To start, I know this sounds like a silly question. If you’re anything like me your conception of the world might be a little, ok a lot, influenced by secondary sources (largely the media–I know–shameful). But that’s why you chose to go study abroad, no? To add to that confession, I have never been to Italy let alone Europe, so I really came into this one blind. After only being here for a little while I have already seen that my perceptions have started to alter, and I will share with you some of my first-hand experiences.
Italy is allegedly known for having some of the best food in the world. I was expecting to be swimming in noodles while simultaneously trying to correct my horrendous pronunciation of their precious art in the form of food (fun fact a local chef even said that there are about 300 shapes of pasta). Although I can agree with everything stated previously, the question asked at the beginning begs that I am trying to convey something more. My experiences with food and food culture here have been unexpected, to say the least. I never thought I was going to be served by a Peruvian waiter in an Italian restaurant (with the most amazing spinach ravioli *chef’s kiss*) who quickly became one of the first friendly faces I met by way of sharing our stories. Hu’s Chinese restaurant has without a doubt become me and my roommate’s regular place. It is always packed but every dish I have gotten has never disappointed, making the wait and even eating in the cold worth it! Pro-tip, if you are expecting words like “Lo Mein” you aren’t going to find them. What you will find are Chinese characters with Italian descriptions underneath–like fettuccine noodles–so brace yourself. My adventure with food has even led me to make my own little corner of home here in Italy. Scouring the vast Italian streets for spices and ingredients I am familiar with at home has allowed me to bring some of my home to Italy, and puzzle multiple Italians when I have asked if they have a thing called Adobo, look it up ;).
These suckers are hard to figure out. There I said it! You stick out like a sore thumb but that’s part of the fun. You make friends through your mutual confusion especially if you keep bumping in together. You hear so many languages and when you hear one you’re familiar with it feels like Christmas morning (maybe that’s a little exaggerated but let’s just say it’s a relief). I have had many unforgettable experiences on the bus albeit with some initial growing pains. One of the first times I took the bus alone was at night after my class got out at 9 pm. I was very confident I was going the right way, but the bus driver had other plans and told me to get my happy butt off the bus because it was the last stop (all in Italian may I remind you). Since it was the very last stop it was only me and one other woman left. Long story short we ended up helping each other to the next bus stop and talking about life. I learned she was originally born in Tulsa OK but grew up in Manchester (so she had a lovely accent) and was just visiting Rome with her friend. We ended up parting ways that night, but she gave me new hope to persevere with the busses. That was not the end of the friends I made on the bus though. A couple of weeks later I met a guy from Bangladesh who moved to Rome 3 months ago and works at a local restaurant to pursue his dream. Even though these encounters were short, I have met people I never thought I would have met otherwise. To put it in other words I do not know if I would have had the chance to meet them in Texas. And I definitely did not think that I would have met them in Rome.
You do a lot of walking your first couple of days, especially if you cannot figure out the busses. The streets are thin, and the dark cobblestone-like roads are separated by concrete sidewalks. Murals and quotes are displayed on the walls to your left and right in some places. Colorful artworks and lyrics of poems in different languages have been a constant sight on my occasional walks to school (when I did not want to deal with the bus). Most of the time I do not understand but, isn’t art in the eye of the beholder? Seeing different cultures through art and then seeing art through different languages gave the city a little ‘je ne sais quoi’. Trying to find the Japanese street art fish all around the city has become my new favorite game. I stumble upon quotes in languages that I do not speak and take a gamble as to whether in my mind I want to believe it expresses something romantic or revolutionary.
Overall, these past couple of weeks have taught me the tried and true lesson to never judge a book by its cover, cliché I know, but valid. While studying abroad is meant to immerse yourself in your host culture I found it interesting that there are so many here. My conceptions of Italy were limited, to say the least. They say America is the cultural melting pot but look out Rome is a good contender!
Written by Adriana, Spring 2023 Rome student from Baylor University