What My Study Abroad Program Didn’t Tell Me

As the end of my time here in Rome comes at full speed (23 days to be exact), my friends in my study abroad program and I have begun to discuss the ominous threat of reverse culture shock. We’ve had so many adaptations, so many lessons learned about how to “survive” in another country. Some of which I know I had to learn on my own, but some things which may have been useful to know going in.

Over the summer, the International Studies Abroad (ISA) program (through which I am here in Rome) sent us all a digital handbook containing information on everything from budgeting to that cultural adaptation graph I mentioned in a previous post. But there was also a section pinned onto the end about some specifics of living in Rome. Unfortunately, this merely scratched the surface of the subject. Granted, I’ve learned enough to fill a book with during my time here, and thus it would be impossible to contain it all in an already thick handbook.

Which is why I have compiled a short list for your own reading enjoyment containing some helpful hints to living in Rome that never appeared in the study abroad instruction manual.

1) “Non capisco l’italiano.”

Possibly the coolest and simultaneously most frightening aspect of most Italians is their carefree attitude. This means there’s no baristas being overly polite to suit your “customer satisfaction” needs (probably also helps that tipping your waiter doesn’t exist). Sure, they throw obscene gestures and shout curses at each other when they cut each other off on the road (see #3), but you know they don’t really care. I actually wish Americans could take a tip from the Italians when it comes to this. They freely their express anger, but they don’t let it bother them for the rest of the day. They have their bout of passion and move on.

Unfortunately, I eventually began to read this as Italians being unfriendly. But I realized how inaccurate this was after noticing how frequently random strangers try to talk to me. Even if it’s just asking me a question about where the bus is (see #2), it made me feel like I was finally blending in and at least looked like I knew what I was doing when they started talking to me.

Sadly, my single semester of “Intro to Italian Language” has not served me to the point of having the ability to carry on a full-fledged conversation with the fast-tongued natives. It can be rather intimidating when they confidently begin rattling off their fluid and musical words at a mile-a-minute. Which is why I was thankful that the only phrase I learned before arriving in Rome was “Io non capisco l’italiano” (“I don’t understand Italian”). Most times I can get by with just a smile, nod, and repeating “sí, sí” over and over again. But I’m still grateful that they’re trying to communicate with me.

Lesson learned: Italians are friendly, they just don’t care what you think of them at the end of the day. And that’s kind of cool.

2) “Scendo alla prossima.”

Public transportation in Rome is a nightmare, to describe it lightly. This is also a result of the nonchalant attitude but simultaneous passionate nature of the Italian culture. Apparently I was lucky this semester, since last year there was a bus strike at least once a week and during the entirety of finals week at my school (knock on wood). We’ve had a total of one day where the buses and trams shut down completely this semester, but even so, the buses are still notorious for disregarding the existence of a bus schedule. Case in point: it’s only a ten minute bus ride from my apartment to my school, but I still leave my apartment an hour before my classes start so I can make sure I catch a bus.

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“You guys might be there for a while.”

Once you actually get on a bus, there’s a certain etiquette to follow. First and foremost, there’s an almost surprising respect for the elderly in Italy. It’s customary that if an older person gets on the bus, a younger person will immediately offer them their seat. I’ve even seen raucous Italian preteens yelling, shoving, and generally wreaking havoc with one another, but promptly stop to get off the bus and help an elderly citizen hoist their baggage and/or groceries onto the bus.

Since the buses are frequently late, that means they can get crowded. I mean like sardines-in-a-can-crowded. I mean like disregard-any-notions-of-personal-space-crowded. I mean like I-hope-you-wore-deodorant-today-crowded.

Be prepared to shove your way to the door, but rather than wordlessly plowing through the mosh pit, it can be helpful to know the simple phrase, “Scendo alla prossima” (SHEN-doh AH-la PRO-si-mah) which means “I’m getting off at the next stop.” Even when it’s not insanely crowded, people will frequently ask you, “Scende alla prossima?” if you are blocking their way to the door. Remain calm (see #1) and answer “sí” or “no,” and move out of their way.

3) Pedestrians don’t have the right of way.

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Typical.

Back at home, in my quaint little suburban town of Louisville, CO, and even the (comparatively) bustling city of Denver there seems to be a high regard for the rule of pedestrians having the right of way in all situations. This is not the case in Italy.

The roads are filled with smart cars and vespas taking advantage of their tiny size by zipping past each other at lightning speed. For not caring about being on time, Italians sure like speeding. I’m not sure I’ve seen a single speed limit sign while I’ve been here. Which is why the idea of slowing, let alone stopping at pedestrian walkways is utterly nonsensical.

Thankfully, those tiny vehicles and their drivers do have a fast reaction time, so if you do walk out in front of an oncoming one, they will stop, they’ll just be sure to stop as close to your feet as possible to give you a good scare. Still, most locals don’t seem to risk crossing the street at an intersection until the pedestrian walk signal gives them the OK.

Oh, and I’ve never heard so much honking in my life.

4) Fare la spesa (To go shopping)

I didn’t expect something as simple as grocery shopping to be such a different experience, but of course, studying abroad doesn’t miss out on changing your perception of anything.

I’m used to pushing a large cart around mega-Safeways and ultra-Targets, collecting as many items as will fit in the back of my car. But here, most folks walk to and from the grocery store, using little wheeled bags to transport their newly acquired goods home. Rather than using large push-carts, the grocery stores have little baskets that you wheel behind you, like a travel suitcase. I quickly learned that if the basket is getting too heavy to pull, that means I’m probably not going to be able to carry it back home.

As I’ve mentioned before, the grocery stores are nothing like the ones back home. They are much smaller and carry totally different items. For example, there are entire separate aisles devoted to pasta and wine, but I can’t, for the life of me, find baking soda.

Also be prepared to bag your own groceries. And try to do so quickly.

5) You’re going to become a coffee addict.

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Don’t fight it: reciprocate the coffee love.

Although I was a frequent indulger of coffee before coming to Rome, three of my best friends here had never tasted coffee or simply didn’t like it before their arrival. Now, they need one every day. A fair warning to all my friends and family: I’m probably going to be a coffee snob when I come back.

Nothing can quite compare to the perfect temperature of the coffee and steamed milk and the fluffy foam that sinks to the bottom, allowing you to scoop it up with your spoon when all the liquidy goodness is gone. But above all, the gentle *plop* of the sugar when the foam gives way for it to sink into your warm cappuccino just can’t be compared. I plan on video recording that exact moment, so I may relive it while I choke down my skinny vanilla latte when I’m Stateside again.

Thankfully, coffee is a major part of the culture here. But the primary difference is that cafés with ample seating and a welcoming atmosphere for you to take a load off and work on your laptop or read a book for hours at a time are not frequently included. Going out for a meal is a social gathering, whereas stopping by a coffee bar seems to solely fulfill the purpose of topping off your caffeine meter. These two seem to be switched in American culture.

In fact, sitting at a café will often result in paying extra money. If you want to save the cents, remain standing at the bar. When you do pay, it’s often after you’ve had your fill and are about to leave. There’s a lot of trust that you won’t lie to the cashier about what you had.

But why would you want to lie to the people who just fed you the drink of the gods, anyway?

In conclusion…

There are many differences between your old home and your new home and there are plenty of pros and cons that come with those changes. The whole point of this study abroad thing is to make your own “lessons learned list” and grow as a person while you’re making it. So maybe there’s not a manual for living in X country. There’s not a manual for life either.

Chow for now.

-Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger-

A Mouthful of Rocciata Helps the Homesickness Go Down

Apparently, studying abroad is an amusement park.

According to the Office of Internationalization and just about any published resource on the topic, the emotions associated with study abroad is most like the Boomerang ride. You know, that U-shaped ride at amusement parks that straps you in, pulls you up to the highest point on the track, hands you and your queasy stomach over the cruel hands of gravity, and eventually cascades you back up to the other incline of the U. They call this the “Cultural Adaptation Curve.” But I like my rollercoaster analogy better.

PLEASE NOTE: I am fully aware that cultural adaptation and homesickness are technically two different things, but they also very intertwined in my mind.

For you math-minded folks.

Let’s hope this is wrong, considering a semester abroad is only about 3.5 months long, which would mean we would all be blissfully ignorant for half the time, then come home in the gutter of hostility.

In my humble opinion, homesickness is more like a daily ride on the Six Flags’ Tower of Doom. This ride straps you into a 250 foot tall totem pole-looking tower and, once again, lets gravity toy with your stomach and self-respect for a never-ending amount of time. Disneyland has it’s own version of this, called the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, if you’re more familiar with that. If you can’t tell from my description, this is consequentially my least favorite ride of them all.

I am about to hit the one-month mark of my arrival in Rome and homesickness tends to be a daily experience on the Tower of Doom for me, and it has been this way since the day I arrived. Thankfully, it only comes in small doses and I only feel these low, gut-wrenching emotions when I’m sitting around the apartment, doing nothing in particular, or when I’m at school without my friends.

I tend to struggle when it comes to making friends since I’m somewhat introverted. Thankfully, the housing director for ISA did an impeccable job in my apartment’s housing assignments as all of my roommates have become my best friends here, making my job of finding a niche much easier. However, when I’m left to fend for myself at school, I long for the days at DU where I can always greet someone I know as I walk through campus.

As for homesickness settling in when I’m doing nothing in my apartment, I realize I’m being rather hypocritical. In my last post, Il Dolce Far Niente, I described how I was “homesick for being lazy.” I take that back. I’ve reverted to my old ways where I need to be doing something productive in order to stay happy. Sitting around doing nothing in my apartment does terrible things for my psyche. My roommate, Julie and I discussed this yesterday and we seem to be in agreement that sitting on our laptops, refreshing our Facebook newsfeeds for hours does keep us feeling connected to home, but it also tends to be a waste of our time in a new country.

Therefore, I am left in a bit of a pickle. If I can’t be busy with extracurriculars all the time, in my attempt to learn how to relax, but must also find a way to keep myself from drowning in a sea of homesick blues, what’s a girl to do?

Here are my tips on combatting homesickness. I title them thus:

“An Overachiever’s Guide to Overcoming Homesickness”

1. Accept and embrace. I have a tendency to try to distract myself from my problems rather than facing them like a real woman. But inspiration against this came from “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert (my bible) in one of my favorite literary passages:

“When I get lonely these days, I think: So be lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.”

Distraction tends to lead to bottling, which leads to taking that pressure and frustration out on others who probably don’t deserve it. I would have to say that this one is particularly important if you are attempting a long-distance relationship such as I am. My boyfriend and I are much happier when we are being honest with each other about how much we miss each other and how miserable we are without each other, rather than stifling those emotions with the intention of not throwing more baggage on the other person. As I said, this only leads to bottling and inadvertent confusion.

2. You aren’t alone. Once you’ve managed to admit your homesickness to yourself, try admitting it to someone else. I guarantee you they are feeling the same thing or have felt it at one point in their life. When Julie asked me yesterday if I’m feeling homesick it was like a huge weight off my shoulders to know that she was feeling the exact same thing. We even made a vow to take each other out exploring in the future.

If you’re lonely, start being lonely with someone else. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll come to the realization…that you’re not actually lonely. *gasp*

2. Find a hobby. Mine? Taking pictures and eating. Not to be confused with eating out of boredom, I am on a determined hunt for the best and most affordable food in Italy. At home in Denver, my hobby tends to be filling up my schedule as much as humanly possible. As much as I’ve always loved photography and food, I haven’t had hardly any time to do these things in college. Now seems like the perfect time to dabble and revel in these two old loves of mine.

3. Go outside. Insert some scientific fact about how much sunlight improves your mood. On top of sunshine, exploring and observing also allows you to learn your way around your new city. Trust me, when you learn the lay of the land and how to get to things on your own, it will stop feeling “new” and start feeling like “home.”

4. Enjoy the little things. It’s very easy while living in another country to get bogged down by the seemingly negative differences between your host country and the place from whence you came. The best way to get past these moments is to turn it around and find the silver lining.

For example, I can’t express to you in words how much my roommates and I miss Target–one mega store where you can conveniently buy absolutely anything you could ever possibly need. Italy runs on many small specialty stores: frutterias (fruits and vegetables), formaggerias (dairy and cheeses), farmacias (pharmacy/personal hygiene), electronics stores, clothing stores, underwear stores, sunglasses stores, home decoration stores…I could go on forever. In one mindset, this is horribly inconvenient. But on the flip side, fruterias have the freshest and cheapest produce because they can afford to do so. If you’re into the whole anti-monopolizing corporations, they’re pretty much nonexistent under this business model as all of these little shops are family owned by the most friendly people. There’s ample good qualities if you look for them.

My favorite way of enjoying the little things is, of course, my focus on food during this trip. Every successful meal is a win in my book. I will shamelessly admit that a good meal or snack automatically makes any day better. Case in point: I started writing a blog post earlier this week about the less than successful trip to Assisi we took last weekend. Many things went wrong on that day but you know what didn’t?

This:

The word “rocciata” roughly translates to “therapy” in English.

This is rocciata (roh-CHA-tah)–essentially, Italian apple strudel. Flaky, gooey, nutty, sugary, awesome-y rocciata. Perhaps instead of remembering the negative things, that day can live on the memory of this little piece confectionary heaven. It’s the little things that count.

“Chow” for now,

– Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger –

Il Dolce Far Niente

Ciao from Rome!

After many kitchen victories and mishaps at home in Colorado, having a mental breakdown as I was packing, 12 hours of delayed flights, non-sleeping in upright positions, single serving friends, a pair of overly hormonal seat neighbors on the plane, arriving an hour late and having a mini-scare of my checked luggage being lost, I have FINALLY arrived in the motherland of amazing food.

This whole week that I’ve been here has been filled with endless moments of awe, dream fulfilling meals, and language barriers and breakthroughs, most of which are described on my own personal blog in both word and picture form. If at all interested, check out on my blog, Italy in Food.

Tomorrow I begin my first day of classes at the American University of Rome: a quaint, small, beautiful private university tucked in between the trees and streets at the top of a hill on the edge of Trastevere (tras-TEH-ver-ay; translates to “on the other side of the river”). Students who go there are a mixture of study abroad students, Americans living in Italy, and born ‘n raised Italians.

Today being our last day of summer vacation, the roommates and I have been pondering what we would do on our “final day of freedom” for a while now. Originally, the plan was to escape the heat and wade in the Mediterranean Sea at the beach. This plan was cut short at the sight of the weather forecast for the whole week: rain, rain, with a side of rain. Our second choice was to wander around the Vatican, which is the only remaining touristy area we have yet to explore. The Vatican’s closed on Sundays. I walked into my kitchen after waking up at the early hour of noon to find my roommates on their laptops desperately seeking something for us to do. I threw out the suggestion of taking cover from the rain in a museum. No response. Eventually the roommates gave up their search and trickled away into their respective bedrooms, which meant we weren’t making plans for today. I took advantage of this non-decision to do something that has been far and few between for this last week since I arrived: relax.

After making myself some eggs, I found myself on our balcony with a cup of Earl Grey, watching the rain fall and re-reading “Eat Pray Love” (my bible and part of the reason I am here in Rome right now). I did this and nothing else for two hours. The only reason I came in was because I was dangerously approaching the end of the first third of the book (the portion when Liz is in Italy, a.k.a. my favorite) and because I couldn’t wait to tell all of you about how I did nothing today.

On the days when we are busily buzzing about from piazza to piazza or monument to monument, I often find myself homesick for being lazy. And that sounds terrible. But when my feet are throbbing and I’m sweating out every drop of water I’ve been chugging lately, I often yearn for the not so distant days when I could just sit on the couch with Boyfriend, watching Breaking Bad (our addiction). Or sit at the kitchen table with just my mom, a mug of coffee, and a magazine. During the school year, these moments are far and few between, which brings us to the second reason why I am in Rome this very moment:

I thrive on agenda–or at least so I thought until I started having health issues. I like to keep myself busy but there often comes a point, usually when I am standing chin deep in calendar alerts, full inboxes, mile-long to-do lists, and shrinking deadlines that my body comes to a halting stop and breaks, either in the form of illness or an anxiety attack.

This is why I am in Rome. To educate myself on how to thrive on nothing. To teach myself that I don’t need a full schedule to be happy. That I can meander around the streets of Rome with my new friends until 3 o’clock in the morning, stopping in the occasional bookstore or caffé to talk about our favorite books, movies, and musicals without a care in the world. Doing nothing is a way of life here. It’s a point of pleasure. Enjoyment. Sweetness.

As I sat on my patio in the rain, I came to the sudden realization of just how lucky I am.

Ciao for now,

– Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger –

The Final Countdown: How to Overcome Adversity in the Form of Buzzkills

My cooking has come to a slow trot these days, but I’d like to think I’m filling my final days in America with some much needed R&R: Rest & Reflection. I’ve gone home to see the family and old friends, absorbed the view of the Flatirons from Boulder, thrown myself a going away party filled with some of my favorite people, and pondered packing (I’ve admittedly been putting it off).

But now my to-do list has grown immensely: buy power converters to fit European outlets, pick up a prescription, take care of some last minute DU business, see my parents, read this book, buy pepper spray…. It seems my period of R&R was overextended and I have now been plunged into stress mode. This became most apparent to me when I woke up to find my four-drawer dresser with a box television on top of it pulled two feet away from the wall. Evidently, I did this in my sleep. I have a tendency to perform minor sleepwalking acts when I’m asleep, especially when I’m stressed about something, but this is the most extreme thing I have done. On top of that, I’ve been dealing with some odd stomach aches, dizziness, and nausea for the last week–probably also stress-induced.

but why, cheyenne? why so seriously stressed?

I’ll tell you why. I have 3 days to go until I depart for Rome. 3. Three. Tre. The mixture of sheer panic, excitement, and nerves are indescribable. My friend and co-worker asked me how I was feeling on my last work shift as a campus tour guide on Wednesday and my best response was “I feel all emotions.” The fear has mostly come from my recent panic attack after a stranger told me he was “sorry” I was going to Rome because I will “hate it.” Surprisingly, this is not the first time this has happened to me since I found out I would be studying abroad in Rome. I’ve probably had a total of four or five people listen to me tell them I’m going, absorb the twinkle in my eye and kick in my step, then proceed to bash my excitement into the ground with every reason in the book that Rome is a bad place. It had not really bothered me before this particular soulless man reiterated this–probably because he did so exactly ten days before I would leave while I was working my last shift at my second summer job at a frozen yogurt shop. Why on earth would someone say something like that to another person? Please, folks, take it from Thumper:
Found on myprettypinkpearl.blogspot.com

Thankfully, with help from my friends and family, I’ve been able to overcome this mishap for the most part. I’ve chalked it up to close-mindedness. I’d like to think I, unlike them, am going into this with a completely open mind. Sure, I have some vague idea of what to expect, but I’m going to roll with the punches and take on whatever comes my way exactly how I’ve learned to approach any other hardship: with a sense of humor and a trust that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.

The butterflies of excitement partying in my stomach right now are mostly due to reading the blog of my friend and fellow study abroad student, Julie, who has already arrived in Rome with her mother for some pre-program exploration. She keeps up a fantastic blog that cheers me up every time I start feeling any form of doubt. Read it if you want to feel your heart explode with happiness.

moral of the story:
Take into account the opinions of others, but don’t let them define your own opinions before you get there. Let it open your mind to the fact that, hey, maybe everything won’t be chalked up to what you think it will. Maybe the transportation will be unreliable. Maybe there will be some unfriendly people. Maybe there will be some food you dislike. (Who are we kidding? All the food will be amazing.) But the bottom line is, I’m about to experience the world. That should be a point of excitement and joy, not of fear and feng shui-inducing stress.

– Ciao for now –
Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger

Italy in Food: The Beginning

welcome.

You have stumbled upon my blog documenting my progress studying abroad in Rome. Many students create blogs to keep their friends and family up to date on every vague description and mundane list of “what I did today.” But I’m hoping this will be more than that.

the facts.

  • My name is Cheyenne. It’s nice to meet you.
  • I am a rising junior at the University of Denver. Double major in Strategic Communications & Theatre. Minor in Marketing.
  • I leave for Rome, Italy on August 27, 2012 at 10:00 AM.
  • I return to Denver on December 14, 2012 at 1:00 PM.
  • I will be attending the American University of Rome through the International Studies Abroad program.

I have three goals while in Rome:

  1. Eat.
  2. Photograph.
  3. Relax.

O N   E A T I N G
A fair warning: I can’t cook. Or rather, I am currently somewhat inept at cooking. Hopefully we will change that. What I can do is eat. That will require no practice. I will start my appreciation for Italian food by learning how to do some basic cooking this summer. Being the first time I am living completely on my own with no college cafeteria to ease the pain, this summer I will periodically (attempt to) cook various foodstuffs.

The trials and tribulations will be documented here, a la “Julie and Julia.” Your tips on how to improve and your sense of humor are appreciated. To help me eat in a somewhat methodical manner, I will be reading John F. Mariani’s book, “How Italian Food Conquered the World.”

This was an impulse buy while at the Boulder Bookstore with my friend Lisa this summer. It comes equipped with a history of how Italian food made its way across the world and recipes so simple a Cheyenne can do it, all written by an Esquire food and travel correspondent.

O N   P H O T O G R A P H I N G
Since we’re getting into this relationship of blogger and reader, you should know something upfront: I have a thing for photography. I’m by no means amazing or probably even good at it, but I adore it nonetheless. I will document my adventures in cooking and eating through photos. If you would like to see some of my other photography, check out my (somewhat neglected) photo blog.

O N   R E L A X I N G
If you know me in the real world, you know that I am a workaholic. A strong-willed, wannabe independent, ball of sarcasm and agendas. Because of this, the thing I am most excited for and simultaneously scared out of my mind about is getting into the “dolce far niente” way of life in Italy. The sweetness of doing nothing. This sounds like trying to fit a bowling ball into a wine glass to me, but the challenge has been accepted. No backing out now.

I am thrilled for this journey and thank you for wanting to come along for the ride.

– Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger

For your listening enjoyment: