Monthly Archives: September 2015

Why Grocery Shopping Has Become The Best Part Of My Week

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Admittedly, grocery shopping is not the absolute best part of being in Rome. However, it is pretty darn close. Whether “grocery shopping” means shopping at the local market, local food store, or local hole in the wall that sells random American goods, it doesn’t matter. Point me in the direction of a place that sells packaged goods and I am like a kid on Christmas. Before you start to think I have gone crazy, go to a grocery store when you are stressed out and tell me it does not make you feel better. But, don’t just do the regular, speedy shopping with a list. Go and get something you have never had, ask the butcher for a random kind of meat, and browse the isles you never go down. If it doesn’t make you feel better, well, then I might be crazy.

However, if I am feeling homesick or overwhelmed with schoolwork, I head to a grocery store. It has become a very economical and successful stress reliever. Every single morning I IMG_1265go to the local market. Mercato Trionfale has become my daily routine–I genuinely base my entire morning around it. I love walking around the vendors and seeing random fruits and vegetables. I love going back to the same vendor every morning to get a plum, or prugna, and I live for embarrassing myself as I attempt to speak and understand Italian. As of today, my favorite purchase has been figs, or fichi. I put them in everything, from salad to omelets to sandwiches.

Going to the market or grocery store has not only become a serious stress reliever, but it has enhanced my abroad experience significantly. I put myself out there, stepping way out of my comfort zone, and try to communicate in an unfamiliar language. I learn when certain fruits are in season and when others are not (unfortunately for me figs are in season for about one month, September). I interact with people from all walks of life and I get to experience a completely different culture. Although I should feel uncomfortable and nervous because I am in a place filled with people who predominantly, if not only, speak Italian, I am not. I like struggling to say what I mean or getting too much or too little because even I could not understand my own demands, and I love being in a place where everyone is treated the same. Markets and grocery stores are not places where I feel I am being stared at or taken advantage of because I am a foreigner. In actuality, they are the places I feel most Italian.

If I have yet to convince you of how amazing the market and grocery shopping is, let me put this concept into perspective with a short story. A friend and I went to the market for an assignment for our Italian class. We were supposed to say certain phrases, ask for certain vegetables, things like that. So, instead of taking our time and making sure we were confident with our vocabulary, we asked vendors for ridiculous items and sped through the entire interaction. When I say sped, I mean sped. We videotaped ourselves and both videos together were less than thirty seconds. We ended up with one zucchini (yes, one), and a huge, abnormally shaped turnip. Although our interaction was not quite what the assignment had called for, it was fun and had us laughing. Our teacher stills brings up the “famous zucchino.”

So, when you’re feeling anxious or stressed or just having a bad day, go to your local grocery store or market and aimlessly walk around. And, if you’re like me, just make a fool of yourself and be happy about it.

Modifying Ruins

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The United States is a young country. One that is credited with both a rich and storied history. America’s past is preserved in the traditional form by way of great monuments and museums. These state and federal funded, distinguished buildings are considered works of art. For the residential and commercial areas of America however, demolition and reconstruction is changing the city’s architectural landscape all the time. Locally in Philly, even walking through Temple’s campus we see old buildings being destroyed and new ones rising out of their rubble. popular style has an expiration date in America.

This is not the way in Rome. The city is old and its history is stacked on top of each other like a Jenga tower. Walking through any street you will see a building of one epoch sandwiched next to architecture from another. It is also not uncommon to see one single piece of architecture that has been worked on at different periods and has resulted in an actual hodge podge of Italian styles. A Neoclassical building with Art Nouveau decor and an interior modified and re-purposed with Fascist rational design, as is the case of the Piazza Venezia. The grandiose structure is called “The Wedding Cake” by locals because of its layers and white marble. The road next to the Wedding Cake is the route of Mussolini’s demolition tour of Rome to create his road to the Colosseum. While paving the way for this road an exorbitant amount of priceless Roman history was found. Some artifacts were destroyed for the sake of reconstruction and others preserved and honored, for example, many forums of past Roman emperors, like Augustus Caesar. It seems one cannot merely dig into the dirt of Rome without unearthing some article of the ancient past.

But what has stuck out to me most while observing Rome is the modification of past structures to accommodate a new way of living. For example, while touring the ancient Aurelian Wall, I noticed a part of the arch ways had been knocked down to allow traffic flow for modern automobiles. And to boot the area is covered with graffiti. I have attached a few photos of these sightings below. It is an interesting display of change and adaptation. This is not just the modification of the Aurelian Wall to accommodate modern ways of transit but also by the visual imprint of modern culture. Some graffiti is not unlike ours seen in Philly, simple tags of the same names spread over the city. However, some examples of graffiti are mural-like and harken to another moment in time once seen has boldly futuristic, like a space station, while others portray iconic scenes and characters from cinema. Pulp Fiction is the film I am referring to in particular, an English language film by an idiosyncratic American film maker. This juxtaposition of modern and foreign cultural influence paired with the antiquity of Roman history is a fascinating sight to behold every day.

Ancient Arches changed for the new modes of traffic

Ancient Arches changed for the new modes of traffic

Space station cartoon spray painted onto store front across from the Arulian Wall

Space station cartoon spray painted onto store front across from the Arulian Wall

Modern Americana found in Rome's street art.

Modern Americana found in Rome’s street art.

Why You Need To Deviate From Your Normal Routine

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The first few weeks have honestly been a blur. In the blink of an eye I spent way over my personal weekly allowance, ate more than an acceptable amount of gelato, and have yet to get on top of my schoolwork.

I walk around with people I am still trying to get to know, I aimlessly wander to places I have not seen, and I find myself constantly out of time to do the things I used to love most: running, reading, and cooking. But in reality, aren’t these the things I should be doing abroad? Shouldn’t I be exploring with no agenda? Being so tired that I pass out the second my head hits the pillow? The thing I have finally started to realize is that my routine at home that I grew so accustomed to, is not a routine that I need to do for the rest of my life in order to feel comfortable. I wanted to come abroad to a program where I knew no one in order to be my own person, but to do that I need to step out of the comfort of going through the motions and actually experience new things in a new perspective.

The trick to truly going out and experiencing new things is to stop trying so hard to do the old things. For me, I realized I don’t have to run everyday and can just walk around and hangout with different people everyday. I don’t have to carve out time to run by myself, but rather I can talk with people and engage in conversations that running would have prevented me from even starting. I can cook, but I can also cook a single dish and go to a potluck dinner. I can actually get on top of my school work and read about the history of fascism in Rome, and go beyond the assigned readiFullSizeRenderngs. I can go to a local market and find a book in Italian to help me immerse myself into learning the language. Everything I once did can still play apart in my life and be a major aspect of my transition from comfortable to a comfortable uncomfortable.

So, how does forgetting about an old routine actually help? Well, on Monday I told myself that I was genuinely in Rome and wasn’t leaving. This meant I really needed to generate some kind of routine if I wanted to get as much out of this experience as I possibly can, while still having money. This week is the first week I have felt good about everything. I have a set day to go grocery shopping (and I won’t deviate—groceries for the week gotten on Sunday are all of the groceries for the week that I will have), I exercise by either running with friends or walking a lot after class with friends, I cook with roommates, and I set aside time to be by myself and either do homework, grab a gelato, or people watch in Villa Borghese. All of these things really do make a difference if you give them a chance. My advice is to keep doing the things you love, but do them with a new perspective and a new attitude.

Why Your Mentality Abroad Should Be “Treat Yourself”

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I have the most insane sweet tooth, especially when it comes to cookies and ice cream. So, coming to Rome I knew I would have to set aside some serious cash for some serious desserts. I also knew that I would have to be smart and budget myself, be responsible and exercise, and be realistic and not buy the first sweet I saw at any given café. However, the first couple weeks of abroad have been the exact opposite. I have gotten gelato every day, I have not stuck to a strict exercise schedule, and I have bought sweets that I saw the second I became hungry at the most random shops. As I frantically called my family last night, venting about the amount of money I spent and the potential weight I have already gained, they gave me some great advice that I will pass on to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Give yourself some time and give yourself a chance to adjust. To me, a month is the perfect amount of time to sink into a regular routine that makes me feel comfortable, healthy, and conscientious. I have gotten so much anxiety about the amount of money I have spent, the amount of sleep I have gotten, and the amount of food I have eaten. But in reality, do we really have time to focus on these things? We have a mere semester to take advantage of every opportunity. This semester may well be the best semester of my life, and I intend to try my hardest to make it one. I need to start appreciating where I am and what opportunity I have been given.

So you are probably thinking that this mentality is easier said than done, right? But really, it isn’t. I have recognized my ridiculous spending habits when it comes to food and instead of getting anxiety or thinking I cannot eat for the next week, I spent a good hour and a half handwashing all of my clothes in the kitchen sink. I saved about 4 gelati right there! When I say don’t sweat the small things, I am not saying completely forget about them and they will work themselves out (although, they probably will). I am saying just be proactive to counteract how you feel about them. If two wrongs don’t make a right, then do some laundry by hand to justify going to get gelato twice in one day.

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So, when it comes down to it, there is no time to feel anxious about the little things. Who cares if you gained a few pounds? Who cares if you spend a little too much and end up having to either grovel to your parents for money or cut back spending towards the end of your time abroad? Who cares if you only got four hours of sleep one night? These things are the things that in ten years you will not even remember, so why focus all of our time and energy on them now? All you truly need to focus on is treating yourself.

Why Having Anxiety About Going Abroad Is Okay And What To Do About It

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I am not one to be shy towards anxiety. I become anxious at the most menial things, from The Bachelorette season finale to significant things, like getting a job. The worst part about being anxious is not the almost paralyzing feeling of being utterly hopeless, but rather the obvious fact that everyone around you thinks you are completely irrational. At times I seriously worry more about others finding me annoying than I do about the thing I was originally worried about. But lets be honest for a second: we are going to a foreign place, with foreign people, and a foreign concept of what is normal. If this is not the time to be anxious, than I am not sure what is. The following five steps are what I have done in the past and what I am currently doing to alleviate (really distract) my anxiety about going abroad:

Step 1

Make a list! Lists are a solace. Seriously, write a list and tell me it was not the best decision you made today. Lists allow you to be semi-productive, get you organized, and distract you from how much you actually have to do (if you add some stuff you have already completed and then cross them off, you’ll feel even better). If you do anything to get ready for going abroad, make as many lists as possible. The euphoria and calmness you will feel when all of the items on your lists are crossed off will be unreal.

Step 2

Buy yourself a new outfit or pair of shoes. I am not one for retail therapy, but buying something that I cannot wait to wear while getting lost in a new place makes me giddy with excitement.

Step 3

Follow an Instagram account/research pictures of the place you are going. Don’t be afraid to live vicariously through the Internet before you actually get to experience studying abroad. Find things that make you passionate and excited, or places you absolutely have to travel to (more realistically all of the crucial food places).

Step 4

Reach out to people that have been in your position! Don’t feel lame about contacting past participants or reading blogs about what other people have done. More importantly, don’t let what others have done set your expectations. Make your own expectations based off of what you want, not what others wanted. But, still educate yourself and see to it that you do not fall victim to problems that other people have had.

Step 5

Listen to everyone when they say how lucky you are. My sisters constantly tell me how much I have ahead of me, and this time I actually listened. Knowing that so many people would love to be in the spot I am in, why not love it myself and take advantage of it?

Overall, no matter what we do or what steps we take we will probably be anxious, but make sure it is the good kind of anxious and not the kind of anxious that holds you back or makes you feel inferior to others.

Why Acting Like A First Year As An Upper Classmen Is Normal

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You can never escape the conversations about majors or where people are living on campus, but that’s not as weird as you think. Regardless of how mundane those conversations are, each provides the basis for more intimate conversations, even when we least expect it. Fortunately and unfortunately, going to Rome without knowing anyone for four months forced me to revert back to those awkward first year conversations. But again, those conversations, whether it leads to people making fun of one another for acting like an awkward first year or to people realizing they have extremely similar academic paths or personal goals, doesn’t matter. In the end you make connections you otherwise would have shied away from or would have never realized existed.

But, why do these conversations matter? Consider how those conversations make you vulnerable. People realize the situation is uncomfortable and embrace it, so just go with it. The only way the conversation is genuinely uncomfortable is when you don’t just go with the flow and you end up insulting the person you are talking to. Do you really care what professor someone had, or whether or not someone knows where you went to high school? The questions don’t matter, but the answers do. Conversations will inevitably stem from any tidbit of information, no matter how insignificant you find them. One of my best conversations as a first year was asking someone I had just met what their birthday was. We have the same birthday, unfortunately timed during orientation, and got to celebrate together as opposed to hoping either everyone knew, or no one knew. I had a similar conversation with someone I met the other day as we sat and talked on the Spanish steps. We talked about one of my best childhood friends being his good friend at college. I instantly formed connections with both of them and quite frankly, they are some of the only people whose names I remembered during that first week.

The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

One first-year characteristic I tried to avoid adopting this past week was bouncing from group to group. It is important to meet as many people as possible, especially early on, but I find it hard to move around or be a completely free spirit in this context. I held onto the people I met and made connections with. As a group we bounced around and did our best to meet people we hadn’t or went out with people we barely knew. It helps, if you easily get homesick like me, to really put forth the effort to connect with a few people in order to have friends you can see yourself spending a lot of time with early on. In establishing these friends, you can reach out to other groups of friends and ensure that you rarely feel alone or like you are too dependent on one particular person. I believe having one best friend that you rely on and talk to constantly is not something to be ashamed of. However, being abroad has made me start to realize that having a bunch of people I like hanging out with and sitting around for hours with or walking miles and miles with, is essential.

You need people, even if you think you don’t. So, moral of the story, be a first year. Be awkward. Be uncool. Be someone relatable, and most importantly, be yourself.

Right Place at the Right Time!

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I can’t believe I’ve been living in Rome for a whole week! Honestly, it feels like it’s been a month, and in the best way possible. Time just moves slower in the Eternal City. Every day has been long, filled with slow moments of mindfulness, gratitude and awe. They say culture shock affects different people at different times. For some it’s right away, for others it’s four weeks later. I don’t know if I will fall into the latter category, but as of right now – I feel at home. I haven’t skipped a beat. I do think coming from an Italian background and growing up in a close Italian American family with Italian customs and traditions has greatly helped my transition. You just take your time when necessary, go with the flow, and when there’s a bump in the road you just remind yourself there is time to fix it. Rome has practically existed for an eternity, there is always time. Don’t rush, don’t worry.

Wander! Get lost! Just three days into this amazing semester in Rome a few friends, my painting professor and I did just that. We were walking and wandering around the city, marveling at its numerous treasures. Gazing up at the towering Aurelian Wall in disbelief, and crossing its historic threshold to enter the old city I admittedly became quietly overwhelmed. I had never felt so strongly that I had embarked on something great, something important. I knew I had made the right choice in coming here. That day I saw two Caravaggio paintings. In person. In real time. That’s life changing. I stood right below them standing in the same spot they have been viewed at for hundreds of years. They have never left their home at the church, Santa Maria del Popolo. I couldn’t ask anymore from my day. Considering myself satisfied would be putting it lightly, indeed. However my day had more surprises in store for me and my group.

On our walk back from wandering around the Spanish Steps we ran into the Pope. No other way to put it. We saw the man himself, the People’s Pope out in the city. Affectionately called, “Papa” by the locales. Pope Francis was at a small optometrist’s office and glasses shop, just casually shopping for glasses, having done what he needed done, just like you or me. His security was amazingly light. One car outside and two or three guards with him inside the shop. We saw a crowd formed on the side of the street as we approached, not knowing what everyone had gathered for. We were very fortunate in our timing. After we stood in complete disbelief and took few photographs, we walked on. As we left the crowd had tripled in size and police vans were coming in to help with the public surging in to see their Papa. I still cannot fully believe this happened. Only in Rome.

I will not stop sharing how grateful I am to be here in Rome because, if I’m smart, I’ll never stop being overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for my fate. I opened myself to wandering and it lead me to the Pope, his Holiness, in the flesh before my meek, humbled, wide eyes. This first week has proved to me that I can expect to marvel at all the greatness I’ve always studied and known Rome to hold, and I can also look forward to the completely unexpected wonders, those priceless, once in a life time moments I could have never imagined. I just need to keep wandering…

Photo Credit to my Temple Rome classmate, Sam Leask, for getting the best shot.

Photo Credit to my Temple Rome classmate, Sam Leask, for getting the best shot.

A lucky group of painters who just saw His Holiness, Pope Francis, standing outside Santa Maria del Popolo.

A lucky group of painters who just saw His Holiness, Pope Francis, standing outside Santa Maria del Popolo.