Sunday, September 13, 2009

Starting Classes Tomorrow

I'm a full week into Italian classes, but the semester doesn't officially begin until tomorrow. I've had a great couple of weeks of sightseeing, hanging out with new friends, and getting to know the city, but tomorrow I'll go from being an American tourist to a full-time student.

I've been to the Trevi Fountain twice, once during the day and again at night. It's beautiful whether it's topped by the sun or stars (although, come to think of it, I haven't actually looked at the night sky here and determined whether stars are visible).

The fountain isn't far from the Spanish Steps, which Nina and I stumbled across while we were looking for it last week.

Roman streets are like tunnels with the top opened up. They're impossible to navigate; I pity anyone who has to learn to drive in this city.

Inside Santa Maria in Trastevere, a church blocks from my apartment building. Piazza Santa Maria is alive at night; yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning, I was surprised to see a couple pushing a baby in its stroller in the piazza.

This statue, and several like it, overlooks the bridge that crosses the Tiber, going from the IES Center to Castel Sant'Angelo.

A view of St. Peter's Square in the heart of Vatican City that includes the famous Basilica San Pietro.

Inside the Basilica. It's an incredible, overwhelming experience: the crowds lit with camera flashes, as if fireflies winked throughout the space; guards at the chapel areas, only allowing in those who are there to pray rather than sightsee; tourist groups in matching shirts, each with a unique language rattling between them; awestruck faces looking up and taking in the magnificence; and below, in the tombs of the popes, a group gathered to pray at the grave of Pope John Paul II, and loudspeaker announcements telling tourists to pause, reflect, and keep quiet, as they are walking through a sacred space.

It rained this morning, so I didn't go to the Porta Portese Flea Market; I still haven't bought an umbrella, and I didn't want to get soaked. But I had an excellent weekend that included another trip to the beach, and I'm eager to plunge into academics tomorrow with the freshness and excitement that summer bestows.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Come si dice "Rome is the best place on the planet"?

This morning I was hit by a car.

I had to be up early for a Permit to Stay meeting at the post office, and I walked over to Nina's apartment because she'd forgotten her insurance information. The street, like most Roman streets, was quite narrow, with cars parked on both sides and just enough room for cars to get through. So a car comes hurtling by, and after it passes I realize that the mirror actually hit my arm. It kind of hurt, but I'm perfectly fine; I don't even see a bruise.

After the permit meeting, we went to St. Peter's Basilica. I went into sensory overload about four seconds after we got into the main part of the church, after meandering through the pope's tombs. It's insane. Absolutely beautiful, of course, and I'll put up pictures soon - though I stopped taking them after a while because I felt I just couldn't do the place justice. We didn't go up to the top of the dome because our feet already hurt too much, so I'll definitely go back at least one more time.

It's been a great week. I'm adjusting pretty well and really enjoying myself. The beginning intensive Italian class is progressing at a good pace, although we haven't had much homework yet. My academic advising meeting is tomorrow, so I'll be figuring out exactly which other classes I'll take this semester.

Highlight of the week: probably going swimming in the Mediterranean. My host family took Jade and I to the beach. The waves, the salt, the stinging eyes: I love the ocean, and to me it was absolutely perfect (there was even SUN, which I don't usually associate with the beach!). I did get a pretty painful sunburn since apparently I missed a lot of my back when I was putting on sunscreen. But it was absolutely worth it, and I'd like to go back this weekend.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Yesterday was the first day of orientation. We heard about academic policies, the staff, and other basic information about the program. We even had an Italian police officer speak to us about safety (through a translator, of course). Then they served us some amazing food, we wandered around the center for a while, and then exploration groups were dispatched one by one.

I went with a group of girls who live in an apartment near my homestay. We were going to go shopping, but when Maria and I got off the tram at the store, the other girls didn't make it before the doors closed, so we walked to her apartment. Then she and her roommates had a scare because they thought that a laptop had been stolen from the apartment (and one of the girls is still missing 300 euros). After that we finally did go shopping, but all I bought was some conditioner, so the expedition wasn't too exciting.

I was pretty tired by the time I got back to the apartment, and I took a nap, learned a few more Italian phrases, and then had dinner with my host family and roommate. Jade and I then went to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, very near our house, to meet friends to go out. We waited for a group of girls for quite a while, but in the end Caitlin, Jade and I struck off to the Campo dei Fiori area to meet a couple Italian guys who hosted Caitlin's brother-in-law several years ago. They took us to a couple of American bars, nothing too exciting, and we were out until 2 when we took a cab home. The guys were nice, and we had some interesting conversations, but the flux of drunk American students was more than a little annoying.

This morning the students who had previously studied Italian are taking a placement test. I don't have to go in until 12:30, so I'm planning to walk the whole way and see a few more sights. The awe of being in Rome keeps hitting me in waves: when I see a beautiful building or fountain, when I hear a conversation in Italian, when I witness the insane flow of traffic, when my senses are overloaded by new sights, smells, and sounds; I'm an outsider in the midst of it all. It's ripe with adventure.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Very Long Day

Here I am in Rome, the city of all cities, and it’s far better than I could possibly have imagined, if I had imagined anything at all; to be honest, I formed very few expectations, so the fact that it’s already far exceeding them doesn’t say as much as it should.

I’ve been having the longest day of my life, as it was two days morphed into one, with seven hours extracted somewhere in the middle. My flights went well, and I met several other American students. I couldn’t get internet access until well after I arrived, since the Detroit airport didn’t have free wireless.

My host family, Roberta and her daughter Aurelia, is warm and welcoming. Roberta speaks quite a bit of English and understands it if we (my roommate Jade and I) speak slowly. She puts so much effort into forming English sentences that I feel awful for not being able to reciprocate yet. Jade has had a couple years of Italian, so she tries to converse with it, but what little I learned this summer goes out of my head whenever it might be useful. “Grazie” and “prego” are the extent of the vocabulary I’ve used so far.

I expected Jade and I to share a room, and since Roberta was only expecting one student she had a room all set up for me. However, she agreed to take on a second homestay guest, and moved her office and library out of the room that I’m in to get it set up. I arrived about ten minutes before Jade, and picked the larger room, which Jade says she’s fine with (since my room currently has a curtain instead of a door, for now we’re even, but Roberta apologized profusely and says that a door should be installed in a few days).

It was over 80 degrees Fahrenheit here when we arrived this morning. I wasn’t expecting this kind of heat! I’ve been sweating all day. We ate a very late dinner at 9:15 pm, after Jade and I went for a walk and saw the Tiber river.

We start orientation tomorrow morning. I slept for a few hours earlier today but I'm now quite ready for bed (it's nearly midnight here). More updates soon!