Cultural Experience | Rome

A Study Abroad Interview

Life in the Eternal City, as told by a study abroad student

Before I went abroad for a semester, I was plagued with questions about what to do and how to prepare. The thought of boarding my plane for Ireland in September was overwhelmingly stressful at times, and when I needed advice and tips I turned to my friend, Bridget Jack. Bridget is a junior marketing student at the University of Dayton who spent last summer studying in Rome. As one of my greatest friends and also my personal advisor for all things study abroad related, I couldn’t think of a better person to interview about her adventures abroad.

Why did you choose this location? What are the top 5 sites to see there?

Bridget Jack: I’ve always wanted to go to Rome. America is so young in comparison to the rest of the world and I wanted to see a country where there was a slice of history around every corner. I thought Rome would be one of the best places to gain insight and experience a different culture.

Here are the top five sites in Rome:

The Colosseum – This site was amazing and definitely my favorite. You see pictures of this monument your entire life in history books, on posters and in movies, but it is so surreal to actually see it in person. The first moment I saw it, I was stunned to actually be standing in front of such a famous structure. I also loved taking a tour of the ruins, because some of the most infamous events in history happened there, and I got to see the sights firsthand while learning about them. I learned way more about ancient Rome through this tour than I ever did in any of my history classes. Although it may seem like a cliché tourist attraction, I would encourage any tourist in Rome to devote a good portion of their time to exploring the Colosseum – it’s worth it.

Vatican City – I was under-impressed with the museum, but the city itself is gorgeous and unparalleled to anything in America. I would advise tourists to head over to the city and explore, because there is a lot to do and see. To get there, you have to cross a bridge over the Tiber River and it makes for some absolutely beautiful pictures. Taking in these sights is definitely a must, but the museum isn’t necessary if you’re running short on time.

Campo de’ Fiori – This is such a fun, touristy neighborhood in Rome with a bunch of little stores and a strip of bars for your weekend enjoyment. We frequented the different bars here, and met so many fun and interesting people from all over the world! Sometimes touristy spots like this are more fun than local joints, because you can meet people from a ton of different places. It also had a somewhat less intimidating feel – I didn’t feel as much pressure to speak or understand Italian! If you’re ever feeling homesick and want to meet some fellow Americans, this is a great place to do so.

The Pantheon – Its beautiful inside and a very humbling experience. I’m not too religious, but I felt very spiritual in this beautiful and historically rich monument, and I even took a few minutes to stop and say a prayer and reflect on my time abroad. There are always a lot of tourists crowding the Pantheon, but that somehow didn’t take away from its spiritual environment at all. The area it’s in is trendy and fun too – there is a water fountain piece in front where tourists and pigeons alike gather and enjoy the sunshine as well as a gelato place with over 150 flavors right across from it!

Piazza Navona – An open shopping area complete with shops, restaurants, street performers, a farmers market, artists, a fountain, and hundreds of pigeons! You will never run out of new and exciting things to do here.

Hanging out with the pigeons in the Piazza Navona

Hanging out with the pigeons in the Piazza Navona

How did you live like a local in this city?

I took the bus and subway systems frequently. They were so intimidating at first, but everyone does it! It was definitely difficult to navigate at first, and it didn’t help that everything was in Italian, but we quickly learned that many people spoke English and were willing to help us. Every bus is numbered and a drawing of its path is provided so it wasn’t too difficult to learn. If we were unsure about which stop to get off at or which line to take, we politely asked if someone spoke English and then proceeded with our question. One valuable lesson I learned was don’t be afraid to ask for help! You might not want to look like a tourist, but the Italians are extremely friendly, and help from the locals is the best way to ensure you’ll get where you want to go.

What was the most amazing cultural experience you encountered while studying abroad?

 Talking to the locals. They were really interested in learning about America and they are extremely proud of their city. Talking to them allowed me to learn a lot about their politics, education system, and even the celebrities there! Like I said, they are very friendly and many of them speak English, so don’t be afraid to talk to them. Don’t be afraid of sounding ignorant or touristy, because your genuine interest in their culture will instantly appeal to the locals. And no matter how much we tried to live like locals during our time in Rome, our appearances were unfortunately always dead giveaways that we were American. I remember one local randomly stopped me on the street and we talked for about an hour about the differences between America and Italy. She even asked me if I knew any celebrities! Unfortunately I do not, but it was funny to hear the Italian woman go on about who her favorite American actors and singers were.

How has studying abroad impacted your personal growth?

It has definitely opened my eyes to the fact that there is a whole world out there. Being a college student is great and so much fun, but it tends to consume you and make you forget about what else life has to offer. Studying abroad reminded me to keep my heart and mind open at all times.

What advice/tips would you give yourself before you went abroad? I guess this is easy since I already made you give me so many tips!

Don’t worry too much about standing out. You are a tourist, and you will probably look like a student on study abroad.  You can’t really avoid that, so if your feet hurt, wear those tennis shoes! Explore. Don’t just visit the sites talked about in the books. The best times I had were the unplanned adventures. Yes money is an issue but don’t let it stop you from taking that weekend trip to Paris.

What was the best cultural experience you had?

I got lost in Rome on the first day for 8 hours! It was our first day, so we were too embarrassed to ask the locals for directions. A few wrong turns here and there really get you lost in a country where you don’t speak the language. We actually stumbled upon the Pantheon and the Spanish steps (still not sure how) and wandered into a peaceful political protest demonstrated by the University of Rome students. We yelled with them even though we had no idea what was going on! We eventually ran into an American couple who had been living in Rome for a while and they taught us how to use the subway station. It ended up being a great experience because it allowed me to see a side of Rome not commercialized by the tourist industry. But I definitely learned that when in doubt, either ask a local or get a taxi!

Katie Christoff

University of Dayton | 11 stories

I am a journalism student at the University of Dayton, and I recently returned from a semester abroad in Ireland. Two of my greatest passions include writing and travel, and I enjoy combining the two as much as possible. To follow more of my adventures and blog posts, follow me on Twitter: @KatieChrisss or Instagram: katiechristoff.

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