Week 3: Italian Intensive and Roaming Rome

Last Friday marked the end of the three-week Italian intensive, and it was just that: intense. Three hours a day of learning a new language is difficult, mentally challenging, and…effective. I say it was effective because after these three weeks, I found myself able to order food, describe to store owners things I wanted, and could understand several phrases and ideas when I would overhear Italians speaking. Take a look at the area our study center is in:

The class was very interactive and quite conducive to learning. We also had students from Roman universities come into our class to converse with us, as well as offering more time out of class to practice our Italian with them. These students have a very approachable demeanor, but are a little intimidating because they study linguistics and each know about five languages. It’s fun to interact with Roman students at our study center to break up the monotony of everyone being from California. Fun fact: our study center located at Piazza dell’Orologio was featured in the Italian film The Great Beauty.

The Great Beauty

And speaking of Italian films, I stumbled upon a cafe from Fellini’s most notable film, La Dolce Vita. It was a cafe used in the film that was, unfortunately, closed down. Regardless, walking by one of Fellini’s filming locations was super exciting for the cinephile in me.

La Dolce Vita

While many people from the program opted to travel during these three weeks on weekends, I stayed in Rome to study and get to know the lay of the land. I feel well oriented in my neighborhood since I have located the grocery stores, found clothing shops I like, and scoped out which bookstores carry the best inventory. I urge further participants in this program to stay in Rome during these three weeks and enjoy all the local areas that we might be too exhausted to explore after classes. Here are some of my favorite film photos from my weekends exploring Rome:

While staying in the city, I found my favorite spot in all of Rome: Villa Borghese (a giant park with a zoo, a horse corral, gardens, and an Italian version of the Globe Theater). This park is exciting to visit and revisit because of its natural beauty.

This time I went here I took my film camera, and was pleasantly surprised to find a group of Jane Austin enthusiasts of Rome. They were playing croquet, having a picnic, and leisurely walking around the park together. It was adorable and so refreshing to see people having so much fun together doing something as simple as dressing up like some literary characters they like and walking around a park.

These people looked like they were from another time—especially when captured on film—as does much of Rome. It feels like it’s in another time, not always as ancient as some of the buildings here, but it feels like it’s ten years in the past in terms of technology. No one is glued to their iPhones, because most people don’t have pervasive smart phones. I’ve noticed the majority of people here have flip phones. Remember those great ol’ bricks with phenomenal battery life? That’s the norm here. And while it is possible to switch your IP address to access Netflix and Hulu…you don’t need to. Mainly because there isn’t time to watch shows. You will most likely be out exploring, eating, cooking, conversing, studying, dancing, at the gym, or sleeping to have time to catch up on shows.

Week 2: It’s All a Matter of Perspective

The first week of being in Italy flew by so quickly! Moving in, figuring out foreign supermarkets, orientation at school, and getting ready for the Italian intensive sure kept everyone busy. Before the three weeks of Italian intensive began, I signed up for a tour of Baroque Rome, led by the knowledgeable professor Paulo Alei. I accidentally kept calling this tour Barack Rome—a clear indication of me missing American politics and the 2016 presidential race this year. Professor Alei led an engaging tour that mixed humor about obnoxious tourists and his extensive insight about Roman urbanism. By the way, UC Center Rome offers many free optional excursions, so be sure to sign up for all of those!

He lectured us on the Campidoglio, Roman Forum, several churches and their reasons for being placed where they are, and lastly, Piazza Navona. Piazza Navona is about a five-minute walk from school and is one of the most visually striking places in Rome to me. Not only because it has some of the most beautiful sculptures I’ve ever seen, but also because of the sketch artists drawing quick caricatures of sweaty tourists. This contrast between high art and low art was amusing to observe.

Each aspect of this piazza works to artistically synthesize together via geometric shapes, placements of buildings, and locations of fountains. He explained that the fountain everyone was crowding around was more than just a beautiful sculpture; it is a visual representation of religious speakers spreading Christianity around the world, as people embraced “the light” or felt blinded by it.

What affected me about this tour so much was the fact that every church, piazza, and monument has a story—and I don’t know all of them yet. Feeling inspired after this tour, I ventured out to see more of Rome. I walked down a cobblestone alleyway and found an interesting bookstore that mainly carried books about movies, directors, cinematic movements, and graphic novels. I purchased a graphic novel that looked interesting with funky illustrations to help me with translating and understanding Italian. I found it interesting to see how much of pop culture from the United States seeps into other countries. The bookstore is pictured below, with some of the U.S.’s pop culture items:

Post-bookstore, I went to Villa Borghese, also known as the most perfect. It’s a giant park with a zoo, a pond to row boats, a horse corral, gardens, and an Italian version of the Globe Theatre. The best part about finding this was that I finished climbing the huge staircase just in time to watch the sunset. Update: I have been going at least twice a week since I’ve been here. Check out the red carpet from one of the restaurants, perfect lookout point, and the unparalleled sunset.

The next day, I took my film camera with me and revisited all the places from the tour so I could examine them with my new insight. Something interesting happened when I got the film developed: the photos had distorted lighting. That’s the fun thing about film—you never really know how the pictures are going to turn out. I went on Professor Alei’s tour midday, but some of the photos look like they’re taken during a sunset or in much lower lighting.

You know how wish they could see the Colosseum the way Roman Holiday portrayed it? People think old movie stars got the best of every decade, when in fact, it was just the old film distorting images in beautiful ways. It’s all a matter of perspective. The photo I took of the Colosseum looks like it could be from the 1960’s, as does the street at sunset. Because I used expired film, any of these photos look like they could be stills from old films. Film has a soft, warm quality naturally that bears a resemblance to the past, or perhaps it has a timeless period all of its own, and is especially fun to shoot in Rome.

Week 1: The Roman Holiday

Ciao! This is my first post about living in Rome and I’m very excited to share my experience with you—I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed experiencing it. First thing’s first: as incredible as Rome is, the trip here was arduous. It took about twenty-four hours between sitting at LAX, flying to Copenhagen, waiting in Copenhagen, then flying to Rome. Luckily, there were other EAP students on the same flight as me, so getting to know them made the time waiting around more bearable. We grouped together at our layover in Copenhagen to help each other figure out the Danish signs and where to board our next flight. The flight from Copenhagen to Rome was especially exciting because we watched the sunset as we landed in Italy. It was a beautiful thing.

The next day I checked into my new home for the semester: Residence Trastevere. I was surprised at how much space is in our apartment. Throughout the day, my housemates checked in and unpacked. Several of them are from Santa Barbara, which is convenient for reminiscing about Isla Vista sunsets together; albeit, these conversations are usually brief because, you know, we are in Rome. Here’s a peek at our seven girl apartment:

Some advice for navigating Rome is, “don’t look up.” Not because of nerves, but because it makes you look bemused and susceptible to theft. I, however, still get nervous looking up at all the grand buildings I know too little about. Not looking up is especially difficult when you’re in a city as beautiful as Rome. But because it was only my second full day in the city, I think it was okay to crane my neck to see every bit of detailed architecture.

Thursday and Friday we were asked to meet at school for the program’s orientation. The walk to school is incredible: you pass by colorfully painted buildings, gargantuan doors, beautiful trees, the Tiber river, and amazing smells. It’s very hard to not look up most of the time. The views here are nothing like the concrete parking lot that is Los Angeles or the slower paced suburban Santa Barbara, even with its beautiful Spanish-styled architecture. Rome is a unique city that lives in several different eras, all accessible by turning the corner.

Our orientations let us know the timeframe of our semester and the worst-case scenarios of acting like ignorant Americans. Every terrifying incident they told us about involved too much alcohol. The lecture had a bit of the Scared Straight vibe to it, but I think it was necessary for everyone to understand the cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy in terms of drinking. The lecture was serious and sobering—no pun intended—but it wasn’t a completely shocking that Americans who study abroad act out because of too much alcohol. This makes sense, as Americans mostly drink to get drunk, while Italians mostly drink to compliment food.

Our apartment decided to have dinner together to get to know each other and the area we are living in. We went to the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere and ate dinner outside at a restaurant that was buzzing with people, artisans, and performers. We walked around the cobblestone alleyways, enjoyed gelato, drank wine, and accidentally walked the wrong way and ended up at the Pantheon. I find these serendipitous moments to be frequent here in Rome. Accidentally going the wrong direction and getting lost here rarely have negative connotations when everywhere you look is straight out of a painting. While at the Pantheon, we shared wine and listened to a performer singing covers of American songs. It was a little goofy to be hearing a man cover Green Day songs at a famous monument, but I liked the “artistic” synthesis of the U.S. and Italy in that moment. As ridiculous as it sounds, it made me feel more at home in my new home.