Rome is one of the most popular destinations for study abroad students and tourists alike. The city is overflowing with delicious food and wine, ancient history, and breathtaking sites. The intense popularity of Rome can create a difficult barrier when trying to become immersed in the Italian culture. Things like only spending time with other exchange students or attending a university that teaches only in English can create a bubble. Want to truly do as the Romans do? Then follow these steps and don’t get lost in the crowd.
1. Live With A Host Family
Host families are the best resource for international education. They provide a personal cultural guide. They know what neighborhoods to avoid, appropriate dress for the occasion, and the best restaurants. They can even offer up tips on where to meet other Italians and how to save some Euros. They already have social connections in the community so use them!
2. Speak Italian
Immersion cannot happen without knowing at least a little of the language. Get a tutor and study as much as possible. Students that have some prior Italian language experience should look for a program where at least some of their courses will be taught in Italian. If that’s not possible, apply for an internship or volunteer where the language is used on a daily basis and for extended periods. It will get easier after that initial hump so dive in and get as much practice as possible.
3. Volunteer Or Intern
In addition to language immersion, internships and volunteerism are a great way to build a network with local Italians. The road towards obtaining them may be frustrating, but students who are able to do it often end up with priceless connections. Host universities are a good place to start when it comes to finding the right opportunity. However, most information can be found online. Rome is great because there is a multitude of government, embassy, NGOs, and other international offices looking for help. Fluency in Italian is not necessarily a prerequisite. Many are happy to have native English speakers!
If you are unable to obtain an internship, contacting these groups and offering to volunteer for an event is a great way to still get involved. Remain persistent, patient, and flexible as you navigate the Italian system. Expect to reach out multiple times without hearing an answer and don’t give up! Those who contact an office multiple times are more likely to have their resume read. Before applying, make sure to convert your resume to the standard European (CV) format. Also, check the eligibility requirements because some are only available to European Union citizens.
4. Join Clubs
Schools abroad usually do not have clubs or sports affiliated with the university, so find a local community group that sounds appealing and ask to join. Italians are very outgoing, but an effort still has to be made in order to convince them that you’re serious. One great way to break the ice is to ask a classmate to go to a Roma game.
5. Create a Daily Food Routine
Start the morning off at a local café and plan to visit regularly. Like the stereotypical American bartender, the Italian barista is usually a friendly and patient listener. Become friends and they will help you become comfortable with local customs and the language. Cook at home for other meals. Not only will it save you money, but exchange students can find out so much about their Italian neighbors by visiting the local market or grocery store on a regular basis. It’s basically an international classroom. It is a great place for practicing beginner’s Italian. Plus, who knows, you may make a friend asking about produce!
6. Avoid Tourist Traps (Sometimes)
Campo de Fiori is great for its daily market, but for those looking to get the genuine Italian experience, it should be avoided at night. The piazza is surrounded with rowdy American-style bars and expats. Instead, explore Trastevere to meet locals. Wander the cobblestoned streets, relax with a three-hour dinner complete with local wine, and finish the night by people watching in one of the many piazzas. If the restaurant offers you an English menu—leave.
7. Take An On-Site Class
The Roman Forum is impressive by itself, but looking from the perspective of an on-site class really gives an extra level of understanding. Professors may also share their favorite lesser-known sites that would have been left undiscovered. If the class is in photography or drawing, you will have genuine souvenirs to take home. If an on-site class is not offered, ask a professor if they can arrange a class trip. Also, these classes will commute everywhere on foot. Not only will this help work off all those calories from delicious Italian pastas and pizzas, but it is the best way to feel more comfortable with the layout of the city.
8. Travel Outside Rome
The Italian boot is endlessly diverse! Traveling from the heel and up the calf will only create a deeper perspective on what makes Rome, Roman. When searching for accommodations read the reviews carefully and pick the safe, clean hostel that offers more than a place to sleep. Many of them will have staff who will be excited to show you the area.
9. Write a Blog
Spending too much time talking with family and friends back home can take away from the immersion experience and increase homesickness. Let a blog take care of it. They help exchange students think more deeply about the experience abroad while it is happening. Then after returning home it provides a reference for processing the experience, not to mention a treasure trove of memories.
10. Stay as Long as Possible
Rome wasn’t built in a day! There is so much to explore. A year is better than a semester and a semester is better than a summer. The longer the stay, the greater the learning opportunities. It may take a few months just to immerse yourself so if more time is a possibility definitely do it.