Italy. All I can keep thinking is how is this real. It didn’t really hit me that I was not going to Temple’s Main campus until I was in the plane, flying over Philadelphia. As we ascended and circled the Philadelphia airport, I caught sight of the Temple ‘T’ on the top of one of the campus buildings. This was the moment that it really clicked with me that I was going somewhere different; not to somewhere I was already comfortable. This was also when my excitement kicked in. I felt a rush of enthusiasm and joy knowing that I was taking a huge step towards expanding my horizons.
I definitely surprised myself with how calm and collected I was during my travels. I was traveling for over 15 hours with two flights and one killer layover in Atlanta, but not once did I enter panic mode. During pre-departure orientation and the weekend leading up to my flights, I was so sure that I would start to get overly anxious while in various airports. As it turns out, the actual traveling part of this whole journey was the easiest to maneuver. I kept reminding myself that everything was fine and that I could always stop and ask someone for directions if needed. This proves that you shouldn’t be overly critical of yourself; just because you have not experienced something yet does not mean you will not excel and thrive in uncharted territory.
Currently, only a few days after arriving, I am working on the next stage of studying abroad: finding my identity and space within an unfamiliar place. I started exploring and investigating the neighborhood near Residence Candia, went food shopping, and made the trek over to Temple Rome Campus. While I was immersing myself in my surroundings, I started to wonder how I fit into this new environment. I had a few brief moments where I thought: am I just a tourist? Am I just another silly American? Immediately after having these thoughts, I snapped myself out of it; I didn’t want my first few days here to be sullied by my negative musings. One of our Student Life Coordinators, Francesca, told us in orientation to forget about what the people around us might think, and to treat ourselves like Italians. Eat like an Italian, shop like an Italian, walk like an Italian, speak Italian, and then you will feel more at home here than you ever could.
Her words really meant a lot to me, especially as someone who felt a little self-conscience about being perceived as a gullible foreigner. On my way to school, I brought my camera to document my journey for loved ones to feel more connected with me while I am abroad. As I stopped every once in a while, I kept chastising myself for looking like a tourist. But Francesca and Gianni really made me feel more comfortable here. They told me how it is okay to do some touristy things like take a million pictures and go to all the tourist attractions, how it is okay to feel uneasy and homesick, and that this does not make me any less of a study abroad student. These are all just natural reactions to being thrown into an unfamiliar atmosphere. Now as I stroll around the piazza and my neighborhood, I don’t think twice about stopping and snapping some photographs because this is my experience and I am allowed to be as “touristy” as I want (above is one of my pictures from when I was in my tourist mood).
After listening to the faculty and staff talk with us, I feel even more confident in my abilities to integrate myself into Italian culture. So after our meetings today, when I went to my local grocery store, I challenged myself to become more vocal in my surroundings and interact more with the people there. And when I was trying to acclimate to the Italian way of life, like speaking Italian, carrying myself as a local, I think the Italians around me really appreciated my efforts. They must know that I am confused and struggling, but people will always be accepting of those who respect their culture and make genuine attempts to communicate on their own level, instead of what is comfortable for me. We shouldn’t be so judgmental of our actions and should allow ourselves to experience all that the city has to offer.