Guest Post by Nicoleen Lebita, a Foster senior studying Accounting and Information Systems who participated in the Framing Rome exploration seminar. Nicoleen is a recipient of the GBC scholarship.
On August 21, 2017 at 3 o’clock in the morning, my family dropped me off at the SeaTac airport. Soon enough I boarded my first ever solo flight abroad. I felt every emotion there is from excitement to frightened. Years of saving and aspiring to study abroad have finally become reality.
When I arrived in Rome, I was confused and lost. It took me about an hour and a half to get a hold of the driver that program sent to pick me up. With no access to internet on my phone and no knowledge of the language, I was scared even after the driver picked me up. From the airport to my apartment took about an hour drive. I struggled for hours just trying to open my apartment door. I did not get the memo that Italian door keys are like puzzles. As soon as I got inside my apartment, I scouted for the Wi-Fi and not surprisingly enough I struggled to connect to the Wi-Fi as well. Their Wi-Fi password was ridiculously long and it included 5 letters that were either a small “L” or a big “i”. None of my two roommates have arrived in our apartment yet. Therefore, I was by myself from for a while. I am in the land of pasta and pizza, yet on the day I arrived I ate my left over potato chips in the sofa for breakfast and lunch. I was too frightened to walk outside and eat a meal by myself.
The next day, we had our very first class. My roommates and I were about 10 minutes late to class. All because google maps said the walk from our apartment to the UW Rome Center would only be 15 minutes, when really it’s about 30 minutes. Not going to lie, all the frustration I dealt with made me question if I made the right decision. I started to question why in the world did I choose to study abroad by myself.
During our first class, I got to meet everyone in my program and exchange numbers with people I will spent the whole month with. When talking to people, I found out I was not the only one who had a frustrating experience. If only I was bold enough to reach out to people before the trip, then maybe I could have experience it all with a friend. Soon enough, I was having pasta for every dinner, gelato at least twice a day and planning weekend trips with people in my program. As soon as I got comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone, I finally got to experience being a part of the Italian community. I met so many people not only from my program but also the locals. I stopped by my favorite coffee and gelato shops so often that the workers started to remember my name. I visited so many places. The most beautiful places were not the ones I saw in social media but rather the places most tourist do not visit such as churches’ steps where all the young Italians can be found after classes.
Along with the good experiences, I continued to experience some bad ones during my trip. For example, from Amalfi Coast to Florence to Venice; our small weekend trips were filled with extremely bad weather. It would rain like cats and dogs wherever we go as if Seattle weather followed us around. Every city we were not in at the time were extremely sun. Yet as soon as we arrive the rain would not stop pouring. In the beginning, it was quite frustrating. The more that it happened, the less frustrated we became. We started laughing so much about it even till now when we look back to our experience.
No one warned me about this part of the studying abroad and I am glad they didn’t. Studying abroad in Italy is not just about the good food, sightseeing and all the beautiful pictures I saw in social media; it is about adaptation to a new environment. It is not as glam as I expected but was much more rewarding that I could ever imagine. In only a span of one month, I widened my comfort zone, gained more patience and became more adaptive. I am extremely glad I made the decision to study abroad on my own. To end my study abroad experience, I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Rome and it was yet to be the best birthday I have ever had. I came back to the United States with a bigger perspective of the world around me. I could not be more excited to go abroad once again in the future.