A Cactus in Rome

Standard

There are cactuses in Rome. They pop up every so often; giant flat paddle-shaped branches coated in spikes marring the lush green landscape surrounding the city. You’ll see them in passing as you rush by, growing out of place in some garden, in someone’s yard, giving it little more than the passing thought of “huh- that’s strange.”

I am the cactus.

Not literally, as I hope would be obvious, but metaphorically. Us American students are the cactuses of Rome- these funny little out-of-place things that are just…there. There’s no issue, but there’s also no getting rid of us. And try as we might, we’re never going to quite fit in with Rome. But that’s okay- we’re going to stick around anyway.

prickly pears.jpg

I tried to get a good photo of some cacti from a train (didn’t work) so I found one on Cactiguide.com (source: https://cactiguide.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=15493) I also found from that article that these cacti are an invasive species, and a massive nuisance. I think there’s a metaphor in that, too…

If you read one of my first posts about being an American abroad, you’ll know that one thing I’ve had difficulty with is the feeling of “otherness” that hangs over my head, subtle as a neon sign. That I am not Italian, not Roman, and as hard as I try I’m not going to be. Not in the few months I have here. 

20170126-IMG_9782.jpg

Real Italians definitely are so pale they reflect sunlight, and they all take dorky photos in front of classic art

But now, I’ve reached the halfway point of my stay here. And I’m starting to get a little more comfortable with that “otherness.” I’m not Roman. But I do go to school in Rome. I eat in Rome, I drink in Rome, I sleep in Rome. Like the cactus, I may not look like I belong here, but it’s where I am. It’s where I live. 

20170112_125632.jpg

I still can’t believe I get to see this (almost) every day

I’m embracing my cactus-ness. (My cactus-ivity?) I’m American! So what? If I’m going to have that stigma over my head, I may as well take advantage of it. I’m going to take as many photos, do as many typical tourist things as I can. I’m already seen as an outsider, may as well get away with it while I can.

This spring break has also afforded me a bit of time to reflect on some of the incredible experiences I’ve been able to have while abroad. I know it’s a very cliche thing to talk about when travelling- how its “totally changed my life.” But it has, in ways. I’ve done things I wouldn’t have done otherwise (like gotten a tour of the Vatican Museums by a brother in the seminary), and met people outside of my little advertising bubble I wouldn’t have met on Temple’s main campus. 

16178443_1532357303460274_1497133110652153546_o.jpg

Our Vatican tour group, taken by our incredible tour guide

One thing I always mentioned before coming to Italy, in just about every application that asked “what do you want to gain from studying abroad?”, was that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone in Rome. I’ve made a lot of progress in the last year with my anxiety- I don’t get as nervous in crowds anymore, I find talking to strangers (and even not strangers!) a little easier, and little slip-ups don’t embarrass me half as much as they used to. So I was pretty nervous about the dramatic change in surroundings- what if I completely regressed and became a shy, nervous mess again? My biggest goal was to keep pushing, to not get complacent and to keep pushing myself. Get out there! This is a once in a lifetime experience!

So while this trip hasn’t been entirely anxiety-free (as I’m sure is also completely obvious), it’s not been a wreck. I’ve found myself talking to new people, actually trying new things. I ran around like a loon with a camera for several hours and only felt weird about it for half that time! I’ve reached out to people I only barely knew, and ended up making some great friends from it.

IMG-20170218-WA0006.jpg

The G(r)eek Squad! I ended up on this trip to Athens by responding to a post on the Temple Rome Facebook group- something I don’t think I would have done last year. And I’m really glad I did, I loved Athens and had an awesome time.

IMG_9858

Also went to Barcelona on a whim, thanks to a friend-of-a-friend situation (we were pretty bad at group pictures), another thing I don’t think I would have done this time last year.

IMG_1027.JPG

And through the people from Barcelona, I got invited to go to Paris! There’s something to this whole “making friends” thing, isn’t there.

For the rest of my time in Rome, I’d like to keep doing that. My continuing goals are to get better at Italian, as I still find myself reverting to English almost immediately after “Ciao!”, and to continue to build friendships with people. While I know these things are meant to be organic, they can take a lot of effort for me. But I’m not about to let a little work stop me. Like the Roman cactuses, I may be a bit strange, but I’m here to stay.

About romaniamh

Hello! My name is Niamh, and I'm from Long Island, New York. I'm a junior majoring in Advertising and Film, with a minor in Italian. I started studying Italian at age eleven, after my mom returned home from a trip to Rome with stories of art, food, and culture that made me fall immediately in love with the country. And now that I'm able to through Temple, I'm finally going myself! At Temple, I've been able to fully submerge myself in my studies, winning Gold in the Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge, presenting original research at TURF-CreWS, and participating in a partnership between the American Advertising Federation and a non-profit called generationOn to build a campaign to promote volunteering. My passions include art and design; I tend to get a little more excited about good typography than most people would. In my free time, I like to read, attempt (and usually fail at) Food Network recipes, and practice my hand-lettering. And I love a good cup of tea. I'm most looking forward to Rome for the immersion in Italian culture. This is the language I've been learning, and city of been dreaming of, since I was in middle school, and I can't wait to jump right in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s