It’s been about a week and a half so far here in Rome and the adjustments keep coming. Each day I feel like I get used to more daily occurrences, and also find myself encountering new and unfamiliar surroundings. The first adjustment was the language barrier. I still find myself feeling dumbfounded and lost when it comes to trying to speak Italian to the native speakers, but so far they’ve been nothing but kind and helpful. Some Italians have even responded in English, which has been a nice surprise.
Grocery shopping here is very different than back home in the States. There is a market called Carrefour, just around the corner from the Residence, where I have been buying most of my groceries so far. There are many noticeable differences that stood out to me the first few times I shopped there. First, you have to pay extra to use a shopping cart and for each plastic bag you use. To skip these extra costs I just use the baskets they provide free of charge that have a retractable handle to make it a “cart” that you can pull around the store. I also invested in their big reusable bag for 1 euro which is the cost of 5 plastic bags so it has already saved me a nice chunk of change. Another difference is that you have to bag your own groceries here in Rome, and be fast at it! It was definitely a challenge the first time but I think I got the hang out it. In America we are so used to having baggers or the cashier helping you to bag your items for you, but that luxury doesn’t exist here.
All of the food here seems cheaper than back home as well, but I also keep reminding myself that the proportions are smaller and once you convert the euro to the dollar it comes out to be about the same price. One of my favorite differences is the shapes of the soda bottles and cans. They are a lot skinnier and taller. I think this is because the fridge space here in Rome is about ¼ the size of what we’re accustomed to, so the skinnier bottles can be laid on their side and still fit inside the fridge. Also, when buying fruit or vegetables here they have the old school system of the customer weighing the item themselves and printing the price label instead of it being done at the check-out counter. Another thing that is frustrating is the fact that all of the packaging labels are in Italian and sometimes it’s hard to decipher the pictures, so you are never quite sure what you are buying. So, as you can see, something so simple as buying groceries can become a challenge when you’re in a different country.
Another area of adjustment was the transportation system. Back home I am used to taking SEPTA regional rail and occasionally the subway system, but I never had to rely on buses. Here, however, I have nothing but both the bus routes and metro (along with my own two feet) to rely on. At first it was extremely nerve-wracking, but after the orientation leaders explained the process of taking the bus and metro and how it differed from America, I felt a bit more confident. To use the metro here is similar to the subway system in Philadelphia. They have two lines, Lines A and B, conveniently colored orange and blue just like in Philadelphia. The Residence is located a few blocks away from the Cipro-Musei Vaticani metro stop, which is only 3 stops away from the Flaminio metro stop, which is located a few blocks away from Temple Rome. Getting to school by metro is fast, efficient, and extremely easy. I purchased a monthly transportation pass which is good for unlimited uses on the metros, bus routes, and trolleys in and around Rome. To access the metro system you simply insert the ticket in the turnstile and a glass door opens up to let you into the loading area. To use it on the buses you simply carry it with you in case the transportation “police” happen to be on that bus and ask you to see the ticket. The only time the ticket needs to be swiped on the bus is the first time you use it at the beginning of the month. It’s a very easy system, although I’m sure people take advantage of the transportation system and find ways to get free rides. I have already seen people get fined 100 Euros for not having a validated ticket on the bus and metro. Even if you don’t have that kind of money on you, they will literally escort you off the bus and walk you to the nearest ATM machine so you can withdraw the fee. Supposedly, if you don’t have an ATM card they will bill you but the fine goes up.
Finally, the living quarters here are another thing that I am getting used to day by day. The apartments in the student residence are all very different from one another. Some have space for three roommates while others, like mine, have space for four. We have two bedrooms with two beds in each room and a living room/kitchenette area. The kitchenette is tightly compacted with only a gas stove, sink, and tiny counter area for prepping food. It seems extremely small at first but I quickly got used to it and the roommates and I are finding ways to share the space between all of our grocery and cooking needs.
There is a lot of adjustment happening here in Rome. However, they have not been scary adjustments…just little things here and there that I’ve needed to get used to. So here’s to a semester of new adjustments and cultural experiences!