It's hard to believe that I am coming up on week three already! I have been having the most wonderful time, but as always, you have to have a few rough patches to appreciate the good. I know that this is only the beginning of my challenges, but I've already learned so much and I know that will continue through my adventures.
Here are three challenges I have faced so far and how to conquer them:
1.) Navigating a new city
Navigation has been quite the undertaking so far. Rome clearly is gigantic and it wasn't exactly planned on a grid system or anything of the sort. As buildings fell and new ones were built, they were literally placed on top of one another, connected to each other, and so all of the dead ends and winding streets of Rome can be downright weird. The fact that there are no street signs also can create some issues.
My tips as far as navigation goes = MAPS.ME
It's an app like google maps but it runs without data (for those of us without an international phone plan such as myself). You simply download the map for whatever city you want when connected to wifi, and then you have it to use whenever. You can also drop pins on the map, so I would also suggest dropping a pin at every place you stop that you will want to come back to. We have made the mistake already of not dropping a pin and attempting to retrace our steps- which we have never found anything a second time. However, it has also been fun getting lost though. I would suggest walking wherever you please without a map in order to explore and find new places you like and then using the map to get back home of course. We have found our favorite gelato shop and a restaurant that serves fancy waffles as the result of getting lost.
2.) The language barrier
I've had quite a few awkward interactions due to my lack of knowledge of Italian. You can not assume that everybody knows English because, spoiler- they don't!
The easiest way to conquer this- take a class in the language! I was hesitant to do so because it is hard to undertake something as big as a new language. After just a few hours of class though, I've already found it ten times easier to understand signs, menus, and basic conversation when buying groceries, ordering food, or meeting someone new. Learning the language has also already helped with giving me a sense of belonging. Some of the challenges I have faced these first couple weeks sometimes made me feel a little out of place, but I have already felt so much more comfortable and at home with even just my basic understanding of Italian so far. It's been so fun and rewarding and all of the Italian people have been so nice and helpful in helping me learn.
3.) Cultural differences
This has probably been the hardest part because of my fear of offending someone or sticking out badly. There has been many mistakes made here, such as breaking the fruit sticker machine, holding up the bus line while trying to understand the ticket validator, and accepting the fact that they don't do coffee to go here.
The easiest way to conquer this is to do a little research, make some mistakes, and embrace it. The whole reason for this trip in the first place was to leave my comfort zone, so I have tried to learn and embrace these cultural differences as much as possible. As a perpetually early person, it's been hard to deal with the fact that things are never on time here. However, why aren't they on time? It's because Italians live very mindfully, which is actually one of the most beautiful things. They don't care if they are a few minutes late because instead of grabbing that coffee to go and running to work, they sit at the bar with their cappuccino and enjoy the coffee and the company. The differences can be frustrating at first, but once you begin to understand them and appreciate them, you'll feel much more at home.
To end on a fun note- this weekend my friends and I took a mini trip to Florence and Cinque Terre to test out our traveling/planning skills. A few minor bumps there (such as forgetting about 24 hour time and ending up with train tickets for 5:45 AM instead of PM). All in all, it was a great and beautiful weekend. Cinque Terre is a small set of five towns along the Mediterranean Sea. They are small fishing towns full of brightly colored, stacked houses (which you all have seen as one of the featured wallpapers on a Windows PC). We took a train from town to town and enjoyed the views, ate some awesome food, and swam in the most beautiful water I've ever seen in my life. Life is good.
(P.S. Currently in the process of planning a last minute trip for this coming weekend, so be on the lookout for some awesome photos)
I'm Liz Bixenman, an interior design student living in Rome for the semester. When I'm not doing schoolwork, you can find me wearing a cat shirt, reading a book, and most likely eating more carbs than I'm proud of.