There are moments when it just hits me – We are in Rome right now! And I look around at everything with wonder. I’ve been in Rome for 4 days now and it’s an amazing feeling. I will be honest, I had a lot of anxiety when I first arrived. I think what worried me the most was how I was in this new place for such a long time and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to make through the semester. Not to mention, I have a severe food allergy to nuts so every time I eat I get nervous for the smallest amounts of cross contamination. We have been eating at times that my body is not used to, and I find myself frequently hungry to the point where you start feeling like your stomach is eating itself and then when you try to eat you bloat up and your stomach doesn’t want to accept food. This also could have been anxiety. I found myself feeling so many different feelings in my first couple of days in Rome.
Our flight was really nice. There weren’t many people wanting to fly to Rome in January, although I don’t know why because the weather has been beautiful, so we had a majority of the plane to ourselves. I even was able to stretch myself out on two seats to fall asleep. I barely slept which is typical for me on an airplane, but when I did finally wake up from my various power naps I looked out the window to see an amazing pink sunrise and the Alps below us. We noticed on our flight as we were about to land in Rome how many areas of farm land there were and not as many buildings rather, there were many clusters of houses and small places from an overhead view of Italia.
My roommate Emma and I met our other roommate, Kaylin on our flight and it was really nice to get to meet her on the plane! We planned to spend the next day, since we were arriving early, together in Rome and to explore. We did things I never thought of myself doing on my own, such as navigating our way from the airport to the hotel, taking the metro and the train to and from Termini station at the center of Rome by ourselves, and exploring the eternal city. On our first night we witnessed a traumatic experience and we felt like it was going to completely ruin our time here in Italy because we felt very unsafe at the time. Once the fear was over and we were assured there wasn’t an issue in Rome, a generally safe country, we felt a lot better. We met a nice man named Phil who worked for Arcadia and got us some chamomile tea at the station to settle our nerves and he got us a taxi back to our hotel for the night.
Side note: one of my roommates just pointed to the bidet and asked “is that a foot bath in our bathroom?” My roommates are awesome, by the way.
So after our first night we were very anxious and stressed out but we met with the rest of the study abroad students and were on our way to move in to our apartments. Our apartment is amazing. Emma and I have a balcony in our bedroom, and we have a really cute Italian kitchen! Again, my roommates are great, we all get along so well. In our first few days of being in Rome, I’ve had amazing pizza, seen the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo, I’ve walked like the Romans do, I’ve talked the like Romans do, I’ve eaten like the Romans do, I’ve seen the grandiose Colosseum, and of course I’ve had amazing espresso.
With each day my anxiety is less and less and I think the first time I noticed a true difference was after our walking tour one night we went to go get pizza (and wine). It was one of those moment where you feel like your stomach wont accept any food for whatever reason and to feel better I forced half of the pizza which was larger than your average sized dinner plate into my stomach because I knew how much I needed the food. When you think about studying abroad you don’t really imagine getting all of this anxiety that your not sure where it stems from but it’s 100% real and also 100% OK! The second time, and probably the best moment for me where I started to feel comfortable and less anxious was when I had to walk on my own from my apartment on Via Costantino over to the Arcadia office for my meeting about my classes and remember how to get there! I thought I would be so nervous going on my own but I actually felt incredibly independent and exhilarated by the 10 minute experience. There’s also street art everywhere in the city. It’s just their culture.
There have been some other cool moments in my experience so far but the one that stands out to me the most right now is the first dinner we had on our own with all of the roommates. We found a really nice restaurant filled with locals called Al Peperoncino. Our waiter came over to us, said something quickly in Italian, and we gave him blank stares. He was about to leave to find someone who spoke English, but I stopped him and said “Parlo Italiano un po'” meaning I speak a little Italian. We ordered water and two bottles of wine and the best chicken i’ve ever had with a squeeze of lemon juice and a light side salad (contorno is a side usually a vegetable and commonly a salad is eaten after the meal in Italy rather than before). I was able to successfully tell the waiter about my food allergy, and it was a really proud moment for me.
“Signore, Posso farti una domanda?”
“Ho una grave allergia ailimentare a frutta secca *shows allergy card written in italian*”
“It is ok”
“é molto importante, non contaminazione!”
“Sir, Can I ask you a question?”
“I have a severe allergy to tree nuts”
“It is ok”
“It is very important, no contamination”
I don’t even know where I got the last part from I just said it and was really impressed with the pulling of contaminazione out of nowhere. It was the first meal I felt safe eating and was completely comfortable, I finished every last piece!
I had a placement exam today and although the written exam was difficult and a lot of what I said was half english half italian, I still understood what they were asking and they said I did well which was a huge moment for me too. We went to testaccio market today and I had the best handmade gnocchi ever (potato pasta) and I even met a girl whose family is from very close to mine in Vasto.
I think it’s safe to say most of the anxiety is gone, and i’m finding a home here in San Paolo and Garbatella.