Discovering Rome as a Resident
A Student Traveler Realizes the Value of Immersion Abroad
Five months is a significant amount of time in most people's lives, especially in a college student's. This technical amount of time I spent in Italy is simply a fragment of my life. However, this time was more than just an educational experience; it was a life lesson. This trip ultimately showed me that it is imperative to immerse oneself in the surrounding culture. The acknowledgment of the society we are in at any given moment makes us better Americans through respecting traditions and striving to become part of that society. My experience studying abroad was inextricable from this new society and new world-a world where not a single face looked familiar and where everything felt like a dream
I vividly recall my first experience setting out in Rome. It was the day after I had arrived. I had barely slept because I could not wait to venture around the city. I wanted to see everything from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Roman Coliseum and the hundreds of sights spread across the Roman landscape. I put on my jeans, my North Face fleece, and my New Balance tennis shoes. I was ready for the day. I soon learned that these simple and ordinary choices of dress would be one element that separated me from the Italian society that awaited outside my apartment door.
While waiting at the stop for the #44 bus, which would take me into the heart of Trastevere, I began to realize that I was a stranger in a strange city. I had no idea where I was going. I was excited to let the day lead me as I wandered the vast city. However, I did not want the people around me to know I was a stranger. I tucked my map into my pocket and I tried to recall the sights I wanted to see. This was just the beginning of my tourist façade. As the bus approached I walked onto it through the nearest entrance and was pushed back by the swarm of people exiting. I was the only one entering in the middle; all of the other people boarded through the two end doors. This was my first mistake.
As I progressed with my day I discovered an aspect of Rome that I did not imagine to find. Rome is the quintessential melting pot. There are people from diverse ethnicities and from locations in even the most remote places of the globe. At first I believed that these people were all tourists, but after a period of time and an enlightening anthropology class I learned that they all had specific and varying reasons for living in Rome.
One of my roommates was of Indian descent. Rome has the largest Islamic mosque in Europe. It also has the largest Sunday market filled with thousands of people, many of Middle Eastern descent. The men selling goods would stare inappropriately at my roommate and comment on her ethnicity. Another friend, a Filipino-American woman, was mistaken for a domestic worker. In Rome, many Filipinos work as domestic laborers or caregivers to children. My friend was at first insulted by a request to clean someone else’s home, but through our anthropology class we learned that Filipinos in Rome work these jobs to send money back to their families in the Philippines. There are even Roman-Filipino banks established for this purpose. We also learned that Middle Eastern men were aggressive toward my roommate because of cultural practices and because many Middle Eastern women in Rome often work as prostitutes.
After a period of time, I came to rethink the stereotypes that I had held about Rome. I also learned that running out the door to catch the bus was not necessary; nothing ran on time in this easygoing culture.
At 20 years old, this experience changed every aspect of my adult life. In the beginning, studying abroad for five months felt like an eternity away from family, friends, and everyday life. With this being my fifth time traveling abroad, I had several ideas of what would lay ahead. I had known there would be homesickness, language confusion, and cultural adjustments to different dress, eating habits, and alternative perceptions; however, this was my first true experience getting to know Romans well enough to share their thoughts and become part of their culture. I learned how they perceive my nationality and how to adapt to their ways, from ordering food with an Italian tongue to striding in high heals like the most natural of cosmopolitan Italian women. I learned that in time and through observation and participation in a culture one is able to break the binds of tourism.