Author Archives: nicholaskarl

A Surprise Around Every Corner

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One of the things you quickly discover when you come to Rome is that there is history everywhere you turn. I am always unexpectedly running into new works of art, monuments, and churches. It seems that there is an exciting ancient story around every corner of this city. Although I am more familiar with the city now and know my way around, I still do not mind wandering and getting a bit lost in Rome because it doesn’t take long to discover something new. Even after living here for two months, there is still so much of the city I have left to see.

Even my first time seeing the Vatican was a surprise. I actually live in an apartment right next to the Vatican. I can look around the corner of my building and see the huge wall of the small city. Yet, somehow I did not actually see inside these walls until I had lived in Rome for a few weeks. To tell the truth, I was coming home from a night out with friends and it was probably around 3am when, seemingly out of nowhere, the entrance to the Vatican was right in front of me. It all felt so surreal. How did I just accidentally stumble upon the Vatican? Do I actually get to live here for four months? I hope Pope Francis is sleeping well while I walk home in the middle of the night.

On another night, I had a similar feeling as I sat outside sipping my drink and enjoying a view of the Colosseum. The bar I was at, Coming Out, is right beside the Colosseum and offers an incredible view of the ancient stadium. Coming Out is also one of the few LGBT+ bars in Rome and it felt very good to be surrounded by my community abroad and to meet Italians and others who identify as LGBT+. While Rome does not exactly have a “Gayborhood” like Philadelphia, and it not the most progressive city when it comes to LGBT+ matters, it is comforting to know that the LGBT+ community does exist in Rome (and has some of the coolest bars in Rome with views like this one).

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Since then, I have had the opportunity to meet more people in Rome’s LGBT+ community and explore many of the LGBT+ hang out spots in Rome. If you are looking to dance in Rome, we also have the best spots to dance. Just sayin’.

Rome surprised me once again when I discovered that just around the corner from this bar and the Colosseum is the Basilica of San Clemente. This is one of my favorite basilicas in Rome because not only is it stunning inside, but you can also explore unground beneath the church. The Basilica of San Clemente is actually built on top of the ruins of two previous churches. Beneath the basilica you can find the remains of columns, artworks, and even a water system that still runs today. The city of Rome was literally built from the ground up. Throughout history they continued building on top of older structures and the city continued to be raised. You can see just how much the city has been raised up from its original ground level if you visit the Basilica of San Clemente.

These are just a few of my favorite surprise spots that I have come across while in Rome. The list goes on and on and I’m sure it will continue to grow, which is why I plan to continue getting lost in this gorgeous city until I find every hidden gem.

Coming “Home” from Spring Break

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I have never been so thrilled to finish midterms before in my life as I was this semester. On Temple’s main campus, I do not typically have an actual “midterm week”. Usually, my midterms are more spread out or consist of performances or projects rather than just large exams. However, at Temple Rome I had to spend countless hours studying for exams the week before midterms and I will admit it was very stressful. However, it was all worth it the second I walked out of my last midterm. Freedom at last! It was time to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I went straight from my midterm to the airport. My roommate came with me and actually almost didn’t make it, but the spring break gods were on our side. This spring break was one of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. I was so lucky to be able to travel with an incredible group of people and experience three different cities in 12 days. We traveled to Barcelona and Seville in Spain and then to Lisbon, Portugal, and finally back to Rome. We made so many memories that I will always cherish and met beautiful souls from across the globe. It truly felt like a dream. Whether we were climbing a mountain in Barcelona, riding bikes through the small city of Seville, or swimming in the ocean on the coast of Portugal, it was completely enchanting.

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Riding bike through Seville

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Enjoying the beach in Portugal

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On top of a mountain in Barcelona

As amazing as spring break was and although I was sad for it to end, it did feel good coming “home” to Rome. Even after just two short months living in Rome, it has already become like a second home. I especially appreciate it after traveling to other cities that are totally unfamiliar to me. It felt right to come back to a city that I feel like I know well. In Rome, I know how to get around and I walk the same familiar streets for my daily commute. I know where to get the best gelato and I have my favorite spot for aperitivo. I know the history of Rome now and have more of a grasp on the Italian language. I know where to go if I want to dance or if I want to have a quiet relaxing evening. It has taken some time, but I have adjusted to life in Rome and I would not trade it for any other city in the world. I am definitely falling in love with Rome and it is hard to believe that my time here is half way over. I am just going to keep pretending like I never have to leave, but since I do eventually have to leave, I am going to make the most out of my last two months here in Rome. I look forward to new discoveries and experiences as I continue to get to know the eternal city.

Learning to Cook Like an Italian

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Of course, Italians are famous for their delicious food and I have sampled as much of it and as wide of a variety as I possibly can, but it isn’t just about eating the food. It Italy, food is a way for people to come together, socialize and bond. The dinners are longer and more courses, which gives ample time for loved ones to enjoy each other’s company. Cooking is a part of this process too. The Italian way to cook means buying all fresh ingredients and cooking together. I am by no means a chef. Fortunately, pasta is a staple part of the diet here in Italy and something simple that even I can handle. However, I wanted to broaden my horizons and learn how to cook some other, more complicated Italian dishes. I have had the pleasure of taking two cooking classes so far over this semester.

The first cooking class I took was part of my Intensive Italian course. Part of our assignment for the course was to go out to the market and order all of the ingredients we needed in only Italian. It can be a little intimidating going into a huge, unfamiliar food market and trying to order in a foreign language, but I’m so glad we did it! Our group was able to find and order everything we needed without using any English and now I actually love going to the market. It is great practice for Italian, all of the food is very fresh, and if you go to the same stand each time, you start to form a relationship with them.

For our first course in the cooking class, we made Zuppa di Lenticchie (Lentil Soup). Next, we had Peperoni al Forno (Baked Peppers). One interesting difference in food names in Italy is that what we typically think of as pepperoni in the US, is not at all the same here. Peperoni here just means peppers, so essentially bell peppers. The following course was a tasty Insalata Ricca (a type of salad). Next up was my group! We made Mozzarella in Carrozza, which is comparable to mozzarella sticks, but they are not entirely breaded and are even more delicious. Finally, we had a dessert of Salame di Cioccolato. When I first heard this, I was prepared to be disgusted. How can salami and chocolate possibly taste good together? I soon found out that Salame di Cioccolato doesn’t actually contain salami. It is just called that because it is made in a sort of log shape and looks almost like salami.

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Me looking a little terrifying with a huge knife while I cut bread for our mozzarella in carrozza

In the second cooking class I took, we learned how to make pasta from scratch! It actually was a lot easier than I expected and I can now say from experience that handmade pasta from scratch is, in fact, the best pasta. All it takes is a little flour and egg, mix it together until you get the proper consistency, and then just keep rolling it out until you get it flat enough to cut into pasta noodles.

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Carefully handling our fresh hand-made pasta

For dessert, we made small pastries that look like pies, but are similar to the consistency of cheesecake, as they are made with ricotta. We made a mixture of orange and chocolate pastries and tried them all together. I might be biased, but I swear my pastry was the best.

I still may not be ready to go on Master Chef, but I can say I know how to cook at least a few traditional Italian dishes and had a lot of fun while doing it. I definitely plan on cooking some more home made meals here in Italy and maybe I’ll even continue cooking them in the States!

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Masquerading Through Venice

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The month of February marks the annual Carnevale di Venezia, or Carnival of Venice. Thousands of people gather in Venice each year for the traditional carnival to see performances, visit the beautiful city and, of course, wear masks! The carnival is full of ornate costumes and beautiful masks. I made sure to take my time when buying my mask. When you have tens of thousands of masks to choose from, you want to get the perfect one.

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Venice is probably the most picturesque place I have yet to visit in Italy. There is a canal and bridge around almost every corner. My favorite place in Venice was the famous St. Mark’s Square. This is the only true square (well, rectangle technically) in Venice. It is in this square that I found the most breathtaking view of Venice. We went to the top of the Doge’s Palace tower in the square, from which there is an incredible view of St. Mark’s basilica, the water, and all of the city.

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Of course a trip to Venice would not be complete without a gondola ride. Be warned that the price for the gondola ride runs pretty steep, usually about 80 euros, but you can bargain with the gondoliers to lower the price and you can have up to 6 people in one gondola, so if you split the price with a group of friends, it is totally worth it! They usually take you on the Grand Canal and through some other beautiful, smaller canals. You can even get a gondola ride with a man who will SING to you in Italian. It honestly felt like a scene from a movie. If you still want to take a boat on the water but are looking for a cheaper option, try a boat taxi! Since the roads are so tiny in Venice, there are no cars. You can only get around by boat or foot!

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Being a water town, Venice is also famous for its seafood. I will admit, parts of the city definitely smelled fishy, but from what I am told that occasional fish stench in February is nothing to the overpowering fish smell in the summer. Regardless, I knew that I need to try a traditional Venetian seafood dish. I ended up trying nero di seppie, which is a pasta dish made with cuttlefish. The spaghetti and sauce is actually totally black because of the ink from the cuttlefish. It may not immediately look appetizing, but, trust me, it is delicious! There are also tons of different kinds of fish pizzas. I have a slight obsession with tuna so I got a pizza covered in onion and tuna. Yes, I ate the entire pizza by myself.

To celebrate the opening of the Carnival, there was a boat parade on one of the canals. There was a beautiful display of costumes, lights, and performances on the boats as tons of spectators squeezing in along the canal to get a glimpse. Probably the most interesting but less traditional “performances” of the weekend was the zombie walk. Tons of people prepared all morning putting on special effects makeup and gory costumes and then walked the streets of Venice. You would have thought you were on The Walking Dead: Venice Edition.

I have to say Venice is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and I definitely hope to be back to visit its charming canals one day.

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Chit Chat with Italians

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This week Temple University Rome hosted a chit chat with Italians that brought together American and Italian students from multiple schools. American schools represented in the chat included Temple and St. John’s University. Italian students that participated in the chat were from Sapienza University, LUMSA University and the Sport University, “Foro Italico”. The chat was a great opportunity to meet new people, practice Italian language, make some Italian friends, and discuss the cultural differences between the United States and Italy. American students were free to ask Italian students any question they had and vice versa. The chat was mostly in English, but also in Italian.16640888_1365496216848612_1695648932150387952_n.jpg

We first had an open discussion as a large group and talked about what was different than we expected in Rome and a common theme seemed to be the language barrier. Most of the students from the United States, myself included, anticipated that there would be virtually no language barrier in Rome. I expected practically everyone in Rome to be totally fluent in English, but I quickly realized that this is not the reality. While there are many people in Rome who do speak English and it is totally possible to get by without knowing Italian, there are also many people in Rome who speak little to no English. More people speak English in Rome since it is a more touristic area, but as you get further outside of the city into the countryside and non-touristic areas of Italy, less and less people speak English. Fortunately, while in Rome, I am taking an intensive Italian language course so I have Italian class four days a week for two hours each day. The class is tough but I am loving learning the language and it is extremely helpful! I’ve learned the basics and can at least communicate in Italian enough to meet new people, tell them about myself, ask questions, order food, and other essentials.

This chit chat was the perfect chance for me to practice some of the Italian skills I have been developing! I talked to a few Italian students and met some great people. I was able to get some recommendations of where to eat, go out, and see theatre in Rome. I even made an Italian friend named Barbara who helped me study for my Italian test. She also only lets me communicate with her in Italian when we use WhatsApp and pushes me to speak the language as much as I can. It’s great to have a native speaker to talk to and give me corrections. Plus, I am able to help her with her English. However, her English is exponentially better than my Italian, but I do my best!16473426_1365493653515535_3670342498145154223_n.jpg

One of the interesting Italian perceptions of Americans that I learned was that most Italians seem to be under the impression that United States citizens have been to all 50 states. When I was asked this, I laughed and said most Americans probably couldn’t even name all 50 states for you. I am very grateful that Temple hosted this chit chat because I was able to learn more about our cultural differences, misconceptions, practice some Italian, and even make some new friends! I looked forward to continuing to develop my Italian skills as I chit chat with the locals!16508789_1365492450182322_358863321747595905_n.jpg

Women’s March Around the World

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While for many the subject of the recent U.S. Presidential election is a difficult subject to talk about, it has become impossible to ignore. It soon became very clear that debate in my home country would have an effect on a global scale. On January 21, 2017, the day after President Trump’s inauguration, a Women’s March on Washington was organized. Sections of the Women’s March official statement reads as follows:

“We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country… In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”

The Women’s March was not just about standing solidarity with all women, but standing together with all people from all diversities and backgrounds to fight for equality. It is undeniable that the Women’s March statement was right when it read “our presence in numbers too great to ignore.” According to University of Connecticut professor Jeremy Pressman and University of Denver professor Erin Chenoweth, more than 1 in 100 Americans participated in the historic March. The two estimate that as many as 4.6 million Americans joined the March. The March was not limited to just Washington D.C. People marched together in cities all over the U.S. including New York, Chicago, Seattle, and the home of Temple University, Philadelphia! If those numbers and widespread geographic locations are not impressive enough, you should know that people marched together all over the world, including Rome.

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Although I could not participate in the March in D.C., I was extremely grateful to be able to participate in the Women’s March in Rome. Hundreds of people gathered together at the historic Pantheon for the March. While we did not have the 1,500 bodies required by authorities to physically march the streets of Rome, they could not stop us from our stand-in at the Pantheon. The event included inspiring testimonies and speeches from multiple locals, given in both English and Italian. There were also many musical performances in both languages. At exactly one o’clock PM, we took a one minute moment of silence, as would all the other Women’s Marches around the world. Then we all sang songs together such as “We Shall Overcome” and “Amazing Grace”. As I sang and looked all around me, I could not help but to be moved to tears. I am in a foreign country, surrounded by hundreds of strangers of all different sizes, shapes, colors, backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and identities, some from the U.S. and many from Italy and other European countries. I cannot describe the overwhelming compassion and kindness I felt among that diverse crowd of people, all gathered together for the same reason. There was such a strong sense of love and acceptance for my fellow human beings. I met many people and even embraced some strangers with a hug. I did not expect the Women’s March to reach all the way to Italy, but I could not be more grateful that it did. I will never forget that day. However, this is only the beginning. It does not end here. We will continue to make our voices heard and we will continue to fight for the equality of all people and we not silently allow our rights to be threatened. We are all part of one race: the human race. We all stand together.

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Possibly my favorite sign from the March in Rome

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Mia Famiglia a Roma!

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This past Friday was an especially eventful day for me here in Italy! My day started off with  an excursion with my Roman Art History class to the beautiful town of Tivoli. Not only did I get to learn about the rich history and exciting architecture of Tivoli, I got the opportunity to visit the site where one of my favorite movies of all time was filmed: The Lizzie McGuire Movie. I would be lying if I denied that Lizzie McGuire was part of my inspiration to come to Rome and I’m pretty positive her Italian adventure was what made me fall in love with Italy at such a young age. I mean who doesn’t want to ride on the back of a moped with a handsome Italian man and become an international pop star? This may not have happened to me in Italy (yet), but I did get to walk through the jaw dropping Villa d’Este, also known as the Tivoli Gardens. You might remember Lizzie and Paolo having a romantic chat under one of the waterfalls in this garden in the film. My jaw dropped when we entered the incredible garden; I had never seen anything like it. It was HUGE. I was surrounded by greenery and astounding fountains everywhere I looked. I may not have met my Paolo there, but still, I can’t complain.

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When I got home to Rome that night, I was greeted by my brother! My brother works at Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia teaching English. He decided to take his week off in between semesters to come visit me in Rome and I couldn’t wait to see him! Since he works outside of the country, I had not seen him since the summer, so a reunion was long overdue. And what better place than Rome! You should know that my brother has been to probably over 30 countries at this point in his life, but never Italy. HA! Beat him to that one. While I have only been in Rome a few weeks and am by no means an expert on the city yet, I was looking forward to showing my brother around my new home for the semester. Of course, we had to visit all of the must-see spots in Rome, so we took a trip to the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon.

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One thing my brother and I share in common: we LOVE food! We’ve already been trying plenty of delicious food here in Rome. We had all kinds of pasta, sampled plenty of meats and cheeses (there is no ham in Saudi Arabia so my brother couldn’t wait to get some good prosciutto), pizza, gelato, and a delicious dessert with rhum baba! It is basically a rum sponge cake paired with hazelnut icecream, chocolate, and whipped cream, so essentially heaven to your tastebuds.

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We also went out for one of my favorite Italian specialties, aperitivo. Aperitivo is like Italian happy hour. You pay one time, usually around 10 euro, and you get a drink and an unlimited buffet of delicious foods! Make sure you choose your restaurant for aperitivo wisely. Some restaurants and bars offer only small snacks like nuts and chips, while others have an entire spread that you can turn into dinner! It also gives a chance to try some new tasty cocktails.

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Having my brother visit me in Rome for the week has been great and we still have a few days left together to explore the city. Although I may no longer be in the city of brotherly love, I am feeling the brotherly love here in Rome!

 

Totally in Love with Todi

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     The moment I landed on Italian soil, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Traveling to Italy has been a dream for me since I was a little boy and that dream has finally become a reality. This first week in Italy has been full of pure joy, uncomfortable situations, absolute awe, culture shock, and beauty. Our orientation week was packed full of events including a tiramisu extravaganza, a visit from the US Embassy in Rome, a scavenger hunt and walking tour around the city, and of course free time to explore. However, my favorite part of orientation week was visiting the gorgeous town of Todi.

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     Todi is a tiny Medieval hill town in Umbria, Italy. We visited this past Saturday and had the opportunity to look inside the incredible cathedrals, wander the cobblestone streets, take in the astounding hill top view, and of course, grab a cappuccino. It is important to note that you should never order a cappuccino after lunch. Order a cappuccino at 8pm and Italians will look at you like you are crazy. Also, you should know that if you order a latte, you won’t get what you expect. Order a latte, and you will just end up with a cup of steamed milk. If you want what we consider a latte in the United States, then order a caffe latte. After some trial and error, I have finally learned how to properly order coffee in Italy.

So finally after enjoying my cappuccino in Todi and seeing the sights, we took a short bus ride to Titignano, where I discovered an even more beautiful view. We arrived at our destination in Titignano, a gorgeous castle where we would soon enjoy the meal of a lifetime. As we ate our antipasti, I was in complete awe of the view from the hilltop. It was beautifully green as far as the eye could see with a winding river coursing through the various mountains. No picture does it justice. Finally, we were ready to go inside and begin the rest of our meal.

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     As I sat down, I knew I would have to pace myself for the many courses we were about to be served. We started off with tasty cheese and meats before moving on to pasta. Next was a scrumptious rice with my personal favorite vegetable, asparagus. Then we had our main course of meats including deer, lamb, and chicken. Each one was delicious and we also had incredible wines to enjoy with our meal because it isn’t a real Italian dinner without wine! I learned to start with white wine and then move on to red. Never go from red to white or switch back and forth. After the main course, came dessert which included tiramisu and biscotti. I will admit that this tiramisu was much better than the tiramisu I made during our tiramisu extravaganza at orientation. Paired with dessert was a dessert wine which was very sweet, but perfect to dip your biscotti in. I was completely stuffed, but all of the food and wine was so amazing that it was totally worth it. If you can’t tell, I’m very passionate about food and wine so this was a perfect way to spend one of my first days in Italy. Our meal was also topped off with an enormous cake celebrating Temple University Rome’s 50th anniversary and a shot of espresso. I think I’m slowly becoming a coffee addict.

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     After our meal, I walked outside again to find that the sun was setting over the mountain tops. This unbelievable view after probably the best meal of my life took my breath away. I stared out over the horizon and took it all in as I thought to myself what an incredible semester lies ahead in Italy.

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Saying “Ciao!” to the City of Brotherly Love

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Over the past three years, Philadelphia and Temple University have truly become my home. As I prepare to leave for Rome, I am filled with excitement, but a part of me will still miss the charms of Philadelphia. I’ll miss walking through the beautiful Magic Gardens, finding a new piece of art every time. I’ll miss going to Reading Terminal Market to get a pastrami sandwich. I’ll miss walking through the Christmas Village, shopping for trinkets and eating delicious pretzels. I’ll miss those warm summer nights gazing up at the stars from a hammock in Spruce Street Harbor Park.

I have made sure to soak up as much of Philadelphia and Temple as I could before I depart for the Eternal City on January 9th. Part of that experience included going to possibly my last tailgate at a Temple football game. It was great to be surrounded by loved ones, full of Temple pride and cheering on our Owls! There is something special about looking out at the sea of cherry and white, singing the Temple fight song together that I will always remember.

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Another part of Temple I had to experience again before I leave was performing in a Temple Theaters main stage production. As a theatre major, I usually perform in one production each semester, and this fall I was ecstatic to be a part of the cast of Hairspray! The cast of Hairspray truly became like family. Not only did we spend countless hours together in rehearsal, and have a blast singing and dancing together, but every night we got on that stage, we had the joy of telling a story about love and acceptance. Sharing that story with the audience meant the world to us and it was especially needed now.

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I have also begun to prepare for my time in Rome by starting Italian language lessons on the app Duolingo. I have no prior experience with Italian and I want to learn as much as I can during my four months there, so I decided to get a head start! While I am in Rome, I will be taking an intensive, eight credit Italian course. I hope to become as fluent as possible in Italian and cannot wait to meet and talk to native Italian speakers. I have found the app Duolingo to be extremely helpful and would recommend it to anyone looking to learn a new language!

While a lot of my personal preparation to leave for Rome has been experiencing as much fun as Temple and Philadelphia has to offer, it has not all been fun. Preparing to go abroad can be overwhelming and stressful at times. Applying for a student visa can seem like an enormous undertaking and trying to find an apartment in another country may feel impossible. It is also challenging to balance school while working endless hours each week to save money to go abroad. Plus, buying plane tickets is no easy feat for a poor college student. Although it may sometimes feel like preparing to go abroad is exhausting on top of our busy lives as students, I promise it is more than worth it. I have been abroad one other time before and it was the most incredible experience of my life. I cannot wait to have this longer, more immersive experience abroad and a little bit of preparation is a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime.

It is hard to believe that I leave for Rome in just a few days, but I could not be more excited! While I am going to miss Temple and the City of Brotherly Love, I feel prepared and look forward to exciting new adventures in Roma!