me. Was the c sound hard or soft? Where did I put the accent? How many syllables did it have?  Did it rhyme with Frappuccino?

I might as well have been wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a cheap pair of binoculars around my neck, holding a map upside down and loudly asking, does anyone here speak English?!

Dejectedly, I let my feeble mispronunciations trail off and began referring to the Fiumicino Airport by its other name, the name that any American tourist could pronounce:

“The Leonardo Da Vinci Airport.”

My dad nodded like he’d heard of it before, and minutes later he booked my flight.

I’m Italian-American. I like telling people that. It’s fun to count off on my fingers the seven lilting names–Naples, Casal Velino, Sicily, Milan, Calabria, Abruzzi, Genoa–of the places where my relatives once lived.

I’m Italian-American. My great-grandmother came to America through Ellis Island. The first thing she ate in New York was a banana–something she’d never seen during her childhood in Naples. In her South Philadelphia row home, she used a rough wooden spoon to stir homemade spaghetti and to swat her grandchildren when they misbehaved.

I’m Italian-American. I grew up amidst a backdrop of big, loud family and dusty Frank Sinatra music. My mom swears in Sicilian dialect when someone cuts her off on Oregon Avenue, and my dad fiercely refuses to acknowledge The Godfather as anything but a cinematic classic.

I’m Italian-American, but more Philadelphian than anything. I can find the Schuylkill River with my eyes closed, but couldn’t tell you anything about the Tiber; the art museum steps are more familiar to me than the Spanish ones. But what makes me Philadelphian is my affectionate awareness of the hidden corners of the city, and my anger at anyone who attempts to reduce Philly to “the home of the cheesesteak,” or, even worse “the place where Rocky was filmed.”

View of Philadelphia

 

I grew up believing that Italy was the setting of some fairytale, a modernized Garden of Eden where people sang in the streets and picked plump figs from trees as they glided by on their Easter egg-colored Vespas.

Therein lies my biggest worry as I prepare to leave for Rome: the fear that I will oversimplify and stereotype a city as eclectic and multifaceted as my own hometown, the fear that I will be the obnoxious American tourist.

I think what’s important in these six weeks is not only my fear of ignorance, but my eagerness to learn as much as I can about the diversity and neighborhoods and side streets and language of Rome. To explore and grow to love the pronunciations and customs, and to make the most of the time in Italy that I am so ecstatic and lucky to have obtained.

For the record though, I still can’t pronounce the name of Italy’s biggest airport. At least not yet.