A big lifestyle adjustment that is definitely worth it!
Art history lessons at the Musei Capitolini, visits to popular gelato spots, weekends in Florence, and writing homework on food and travel: here’s a little bit of what I’m expecting as part of the UW Rome in Residence study abroad program.
Being in Rome for six weeks now, I’ve gotten used to being outdoors for most of the day – with longer classes and cultural immersion at every turn. My days often end up being long – mid-morning classes, prepped earlier by the necessary rituals of morning coffee and baking, and late European dinners. Rome is an extremely pedestrian city, so a twelve-hour day outdoors can be a bit tiring after 23,000 steps. However, it creates more opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in European culture. This week, my Italian class plans to visit an outdoor fruit market, where our teacher will help us with the names of lesser-known fruits and vegetables as well as currency exchanges with local vendors.
This course, like many others, is one of the highlights of this program, as the hands-on approach to lessons and assignments prepares us well to live in a new place and really learn the course content. Instead of lectures, my art history class meets twice a week in a new location – from Palazzo Altemps to the Baths of Caracalla. Site visits are also common with my creative writing class: I noticed less homework and a greater emphasis on visiting places, learning interesting stories, and trying new activities. My last big assignment was a series of culinary memoirs, written in 50, 100, and 150 words about a food or drink (I chose fresh Italian orange juice) to emphasize word choice. The hands-on learning was perfect, I found that I really picked up information that might otherwise have been lost to me, such as the complex origin stories about Romulus, Remus and the wolf.
Each outing is also an opportunity to visit new neighborhoods and eat more. Between my art history and creative writing classes, a three-hour break, I practically ate my way through Pigna – sharing a light pesto pasta dish and Diavola pizza with a friend at lunch . For the second lunch, I picked up arguably the best Roman street food, suppli, creamy tomatoes and fried mozzarella balls of risotto. For lunchtime dessert (I’m really not kidding), acai bowls, because I felt it was time to move on to something a little more nutritious, and chocolate matcha ice cream. Most days are like this, hence the custom of having late dinner around 8:00 p.m. A surprise in Italy is that different regions have specialties and stick to them a lot. Rome specializes in carbonara, cacio e pepe, amatriciana and other lighter pasta dishes. For a heavier stew, I had to do a weekend up North!
The program strongly encourages students to visit new cities in Italy, and many students have paired up and traveled everywhere. My first trip was to Florence, where I was able to prepare with insider trips from my teachers on navigating the crazy lines of museums and great restaurants to discover. Only an hour away by train, I was able to see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ at the Galleria dell’Accademia and Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ and ‘Birth of Venus’ at the Uffizi. To top it off, my roommate and I dined on the rooftop overlooking Ponte Vecchio and tried the best truffle ravioli ever.
The way of life is undoubtedly different: going to school in Tacoma meant comforting the daily pho, working from home, and rarely walking to avoid the rain. In Rome, all my work is done in sprawling gardens, walking everywhere and occasionally breaking my strict diet of pizza and pasta for mediocre packaged ramen.