Rome is Where the Heart is: 10 Things To Know Before Studying Abroad in Rome
Home of the Pope (sure he actually lives in Vatican City, but no need to get technical here), the Trevi Fountain, and Pasta Carbonara, Rome is in every essence “The Eternal City.”
If you plan on spending a semester, summer, or even a few weeks studying abroad in Rome, here are 10 things to know that just might come in handy during your stay and help you to fall more and more in love with the city every day!
1. We’re talking about Italy here, so what better place to start besides the food?
I could write an entire article on what to eat while in Rome, so I’m going to keep this one short. I’ve always known that Italy was the home of pizza, pasta, and gelato, and I was basically ready to devour it all upon arrival. But being the health-conscious gym rat that I am, I started craving a good salad every once in a while, which unfortunately was like finding a needle in a haystack of delicious, but not always so great for you (or your waistline) foods.
Since most of the restaurants do not carry the gourmet salads and “health conscious” options you may be used to back home, if you’re trying to eat healthy often while in Rome, plan on doing lots of shopping at the fantastic farmer’s markets and fruit stands where the ingredients are always fresh and local. And whenever you’re in the mood for gelato, cannolis, pizza, suppli, etc, there will always be a delicious restaurant, gelateria, cafe, or bar (coffee shops are called bars in Italy) within walking distance!
2. If at all possible, try to study abroad during the Winter or Spring
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of studying abroad during a portion of Rome’s “off season.” I was fortunate enough to arrive at the end of January when there were basically no tourists in the city, which means zero wait time at the top tourist attractions and let me tell you, having the Trevi Fountain to yourself is truly a magical experience that is short-lived once the influx of tourists starts to pick up around mid-March.
3. Microwaves and electric appliances are few and far between
I have to admit, I was a little spoiled by the convenience of a microwave back in the United States and it took me quite some time to get used to life without one. From having to boiling water in a pot to make tea and never really heating up leftovers, I never realized how much I relied on a microwave until I had to live without one.
As for the lack of electric appliances… let’s just say that while I learned a lot of things in Rome, one thing I learned for certain is that gas ovens are no friend of mine or my burnt eyelashes. So please, make sure you know how to use a gas oven before attempting to use one!
4. Dryers are not really a thing either
An addition to the list of American conveniences I was used to is the clothes dryer. While in Rome not only did I learn that fabric softener is the ultimate anecdote for crunchy air-dried jeans, but I learned that hanging a CD-ROM from the balcony is one of the only ways to keep those pesky pigeons away from your damp clothes.
5. There may not be any mainstream American coffee brands, but I promise you won’t miss them!
Being the coffee addict that I am, I was more than excited to try all of the different coffee creations that Rome had to offer — from hazelnut cappuccinos and caffé macchiatos at my local bar, to frozen cappuccinos, and the Gran Caffé at Il Caffé Sant’Eustacchio, Rome surely does not disappoint when it comes to coffee! Just remember that when indulging in Italian coffee there are a few things to keep in mind:
• Standing while drinking coffee is normal and almost expected
• Taking your coffee to-go is not normal (even though I did quite often on my way to class
A quick guide to coffee — there was a copy of one of these in my Italian101 textbook
Even though you may not be able to get your hands on your normal tall or grande gourmet coffee drink while in Rome, I promise you won’t even miss it and if you do, you can more than likely get your fix on one of your weekend European getaways.
Coffee at Antica Caffeteria in Trastevere
6. Public Transportation is not always the most reliable
Always have a back up plan when it comes to getting to classes or anywhere else you may need to go, because while Rome has great options when it comes to public transportation (tram, bus, and subway) they are not always on time or the most reliable since strikes are pretty common.
I will never forget getting kicked off of the tram half-way home from school due to a strike and having to walk home all while trying to carry two edible arrangements that I received for Valentine’s Day. But besides that one minor incident, it’s really not a big deal — after all, you will need all the walking you can get after all of the pizza and gelato you’ve been eating.
7. Gyms just are not the same as they are in America
Like I said before, I’m usually a pretty health-conscious gym rat and I try to stay in shape as much as I can, but boy was I in for a culture shock with the gyms in Rome! After searching high and low for a reasonably priced gym to go to close to my apartment in Trastevere, I’ll never forget the first day at my new gym where I ended up on the exercise bike next to a woman eating a chocolate bar — I really was not expecting that one!
The gym culture in Rome is a lot more relaxed and social than I was expecting or prepared for. That in combination with the sky-high prices (think between 60-90 EUR a month), as much as I love the gym, if I had to do it all over again I might reconsider spending money on a gym membership in favor of having more money to travel on the weekends. After all, there’s plenty of outdoor parks and green spaces that Romans frequent for exercise that I could have easily used more often myself.
8. Dress appropriately
I think this one is a given, but it doesn’t hurt to throw it in anyways as a reminder. In Rome bright colors and wearing shorts (even if it’s hot outside) are practically a dead give away that you’re a tourist, so always remember to dress appropriately in order to assimilate with the culture. As for our our beloved boat shoes… unfortunately those are not normal either.
So remember bring plenty of neutrals that you can mix and match, leather jackets, boots and warm scarves and you’ll fit right in!
9. Don’t bring any clothes you absolutely cannot bear to part with
Whether you’re living abroad for 6 weeks, 6 months, or an entire year, I guarantee you that your bag will be heavier leaving than it was when you first arrived. So speaking from personal experience, do not bring any clothes that you would be heartbroken over having to throw away at the airport because your bag is 2 lbs overweight — no shirt is worth an upwards of $400 in overweight baggage fees!
10. Be prepared to have the experience of a lifetime!
After living in Rome for any amount of time, I guarantee you that the “Eternal City” will capture your heart — there is so much to do, see, and experience in Rome and I hope that with these helpful tips you’ll be even more prepared to have the experience of a lifetime!
Building around Piazza Navona (by far my favorite piazza!)