Before you buy your plane ticket with some Italian romance in your eyes, I have to let you in on a few essential parts of studying abroad. See, there is this thing some professionals like to call “the emotional stages of studying abroad,” or as I like to call it, “100 days of what am I even doing?” To put it simply, deciding to studying abroad is like finally going to that trendy smoothie bar downtown, only, you’re not the hipster sitting in the crocheted hanging chair, you’re the fruit in the blender. Hear me out! You are in a whirlwind every day, but no matter if you’re thrown sky high to the top of the blender, or shoved down in the blades, somehow, every day is sweet. Every day you find yourself feeling a different way, like a different person even, but knowing this shouldn’t in any way change your mind on studying abroad or leaving your home country. Let me share with you my emotional journey during my first week of living in Rome.
I think it’s safe to say my excitement ended as I officially flew over mainland Italy. As I looked out my plane window, all I saw were patches of brown. It was like flying over Mid-West America, and I’d flown over Mid-West American more times than any human should have to in their lifetime. Where was the greenery and rolling hills? I felt angry as the bus drove me to my new home on roads littered with garbage, graffiti, and dead foliage. Was Rome still recovering from the fall of the empire, or was there another reason for the city to be completely empty and desolate? I felt utterly disappointed in my new home. There was no romance, no Trevi Fountain or Pantheon in my neighborhood of San Paolo, nothing I’d imagined. Instead, there were stands of unwashed fruit, giant garbage cans taking up space in the streets, and nothing more than gratified apartment buildings and children more fluent in Italian than I was. The first few days I was in this funk. I hated myself for deciding to spend the next four months in a place I’d pegged all wrong.
Then, one day as I was getting lunch, the girl in front of me was paying for her meal and said “thank you” to the Italian man behind the counter. Immediately, the Italian man responded, “grazie, no thank you here” with a smile on his face. It was in that unpredictable moment that I snapped out of my ridiculous mind set. Why was I so angry and disappointed? I was living, studying, and interning in Rome! Who gets angry over that, Bridget? I realized I needed to stop being an American visiting Italy, because that’s not was I was. I was an American living in Italy. I was the foreigner, and I needed to do as the Romans do. It was when I walked out of lunch I changed my perspective. Instead of noticing the trash and dead leaves covering the ground, I noticed the eclectic assortment of buildings, the incredibly small size of the average car, and the abundance of gelato and coffee bars.
It was in the following days I went off to see all the tourist destinations with my newfound eagerness and excitement. While seeing the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon were fantastic experiences, I came to realize I was so thankful to be living in San Paolo instead of center city, where tourists and shop prices roam free. The man at the coffee shop I frequent is beginning to remember me, and even surprised me with a free shot of iced espresso. I used my broken English to find a pastry I have become madly obsessed with, and unfortunately, all the Italian in the world wouldn’t have helped me inhale a million of these wonderful pastries because they’re actually Egyptian! I take a new bus daily, and the metro has become second nature. Now that my culture shock has subsided, I am able to focus on bigger and better aspects of Rome, like volunteering with Democrats Abroad and setting up my internship. I will be interning at Roma Tre Radio station at Roma Tre University, not only directing shows, but hosting an hour long cultural show for international students here in Rome. There are far too many opportunities to not be sweet.
What I’m hoping you take from my journal-entry styled reflection of my first week in Rome is that there is no controlling how one handles an experience like this. My first few days, in the blender metaphor, were more along the lines of fruit shoved under the blades, but lately I’ve felt so high in this blender that the hipster at the smoothie bar can feel me hit the lid under his tattooed hand. I do want to note that you can decide to be ripe fruit or spoiled fruit inside the whirlwind you find yourself in. It’s all about taking the opportunity for all it’s worth so you can leave this experience as a gosh darn good smoothie that some semi-cultured hipster will pompously say “grazie” for instead of thank you. After all, at the end of an experience in Rome, you’ll be an Italian smoothie, no thank you here.