Before traveling to Rome, two things I was most worried about was not being able to make friends and having to feel like an outsider. I was stressed and had to talk about it with a friend who came to Rome last summer. “Just go up to people and introduce yourself,” he said; “Just go up to people and say: ‘Hi! My name is Grace, do you mind if I tag along?’ and you’ll make friends.” That sounded simple, but I honestly practiced saying that many times in my mind and was still worried.
When my plane landed, I saw people wearing Temple sweatshirts. I took a deep breath, walked towards them, and like I rehearsed, introduced myself. Thankfully, they were friendly and became my Rome-mates who’ve been exploring Rome and everything else that is new with me. During the first few days, given that none of us know Italian, we had to figure everything out by observation. Our first obstacle was to buy groceries, and in particular, bananas. My friends and I got our groceries and were happily in line to check out, but the cashier pointed at us, then at the bananas, and finally at the fruit section that was so far back. We realized we couldn’t check out unless we weighed the bananas. So we gathered our stuff back into our arms, walked back to the fruit section, and just stared at a machine for about 30 seconds. There were so many numbered buttons on it, we didn’t know what to do. By looking around, we finally figured out that there was a number besides the banana section, so all we had to do was put them on the machine, press its labeled number, and stick the printed sticker on a bag that has our bananas. It wasn’t hard but we definitely looked like amateurs and probably made a fool out of ourselves, but hey, at least we got our bananas!
Another thing that was new and surprising is that I’ve been walking to almost all my destinations, and it doesn’t even feel like I walked that much. It’s funny since I’ve always complained about my 15-minute walk to school being too long. While walking in the streets of Rome, I was able to take on a slower pace and enjoy the sky, the buildings, and the view. I especially enjoyed walking when I went to Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este for an excursion for my Art History in Rome class. Along with the walking, our professor told us story after story about the sites and individual parts of the villa. Both sites were incredibly beautiful, and I couldn’t imagine myself enjoying learning ancient Roman history in any place other than Rome itself.
Reading from the journal of day 1 in Rome, this was what I wrote down: “Rome has a very different vibe from Philly, and I think I’m really enjoying it.” It is still true. After almost two weeks in Rome, there are still many things that are unfamiliar and almost everything I have experienced is inconsistent, but I am slowly immersing myself in the city. I tried to talk to more people and to make more friends. I learned to say “posso accarezzare il tuo cane (can I pet your dog)?” and started simple but interesting conversations with Italians. I observed Italians’ actions in open markets and especially while crossing the streets. I learned that eye contact and being confident in your action is an important body language here in Italy. I tried to walk as much as I can, and during most of the times, I came across cool places that are worth stopping for.
So, to sum up the two weeks so far? I talked bravely, looked closely, walked far, enjoyed and will continue to cherish my time here.