31 January, 2013

My Love for Hard Rock

Awkward selfie with my Roma pin :)
I go a lot of places, and no matter where I go, there is one restaurant I must go to: The Hard Rock Cafe.  Now, you're probably confused as to why.  It's super expensive, the food isn't even that great, and it's American food.  Burgers, nonetheless, which I don't even like that much.  Well, as a child my parents started the habit of going to the Hard Rock Cafe a lot; it was the only nice American restaurant when we lived in Shanghai, though that one has since closed down sadly enough.  When we lived there, my parents always bought us pins.  It never was a habit I myself picked up until I was traveling in China and I realized that I had to go to the Hard Rocks in Beijing, Hong Kong, and London.  I can't even explain why, I just had this insane desire to go.  So, we went.  The other kids in my class were sick of Chinese food and wanted a burger, while I just wanted my pin.  Since then, I've also gotten them in Paris, Prague, Berlin, and Amsterdam, and I finally, after two weeks of being here, got one in Rome.  It's a newer habit of mine, though I do have the pins my father collected when we were traveling before.  I can't figure out if I just love it because it's something specific to collect while I travel with an end goal (of collecting them all), or if I want them because my father did as well.  I used to collect shot glasses, but they honestly don't carry that much importance to me.  Getting a Hard Rock pin that has the Eiffel tower on it, so it can only be from there, got me so excited.  I actually kept dancing around after I got my Rome pin, because it felt like I had waited entirely too long.  If I go all of the places I plan to go while I'm abroad, I'll be collecting nine more pins this semester, which is really exciting!  However, I have a rule that I must be the one to collect the pin, so please don't go getting me one when you're in Las Vegas or wherever.  Plus, none of these boring guitars business; it needs to be a city-specific pin.  I do usually choose a guitar one, but if it could be mistaken for another city, I don't want it.  The whole point of it is that I'm the one traveling, and I'm the one who got them from that specific city. Also, I'm combining this new obsession with my even newer obsession for maps and putting a map of the world on styrofoam or a corkboard and putting my pins on the map!  It's going to be such a fantastic edition to my beautiful house in the future, wherever that may be :)

The Shock of Culture Shock

This sounds really pretentious, but because I've traveled a lot and have traveled to very unique cultures like China, I wasn't expecting to face any culture shock here in Italy.  Well, I was wrong.  And it's almost worse because I'm doing normal things that I feel like I should know how to do, yet I still do things wrong!
First off, buying coffee is hard.  Something that seems so straightforward, all you have to say is "cappuccino" or "espresso", since thats basically all they have, is so difficult here.  There's such a particular way to order coffee here, and no one tells you, so I basically made an ass of myself.  What you're SUPPOSED to do is go to the cashier, which is usually out of the way, order what you want, and then give your receipt to the bartender, who then makes your coffee.  Well, the food and whatnot that you have to choose from is at the bar, so it feels natural (to me at least) to go to the bartender, point to something and say "and a cappuccino", and then pay.  If you go to the places by school, they know you're American, so they just deal with it.  I swear to God, the bartender at Friends Cafe pities me, because he always is helping me figure it out.  Anyway, it gets harder when you're in the middle of non-tourist Rome, and then you ask the bartender for a cappuccino, and they look at you like you're crazy.  For awhile I avoided these bar-like cafes so I wouldn't have to deal with it.  I finally had to ask my friend Reed how to do it, because I seriously feel so dumb just ordering coffee!  It works this way at little side shops to buy paninis or pizza, as well, so its something I really needed to learn how to do.
Second, I avoid fruits and vegetables at all cost here.  Why would I do that?  They're so fresh and delicious!  Seriously, I hate American tomatoes, and I swear to God I could eat a tomato plain.  Well, the Italians are super particular about how you get your fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, and I got enough dirty looks the first time I tried to figure out Todis (the store next door to us) that I just want to avoid all possibilities of getting yelled at again.  What you're supposed to do is get your fruits/vegetables while wearing a plastic glove that I have yet to locate, and then you put them in a bag and weigh them, press the number so the machine knows what fruit/vegetable you have, and then it spits out a price sticker that you put on the bag.  I don't know why this terrifies me so, but it really does, and my diet is hindering because of it.
So those seem like simple things, but in all honesty, they're the only things that give me true anxiety here.  I've been lost in Rome multiple times, and it doesn't bother me at all.  These things totally do.  Honestly, I barely eat at home because the grocery store gives me such high anxiety.  But, this is the excitement about living abroad!  I never had to face these issues in China, because I lived in hotels or was seven.  Here I truly am pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to figure it out!

A Reflection

As I'm in this time of my life where I'm conquering my fears and heading in the direction of my dreams, I think of this past March when I sang in front of basically my entire school.  I tried out and made it into Gustavus Idol, which is one of the largest musical performances of the school year.  I've always had a passion for singing, and this was the first time I ever sang in front of this magnitude of people.  The professor I worked with on an application for a Fulbright summer scholarship (that I didn't get) was one of the judges for this competition.  We had discussed my essays and personal statement multiple times, and my theme was that I was trying to face my fears, since I realized that I needed to learn to face my adventures alone if I truly wanted to get to where I was going.  After my performance, she pulled me aside and told me that that was what she called facing my fears.  It really was a proud moment of my life.
No, we didn't win, or even place, and no, I'm not exactly satisfied with my performance, but it was the scariest thing I had ever done at the time.  What have I done since then?  I've lived in St. Peter by myself for a summer (which was super lonely), I've traveled Europe with just one other person, I've willingly jumped out of a plane, and now I've moved across the ocean for four months alone.  Obviously, singing in front of a semi-large crowd isn't the reason I am where I am today, but it is one of the many reasons, and it is something that I am extremely proud of.  If I could truly live my dreams, I'd be traveling the world, writing and singing as I go.  Plus, I just absolutely love to sing, and it is killing me that I never have the chance to here.
Also, this is a test for my roommates, because they have both told me that they've looked here to see if I'm talking crap about them.  Well Victoria and Julia, I really love living with both of you, and you make my experience here in Italy even better :)

29 January, 2013

Study Abroad Update: January 2013


I have a scholarship from my study abroad program that makes me write 2-3 paragraphs about my experience thus far, along with 5-10 pictures, each month.  So here's my update for January:



            It is truly amazing that I have almost been in Rome for a month.  It feels so much longer than that, yet I don’t want to think about the fact that almost a fourth of my time here is behind me.  In the past three weeks, Rome has gone from a beautiful foreign city to my home and a piece of my heart.  Of course there have been hard moments in the transition, but they are needed to truly appreciate the beauty of my situation.  I am living in a beautiful, old city, surrounded by other twenty-or-so year olds who had the same desire to explore and learn more about the world around them as I do.  I have met so many amazing people from all over the United States and even Europe, and I am so amazed that this is my life.
            The first week of being here was full of moments of, “holy crap, I live here”, and “why yes, I can just stumble upon the Pantheon, no big deal.”  I went from being terrified of going anywhere here for the first time to being completely comfortable navigating the city.  Yes, I still get lost, I don’t believe these tiny, winding streets will ever be completely known to me, but I find that a beautiful part of the experience.  I’m comfortable enough in this city that I no longer stand out as an American tourist, at least I hope that’s the case!  I don’t know if I will ever be Roman enough to not want to get gelato once a day, however.
            Though I’ve been here for three weeks, I’m still in the stage of amazement.  I’m amazed that the streets I’m walking on are sitting on top of the streets that people like Julius Caesar once walked.  I’m amazed that I am living, on my own, in a country where I do not speak the language, and I’m getting by.  I’m amazed that I get to go to places like the Capitoline Museum for class, and that I’m learning about Roman history and mythology in the heart of Rome.  There are moments of homesickness and wanting to go home for just one night, but those moments pass, and I go right back to the happiness of being here.  My friends who have studied abroad elsewhere have always told me how amazing their cities are, and I am just now realizing how much of an attachment I’m gaining toward this city.  Though I’m going to travel a lot during my stay – I’ve already made it to Pompeii, and I’m soon leaving for Athens – I will always be happy to come back to Rome.  It’s amazing that after three weeks Rome is truly the place I call home!


Piazza de Santa Maria!  "We know how to get home from here!"

Being a tourist at the Trevi Fountain.  It needed to be done.

One of the first "Holy crap, I live here" moments.

Cappuccino.  Obsessed.

At the ruins in Pompeii!

27 January, 2013

Where the Hell is Madison?

So when I get bored I scroll through my blog and look at past posts, especially since my audience now is very different than the audience I had before leaving for Rome, and I would love to understand how my thoughts come off to the random people reading them.  This morning, I stumbled upon my blogpost Wanderlust, which has the two videos that are honestly two of the most inspirational videos I've ever seen.  I can watch them at absolutely any time and fall deeply back in love with travel, and any desire I had to grow up, go to school in the US, and settle down just instantly disappears.  The first travel video I found that truly inspired me was Where the Hell Is Matt (2008), and today I decided to watch his newer one from 2012, which I had never seen before.  Watching these videos gives me this complete joy that I cannot explain; everything in life becomes okay because I know how much more there is out there.  I feel so insignificant in the most magnificent of ways.  The list of places I need to go grows, and instead of terrifying me, it makes me excited for what there is to come in my life.  I no longer desire to become a suburban mom who works 9-5 and then comes home to drive my children everywhere.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that life, its just not the life I'm meant to live.  I just watched the first part of Eat Pray Love for the first time last night, up until she leaves Italy.  When the main character, Liz, is leaving for her year long adventure, her best friend tells her that she didn't want her to leave because, though she loves her life, she herself could never leave.  I don't want to get stuck in this rut of life, I want to make sure that the life I actively participate in creating is a life I want to live.  To quote myself, I do not plan on surviving life, I plan on living it.  Anyway, back to the story.  I wake up this morning, find these videos, and click to watch the 2012 edition of Where the Hell is Matt for the first time.  The same love for travel and desire to see the world builds up inside of me.  And then Rome, Italy comes along.  I've only been here for about three weeks, and I already know and love the city.  So when I notice that they are dancing in Piazza di Pipolo, I break down in tears.  Because this is my life.  I am living my dream.  And I have made amazing realizations in the past three weeks that are going to let me live my dream even further.  I am going in the direction I want to, and that is probably the most amazing thing to realize.  To realize that your life is so much more than average and that you could die tomorrow happy is a breathtaking realization.  I have always been so grateful for the life I've been given, but I have realized that being grateful and being happy about it are two separate things.  No, I do not agree with Liz's decision to just up and leave her husband, but I do believe that you live the life you choose to live.  And I choose to live the life I love.

25 January, 2013

Trips!

I'm really excited because all I want to do while I'm here is travel EVERYWHERE, and I'm finally getting down to booking and planning trips!  So, in case you're interested, here's what I'll be doing!
Tomorrow: Pompeii for the day!
Next weekend: a day trip to northern Latium where I get to do wine tasting!
Then: Athens to visit Dany Paulson, who I haven't seen since she left for her year abroad in August!

The next weekend: PRAGUE with Victoria, Allison, Marlo, Brad, Reed, and Lucas!
After that: Meeting up with my family for a weekend in Paris!
Next: Going to Tuscany!
Spring Break, which has yet to be planned.

Weekend of 11 April: LONDON.
And then hopefully visiting my cousin in Beirut!  Life is so great!

23 January, 2013

I came to an amazing realization today.


And that is that the United States isn't for me.  Okay, I've known this for awhile, but I really felt that I had to choose between the career I want, and the continent I want, but then I realized: the rest of the world also goes to school.  So, I decided to Google "graduate programs psychology UK" where I came to a list of rankings of the psychology graduate degrees in the United Kingdom.  And there are a TON.  So I started researching them.  Now, I'm a Psychological Science major with double minors in Sociology/Anthropology (focus on the anthro part) and Biology.  My ultimate dream is to study cross-cultural psychology/cognitive anthropology, so basically how the culture we grow up in influences the way we process information and view the world.  Well, so far the University of Chicago is the only graduate program I have found that has what I want, but I've heard that California has a ton of programs in that area too.  The only issue is that I have absolutely no desire to go to California.  I like the changing of the seasons, and my favorite seasons are fall and spring anyway.  Well, being as the U.K. is closer to other cultures than the United States, it actually seems that a lot of these programs are interdisciplinary.  When a program calls themselves interdisciplinary, I actually squeal a little to Victoria, knowing that what I want actually exists.  And I can follow both of my dreams!  I can both go to graduate school and become a professor AND live overseas!  I have been saying lately that I want to become a professor at a school in the U.K. or at a study abroad school somewhere here in Europe, but thats a far off dream that may never come true.  I could go to California, meet a surfer dude and marry him, and never end up moving to Europe.  By going to school in the UK, I am making sure that my future is for sure going in the direction that I want it to move in.  Living overseas is no longer a dream, it's a goal.  And even better, I'm actually going to start applying for these programs the minute I get back from Italy (which will be a depressing day).  The world is my oyster, and my wanderlust will not be extinguished!  Thank GOD for this adorable Irishman for telling me to pursue my dreams!  My mother gave me a magnet with this quotation on it, and I never really felt that it applied to my life until now:

"Go forth boldly in the direction of your dreams;
live the life you've imagined!"
-Thoreau, whoever that is.
The life I'm imagining is possible, which I never really believed until now.  I've been feeling a lot of independence lately, and I've actually felt the desire to just go ahead and start applying for graduate school already.  I'm ready to move onto bigger and better things, and Gustavus is just holding me back.  Don't get me wrong, I love my fellow Gusties, as well as my professors.  In fact, I really don't think I'd be in this mindset without my Professors.  Dr. Chambers was the one who told me that he thinks I really need to apply for the University of Chicago, which, until now, was my dream grad school.  But I'm getting to the point in my life where these are in reach, and its really just killing me that they're just out of grasp.  Well, I'm doing it. I'm going boldy in the direction of my dreams, the life I imagined is happening!

Another plus... I'm pretty sure I don't need to take the GRE for these programs!

22 January, 2013

On Attracting the Italians

Me and my non-Italian friend, Jack, at
one of my favorite views of Rome!
As a single female coming to Italia, the land of Paolos and Lorenzos, I came wondering, "how does an American girl attract the Italians?"  Well, after being here two weeks and one day, let me tell you.  All you have to do: be an American female.  Seriously.  It's even easier if you're blonde, because Italians are dark, and blondes are rare.  Blue eyes as well, but not as much as blondes.  Well, though I am a brunette, I've had my share of attention from the Italian men.  A few nights ago, I walked to the Trevi fountain by myself to pick up my friend Jack, who was here for the Olympic Quest J-Term.  Yes, I walked by myself, and yes, I was safe.  Don't worry!  Anyhoo, I got to the Trevi at 9:10, since he told me to meet him at 9ish.  Well, 9ish apparently meant 10 in Jack time, so I literally walked around the Trevi fountain for 50 minutes.  It's a huge touristy area, and I made sure to walk around so no one would creep on me, but the umbrella sellers and the other people who worked around there noticed that I had been there awhile.  While walking past the Pantheon on my way there, a man whispered in my ear "Ciao bella" or something along those lines.  The umbrella sellers started telling me to come over, that they would "help the lost girl".  Now, this all sounds way creepier than it actually is; you have to remember that the Trevi fountain is always insanely crowded, and I never was in any danger.  Finally, not long before Jack came to my rescue, a man walked over and started asking me my name, where I was from, and what I was doing in the city.  I was smart and lied, saying that I was Victoria from Florida, and when he asked for my number, I politely said that I do not have a cell phone here in Europe.  So, the moral of the story is that Italians are creepy.  Now I'm sure that there are some really nice ones out there, but the ones who are hitting on the Americans are the ones you don't want to associate with, and especially not the ones you want to date.  So I keep joking about looking for Paolo or Francesco, but in all reality, I don't really think the Italians are my type.  But it is quite the self confidence booster to get whistled at, it will be kind of a downer to not get the same response at home!

21 January, 2013

A Renewed Appreciation for Gustavus

I love it here in Rome, but I'm really not a fan of the school I go to.  I love my classes, and my professors are actually really great, but there's a lot of issues with the system.  JCU (John Cabot University) has a fantastic placement and is near to my house.  It's a really small school, smaller than Gustavus, so the library is in the basement of one of its two "campuses", which are more like buildings.  For each class we were required to buy up to four or so books, but each professor also has "recommended readings", which actually are required, you just can't buy the book, or you only need them for one or two class periods.  This is fine and all, but they don't understand how to make it work for everyone.  My Classical Mythology professor was nice enough to get a pdf version of one of the books she wants us to read, so I can read it on my computer.  The other "recommended" books are all in the library, which is so small, we only have one copy of them.  I was lucky and didn't have my 13:30 today, so I went to the library at around 14:00 to get the book we had to read 50 pages of and answer questions for.  At around 14:30, not one, not two, but three people came looking for the same book.  So, I, being Minnesota nice AND a people pleaser, felt the need to rush and finish reading/answering my questions so they could do their homework.  So I essentially did a crappy job at doing my homework so they could do theirs.  I think what I should take from this is that doing homework two hours before class is probably not the way to go at John Cabot, a habit which will be hard to break.

20 January, 2013

The Early Effects of Roma


I told quite a few people before I left that I was excited to study abroad, but I honestly was a little disappointed in my choice of Rome.  I wanted to a) explain that further and b) let you all know why I was wrong to be disappointed.
At the time when I had to apply for a study abroad program, which was January or so of last year, I was a biology and psychological sciences double major, meaning I needed to get classes done for my major while abroad.  I knew I wanted to be somewhere I didn't speak the language, so I searched anywhere that had psychology (since those would be easier to transfer), and narrowed it down to any program that wasn't in South America (just wasn't my thing), Australia/New Zealand, or the UK.  That left me with SAI Rome, which I chose, and DIS in Copenhagen.  I actually had my heart set on Copenhagen for awhile, but I then realized that a) the psych classes they offered wouldn't transfer for the classes I needed, b) I didn't like cold, and c) I just didn't want to go.  Now I'm sure Copenhagen is fantastic, but if you're going to live somewhere for four months, you have to have an interest in seeing the city.  So I "settled" on Rome.  Not going to lie, that's really how it felt at the time.  Once I dropped my biology major and I realized that I could take absolutely any course I wanted to while abroad, I was really disappointed that I didn't look into going to Southeast Asia or Africa.  I absolutely love Asian cultures, and Africa would just be the adventure of a lifetime.  I felt like I chose the easy route, by going to Europe.  I felt like I was getting a normal study abroad experience, and that someone who loved such unique cultures as I love would get bored.
Boy was I wrong.
Rome is absolutely the perfect place for me to be for four months.  There are so many other places that I would love to be for four months, don't get me wrong.  But I am able to explore my independence here, something I wouldn't be able to do in Africa or Asia, places where I am so obviously a foreigner.  If I end up living outside of the United States when I'm older, which is the ultimate goal for me, I'll probably be somewhere in Europe, because Americans don't usually just move to Kenya.  I'm not the missionary type, and I want to work in academics.  We'll see where I end up, but I'm pretty sure it won't be somewhere like that.  I'm going to still travel to those places, but living in Rome is really helping me grow as a person and explore my sense of individuality.  In St. Peter, you're constantly surrounded by your friends.  I have always said that I have these huge dreams, but I will never be able to fulfill them because I'm too scared to follow them alone.  Well, I flew across the ocean to live in a foreign country with people I don't know and basically just live for four months.  I have never felt more alone than I have the past couple of days, just ask my roommate about my breakdowns.  But even though I have these downs, I have these amazing ups where I truly feel like I can do absolutely anything I want with my life.  I walked around Rome by myself yesterday for an entire hour, something I would have been too afraid to do before.  Tomorrow will mark two weeks from when I left the States, and I already feel myself changing into the person I more want to be.  This sounds lame and cheesy, I know.  But this is my blog and you're reading it to see my true thoughts while I'm studying abroad.  Who knows, May 4th may come around and I might feel differently.  But right now, in this moment, I am truly happy and I am amazed that God has blessed me with such an amazing opportunity.

Going off of this (sorry for the long posts lately), I met an Irishman at an Irish bar last night.  Go figure, right?  Anyway, he started the conversation first by asking me my name, and then by asking me my dream.  It was a really random time for such a deep question.  I told him I used to want to be a professor, but I wasn't so sure of that anymore.  He asked me why not, and I told him that living in Rome was changing what I wanted out of life, and now all I want is to move somewhere and live the life I want.  He then gave me a five minute drunken speech about how we only have one life and we have to follow our dreams.  He then went on to tell me that his dream was to meet a girl named Madison while travelling in Rome, and to help her discover that whatever dream she had was worth following.  Oh, and he told me that my dream included running off to Dublin with him, where they don't believe in birth control, so we would have ten children together, and that my soon-to-be-ex (who actually was a guy I had just met) would have to visit me in Dublin to reminisce of the love we once had.  It sounds creepy, but it wasn't.  It may have been his drunken speech, but it really is what I need right now.  Once I get home, I have to start researching graduate schools, take the GRE, and then apply for the programs I want... if thats even what I want anymore.  At this point, I don't even know.  And I think that God had me run into this cute Irishman because He wants to help nudge me to truly follow my dreams.  It was one of the most magical moments for me yet in Rome, even if it did happen at a bar at 2am.  It honestly is one of the conversations I will forever remember when I think of how I got to wherever it is I end up.

Navigating Roma

It is Sunday, which has been a long time coming.  My schedule consists of class at 13:30, 16:30, and 18:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as an on-site course Wednesday mornings, and then only one class at 11:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  So, basically, my weekend starts on Wednesday night.  This weekend has felt so incredibly long, which means next semester is going to be a rude awakening.  I almost feel like I'm not taking classes!  Especially since all but one of my classes are about Rome and the places I'm walking by every day, so it really doesn't seem like work.  I'm kind of nerd and love learning about what happened in the exact spot I'm standing centuries before me.
Everyone at John Cabot tries to take at least one on-site course, because a) they're only once a week and b) you truly get to explore the city.  We don't meet at John Cabot and travel together to our destination, but meet there.  Which means that we have to do our homework and know where we're going at least the night before, because you can't roll out of bed and stroll to class.  I was so excited for this class, but it's really starting to make me nervous!
My roommate told me an analogy of Rome that I think perfectly illustrates how it is laid out.  New York is a grid; you have to be an idiot to get lost there.  Roma, on the other hand, is as if you took a plate of spaghetti and threw it at a wall.  There have been so many times that I know the general direction I need to go, so I'll turn that way, but the road will twist and turn enough that I end up way off from my ideal destination.  When I was in Amsterdam, every street corner had a sign that pointed in what direction monuments were, and how far away they were.  Not in Roma.  There are signs every now and then that say a monument's name, but you'll get to a fork later and realize that the sign forgot to tell you which way to turn.
I'm falling in love, not only with Roma, but the experience of learning to navigate an unknown city.  Roma doesn't really have a ton of huge streets that you take; every way I take to get places feels like the "back way".  The only road name I know is Via de Trastevere, which is the main road that all of the apartments my friends live off of, and the street I live on.  So, learning how to navigate from one place to another is truly an adventure and an accomplishment!  If you know me at all, you'll know that I'm extremely directionally challenged, and I feel like I'm learning how to be self sufficient through this experience! I have no data, so I can't just Google Maps "current location to home" or whatnot.  I have to figure it out, and if I can't do that, I have to ask someone who most likely speaks as much English as I do Italian.  This is what I love about living in this city: every day is an adventure.
Also, two proud moments have happened recently!  First off, I think I may have been mistaken as an Italian!  There were two obviously American girls shopping at the super market, speaking/shouting English.  In Europe, you have to pay for a bag, so the cashier was trying to ask them if they wanted one.  Now, I don't actually know the word for bag, but I understand the process, so I always respond with "No, grazia".  These girls had no idea, and so the woman starts speaking to them in fluent-yet-annoyed English.  When she rang me up, she spoke in full sentence Italian!  So either I was mistaken as Italian or she realized that I was a not-so-obvious American who had an actual idea of what was going on.  Second awesome thing to happen to me: I got asked for directions by an Italian!  And I knew where they were going!  No, we didn't have a conversation, but I was so proud of myself for knowing the city.  Though it's been raining basically every day here and my feet were soaked from 6 hours of walking around Rome in the rain, my day was instantly made.

So, I should probably do some homework since I haven't thought once about class since Thursday at approximately 12:45.  However, my 13:30 for tomorrow is cancelled, so no class until 16:30!

15 January, 2013

My Prague Panic Attack

Well, the first catastrophe of my experience in Rome happened today, and it's amazing that I'm as calm as I am right now.  I went to my friends' Brad, Reed, Mitch, and Garrett's today with Victoria to start planning trips.  Our first one is to Prague, since everyone wants to go there, its cheap (while you're there), and I've been there, so I can kinda be a guide.  Well, after spending FOREVER on searching for a flight (they're way more expensive than you'd expect, being as so few people go to Prague, which may be the issue), Brad finally finds a cheap(ish) flight, and we decide to book it.  Since there were seven of us total going, we decided to do it on one credit card, just to make sure we all were on the same flight.  The credit card chosen was mine, which was fine since everyone was going to pay me back within 24 hours.  So, directly after submitting, the confirmation page comes up.  I then turn to the group and ask, "Wait, did we originally plan on going Friday to Monday?".  Panic ensued.  After everyone started panicking about not being able to go, I started panicking about this $1300+ charge on my credit card.  My heart rate was so extremely fast, that Brad - thank God - picked up the phone and called WizzAir for me.  After realizing that it would cost us €60/person to cancel and €45/person to switch flights, I was in full panic mode.  However, I was able to pull myself together and call Wells Fargo, who successful got it to cancel (though it will take up to two weeks to full cancel the transaction).
I'm really proud of myself.  I was able to remain (somewhat) calm, and though I did panic, I was able to hold it together enough to deal with the situation.  The people around me helped, but it was just in general a really stressful hour or so.  But, it is done.  It is handled, there is nothing else we can do.  Brad felt responsible and he was nice enough to lend me money until my card is working again, but I really don't blame him.  Who knows if he chose the wrong dates or if WizzAir didn't work properly, blaming won't change the situation.  We're still planning on going to Prague or wherever in the future, which is all I really care about.  My money is going back to my account, I am still in Rome, and I am going to travel while I am here.  What more could I really have asked for after something like that happened?  This is the best possible outcome of a sucky situation.  Sorry if this is really repetitive, but they always say that something is going to go terribly wrong while you're abroad, and you just have to learn to deal with it, and it won't ruin your trip.  So I'm just really relieved!

Well.

My first bouts with homesickness have officially started.  It's not even like "I just miss my mom and my friends and my puppy and my bed" or anything like that.  It's more that I'm in this huge city of 4 million people and I'm alone.  I've met so many people and I have friends, but its just not the same as being able to walk down a flight of steps and knock on Tara's door.  I walk into the caf at Tiber campus, and I have no where to sit.  It's freshman year all over again.  I think that my homesickness started because my friends are all at Gustavus and I spent last night reading my mythology textbook.  Which is fine, really, because I find it really interesting.  I just feel weird living in Rome and not constantly being out exploring the city.  But if I'm here for four months, can I really constantly be exploring?
In order to up my spirits I'm trying to focus on the stuff I really like here.  I was getting really sick of Gustavus, and though JCU is much smaller than GAC, it still feels like such a bigger atmosphere because I'm in Rome instead of St. Peter.  Also, I love walking around Rome and trying to get to know my neighborhood.  When I pass a place that I've been to and I make a connection between where it is located in relation to my apartment, it feels like a mini accomplishment.  My favorite thing so far?  The doppler effect of the sirens here.  I know it sounds stupid, but it is such a distinct difference in the siren pitch before and after it passes you.  But when I tried to express my excitement about it this morning, my roommate didn't even know what the doppler effect was.  Oh well, not everyone can be a science nerd like me.

14 January, 2013

Living in Italy - the full experience.

My roommates are both American, but the rest of my building is full of true Italians who speak little to no English, and let me say, Italian housing is quite the experience.  First off, we have to time everything because we have so little hot water.  The shower is kind of open, so even if the water is warm, the air is not.  We have to leave the window open in the bathroom so the moisture from showers doesn't create mold, leading to - you guessed it! - colder showers.  Quiet hours are extremely enforced, because apparently Italians are fans of immediately calling the police without asking the neighbors to quiet down.  Quiet hours are from 2300-700, and then again at siesta from 1300-1600.  Our neighbors seem to like to play Britney Spears' song Hit Me Baby One More Time once siesta is over, but just until the middle of the first chorus.
It's really hard to be quiet when we have the loudest lock in the entire world!  In order to lock the door, you have to insert your medieval key into the lock and turn it not once, not twice, not even three times, but four times.  And its loud.  And the door doesn't even close if you don't lock it.  It has to be locked at all times, basically.
It's Italian law to recycle, which is fine by me, except for the fact that their system is really hard to understand.  We have three cans to put garbage into, but none of them are just garbage.  We have a paper/cardboard/cardstock bin, a glass/plastics/metal bin, and a food/organic waste bin.  All of which have different days and times they need to be taken out.  My roommates and I haven't really had much garbage yet, but I'm not excited to get into that routine, because it confuses the crap out of me.  I still don't know where normal garbage goes.
We don't have a dryer, which is fine.  I was picturing, however, me hanging up my wet clothes on a clothesline on a balcony.  Maybe thats how it works for other people, but we don't have a balcony.  So, our drying racks go in the living room.  There are three of us, it takes a day or two for stuff to dry, so basically we will always have these things up.  Yay!
So today is the first day of classes, and I'm already bored!  My roommates have an 8:30, and since our lock is obnoxiously loud, they totally woke me up (not their faults though!).  So, I'm up at 8:09, and I don't have class until 1:30.  So now its 10, and I have nothing to do.   But today is my only day like that; Tuesdays and Thursdays I have an 11:30 and Wednesdays I have my onsite class at 9:15, and you have to travel to the site we're going to, so I'll probably have to leave my apartment at 8:30 or even earlier to make sure I can find it on time!!  Luckily I already have a friend in my class who we can work together to find these places.  I am honestly really excited to start classes, because I can finally meet the people I'll be seeing while I'm in Rome, plus I'm taking classes I'm really interested in!  I finally get to pursue my interests in Classics, even though I have no future plans with them.  Oh well, when in Rome, am I right?!

13 January, 2013

My first true day as a Roman tourist

The Vatican.  It sneaks up on you like that.
It's truly amazing that I have only been here for four full days.  My roommate Victoria and I totally bonded over pillow talk last night, and it feels like I've been here for weeks.  No, I don't know my way around Rome that well, just my neighborhood of Trastevere, and I finally saw the big sites yesterday for the first time, but still.  It's amazing.  I almost skipped orientation yesterday morning to sleep, but when I woke up around nine and realized I had nothing better to do that day, I got ready and went.  Thank God I did, because it was by far the best day of orientation yet.  We went on a walking tour of the city, to help us "get to know" Rome, even though no one was paying attention to how we got there.  Especially because Matteo, my guide, knows the city so well that he was taking us through these ridiculously similar side streets that I will never remember.  He also wasn't a very good tour guide in that he didn't have much to say about the places we went to.  But he got one thing right and that was all that mattered.
The Pantheon was by far my biggest "WHERE DID THAT
COME FROM" moment.  So gorgeous.  Thanks, Patrick,
for photobombing my best picture of it.
My first time seeing the Eiffel tower is a moment I will never forget.  I knew we were going to see the Eiffel tower, but we got out of a metro stop, walked past a building and BOOM there it was.  Just right in front of me.  Thats exactly what my tour was like yesterday.  We were talking on these side streets, you'd turn a corner, and BAM beautiful, ancient architecture.  It was drop dead gorgeous.  That's what I love about Rome, not only is it so old and so full of history, but the rest of the city is just wrapped around these ancient monuments.  I'm pretty sure I haven't seen one skyscraper in Rome, and I love that about this city.  Skyscrapers are NOT pretty, and whoever thought that cities should be full of them was really wrong.
Making my wish into the Trevi fountain... Paolo didn't
seem to get the memo.
After the tour, we ate lunch, and then some of my friends and I were talking about how we didn't want to waste the rest of the day.  So, we decided to go to Vatican city.  Yeah, we were bored so we decided to just WALK to the Pope's house.  I love my life.  It was so gorgeous, I cannot even tell you how much I love old, renaissance and whatnot art.  Just drop dead gorgeous.  Why that is no longer in style, I have no idea.  I seriously wish we had good art nowadays.
My Catholic grandmas should be jealous.
So - don't worry guys! - I've made a lot of friends.  Everytime I go off and do something with people, I try to go with different people, so I've actually met a lot of people on this trip who I would consider to be somewhat friends of mine.  The lack of unlimited calling and texting, however, is really putting a damper on my friendship making.  I was under the impression that texts to and from my cell phone provider, PicCell, were free for me and the person I'm sending them to.  That is not the case.  It costs about 0.19€ to send a text to someone (thats like, $0.25, which adds up fast) and it costs them money to receive it, too, if I'm not mistaken.  Last night at the bar, my friend Brad got a text and he said, "I get really excited when I get a text now, because it means someone likes me enough to spend that much money on me!" Because of this, getting together is really hard.  We don't really want to be texting each other all the time, and when we do, we don't really text back the second we get it, because we're not used to having our handy dandy PicCell phones on us at all times.  Anyway, its really annoying.  When we want to meet up at night, a lot of my friends have been using facebook messaging, so I'm on facebook way more than I want to be.  I kind of have to in order to make plans.  I'm also really nervous about making too close of friendships right now, because I haven't had classes yet.  I have no idea how often I'm going to run into these people, so I'm excited to get into the swing of things.
We ran into an American at the bar last night who was there to watch the Packers game.  She was at JCU last Spring, and decided to spend her last semester at JCU again because her friends from home are graduating.  She said you meet a wider variety of people in classes, and thats how she made her Italian friends.  The only Italians I've talked to are the ones who with manos morta, or "dead hands".  It's what they call it when someone lets their hand just sit awkwardly close to a part of you that their hand isn't supposed to be close to.  So yeah, Italians are actually really gross.  But this girl said that if you meet Italian men through an Italian female friend or if you get to know them as people and not as a random girl on the street, they don't treat you that way.  I was convinced that I wasn't going to have any true Italian friends, since I live with all Americans, but Italians go to my school!
What's really baffling me is the fact that I live in Rome of all places.  I saw the Colliseum from the outside yesterday, and I'm dying to go in.  However, I have four months to experience this, plus one of my classes goes to ancient parts of Rome.  So I really could lay around in my pajamas and watch a movie if I want! Not that I want to!  When in Rome, do as the Romans do!

10 January, 2013

Just a quick update.

Day 3: I have yet to meet my Paolo.

An Evening in Roma

Yesterday was my first full day in Rome, and it was actually amazing.  Orientation was actually freaking me out, since they're making it sound like we're all going to be pick pocketed or any amount of alcohol is going to make us incoherent enough for the Italian boys to take advantage of us, since the alcohol in Italy is apparently that much stronger than the U.S.  I'm not saying they're lying, I just think I can handle myself.  Well, my roommates and I were going to go on a free walking tour of Rome last night, but by 7pm, Victoria and I were absolutely exhausted.  So we decided to get dinner (at a Japanese restaurant... don't judge.  I don't want to overdo pasta) and gelato.  I got Snow White flavoring, which was Tahitian vanilla with apple and raspberry flavoring.  It was amazing to say the least, all for one euro.
By the time we get done with dinner, its about 22:00 (yes, I WILL get the hand of this military time, so you have to deal with it too), and we were ready for bed.  However, we got asked to go out, and in the spirit of making friends and living each day as best we can, Victoria and I decided to go out.  So we met up with some friends, both from Gustavus, though I had only met one of them once before, and we were taken to a popular bar among study abroad students, since one of the guys had been in Rome all of last semester.  The bar was fun, but nothing too special, just the four of us, plus another kid who eventually showed up at the bar, talking about how excited we were to be in Rome and how we wanted to travel everywhere.  It was just a breath of fresh air, finally being around other people who wanted to experience anything and everything.  I haven't really been able to experience Rome, not with all of the Orientation crap going on (dang I feel like such a freshman), but I'm surrounded by people who want to do so much more than shop and drink (though I will be doing those things... this IS Rome after all).
A picture I took of the same ruins earlier that day,
before I realized the significance of them!
Anyway, after leaving the bar to try and get back to our apartments at a "decent" hour, we stumbled across these ruins.  Yeah, we STUMBLED upon RUINS.  If you don't understand why I love this city, then I don't understand you.  Anyway, Reed proceeds to tell us that these ruins are where THE Julius Caesar was murdered.  I seriously am just baffled at the amount of history that I am surrounded by, and I am so excited that the majority of my schedule is about this amazing city.  I'm taking Italian 101, History of Rome and Italy, Classical Mythology, and Ancient Rome and Its Monuments, which is an onsite tour.  So be prepared for more of these "OHMYGOSH I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS HAPPENED HERE" moments.
In general, last night just got me so excited about being in Rome.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn't going on a more 'adventurous' study abroad, but here I get to LIVE in such an old city, and truly experience what it is like to live in Europe.  How cool is that?!  Seriously, I feel like I could stay here forever and it's only day 3.  Victoria and I have already been talking about how we don't want to leave in May.  Damn, I've fallen in love, and I've fallen fast.  I haven't even seen the Coliseum yet!