In my first week abroad, I have already had a wide range of experiences and interactions. By starting out in Rome, my peers and I were given a chance to explore the city, sightsee, and adjust to the time change and culture before heading into the real work. In Rome, the tourism scene is almost overwhelming. The amount of art, history, and beauty brings people from all over the world. From the Colosseum to the Pantheon, Piazza del Popolo to the Vatican, every site is teeming with tourists. Most people are assumed to be tourists, and I felt like I blended into the crowds in that way. The restaurants had menus translated into other languages, tours were completely booked, and English was widely spoken. I did not feel out of place in the sense that there were so many different types of people, and no one really knew each other in such a big and busy city.
Not being super familiar with European or Italian culture and customs was somewhat uncomfortable. I have not previously been to Italy, and have only spent short amounts of time in other European countries, so I was unsure of how different the culture may be from what I am used to. However, I was quickly able to learn how things worked. The metro was just like our subway in Philadelphia so it was fairly easy to navigate. The tradition of aperitivo (a light drink and appetizer afternoon meal) and late dinner became an enjoyable way to spend the evening, see different parts of Rome, and get to know each other within our small group.
Little did I know that the slightly uncomfortable feeling of not quite fitting into the culture would be even more amplified as my study abroad experience really began. After too much gelato and a few nights of sleep, we travelled 40 minutes outside of the city to the small hillside city of Artena- and what a complete change from Rome it is. While Artena still has the same type of beauty in its ancient and medieval architecture, it also has a different type of beauty. With a population of about 14,000 and lots of cats, it has a nice quaintness and community feel to it.
There is a stark contrast between being thrown into a bustling city of tourists and a small town where no tourists ever come. This sudden change in setting was somewhat of a shock. Going from being “just another tourist” to a spectacle in a town where everyone knows each other can feel awkward, and I was initially worried about how we might be received
However, our first day here was full of warm welcomes. Our trek down the hill from the hotel to the local archeology museum brought us across the path of many who happily greeted us and let us pet their cats. Several people joined our group on our first day at the excavation site to help open it for the season, and thanked us for helping to bring their history to light. They even shared their pizza lunch with us at the end of the work day.
It definitely feels weird having the spotlight on me, especially in a place I am not familiar with, but it also feels really nice to be welcomed into a community. As we continue to spend time in Artena and get to know the local people more, I am excited to immerse myself into their town and traditions, and really experience an authentic Italian community.