“Make this about you- make this your trip, your journey.”
Since I was in junior high, I had wanted to study abroad. After traveling with my family through a few countries in Europe, my dream became a goal. When looking at schools, I made sure to check that there was a credible and quality study abroad program. After spending more time with my great-grandmother over the past few years, I realized that I wanted to learn Italian. I enrolled in an Italian class my freshman year - at the horror of my family who wished I would take something more practical like Spanish. I had decided that I wanted to speak to my great-grandmother in Italian. These two goals became one when I decided to study in Rome. I had narrowed down my country of choice to Italy for language reasons. But the choice of where to study within Italy was made by extensive research on the culture of each city and the programs offered by UCEAP in each. I chose Rome for its centrality within Italy, that it is the capital of the country, the language level requirement, the classes offered, and the option to have a home-stay.
One thing are unfair and thus quite difficult to answer properly. I will answer by saying that one interesting cultural experience was living in a home-stay. I would recommend this option to all who study abroad. By living with my Nuova Mama, as I called her, I learned more about the inside of Rome: how Romans thought about political goings-on, religious affairs, and other important current events, etc. I was lucky to have had my host-family. My Nuova Mama had a very interesting story of her own and because of it, I was able to learn about the cultures of Greece, Egypt, and Italy at home. In the homestay, one scenario sticks out as notable: when I got very ill within the first few weeks of the program. I had a doctor come to the house, which is a common response to getting sick in Italy. I remember being very uncomfortable, getting a shot in bed, and being tested with my patience and my Italian language skills all in one.
The biggest challenge was communicating effectively. I had taken Italian my freshman year spring semester, but had not practiced much since then. I wanted to speak well, to express my ideas clearly, but I was constantly stopped after a sentence at the dinner table to see my host mom looking puzzled and asking me to clarify or repeat what I wanted to say in English. It was a frustrating process, but one that paid off in the long run. It was very difficult to not just give up, and sometimes my frustration resulted in minimal talking at dinner, but this grew less and less. I grew, instead, more confident in my speaking abilities and less afraid to make mistakes.
I would wake up in the morning to either take a 10 minute shower or to quickly get dressed. I would drop my bag by the door and proceed to make breakfast, which consisted of cornflakes and milk, seasonal fruit or just a banana, yogurt, and coffee. The coffee was a process. I would make it in the moka, which my host mom allowed me to use. My housemate would be getting ready, too, and we would leave together to walk the 35 minutes to school. The walk got more and more familiar, and I loved that. I would see familiar faces as the semester went on. Sometimes I would leave with wet or messy hair and feel the women walking past me stare a bit. Walking in Rome was very akin to walking on a runway, just knowing that people looked at your appearance. I wanted to fit in and be Roman. It was a goal of mine. When I got to school I would walk, sweaty by now, to my Italian language classroom. Class usually dragged on a bit, but the topics were difficult so I was always paying attention. Before class, coffee. At the break of class, cappuccino. At the end of class, cappuccino. After a while, the family that worked at the bar remembered my face and then my name, too. Depending on the day, I would either stay for class or babysit. And then after either I would hurry home to dinner at 7pm. Dinner was difficult because the conversations were all in Italian, but I Ioved it even more because of that! Even thinking about her dinners now makes me hungry. Real Italian food at home is something I dearly miss. After dinner, we would clean up the table and work on homework for a few hours and then fall asleep.
Italian 3, Art History: Renaissance, Sociology of Rome, Workforce
One of the most memorable aspects of my time abroad was the very last day I was at my host mom’s house. I was leaving, I had no keys, just my stuff in a duffle bag and pack. I had survived the semester and then I desperately wished I could relive it again. I was scared out of my wits to leave what had become so comfortable. I loved Rome, but I was off to travel on my own. I was on my own living out what I had planned for months ahead of time to do.
I ran into a friend at a coffee shop while working in San Francisco. He made a comment that I was happy to hear: you seem more mature and grounded, like you’ve done a lot of growing up. It suits you. I think I have grown to be more independent and strong. I can stand on my own, I can plan a trip in under 30 minutes and I can find a place to sleep in less. I learned about people, their lives, and the interactions between people, why they are so special. I think I have always been open, but this opportunity allowed me to see myself in a different context, with a different backdrop. I know now that I wish to continue travelling. I already have plans underway to do so soon. I think I am very much the same person, but with a lot more understanding of myself and what I am capable of.
There are a lot of things to recommend. One would be to do your research. Know that Rome is a large city. Know that Romans are proud of their language and would love for you to speak in Italian, but they will gladly accommodate you in English, too. For Rome specifically, I would say to dress up nicely each day. But most importantly, be ready to experience a city with so much history, culture, and great food that you will never want to leave! Initially, you should consider doing this alone. Try not to make decisions based on what your friend is doing. Make this about you, make this your trip, your journey. Know what you expect and plan far ahead- once you are abroad, it’s only harder to step away from going and exploring new parts of the city you are in to plan for months ahead of time. Planning is key. Knowledge of the place you are going to be living is also essential.