When I told my relatives over winter break that I was going to be studying abroad at Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center (JFRC) this semester, they all had pretty much the same reaction.
“You’re going to have the time of your life!”
“I was in such-and-such country in such-and-such year and it was amazing! You’re going to love it!”
“You’re going to eat so much pasta!”
Granted, I’m sure they’re all right. I am indeed planning to eat a ton of pasta. But none of them — nor the travel guides or blogs I studied — addressed how confusing, overwhelming and exhausting traveling can be.
I could tell you how delicious the food is in Rome or how breathtaking the monuments are. I could give you a detailed list of every flavor of gelato I’ve had so far (only three — I’m trying to pace myself). But that wouldn’t be much different from anything anyone else has to say about traveling to Rome — or Europe in general.
I’d much rather tell you things you might not expect.
First of all, jet lag is real. I thought it was just an excuse people used to take a nap. It’s very, very real.
Second, there is so. Much. Paperwork.
I’d never been out of the country before, so I had to complete the passport application process on top of all the Loyola forms, legal documents and visa applications. Oh, and you need to make copies of almost all of your documentation because almost as soon as you arrive, you have to fill out more paperwork to be able to stay in the country.
Did I mention those forms are in Italian? They’re in Italian.
The JFRC Associate Dean Adam Muri-Rosenthal noted with feigned enthusiasm that it was like doing taxes, but in another language. He was right.
I’m still not done with the entire process, but I’d really like to put that out of my mind right now.
Since arriving in Rome I’ve experienced a lot of contradictions — I like to put them in a “But Not Too” category.
I want to take a lot of pictures, but not too many pictures, or I’ll be too absorbed in my phone and not in the moment. It’s hard to decide which jacket to wear each morning — it’s warm outside but not too warm. The legal drinking age is 18 in Italy, so you can drink wine, but not too much wine (since it’s a violation of Loyola’s community standards).
The JFRC is a uniquely in-between place. It’s not quite American, but not quite Italian.
Most of the staff and faculty speak both Italian and English. Many signs around campus are in both Italian and English. The dining hall always has pizza, pasta and other Italian staples, but sometimes has hot dogs and French fries.
Our first day of classes was Jan. 20, which of course, the Chicago campus had off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My philosophy professor noted with a sarcastic smirk that the Rome Center doesn’t adhere to American holidays or Italian holidays — except for Easter, of course.
A couple other minor things that have thrown me a bit: the standard paper size — 210 by 297 millimeters — is about 8.25 by 11.7 inches, as opposed to the U.S standard of 8.5 by 11. Also, the treadmills measure speed and distance in kilometers and dumbells and other weights are in kilograms. I guess this is the gym equipment I should have expected, but I had so much to think about — and paperwork to fill out — that it didn’t even cross my mind.
I don’t necessarily feel like I’m experiencing “culture shock” per se, just the inevitable adjustment period. My brain has stuck a little red flag that says “THIS IS DIFFERENT” on a lot of elements of life here, and these are just a few of them.
I’ll end this not-so-typical tale confirming a couple things you were probably expecting to see here.
Yes, a lot of Italians smoke cigarettes. Yes, Italian gelato is everything I dreamed it would be and more. Yes, Rome is a magnificent and beautiful city with millennia of history behind it. Yes, I almost started crying when I first laid eyes on the Colosseum (my roommate actually did). And yes, I’m loving every minute of it – even the parts I didn’t expect.