Tag Archives: Italy

Exploring San Lorenzo

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     Probably one of my most stressful, but also my most fun assignments in my Italian class this semester was to explore a neighborhood of Rome. We all split into small groups and chose a neighborhood and were tasked with filming a video to speak in Italian about the special qualities and history of the neighborhood we chose to adventure to. My group chose San Lorenzo. I especially like this neighborhood because it is right beside La Sapienza, which is the largest university in Italy, so a lot of university students and young people live in this neighborhood. Most young people, myself included have one key thing in common: we love food. San Lorenzo is full of all different types of restaurants and bars. You can get almost any kind of food and there is no lack of pizza. We decided to go to Pizzeria Formula 1, which is one of the oldest pizzeria’s in Rome and has some of the best pizza I have ever tasted. We discovered this pizza gem thanks to Diletta, one of our Italian tutors who is a student at La Sapienza. Since Diletta lives in San Lorenzo and is an expert on the neighborhood, she acted as our tour guide for the day. It was great to spend time with Diletta and learn about what life in San Lorenzo and studying at an Italian university is like. It was also great to practice some Italian with Diletta. I was also completely floored when I found out that Diletta’s mother is actually the professor that I tutored for at Mamiani High School in Rome!

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Part of La Sapienza’s Campus

     After enjoying our delicious pizza dinner is when the stress hit us. One of our tasks was to interview a shop owner in the neighborhood and ask them some simple questions about their shop and the area. We went to multiple different restaurants and caffes, but not a single person was willing to talk to us. I was honestly surprised that people were so reluctant considering the neighborhood of San Lorenzo is known as a much more free spirited, open minded and “bohemian” area of Rome because of the substantial amount of young people. However, it seemed to be more of a cultural difference because restaurants are sometimes afraid they will give away their “secrets”, so they tend to be skeptical of interviewers, especially us random American students.

     However, this did not take away from love for the neighborhood. Not only does the neighborhood have a lot of young people and great food, it also has a lot of history. San Lorenzo was bombed during World War II and you can still see the remnants of some of the buildings that were destroyed. There is also a park with a memorial dedicated to all of the people who lost their lives during the bombing.

     One of my favorite parts of San Lorenzo was the street art. You could find street art around almost every corner, but one street in particular had walls that were completely covered in paint. My favorite piece reads “Mai piu violenza sulla donne”, which translates to “never more violence on women.”

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     While exploring San Lorenzo may have been a bit stressful at times, I am glad that I had the opportunity to explore it and learn more about a neighborhood of Rome that I am not in every day. I can definitely say San Lorenzo is one of my favorite areas of Rome.

Going Back to High School

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     One of the biggest highlights for me this semester in Rome was getting the opportunity to volunteer as an English tutor at a local Italian high school. I spent one hour each week with a classroom of 25 fourteen to fifteen-year-old students on Monday mornings. You can imagine that trying to keep control of a large group of loud teenagers can be a bit overwhelming. I still remember my first day, three months ago, and how nervous I was. I had absolutely no experience as an English tutor. What if I look like a fool and don’t know what I’m doing? What if the Italian students don’t like me? What if they don’t speak English well and we can’t communicate? What if the professor I’m working with is intimidating? All of these fears went away almost immediately once I went to my first class.

     The professor I was working with was incredibly kind, welcoming, and helpful. She gave me plenty of freedom to structure my time with the students however I wanted and would give me suggestions for lessons if I ever needed any. The students were also incredibly friendly and as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. On the first day, I did a short “getting to know you” activity with the students in order to find out their interests, what they want to learn from me, and assess their level. I was surprised to discover that even though I had the youngest age group of the high school, they still spoke English very well. Some students were more vocal than others, but all of them were able to hold a conversation with me. My main goal was just to get the students excited about speaking English and to practice with a native speaker.

     Tutoring in a foreign country with a group of young teenagers did present some challenges. Italian high schools are set up differently than in the States, so it is actually the teachers who have to move from room to room in between every class and the students all stick together in the same room for the whole day. This results in two consequences: the students form their own strong packs and become incredibly antsy being cooped up in one room all day. I can’t say I blame them. I know I may have been chatty in class as a fourteen-year-old, but I swear these Italian teens could out-chat any American classroom. However, I was up for the challenge and ready to demand the class’ attention with the only way I knew how: make it fun!

     The students, like myself, were most interested in talking about cultural differences between Italy and America so I came up with some new activities and games each week to discuss these. One week I brought in a speaker and we listened to some American music and even danced a bit. We discussed the lyrics and any words they didn’t understand. Of course, I had to throw in some musical theatre, so I played them a song from Hamilton. This ended up being my favorite song with them because not only did the language used in the music and rap style challenge them, I also was able to share with them some American history and my passion for musical theatre. Some other activities we did included a spelling competition, grammar auction, American slang, and a discussion all about food. The students got very competitive when we played games, especially when they knew there was a prize on the line so I liked to bring in some chocolate or treats to bribe them into really engaging in the lesson that day. I have to say, it was effective.

     I can honestly say I loved spending an hour a week with these kids and usually it didn’t feel like enough time. My class continually impressed me and I loved getting to know them more each week. It was so interesting learning about our similarities and differences and they still like to make fun of me for eating “everything pizza”. Unfortunately, I had my last class with my students this past week and I was more sad than I expected. I am definitely going to miss seeing them each week and I am hopeful that they will retain at least some of what I thought them even though I think they may have taught me more than I taught them.

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Tipografia Tipica

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I’m not one of the lucky ones.

I’m not an art major, or history, or architecture. I’m not even psychology or international business. I’m advertising, graphic design.

Which means there’s no classes for my major offered here. For the most part, that’s totally fine. I’m taking classes to complete my minor and finishing up some stray elective credits. I’m not stressing over needing certain grades in required courses, worrying about my major and graduating while travelling. It’s less stress for me, and that’s great.

But, as silly as it sounds, I picked my major for a reason- I like it. I miss doing design work. I’m getting technical practice in, with my drawing classes, but it’s not the same. I never thought I’d actually miss sitting in front of a computer, staring at a screen for hours while moving the same piece of text back and forth, trying to figure out which position looks best. Yet here I am. The other day, I even redesigned my resume, just to have some excuse to open up InDesign again. (And, okay, maybe I was looking for an excuse to procrastinate actually applying to internships. But that’s beside the point). And even the non-design stuff- there’s no one here to talk about whether Tinder Online is more effective than the app (it’s not) or how co-working spaces are becoming popular in other countries, too. It may sound dorky, but advertising, media, graphic design… it’s genuinely my passion. It’s been a bit weird to have an entire semester where I’m not doing it anymore.

So I’ve been trying to find little graphic design things in my every day life in Rome, so I can have something to geek out over. I mentioned my love for art and street art in Italy a few blog posts ago, and I know I mentioned typography in that post.

Typography, for me, is not just pretty letters. It’s an ad, a brand, in itself. It tells people the mood, the theme, of whatever the business is. For example- a Michelin-star rated restaurant won’t use, say, Comic Sans, on their menu. But an invite for a child’s birthday party could. (Well, nobody should ever use Comic Sans.) It’s all about conveying a message, and I’ve been having a lot of fun reading the messages of type- not only in Rome, but in all of my travels. It’s been one of my favorite things so far, seeing how location and culture affect the signage and letterforms of each city. They all have such a distinct feeling, and that’s what good type should do.

In Rome, most of the best type is in front of bars and trattorias (small, family style restaurants that are usually cheaper and not as fancy as the Italian ristorante) Italians love their food, so it would only make sense that the type reflects that. Italian type also has a very distinct look to it- it’s bold, blocky, and usually has an outline. There’s also very few neon signs- Rome once instated a neon tax. Any storefront with a neon sign would have to pay a tax on it. So, in the true Roman way, everyone just installed new, not-neon signs. Another thing I like is how everything looks Italian, even the post boxes and man-hole covers.

Greek type was one of my favorites. Perhaps because it was entirely different letterforms, giving new design possibilities, or maybe because it was all so quintessentially Greek.  It’s linear, geometric, and very straight-forward. There’s not a lot of frills to Greek signage, and I really like it. There was nothing to distract from the words.

Paris was interesting, in general, but also for it’s signs. Some were very modern, sans-serif and blocky, and others were very classic: serif and script fonts, very decorative. It fits with the image of Paris as a city that is the height of class and fashion. Its type is trendy for every decade. The modern signs followed modern, trendy design aesthetics and others followed much older trends. Either way, it supported the idea of what Paris is- trendy, yet still a city with a lot of history.

London was the same as Paris in that sense- some of it’s signs were very modern, and others took clear inspiration from London’s extensive history. Those were the signs I was drawn to. Most looked like regular typefaces you could see in any city, which I was a little disappointed by. But some buildings still kept the old, 1900s style serif typography and I loved it.

 

One thing I’ve loved in each place I’ve been is how each sign has been for something different- a restaurant, a hotel, a letter box. Yet, the letters from each location fit with each other. The type from Paris, whether modern or not, looks like the rest of the type from Paris. They all create the mood of the city, and that’s been my absolute favorite part so far.

I’ve been photographing and collecting images of type through all of my travels. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with it, but I want to do something with it, whether use it as inspiration in further work or do an independent project with it. But one thing’s for sure- it has definitely been a way to express my love for design while I’m not actively working in it.

A Weekend in Paradise

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This past weekend was possibly the most magical weekend of my life. I took a trip to the Amalfi Coast (about a 3 hour bus ride south of Rome) with 21 other Temple Rome students. You could definitely say that it was a Temple takeover on the Italian coast. This is the only trip I have taken this semester with such a large group, but this was definitely the place to do it. On Thursday night we left Rome for the charming town of Sorrento. We stayed in bugalows surrounded by beautiful lemon and orange trees. It felt like we were camping together in a tropical paradise and we nicknamed our little neighborhood of cabins “Bungalow City”. The next morning, we left bright and early for Positano. We took a bus that drove for about 30 minutes on a winding road on the side of a cliff. Even though I occasionally feared that our bus would topple off of the edge of the cliff into the Mediterranean, it was well worth the views. Once we arrived, we had a long trek down the side of the mountain to reach the beach. My legs were literally shaking from the long walk, but I forgot about it as soon as we stepped onto the beach. It was a black rocky beach with incredible views. You could see the stunning blue sea on the one side and the many houses built into the side of the cliff on the other. We spent the day relaxing on the beach and I bought possibly the best panino I have ever eaten for lunch. Then we took the bus back to Sorrento to shower and freshen up before dinner. For dinner, we all went out to a restaurant for a multi-course meal. The meal included bread, wine, two courses of pasta and two different types of pizza. Then we went out to experience the night life in Sorrento.

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Beautiful Positano

The next day was my favorite part of the weekend. We took a ferry from Sorrento to the picturesque island of Capri, where we took a short hike to see some views of the island and the sea. Then we took a three hour cruise on a smaller boat around the entire island. It was just us on the boat and we were even able to bring along our own food and drinks. It was the boat ride of a life time. At one point, the boat driver stopped the boat for us to jump off and swim in the water for a little while. I gladly cannonballed into the sea and was quickly shocked by the cold water. It may have been very hot outside but the water itself was still pretty cold since it’s only the beginning of April. I didn’t mind the cold at all. The view of the crystal clear water and the beautiful island kept me distracted.

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We got back on the larger boat and rode a bit further until we came to the Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is one of the natural wonders of Italy. It is a small cave in the side of the island of Capri. The entrance to the cave is very small and you can only enter it by tiny rowboats, which only allows for four people on each boat. Once we got on the rowboat, we had to lay flat to avoid hitting our heads on the cave wall as we entered. Once inside the cave, we could sit up and it became clear why the Blue Grotto got its name. The sunlight shines in through the small entrance and makes the water in the cave glow a bright blue. It looked like something from a fantasy movie or like we entered the blue world of James Cameron’s Avatar. I dipped my hands in the water and watched in awe as they glowed blue. The man rowing the boat even sang and his voice echoed through the cave. We could only stay in the cave for a short time and then had to return to our boat and head back onto the island.

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Inside the Blue Grotto

The last day we went to Pompeii and toured the famous city. We toured the theatre district of the ancient city and saw some bodies preserved by the ashes from Mt. Vesuvius. We had a great view of the infamous volcano and explored the ruins. Finally we had to return to Sorrento to catch our bus back to Rome.

I never wanted our magical weekend on the Amalfi Coast to end, but then again, it wasn’t too hard to leave knowing I got to return to my favorite Italian city: Roma.

 

From Tourist to Tour Guide

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This past week, I was lucky enough to have family visit me in Rome again! This time I was spending the week with my mom and step dad. When my brother visited me earlier in the semester, I will still very new to Rome so I was not as familiar with the city. However, by the time my mom and step dad came here, I had already been living in Rome for almost three months (how did that happen so quickly?). While I might not be able to consider myself a local, I certainly don’t consider myself the average tourist anymore. It was my turn to be the tour guide.

On the first night they arrived, we walked to almost all of the major attractions Rome has to offer. I showed them Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. Obviously, we had to get some gelato on the first night after all that walking, but that didn’t stop us from getting gelato every other night too.

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Fortunately, the excitement of being in Rome seemed to outweigh the jet lag, and they were both ready to explore all week. We spent our first weekend exploring Florence, which was absolutely stunning! When we got back to Rome and I had to return to class, it didn’t stop them from exploring on their own during the day. On our first evening back in Rome, we tried out some new bars that I hadn’t been to before and wandered around the neighborhood of Trastevere. We found some great spots that I will definitely go back to! Then we went out for a classic Roman aperitivo. We went to my favorite spot for aperitivo, Freni e Frizioni, where they have a huge spread of unlimited great food and a drink included, all for just 8 euro! Italians know how to do happy hour right.

Another night, we went to the nearby supermarket to buy some food and I cooked a dinner for the three of us, which would basically never happen in the States. I made salad with an olive oil and senape dressing, fettuccine pasta with tomato and basil sauce, and garlic sausage. If I do say so myself, it was a pretty great dinner. Rome might just make a cook out of me after all.

The next day, my mom and step dad took a day trip to Venice. Venice has been a place on my step dad’s bucket list and I assured them that it was worth the train ride. They fell in love with the city of canals and raved about it when they got back to Rome.

Our last day together in Rome, we took a trip to Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Under this erie church you can find a crypt filled with the bones from thousands of friars. However, these aren’t just any old piles of bones. Each room has a special design on the walls and ceilings made entirely of bones. Even the chandeliers are made of bones. They say the designer had a special eye, but I think he was probably just insane. Although, you can’t deny his work is interesting to look at. Then we did a bit of shopping and my mom was able to find an awesome leather bag. Finally, we got dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Rome before heading home.

It was great to have my family here in Rome and I am so glad that I got to share at least a small piece of my experience with them.

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Finding Friends and Family in Firenze

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This past weekend, I finally made it to the gorgeous city of Firenze (a.k.a. Florence)! Traveling to Florence was almost too easy. Take just a short hour and a half train ride from Rome and you will find yourself in this beautiful center of the Renaissance. I was especially excited to explore Florence because I would get to do it with my mom and step dad who are visiting me in Italy for the week. While I love showing them my favorite spots in my temporary home city, taking a weekend trip to Florence gave us the opportunity to discover a new city together and Firenze did not disappoint!

After we arrived on the train, we grabbed the typical Italian breakfast of a caffe and cornetto and then headed straight to see the famous Duomo. It was even bigger than I imagined! Everyone was gathering in the main piazza to take a look at the incredible structure. Once we were able to stop staring at the Duomo, we went to check out Florence’s famous leather market and buy some genuine Italian leather products. With some time to spare before lunch, we went to the Galleria Dell’Accademia, where we saw Michelangelo’s David statue. I was anticipating a life-sized David and was surprised to discover that he was much larger!

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As if my time in Florence could not get any better, I got to meet up with a group of my best friends from Temple main campus. A group of my fellow musical theatre majors are studying abroad in London for the semester and we knew we had to see each other while we are in Europe. As it turns out, we all planned a trip to Florence for the same weekend without even trying! It was the perfect happy accident. As my family and I went to meet my friends for a delicious pizza lunch, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Walking through the door of that restaurant was like walking into Philly style to meet up with friends back at home (and yet, it wasn’t like that at all). I felt like my worlds were colliding. I was still in Italy, the country I have grown to love over the past two and a half months, but I was completely surrounded by my closest family and friends from the States. I only had one day to spend with my friends before they had to head back to London, which wasn’t nearly enough time to catch up on all of our experiences abroad, but we made the most out of every second of our time.

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Of course, we had to get some gelato together. Then we went to the Piazzale Michelangelo, where there are breathtaking views of all of Florence. We bought some wine at a nearby stand, cracked it open, and sat on the steps to fill each other in on our lives while soaking up Firenze. Finally, we went to grab some classic Italian cuisine together for dinner, explored some of the local bars, and even had drinks made by an Albert Einstein look alike. I can’t even express how happy I was to be reunited with my friends and show them a piece of Italy. I was glad I could show them some Italian culture and give them a bit of an inside scoop, even though I may not be the expert on Florence. I was sad to say goodbye to them, but I knew that we would see each other again in a few weeks and we both had so much more left to experience in our own study abroad programs.

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As I spent the rest of my time with my mom and step dad, we climbed 414 steps to the top of the bell tower where we could get 360 degree panoramic views of the city. Then we went to wander through the enormous and scenic Boboli Gardens. Finally, we topped it off with a mouth watering pasta meal before heading back to Rome.

I could not have asked for a more perfect weekend: a stunning city, family, and the friend reunion of a lifetime. My heart is full.

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I’m Here to Do What? (Putting the Study in Study Abroad)

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It’s pretty easy to think you’re on vacation in Rome. 

Actually, most of the time, I am on vacation. Every weekend is a new city, new culture, new experience. Since the my third week in Italy, I have travelled on every weekend, jetting off Friday morning and landing back Sunday night, only to repeat the process again the next Friday to a new place. Italy’s proximity to so much of Europe has made realizing all my world traveling dreams so, so simple. 

But as easy as it is to fall into that jet-set lifestyle, it’s also easy to forget the real reason why I’m in Rome. And this week, I came plummeting down to Earth with one hell of a wake-up call:

Midterm week.

I know, I know. You’re reading this and going- “you think you’ve got it bad? I have ten exams all at the same time and a twenty page paper! And I’m not in Italy!” Or maybe you’re thinking “you think you’ve got it bad? I have a job-” to which I say, okay, you win. You’ve got the worst gig ever, and I’m sorry.

But still- there’s something about the sheer panic of exams that can take the fun out of just about everything, even Rome. I didn’t even have exams and I was freaking out. It was just…in the air.

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When you’re on vacation and suddenly remember you’re meant to be studying

Now that the frenzy of midterms is well and over, and I’ve had some time to recover, I’ve been able to do a bit of reflecting (big surprise) on why I’m here in the first place. And I’ve begun to realize that school was never really the priority.

Er, sorry mom.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m only in four classes- none of which have anything to do with my major back in Philly. Maybe it’s because I’m only in class a few hours out of the week. Or maybe (ahem, probably), its because I wasn’t coming here to go to school in the first place.

Thinking back to every single essay I wrote on all those applications back in the fall, the idea of attending classes was never brought up unless the prompt demanded it. I wanted to go to Rome to expand my horizons, strengthen my Italian skills, break out of my comfort zone… and oh yeah, go take some classes and stuff. Not that I wasn’t excited for the immersive learning experience that is studying art and language in a foreign country, I just didn’t even think of it.

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Was honestly more excited for all the photo-ops than I was for school

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s a study abroad. It’s in the name. Don’t really have an excuse for that one.

So, needless to say, the first mention of a midterm was like someone pouring ice down the back of my shirt- far too startling. And I was one of the lucky ones. My midterms were at-home essays and sketchbook critiques.

Still, it’s shocking to remember you’re actually at school. That’s not necessarily a very good thing to forget. It’s like how sometimes you’re going somewhere completely on autopilot, and then come to and realize you’re standing in your kitchen without any memory of actually walking there. You’re aware of where you are and how you must have gotten there, but it’s alarming to realize you did it without noticing.

So my advice, if you’re reading this and considering a study abroad: it is, above all other things, going to school. The first few weeks may seem like super fun awesome vacation time, but you don’t want to come to at midterm week and realize you’ve been going through school without noticing. Also, you are still paying to go to college. Might as well actually get your money’s worth at the absolute very least.

And, really, being able to go to school in a foreign country is an incredible experience. You get incredible cultural experiences, insights, and trips that you wouldn’t get through even the best of tour guides. You learn from people who live and breathe the city you’re in and the subject you’re studying. I’ve been able to see live Italian theatre, have a wine tasting with a sommelier, see a documentary screening with the actual director of the film, visit small Etruscan villages and see ancient temples buried beneath churches.

And if I have to sit in a lecture for a few hours four days a week for these experiences, then I’m going to. And I’ll even take some midterms if I must.

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I can never escape Temple, even in London.

 

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.

A Cactus in Rome

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.