One week ago, I landed in one of the most interesting cities in the world: Rome, Italy. Nervousness, excitement, and a little bit of panic settled in as soon as the plane took off from Philly International Airport, but they were quickly replaced by jet lag as soon as we landed into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. After months of trying to prepare for my time in Rome, I soon felt somewhat underprepared for my time abroad. How would I keep up with speaking Italian with people who’ve been speaking it their whole life? What would it be like living in a completely different country, even if it was only for a short two months? And how difficult would it be spending time away from home and by myself in another country so soon after losing my sister? Would that even affect me, and if so – how much?
One of the very first things that I noticed after my dad and I landed and began making our way to our AirBnB was the whole aesthetic style to the buildings in Italy. After being so used to seeing a lot of buildings and skyscrapers made out of glass, metal, and modern brick, it was odd seeing all of the buildings in Rome – they looked like European-style adobe buildings with orange, yellow, and creamy white colors on their facades. It’s an odd thing to note, considering that America and Italy do have their differences, and it’s something that I should’ve definitely prepared myself more for (but hey, everyone has their blonde American moment). However, everything in Italy is so gorgeous and has such an interesting history that it’s almost mind-blowing how native Italians can go about their daily life with such a fantastic history all around them.
Something else that I quickly noticed was how easily Italians were able to pick out tourists, and how much those working for the tourist traps targeted those tourists (e.g., trying to get tourists to take pictures with guys dressed up in gladiator suits and ripping off the tourists when they give the workers tips, people trying to get tourists to pay for outrageously priced museum tickets or souvenirs that would’ve been cheaper elsewhere, etc.) and how intense they were (just make sure that you verbally tell them “no” a couple of times if you ever visit Rome – they’ll be able to tell that you’re not a native Italian, and they’ll stand next to you for 5-10 minutes trying to sell you something if you don’t say anything and try to ignore them).
And while I thought that most people would be able to speak both English and Italian, I completely forgot that people would mostly speak formal English, and not always know more than the bare minimum – something that I knew before leaving America, but almost completely forgot after landing in Fiumicino Airport and dealing with jet lag and a foggy memory. While I’m not fluent in Italian, I’m able to at least get through a conversation with someone, and I plan on working on my Italian while I’m over here because I feel bad and like a typical rude American if I don’t at least try speaking a person’s native language while I’m in their country for a full two months. I still have to get used to speaking Italian, even when I’m around other Americans (I’ve felt awkward doing so because if other Americans ask about how to say something, I don’t want to tell them the wrong thing).
Although I dislike saying this, hearing a majority of people speak a language that’s not English was also something that I had to get used to – I did know that a majority of people in Italy speak Italian most of the time, but actually hearing it in person and being immersed into a culture with another language as its main language is something that as, as an American, I’ve never had to really think about and actually get used to, despite how many languages are spoken in the U.S. and the fact that there’s no legal national language in the U.S. That’s something that I think most Americans – even the most open-minded and accepting ones – have never really dealt with before and even thought about before due to the fact that, unless you’re part of a family from another culture and country that speaks a different language, English is the only language that you ever feel the need to learn and speak in, and there’s little to no pressure to learn and practice other languages in both formal and informal settings. And even in families that speak another language, issues of trying to assimilate into American culture can sometimes lead to families losing their native language in favor of trying to make sure that the younger generations have a better chance.
The Mediterranean weather and the weather of Italy has been another difference that I’ve had to get used to in the week that I’ve been here. It’s hot and humid, and much like spending a day at the beach – mainly because it’s right on the Mediterranean and it’s so close to the beach, so it’s really a no-brainer that the weather is like that.
In terms of sightseeing, Rome is a fantastic city. My inner anthropology geek can’t help but freaking out at all of the historical sites that can be found around the city, and I’m already in love with the city. I’ve already been to the Colosseum, the Forum & Palatine Hill, the place where Julius Ceaser was murdered, the Vittore Emanuele Momument/The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as a chance to walk around and explore the city. The fact that you can walk around and still see 2,000 or 3,000 year old monuments still preserved in the heart of the city is mind-blowing and stunning. Unlike America, who only maybe 1,000 years of Native American history and another couple of centuries of American/U.S. history, both Italy and Rome are by far more interesting than anything I’ve ever learned, read, or even seen in America.
So far, my internship with IES hasn’t started yet, and we’ve had orientation to learn more about the city and get situated with both IES and Rome. There’s a total of 48 people in the internship program with me and another couple of people participating in a Language & Culture Program who are doing a lot of the orientations, field trips, and other events organized both through IES and among the students. While not everyone is living in the same building, most students are living in apartments in the city with at least 5-7 other people and in the same general area. We’ve all been trying to hang out with each other and getting to know everyone else – and everyone in the program is friendly, open-minded, accepting, and fantastic.
I’m looking forward to spending the next 8 weeks in a historical city with an amazing internship and surrounded by wonderful people.