I began my study abroad journey with the most exhausting and rewarding week of my life.
At SNHU, students studying at FUA are required to take an introduction to Italian culture or language for three credits. The early start program, however, sees students taking a six credit version of this cultural introduction and beginning their semester a week early.
We arrived in Rome on the first day then we travelled north, making stops in the cities of Orvieto, Perugia, and Assisi, before finally arriving in our home for the next three months, Florence.
The first couple days were absolutely meant to overwhelm. In a short time we had visited the Colosseum, Capitoline Hill, the Roman Forum, the Vatican City and Saint Peter’s Basilica just to name a few. In these days the thirty or so of us American students were tourists, and that was okay.
And each night we were treated to the most grandiose of meals. Gastronomy was the word our professor, Marco, used to describe it: the connection between food and the history and culture of a people. Each moment of the day was treated as a lesson, and dinner was no exception.
Three courses were the absolute minimum at dinner. Often we were given more. We had lots of pasta of course, with the all’amatricana of the first day being one of my favorites (tomato sauce with pork cheek and pecorino cheese). We had bruschetta, cured meats, cheesesm risotto, soups, salads, chicken, lamb, and plenty of wine.
The later dinners customary in Italy took a little bit of getting used to; we wouldn’t eat until at least 7:30 p.m. most nights and more often later. Back home I’m guilty of treating dinner as a chore. How many college students settle for just grabbing something from the dining hall just so they aren’t hungry anymore? In Italian culture dinner is not a passive experience. Being so late means it’s is the cap to your day, where you enjoy good food and spend time with the people you care about. Since it’s at the end of the day, there’s no need to rush off to the next thing on your list, you can be present and enjoy it.
This idea of being active and present in the moments one is it permeated through the entire week, and it was at the hilltop city of Orvieto that this clicked for me.
Following Rome was the first of our many long bus trips. Short of an errant snore, the bus was pin drop silent; three solid days of waking up bright and early for a full day of tours and city walks and late night dinners meant everyone was already exhausted.
We finally arrived in our cozy hotel and all I wanted to do was crash into my bed. However my roommates and I needed to fight that instinct. Why? We realized we hadn’t had gelato yet.
So first gelato then a nap, right?
I made my way down the cobblestone streets of Orvieto with a crew of new friends, all of us with our eyes wide open for a gelateria. We finally found one after what felt like forever, but the fresh and clean feeling air did wonders for waking us up.
I got a cup of cafe gelato. It was far creamier than any American coffee ice cream I’d ever had, and just sweet enough. It truly was worth the walk. We exited the shop and noticed that, peeking out over the volcanic rock that made up all of the city’s buildings was a structure that practically glowed.
The Cathedral of Orvieto was easily one of the most impressive things I saw that week. The façade is decorated with ornate gold and mosaics that tell biblical tales. In the medieval time the church was built, most people were illiterate so this was the best way to get the stories of the bible across to them.
The waning sunlight made the building look incredible, but just past it was a clearing that seemed to just drop off. We made our way over to it, and by that I mean we ran with the giddiness of elementary school kids riding the high from exploration and discovery. What we found was one of the best views we saw the whole trip, onlooking the valley below Orvieto.
From then on, whether it be making the fifteen minute climb to the top of the hill to marvel at the castle overlooking Assisi or just watching the countryside go by through my bus window, I began to make a conscious effort to savor each moment of my time abroad. As a New Hampshire kid who had never gone too far from home, this study abroad thing finally clicked.
In my week I learned about the many different sides of Italia, and I am thankful for having gone on this travel week for the lessons learned and the lifelong friends made.