November 28: a normal day in Italy, Thanksgiving in the States. This is my first one outside of the country, and it’s a special one indeed: my family came to visit me for Thanksgiving break!
I met my parents in Venice after a 4-hour train ride from Rome. They have always wanted to go sightseeing around Europe. What better place to start than in Italy, where I’m studying abroad this semester?
The moment I stepped outside of the train station, I knew that it was flood season in Venice (Venezia in Italian). It was cloudy and a bit chilly outside – glad I was wearing a warm jacket! The water had risen above the canals and flowed onto the streets! There were even raised platforms for pedestrians to walk above the water. It really is the Floating City!
Mom brought me a pair of plastic boot covers, and I gladly put them on. I was going to need them, in these flooded streets! At least the water was receding as time went on. It would have been quite an experience if the water went up to my knees!
We had lunch in a restaurant by the busy “parking” center for the taxis, gondolas, and ferries of the city. All the modes of four-wheeled transportation you would see in cities like Rome and Florence are completely replaced by boats! We saw a few police boats and aquatic ambulances as well.
After lunch, we went to the Piazza San Marco. Not only did we see St. Mark’s Basilica, but we also got a more hands-on experience in Venice thanks to the pigeons in the square! The birds there are not afraid of humans and flock toward anybody who has crumbs for them. There were pigeons landing on everybody! A lot of them landed on me! One of them stayed on my shoulder for a long time. Some of them perched on Mom and Dad as well.
We strolled alongside the water (which, thankfully had receded enough for us to wear our shoes without the plastic covers) for a bit and took in the views of Venice. I bought a small Venetian mask and had fun posing with it near the bridges!
For Thanksgiving dinner, we tried some Venetian food alongside the classic Italian dishes. We had a seafood appetizer complete with fresh shrimp, slices of smoked salmon, boiled octopus, and some sarde in saor, sweet-and-sour Venetian sardines. We shared some classic carbonara and some mushroom pizza. We didn’t have any apple pie, but I had some gelato for dessert!
The three of us enjoyed seeing the city at night. The water shimmers in the glow of the lamps, and the light inside the ferries stand out from the rest of the scene. Stunning views!
As I wind down after our Thanksgiving adventure in Venice, I find myself more grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this semester.
I am thankful for the Holy Cross Office of Study Abroad for helping me apply to the Temple Rome program and for guiding me through the entire process. My journey here would not have been possible without their support.
I am thankful for the Temple Rome staff for welcoming me to their program and for helping me adjust to my life in Rome. I am still using the advice they gave me at orientation, and I learned a lot from them throughout the semester.
I am thankful for my professors at Temple Rome for teaching me this semester. I love all of my classes and enjoying learning new things from them every day. They have been very kind and helpful since Day One.
I am thankful for my classmates at Temple Rome for their openness and their kindness. I enjoy spending time and going on adventures with them.
I am thankful for my parents for being supportive of me while I am on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for the semester. I’m glad I can call them sometimes, and I’m honored to host them in Italy over Thanksgiving break. Hope my Italian is good enough!
I am thankful for my experiences this semester. Studying abroad is not easy, but the challenges I’ve faced in a different country away from home are rewarding. I’ve grown braver and more adventurous in my time here. I’ve honed life skills that had only started developing back home. I feel like an adult, managing all my time for classes and chores and planning all of my trips from scratch. Learning to be independent is a valuable asset to have, and I know that it will serve me well.
Lastly, I am thankful to my viewers and fans online. I don’t know all of you in person, if at all, but I am happy that you’re reading my blog and following me on my adventures abroad. I’m flattered by the kind feedback some of you have given me at the beginning of the semester. Thank you for coming on this journey. Know that I am thinking of you this Thanksgiving, no matter where I am and no matter where you are.
I may not be home in the United States to celebrate with you, but I’m glad I can still be thankful to all of you abroad. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
One thing I’ve learned to appreciate during my semester abroad is the opportunity to not only learn things firsthand through field trips in the city, but also to apply what I learn in class to new experiences outside the city.
This is the case with Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, a political science class that has taken me to places as close as downtown Rome, under 30 minutes away on the Metro, and as far away as Lisbon, a three-hour flight from Fiumicino airport.
I went to Lisbon for an academic excursion in the middle of November with not only Professor Rinelli and my classmates from Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, but also with Professor Bordignon and her Contemporary Politics of Europe class. We took a bus to the airport on Thursday evening and flew to Lisbon.
We arrived late that night, ate at an American(!) diner (well, what better way to welcome a group of American students than with some American cuisine?), and checked into our hotel. I fell asleep instantly and was ready to see the city the next morning.
After breakfast at the hotel, our professors gave us 24-hour passes for the Lisboa Metro. We used them at a Metro station close to the hotel and switched to another train before we got to our destination: the coast.
After some ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the sight of the shore (and at a bridge in the distance, which looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco), we continued on our visit to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA for short).
We learned about the organization and their role in regulating maritime transport in Europe through a short presentation from an EMSA representative. From the 270 representatives from 28 countries in the European Union, many are from Portugal and Italy. EMSA has been making maritime regulations since 2002 and has added two major revisions to their policies in response to human migration in the Mediterranean since 2013.
I was fascinated by all the expansive technology and protocols behind the scenes of maritime safety. In particular, I was intrigued at how EMSA monitors and communicates with ships through satellites and drones.
We asked a lot of questions during and after the lecture. Some of them were about EMSA’s domains in the international scene. EMSA is a broad organization that operates on the European level. We learned from the answer to a question about what EMSA can do about a region-specific issue, such as pollution from cruise ships in Venice, that it is up to each member state to handle local incidents.
I asked a question about EMSA’s involvement in cases of irregular migration aboard European ships. I learned that the organization investigates incidents that happen during maritime transport and works to determine the root causes and contributing factors behind the case. However, it is up to the member states to investigate serious incidents, such as deaths of migrants on ships. EMSA does keep records of incidents in state-by-state logs for its database, which can be accessed for legal cases in the future.
After the interesting presentation at EMSA, we headed to the local market and had an hour to explore by ourselves. I loved walking around the Time Out Market in central Lisbon. I couldn’t wait to try some Portuguese food for the first time!
Excited to try some Portuguese food in the market!
Seafood is a staple in Portuguese cuisine, and the Lisbon market was bustling with seafood chefs and customers. I saw trays and tanks of fresh fish and crustaceans on my stroll through the stands.
My friend and I decided to eat at a cleverly-named shop called “Sea Me at the Market,” where we ordered fresh seafood. I tried some cuttlefish with a twist: it was fried in black tempura! Quite different from the calamari I tried at the beach in Rome. I heard from my friend that the pan-seared tuna was very good as well. We shared some bacalhau (Portuguese for cod) in some savory fishcakes and enjoyed it with some tomato rice. Delicious!
After lunch, we met outside the market and took the Metro to our next stop: the Centro Nacional de Apoio à Integração de Migrantes (CNAIM), or National Center of Aid and Integration of Migrants. I had seen the migrant center near Termini station in Rome on a previous trip for Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, but I could tell that this center was going to be much different from the one in Rome.
On our tour inside the building, we stopped by the gallery next to the first-floor waiting room. There were photographs of migrants from a camp in Greece displayed on the wall with powerful messages next to them. I found the placement of these two-dimensional black-and-white photos next to a waiting room full of three-dimensional people fascinating. I thought about the stories and message each migrant told through their photographs. I wonder what stories the migrants waiting just outside have to tell, and how they might feel about the messages in the gallery.
We learned from our guide that CNAIM has been providing a variety of services to migrants of all backgrounds and legal statuses since 2004. 75% of its funding comes from other places in Europe while the remaining 25% comes from the Portuguese government. The center in Lisbon is the largest one in the country, bigger than the other two in Portugal. The organization offers answers to necessary questions about the integration process and has partnerships with other entities, including over 100 other centers in different municipalities.
CNAIM offers its services in 15 different languages on site and has access to a support in 60 languages through the telephone support line. There is also a small kindergarten near the first-floor waiting room, where the children of migrants going through the immigration process in the center can learn and play as their parents are in meetings with staff. With so much in one center, I was not surprised to learn that CNAIM has won many awards for what they do.
On our way upstairs, we walked past the health office, the board of immigration services, the family reunification services, the social security office, the ministry of justice, the education office, and the legal support office. Each office provides general information to migrants who need guidance and referrals to other centers for their cases.
In addition to the row of offices, there is also a mentoring program at the center, where over 1000 Portuguese citizens volunteer to mentor migrants one-on-one based on specific needs and skillsets. CNAIM is partnered with 60 other programs and has a 10-session entrepreneurship class that teaches and advises migrants who want to start businesses in Portugal. The program aims to promote networking and workshops with Portuguese professionals and encourages former trainees to share their knowledge with migrants currently in the classes.
After learning about all the services CNAIM offers migrants, we headed into a separate hall for a Q&A session. On our way there, I couldn’t help but think about the migrant center in Rome when I walked past a mural of a woman reading a book. It reminded me of the painting of an African woman facing Dante, the father of Italian literature, that I saw near Termini. The image represents a migrant working toward integration into society, and this is the message I got from the mural at CNAIM.
During the Q&A session, my classmates asked a lot of questions and learned a lot from the answers. I was happy to hear that there was no political backlash against CNAIM when it opened, and the Lisbon community is accepting of the center and the migrants it helps. I also learned that many new arrivals in the country first learn about CNAIM and its services through other migrants. The center opens at 8:00 a.m., but there are people waiting outside the door since midnight for CNAIM’s services.
I learned a bit about Portuguese citizenship as well. I was surprised to hear that there are no questions about the history or government of Portugal on the citizenship test: there is only a language section. As a naturalized US citizen, I couldn’t imagine a citizenship test without a question about the branches of government or years of a specific war.
Unlike American citizenship, Portuguese citizenship works under ius sanguinis, which is Latin for “right of blood.” People who are descended from Portuguese citizens are Portuguese by law. The United States works under ius soli, “right of soil,” which grants American citizenship to anyone born in the country.
Our last stop after our visit to CNAIM was the School of Law at the University of Lisbon, a public research university in the city and the largest in the country. It rained a bit after we walked out of the Metro station near the university. We did see a rainbow afterward, and I took it as a sign of a good visit ahead.
We went on a short tour inside the school. The University of Lisbon was founded in 1911 and holds over 100 years of history. We walked through its historic lecture rooms and its huge faculty room, which has paintings of faculty on its walls.
We finished our visit with a special lecture from Professor Nuno Cunha Rodrigues, a friend of Professor Rinelli’s. He spoke about how Portugal is different from other countries in Europe. There are fewer political parties in Portugal, and none of them can be considered “extreme.” The country is also geographically removed from issues that other European nations are addressing in the political scene. There are also no regions and only one dialect of Portuguese in the entire country.
Before our trip, I remember how Professor Rinelli mentioned that Portugal was a “political exception.” I heard in the Q&A session at CNAIM that Portugal is not a racist country, and Professor Rodrigues’ lecture about Portuguese history helped me understand why this is the case. Portugal was, in his words, “traumatized” by a brutal dictatorship and a horrible war that was claimed more Portuguese lives than the Vietnam was did American soldiers. Younger Portuguese citizens fled during this period in the mid-20th century, and since then, the country has been more open to foreigners.
I was intrigued by the lecture. In high school, I only learned about Portugal in the context of the 15th and 16th centuries, when Spain and Portugal split the “New World” along a vertical line on the map. I don’t remember learning much about Portugal outside of the Age of Discovery, the Spice Trade and a little bit from the Scramble for Africa. This was my chance to learn more about the history of Portugal.
Through my questions at the end of the lecture, I learned that Portugal was actually on the same side as the US during World War I! It must have been a lot, since Portugal had an unstable government for almost two decades after its monarchy was abolished in 1910.
Portugal was also one of the only countries that remained neutral and was relatively unaffected by World War II. During the Cold War, Portugal was allied with the US it was isolated from the situation because of a war with Angola, which was a Portuguese colony fighting for its independence at the time. There was also a military revolution in the 1970’s that overthrew a dictatorship that had been in place since the 1930’s. I was in awe of how a brutal dictatorship ended so peacefully with the nonviolent Carnation Revolution.
In closing, Professor Rodrigues stated that Portugal is a country with over 800 years of history and has some of the most stable borders in the world. Its people are unified under a strong national identity. You don’t learn about that in a high-school European history class! I’m glad I got to learn a lot of new things from our visit.
After the lecture at the university, we went to explore the city by ourselves. My friend and I headed downtown to look at some restaurants. We settled for a small spot near the theaters of the city. We shared a plate of sauteed prawns with the heads and shells still on. I’m glad I got to eat some fresh prawns before I left Portugal! I was curious about them at the market.
We took a taxi back to our hotel and fell asleep quickly after our busy day in Lisbon. I couldn’t believe I experienced that much in just one day!
You would think that after doing so much in one day, that would already make for a pretty full trip. But wait, there’s Moor!
The next morning, we learned about the multicultural history of Lisbon, starting with the influence of the Moors from North Africa. We met José Linu, our guide from the Batoto Yetu Association, an organization that promotes traditional dances from Africa and leads post-colonial tours of Lisbon, at the Igreja de São Domingos.
I first learned about the Moors in my high-school European history class. They were Muslims from North Africa who settled in the Iberan peninsula in the 8th century. I remember reading about how the Spanish Inquisition drove them out of the area in the 13th century.
At the beginning of our tour, we learned about the African influence in Lisbon. The very square we were standing in was a major meeting place for Africans in Portugal. The church itself was an important religious location for Africans who were freed from slavery, and they referenced African saints in the regions. The priests there were of African descent as well.
The church survived two earthquakes and a fire between the 14th and 17th centuries. It was almost completely destroyed by the natural disasters, and there are still signs of the destruction inside.
José gave us some ginger candy as a little pick-me-up on our tour. He said that, according to African tradition, there was magic in ginger candy. I was more than happy to take a few pieces: I grew up eating ginger candy in the United States, and according to Chinese tradition, ginger has multiple medical benefits on the body.
José told us about the cultural importance of Fado, a genre of music that originated in Lisbon. Fado is similar to the Blues in the United States, in that it is known for its melancholic tones. Homesickness is a major theme in Fado music. He said that Fado has influences from African dance, beginning as a lively dance performed in the streets of Lisbon. We saw artwork relating to Fado and the multiculturalism of Lisbon in the historic Moor area of the city which is known for its tunnels and stairs.
This part of the city has seen a lot of cultural exchange throughout history, and it was here that some Portuguese nobles from the upper end of society mixed with the locals who performed Fado dance and music outdoors. Eventually, Fado was brought from the streets into salons and the music lost its lively percussion. José told us that it is important not only to promote new artistic-cultural movements, but also to remember the roots of cultural gems such as Fado.
Further along in our tour, we stopped by a long street teeming with customers from multicultural shops. We saw one of the older buildings from the center, which survived the earthquake of 1755. Some people called the event a “punishment for Fado.” I would call it a natural disaster completely unrelated to human activity.
We learned about the colonial history of Portugal. There are streets named after former colonies. José, who works at the migration center in Lisbon alongside his job promoting African traditions and leading colonial tours with the Batoto Yetu Association, said that he is working on education people about the often-overlooked history of the country. It is important to remember the past of a place, even if it is not very well known.
We finished our tour with a walk in the park and a group photo in front of the School of Medicine of the University of Lisbon. We stood in front of the statue of José Tomás de Sousa Martins, a doctor who treated and helped find medical aid for the lower-class people of the city. Our tour guide José mentioned that he was from African descent and hailed as a hero, with people still leaving gifts and tokens of appreciation at the base of the statue today.
What better place to end our tour in front of a statue after a walk in the park?
After we thanked José for the tour, we had some free time to explore the city before our flight back to Rome. I decided to take the Metro to the Amoreiras Shopping Center to buy some gifts. The place looked like a skyscraper, and I was excited to find out that I can get a panoramic view of the entire city from the rooftop! I bought some handbags for my friends and family (and a cute hat for myself), had some fresh tuna (can’t leave Portugal without trying some!), and bought a ticket to the rooftop. What a view, from the highest point in Lisbon!
I left the shopping center very happy with my trip to Lisbon. I was thinking about everything I learned on the plane ride back to Rome. I’m glad I had the chance to study abroad not only in Rome, but also briefly in Lisbon as part of this academic excursion. This is not an opportunity I’ve ever had before, and the unique experience has made my semester abroad even more special and memorable.
November 9 marks the end of my second month in Rome! I haven’t quite figured out why time seems to pass by so quicky: does time flow differently in this time zone?
Speaking of time zones, I learned that daylight savings ends during the last Sunday of October in Italy. In the United States, daylight savings time ended on the first Sunday of November. For one week, I was only five hours ahead of my family in Boston and everyone at Holy Cross. But now that it’s past the first Sunday of November, we’re back to a six-hour time difference.
This was one of the unexpected things I learned in my two months abroad in Rome. I’ve picked up so much in my time here that I don’t know where to start in my two-month reflection!
I do know that I have adjusted very well to life in Rome in my second month here. I’m learning more Italian both in and out of class, and I feel comfortable asking for directions or holding conversations with people I encounter on my walks around the city. I also feel more comfortable shopping for groceries, clothes, and shoes in full Italian.
I’ve learned to say “troppo grande!” (too big!) when one of the boots I tried on at the local shoe store was a too big and “troppo piccolo!” (too small!) when it was too small. Italy uses European sizes for clothes and shoes, so it’s taken a lot of trial and error to find the right sizes for me. From all the “troppo grande!” and “troppo piccolo!” I heard myself say, I have figured out that I can wear size 37 shoes. Very different from the sizes I wear in the United States.
At the grocery stores, I like paying in cash. Rome is a very cash-heavy city, so definitely withdraw a lot of cash at once, keep some in the safe at home, and pay with bills! Also: bring your own grocery bags! I keep a foldable cloth bag in my backpack and purse at all times, so I won’t be amassing any plastic bags in the apartment!
At the cash register, I sometimes hear the cashiers ask me if I have 1-Euro or 50-cent coins so they can give me fewer bills and coins in change, and I like seeing them smile when I give them what they’re asking. It feels nice to make someone’s job a little easier by listening to what they say and understanding what they’re looking for!
Besides becoming for familiar with and comfortable in my environment, I have to say that I’ve really come out of my shell on campus! The president of Temple Rome came to visit us a while back, and there was an open-mic session where students could talk about their experiences in Rome so far in front of everyone.
I’m not usually much of a talker, but for some reason I was feeling bold enough to improvise a speech on the spot. I talked a lot about how I love seeing the ancient and modern worlds merge together on my adventures abroad, and how much I love the artifacts in my favorite Metro station. I got a few laughs and a lot of applause. I was told afterward that the president was impressed and amused by my impromptu speech. Glad this whim of mine amused someone!
I was also happy to be featured as Student of the Week on Temple Rome’s website a while back. I came across someone asking me if I wanted to answer a few questions for the website, and I thought, “why not?” To this day, I laugh at the answers I gave in that interview. I’m proud of the advice I gave at the end of it, though. I think a good balance of studying, resting, and travelling is key to a good experience abroad. Let’s not overwork ourselves!
I managed to sign up for the last Italian cooking class of the semester. And good timing, too – I almost missed this opportunity! I had fun kneading dough. It feels a lot like helping my mom knead dough for pork buns at home. The pasta was delicious. Partly because it was pasta, but also partly because I put in some effort to make it from scratch!
In addition to pasta, I’ve also enjoyed exploring Piazza Vittorio (which I wrote about in one of my previous posts) and trying out of different types of food. I was delighted to find some good Asian restaurants there and enjoyed eating at a local pho place. The taste of the beef broth and the texture of the meat, vegetables, and fresh rice noodles…it reminds me of how my sister and I would get pho together sometimes. It’s just what I needed as the weather grows colder in Rome. (Yes, it does get cold here! Just not at the same as New England.)
I’ve been cooking a lot this semester, more than I have ever cooked in my life! But sometimes, when I get sick of even my own cooking and really miss the wonderful Chinese dishes my mother makes at home, I eat out. I’ve tried a lot of classic Italian dishes, but when the homesickness strikes, nothing beats a meal at the local Chinese restaurant! I ate some rice, pork ribs, and spicy green beans for lunch one day and felt much better afterward.
When I’m outside of class and not at the residence, I like to go exploring in the city. I’ve gotten used to using not only my monthly pass for the Metro, but also my trusty Musei in Comune (MIC) card. This handy pass grants me free admission to a lot of museums in the city! Makes seeing remnants of the ancient world a lot more affordable. It reminds me of how I can get free admission to the Worcester Art Museum with my Holy Cross ID back in the States! (Check out an article about seeing ancient artifacts at the WAM I wrote for the school newspaper last year!)
Every now and then, I like to walk around the city after class and try to catch a good view or two in the evening. I was very happy to capture this shot of the evening sky of the city, as seen from the top of the Spanish Steps. This is not a sight you can see just anywhere – better enjoy it while I can (and the weather doesn’t get too cold!)
I’ve also enjoyed travelling around Italy and taking in all the beautiful sights outside the city as well. Everywhere I go, I try to buy postcards from local souvenir shops. By now, I must have at least five pounds of postcards, books, and replica coins (I love ancient coins!) in my room. Souvenirs make great decorations for the room – makes the place feel more like home. I’ve gotten to see a lot of museums and read a lot of books about the places I’ve seen, so when I tape postcards to the wall and keep the books on my shelf, I feel like I’m curating my own gallery and creating my library based on my travels.
I have been very lucky in that I have not had any major mishaps on my trips around Italy. One of my friends told me that she had her passport stolen on a trip outside the country. I’m glad that we learned what to do in a situation like this at orientation. It is very important to stay calm, report the stolen passport to the police, and go to the US Embassy to obtain a temporary passport.
Regarding safety, I recommend these tips.
1.) Be aware of your surroundings. The more crowded the place, the harder it is to keep track of everything and the easier it is to lose something. Always pay attention to your belongings!
2.) Travel with at least one other person you know. You are less vulnerable when you are not alone. If something happens, you will be able to help each other out. I’ve helped a friend find something she lost, and we both figured out how to get back to our hotel after dark.
3.) Buy a discreet money belt and/or an anti-theft bag. I have both of these, and I have not gotten anything stolen. Definitely keep your passport, ID, keys, and bank cards in the money belt or anti-theft bag. Crossbody bags work best, as they are difficult to steal. Make sure backpacks are closed! Even better if they have locks.
4.) Don’t stay outside too late at night. I like to at least start to head back to the residence or any other place I’m staying at around sundown.
5.) Make photocopies! Be sure to keep a photocopy of your passport photo and signature pages separate from your passport – you’ll need these as proof that you are a citizen when you arrive at the embassy to report a stolen passport! By law, you are also required to carry a form of state-issued ID on your person in Italy. I keep a photocopy of my passport and my US driver’s license in my money belt at all times.
After those serious points, I’d like to end my two-month reflection with a little note to you, my viewers.
I hope you are enjoying my blog. It is hard to believe that two months have passed since my first day of classes at Temple Rome. I am over halfway done with the semester and have only a little more than a month before I head back to the United States. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing about my adventures abroad and hope that you enjoy following along through my words, photographs, and videos.
I am having a wonderful time in Rome and want to share that my joy with all of you. I am truly grateful for the opportunity I have in studying aborad for the semester, and for the honor of recording my experiences here. I enjoy taking in everything this place has to offer, and I love learning about the history and culture of every place I visit. I hope I can capture that in my work here and can help bring my experience to life through the screen.
That said, as a little celebration of and thank-you for these two months as a study abroad blogger, here is one of my favorite sights in Rome: bubbles at the Piazza del Popolo, a few minutes away from campus. A dopo! (Until later!)
As I settle into the second half of the semester (how time flies!), I would say that my favorite part of studying abroad is getting to learn through direct experience. I love learning new things both in and outside of the classroom.
For my Race in the Ancient Mediterranean course this semester, I am learning about the ancient world through not only examining the histories of understudied people in the ancient Roman Empire, but also through seeing artifacts with my own eyes in Rome.
On our second trip of the semester, we went to the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini in Italian) on top of the Capitoline Hill. The museums are the oldest in Rome, built in the 15th century during the Renaissance, when ancient Greek and Rome were the main themes of European culture and art. The first exhibits were made of bronze statues that the Pope offered to the city of Rome, and from here came the museums as they stand today.
I was in awe even before I got to the museum. Instead of heading to the classroom that Thursday morning, I took the Metro to the Colosseo stop and admired the huge monuments all around me. In addition to seeing the Colosseum outside the Metro stop, I caught a few glimpses of the Roman forum on my walk to the Capitoline Hill.
I found Professor Bessi and my classmates on top of the hill (which was not too taxing for my legs; all the stairs at Holy Cross have prepared me well for my semester abroad). After getting into the museum for free thanks to the Musei in Comune (MIC) cards we got at the beginning of the semester, we walked into the courtyard.
We looked at a collection of stone slabs with images of women carved into them. Professor Bessi said that these were originally from a temple in the Campus Martis that was erected in the memory of the emperor Hadrian, who ruled the Roman Empire in the 2nd century C.E. The carvings came from the base of the temple and represent the different provinciae (plural of the Latin word provincia, from which he get our word “province”) around the empire.
Hadrian was known for being a Roman emperor who spent little time in Rome. He was fascinated by other cultures, especially Greek culture, and strove to integrate even the most remote provinces in the empire and instill a sense of common Roman identity among all the people. The temple honor him captures this aspect of his personality by featuring each of the provinces, represented by women (nouns have genders in Latin, and provincia is feminine) depicted in the Greek style.
We headed indoors and stopped at the massive Palazzo di Conservatori. I was awestruck by the gorgeous paintings that lined the entire room from wall to wall. There was not a single part of the room that was not decorated with art.
The room, whose name means “the Conservator’s Palace” in Italian, was built in the 16th century. All the artwork in the room was inspired by the ancient Romans and features scenes from Roman history as told by the ancient historian Livy, who wrote about the origins and history of Rome in his Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Books from the Founding of the City) in the 1st century B.C.E.
All around the room, I saw painting of the foundation stories of Rome. I felt like I was going back in time, back to the first time I saw Latin in middle school. One of the first stories I read in class was the myth of the twins Romulus and Remus and how they were raised by a she-wolf. Romulus, after whom Rome is named, is said to have founded the city in 753 B.C.E.
I learned more about the earliest days of Rome as I continued into more advanced levels of Latin in high school. Now, as a college student, I got to see all of what I learned in front of me!
The art depicting the story of Rome continued into the next room, where we stopped to look at one of the bronze pieces gifted by the pope in the earliest days of the museum. The bust of Lucius Junius Brutus, the leader of an aristocratic revolt that drove out the last king of Rome, represents a major shift in Roman history: the shift from monarchy to republic in 509 B.C.E. The bronze portrait of him, however, is certainly not from the 6th century B.C.E. It was much more likely made centuries after in a retelling of the tale.
Another wave of nostalgia hit me as we walked into the next room and stopped at a piece that my teenage self would have recognized from her books. I got to see the famous Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf) with my own eyes! The detail on the piece is remarkable: such a sharp contrast between the roughness of the she-wolf’s fur and Romulus’ and Remus’ skin!
These were things I didn’t notice when I first saw a picture of the Capitoline Wolf in my seventh-grade Latin textbook. Eight years later, I am going on a field trip to the Capitoline Museums, where I can see the sculpture in person!
It is amazing to see that story of Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf has lingered for so long after 753 B.C.E. What amazed me more was the story about this piece that Professor Bessi told us at the museum. It turns out that the Lupa Captiolina did not always look the way it does today. In fact, it was really only the wolf! The twins were not added until the 16th century C.E.!
It was thought that the wolf was an ancient piece while the smaller sculptures of Romulus and Remus were Renaissance additions. There was a conference years ago at which chemical analyses on the base of the piece revealed that the she-wolf was sculpted in the middle ages!
In the next room, we saw a piece that was actually ancient: a Greek krater (a vessel for mixing wine) dating back to the 7th century B.C.E. The Aristonothos krater, as it is called because of the potter’s signature visible in the ancient Greek inscription, depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic about Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. I had read about Odysseus outwitting a giant one-eyed cyclops when I read the Odyssey in class, but seeing the scene on a vase in front of me was a different experience in itself!
The vase was uncovered at a site where the ancient Etruscans used to live. The Etruscans were a dominant force in central and northern Italy before 753 B.C.E., and they engaged in a lot of trade with the ancient Greeks. Greek pottery was in high demand for the ancient Etruscans, and through the acquirement of physical goods came the spread of Greek language, culture, and religion.
The inscription and imagery on the Aristonothos krater captures this perfectly. And it shows that ancient people had a wicked sense of humor – the cyclops met his downfall because he drank his wine unmixed, and now he is on a vessel designed for mixing wine!
We headed toward the recently-renovated part of the museum, where the original bronze statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius is on display. There is a replica of this piece at the top of the Capitoline Hill, just outside the museum.
Professor Bessi mentioned that when the statue was uncovered in the Middle Ages, people thought it was a sculpture of the emperor Constantine, who ruled the Roman Empire over a century after Marcus Aurelius did. The funniest part about this room is the fact there is actually a statue of the real Constantine across from the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius and the marble sculpture of the lion and the horse!
The newly-renovated part of the museum also houses some ancient ruins found in the area. There are pieces of an ancient temple dedicated to the Capitoline Triad – the gods and goddesses Jupiter (or Jove), Juno, and Minerva. It was interesting to catch a glimpse of the excavation process in the middle of a modern renovation of the Capitoline Museums. There is even a wall of the Capitolium Jovis (a temple for Jupiter; there was one of these at every Roman colony) standing inside with a smaller-scale replica beside it!
After our walk through the remnants of the temple, we visited the Horti Maecenatiani, or the Maecenean Gardens. Maeceneas was a friend of the emperor Augustus in the first centuries B.C.E. and C.E. and was known for his wealth and love of art. He was also involved with the ministry of culture and displayed lots of Greek sculptures in his gardens on the Esquiline Hill. A lot of the statues are Roman copies of Greek originals, but some of the pieces are made of real Pentelic marble, which comes from an area north of Athens.
One of the most memorable statues for me was a sculpture of the mythological satyr Marsyas, who made the grave mistake of boasting that his music was greater than that of Apollo, the god of music. As his punishment, he was skinned alive. I found the contrast between the pale marble of his skin and the sheer redness of his raw flesh very striking. It really gets the message across: don’t be a braggart!
In addition to the wealth of statues in Maecenas’ gardens, there is also a large collection of jewelry in the museum. The golden pieces and their sparkling gemstones were in such good condition that I thought they were modern accessories in the fashion district of modern Rome! You can hardly tell that they’re from the first century C.E. And it wasn’t only people who wore these: the ancient Romans used jewelry to decorate pillars as well!
We walked through the basement of the museum and looked at some gravestones. The inscriptions were still legible on most of them, and I had a lot of fun practicing my ancient Greek and Latin! According to Professor Bessi, Greek was the universal written language of all the ethicities in ancient Rome. We spent a longer time looking at the gravestone of a Jewish woman who had the majority of her funerary inscriptions in Greek but the last part of it in Hebrew. Amazing to see cultures overlap!
We were in for quite a treat when we got to see the Roman Forum from a good vantage point in the museum! I loved seeing all of the space outside the museum from one spot! It was my first time seeing the Forum, and it was a wonderful experience to process the breathtaking view!
Our last stop was at another famous piece in the Capitoline Museums: the Dying Gaul. The ancient Gauls were a Celtic people who lived north of Italy in the alps and to the west where France is today. Julius Caesar waged war against several Gallic tribes and recorded his battles in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries Regarding the Gallic Wars) in the 1st century B.C.E. I read part of Caesar’s work in high school. I was excited to see the artwork in person!
For a decade, the Gauls were his enemies, yet he chose to respect them by featuring a piece depicting them gracefully in defeat. The Dying Gaul is a Roman copy of a Greek original thought to have been commissioned by the King of Pergamum, an area to the east, centuries before Caesar was born. The man in the sculpture is identifiable as a Gaul by his hairstyle and jewelry around his neck. He is about to collapse, but keeps most of his composure despite the pain of defeat.
It fascinates me how of all the ways Caesar could have represented his fallen enemies, he chose to display this piece in his private estate. No caricature of the Gauls or humiliating trophies in this statue! Talk about sportmanship!
I left the museum very pleased with what I saw. For years, I have been studying the historic and cultural contexts of the ancient world, but have very rarely seen them outside of paragraphs of text. Seeing all the artwork in three dimensions and with my own eyes – now, that’s what I call an enriching experience! I cannot imagine another place that can offer such a fulfilling expansion of my knowledge in this way as the Capitoline Museums.
I have never taken a political science class before, so I didn’t know what to expect when I enrolled in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy. The topics and discussions in the class really challenge me to consider perspectives and ask questions I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.
I’m always excited to learn new things from Professor Rinelli and from my peers in the classroom. For the session before our midterm exam, however, I was in for a bigger treat: a field trip to Piazza Vittorio in the middle of the city!
One of the readings we did for the class focused on the experiences of people who migrated to Rome, both from within and outside of Italy. We read a book titled Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio. The book is a murder-mystery organized into testimonies from different characters, with each one coming from a different place and having a different story to tell. We examined the characters’ histories and prejudices and analyzed them in the context of broader questions such as why people migrate (and what separates different types of migrants – immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers – from each other), what stereotypes develop about certain groups, and what kinds of challenges do migrants face in Rome today.
Our guide worked for Migrantour, a non-government organization (NGO) that strives to raise awareness about the cultural diversity of Europe by organizing tours of multicultural cities. She introduced herself as an Albanian immigrant who lived in Rome for 16 years. I was excited to learn from a migrant in Rome, especially when discussing migration and diversity!
The tour focused on the Esquilino Square, which is the most culturally-diverse area in the center of Rome. Unlike the districts filled with the remnants of ancient times, the was developed as a way to modernize the city after Rome became the capital of Italy in 1871. Italy was not a unified country since the end of the Roman empire until the mid-19th century, when Vittorio Emanuele II, the king of Sardinia, became king of all of Italy. The area called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele (near the Vittorio Emanuele Metro station, right after the Termini stop), called Piazza Vittorio for short, is named after him.
We left our meeting-point at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in downtown Rome and walked a few minutes past Termini station. Roma Termini is the largest station in Rome and is the major center for buses, the Roma metro, trains, and rides to the airport. I’ve been there multiple times to transfer to the Metro B or to catch trains to places outside of Rome, but I have never learned about the history in much detail until our class trip that mid-October morning.
We stopped at a place near the station, which Professor Rinelli described as a crucial location for migrants, since it was at the center of the city and held its main point of transportation and movement. It was a center for migrants that offers several different services for people who migrated to Rome from different places. Not only is this place a school where migrants can learn Italian (similar to the place my parents and sister took ESL (English as a second language) when they first moved to the United States), it is also a place where migrants can find legal advice for their status as immigrants or asylum-seekers and obtain medical assistance, a crucial service for the survival of vulnerable people.
It appears to be run-down, but this is only because it is very difficult to run a center like this one. The organization is not funded by the government or the church – in Rome, when it comes to helping human beings, a lot of things need to go through the Vatican. Furthermore, it is especially difficult for migrant women, especially Muslim women, to integrate into Italian society. Professor Rinelli added that this is an issue of marginalization because of religion and gender.
Around the migrant center were murals by a street artist named Sgarbi. To the right of the building, painted on the corner, was a portrait of Alberto Manzi. He was a teacher who taught Italian to one million people through television in the 1960’s. To the left was a larger painting of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, which includes Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso (the first of which is what we call “Dante’s Inferno“) and widely considered the father of Italian language and culture. That is the reason why Dante is facing an African woman: the mural is a message and commentary on the multicultural society gravitating around the center.
Sgarbi’s work around the migrant center is one of the most moving things I’ve seen in Rome. I’ve always known I was an immigrant: I noticed that my family and I looked different from most people in Boston since I was in elementary school, and when I was a little older, I learned about my family’s journey to the United States. However, it wasn’t until I started taking this class that I learned what it means to be a migrant.
From a young age, I’ve understood how important it is to learn the lingua franca of a place. I was luckier than the rest of my family because I never needed to learn English as a second language: I grew up in Boston and learned English at the same time as the other children. I do not speak with the same accent as my parents or my sister and did not have the same struggles with reading and writing as they did. I remember being around my parents when they got phone calls in English and sometimes explaining what the person on the other end of the line was saying. I remember speaking on the phone in English myself when my parents got too confused to understand what the other person was saying.
Seeing the picture of Manzi and learning about who he was and what he did for a million people really touched me. The fact that he was able to teach so many people the valuable skill of communicating with, understanding, and creating bonds with others through television is amazing. Learning about the meaning of the mural also brought me back to my childhood. My mother told me that when I was little, she and I would watch children’s programs on TV. Most of my family’s exposure to English at home came from the television back then, and I grew up watching the same shows as my classmates did. We got better at English through watching TV, and I think I learned a lot of my English from the kids’ shows that focused on vocabulary and grammar. I could relate to the people who learned Italian through watching Manzi on TV in the 60’s.
Another one of Sgarbi’s works: Dante (who wrote Inferno) face-to-face with an African woman. A very important piece around Termini!
Professor Rinelli mentioned that adding the image of the African woman facing Dante on a wall around Termini was also a strong statement in favor for integrating migrants in Rome. I thought about his point about how migrant women in particular struggle to integrate more than migrant men do. I felt sorry for migrant women in Rome after hearing that – I am a migrant woman myself – and found solace in seeing the woman in the mural juxtaposed with the one and only Dante. The deeper meaning of Sgarbi’s piece gave me hope that integration is happening right here and now, and made me fully realize that this progress is unfolding right in front of us thanks to the power of these artistic representations.
We concluded our time outside the migrant center learning about the general time periods of migration in this part of Rome. The first major wave of immigration from places outside of Italy happened in the 1970’s. Italy was first a nation of emigration, but we also learned that in the late 19th-century, after the unification of Italy, Piazza Vittorio has always been a melting pot of cultures and languages from the workers who built the area after they moved here with hopes for better lives. It wasn’t until decades later when more people started moving into Italy from other countries.
The first groups of immigrants were from North Africa, in particular Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, countries that Italy once colonized and were part of the Fascist Empire during World War II. There were also people moving to this block in Rome from southern Italy. This part of the city was fairly empty at the time because of an economic crisis, and the new immigrants opened small shops in the properties, which were later purchased by Chinese immigrants.
We headed further downtown toward the Mercato Esquilino. In 1991, it was an open market that was a setting for The Bicycle Thieves, one of the most famous neo-realistic Italian films that was also hit in international cinemas. The Mercato was then moved into a new closed space in 2001. It is the largest and the most important market in Rome, with roughly 150 shops, most of which are food and grocery stands.
On our way, we stopped by a garden that was once part of the department of Asian languages at the Sapienza University of Rome, a few minutes north of Esquilino. There, I was surprised to see a statue of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, of all people! Professor Rinelli described the piece as something “unique” to Rome and in Italy overall. He said that the art in Italy is mostly euro-centric and that there are almost no references to other religions or cultures, so a piece of Asian art on display in a public space is rare to see. I’m glad I got to see it on this field trip!
We made our way to the market and entered to see a bustling area inside. There were too many shops to count, and I saw people selling things from different types of clothing, accessories, food, household essentials…you name it!
We walked through the first part of the market and headed outside to the newer part of the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino. We learned about an initiative to give unsold goods to marginalized people in the area. So far, the market has donated a lot of food. I was happy to hear that everything is going to good use, even if unsold. It feels nice to know that people are helping those less fortunate than they are in this way.
We turned around and saw another one of Sgarbi’s pieces: a mural of a woman and a child reaching toward a scene of different fish in the ocean. On the top left were the words “Diversita Elemento Di Vita,” which means “Diversity is the element of life.” A powerful message that added to his other works around Termini!
The new part of the market was even busier than the first part. I saw a lot of fresh grocery stands selling produce, meat, fish, spices, and condiments. I walked past a display of bok choy and Chinese eggplants and got hungry. These are things my family and I always buy at Asian supermarkets back home. The stand made me think of my mother and her cooking. I could almost imagine smelling fresh eggplants cooking in our wok with some soy sauce and garlic. I think I’ll call Mom and ask for her recipes so I can make use of the nostalgic vegetables I saw on this trip.
On our walk through the market, I heard some of the people greet me with not “Hello” or “Hi,” but with the standard Chinese “Ni hao!”
Professor Rinelli told me that a lot of the people working in the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino were migrants or descended from migrants, and that they know “how to treat a Chinese.” I asked him if people in Rome saw me as American or Chinese, and he said that if I don’t speak, I am Chinese. I am 100% Chinese by blood, so it makes sense. Wait until they hear me speak Italian with an American accent!
Our last part of our adventure in the market was a short talk with one of Professor Rinelli’s friends, Omar. His family has run several butcher shops in the area for 39 years. He surprised me by speaking to me in Chinese. It turns out that he is a polyglot, speaking Spanish, French, Tagalog, Romanian, Chinese, and English! We also met his father, who told us about the importance of selling halal meat in Rome. Butchers like Omar and his father provide a valuable service to the Muslim community in the city.
Islam is not the only Abrahamic religion that is part of Italian society. There is a long history of Judaism in Rome, with services that offer kosher food is important in the city. Islam’s entrance into Italian society is fairly recent compared to the centuries of Jewish history in Rome. Learning about the cultural history at the butcher stand was a unique experience. I found Omar’s father’s explanation of how to prepare halal meat fascinating – I really learned a lot from him! Right behind us was a Chinese butcher stand that also prepares halal meat. I was amazed by this additional layer of cultural diversity in the market! It makes me happy to see people from different cultures cater to each other.
We said goodbye to Omar and his father and headed outside. We said another goodbye to our Migrantour guide and met in a square for a little bit to discuss the last part of the book. After a discussion on how the author captures the experiences of migrant women, I learned more about the history of the place.
The Esquilino square is, as Professor Rinelli said, “what you might call a melting pot in the United States” with people speaking different languages. In a way, he added, it was like a Babylon. In the 1990’s, the market was spread all around the square. I can only imagine what that must have been like, a square surrounded by markets stocked with international goods! Luckily, I can visit the old Esquilino through The Bicycle Thieves, the movie Professor Rinelli mentioned earlier. I can’t wait to watch such a famous film!
Finally, we learned about the architecture in this area and how it reflects the multi-layered soul of the ancient city. The psychology major in me was excited to recall that Professor Rinelli mentioned Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and likened it to Rome: he wrote, “Dreams stand to childhood memories, in the same relations as some baroque places in Rome to the ancient ruins, whose slabs and columns have provided the material for the construction of modern forms.”
I found it hard not to laugh when Professor Rinelli said that the architecture around us “makes no sense in Rome.” He himself is a Roman, and many parts of Rome do not look completely Roman. There was structural influence from northern Italy and from models categorized as the “Parisian style.” There is also a lack of balconies, which I hadn’t noticed until then. Fascinating how much you notice after learning about it firsthand!
This trip captures my favorite parts of studying abroad. Not only do I get to take classes on topics I had never tried to learn before, but I can also get am immersive approach through experiencing the topics in the real city. I’ll admit that Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy is one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken, but it is a very fun challenge I am eager to take on. I look forward to learning more about the world around me through further adventures in Rome.
And so ends another week at Temple Rome! Midterms are done! The semester is flying by quickly.
Looking back on my experience so far, I would say that one of the best parts of studying abroad is the fact that I can walk around Rome, but also experience other cities in Italy as well. Two weeks ago, I took up a classmate’s offer of spending a weekend in Florence with her and some of her friends. I bought my train ticket, packed my bags, went to Termini, and headed north.
Florence, called Firenze in Italian, is a city in Tuscany, which is a province in central Italy. It is almost two hours north of Rome and has an area of over 100 square kilometers (40 square miles; Rome is an area of almost 500 square miles) and has been around since the time of the ancient Romans.
Firenze is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance (15-17th centuries C.E.) and was home to the wealthy Medicis, a family who held power in northern Italy. One of the Medicis commissioned works from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo.
I was in awe when I exited the train station on Friday morning. Everything I saw was like looking at a painting. Such grand architecture and brilliant colors complementing the beautiful Florentine sky!
My classmates and I stopped at a local restaurant, where I tried a maiolona pizza. I thought I liked meat-lover’s pizza in Boston, but let me tell you, when it comes to pizza, the original really is better!
I managed to finish the whole thing in one sitting and decided to sleep it off at the place we were staying afterward. After I woke up, we went to see the Arno river to see the Ponte Vecchio, which is Italian for “old bridge.”
And this is no misnomer: it really is an old bridge, dating back to medieval times! Hard to imagine that it was the only bridge not destroyed during WWII. It is currently a major center for jewelry shops in Florence.
For dinner on Friday night, my classmates and I tried some Tuscan cuisine: charcuterie! I tried a lot of different breads and cured meats. I never had charcuterie in the United States, so it was good to try it in Florence!
Enjoyed some Tuscan cuisine with a Florentine charcuterie board! From left to right: bread with olives, slices of mortadella, bread with tomato-chili paste, some olives, slices of prosciutto, some sheep’s cheese, pieces of spicy salami, and some roasted vegetables.
The next day, I took another train north, this time to the city of Ferrara. We had a guest speaker one day in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, one of the classes I am taking a Temple Rome this semester. Sara Prestianni is a photographer and advocative for migrant rights. She focuses the effects of migration policies in north Africa. I was fascinated by her talk and heard that she and her colleagues would be presenting at an International Festival at Ferrara on Saturday afternoon.
I knew I was going to be in Florence for the weekend, and it was only an hour away via train, so what was there to lose? Unfortunately, by the time I got to the venue, I asked one of the festival staff about the event and she said that the place was full and could not fit any more people.
At least I got a cool-looking program about the Internazionale a Ferrara! I hope I can read it in its full Italian one day.
I wasn’t going to let my efforts to get from Florence to Ferrara go to waste, so I walked around the city for an hour. I was happy that I got to see a new place on a sunny day. The famous Castello Estense, which is a medieval fortress surrounded by a moat in the center of the city, was so beautiful in the sunlight!
I bought some postcards at a local gift shop. I love collecting postcards everywhere I go; they make great decorations for my bedroom wall! I brought the postcards from Ferrara to class along with the Internazionale a Ferrara 2019 program to class after I went back to Rome. I showed all my souvenirs from Ferrara to Professor Rinelli, who teaches Immigration, Race, and Immigration in Modern Italy. He said that it was unfortunate that I couldn’t see the festival, but he looked amused when I showed him my postcards from the city.
I walked back to the Ferrara train station and went back to Florence. I met my classmates for dinner at another restaurant. There, I tried a maialino – pasta with pork sauce. Two for two with the good food, Firenze!
On my last day in Florence, I decided to do a bit of shopping. Florentine leather is known for its high quality and high demand in the global market. There are leather good everywhere, sold both in the vast outdoor markets around the city and in smaller indoor shops along the sidewalks.
I strolled through the San Lorenzo market, a major outdoor shopping space in Florence. I got curious about the large building in the middle of the market, so I went inside and was surprised to find in the bustling Mercato Centrale (pronounced mur-cah-toe chen-trahl-le) of Firenze!
I was fascinated by all the food stands. It reminded me a little of the food court at my local mall, only each shop had its own unique history of being founded and run by artisan chefs. I stopped by a fried food station, where I grew curious about one of the items they had on their menu: fried rabbit.
I spent €10 on a special combination of fried foods: fried chicken on the bottom with some fried rabbit on top, sprinkled with bits of fried vegetables and a few lemon slices. (Don’t worry, Mom: I’m eating my vegetables!) To this day, I’m impressed that I didn’t get any of the batter crumbs on me as I ate it while sitting on a bench near the market entrance.
This was my first time trying rabbit. I’ve had boar and venison in Titignano last month, but fried rabbit was really quite something! I could tell it was rabbit because it was the meat that didn’t taste like chicken; trust me, I know what chicken tastes like. It had a mild flavor but a strong aftertaste.
After my spontaneous lunch in the Mercato Centrale, I resumed my stroll through the shops at San Lorenzo market. I stopped at a few outdoor stands to buy some gifts for friends and family in the States (get ready for some real Florentine leather from Hui!) and to buy some new accessories. I think the felt hat and silk scarf fit me quite well after I take off my ponytail!
I decided to spend my last hour in Florence seeing the Arno one last time. As I headed toward the Ponte Vecchio, I noticed something I had missed on my first visit on Friday evening. There was a statue of a pig that I looked up on my phone a bit later. It is a bronze statue called Il Porcellino (Italian for “The Piglet”). I saw people placing coins in its mouth and rubbing its nose. Turns out this is a tradition in Florence, and feeding the Porcellino some coins before touching its snout is supposed to bring good luck!
Il Porcellino (“The Piglet”) in the middle of Florence. I saw people putting coins in the boar’s mouth. I read that rubbing its nose brings good luck. No wonder why the bronze looks a bit different on its porcine snout!
The river looks absolutely stunning in the afternoon sun! I’m glad I decided to revisit the bridge and enjoy the view at a different time of day. Time seemed to stand still by the Arno that afternoon, and I could have sworn I was there for hours until my phone screen lit up with a reminder that I had agreed to meet my classmates to pick up our luggage at the hotel half an hour before catching our train back to Rome.
It was a wonderful weekend in Florence. Such a rich culture and history in a small city! Very different from Rome in its atmosphere and scenery. I’m happy I got to experience it firsthand. I bought some things for myself as souvenirs. I think of Florence every time I wear my leather jacket. It is the first leather product I’ve ever owned, and the shopkeeper said that it will last a lifetime. Just like the memories of this weekend in Florence.
I’ve enjoyed attending guest lectures since I was a first-year at Holy Cross. I love not only learning about our visitors and the work they do, but also listening to the community discussions and engaging in the Q&A sessions afterward. I was excited to hear that we were getting a visitor on campus for a discussion on an important topic: race in Italy.
I signed up to attend the event right away. I knew from the start that this discussion would enrich my experience and goals at Temple Rome. I am taking two classes relating to race in Italy this semester. These were the courses I wanted to take since the moment I saw them on Temple Rome’s website last semester. One is a political science course called “Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy.” The other is a Classics course called “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean.”
I was thrilled to secure seats in both of the classes and was excited to compare and contrast the role of race and identity in Italy from both ancient and modern perspectives. I knew my family’s story of moving to the United States from a different country. I know how my race and identity have shaped my experience as a minority from an immigrant family. And now I have the chance to learn someone else’s story through a discussion on race in Italy.
Our guest was Susanna Twumwah, a local activist who will be graduating soon with a degree in International Relations and Development. She is part of the association QuestaèRoma (Italian for “This is Rome”), which addresses racism and discrimination through activities involving art, sports, and cultural heritage. QuestaèRoma also advocates for a more inclusive definition of Italian citizenship. Susanna hosts workshops for communities who arrived as part of a diaspora into not only Rome and other places in Italy, but also in different places abroad as well.
Benedicta Djumpah, who works as a student life assistant at Temple University Rome, is an activist as well and hosted the discussion alongside Susanna. I see Benedicta a lot on campus and enjoy talking to her in my free time. We have conversations about growing up as minorities in our communities and how we empower ourselves to find our own paths and adapt to the world around us. I am grateful to Benedicta for her orientation speech on how the Italian concept and perspective on race are different from how American students see race and racial issues in the United States. The information in her presentation was useful and helped me adjust to living in Rome.
Benedicta (left) hosted a discussion with Susanna Twumwah (right) on Race in Italy. Photo by Jesse Gardner, Temple University ’21, taken and used with permission from the Temple University Rome Facebook page.
Both Benedicta and Susanna are of Ghanaian descent and are part of the Afro-Italian community. Benedicta spoke about how she became “aware of her blackness” at age 6. She was proud of her Ghanaian heritage and learned her parents’ languages and ancestral culture when she went to Ghana at age 10. In her teens, Benedicta felt more proud of and identified as Italian more than she did Ghanaian. It was only a few years ago that she understood herself as an Afro-Italian.
Susanna had a similar story about the “moment of realization” regarding her identity. When she was a child, her classmates asked her, “Are you Italian?” She had an Italian passport and said that she “felt Italian.” She didn’t like using her Ghanaian surname and was afraid to speak English and Twi (one of many local government-sponsored languages in Ghana); she wanted to be “100% Italian.” Currently, she speaks about herself through both an African and Italian view.
Benedicta asked Susanna about her thoughts on the concept of race in Italy. Susanna responded with an explanation how the Italian lacks the vocabulary on the topic. The word “race” is more commonly used in the United States than it is in Italy, where the equivalent razza is rarely used. When the concept of “race” is used in Italian, it refers to “whether a person is white or black.”
In “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean,” I learned that the word “race” is unlike many of the words in the English language. Professor Bessi, a Classical archaeologist who is teaches the course, said that it does not have roots in ancient Greek or Latin. Instead, it comes from “raca,” a word from an early French dialect dating to the 12th or 13th century C.E. “Raca” (and later “raza” in an early Italian dialect) referred to horse breeding and was extended to humans during conquests from the 16th-17th centuries. It took me some time to process this when I learned this story.
One of the questions Susanna hears a lot is, “How do you want me to call you? Person of color, black, or African?” I was surprised that the term “person of color,” which is what I would be considered in the United States, would not apply to me in Italy. As a response to the question, Susanna replied that she would prefer to be called by her name: Susanna.
Susanna then spoke about her physical appearance in relation to her identity. She cut her hair one year ago; she used to wear wigs before then. She wore what she called a “natural hairstyle” four years ago as well. She described how people approached her differently after she adopted her new hairstyle, and she found the experience empowering. She felt comfortable in her own hair and gave us some sound advice: finding your identity takes time. It took years for her to embrace herself in this way.
Benedicta and Susanna also spoke about stereotypes of Africans in Italy. There is a misconception that Afro-Italians are “all the same,” even though individuals and families in the Afro-Italian community come from different backgrounds, identifying themselves as different ethnicities, tracing their ancestry to different countries of origin, and speaking different languages. There is also an assumption that people of color in Italy don’t speak Italian; I almost laughed when I heard this, because I’m sure that Benedicta and Susanna can speak Italian, given what they do.
Both Benedicta and Susanna added stories about their experiences embracing their families’ languages, homeland, and cultures. They stated the importance of knowing where they are from and to learn the culture and history, even if much of it has been lost through imperialism. (Ghana was one of the places colonized during the European “Scramble for Africa” in the late 19th century.) One needs the language to understand the culture, so both Benedicta and Susanna learned the local languages in Ghana.
I was intrigued by the stories about learning local culture in Ghana. It vaguely reminded me of how my family and I used to visit relatives in China, where no one spoke English. I learned to use Mandarin Chinese from a young age and learned about my ancestral culture firsthand from my parents and from local people in China. I also remember learning about my heritage through museums in both my hometown of Boston and in my parents’ homelands in China. My mother tells me about the historic and cultural contexts of the Chinese artifacts we see in exhibits.
I asked Susanna about learning about her heritage through visiting not only Ghana as a whole country, but also through seeing smaller parts of her ancestral culture such as through Ghanaian exhibitions in museums. I was especially curious in how she perceives the presentation of Ghanaian artifacts in Italian or Ghanaian museums. She said that she liked the Ghanaian museums better. There is a clear difference in how much one culture would understand another one compared to a culture representing itself on its own soil.
I also asked a question about the earliest Afro-Italians. I remembered how Professor Rinelli, who teaches me in “Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy,” described Italy as a country of mass emigration before it became a country of mass immigration. He stated that there were more Italians leaving than there were people from other countries moving into Italy until the latter half of the 20th century, when larger waves of immigrations occured. I wanted to learn about the history of Africans in Italy and how the term “Afro-Italian,” vague as it is, came to be used as a prominent description in the modern day.
Susanna helped me understand that the term “Afro-Italian” is a fairly recent one and is difficult to apply to a more historical context. The closest people who we can all the earliest Afro-Italians were in Italy since the late 18th century. These “Afro-Italians” were born and grew up in Italy. In the community today, there is a difference between first-generation immigrants and their children, who are referred to as the “New Generation.” Those part of the New Generation have a large responsibility for the contributing to the terminology on the topic.
Some of the other students asked about the social-political challenges the Afro-Italian community faces today. I have a lot of respect for my peers – they were not only listening to Susanna’s story, but also considering the more current and widespread implications of the situation. One of the other students asked about the political scene more specifically. Susanna’s answer was what I think one of the most important take-aways from the discussion.
Not only is it difficult to have a national conversation and discussion about race in Italy because of the lack of terminology (the Accademia della Crusca, a key institution that focuses on the Italian language, isn’t listening to Afro-Italian communities on the topic), but also because movements of anti-racist sentiment in Italy are not unified and not strong compared to the more racist beliefs of the larger political parties in the country. Furthermore, there is a lack of representation of Afro-Italians in the media. When there are people from the Afro-Italian community in TV programs, they are usually based on stereotypes. Susanna said that some people “think there aren’t black Italians” or harbor misconceptions about the community because of this.
This event was a fascinating and eye-opening experience for me. Even though Benedicta and Susanna have a different cultural background than I do, I could relate to their stories. I could relate to hearing myself described in generalized terms (in particular “Asian-American”) while I identify as a Chinese-American and to growing up in an environment where people used to ask me, “Are you American?” I was also self-conscious of my foreign name (both “Hui” and “Li” are Chinese) and what I “want[ed] people to call” me. I could also relate to how I rarely saw people like me on TV and didn’t feel represented in the media.
I stayed after the end of the discussion and thanked Susanna for coming. I learned a lot from her talk and said that even though I could not identify as a “person of color” in Italy, I understood and could relate to her experiences. I went home feeling empowered and not alone in my experiences as a woman of color in the United States.
The discussion “Race in Italy” took place on the evening of Tuesday, October 1. Photos from the event were posted on Temple University Rome’s Facebook page on Saturday, October 12.
Today is October 9, exactly one month since I started classes at Temple Rome. And what a month it’s been! It’s hard to believe I arrived in the eternal city just over a month ago! I can’t tell if it feels like I’ve just left Boston, or if I’ve been in Rome for over a semester already.
I’ve experienced and learned a lot in Italy during my first month abroad. I like to think that I’ve grown considerably (in maturity and wisdom…not physically, i.e., sideways – all this walking keeps me in shape!) in this one month. I’m happy to take some time out of my busy class schedule to reflect on what I’ve learned since September.
Getting used to Rome was certainly a crucial experience by itself.
Adjusting to my apartment was unlike my housing situation in my first two years at Holy Cross – I had much more to work with but also much more to maintain. Chores and shopping every week. I’m used to doing chores for my family at home, but it feels different because they’re on the other side of the Atlantic. At least I can make dishes (like my favorite stews) in the kitchen. Just like Mom used to make. Surely makes me feel at home!
Figuring out the city and its sights was a lot easier thanks to the advice Temple Rome gave me during orientation. I learned how to get my monthly pass and how to take the Metro. I figured out the transportation system and can see places I had only seen in books and screens back home. It’s very fulfilling to see wonders like the Pantheon in person!
I’ve more or less gotten used to my schedule. I’m getting to know my professors and classmates better by the day. I love the interesting details I get from lectures and discussions, and I like staying after class to talk to my professors more about the topics we learn in class and about being in Rome in general. I also get to go on field trips for a lot of my classes this semester. What better way to learn about Rome than to see Rome itself?I’ve gotten a lot of suggestions about places to see on my own while I’m abroad this semester. I appreciate the heads-up on cool sights I can see at my own pace.
I also learned a lot about Italian and other European perspectives on certain topics such as race and immigration. Some are similar to perspectives I’ve listened to in the United States while others are unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s good to enhance I also got to learn more about modern issues in Italy from events with guest speakers. So far, I’ve heard from activists and photojournalists focused on migration. Really adds to what I’m learning in my classes!
I admit that I do get homesick sometimes. I’ve called my family a few times since moving into the Residence. It’s nice to hear my parents’ voices and to get caught up on what’s happening back at home. I also made the space my own by taping postcards and setting up sentimental trinkets from the United States at my desk. I’ve put them alongside the expanding collection of new postcards I’ve been collecting every time I go to a new place in Italy. I also bought some international stamps (francobolli internazionali in Italian; it’s what I ask the cashier for in gift shops) so I can write to people in the United States.
These little bits of home and local comfort aren’t the only things I’ve kept close to me in Rome. I always leave the residence with some important things stored in a discreet travel belt that goes under my shirt. Passport (for identification – also needed for checking into hotels in Europe!), mini-wallet, cash, driver’s licence (my American ID), credit/debit cards, insurance cards, and apartment keys all stay close to me while I’m out and about.
I also got a stick-on phone wallet before I left the States. It’s been very handy in holding the cards I use the most: my monthly pass, my Residence Candia gate key, and Temple Rome ID. The detachable wrist strap is a nice bonus, too! I like being able to feel where my phone is at all times.
In addition to my locking backpack, I also have a crossbody camera bag that I carry my digital camera in. I like the security of having my precious camera by my side. I also have an anti-theft crossbody bag with locking zippers and a slash-proof body for my leisurely walks around the city.
I’m also glad I got an eye exam before I left and used my updated prescription to get not only a good pair of glasses, but also a handy pair of prescription sunglasses. I’m so happy that the sun and my nearsightedness can’t get in the way of enjoying the sights of the city! If you wear glasses and don’t have contact lenses, I highly recommend you invest in a pair of prescription of sunglasses! There are sights you don’t want to miss.
In addition to seeing places with my own eyes for the first time, I also tried a lot of new things. I tried a classic Roman dish for the first time last month; carbonara is my favorite dish by far. I also went to a Roman salon for the first time. I liked talking with Federico, the local English-speaking hairdresser, about being in Rome. It was interesting to hear what he had to say, too.
I’m proud of how much I learned from my first semester abroad. I’m happy with how much of the city I’ve been picking up, piece-by-piece, as I explore my home for the semester. I’m learning new things every day, and that’s not limited to new Italian phrases I see and hear on my way to class – I’m learning more about myself and how I’m adapting and growing in a new environment. I look forward to applying my new skills (and new Italian skills) in my next two months in Rome! Ciao for now! A dopo! (See you soon!)
This Saturday was a special day: I had a visitor! A familiar face I knew before coming to Rome: my friend Simeon was coming to vist from Siena.
Simeon has been a friend of mine since our first year at Holy Cross. We are both juniors studying abroad in Italy this semester. I am at Temple University Rome while he is at the Siena Art Institute, about a 3-hour bus ride away. He is a studio art major with a concentration in Africana studies. It was nice to hear that he was in Italy as well and we were excited for our day in Rome.
I was more than happy to meet him at Roma Tiburtina station (I wasn’t late this time!) and buy him a day pass for the buses and trains in Rome. We are both from Boston and are used to the busy city. Simeon said that spending some time in Rome was a nice break from life in Siena. I was very curious to know what he meant by that.
Simeon told me about Siena and how different it was from a heavily urbanized place like Rome. Siena is a less-populated city, with a little over 50,000 living there compared to Rome’s over 4 million inhabitants. With an area of 118 square kilometers (a little over 73 square miles), Siena is also much smaller in size than Rome, which has an area of 1,285 square kilometers (496 square miles, over five times as big as our hometown Boston’s area of under 90 square miles). Simeon showed me pictures he took at Siena. I can see why Rome is much different now!
We talked a bit about our housing arrangements abroad. I live with five other girls in the Residence near a Metro stop while he lives with a host family whose home is a five-minute walk away from the Siena Art Institute. Simeon showed me some more pictures, this time of landmarks in the city. I liked seeing the pigeons at the fountain at the Piazza del Campo in northern Italy: it reminds me of the pigeons that flutter about in the Piazza del Popolo near Flaminio station, where I walk to Temple Rome in the morning. I also like the Duomo Cathedral – it strikes me as so simple, yet so complex, in its design!
Navigating the city was a challenge – even though I have been in Rome for almost a month, I am still not used to the altered format of the Roma Metro on weekends. There is construction going on until December, which means that on some weekends, there will be no service for part of the Linea B train. I have to figure out where I can take the subway and where we’ll need to find a bus shuttle to the right Metro stop. Getting around the city looks a lot different when you’re seeing a Metro path above ground!
After transferring from actual Metro to substitute bus on Linea B, we made it to the Colosseum, which Simeon wanted to see while in Rome. I was relieved that we managed to make it there with all the confusion and questions I asked transit staff at the stations. I’m glad the locals could understand some of my Italian through my thick American accent.
We stopped by a local ristorante for some pizza. It was nice to shout “Due!” (“doo-eh,” which means “two” in Italian) after greeting the waiter at the entrance. I usually say “Uno!” (“one”) because more often than not, I’ve eaten out alone. We got a table for two and talked about our study abroad experiences over some fresh pizza. It really hit the spot, after all the energy we spent just getting here! I had fun switching from my conversation in English with Simeon (I don’t talk much when eating out because I’m usually eating by myself) to shouting “Scusi!” (“Excuse me!”) or “Conto, per favore!” (“Bill, please!”) in Italian. It was quite an experience.
We split the conto (the bill) and headed toward the Colosseum. We had both learned something about the site before coming to Rome. Simeon learned about the place in his art history class while I learned a little about it in my Roman history class as a high-school senior. It was interesting to hear Simeon’s knowledge on the place and to combine it with my own.
We started at the southwest part of the Colosseum and looked at the Arch of Constantine. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This area is no exception. The massive arch was added in the early 4th century C.E. while the Colosseum was built in the late 1st century C.E. It was interesting seeing the later monument before the earlier one. When we walked further into the site, the opposite happened: the Colosseum was closer in sight than the Arch was. The panoramas I took say it all.
We wandered around the Colosseum, weaving past cars trying to drive through tight spots and other visitors in line for the archaeological park. I want to come back to the Colosseum sometime and see more of the place; you can only get so much from an outside view. But as students who have never seen the place in person, this experience was breathtaking. In the time we had, we were happy with what we saw.
We walked back outside and spent a lot of time looking for the substitute bus back toward Tiburtina. Simeon had a bus to catch, and I was not going to make him miss his ride to Siena. During our search, we looked at the horse-drawn carriages around the Colosseum and got souvenir coins from a machine near the closed Colosseo Metro station.
If only the subway worked: we wouldn’t be looking for the bus stop in the first place! We joked that squeezing into the bus was going to be a lot like taking the bus in Boston, and that we were trying to get to Downtown Crossing or South Station, the larger stops on the public transportation in our home-city. I was surprised to feel a little homesick now, of all times, but thinking about how funny the situation is because it feels like home in a way made me feel better.
We eventually found the bus stop and took the substitute shuttle back north. We made our way to the functioning part of the Linea B and got to Tiburtina with what we thought was a few minutes to spare. We asked drivers around the bus station (in a mix of English and Italian) about the 5:45 service to Siena. Turns out there was no rush on our end: the bus was late!
We waited for the bus together and made sure the bus that had arrived after 6:00 was the right bus. I was sad that Simeon was going back so soon, but after a hug, I felt happy that he was happy with his day in Rome. I like to think that he learned a lot from me just like I learned a lot from him. It was nice to see a familiar friend in a place I’m still getting used to, and I hope to visit him in Siena during my time here someday.
Friday: the end of the week, a time to wind down. I had just finished my third week of classes at Temple Rome and was thinking about what I wanted to do. I finished taking care of business on campus and just got back to the residence in the afternoon when I got an idea: I was going to see Ostia!
At orientation, I heard that Ostia was a common destination for Romans who wanted to go to the beach. It is easily accessible via Roma Metro. I would need to transfer subway lines a few times to get there from the residence, but it was affordable with the unlimited rides on my monthly pass. My Metro card is really paying off.
I brought my camera with me as I made my way onto the Linea A, and then the Linea B to take a new train: the Roma-Lido line. I did some research on transportation in Rome, and it turns out that the concept of this particular urban railway was a pressing issue since the 19th century, because people wanted a way to connect the center of the city to the shore. Projects to construct the line went on and off for over a century until eventually, the modern Roma-Lido line became what it is.
The stop I got off at was called Ostia Antica: Ancient Ostia. And for good reason: it was close to the Parco Archaeologico di Ostia Antica! I ran across the bridge outside the train station to the entrance of the archaeological park: I realized that the staff would stop admitting visitors after 5:00, and it was already 4:40 by the time I arrived.
I made it to the ticket office in time and got into the park without a problem. I had about two hours before the park closed, so I made the most out of my short visit. I was stunned by the sudden change between the modern park entrance and the first thing I saw inside: archaeological ruins! The remnants of a place where actual ancient people lived in!
Ostia was a significant place in Roman history. Some historians argue that it was the first “colony” of Rome in its early days from the 8th century B.C.E. Access to the Tiber river delta was crucial for resources in Italy, and eventually, Ostia became a valuable port town of Rome. The ruins are what is left of the houses and public spaces people used, and are what we modern visitors wander around and look at today.
It’s not just 21st-century humans who walk on the ancient stone roads: I had an unexpected encounter with a friendly cat that approached me, meowed, and sat at my feet, purring. I stroked my new feline friend for a while. The way the stray cat walked up to me reminded me of how my cat would greet me every time I returned to my family home in Boston. The meows and purrs sounded like the ones my cat makes, too. I felt like I was missing something in staying in Rome, and this cat seemed to fix that by being so much like my pet at home.
I walked around the park and got curious whenever I saw steps leading to platforms. I thought it would be interesting to record my experience walking up the steps and taking in the view, so I did just that on my phone. I found stunning sights of Ostia from the high vantage point and discovered things I would have missed on ground level. Some of these things include a large mosaic that covers several rooms of what was once a large house and a view of the theatre that I would have missed otherwise.
I kept an eye on the time. I managed to find the exit and head out before the staff was scheduled to do their rounds and ask people to leave before closing time. I’ll definitely come back here some other time and explore the rest of the ancient port-town.
The sun was starting to set, and it dawned on me that seeing the sunset from the west coast of Italy is an opportunity I’ve only seen once. As a Bostonian, it was impossible for me to see the sun set into the ocean: the Atlantic Ocean is on the east coast, not the west. I decided to take the Roma-Lido line further toward the shore.
I explored the more modern part of Ostia and came across a bustling, lively area near the sea. I saw a lot of restaurants and shops. Even this late in September, business is still booming at the beach!
I’m glad I caught the sunset over the Tyrrhean sea that evening. It was beautiful and reminded me of the fun time I had in Santa Marinella a few weeks ago. I was amazed at how a view like this is now so accessible to me from the Metro. It’s not something I can have in Boston!
As the sun sunk into the waves, a wave of hunger sunk into my body. I thought that since I was already so far from the Residence, and there were a lot of popular restaurants in the area, I might as well eat out.
I stopped at a place with a lot of outdoor seating. I felt more comfortable greeting people in Italian (“Buona sera!” means “Good evening!” Formal and appropriate.) and in ordering food. I find myself hesitant less as I learned how to get the waiter’s attention with “Scusi!” (“Excuse me!”) and start my order with “Vorrei” (“I would like…”).
I learned how to conjugate verbs in the present and how to form sentences. My pronunciation is improving, and I didn’t struggle as much with long words with a lot of consonants. I managed to order spaghettoni alla carbonara, a specialty in Rome. I found it funny how most of the ingredients – eggs, bacon, and cheese – sound like something I’d eat for breakfast in the States in an omelette, but in Rome, would be components of a classic pasta dish in the city. I enjoyed my carbonara and salad very much.
I walked back to the train station and made my way back to downtown Rome. I retraced my steps on the Metro and returned to the Residence, tired from all the running I did at the archaeological park and at the shore but satisfied with my photographs and the dinner I managed to order in not-as-shabby Italian. Most of all, I was pleased to learn that an adventure does not have to be a huge undertaking to be meaningful; the little things like riding a new train, seeing just a bit of an ancient port-town, petting a local cat, and trying a regional dish matter just as much, if not more!