Sunshine and Roses

Life in Italy hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. (Well, there’s been a lot of sunshine, especially at the beach, and the roses in the gardens here are all blooming right now … but you know what I mean.)

We have adored our time here, but I wouldn’t be proving a full picture of my studying/living abroad experience if I didn’t share some of the downsides and challenges. I’ll try to avoid just whining — think of this as a handy guide to surviving the same things if you ever live here (I’m looking at you, students back at home!)

First, the one that’s getting me right now: the heat. Idaho life did not prepare me for hot, sticky Mediterranean weather. All the West and Midwest students in my group have been struggling, but we also understand better now why Italians take a long, lazy lunch in the midafternoon. My best tip for staying cool: Take that afternoon rest, and on the weekend, go to the beach! Santa Marinella is a cute seaside town about a 2.5-hour train ride away, and Italy has an abundance of other coastal options.

Splashing in the waves at Santa Marinella.

Then, my biggest struggle when we arrived: feeling isolated. I’m extremely happy to have my family here — having each other made the adjustment much easier. But I’m an outgoing person who suddenly had a limited set of potential friends I could really communicate with. Because I’m in a different point in life than the other students here, it took me a little longer to get to know them than it took for them to get to know each other (I’m not exactly joining them at the club on Saturday nights, nor are they up at the cafe having tea with me at 8 a.m.). But once I got over feeling out of place, I jumped in, started conversations, and made friends. My professors have also been excellent people to connect with — and I’ve even managed to have a few rudimentary but friendly conversations with folks in my neighborhood. The bottom line is, even if it takes time, be friendly. It will pay off.

Earlier this week some friends from my Intro to Italian class and I explored Villa Lante, a 16th century Italian garden in Bagnaia, a few miles outside Viterbo.
My photography teacher Lietta and her son, Lorenzo, have been wonderful friends to us here. All of our gatherings involve fantastic food and drinks, of course!

Another struggle when we arrived: feeling overwhelmed. We’ve been to historical sites crawling with tourists, places with high pickpocket crime, and cities with narrow streets packed with tiny, zippy cars — all things you just don’t experience in Idaho. The sheer weight of history in this place felt overwhelming at times, even. On my grumpier days, I’ve desperately missed familiar territory (and I’m still just not a fan of the chaos of Rome). But taking the time to gain knowledge about Viterbo and this region of Italy, in my classes and on my own, has helped me appreciate my new surroundings and feel at home.

And now, the kids’ biggest complaint: the smoking. Smoking is everywhere here — in the streets, on piazzas, outside businesses, on train platforms. Henry and Danny have been mortified by this since we got here, since Moscow does not allow smoking in most public places. I’m not a fan either, but my best advice for getting through it is just to avoid it when you can, and adjust otherwise — then really appreciate that campus tobacco ban when you get home!

I didn’t really have a good picture to illustrate smoking, so here’s the boys having a thrilling time on a train platform — there’s alllllways someone smoking on a train platform.

Finally, the pain I simply can’t fix here, but will as soon as I get home: the utter lack of tacos. There are a billion cute little restaurants in Viterbo, but 95% of them serve the same thing: Italian food. It’s fantastic food, but it’s all pretty much the same base of pizza and pasta. There are a few good sushi spots, a kebab shop or two, some American-style fast food, and … that’s it. Most dramatically (for me), there is no Mexican food. I tried to solve this dilemma by making my own guacamole with the ingredients I could find in my neighborhood (lemon instead of lime, parsley instead of cilantro), but it just didn’t cut it. I’m sorry I can’t solve this one for future study abroad students — other than advising you pack taco seasoning in your luggage.

Guacamole! Almost.

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