Traveling to Europe is never easy, especially as a college student. I definitely did not feel my best after getting off of a completely full nine-hour flight to Rome. I was anxious about living in a foreign country where I didn’t have my usual security blanket of comfort and emotional support from my friends and family at any given moment. I would only be gone for a month and a day at the University of Arkansas Rome Center summer program, but I still couldn’t help feeling a little sad.
I knew that I chose to study abroad for a specific reason: to immerse myself in a completely different culture, to broaden my perspective on life and to really learn more about myself, as an individual. I reiterated this when I finally landed at the airport and stepped outside into a fresh breeze, a new language and a country as rich in beauty as it is in history. That’s when I knew that I had made the right decision when I applied and committed to this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Every apartment and building in Rome incorporates plants. Whether the plants are growing neatly on terraces or covering the walls of buildings, the Italians love to decorate their colorful homes and workplaces with greenery. This may be my favorite thing about the city. The plants also contrast distinctly with the dark grey cobblestone roads.
The emphasis on plants and nature is reflected in the Italian culture as the city enforces mandatory recycling for multiple reasons. One is to maintain the cleanliness of the Tiber River that flows through Rome. When I learned that my roommates and I could be charged up to 1000 euros for not recycling, I was extremely impressed and happy to make recycling part of my daily routine while living in Italy. Our apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood made it even easier to recycle by providing us with multiple bins for our waste.
Trastevere literally translates to “beyond the Tiber” and is in the center of Rome. The neighborhood is beautiful with limestone bricks, brightly colored stucco, intricate detailed crown moldings and unique windows neatly placed on every block on every building.
For a neighborhood of mostly shops, restaurants and living spaces, the architecture deeply reflects the iconic and authentic design of every building in this historic city. Driving down the streets of Rome, I saw that the iconic classical coliseum-type design model isn’t all the city offers. Modern is mixed with antiquity with colorful graffiti splashed across the walls near the banks of the Tiber.
Rome is so different from anywhere in America. Simply saying that San Antonio, Texas would be any similar just because of the River Walk is incorrect, as is comparing the 7-story limestone buildings to those on the streets of San Francisco, California. There’s nothing in America that I could begin to compare Rome to.
Perhaps the only thing that is similar to America is Rome’s traffic during peak hours of the day. It reminds me of San Francisco the most during this time, but being able to peer out of the window of a bus and see a magnificent basilica with a massive marble dome would never happen in the U.S.
It’s surreal to think that I have only been here for a day and I already am so overwhelmed with the city and all it has to offer. It is classic, yet modern. It’s a city built around nature, not upon it. I cannot wait to see what the next four weeks here will bring me. Despite all the anxiety I had and may still have, I am certain that this trip will bring me personal growth in so many ways, while also learning about and appreciating the Italian culture.
Well, it has been a long, interesting and exciting four weeks abroad, and I am sad to say it is over. Italy has treated me well, but it has also been trying at times when I’m desperate for familiarity. But I found solace in making many friends through this program as well as learning to take the time to just go with the flow and accept that not everything can be planned down to the second.
During my second weekend in Rome, I had the opportunity to travel to Venice and Milan with three other girls who were studying abroad. It was a fairly last minute decision for us to go, but we bought our train tickets and got our hostel reservations in and we were off!
Venice was extremely stressful for me, mostly because it has a very confusing set up for the city. Using my Google Maps app on my iPhone was almost useless because some parts of the canal city were closed off for residential areas. It also didn’t help that it was pouring down rain when we were attempting to navigate to St. Mark’s Basilica. But seeing St. Mark’s Basilica in the pouring rain with a completely empty piazza was truly an amazing story that I will be able to tell. Taking off our shoes and running in the rain, we made it to the entrance. We weren’t able to go inside immediately because we were told the Basilica was flooding inside because of the sunken foundation of the beautifully ornately decorated church.
I remember being shocked that I was even in Venice at that moment. It truly is one of the most romantic cities and seeing the many Italian and tourist couples holding hands and kissing on gondola boats made me want to come back one day, maybe when I wasn’t navigating off of an unreliable iPhone app! The next day after touring the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Gallerie dell’Accademia Museum, we took a train to Milan.
Milan is incomparable to Venice, Rome and Florence. Milan is much more modern and less touristy compared to the other cities. For this reason, I really loved Milan. It wasn’t so fast-paced and rushed because there isn’t a ton of people surrounding you at any given moment. Despite its modernity, Milan still has beautiful architectural monuments that, given the chance, one should visit and cherish. I loved the Piazza del Duomo, where the Milan Cathedral is located right next to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The Milan Cathedral is an enormous, imposing Gothic cathedral dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity with intricate detailed and tiny statues decorating the entire outside of the building. It’s the second largest church in Italy after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and is the third largest in the world. Walking through a small road to the side of the Duomo and turning around to see the front, I was in complete awe.
The detailing alone would be enough to make it my favorite church I have seen in Italy, but add that to how insanely huge it is, it makes it impossible to not appreciate this work of architectural art. It took nearly 600 years to finish the church and they are still working on restoring certain parts! It’s truly inspiring to witness these amazing architectural works in Italy that are still in amazing condition. The Milan Cathedral began it’s construction in 1386, so the fact that it is still standing is just such a testament to the skill of the many people who helped build this masterpiece.
After getting our many pictures outside of the Cathedral, including some with pigeons in my hand – yes, I had a major tourist moment and it cost me for the rice that was placed in my hand – we entered the Cathedral and explored the beautiful stained glass interior and the tall, narrow ceilings. We also visited the Cathedral museum, where we got to see some of the stained glass installments up close as well as statues featured inside of the church that had to be taken down for safety measures.
After touring the Cathedral and the museum, we visited the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is one of the oldest malls in the world, with four stories and a double arcade Art Nouveau design featuring amazing semi-circle glass paneled ceilings. Since Milan is one of the most important fashion capitals of the world, it makes sense that in this mall there are mostly extremely expensive and high-end luxury fashion brands housed inside of it. It certainly is a beautiful work of architecture and although some people might find Milan less attractive to visit compared to other major tourist cities, I think I liked it more just because of the fact that there were way less tourists there.
Although Florence is extremely filled with tourists, which is understandable, it was one of my favorites because of how much the city comes alive at night and because of how small and easy it was to navigate there. When we visited Florence, there was already so much on our schedule with our large group of students. We visited the Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and climbed to the very top, which was breath taking. Literally, I was out of breath after climbing the 463-step staircase, but you can see the whole terracotta colored city from the top of the church. It is a Gothic style church but it is not nearly as decorated with intricate stone-carvings like the Duomo in Milan, but the green, white and pink marble is unique compared to the normal all-white marble churches in Italy.
After visiting the Duome de Firenze (of Florence), we split into our class tour groups and I visited the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, where the luxury fashion house is headquartered and where it originated. This museum houses very rare pieces influenced by artists outside of the fashion world and features designs by other designers besides Ferragamo. This was such a treat to see, especially as a fashion enthusiast and art lover. My favorite part of the museum was viewing a Yves Saint Laurent dress inspired by Piet Mondrian’s abstract primary color square paintings. I loved seeing art and fashion being considered together in a way that is appreciating both separately but also as one simple relationship and essence that flows between the two: creativity and innovation.
But after all of the many different places I visited while in Italy, Rome always felt like home. Rome was where my roomies and I could explore on our own and feel completely safe and secure, knowing where we were at and knowing our way around the city after walking to class through Trastevere, past Campo de Fiori, on Via Giulia, until we got to the Rome Campus at Palazzo Taverna. The friendships and the memories I have made here in Italy will be something I will always remember and cherish because everyone here made the experience so much better than it would have been if I had explored a city on my own. Studying abroad can be stressful because you are so independent in a city and country completely foreign to you, but getting out of your comfort zone is the necessary decision you must make to get the most out of your time here. That is exactly what I did with my time here and that is what I hope any other student who decides to study abroad will choose to do.