Before I left for my semester in Rome, I made a conscious decision to concentrate my efforts on immersing myself as much as possible in Italian culture. I knew that this could pose a challenge: I didn’t speak any Italian before arriving, and I would be living and taking classes with other American study abroad students. Coupled with the culture shock that I expected to confront, I knew that these factors would make it very easy to stay largely within the abroad bubble. However, I was committed to having an authentic Italian experience, and set out to treat my semester abroad as an opportunity to live as an Italian for four months. Since arriving here, I’ve found that the Italian immersion I was looking for is totally achievable, as long as I make a conscious effort and push myself out of my comfort zone each and every day. Here are some of the key ways I’ve found to break out of the abroad bubble and maximize my experience:
- Taking advantage of program-sponsored opportunities. Temple Rome is here in part to act as a liaison between its students and the community around us. To that end, the program sponsors many initiatives and events aimed at helping students do exactly what I was hoping to do: interact with Italians.
- One such event is a “Chit Chat with Italians,” when Italian young people are invited to our school to talk, compare experiences, and form connections. The Chit Chat helped me make several friends with whom I still meet up regularly!
- Another opportunity is the “Be a Tutor in Rome” program, which allows students to volunteer in English classes at local public high schools. As a tutor, I’m able to talk with 15 year old Italians every week about whatever topic I select. We’ve compared everything from the music and politics to the university systems in the US and Italy, and I feel confident that I’ve learned as much from the students as they have from me.
- Lastly, Temple’s art gallery hosts frequent exhibition openings, which attract Temple students and Italians alike to engage in thoughtful discussion, examine the newest installation, and enjoy catered refreshments. Held in our own school building just after classes, these gallery openings are a convenient and easy way to both enjoy free art and interact with our Italian neighbors.
- Being mindful of the spaces in which I place myself. Rome is an international city that attracts more than its fair share of tourists. While the city’s touristic appeal is clear, this aspect of Rome makes it easy for American abroad students to rely on the English that many Romans speak or be sucked into tourist trap restaurants rather than authentic osterias.
- While many shopkeepers in the historic center are required to speak English in order for their businesses to survive, if you make an effort to seek out authentically Italian spaces, you can easily practice your Italian and have more genuine interactions with locals. I’ve been able to carve out my own corners of my neighborhood—the trainers at my gym and the couple who owns the bar where I get my morning coffee speak no English, so I get to practice my language skills and interact with these people in a meaningful way.
- Moreover, if you want to go out to eat, do some research first! Don’t wander into any restaurant and assume it’ll be full of Italians with food like a real nonna would make. Ask Italian friends or professors for recommendations, or do a quick Google search to ensure you don’t find yourself surrounded by English-speaking tourists who don’t know the difference between good and bad pasta!