prep time.

I don’t think I gave myself a proper amount of time to mentally prepare because of how fast everything happened. The entire process was complete in less than three weeks from the time I did research to when I registered for my classes. I showed up in Rome, and my routine started again. Orientation. Make friends. Class. Eat gelato. Find a good coffee shop. Study. Procrastinate. Find better food. The tasks piled up as they always did. The lists began to overflow with items of goals – future and already completed.

or a class on how to make gelato
but who said you can’t break routine every so often with a gelato workshop.
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or maybe a picnic on the tiber river with homemade apple pie, mimosas, and some good people.

This past Sunday I stopped. My roommate and I took a walk to a lookout point and stood there for over an hour. That may not seem like a lot, but when you feel like each minute you are getting closer to the end of the best experience of your life you try to make everything count – to a point where things become calculating and more about mathematical equations figuring out what will lead to the most fulfillment than actually enjoying where you are. This thought process has led me to some regrets, missed sleep, and overly critical attitude. (Can you say serious case of fear of missing out – and I will openly admit that)? This weekend I realized that plans will change and as adaptable and independent as I am I can’t rely on other people to make me happy.

I am a relationship-oriented person, so typically those things make me the happiest. In Nashville I would rather sit down and have coffee with someone for 40 min than go to a party for three hours surrounded by 90 of my closest friends. Genuine. That’s what I crave, so why should that change in Italy? As fun as it’s been to go out with big groups of people and spend my days and evenings joking around and living wild and young and free that’s not where I’ve found the most joy. Some of my favorite memories to date are walks and talks just me and a friend. It’s where I’ve not only seen the most but I’ve also learned the most about my surroundings and whomever I’m with. They are special moments and I leave knowing my friendship with that person has changed for the better.

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it may be a hike to get here, but the experience shared in this place is pretty incredible.

This past week I got back in my routine. Living is not something you just decide to do and not hit any ruts in the road or without falling back into old habits. I didn’t completely fail though. Along the battle between school and adventure this week I managed to meet a whole lot of people in the most random of circumstances. The saddest part about the whole thing is that we’ve officially reached ‘hump day’. We’ve hit the mid point. From here on out there are fewer days left in the semester than the number of days we’ve been here. Now instead of counting up we are counting down. Instead of figuring out how to adapt to the culture here we are trying to figure out how we are going to go back home. It’s no longer about what we will miss the most in the states – knowing the hour we will return. Now, we are talking about what we won’t get in our respective cities of the US that are so readily available here, that includes everything from 1 euro cappuccinos to ancient ruins to the incredible people who we’ve become friends with.

You always hear about studying abroad and how incredible they are, but honestly the best thing anyone can do for you is tell you to have no expectations. Yes, read people’s blogs and do the research, but if you come in thinking you know what you will find you will more than likely always be disappointed. I will confirm the rumors and say that so far this has been one of the best experiences of my life, but it’s not a walk in the park either. A friend of mine recently told me that being uncomfortable is when you learn the most. So here’s to getting dirty, being uncomfortable and becoming better for it.

Surreality.

Definition: Marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream;
very strange or unusual : having the quality of a dream (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Truth: The past seven weeks I have been living in Rome. During my days I go to school, wander through what feels like the same alleyways – since they all look the same, eat much good food, and attempt to speak Italian.

Although this has been my reality it feels like a dream. Normal people don’t do this. If you had asked me four months ago if I thought I’d be studying in Rome next semester I would have laughed and said I wish. I am literally living the dream.

When I broke the news to my friends and told them about my impending sudden leave of absence from the university they stood in front of me speechless. How could I talk so casually about studying abroad in Rome, Italy?! One of the most beautiful cities in the world.

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how about that for a view on a study break?

This is what happened:

After a particular series of events last semester I decided to pick up and leave. Not only would I leave the school and state – I was going to leave the country. I picked up my computer and did a mad dash for about 72 hours. I had an overwhelming sense of peace about my spontaneous decision to go to Rome. For whatever reason the Lord put it in my head and said “Go.” so I ran. All the deadlines were past and I hit wall after wall, but I had a sense this was my path so I took my sledgehammer and steel-toed boots smashed down every wall and stomped my way through. Three months later and here we are.

Maybe it’s culture shock and maybe it’s not, but consistently the past week I’ve walked around and stopped with a dumbfounded smile on my face. I look like an absolute goof. My friends look at me knowing something is coming next, and typically this is how it goes. I grab their shoulders and look them in the eyes with my stupid grin and say, “We. Are in. ROME. Do you KNOW how crazy that is?? We live here. I mean we are actually living here for the next 3 months. We get to take casual walks around ancient ruins and see the Pope whenever he decides to make an appearance. WHAT?! That’s. Not. Real. It’s a beautiful day and we get to do whatever we feel like in one of the most enchanting places. People vacation here for a week because they want to see it and we are living here. No. I just can’t believe it.” And that concludes my rant.

The thing is when I have those moments I am so grateful for them. They mean: HELLO. Wake up call. Live your life and enjoy where you are because it’s temporary – just like every other moment in time. I may be in unbelief about my physical location and others I may be so disenchanted that I don’t even care that they are filming the new James Bond movie in front of my university.

The lesson remains the same. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Cherish every moment – no matter where you are. The people will make the places whether it’s a life long friend or someone you met while waiting for the tram whom you shared a laugh with. The thing is people may come and go, but you will always have the memories. What my reality looks like will always be different than the person next to me and sometimes you get to live in Rome for 5 months, but mostly you just get to live. Nothing has to be ordinary. It may be another day in the same old neighborhood, but think about how many people walked those same streets before you. How many stories would they have been able to tell?

every road may look the same, but they each lead to a different journey
every road may look the same, but they each lead to a different journey

Live consciously, not critically – there is a difference you know.

Awaken the inner curiosity in you. Live your life, not everyone has the same privilege. Take a walk and get lost (physically, in conversation, in thought) – it happens to be one of my favorite pastimes.

coffee.

It’s a scary thing when I admit that I am drinking more coffee and actually enjoying the taste of it. They say that breakfast is the most important meal, but here in Italy breakfast doesn’t exist. It saddens me to say it, because I am a huge fan of omelets, hash browns, pancakes, and BACON. That’s not what breakfast looks like across the ocean.

It’s not a bad thing really – It means I get to eat croissants filled with nutella every morning and not be judged because that’s actually normal. (Italians love their nutella let me tell you – nutella waffles, nutella crepes, nutella gelato. You name it they probably have it.) Coffee here is also really REALLY cheap. I’m talking 1 euro for a cappuccino, which is roughly $1.20. Even better the pastries are on average 1 euro as well, so you can spend a whopping total of 2 euro on breakfast. It’s not a bad life.

Your typical Italian breakfast.
Your typical Italian breakfast.

The biggest difference that I’ve had to adjust to is the culture around coffee. Coming from Nashville and even my suburb in Chicago coffee was the go-to hang out. If you want to catch up with someone then the typical thing is to ask to grab lunch or coffee – at least that’s what I do. Coffee is code for “I want to hang out with you and have a real conversation, so I can get to know you better or so I can check in and see how you are really doing.” It doesn’t matter if you drink coffee or not, because the idea is that you want to be friends and do something with them. If you ask someone to get coffee in Italy it means “I haven’t eaten anything all day because my breakfast is a cappuccino and croissant, so I need a shot of espresso.” Coffee means energy, not socializing. Most bars (coffee shops) aren’t even open on Sundays, which in America is the typical “I procrastinated all weekend and need to do homework, but I’d rather hang out with you and talk about life and how stressed I am with all the work we both have to do” day. When bars are closed you can’t hang out or work on homework in a location other than your apartment or the library. No one wants to be in either of those places on Sunday because the first means sleep, and the second also means sleep. Basically, the lack of open bars leads to further procrastination, lack of socialization, and no cheap coffee to stay awake.

coffee for one.
coffee for one. the only way to stay awake on sunday.

But in all seriousness, it’s definitely an adjustment. Instead of a casual coffee date on Sunday with a friend the next best option is a sit down meal. In a way that’s a little more nerve wracking because a meal seems like a bigger deal, especially dinner. In reality it’s all the same. I think we need to start looking at interactions with people with a different perspective. Instead of thinking about the time you will be losing or what you are trying to avoid (homework) or how uncomfortable it could be we need to think about how cool the other person is and how there is a reason we want to hang out with them and how they are worth the time.

[You actually can sit down in the afternoon and have coffee. It seems to be a cultural thing among college students around the world. Instead of naps, the young adults in Italy down the caffeine drinks amongst good company.]

One of the things I’m learning about Europe is that you don’t just ask, “How are you?” in passing. Those three words mean you care. It could lead to a half an hour venting session, an outburst of joy, or a five-minute rundown of the events of the past few hours. It means you care. Every time you ask to get lunch or coffee it’s not just something to say, it’s a plan. It doesn’t mean that you never text them about grabbing that dinner or going on that walk to catch up and grab gelato. Words aren’t just fillers here, they mean something. People are not overly polite – they don’t ask how you are out of courtesy, they ask because they actually want to know. “Good” is not a good enough response.

My friends here have taken to saying “FINE” stands for freaked out, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. Questions require a real response here and although that is slightly intimidating for someone who doesn’t like to talk about emotions (aka me) it’s a good challenge. Instead of superficial relationships it’s helped to form incredibly strong friendships with people that I have known for six weeks. Whether it’s because we knew we needed friends here or because we were more inclined to put ourselves on the line because we knew we’d only be here for 4 months we have been real. I know when my friends ask if I’m ok I can tell them the truth and if I don’t feel like answering them then they send someone over who they think I will talk to.

I may not be able to have my normal coffee dates here, but I have plenty of 2am texting rants, late night conversations while wandering the streets of Rome, and life chats while searching for artisan gelato. I may have only been with these new friends for six weeks, but they’ve kept me laughing. This experience wouldn’t be the same without them and we’re not even halfway through the journey.

All I have to say is I’m so grateful for the people here, but I’m also looking forward to my Sunday coffee dates again.

Pimms Good with friends.
Pimms Good with friends.