Study abroad; two words that I could talk about endlessly. I was lucky enough to study abroad in Rome for a semester and traveled almost every weekend to another country. I met diverse people, ate some of the most superb food I could ever imagine, went to places you only read about, and became as “cultured” as I could be.
Here I am, an American trying to “blend” into a culture that has it’s own language, customs, traditions and food. I was thrown into a world where I was unfamiliar with so many things and struggled at first trying to find my footing. It took me a solid week to even begin to scratch the surface on how the Italians lived, and it was only then I would say I started the process of becoming cultured.
I opened myself up to a city that had so much to offer. Here are four ways you can become more cultured by studying abroad:
I knew zero Italian going into my semester abroad. Sure, I am 100% Italian and knew basic words, phrases, and understood most things, but I couldn’t actually speak it. This came back to bite me in the butt when I visited my Mom’s side of the family and I stood there looking like an idiot. BUT, I quickly learned key phrases and words, which ultimately helped me get around, order from restaurants, and somewhat converse with the locals.
Take the Road Less Traveled
While living in Italy, I had the opportunity to travel to places most people would never get a chance to go. Besides visiting the more popular cities such as Florence, Pisa, and Venice, I traveled to places such as Assisi, Vasto, Fiesole, Tivoli, and the Amalfi Coast. Although these cities do get their share of tourists, it’s on a smaller scale. Take Fiesole for instance; it’s probably a place you NEVER heard of. My friends and I stayed at a bed and breakfast on a vineyard that produced phenomenal olive oil and wine. Our guesthouse led right into an olive tree grove, which overlooked surrounding mountains and the rest of Florence. No pictures or snaps did it justice.
Food and Drink
Other than trekking through Italy, I was able to eat and drink as much as my stomach allowed me to. I was constantly looking for the best pasta dish, or find hole-in-the wall places in neighborhoods that no one had been to. I told myself to keep an open mind, or “open stomach” if you will, to try foods I have never had or even liked before. A few of the newly discovered dishes I enjoyed included pizza with smoked salmon and arugula, pasta carbonara (pasta with egg and bacon), rice balls filled with fresh mozzarella and butter, and my absolute favorite, cacio arrosto, a baked cheese dish only found in the Abruzzi region.
Get to Know Your City
Between traveling, stuffing my face with pasta, and trying to converse in my broken Italian, I did my best to discover every inch of Rome. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to take an art and history class, where I was forced out of my comfort zone to travel to different landmarks, churches, and museums to learn more about the Eternal City. I would often go out by myself to explore different neighborhoods and attractions. My favorite neighborhood was Trastevere; I liked to think it was the Soho/Village of Rome.
There is no textbook definition of becoming “cultured” once you study abroad; trust me I’ve looked endlessly. What I can tell you is that by engaging with the people, places, language, food, and sights, you begin to open yourself up to a world rich with culture. Your study abroad experience is what you make of it. Ultimately, I feel like a more cultured individual for opening myself up and discovering a city in a way that left me feeling like I was truly at home after living there for a semester. Don’t be afraid to see how other individuals live and what makes the city you study abroad in so unique; I guarantee you’ll come back a happier and more cultured person.
Featured Image via Alessandra Barone.