Studying abroad is a priceless experience, and Rome is a magnificent city. It’s an open-air museum and a bustling city of people laughing and chatting at outside tables at night on the squares. I will always treasure walking the mile-long, gold-shimmering hallway of the Vatican museum on a Friday night. The grandiosity of the Pantheon. The spectacular Fontana di Trevi. The bustling Piazza Navona. The picturesque Trastevere. Walking back home from Castel Sant’Angelo. Taking the subway to work. The Vespas zooming under my room’s window. And for me, a car enthusiast, the occasional supercar sighting.
And gosh, the food: it’s just the most amazing. I ate so much pasta, from cacio e pepe to la carbonara to simply pasta with tomato sauce. And desserts! I made tiramisu at one of the events sponsored by Temple Rome and ate so much delicious gelato!
I will never forget cooking and sharing Thanksgiving with all three floors of students in our building and witnessing the joy and madness of Italy winning the soccer finals.
For my internship, I got to work at Mercedes Benz. For a car enthusiast like me, it was such a fantastic experience. My Italian improved, too! Adding an international internship is such a plus to any resume as it shows your employer that you are not scared to take chances and have improved your ability to communicate and collaborate across different cultures.
Indeed, it was not always easy. There were moments when I felt homesick and lonely. The center of Rome is quite ethnically homogeneous and at times you can feel in the spotlight when walking those cobblestones streets. For this, I am grateful to have belonged to the Culture and Identity Envoy Program. Envoy is a program that offers an opportunity for students to better understand the dynamics of race and ethnicity in Rome via events and activities. Growing up in a mainly white school system, I have always been interested in understanding race relationships and having a chance to create deeper conversations around race. In Rome, I loved our roundtables and the chance to discuss race and intersectionality with other students of color coming from different backgrounds, and many of them living in Rome.
Italy is surrounded by water and one of the easiest lands to reach for my migrants coming from Africa via boat. There is much political tension around immigration in Italy, which has intensified because Italy is still in a recession and has not integrated the new populations well. Therefore, the political and cultural pressure is intensified further towards refugees and asylum seekers. One of the first speakers we hosted in the Envoy program was Gordon, who is originally from Africa but grew up in Italy and works at the World Bank. He candidly shared his experience living in Rome, both personally and professionally, such as how some Romans would look down on him if dressed in gym clothes or appear surprised when they would meet him in his current job position as a successful man of color. We also learned about the experiences of Syrian refugees. While some refugees are welcomed and lovingly helped by their Italian hosts, others become victims of economical exploitation by criminal organizations. There are language barriers and paperwork delays. And a large amount of prejudice, fueled by a hostile right-wing political party that has become more active in recent years.
Fortunately, in my day-to-day life, I felt welcome in Rome, especially when people realized that I was American. This was one of the first suggestions my mom gave me, as she had worked in Rome in her twenties. Italians have a big infatuation with everything American. I did become more aware of what to wear to make people know that I was from New York when I first met them. The first hair salon I went to, originally for a fade, ended up cutting off all my kinky hair. Because of my skin being lighter and my eyes almond-shaped, my Italian grandmother shared concerns about people thinking I might be a Syrian refugee and that I could experience prejudice because of their assumptions. She gifted me a necklace with a massive cross. I usually do not wear necklaces, but she insisted that it would protect me. This was the first time in my life that someone was fearing for my safety because of potential religious prejudice. Growing up in New York and Philadelphia I have never felt that. The majority of Italians are Catholic, Rome is the land of the Pope, and you can feel the tension in the air. A refugee told me how Italians had a big fight with public schools about removing the cross from classes in the name of religious freedom, but he said that in his kids’ class they still have a cross even if Italians lost the battle.
I did find ways to connect with people at work. Something I noticed was how Italians loved it when I said that I had Italian roots. The idea that I had something in common with them pushed them to share endless restaurant recommendations. Yes, Italians do show their love through food, lol!
If it wasn’t for the Envoy program, I would not have had the chance to have these deep conversations with other people of color coming from such different paths than mine. This experience allowed me to question and investigate my role as a multicultural student coming from the U.S. with Italian roots in a larger global context.
From the perspective of a student of color, the Envoy program has also given me a core and a safe space for reflecting on my experience. Benedicta, the program supervisor on-site, was someone I could talk to and was always there to support me, even when I needed more mundane suggestions like where to go for a fade for my kinky hair. She was such an unbelievable resource in an unfamiliar landscape.
If you are considering traveling abroad, please don’t miss this opportunity. There are financial resources to help you. First of all, apply to the Temple Study Abroad scholarship and then look into outside scholarships like the Gilman. I received the Gambone scholarship for Rome and the Gilman for my next study abroad experience in Japan next year. They helped tremendously.
Also, please do not be afraid to ask questions to the amazing study abroad advisors. In my case, it was Rosemary, who was always there one email away to answer all my questions. She was such a fantastic resource.
Take advantage of every opportunity. Trust me, it’s so worth it! Arrivederci!