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Saying goodbye to R(h)ome

Home has become being comfortable with being uncomfortable, with being different than everyone around you, but loving and accepting and embracing it.

Home has become yearning for challenges that make you better for it in the end.

Rome has made me enjoy being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable means that you’re learning and growing. Comfort zones are boring. Your true self comes out when you’re being challenged; when you have to find your way out of something; when you have to problem-solve your way through a maze of languages and cultural differences and assumptions.

I’ve been thinking about why I haven’t been posting a ton on my blog (because I really do love to write and my intention was to post a lot), and I think it’s because I have become so adjusted that I don’t really have anything that sticks out enough to write about it. Of course I have constant thoughts and reflections about my experience. And I have run-ins with cool things everyday. But nothing seems to warrant a blog post.

Life goes on–in a different country, but it still goes on. Challenges have become part of my life here, and I just roll with it. It’s just life.

And magic has turned into my daily backdrop–passing by the Colosseum, the Vatican, and Castel Sant’ Angelo have become ingrained into my daily routine. I’ve become used to magic. And I’m so lucky to be able to say that.

I have a hard time putting into words how grateful I am for this semester and the opportunities I have been afforded. Studying abroad comes with a lot of privilege and it’s so important to reflect upon that and work to make this kind of opportunity accessible to everyone who wants to pursue it.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like getting to the point of feeling so comfortable in a starkly different place like Rome, but also never being able to bridge the gap between being an American and an Italian. Italian culture is not my own and I’m never going to try to claim it as my own. No matter how comfortable I feel in Rome, I’ll always be an American in their space. I can appreciate and respect it, but it isn’t mine.

I’ve said before that I wanted to make a huge effort to cross the threshold from tourist to non-tourist (although I’ll never be a local-local, it’s important to take off the tourist blinders and get to know Rome for what it is apart from what is shown on postcards). The progress I’ve made towards this goal throughout the semester has been really cool to see.

Recently, I woke up on a Sunday morning and decided I wanted to go across the city to a non-touristy part of Rome to a modern art gallery. I put on a cute dress and started to make the trek across tourists and photo cameras to a more residential part of the city. Of course, I got hopelessly lost. I eventually made it there to find out that the gallery wasn’t really a gallery, but more of an art school. It was the first place I went to in which I didn’t see a single tourist and it made me so happy.

I still walked around to check out the art, and various people talked to me in Italian. I tried my best to answer them in Italian, but of course I couldn’t get out the words, which revealed myself to be an American. Still, I was so pleased that people thought I spoke Italian and made an effort to talk to me.



One of the weirdest things about being an American in Rome has been the dissonance between how I feel about the city, and how people view me in the city. No matter how comfortable I feel, people always see and treat me as an American tourist in Rome. It felt so good to not be treated differently based upon my Americanness (which I completely understand, but struggle with) while at the art gallery. I felt part of it all. My interactions outside finally matched up with how I feel about Rome on the inside.

In recent months, people have stopped me to ask for directions, thinking I look like I know what I’m doing. It’s something that’s so little, but it means so much. When people see my home as my home, it validates my place in Rome.

Rome has taught me that my experience is my experience. People will always assume things about American tourists, but that just means that we have to do better and work to break that stereotype (because it does have truth to it). No matter how many times that pizza guy calls out to me and my friend asking us to have lunch at his restaurant, and we reply that we’re heading to class but he doesn’t believe us, or that guy selling art on the street says that we must be having a very long vacation since he sees us walk by every day instead of believing that we live here, I remind myself about how I feel about Rome. I have lived here for a few months, enough to develop a personal relationship with the city. It’s given me so much. And that’s all that matters.


Rome has taught me to focus on me and my experience when necessary and appropriate. There are times that you need and want to give to others, but there are also times in which you need to prioritize your happiness and focus on yourself. And that’s okay. That’s something I really needed after coming off of a job in Residence Life (which I loved) in which I focused on the needs of an entire hall full of people above myself.

Rome has taught me to take risks. If I wanted to go somewhere or see something, I just did it. I went for it. Living in this wonderful city for such a short period of time really taught me to take advantage of the moment and seize the day, because who knows when I’ll be back? Going for things and fully embracing them has become a theme this semester.

Most importantly, the way Italians live is something I’ll always keep very near and dear to my heart. I hope I’ll carry it with me back to the U.S. and into my crazy, hectic life back home. Italians are known to have one of the best work-life balances in the world. They focus on happiness, relationships and food. That’s something we need more of in the U.S. The U.S. is so go, go, go that people forget to live. We shouldn’t live to work. That’s a waste. We should live to live. That’s something I’ll try to infuse into every single thing I do.

Ciao, Roma. Grazie a mille per tutto. Io ti amerò sempre.

My roommates and I at the IES farewell event, together for one last time on the IES terrace.

Me and my Italian roommate, Elisa. She is a grad student studying international relations at a university in Rome. I miss her already!

Some of my friends and I in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, located right across from the IES center. We passed Castel Sant’Angelo to get to class every single day, so it’s going to be weird not passing by anymore.

Me and some of my friends at our last meal together 🙁

Turning in the Italian keys to my apartment. I guess this means it’s all over.

My internship

Long story short, working somewhere where you don’t speak the language is really, really, really, really hard.

But I knew that going in. And that’s exactly why I decided to get an internship here in Rome.

I’ve said many times that I really want Rome to feel like my home vs. just a place I’m staying for three months. I feel like the best way to solidify Rome as a home for me is by working in it. I have had a job ever since I could at 16 years old. It’s a crucial part of establishing myself in the places I’m in and feeling like I’m part of the community I’m living in. That’s why I’ve gotten jobs both in the Whitman and Walla Walla communities back at school–I not only want to feel connected to Whitman, but I also want to feel connected to Walla Walla, too. For me, it’s important to be a contributing member of each community I’m in, and the way I do that is by working.

I also think it’s really, really easy to get boxed into American culture while abroad. In my program, you take classes at the same center everyday with all Americans, live with Americans, and hang out with Americans. I took this internship so I could push myself out of my comfort zone and interact with Italians.

That I have done. And I never thought it would be so challenging.

I work at La Maisonnette, a tri-lingual preschool that integrates French, Italian, and English into the school day. Each age group is split into a class, and each class has three teachers: a French teacher, an Italian teacher, and an English teacher. All the teachers speak Italian, but only the English teacher speaks English in addition to Italian. I was expecting the kids to speak at least a little English, but most of them are so little they can’t yet. The only group that speaks English regularly seems to be the 5-year-old group. I was originally assigned to the 4-year-olds, who speak a little English, but then I got switched to the 3-year-olds who speak zero English. I still try to interact with the 4-year-olds whenever I can because it’s much easier to communicate with them (plus I really love them).

I’ve realized that interacting with the kids at the preschool has mimicked the same kind of culture shock that’s supposed to happen when you first arrive in a new country.

First there was the honeymoon phase. When I first got there, the kids thought I was so interesting because I couldn’t speak their language–I represented newness, excitement, and difference to them. They were all over me and wanted to hang out with me all the time. They laughed at everything I said–they laughed at my English because they were hearing new, different sounds. They were hearing English from a native speaker for the first time, sounds that are so different from their native Italian, sounds they thought were so funny.

And they laughed at my Italian because I pronounced everything wrong, absolutely butchering their native language. At that point, I could only say “come ti chiame?” which means “what’s your name?” because that’s what we had just learned at my first Italian class only the day before. By the end of the day, I got really good at pronouncing “come ti chiame?”, but I absolutely butchered the pronunciation of their Italian names. Some got super annoyed and frustrated because they couldn’t understand why I was pronouncing it wrong (geez it’s so easy! Why can’t I get it?! It’s not like I speak a completely different language or anything), but others just thought it was funny.

Since these kids were a little older than the kids I have now, they taught me Italian words by pointing to things or body parts and having me repeat what they say. They would also say random Italian words and have me repeat them, then burst out laughing. At the time I thought they were just laughing at my horrible pronunciation, but looking back I think they were just taking advantage of the fact that I didn’t know what I was saying and were making me say naughty things. Oops.

The kids take advantage of the fact that I don’t speak Italian alllllll the time. They constantly say naughty things in Italian and test my reaction to see if I understood. They say “caca” (which means poop) allllll the time in casual conversation and then look at me and giggle to see if I understood. I know that one now, buddy! One kid even called me “bruta” (which means ugly brute) in casual conversation to see if I understood. Sometimes it’s cute and funny when they try to see if I understand stuff, but when they say things like that it can be hurtful. I feel so helpless because I can’t ever tell them that it’s not okay because I don’t know how to. Even when I try, they don’t respect it because it’s in broken Italian. I learn not be offended because they’re only 3 years-old, but it’s still not fun to be called names all the time, especially when you don’t know what they’re saying.

Not speaking the language makes you so vulnerable, even to 3 year-olds. A lot of the time I know they’re insulting me because they’re saying things in a mocking, mean tone, but I don’t even know what they’re saying! It’s beyond frustrating and I’ve never felt so helpless around kids before. When I first got to the 3 year-old group, they all tried to test my boundaries because I was someone new, so they climbed on top of me and slapped me and bit me, and the girl who called me an ugly brute even punched me straight in the eye. I kept telling them to stop, but either they didn’t understand, or they found my English funny and didn’t find what I was saying to be valid because it wasn’t in their language. Either way they didn’t stop.

I’ve found that there are four types of reactions from kids when they hear my English:

  1. They find a person from a new culture super interesting and are eager to interact with you. This is mostly with the older kids since they actually understand that there are people from different cultures who speak different languages. One kid sung a song about America once I told him I was from the U.S., but he sang it in a mocking tone so I have no idea if it was positive or negative. Other kids asked (in Italian, their English teacher translated) if Minnesota was in the south once I told them where in the U.S. I’m from. They really have no idea–it’s so cute! Some kids thought New York was equivalent to the U.S. and that the entire U.S. was made up of New York. A bunch of kids went over to the map and I was showing them where I’m from. That was super cool. A lot of the older kids will sing popular American songs–top 10 sort of stuff. Even the younger kids are so into American superheroes and princesses, and Mickey Mouse, which is cool to see.
  2. They are curious about a new person from a different culture, but don’t know what to think. This manifests in them trying to mess with you by taking advantage of the fact that you don’t speak Italian. These kids are sweet and are trying to get to know me in the only way they know how. Sometimes the ways they try to interact with me can be mean, but most of the time it’s all in good fun.
  3. They don’t know what to think of someone who is radically different from them, so their discomfort with the situation translates into lashing out at you. Sometimes when I speak English, kids will just walk away. Other kids have said “blah blah blah, inglese, blah blah blah” or “ugh parle inglese” (“blah blah blah, English, blah blah blah” or “ugh she  speaks English”). Sometimes these kids will even get physical and punch me when they get frustrated, but that’s pretty rare.
  4. They simply don’t understand the fact that I don’t speak Italian. No matter how many times I say “no capisco” (“I don’t understand”) or “Parlo inglese, no parlo italiano” (“I speak English, not Italian”), the message still doesn’t get through to them. So I just pretend I speak Italian and nod my head to whatever they say. I can oftentimes infer what they’re trying to say be reading their tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. This has honestly made me a lot more perceptive and patient, which is really good for my future career since I want to be a mental health counselor for children and teens and being perceptive and reading body language, tone, etc. is a huge part of the job. It’s actually really cool to be able to transcend the language barrier and communicate without speaking–solely by reading tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. But it’s really hard.

Some things just can’t be inferred, however. It’s so heartbreaking when a child comes up to you crying, but you don’t know what’s wrong because you can’t understand their Italian. So you can’t fix it or try to help. It’s also sad when they come up to you super excited about something, but you don’t know exactly what they’re excited about. I miss out on these kinds of connections.

It’s cool that I am able to get a feel for their personalities within even knowing what they’re saying. It’s super cool. And it’s even cooler when I am able to build deep bonds and connections with kids who don’t speak English. I can’t understand what they’re saying and they can’t understand what I’m saying, but I feel like I can still understand them as people. When I walk into a room, and there’s kids who can’t speak English who come up to me and give me a big hug, or want me to play, or hold my hand, or are generally excited to see me, that’s super rewarding. I was able to form a strong connection without even knowing what they’re saying.

However, I can’t help but get a little jealous when I see the kids interact with the other teachers and the teachers laugh at something cute they said. Or when a kid is crying and I don’t know what’s wrong, so another teacher has to come over and handle it because I’m useless in the situation. Or a kid is doing something wrong and I try to discipline or redirect them, but they don’t understand so another teacher has to fix it, and then I get in trouble for not fixing it even though I tried. There’s a layer of disconnect there that I can never breach. I want so badly to connect in this way, but I just cannot.

Each week gets better, however. I’m picking up Italian super quickly since I’m constantly immersed in it (they love to play this game where they try to put me in jail, so I’m learning lots of vocab words about jail, like prisoner, cage, police, etc. Classic). Little by little I use more and more Italian with the kids, and they get more and more comfortable with me. It will only keep getting better.

And you really do grow the most in the most challenging places. Even though this internship is SO difficult, it has definitely made me a much better, more understanding, more accepting person. I was trying to figure out for the longest time why the kids would lash out at me so much. They were so physical in the beginning especially, crawling all over me, rubbing my face, and even punching and biting me for no reason. I thought an explanation would help ease the frustration that their behavior evoked in me. I came to two conclusions.

  1. All kids are not the same. Kids from different cultures are different and that influences their behavior. Sure, they might be the same in some ways. They all love Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Peppa Pig, etc. We play similar games–kids in the U.S. and Italy love to put me in “jail.” But Italy is much different from the U.S. And these kids are being raised in Italy, not the U.S. They have been immersed in and are growing up in a culture radically different from the one I have been immersed in and grew up in. Italians in general are a lot more touchy than Americans. It’s their way of showing affection and connection. People will even touch me to gently move me out of the way on the street, or kiss me on both cheeks to say hello or goodbye. It’s just a natural part of their culture. I see this at the preschool, too. Teachers will kiss, hug, and cuddle with the kids. That never happens in the U.S. We’re too strict about that stuff (for a good reason, but to a certain extent, lack of physical touch limits connectivity). Anyways, the preschool emphasizes this kind of physical affection, and it always emphasizes movement as a way to explore your space and new surroundings. My theory is that because I don’t offer that same kind of physical affection (because I’m so not used to it!), kids compensate for that lack of physical connection by crawling all over me, rubbing my face, biting me, etc. For them, it could be a weird way to form a connection as well as explore a new space. I’m a new, different person, and maybe physical exploration is the way they get acquainted with me. 
  2.  Differences can be scary, especially when you’re a kid. As someone who doesn’t speak their language or come from their country, I am the emblem of difference for these kids. Differences are confusing for kids; they have no idea how to interact with me. They can’t talk with me, they don’t know anything about me. I look different, I act different. I’m new. Putting myself in their shoes, when I was 3 years-old, I could barely grasp the concept that there were other countries out there in the world, nonetheless people in those countries who talk differently than me, in a way I can’t understand. I have to give these kids some credit. I can see how that would be scary and I can see how they could respond to that by lashing out. In this way, the kids are helping me understand a radically different point of view, helping me be more empathetic and understanding of different perspectives. They’re inadvertently teaching me what I’m supposed to be teaching them!

My internship is equal parts challenging and rewarding. For every negative thing that happens, there is something really cool and positive that happens and balances it out. I’ve worked with children all my life, and I know so well that working with children takes so much energy as is. But I have to put a million times more effort into this internship than I have ever had to put into any other job or internships. And I have had some really challenging internships! I think doing this is really good for me and will really build character, but boy it’s exhausting. I know, though, that I will look back on it and see it as one of the most transformative experiences of my life. 

Being an American in Rome

My goal by the end of my study abroad program is to not be recognized as an American when I’m walking down the street.

I get it, it’s pretty obvious I’m American when I’m walking in a big group of friends and we’re all talking loudly in English about American stuff.

But even when I’m alone, people will call out to me constantly, “Hello, hello, do you want a souvenir?” “Come in! Sit down at this restaurant!” “Hello, hello how are you today?” “Do you want to buy this?”

Being heckled to buy a souvenir in your own neighborhood just feels wrong.

How am I supposed to see Rome as home when it treats me like I’m a stranger, an outsider, an intruder?

And what about me seems so American?!

I’ve never felt so annoyed with being labeled as a tourist and I’ve never felt so annoying. As an American, I am a walking stereotype. And when you layer on tourist to the American label, that stereotype is just augmented. A bit of your own individuality seems to be obscured by this big ole stereotype.

And I get it–being an American in Rome is pretty obvious. When I’m walking down the street or riding the metro, I can always pick out the loud, obnoxious group as Americans. People think Italians are loud, but honestly whoever said that is either an American that has no self-awareness or someone who has never met an American.

Being in Rome, my perspective towards America has completely shifted. Since I’m not living in the U.S. for months, I’m able to adopt more of an outsider’s perspective while talking to Italians and other people not from the U.S. about what they think it’s like.

The Italian student, Elisa, who lives with me in my apartment says that Italians often question how Americans elected Trump as our president. That reflects so poorly on us. We chose to have someone like that in office, and he’s inspiring fear in the entire world because his decisions impact the entire world. Our decision, as Americans, to elect Trump has a ripple effect on the entire world that we didn’t even notice. I feel like we’re oftentimes in our own little bubble and don’t even think about what’s going on in the cluster of countries on the other side of the Atlantic. A lot of Europeans think this too. And it’s a valid point!

In my Cross-Cultural Psychology class, my professor played a clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show in which people from the show went around New York with a map and asked Americans to point out and name one country. Just one country. Everyone pointed out Africa, but then were reminded that Africa is a continent, not a country. They couldn’t name (they weren’t asked to point, just name) a single country in Africa. When someone was asked where the U.S. was, someone pointed to Russia and said they thought that was America because it was the biggest. Yikes!

I really didn’t realize how much power America had in the world until I came to Italy. We monopolize the entertainment industry–Italians pretty much solely listen to American music and watch American movies. Elisa and I share a lot of the same music tastes as well as favorite shows and movies. Live music played on the cobblestone streets of Rome are always American music, sung in English. And many Italians associate celebrities with Americans. One of our waiters called my friend Rhianna, for example. Many Italians will ask us if we’ve met celebrities because many will assume the entire United States is like L.A. and New York (side note: Italians are absolutely enthralled by New York. Whenever I ask an Italian where in the U.S. they want to visit, they always say New York. And they are obsessed with the song “New York” by Alicia Keys!).

Entertainment serves as a medium for ideas and values to be transmitted. So, because we have such a hold on the entertainment industry, our ideas and values are spread farther and faster than any other country. That’s power.

Elisa said that so many things from the U.S. influence Italy. The #metoo movement moved to Europe a la the entertainment industry and social media, for example. American ideas and values are so palpable because they are made so clear and reachable through the media.

At the same time, American ideals are filtered through media, particularly TV, so of course all the not so great parts of America are showcased through media and that’s the image the rest of the world gets. Most people see Americans as people who get crazy drunk and party all the time because that’s what is shown on TV. I can’t tell you how many times Italians, especially the IES staff, have told us that Italians drink for pleasure and to complement their food rather than to get drunk and party, unlike the U.S. So, while the media can be a tool for good, it can also curate a certain image of groups of people that aren’t so great (and aren’t always accurate either).

I also didn’t realize how powerful speaking English is, and how lucky we are to have it as our native language, especially since it’s so hard to learn! Elisa said that from a very early age, the English language is so emphasized in Italy because it is such a powerful language. Every kid is required to learn English starting from just one year old, and everyone I’ve met in Italy speaks at least a little English. And most Italians speak English very well! English is really seen as the universal language–it is the language I see in all airports in Europe.

Meanwhile, there are people in the States arguing that we shouldn’t learn Spanish because people coming into America should learn “the” language, “our” language: English. Italy has the opposite idea. Elisa said that it’s important for Italians to know other languages to accommodate for all the immigrants and refugees coming into the country.

It’s really hard that I don’t speak Italian. I have to make Italians cater to me in their own space, in their own home, by speaking English because I don’t understand Italian yet. I think this just furthers the idea of American ethnocentrism. When I speak English, they can’t see my desire to connect with them or my love and appreciation for Italian language and culture. All they see is a dumb American wanting yet another person to cater to them, to make their life easier and more comfortable by reaching out to them in their own language.

In my Cross-Cultural Psych class, we learned that the biggest form of integration and feeling like you belong in a culture is learning the language. I cannot wait until I know enough Italian to use it and make progress towards integration. I hate that I have to revert to English at the point I’m at.

I can be aware of my Americanness, but I can’t shake it. Culture really does influence and shape you.

When I run to class with my North Face backpack bopping up and down, weaving between slow walkers, I’m obviously American. Italians take things slow and don’t care if they’re late because they’re all about enjoying and savoring the moment.They walk so slow, but they enjoy their walks.

When I ask for something to go (in Italy they say “to take away” because that’s how they say it in England and they speak British English), I’m obviously American. Again, Italians are all about living in the moment and enjoying every little thing. Asking for something to go is kind of insulting because it implies that you just want to eat the food for the sake of eating food vs. actually enjoying it, and you don’t appreciate the ambiance of the café or little restaurant enough to take the time to sit down and enjoy it. It implies that you’re just using them for food vs. the experience. Food is an experience here; you can’t separate the two.

When I’m standing in front of a metro kiosk, sifting through the Italian words that blur together on the screen, trying to get a ticket while people are budging me to get their ticket because they’re tired of waiting, I’m obviously American. But practice makes perfect and I’m getting the hang of it!

When I hesitate on the curbside waiting to cross the street when there’s no crosswalk, I’m obviously American. I’m getting better at this though–I either find an Italian and follow them at a weirdly close distance as they cross the street because I know that since they’re used to this, the route they’re about to take is safe, or I just go for it and risk it and walk. I feel like I’m risking my life every time I do it, but I’m still alive so what the hey.

I really want to be absorbed in this culture, but there is naturally a degree of separation here. Every time I stop to take a few too many pictures of a monument Italians pass everyday, or an Italian has to speak to me in English because that’s the only way I can communicate with them, I feel like a leech sucking up their culture and not offering anything in return.

I don’t want to use Rome for its culture; I want to give something back as well. I want this to be a cultural exchange vs. Rome enriching me with knowledge and giving me a life-changing experience, and then just going home and Rome being the way it always is and me having done absolutely nothing to change it while it gave me so much without even trying to. This is an incredible opportunity and the last thing I want to do is be selfish about it.

I’m not sure how to give back in this way quite yet, but because being seen as a tourist bothers me SO much, I’ve been taking active steps to cross the threshold between tourist and non-tourist. I can never be a local, and I’m not going to assume Italian culture as my own because it isn’t my culture, but I do want to soak myself in it for the time I’m here instead of standing at the outskirts as a tourist too scared to dive in.

Whenever I go to my internship, I don’t feel like a tourist. This is because I mimic the workday of an Italian; I hop on the metro and go to work at an Italian preschool where they only speak Italian. Because the kids don’t speak English, I’m forced to work on my Italian, which makes me feel like I’m contributing and trying and maybe even giving something back, because I’m teaching the kids about English and American culture in return.

The kids are so little that they don’t understand I don’t speak Italian, so they oftentimes treat me the same as they would an Italian, which is so refreshing. They do laugh and make fun of America, and one kid thought New York and America is one in the same, like the entire country of America is New York. But at least they’re not accommodating me just because I’m American. I appreciate that. I appreciate being treated like a peer rather than a tourist.

When I stop at a cafe for a cappuccino after class, I don’t feel like a tourist. When I slow down, sit alone, and just breathe, I don’t feel like a tourist. In the U.S., I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a coffee simply for the sake of getting a coffee. I’ve always gotten a coffee as something to catch up with a friend over, or to supplement studying. I’ve never just sat there and sipped and breathed. And I honestly think that would be weird to do in the U.S., unfortunately. At least I would feel weird about it.

If you know me, you know I can’t stand coffee in the U.S. But somehow I love it here!

When I wander along the cobblestone streets alone, I don’t feel like a tourist. I actually love exploring Rome alone. As much as I love exploring with my friends, when I’m walking around with them the city is filtered in a way. What we see together becomes our experience, versus my experience. And don’t get me wrong, that’s special and wonderful and I do love it. But there’s just something magical about being independent and alone and free, with just me and the city and that’s it. When I’m with friends, I’m always absorbed in our conversations, getting distracted and swept up in the energy of the group. But when that’s taken away, it’s just me and Rome. I notice the little details. I feel the energy of the city. I feel more of a connection with the place I’m in.

Stopping for some gelato and to listen to street musicians while on an afternoon of exploring the city solo.

And I feel like me being comfortable with the unfamiliarity and uncertainty of different parts of the city is a huge milestone. It’s a sign that I’m seeing Rome as home rather than a big, scary unknown place. At home I go for walks alllll the time; it’s my favorite thing to do. But when I first got to Rome, I made Elisa walk me to school because I was way too scared to go alone. I didn’t walk alone until maybe the second week. But today, I purposely got lost on the metro just to explore and roam, and it felt like a normal stroll in the neighborhood. I visited my friend from Whitman in Germany this past weekend, and hopped on a bus to Austria alone while she was in class. I couldn’t even walk to class alone before, but now I’m crossing into new countries alone. Noticing that kind of growth has been really cool!

Culture shock is real and hard, but in a way I didn’t expect. I thought that I’d get annoyed with parts of Italian culture and want to go home, but it’s literally been the complete opposite. There’s a point in the culture shock cycle where you either integrate your identities or reject one culture for the other. I feel like I’m being so cynical about America at this point and most definitely am choosing Italy over America. But I need to learn to see the good in America and embrace the American parts of me that make me who I am, while also integrating pieces of Italian culture that I embrace and adore. It’s a process.

Today I was telling Elisa about the Pacific Northwest and Northern California; I was showing her photos and she seemed so amazed at the beauty, and it made me realize how much I really do love pieces of America.

We also talked about feminism, and how that’s totally rejected in Italy because the suffix “-ism” has such political connotations (communism, fascism, etc.), so that made me realize that the U.S. is doing some things right–although Trump isn’t on the same page, I’m grateful to have participated in Women’s Marches and been able to stand up for gender equality. Italy is not nearly as progressive when it comes to gender and LGBTQ+ rights (especially since it’s a culture seeping in Catholicism), and I need to remember how fortunate we are in America to be making steps towards a more equitable society (obviously we’re not there yet, but we’re strides ahead of Italy and at least Elisa seems to be impressed).

I need to balance my love for Italy with my love for aspects of the U.S., treading the line between integration and completely dismissing home home. Remembering where I come from and not losing parts of that is incredibly important.



Hey now, hey now this is what dreams are made of

Studying abroad is built up into this huge, ominous experience; one that plants itself as a potential option on your horizon during college tours as a 17 year-old in high school, one that you hear glamorous stories about from cool upperclassmen arriving back on campus after a semester away, one that seems to be the capstone of a perfect college experience (there’s no such thing as a perfect college experience, and everyone’s experience has the potential to be great in so many different ways, no matter if you study abroad or not, but this is just a common perception that comes with a lot of pressure to make it great).

My first view of Italy after a long, long flight from Minnesota! I was very happy to not see snow.

Before you jump into the experience, everything about it seems fuzzy. I saw snippets of Rome in movies–The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Roman Holiday, and Gladiator to be exact–on postcards, on Google Images, trying to piece together my would-be experience from all these different, disparate elements.

It’s all so intimidating.

Abroad, as this abstract built-up thing, truly seems unconquerable. You have to apply–apply through Whitman, apply for IES, apply for a visa–and make sure you are okay to go. You have orientation for three hours at Whitman, and orientation for a week once you get to IES. You have lots and lots of people asking if you’re scared or nervous or how you think you’ll adjust. It’s not necessarily anyone making it seem so scary, because all the questions, help, and support are so appreciated. It’s more that with each conversation or orientation meeting or application you fill out, you realize more and more that you’re going to be living across the world for four months–it becomes so much more real–and that’s scary as all hell.

Because of that, the waiting game is most definitely the hardest part. I felt kind of numb and really didn’t know how to feel leading up to my big departure date, the only thing really on my calendar the whole month of January. But it alllll hit me that morning. That morning you have no idea what your experiences will be like. It’s just a big blur of expectations at that point. My family helping me pack made it even harder to go because I kept envisioning how the comfort of home, along with the kind of help and support they were giving me (which just isn’t the same when they’re not physically there), would soon evaporate in just a few hours, and I would be alone on the other side of the world, not knowing anyone, not speaking the language, even more clueless than I typically am.

But, I went. I sucked it up, I toughed it out, I got on that plane. I arrived, I survived, I thrived.

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My apartment.

Stepping off the plane felt like a dream, and that dream lasted for about three days. I felt like I was walking through a fairytale every time I stepped outside my cute lil apartment. The Pantheon is right around the corner from my apartment and the Colosseum is only about a 15 minute walk away. Surreal is the only way to describe it. I feel so lucky.

The Pantheon, right around the corner from my apartment.

Roman ruins, only about 10 minutes away from my apartment.

By the fourth day, Rome started feeling more like home. After too many nights of getting locked out of my apartment because Italian keys are so different and hard to operate; too many times calling a taxi only for him to get lost, prompting us to give him directions to our apartment in Spanish because he doesn’t speak English and we don’t speak Italian (yet); too many times walking out of a restaurant bathroom with soap on my hands because I couldn’t figure out how to work the sink and needed help; too many times buying the wrong thing at the supermarket because I can’t read Italian and needing to pay extra money for a bag because I forgot to bring a reusable one; too many close calls with a billion crazy mopeds and tiny cars whipping around the windy, narrow streets; too many times getting lost for hours on the metro; too many times dodging my way out of scams and pickpocketers, Rome felt like home—a disorientating, new home, but still a home.


Home isn’t characterized as a dream or fairytale. Home is home, in all of its glory and all of its challenges. Real life comes with challenges and those challenges can be sticky, but they help you learn and grow.  Abroad is all about problem-solving and that makes it seem more like home, like real life. I don’t have a resort to run off to, or a tourist program to consult when I run into problems (which both serve their purpose and are great resources that I have definitely utilized when on vacation, but they’re resources that don’t come with living in and getting to know a place as home). Living in Rome is all my own and I have to handle everything that comes my way on my own.

These uber specific kinds of problems I run into here in Rome reminds me that I am abroad and that this new home is disorientating and different; the problems I run into in day-to-day life in Rome (navigating the city; THE LANGUAGE BARRIER—oof actually so tough; needing to be cognizant about where I’m walking, especially at night and especially alone; dealing with Euros and trying to budget money for food and travel—UGH another really hard thing; getting a new phone plan; dealing with scammers, etc.) are very different than the ones at home (balancing time with family, friends, academics, and extracurriculars at home, for example).

Castel Sant’Angelo, right across from the IES Center (the program center where all my classes are held).

One of my roommates, Clare, and I in Castel Sant’Angelo overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica.

The view from the terrace at the IES Center.

Being abroad has been super fun. Meeting new people, seeing new places, and engaging with new ideas and values has been absolutely incredible. It’s made me realize how much of a bubble Whitman really is (a bubble that I absolutely adore, but a bubble nonetheless). But as much fun as it is, it has also been challenging, strange, and new (all good things). Growing pains accompany almost every aspect of study abroad–but that’s why I’m here, to learn and grow.

At the same time, study abroad is just normal life. I’m living and cooking and cleaning and studying and hanging out with friends, just like I do at Whitman. But that all happens along the cobblestone streets of Rome, on the edges of ancient history. And with more pasta.

I’m living in an apartment in the city for the very first time in my life and I freakin love it. I love the energy of the city, and our cozy apartment complements the chaos well. I love cooking for myself and feeling more independent and free.

It’s only the end of week 2 (week 1 of classes), so we’ll see how the rest of it goes, but so far I’m absolutely loving every second. I’m trying to live in the moment as much as I can because these moments have an expiration date of only three months from now (so wild). I’m trying to soak it all in. Ciao for now!

The Capitoline Museum, which is on what used to be Capitol Hill, the famous Roman hill where Caesar and the Romans marched to with their prisoners and treasures when they won a battle.

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From ideas to reality: envisioning my study abroad experience

Right now my abroad experience is a disparate mix of emails, the IES Rome Spring 2019 Facebook page, my passport with my Italian visa (which feels like such a trophy after all the work I had to do and hoops I had to jump through to get it), and a mess of clothes on my floor, ready to be wadded up and stuffed into a big big suitcase and backpack. In four days, I’ll be in Rome and everything will be concrete and real and completely different.

I know where I’m staying, but it’s just an address on a map and a fuzzy Google Maps picture. I know who’s on my program, but right now they’re just a list of names. I know what classes I’m taking, but they’re just sets of course descriptions that blur together. It’s so crazy to think that all these things I’ve been seeing, which have really just been abstract things, are going to be assigned meaning in just a few days. Memories and feelings will become attached to these random facts I have been listing off about my soon-to-be experience; soon they will become daily parts of my everyday life.

Here’s what I know about my experience so far:

  1. I’m taking a whopping six classes. 

This is super unusual for me, since I usually only take four classes at Whitman. I might have to whittle it down to five, but we’ll see. Here are the classes I’m signed up for as of now:

  • Rome as a Living Museum: an Art History, Urban Studies, and Sociology hybrid course. I’m super excited for this one because I think it will give me a really immersive, in-depth look at Rome as a city. I think it’s important to know the place you’re staying in wholly, to make living there an experience vs. seeing it as a place you’re just staying in as a host city. Of course this can be done in ways other than taking this class, but I’m happy that I’m able to take this class and form a unique connection to Rome through it!
  • Politics and Philosophy of Power in the Land of Machiavelli: this class looks intense. I’m using it to fulfill my philosophy credit for my Psych major. At Whitman, philosophy and politics have been two of the most intimidating subjects for me, so combining the two in this course, especially in the context of a place and person I’m direly unfamiliar with, should be interesting. I think I studied Machiavelli for a tiny blip of time in AP Euro my junior year of high school, and he was complicated. But unfamiliarity is one of the main driving forces behind taking classes and learning, right? I’m up for the challenge.

  • Valuing Diversity? Italian Contemporary Immigration and Integration Policies: this class is super context-dependent and applicable to the place in which I will be studying in, which is just what you want out of a study abroad class. So I’m so, so excited for it. I don’t know anything about Italian immigration and integration policies, but it’s a super important topic. It will be especially interesting to study it considering Trump’s stance on immigration–I know I will be constantly comparing Italy’s policies to our own and doing a lot of reflecting throughout the course of this class. The emphasis on diversity and questioning whether or not Rome values it according to their policies is really important too, especially considering the size and scope of the city.

  • Beginning Italian: I know zero Italian, so this course will definitely help me survive the next few months. I haven’t taken a language class since high school, and I have always struggled with learning new languages, so we’ll see how this goes.
  • Developmental Psychology: Compared to everything else, this class seems super random, but I’m taking it in Rome to fulfill a requirement for my Psych major. I actually think it’ll work really well in tandem with my internship (which I’ll get to later). I actually decided to switch from a program in Florence to this program in Rome because Rome offered this psych class and I desperately need to fit in all the psych classes I can since I recently switched my major. It goes to show though that studying abroad is still very possible, even if you declare your major late or switch it late in the game like I did.
  • Social Action Seminar: This class will accompany an internship I’ll have in Rome, providing a space to reflect on and critically engage with the internship.

2. Like I mentioned, I have an internship in Rome! 

I am so excited for my internship. I think it will provide me with such an immersive experience. I’ll be interning at a preschool whose next-door neighbor is the Colosseum. The freakin Colosseum! What?! Wild. I still can’t believe I’m going to be living in Rome, nonetheless walking by such a famous landmark every single day. Anyways, the preschool seems really, really cool. It seems comparable to the Montessori-style education system here in the States, really emphasizing creativity, individuality, and learning through play. If you know me at all, you know that I’m super passionate about education and an education system that values these things, so I think this internship will be perfect for me. The preschool is trilingual; they speak Italian, French, and English, so I’ll be helping the kiddos practice their English language skills. If you’d like to learn more about the school, here’s a link.

3. I’ll be living in an apartment with other study abroad students and an Italian           Companion Student (ICS). 

My apartment is in the best location! It’s super close to Vatican City, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and dozens of beautiful Catholic churches. As much as I love wide-open Walla Walla, it’s gotten me used to being surrounded by wheat and the same old buildings, so it’s going to be quite the change being surrounded by such prominent and important landmarks. I’ve been an RA for the past few year, so I’m very used to dorm life and dorm food. It will be very different cooking for myself and living so far away from most of the people on the program (there’s countless apartments sprinkled across Rome housing other IES students, and our apartment seems to be pretty far away from the others). I will be living with four other IES students though, so that’ll be super nice! They are from all over the country, so that will be a really nice change. As much as I love Whitman and the people in it, being on campus for the past three years has made me realize that Whitman really is a bubble; it’ll be nice to interact with some new faces from other parts of the country. We’re also living with a student from Italy who is supposed to help us get acquainted with the city!

Well, that’s all I know for now. I’m excited to see how these random facts transpire into my life and start to mold my experience. I can’t wait to meet this wonderful city! Let’s get this thing started!