It’s a thought that comes to mind with ease when you spot loud English speakers on the metro: ugh, tourists. Can’t stand them.
I’ve heard it from others; I’ve thought it myself. Who actually likes tourists? From a young age, I knew how to spot people in Philly who clearly weren’t from Philly: the Ride-The-Duck customers who created a deafening off-key symphony with their quacking whistles, the wanderers in Center City who wanted to know where in the world 14th street was, the constant string of people taking pictures next to the Rocky Statue with their fists raised high.
The presence, however slight, of tourists milling around Rittenhouse square or strolling through Old City (to see the Liberty Bell of course) instilled in me a selfish and pretentious sense of possession. Philadelphia is my home. You don’t appreciate it the way that I do. It was unreasonable of me. They’re just tourists.
Which begs the question, are we study abroad students tourists ourselves? A tourist is defined as someone who travels to a place strictly for pleasure. And studying abroad doesn’t exactly fit that definition. There are many things that we get the opportunity to see that the average tourist wouldn’t—the subtle patterns and routines of daily life in Rome, like where to grocery shop and do laundry and how to get there, and what time things open and close and which restaurants and nightclubs are a little bit too American.
That’s the beauty of spending six weeks in Rome instead of just one or two, the way one would on a vacation. You never know what you may end up learning or seeing with a little extra time.
Like the emergency room, for example.
On Sunday night, after returning from an amazing weekend trip to the Amalfi coast (a beautiful, sun-drenched spot near Naples that contains the colorful island of Capri and the sleepy little town of Sorrento), my friend Rachel convinced me that I needed to see a doctor. My throat had been hurting like crazy during the trip, and it wasn’t getting better.
So, we walked to a nearby hospital, which turned out to be a clinic for eye problems only, and a kind woman at the front desk wrote out an address to a general hospital a mile away.
One taxi ride and three hours later, I had a prescription written for an antibiotic to treat tonsillitis. Pretty bad luck, right?
But I have to admit, sitting in a waiting room and watching patients leisurely speak and befriend each other in Italian was quite an experience. So was hopping from hospital to hospital until we found the right doctor. And looking back, trying to tell an Italian-speaking doctor that my throat felt swollen and I was coughing a lot involved an incredibly comical amount of pointing, hand gestures, and facial expressions.
I’m not telling this story to scare anyone. Obviously, I had no idea that I would end up with swollen tonsils in a foreign country, but this ridiculous, inconvenient, and painful experience definitely taught me a little bit more about how to make it in a foreign country. Listening to friendly advice always helps—if Rachel hadn’t convinced me to go to the hospital, I might have ended up having to get my tonsils taken out. Despite the daunting language barrier, doctors and nurses have a job to do, and that is to keep you safe and healthy. And while emergency rooms in Italy aren’t the quickest-moving things, they provide a funnily friendly atmosphere. Studying abroad is teaching me in different ways to suck it up, deal with a bad situation, and solve it in a calm and rational manner.