Surviving a semester while studying abroad

Photos Courtesy of Emma Polen | Emma Polen said that out of all 89 days she spent in Italy, she was not rained on more than twice. When it rains, she suggests ducking inside a bar and ordering an espresso.

Emma Polen | Incoming News Editor

Dec. 1, 2022

This fall, I took my studies away from the Bluff and abroad to Duquesne’s campus in Rome, Italy.

While there was, of course, some “study” involved in my three-month semester in Rome, there was still plenty of time to explore the incredible Caput Mundi, or “Capital of the World.”

The first thing I noticed as I deplaned in Rome was how hot the Mediterranean sun is. Me, in my three layers of jackets that refused to fit in my luggage, climbed down to the tarmac and just about melted.

However, I would never trade the 60-degree days of Roman Novembers for the rainy cold of Pittsburgh. Of all 89 days I was in Italy, I was rained on maybe twice while outside in the elements.

If it rains, the correct action is to duck inside a bar (bars are for coffee in Italy) and order an espresso.

Italians love their espresso because it is quick, potent and cheap. With all the espressos I bought, I probably only spent a week of my typical Starbucks budget.

Espressos provide the needed energy for a full day of travel, especially on-foot in a walkable city like Rome.

To put my explorations in perspective, I began the semester with a brand-new pair of New Balance sneakers that cost more than I’d like to admit. After only three months, I was left with two holey shoes that stank like the inside of Julius Caesar’s tomb. They smelled so awful that, at the end of my European travels, I left them behind to decompose in an Italian dumpster.

Everyone says love is a universal language. I believe navigating public transportation is just as universal.

One of my favorite experiences was taking the public bus from Duquesne’s Rome campus into the city.

No matter the traveler, everyone has the same questions: Will the bus show up today? At this point, should I just walk home?

In these situations, I did have the chance to be helpful, though, even with as little Italian as I knew.

I had my bus app on my phone open at all times, and if the bus did not come for another 30 minutes, I was sure to let the nuns waiting with me at the bus stop know. For those who are unaware, nuns do not tend to carry their phones open to the bus app.

A simple “trenta minuti” was enough to communicate that we would all be waiting at least half an hour for the next bus to arrive.

There’s nothing like finding your ideal study spot. How about if that spot is at the top of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, with a view of the entire ancient heart of the city?

Most museums in Europe, like in America, have cute cafes attached to them.

In the Louvre, in Paris, France, there are five, possibly more, cafes scattered across the entire museum.

It takes a person at least an hour to even walk from the left wing of the Louvre to the right wing without looking at a single piece of artwork. It would take a strong will to refuse to stop in at least one of the museum’s cafes for a refreshment. I was guilty of a few stops during my visit to France over fall break.

The Capitoline Museum has one cafe, and it is one of the most beautiful, free views in Rome. The cafe is situated on the roof of the museum, and it can be accessed from the street without paying an entrance fee to the museum.

Sipping my espresso and studying the history of the Temple of Saturn with a free view that included the Temple of Saturn was an experience I will not soon forget.

The food in Italy is incredible.

I learned twenty new varieties of pasta, meat pairings for every wine imaginable and an entirely new class of fresh cheese.

Stracchino is a type of cheese with a similar consistency to cottage cheese, but it tastes like mozzarella. This cheese is very hard to come by in Pittsburgh because it’s so fresh, so it is difficult to keep on the shelf.

Any single dish in an Italian dinner is delicious. A typical Italian meal, though, has multiple courses. The “antipasto,” or the appetizer, the pasta course followed by a second course of meat and then of course a dessert, or “dolce.”

It was a pleasant surprise visiting a new town in Italy and discovering that each course of a meal was different. They all had the similar structure — appetizer, pasta, meat, dessert — but each region has its own take.

In Alberobello, a unique hut town in the heel of Italy’s boot, the pasta was an interesting elephant-ear shape, called orecchiette, that can be served with meaty mushrooms and bacon from wild pigs.

Rome has a completely different culture of pasta. For the sake of tourists, most of Italy’s regional cuisines can be found in Rome, the country’s capital.

Packing to leave Rome had to be my least favorite part of the trip. Have you ever had to fit every item of clothing, fragile pottery and three pounds of pasta all in one checked bag with a 50-pound limit? It’s a respectable challenge.

Even after I tossed the New Balance sneakers and a few other articles of clothing that simply unraveled by the end of the trip, I had to purchase an extra bag to check for the flight home.

I’ve got one pro tip for you: A pillowcase stuffed with all the clothes that didn’t fit inside the checked bag is not, in fact, a free additional carry-on.

I returned home to Pittsburgh exhausted. However, if given the chance, I would jump up, re-pack my bags and do another semester abroad.