The most common phrase I’ve heard from friends and family back home since arriving at my study abroad location is the joking (but well-intentioned) “how’s your vacation going?!”
To be fair, my first week here was a bit vacation-esque. I spent most of my days walking around Rome with other Temple Rome students. We threw coins into the Trevi Fountain, sat on the Spanish steps, and ate copious amounts of pasta from restaurants that had English translations for all of their menu items. The excitement of being in such a beautiful, historic city mixed with the comfort of surrounding myself with English speakers overpowered a lot my worries about my upcoming academic responsibilities and my inability to speak Italian.
However, my second week in Rome marked the beginning of classes, a new internship, a lot less free time, and a lot more stress. After accidentally finding myself in a luxury department store, getting eternally lost in the Eternal City, and stumbling my way through Italian conversations, I’ve managed to create a quick guide to hopefully prevent others from finding themselves in my shoes:
- Plan Accordingly with School Supplies – Whether it’s throwing a couple of notebooks in your carry-on or hunting down supplies during orientation, don’t put off getting ready for classes til the day of. At Temple, I would swing by Fresh Grocer or the campus bookstore on my way to class the first day to grab some notebooks and new pens. However, I didn’t consider how the lack of a FroGro in Rome could cause me so much unnecessary stress. Within the first day of classes, I already felt behind as I scribbled down my notes on a couple pieces of loose leaf paper I had borrowed from a friend who clearly had superior planning skills. Plus, the added bonus to getting supplies in advance? You won’t have to spend your weekend transcribing scribbles into a real notebook.
- Learn How to Ask for Directions – During my first week in Rome, I managed to get a pretty good grasp on the neighborhood surrounding my apartment. Campus is only a five minute walk from where I live, so I spent a lot of time walking around, scouting out cute cafes, and feeling pretty proud of myself for getting to know the area so quickly. My pride quickly faded as I found myself incredibly lost on my way to work, which is just over a mile from my apartment. With my phone on low battery and no knowledge of how to ask for directions in Italian, I spent twenty minutes walking around panicked looking for a familiar street sign only to later realize if I had followed the road I started on, it would have led me directly to my office.
- Have Faith in Yourself – It’s been hard to shake the feeling that I’m just a tourist in Rome. I don’t really know the language, nor am I an expert at navigating the city yet, and Italians clearly know I’m American as evidenced by shopkeepers speaking to me in English before I even attempt to say “buongiorno.” However, this past week, my friends and I met a group of people visiting Rome from France. Automatically, I felt like they belonged in Rome more than I did because they understood European culture. I explained this and they immediately responded, “You’re not a tourist! You live here!” In our short conversation, I found myself giving them suggestions for places to check out — ones that I knew wouldn’t just pop up in a simple Google search. Despite constantly feeling like a tourist, I already know Rome better than I think.
It may seem small, but this last interaction made me realize I am doing much more here in Rome than just visiting. I’m making connections with new people, finding parts of the city to call my own and share with others, and learning more about Roman history every single day. Above all though, I’m creating a new space for me to call my home for the time being.