Allegra In Italia

Eating, studying and living abroad in Rome

Tag: abroad

Highs and lows of living in Rome

5/27-28/2013

I’m double-posting so that I can catch up!

I’ve had a lot of highs and lows the past few days. This will be a long post because it covers the span of two days, but it’s important for me to cover the important parts.

But before I begin my stream of troubles, I’d like to just pinch myself again as a reminder that we’re in Rome.

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I can’t tell you enough how much I forget where I am. Rome is like another world to me. It’s amazing to be able to go to a place where they speak a foreign language almost entirely and understand it. My mind opened a door that it never knew it had. I can’t explain to you the amazing feeling knowing that the past year I’ve been studying Italian has actually paid off–it’s not just a romantic, beautiful language that nobody uses, but in reality, a thriving useful language. Rome solidifies this, leaving me comforted. Every time I have to use a vocabulary word that I memorized two semesters ago and miraculously remember, I grow a little taller, feeling educated and proud of myself.

Although forgetting where I am always rewards me with the gratification and happiness I feel after I realize in I’m Rome, it can also be an issue. Let me start by telling you how often I get lost. I get lost going to class, coming home from class, going to other places–it’s really ridiculous. In a stroke of brilliance I took my iPad to the train so when my host mom walked me there for the second time (she didn’t want me to get lost again) I could take pictures of memory cues on the way. It worked. when I had to walk from the train home again, I was able to do it using my iPad, and after that, I could do it alone both ways. But I wish it was as easy as in the United States–simply whipping out my iPhone and using Google Maps.

One of my greatest hopes is that in the new 6 weeks, I will be able to enjoy getting lost. Before my trip, I thought that I’d be able to get lost and roam into a coffee shop somewhere and just enjoy the experience. Maybe I’m still in transition mode, but I cannot comfortable do this.

I experienced the ugliest part of getting lost today when I was supposed to meet my class for a tour of the Colosseum. We were to meet at Piazza Venezia at 9:30, an hour earlier than our usual class, and then head over to the Colosseum together. I had planned on traveling with a friend who lives nearby. Her mom called my mom (this is how it works here–it’s like elementary school again) but my mom decided that I could go by myself without a problem. It was decided, without my consent. Plus, I had a cell phone, so what could go wrong?

Well, I’m sure you realize that indeed, it was a problem. I advice my future self to always go with someone else in the future, no matter what my host mom says. I arrived at the meeting spot (one of the worst meeting spots possible due to its enormity) only 5 minutes late and couldn’t find my group. Later, I figured out that they waited 15 minutes but couldn’t find me. I tried to call them on my newly purchased cell phone, but it didn’t work, and I couldn’t understand the Italian robot voice telling me why. I decided to go to the Colosseum, sure that they had already left, to see if I could catch up. When I got there, I realized how stupid of an idea that was because there were so many people, it was nearly impossible to find my group. Sheer panic set in, especially once I realized that I was lost in a dangerous, unfamiliar city without a cell phone and I’m a woman and I can’t speak the language very well and maybe I’d get points knocked off my grade for missing this or someone will heckle me.

After unsuccessfully asking several people and policemen to use their phone, I was directed to pay phones across the street. I tried to use them and realized they were out of order. A woman outside directed me to a tourist kiosk where they rip you off for maps and postcards of the pope and asked them if they could help me with my phone. The nice (and attractive) young man listened to the Italian robot on my phone and amusedly informed me that I was out of credit. He sold me a 5 euro credit and I managed to get hold of one of my professors. Then I started to breathe again. My group had already started the tour and I would have to wait outside the Colosseum exit to go to the Italian Forum together. I was happy with this. At least I knew where they were, and I ended up going to the colosseum with another student who got lost after class.

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The Forum is a beautiful, captivating experience.

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I say experience because for me, it wasn’t just the history or the beauty of the architecture that blew me away. Going to the Forum and visualizing a flourishing community that lived thousands of years ago is completely mind blowing. Learning about the Vestal Virgins and more about Caesar and Nero was interesting, but it was as if all of the history I learned when I was in high school became real at that moment. It was all worth it, and when I went home, I was fascinated with more information I found about these historical masterpieces.

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But going back to issues with cell phones… this is another issue for all students. I tell you this not to rant, but if you plan to go abroad, you should definitely consider all of your options. We were told before we left that it was easy and cheap to get just a crappy phone and a local calling plan. We all decided on getting the same provider, Wind (which we don’t have in the United States because here the main providers are Wind and Tim), because calling and texting within the same provider is free, so we wouldn’t have to pay much (this is advice we received from former students of the same program).

Unfortunately, when we all went to the cell phone store, we found out that they were out of all of the cheap phones and the cheapest ones they had left were double the price–50 euro. With more of the required fees totalling nearly 30 euros depending on if the students has internet at home or not, it is expensive for the time span of less than 2 months. Although I decided against it before I left, I realized I should have brought my unlocked iPhone so I would just need to buy a SIM card. I decided against this for two reasons. 1) I have an iPad. 2) I was concerned that I would be a target for theft. Well, about the iPad…

Another thing I would advise you to do is to bring a laptop instead of an iPad (if you can take both, that’s great too). If I had brought my laptop, no matter where I was, I would be able to get internet because they have 10 or 20 euro flash drives that you can plug into laptops for internet. This is not possible with an iPad and they don’t even know what an iPad is at most stores here.

All in all, I think I’m still in transition mode because I still haven’t gotten over my basic reflexes “Oh, I’ll just use Google Maps’ or “Let me call her.” But this can be a good thing as well, because simple things catch me by surprise here (like getting un buon panino for less than three dollars).

Quando a Roma. When in Rome, I guess.

A novel concept

Why is it that when people go abroad, they think that they’ll fall in love?

Like my Italian professoressa, the image of traveling abroad somehow paints a picture of a skinny, attractive woman riding on the back of a Vespa around the Colosseum with a charming English-speaking man with an Italian accent.

Roman Holiday, anyone?

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Or maybe an image of sharing a romantic meal of spaghetti, during which he’ll sacrificially push the meatball with his nose. That type of thing.

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It’s a private but well-circulated story about how my native Roman professoressa fell in love with her American husband. He was in Italy to make films and he met her on a beach. He knew immediately, the story goes, that he was in love. Mind you, it was a miracle she eventually spoke to him because Italian women are very picky.

Long story short, they fell in love and he ended up prolonging what was probably a month-long trip to Italy into a year-long trip. Just for her. She recounts this story, while waving a cigarette, with a casual air of mystery.

And somehow, everyone seems to think this will happen to them when they go abroad. I’m pretty sure my sister secretly prays at night that I’ll fall in love with an Italian man and do something spontaneous. On the other hand, my mother has nightmares of this.

Believe it or not, this aspirating leads another TED talk that I saw recently about love.

Helen Fisher explains that trying new things increases dopamine in our brains, which makes us feel like we’re in love. She told a funny story about a man who knew this and decided to use it to his advantage and try to get a woman with whom he was in love to feel the same way. So he invited her for a ride on a rickshaw.

She was gasping and giggling the whole time and after hopping out of the rickshaw, she said something to the effect of, “WOW, that was so much fun and the rickshaw driver was so attractive, isn’t he?”

So I guess the idea is that people think that when they go abroad, to an unfamiliar place, nobody will know who they are. They can reinvent themselves, become a completely different person… A person who may fall in love. The idea of experiencing new things also extends to experiencing new people.

But I think the rickshaw story she tells is extremely important, in addition to hilarious. There are all of these preconceived notions we have about travelling abroad. “I’m going to eat at this restaurant, stay at this hotel, meet up with these people, and see this tourist sight.”

But when it comes down to it, isn’t the purpose of traveling abroad experiencing something novel? If you plan out your whole trip, or have ideas in your head about what will happen, it is inevitable that you’ll either be disappointed or not surprised.

We are all guilty of this. I know nothing about my host family/ Italian nonna except that she is retired and lives by herself, without even a pet.

But I’ve got this whole vision in my mind of her being a masterful cook who tells incredible stories and has age-old wisdom.

After telling my friend Allie about my host family, she gleefully said, “I bet she’s going to be one of those crazy badass gradmas who secretly fell in love with a prince or something.”

We both have seen You’ve Got Mail too many times, this is for sure.

In the end, I think it’s fine to dream about everything you’d like to accomplish or have fantasies of when traveling abroad, or about planning your life in general.

But don’t get carried away–there will always be a cute rickshaw driver who can throw you off course, for better or for worse.