Lauren Donahue - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

A number of my friends, including my sorority big and two of my best friends, studied abroad. I look up to my big and heard my best friends talking about it for months before they went. It had always been in the back of my mind, even before I got to college, as something I want to do. I love traveling and have been to Europe before, but only for vacations. My brother also studied abroad and absolutely loved his experience. I wanted to have that same eye-opening, fulfilling experience of living in another country and experiencing a completely different culture. I decided to go in the spring because it was more convenient for my class schedule.

I wanted to live in another country, explore a new part of the world, and push myself to do what scares me.
View of Rome, Italy from the Orange Garden
Overlooking Rome (with St. Peter's Basilica in the background) from the Orange Garden

Why did you choose IES Abroad?

I chose IES Abroad because my home university recommended that program, and at our study abroad fair in the fall of 2015, I talked to the IES Abroad representative and really enjoyed her welcoming and open attitude. In addition, IES ABroad had a wide selection of courses that appealed to me! I was looking for a program that had enough courses to satisfy my wide range of interests; I wanted to take classes outside of my field of study at my home university and IES Abroad fulfilled that requirement for me.

What was your favorite part about Rome?

Rome is nicknamed "The Eternal City," and it has been said that Paris and Rome are sister cities, because "Only Paris is worthy of Rome, and only Rome is worthy of Paris." I can confirm this. Rome is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The windy, narrow, cobblestone streets covered in ivy, the tiny gelato and sandwich shops on every corner, the world-famous museums, the Sistine Chapel (!!!!), the impressive Basilica di San Pietro, the wide Tiber river, the stunning view of Rome from Gianicolo Hill, Piazza Trilussa at nighttime, the Mouth of Truth, the rose garden, Fontana di Trevi at night time, the trams, warm suppli from the downstairs store, and most importantly, cacio e pepe (an absurdly good pasta dish). I simply cannot name my favorite part of Rome, because I love everything that is is comprised of!

What made your experiences studying abroad in Rome unique?

My experience was unique because I came in with zero Italian language skills and chose to live in a homestay. My host mother spoke some English, which was great, but that only went so far. I decided to take Intensive Italian, which is the introductory Italian course that covers two semesters of Italian in just one semester! The class met eight hours each week, and even though that sounds like a lot, it was eight wonderful hours.

My professor, Monica, was one of the most dedicated, kind, and helpful professors I have ever had. My italian class was always entertaining as we struggled through complicated verb tenses together, becoming closer each week. As our course progressed, my Italian skills developed and I became able to converse with my host family about more complex and interesting topics. At the end of the semester, my family was very impressed with how adept I had become at speaking.

Being able to take an intensive course with an incredible professor, and apply what I learned to my personal life and activities of daily life in my homestay, was extremely rewarding.

Intensive italian was by far my favorite class that I took, and coupled with my homestay, the experience of learning and speaking Italian in Italy was very unique for me.

Tivoli Gardens in Italy
Exploring the beautiful gardens of Villa d'Este in Tivoli, just outside of Rome

How did the local IES Abroad staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff did a great job supporting me through the transition of adjusting to life in a big city far away from my friends and family. I struggled a fair amount with remaining too connected to my friends back in the States, oftentimes forgoing opportunities in Rome because I was talking to my friends back home. The health and safety advisor talked to me about this challenge and offered me great advice on focusing more on myself and my limited time in Rome.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish that I had researched more before leaving for my semester abroad. I had a great guidebook and maps of Rome, but I wish I had planned ahead a bit more. A list of places I definitely want to visit, including cities in Italy, museums in Rome, major and lesser known sights in Rome, and major events happening while I was studying abroad, definitely would have helped. I saw some incredible things but wish I could have done more!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

A typical weekday consisted of waking up early to my host mother hustling my host brother out the door in the morning, and then I’d roll back over, hoping to sleep for another half hour before my alarm went off. After snoozing my alarm twice, I jumped out of my twin bed and opened the curtains, pushing my windows out and open; they were held open by shutters. I hopped in the shower, surrounded only by a small platform and curtain, so I did my best to keep the water inside.

I would then get dressed, pack my backpack, and say “buongiorno!” (good morning!) to my host father, Giuseppe. He would greet me and offers me some freshly made espresso. I would politely decline, but smile and begin to make my breakfast. Ten minutes later, I'd be out the door and on my way to Piazza di San Calisto, a large open air square with a daily produce market, to meet my best friend Meredith. We would wave to our friend who sold produce and head on our way to school.

We would walk to school, but we had to walk quickly as it was a 25-minute walk. We would cross the Tiber River on Ponte Sisto, a quaint footbridge with an amazing view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Classes flew by, with a quick lunch at Imperial Pasta down the street from our center. We would devour our hot, perfectly cooked penne with carbonara sauce on the terrace of our center. After class I would go to the library and chat with friends, print boarding passes for upcoming weekend trips, and work on assignments. I walked home with a friend or two, and we would go a different way, passing by big shop windows and Chiesa Nuova.

I relaxed after school, chatting with my host dad about what I learned that day in Italian class, and sometimes I’d go for a run along the Tiber with my friend Cassie. I worked on some homework before dinner, set the table for my host family, and then sat down to dinner around 9:30 p.m. with my host family and various other relatives and friends. We enjoyed a lovely meal prepared fresh every night. The food was incredibly mouthwatering, and I always wanted at least two helpings. We watched The Voice: Italy after dinner together in the living room and dining room, and then I would head back to my room to finish up some homework and study for my exams. I’d be exhausted everyday, because I always walked multiple miles around the city!

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoyed going on runs in Villa Doria Pamphili, finding geocaches around the city of Rome, browsing bookstores and clothing shops, eating in every restaurant that I deemed cute or appetizing, attending special museum events, people-watching in piazzas, and talking to my host parents about everything I thought about Italy, asking them questions about what they thought about Americans, and requesting their recommendations on where to travel. I loved cooking meals with my friends in our apartments and watching movies, swapping stories about what crazy adventure or interaction we experienced that day.

Tourists at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece
Friends at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived in a homestay with an Italian family. My host family's apartment was located in the Trastevere neighborhood, a lively and quaint neighborhood full of families, a daily fresh produce market, busy restaurants, and multiple piazzas. It was an incredibly busy and fun neighborhood, with something going on every single night of the week until the wee hours of the night! I loved my host family and the location of their apartment. I had a large room to myself in my apartment and shared a bathroom with my host brother, who was always kind to me.

My host family loved talking to me and hearing about what I learned and saw during my time in Rome, which I really appreciated. They always included me and introduced me to the guests at their elaborate dinner parties. They invited me on family outings and were very welcoming to my own family when my own family visited Italy from the States.

What I liked best was the opportunity to live in a true Italian home and experience what life is like for a typical family in Rome. I also loved that my host father was so welcoming to my questions in the kitchen. He taught me and my best friend how to make Tiramisu, let me help make homemade pizza (the single most delicious thing I have ever tasted), and even came with me to the reception that IES Abroad put on for homestay students and their families!

What is one thing every student should know before studying abroad in Rome?

Definitely make sure that you consider the area you want to be in very heavily. If you like nightlife and lots of restaurants, find a city that provides that. If you want to be outside, hiking and being in nature, find a city or country that provides that. Definitely make sure you are ready for whatever country and city you choose! It will be a transition no matter what, but prepare yourself for what city you chose. I had never lived in a big city before and didn't really research how large Rome actually is, how the traffic and huge population size impacts everyday life: something you should definitely consider and know before participating in the Rome program is if you like big cities or not!

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

I am much more easygoing. I am more confident in myself and my abilities to travel independently, make the best decisions for myself independently, and handle new situations. I still enjoy traveling to new places and want to continue to explore places I have never been to in America. I am making more of a conscious effort to expand my post-graduation options to possibly living outside of the United States, and I encourage other students to study abroad!

Would you recommend IES Abroad to others? Why?

Yes, definitely! I think IES Abroad is a comprehensive program that offers many opportunities for personal, academic, and professional growth. They care about their students and want to better the program as much as possible.