A lot of the twenty-something Americans in Spain are here with a similar back story. In college they studied abroad in Granada or Valladolid or Madrid and one semester just wasn’t enough. After graduation they came running back with another student visa in hand but this time with the title auxiliar.
I can’t pretend to be all that different, but my study abroad story comes from another Mediterranean culture known for pizza rather than paella. I spent the fall semester of my senior year in Rome.
This was long before my blogging days, but I did write a bit about the experience. I remember wanting to be able to recall years later exactly how I felt. I resolved to keep a journal, which I published as notes on Facebook (anyone else remember notes?). Like any good study abroad student, I wrote a total of three times during my four months. I don’t have a whole lot to look back on, but I can certainly reminisce with what I have. Without further ado, here are my impressions on my very first days in Europe, as I wrote them five years ago.Buongiorno di Roma!
I’m alive and well and settled into the cutest little apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome! I’ve been here for three days and it seems like I’ve lived here for at least a month, it already feels like home. Neither of my roommates nor I speak any Italian yet, so we’ve been having fun pointing at things on menus and gesturing to indicate what we want, and we’ve been quite successful. Although it’s pretty frustrating being the stupid tourist who can’t even talk. We pick up a few more words everyday. The lady at the check stand at the convenience store next door to us teaches us something new every time we see her. We’re so excited to start our language classes on Monday so we can actually start learning how to speak in sentences and not just use our five word vocabulary.
Our goal is by the end of the semester to no longer look, speak, and act like tourists. We’ve made a few adjustments already; we realized that dinner time is about 9:00, not 6 or 7. Restaurants aren’t even open that early, as we discovered on our first night when we were starving at 5:30. Eating out usually requires at least two hours, and they won’t bring you your check until you ask for it (“Il conto, per favore”). Food here is generally pretty cheap; you can eat out for €8-10, and tonight we tried cooking for the first time. We added up our grocery bill and realized that we made a damn good meal for three, with leftovers, for about €7, and that includes a bottle of wine! I don’t think they make bad food here, everything has been amazing. Our first meal here was real Italian pizza, which is very thin, crispy, and delicious. We’ve had gelato a couple times, which is amazing. We got it once from an Americanized chain and once from a little mom and pop shop where they make it themselves and we could definitely tell the difference.
Our apartment is so cool! It’s in a building that has to be a couple centuries old. Actually I think everything in our neighborhood is. We have winding cobblestone paths instead of paved streets, which makes not getting run over by vespas speeding by quite a challenge. We have an open air market right across the street from us and we’re about a 15 minute walk from the study center, which is awesome because some people in the program got put about 45 minutes away. I’m also very glad there are only three of us in the apartment, we met some people that have 6 in theirs, and we all seem to we’re going to work really well as roommates. The apartment has clearly been used by the program for quite a while because it’s full of random crap left behind by past students, and I think some of it belongs to our crazy old landlady who tries to be very grandmotherly. Our cabinets are full of blankets, tons of extra mugs, cleaning supplies, old textbooks, dinner receipts from 2003, candles, playing cards, empty wine bottles, and a few stuffed animals. We’re trying to figure out what our contribution to the randomness is going to be. All of our appliances are really old, but they all work, so it makes it more interesting.
There are fountains all over the city that pump water through the ancient Roman aqueducts, and it’s the cleanest water in the city. We’ve been filling up our water bottles at them, and with as hot as it’s been there are sometimes lines of people waiting to drink from fountains.
There were orientations the last two days where we learned some of the nuts and bolts of living here, got our class assignments, and some other not to exciting things. I got all the classes I wanted, so I’ll be taking Ancient Roman Civilization, the Urban History of Rome, and Gender Roles in Twentieth Century Italy. Classes start Monday but for the first three weeks it’s just an intensive language practicum, so that should help us a lot with communication. After that we have a week off then the core classes start. My roommates and I are already planning weekend trips to Greece, Munich, and Florence, and hopefully a week exploring the UK.
Today we wandered around and ended up at the Vatican. The architecture all around St. Peter’s Square is really amazing; we’re definitely going to go back sometime and go inside, probably some time when it’s not too hot to wear long pants. Tomorrow we’re going to Lido de Ostia, which is a beach just outside the city, and on Sunday one of the professors in the program is giving a free guided tour of the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine, which I’m really excited about.
I’ll try to keep these updates frequent, but no promises!