I’ll admit it: going abroad for a Classics Major seemed like the perfect way to circumvent the Office of International Studies’ requirement that students study a language before traveling to a country where it is spoken. Since ancient Greek and Latin are dead languages, Classics majors are given a handy loophole to this rule.
I opted to attend the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome. After I was accepted, people started asking me if I knew any Italian, and I would simply laugh.
“Of course not. I study Latin.”
After being here for a while, however, I have come to realize that there is probably a reason why the Office of International Studies has a language requirement: so that students don’t find themselves in the situation I did during my first week here.
Let me begin.
The building where I live is fondly referred to as “the Centro,” and the area is quite idyllic. The people are nice, the weather is good, but the food is the most amazing part—it’s absolutely delicious. There are little Italian women who cook three authentically Italian meals a day for us, each with at least two courses. And it’s amazing. And there’s a lot of it. A common sentence flying around the building in our first week was “My friend gained SO much weight when she went here.” Now, if you are a typical woman who has been brainwashed by the media into hating yourself, this phrase is terrifying—it certainly was to me. Luckily, the solution is simple: I knew that all I would have to do to prevent this terrible fate would be to exercise frequently. No big deal.
Now, a membership to the gym here is a relatively expensive for students with no income, and it’s about a 10-minute walk away. Lame. But, there is a gorgeous 540 acre park, the Villa Pamphili, not five minutes from our building. And, hell, I’m in Italy. I’m not going to go to a gym when I can get my exercise in a vast, beautiful park filled with old villas, gardens, and monuments.
So, on my third day in Italy, I jogged into the Villa Pamphili. After a while, I realized I was passing by unfamiliar things, but I just assumed I had taken a wrong turn and could quickly rectify my mistake. By 5:45 p.m., I still had not figured out where I went wrong. This would have been less worrying if it hadn’t been getting dark, or if the area in which I was running wasn’t slowly emptying of people. Or if, you know, the park wasn’t almost completely unlit.
By 6:15p.m., I was utterly and completely lost, it was dark, and I was about to cry. After all, no story that begins with “a young woman went jogging alone late Thursday afternoon” ever ends well. Although, I have to admit that it would have been darkly humorous if I got killed the first time I ever went running, considering that exercise junkies are fond of telling me that it won’t kill me to try.
Since being stuck in the big scary park all night didn’t seem appealing, I exited the park. Onto a road.
That’s right, the exit of the park just dumps you out on a highway.
So let’s take inventory:
–No phone (and even if I borrowed one, I didn’t know any numbers)
-No knowledge of the area
I started to just wander around. I saw some young hip girls who looked like they might be going to a bus, so I followed them. I went hopping from bus to bus to bus until I got to the end of their routes, for almost two hours. Finally, I glimpsed out my window to see a glowing red ‘M’ and surmised that this was a Metro station.
Once inside, I fought with the ticket machine, and spent 16 of my 20 Euros buying a one week pass. I was looking over the upcoming stops when ‘Termini’ popped out at me, and I remembered that Termini is essentially the Grand Central of Rome. For the first time in several hours, I had hope.
Of course, Termini was a hot mess for someone who had never been there before, but I eventually found my way to a plaza outside with lots of bus stops, and I actually saw a real-life, honest-to-God 75 bus. The bus that would get me home. I literally ran toward it, certain that my trials were over at last. But no. It was stopped at a red light. The driver inside merely glanced at me and shook her head before driving her beautiful bus away. I actually tried to follow it across moving traffic. It didn’t work.
Back at the bus plaza, I waited about 30 minutes for the 75 bus to come (a transportation strike was scheduled for the next day, so everything was slowing down late at night). The problem was, of course, that I didn’t remember the stop I was supposed to get off at. Now, even after a promise to myself “not to cry,” I cried—in a very dignified way, of course, but still, tears were on my face. I got off, walked up a road, realized it was wrong, and walked back. I walked down another road and suddenly in the distance I saw… a red bank machine and a glowing blue Virgin Mary. Yes, there is a convent next door to us, and yes, they do have a figure of Mary lit by glowing neon blue lights above their entrance. Italians.
It was 11:45, and after being lost for almost seven hours, I had somehow managed to find my way home. Of course, here is the real kicker: nobody had realized that I was gone. I wasn’t missed by a single soul. But it wasn’t all bad. After all, I managed not only to get my “run” in, but also missed dinner—I basically hit two birds with one stone.
Anyway, lesson learned: being skinny is hard, and you should probably study abroad in a country where you speak the language.