1st entry: It is difficult to put into words the sense of awe I feel daily living in Rome. The Fulbright scholarship I received for Art History has taken me to parts of the city that few (if any) travelers ever see: national libraries, private collections of rare books, art collections once owned by the most powerful families in Renaissance and Baroque Rome, archives of the academies, and small churches never mentioned in guidebooks. And my research marks only the beginning of the life I have built here.
I had a rough beginning to moving halfway across the world. Thinking I had properly notified my banks before going abroad, I traveled without any cash with the intention of using an ATM upon my arrival. What a mistake! All three of my credit card accounts froze as soon I tried to use them. Unable to pay for a shuttle or taxi from the airport, I was forced to take the train to the metro to a bus—with three large suitcases in tow—to arrive at my friend’s apartment in Rome. Did I mention that escalators and elevators are few and far between in Italy? It was, hands down, the most stressful traveling experience in my life.
It did not take long for my situation to improve, however. I quickly found a room in an apartment in Trastevere, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome. Because I also studied abroad in Rome in 2006, adjusting to the Italian lifestyle was fairly effortless for me. I love living without a car and walking everywhere; I grocery shop every other day instead of once a week; and in place of an enormous latte I drink several shots of espresso throughout the day. However, I still cannot help but become slightly frustrated when I need to buy something on a Sunday and every shop is closed, or when I find myself in a mob where there should be a queue, or when the bus fails to show up. But ultimately it is these little moments that teach me patience, so I am grateful for them. I have been so fortunate to meet a wonderful group of people through the Fulbright network, and I have befriended a group of Italians who integrate me into their local culture. Dinner parties are never wanting!
One of my favorite things about Italian culture is how much they value conversation and hospitality. Instead of rushing through meals, they take time to enjoy each other’s company to the fullest. The best (and longest) dinner I have ever attended was in the company of an Italian family and several friends on the day of a Roma soccer game. While feasting on our four-course meal straight from mamma’s kitchen, chatting about everything from casinos in Las Vegas to snowstorms in northern Italy, the game was playing on TV in the corner of the room. The teams—Roma and Juventus—were tied for most of the match, but at the last minute Roma scored the winning goal. The boys got so excited that the entire table began to shake from their frantic gesturing; wine was spilling, silverware was clattering, and everyone was erupting in laughter! Thousands of miles away from my own family and friends, I felt so at home.
I spent Thanksgiving at an agriturismo in the Tuscan countryside; celebrated Christmas with an Italian family followed by midnight mass at St Peter’s Basilica; and watched the endless explosions of fireworks in Piazza del Popolo on New Years Eve in Rome. Long weekends have allowed me to explore numerous Italian towns: Perugia, Cortona, Arrezzo, Bologna, Ravenna, Genoa, Cinque Terre, and Torino. My wanderlust, ever encouraged by the proliferation of low-cost airlines, has even swept me off to Prague, Budapest, and Istanbul. Living abroad provides an education unlike any other. It teaches you how to open your eyes, and heart, to the world.