Finding Myself in a City that Became Home

Amanda Warshaw, Washington

Your Big Year
Sep 9 · 6 min read
Paragliding in the Swiss Alps

This past semester I had the privilege and opportunity to study abroad in Rome, Italy at the American University of Rome. I visited a total of 10 countries and 26 cities during my time abroad and curated a lifetime’s worth of memories.

This experience allowed me to grow as an individual and push myself out of my comfort zone. I loved trying new foods, indulging in time with friends, and documenting my experience. I filmed my daily life and took thousands of photographs throughout the semester in order to remember my time and how I felt while there.

The first time I stepped off the plane in Rome I had a wave of anxiety.

Amanda in Florence, Italy

The first time I stepped off the plane in Rome I had a wave of anxiety. This was an entirely new experience for me, and I did not know anyone from my home institution or have a friend in the program to go through it with. I noticed that many other people had signed up with a friend or knew some people from their home colleges. I soon started meeting new people, first my five other roommates, then those in my classes, and it was a lot easier to find a group of people that I connected with.

One aspect of my life that was different abroad were my priorities. At home, I balanced a busy schedule of full-time classes, an internship, leadership positions in clubs and organizations, friends, etc. While abroad I was able to prioritize my classes and spending time with friends socializing and traveling. This allowed me to excel in my classes and have minimal stress. I was able to prioritize my relationships with others and what inspired me. This semester abroad allowed me to invest in myself and have the time to be creative outside of the classroom, whether it was photographing my surroundings or writing short poems about how I was feeling. Classes were only four days a week, so it was easier for us to spend our weekends exploring and immersing ourselves in our surroundings.

Skiing in the Swiss Alps

Weekend travels were a highlight of my studying abroad experience. When I wasn’t exploring the city I learned to call home, I was hopping on planes or trains to explore other parts of Europe. It blew my mind when I learned that flying to other countries within the European Union was considered a domestic flight. I had never thought about that before and it made traveling to other places easier than ever. I was only able to spend a weekend in most of these countries, so I got small a taste of their differing cultures and lifestyles. Traveling so often was incredible and I am so grateful for all of the experiences I was able to have. From skiing (and falling) in the Swiss Alps, to a canal tour at night in Amsterdam, to camping at Springfest in Germany, to standing at the Cliffs of Moher, I loved every minute.

The city of Rome taught me how to appreciate foods and each course of the dining experience, in Florence I learned about great works of art and was awestruck seeing Michelangelo’s sculpture the David in person, Pisa taught me about history and the incredible features of ancient architecture. I was able to see all of my years of studying Roman history in Latin classes come to life.

Life in Rome had a different pace. We ate and lived as the Italians did: appreciating each meal as an experience while working hard and indulging in the little things. Each day in the afternoon there were a few hours when shops and restaurants would close, giving Italians a needed break. We learned to drink our cappuccinos in the morning, for it was a faux pas to order one past noon. It took me a week of entering the grocery store the wrong way for someone to point me to the right entrance! Navigating the tram and bus system we traveled like the locals and saw more of the city. Rome is a very friendly city, with many locals appreciating even a botched attempt at speaking their language. The northern and southern parts of the country are culturally very different from each other. There is such an emphasis on locally-run businesses that many times corporate chains are driven out of cities or even the country. I learned there was only one Starbucks in all of Italy, located in Milan!

London

Living in my Italian apartment, I had to adapt to small lifestyle changes. Located in the neighborhood of Trastevere, I was a block away from the local grocery store. Refrigerators are very small in Italy compared to those in the United States, meaning many Italians frequent their local grocery store each day to gather ingredients for their meals. There were also no dishwashers or dryers so tasks like cleaning the dishes or doing laundry took extra time. I learned to live without these convenient appliances. My apartment also had three balconies which my roommates and I used to air-dry our clothes.

Walking the cobblestone streets to school, I could feel the history of the area. Potholes would say “S.P.Q.R.” referencing the ancient Roman empire. Small cars and mopeds would be parked in every direction. The streets were lined with palm trees and every building had its own history. The first time I saw the Colosseum I was in awe of the pieces of history that stood before me. I learned that at one point in its history it was turned into a church in order to prevent looting since religion was so respected by the locals.

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

At the American University of Rome, I learned to take advantage of each day. Between studying in the rose garden, to hearing fascinating night lectures on campus, I was able to get into a good study routine and be challenged by my professors. I took classes on Italian, digital media and society, integrated marketing communications, intercultural communications, and global fashion marketing. I learned from the full-time Italian students what it was like to grow up in Rome and hear about their take on American politics.

This university was an American-style institution with student body that was a mix of full-time students and study abroad students only attending for one semester. The classes were all taught in English and had an American-style grading scale, although all students were required to take a beginner Italian language and culture class.

Studying abroad gave me the chance to learn and experience a new city, learn more about myself, and learn how much I love to travel and challenge myself.

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