Studying abroad in Rome has left me quite aware of the fact that I am never alone. When at home in New Jersey, at Quinnipiac University, or on family vacations, there is always a point throughout the day or week that I have ‘alone time’. Although I have only been here for a short and quickly passing three weeks, I have been growing antsy, longing for a moment to myself. Since we are in a foreign country and city where pickpocketing is casual, individuals being jumped is not unusual, and women are subjected to frequent inappropriate looks and encounters, my communitas and I have been following the “buddy-system”. Because of this, I gladly jumped at the opportunity to take a walk for this assignment on my own—it also worked as a great excuse for some alone time!
I live in an area in which is very residential, filled mostly with natives who cannot speak English. Although I personally love this aspect of my residence, I tend to spend much more time in other parts of Rome that have more movement to it. Due to my lack of knowledge of my residence, I took this exercise as a chance to become more familiar with the place that I will call home for the next three and a half months. Trastevere is the main street where I am living, which is honestly very vague, as it stretches across to the Tiber River. While walking the streets near my residence, I noticed that it was not what I had expected. I figured that there would only be Supermercato’s, Farmacia’s, Tabaccheria’s, and all of the other typical signs while going through a residential area in Italy. To begin on a sad note, I noticed that there is no Gelateria near me! For anyone who has been following my writing, you know that gelato is an essential part of my daily routine while abroad, so I was upset to realize that there was nowhere close by to stop for a delicious (and necessary) dessert! Regardless of this disappointing factor, I also noticed several shopping markets, small authentic Italian restaurants, and some beautiful sights. Personally, I believe beauty is all mental; I say this because when I am in America, I look for grand and elaborate things to define beauty. However, here in Italy, I look for quiet streets, natives interacting with one another, overlooking a city of colorful apartments and churches, an alley filled with motorinos and caffès, street fountains found on almost ever corner, and tranquility to define beauty. This was the first time that I caught myself taking a deep breath of fresh air and smiling at the peaceful surroundings I found myself in—I even managed to forget about the fact that I was definitely lost.
After getting both physically and mentally lost in the outskirts of my residential area, I began to realize that I had branched out much farther than I planned. Due to this lack of conscious awareness, I grew worried, and suddenly jumped back to the uneasy feeling that everyone knew I was American. As a study abroad student, I am constantly being reminded to not stick out as an American as that makes me a target, so I remained quiet and attempted to stay undercover. While bringing my mind back to reality, I frantically opened my bag and made sure nothing was stolen, for my hand had irresponsibly slipped away from its firm grip while I lost track of time. Safety is something in which I find most interesting about the city of Rome. For me, as well as many other Quinnipiac University students, I am used to walking around campus with my eyes glued to my phone and my backpack on my back, leaving my belongings unattended in the cafeteria or library when needing to use the bathroom or talk to a friend, leaving my door open while going to do a load of laundry or to invite others in, and so much more. In Italy, these very actions would cost me my money, electronics, jewelry, bags, and any other tangible items available. This is crazy to me, as I cannot understand how people are able to live in constant fear and preparedness of pickpocketing or getting items stolen. I have yet to see one native wear a backpack on their back, instead, they wear them on their front—so a frontpack? A kind man working at caffé informed me that jewelry should always be out of sight, and so I wonder, what’s the point of wearing it? The only aspect of safety that I can easily resonate with is the notion that women should never walk alone at night. This is a lesson in which my schooling systems and parents have warned me of since I was a child. At least this is one detail of safety in which, although is sad, I believe is universal and is not as difficult for me to wrap my head around.
Although there are countless amount of sights and social norms in which differ from what I am used to, I also noticed some vivid smells in which excited both my stomach and taste buds. My favorite is when walking through small streets, almost appearing as hidden wonders once inside, filled with small restaurants and caffè’s. I am not too found of coffee, and those who know me well know that when I’m having a coffee, it has been a rough night or morning. However, during my time here, I find myself being attracted to the fresh smell traveling through the air from the open caffè’s, being lured to go inside and have a taste. The crisp smells of cappuccinos, macchiatos, and espressos, reach my senses each time I’m passing by. What I also love about this smell is the experience that comes along with it. In the United States, we impatiently wait for our coffees until we race off, always in a rush to get somewhere else. Here, however, you don’t get your coffee to go, you stand at the bar and have it right there at the counter. I truly love this experience, as I have noticed people typically strike up friendly conversations with others as they are undergoing the same experience as you. Because of this, getting a coffee becomes somewhat of a social activity with complete strangers. No one is in a rush; quite frankly I have never seen people move so slow, as they simply enjoy the here and now.
After enjoying a panini, a macchiato, and a nocciola and stracciatella gelato, I started to head back to my apartment. Not too sure of which direction to go towards, I asked some locals nearby for directions. Of course, I had to ask again a few moments later, as no one gives clear directions here. After some time, I found myself reentering the buddy-system world with my communitas. This independent walking tour was a great learning guide for me, however, in a strange way that I was not expecting. I learned two main things from this walking tour experience: that I am capable of breaking the comfortable system I have been strictly abiding by and that I know much more about this country than what I realized, I just needed to jot down my notes to properly understand my thoughts. This is most likely due to my American background of needing everything to be ‘fast’. Slimbach explains this phenomenon in the following quote, “We humans are pedestrians. And although we’re used to covering ground quickly by motorized vehicle, we need a slow-motion mode of transport to truly absorb or surroundings (2010, p.182). Since I am always on the go and in a rush, I haven’t taken the time to stop and interpret my perceptions of the country I am currently living in. Now, I can say differently and can better relate to natives in my host country by knowing how to live in the here and now. Walking is certainly a powerful learning tool, one in which is largely overlooked.
The travelogue in which I have chosen to read is titled, When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City by Robert J. Hutchinson. I found it extremely interesting to read Hutchinson’s experience, as I was surprised by the influence that Catholicism had on his writing. I originally chose this travelogue due to the family component of Hutchinson’s move to Rome. I come from a very large tight-knit first-generation Italian family, so growing up the phrase “family comes first” was instilled into my memory. Because of this, I was inclined to see how his family would be incorporated in the novel, discussing their transition as well. Hutchinson was able to have his family members serve as his communitas throughout this process, which I am sure can act as a great bonding experience. On the other hand, he never had to fully undergo a full separation, as our main source of comfort is usually found within our loved ones and family members. Although I personally don’t see Rome through the lens of religion, I found Hutchinson’s perspective truly interesting, as Rome is of course the center of the Roman Catholic religion. There is the Vatican, the Pope, and several historical and beautiful churches on practically every street you approach. Hutchinson explains his reaction to one of the beautiful historical landmarks as “a primordial astonishment, even pride, that human beings are capable of such an awesome artistic achievement” (Hutchinson 66). I loved this quote from Hutchinson, as I too feel this way every single day while walking the streets of Rome. It is difficult to comprehend that man created such detailed, elaborate, exquisite architecture, art, literary, and much more. At times, it definitely makes me regret my lack of artistic ability when viewing some of the most magnificent landmarks in the world. By reading through Hutchinson’s reflective process, I was able to also take a minute to stop and think of how I feel regarding similar topics, which was very helpful! In addition to agreeing with Hutchinson’s reactions to the beauty of Rome, I was also pleased to see that much of what I am learning in my classes here in Rome was reiterated in his writing. It was rewarding when I was familiar with the historical information he was providing, while also getting some studying in for my exams! All in all, I greatly enjoyed reading through Hutchinson’s experience during his move to Rome, Italy. What I mainly learned from this reading is that there is so much in which creates a city, a country, a religion, a race, and culture, and so on. Because of this, what one makes out of a semester abroad is entirely up to he or she. Hutchinson was fascinated by the religious features of Rome and therefore surrounded himself with things regarding his interest, whereas I remain an open book. This is my home for four months, so now I wonder, what will be my main purpose while here in Rome? For now, I am increasingly focused and interested with the Italian language and food. With this being said, this experience will be the composition of my very own travelogue and my story does not have to stop there.
The above picture best describes the mindful walk I took because, for the first time, I stopped to appreciate the beauty right outside my door. It is easy when studying abroad to be so determined to visit every historical landmark and tourist attraction in your host country, that one may overlook the less obvious beauties. For me, this mindful walk allowed me to see the bigger picture, by becoming more connected to my residence. After this walk, I now take the time every morning to step outside on my balcony and take in the beauty that is right outside my window. A presto!
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).
Hutchinson, Robert J. When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City. New York: Doubleday, 1998. Print.