1. Go with the Flow. Be flexible and enjoy your time! Embrace that there will be good days and bad days and you’ll have the time of your life. Promise. If you’re offered an impromptu trip out of the country, do it.
2. Practice your Italian. Immerse yourself in your host country. You will be more comfortable and you will feel more at home if you can understand basic Italian! Download Duolingo and get to learning (I promise this app is life changing).
3. Don’t Pack too Much. You’ll be bringing more home with you than you came with so be prepared to pack lightly in order to bring home all your treasures. I would suggest bringing one suitcase from home and if needed, take two on your return home so you have enough space to keep everything from your semester! I felt bad for those who came with two suitcases and then tried lugging all that (and more) home. And the luggage fees!
4. Eat all of the Gelato! Need I say more? No, but I will because I am WAY TOO PASSIONATE about my gelato preferences. Giolitti’s is the best of the best and Come Il Latte is a close second (a bit out of the way over by Termini). These two places are to die for. No lie, this stuff is freaking great.
At Giolitti’s you go in and pay for your cone or dish (added bonus if you order in Italian and helpful tip: you get more gelato with the cone). It’s 2.50 for a small (which is two flavors) and then proceed to the back where you’ll find yourself surrounded by a plethora of delicious flavors. You can ask to try as many flavors as the crowd behind you allows (everyone needs to try the strawberry; it will change your life). From there, make your way to the pantheon and enjoy the view and people watch since sitting in the dining area is off limits unless you pay for service. At Come Il Latte you pay for your cone or cup and pick your flavors. They drizzle your choice of chocolate into the cone, add your flavors, and put more chocolate on top with your choice of flavored whipped cream (cinnamon, omg).
5. Aperitivo. Freni & Frizioni (F&F) is one of the greatest things since the invention of sliced bread. But actually. For the cost of one drink (usually around 8 euros depending on what you order) you can get quick service and fresh ingredients to complete the Italian Aperitivo experience. Then proceed to the adjacent room and find yourself surrounded by appetizers galore. So for the price of one drink you can basically get a whole meal too.
6. Trip Advisor is your best friend. Always consult Trip Advisor before you go somewhere new. The site suggests top attractions to see and do and you can even find discounted tour deals through them. 10/10 would recommend on TripAdvisor!
7. Say Ciao to your Personal Space. Americans have this thing about personal space, well, guess what? Italians aren’t as socially awkward. Whether you’re on a packed bus or having an intimate conversation, personal space is not a thing. Side note: Don’t freak out when the side mirror of a bus whizzes by your ear, it’s more common than you think.
8. Take an Onsite Class. You may never have another opportunity to take a class that takes you to all these historic sites and teaches you the history behind it all, so take advantage of this incredible opportunity! Take the opportunity to learn about the neighborhoods of Rome, ancient history, or contemporary Italian society.
9. Dress to Impress. It’s almost common knowledge that Italians are always dressed to impress. Try blending in with your Italian counterparts! It’s highly suggested that you not wear sweatpants in public. Ever. Also, thick soled shoes are in.
10. Volunteer. Studying abroad is like your first day of college all over again, you don’t know anybody and you’re in a strange new place. Break out of your shell and volunteer within the community! There’s so many options in such a large city, you’re bound to make a difference. There’s tons of opportunities that JCU offers but my favorite is volunteering with STAND at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. You hear about the European Migrant Crisis and you have to opportunity to help the situation one small step at a time!
11. Try New Foods. Zebra, crocodile, duck, boar, and horse? I never thought I would try any of these foods but how can you say no to a new experience many of your friends and family have never had? You may end up liking it, much to your surprise! It’s all about trying something new and going out of your comfort zone, so buckle up and take a ride on the express.
12. Italian Breakfast. The typical Italian breakfast is still very light. Many times your only options will be cappuccinos, juice, and pastries. Nowhere does coffee like Italy. Learn all about your coffee here and you’ll be a pro. Start the morning off at a local café and plan to visit regularly. Your habits will help you become comfortable enough to practice your Italian and make local friends.
13. Travel outside Rome. Visit surrounding cities to gain a better understanding of the Italian lifestyle. Italy is endlessly diverse! Explore the divide between North-South Italy and experience the rural vs urban lifestyles. Travel outside Italy as much as possible too! You may never get another opportunity like this.
14. Dress Modestly. If you plan on visiting churches or the Vatican (and really, if you don’t, you’d be missing out big time on one of the coolest parts of Italy, whether you’re religious or not), be prepared to cover up. Your shoulders and knees must be covered, and that goes for most religious establishments in Europe. Some establishments will provide paper to cover up, and others won’t. Avoid missing out by bringing clothing with you that covers your knees, and a shawl to cover your shoulders.
15. Learn grocery store etiquette. Surprise, shopping here is a little different than you might be used to. Grocery stores in Rome are quite small and don’t have a wide variety of items (sorry no Costco or Walmart, guys). Italians tend to eat seasonally, and don’t stock up for the entire month. They tend to go every couple of days and stick to fresh foods. It’s important to weigh your produce according to the number you see next to the price of said item. If you go to the cash register with a bunch of fruit in a bag with no sticker, they will sigh heavily and you’re forced to wait in a line of impatient shoppers while they fetch your sticker. Save yourself the embarrassment.
16. Skip the line. The ticket to the Roman Colosseum is a combination ticket that also includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Skip the line at the Colosseum and start at the other two sites; the line here is generally much shorter. You can also purchase your ticket online and avoid the wait altogether. This will especially be helpful when your friends and family are visiting and you have very few days to show them all the treasures of this great city.
17. Be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets are crafty in Italy and throughout Europe. You MUST be vigilant about your property. Do not let your belongings out of your sight at any time!
18. Studying Abroad in Rome will change your life. This may be your one chance to go overseas for 4.5 months. The constant travel, amazing food, historic neighborhoods, partying, and sightseeing will have a lasting effect. Take the time to open yourself up to all the different ways of thinking and doing things and it’s a guarantee that you will go back home a different, changed, more open-minded person.
I spent 9 months, two semesters in Rome, Italy and made lasting friendships, traveled the continent (11countries) and upon coming home I couldn’t even stay away that long, I’m already planning a trip back to Rome in December and I’m doing everything in my power to go back for a more permanent duration. My experience in international education has influenced the direction I want to move forward in my life and that is an experience that everybody should be able to experience.