For anyone seriously interested in gaining at least a conversational level of Italian, these are the resources that I’ve used along the way to improve and largely maintain my level of Italian.
I’m always surprised at how interested Italians are Thanksgiving, and how rewarding it is to celebrate this typical American holiday in Italy. Every year, I always have Italian friends asking me what my plans are for Thanksgiving and who are always willing to join in and try out the strange American dishes that both repel and fascinate them at the same time.
There are so many misconceptions when it comes to living in Italy and the stereotypical dolce vita is both an exaggeration and underestimation of what living in this country is like. Obviously there are positives and negatives to living in every country, but in this post I wanted to address the stereotypes that leave people wanting to move to Italy so badly, without a real idea of what it’s like living here. So here is my list of what makes up the “real” dolce vita in Italy, at least for this American ex-pat.
When Monday rolled around and I clicked “post” to my Top Tips for creating a travel journal, I was a little surprised to see the number 100 pop up on my WordPress site. After 10 months of blogging, I’ve written and published 100 posts on my blog, something that I never thought I would say. Writing 3 times a week hasn’t always been easy with my constantly changing job in Rome, especially as I try to fit more travel in. I’ve had to find tiny moments in my day to take pictures, write content and do maintenance on my blog and social channels. I learned how to create a website, market myself and do mysterious coding things that I still won’t pretend to fully understand. It’s taught me a lot and I’m so happy to have a very thorough overview of what my life in Italy is like for the future.
To celebrate my 100 posts, today I’m sharing what were my most popular posts and my personal favorites. Going back through my archives is always a treat because I can see just how far this has come. Thanks for reading and supporting me in my love for all things La Vita Roma.
Most Popular Posts
- Termini Market: Termini’s New Mercato Centrale— Back in October I covered the opening of a new gourmet food market in Termini Station, with food stands from famous Roman restaurants. Obviously a lot of people want to find decent food around the station (because previously there was nothing) and I still love this market!
- How to Make Homemade Lasagna: Making Lasagna the Italian Way—this recipe from my boyfriend’s mom has had over 50 views and continues to be shared over social media. It’s not simple, but the final result is delightfully homey and absolutely incredible taste-wise.
- 72 Hours in Rome: Weekend Travel Guide to Rome—This guide took me a while to put together, if only because of how limiting having only 72 hours in this beautiful city is. After some hard cuts, I came up with a full, enjoyable itinerary for a weekend trip in Rome that’s very helpful for anyone new to the city.
- Travel in Italy: Urbino, Le Marche—This one might be because of the beautiful photos of Le Marche that I included, but its one of my favorites too. My trip to Urbino with my sister and boyfriend was short but very sweet. We took a road trip through the center of the country and found some amazing scenery along the way. Urbino’s a lovely city and somewhere that I highly recommend!
- Best Pizza in Rome: Emma Pizzeria—last, but certainly not least, my post about Emma’s as the best pizza in Rome definitely got some attention. It’s not famous among other bloggers or best of lists for Rome, but in my opinion, it takes the cake. Emma’s ingredients and quality of their pizza result in something that I want in my mouth at all times. Still the best, after 1.5 years of searching.
My Favorite Posts
It really wasn't easy to choose my favorites from (over) 100 posts, but I gave it a shot. Here are my favs:
- The Best Views in Rome: 6 great spots for pictures—This post combines my love for Rome, photography and high places. I’m obsessed with taking photos from above and love city skylines. These places in Rome are very special to me because of the memories I made there.
- What I miss most about the US—Thanksgiving is always hard for me to be away from family and especially in a country where they don’t celebrate it. Easter and Christmas are approached with a lot of fanfare but Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays to spend with family, is mostly overlooked. Here I shared the things, both random and important, that I miss most about home. Brunch, pets, and basic American conveniences top the list.
- My Favorite Italian Instagrams—I love Instagram and Italian accounts are my favorite to follow. They gave me inspiration when I was living in the US to travel and now they give me great ideas for eating and traveling within the country. These are the people who have inspired me and who I look forward to seeing content from on a daily basis.
- 2016 in Review: 2016 Travels —traveling is always fun in the moment, but I always love looking back at pictures from trips and talking to people about where I’ve been, either in Italy or outside! This post was my roundup of long vacations and weekend trips that I’ve taken over the year and it was so fun to put together.
- Where to Find the Best Gelato in Rome—back in the summer of 2016, I had so much fun researching for this roundup of best gelaterias in Rome. If you can find something better than a hobby that enables your love for gelato and pizza, let a girl know because I haven’t found anything better for it than blogging.
Finally, as a bonus, here is the first post that I ever wrote from my site, 5 Reasons Why You Should Live Abroad. I still stand by these reasons and have only found more over the past 100 posts. If you’ve got this far, congrats! And now you have 10 more articles to check out…
Living in Italy has been an extraordinary experience so far and has given me so many opportunities to grow as a person. That said, sometimes there are things that no incredible pizza or thrill at having a successful Italian conversation can fix. These are the things I miss most about living at home and what I'm most thankful for.
- New England fall foliage
- Having crosswalks where cars will actually stop for you
- Delivery services. Specifically food-related.
- American sports including football and baseball season
- 5-star 5 subject college-ruled notebooks, none of this graph notebook business
- Watching Netflix without changing your VPN
- Apple-picking and other festive fall activities
- Mexican food, i.e. avocados that aren't hard, guac, and margs.
- Having the right to vote, when Italians have to fight their government for this.
- Washer-dryer combos, because air drying is so annoying.
- Family dinners and all the annoying parts of your family that you pretend to hate but secretly love.
- Being close enough for best friend dates on the couch with wine
- Having Saturdays off from school (yes, these poor suckers go to school 6 days a week up to high school)
- Celebrating American holidays in the US (RIP Thanksgiving, the fourth of July, and other random Monday holidays)
- Cuddling with pets
- iMessaging and FaceTiming because most people have iPhones
- Having written exams and tests instead of oral interviews at school (almost all tests in the Italian school system are oral)
- Bagels and brunch. Self-explanatory.
Above all, I'm so thankful to be going home this Christmas and spending the holidays with my family. What are you most thankful for this year?
Since I moved here (October 2015) I’ve been routinely questioned about the U.S. presidential election by Italians. I've gotten everything from, “So what do you think about the election?” to, “Who are you voting for?”and “Does anyone actually support Trump??”
Most of the time I try to steer clear of this topic because it’s a pretty depressing situation for my country to be in and is one of the perks of living abroad. To celebrate the end of the the election cycle and the return to general decency among all Americans (hopefully), I decided to turn the tables on my Italian friends and ask them the same questions I’d been assailed with for over a year.
My (very) informal survey was done over dinners, in English lessons, and conducted in both English and Italian, so please allow for some misinterpretation and don't assume that these few opinions represent Italy as a whole or my own views!
So enjoy some excerpts from those conversations below, added in no particular order.
But... do people actually like Trump?
"Trump wants to start a war with every country. While he has a strong desire to improve business relations with other countries, he lacks judgment."
“I can't believe people with a head and a brain can support and believe in Trump”
And from a signora too polite to say what she really thinks: "Do people really think THAT man could be president?"
Hillary as a shifty character
"But what happened with all those emails?"
"Hilary lacks the “forza” (strength) that a president needs, she isn’t honest and hides things from Americans and the world. She is anything but transparent."
"Maybe her husband is actually running the show..."
When we're all just sick of our options
"Neither candidate would be a good option for me. One of them is crazy (he’s too rich and his empire is too big). The other is a proven liar and can't be trusted."
"How did you guys allow yourselves to end up with these two?"
Impacts on Europe
“Europe looks to America as a great nation with a strong military. If you also have a strong leader, the US can be a 'driver' for Italy and Europe, cementing trade and political relations. If not, it is disastrous for world peace.”
“I don’t care about the US election, Italy has enough issues of our own to worry about as it is.”
The Berlusconi comparison
"We dealt with Berlusconi and his shady behavior for decades, so we feel your pain. "
"We're just glad that there's a even more embarrassing candidate out there"
"And we thought our guy was bad!"
Studying abroad is the number one thing I recommend to college students. It was an experience that changed my life and everyone who chooses to live for a semester or longer in a foreign country is altered in some way. One of the most prohibitive factors of study abroad is its cost, leading many students to think that they can’t afford it. The fact is, studying abroad may be even cheaper than attending school on a US campus. Depending on which country you choose to live in, your overall expenses could be lower, due to switching universities and different costs of living. For some tips about how to save money while traveling and study abroad on a budget, read on.
Do your research before deciding on a country or study abroad program. Don’t just rely on a counselor to provide you with information, actually go on the internet and search for programs or other people’s experiences. Some countries are famously more expensive than others. If you want to study abroad in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Denmark, or other wealthy countries, your program fees, travel expensive, transportation, and food will cost you more. “Less popular” destinations like areas in Central and South America, Asia, and Eastern European countries will give you a lot more bang for your buck. Some fun and cheap(er) places to study abroad are Prague, Dubrovnik, Warsaw, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, and even some non-capital cities such as Bologna, (Italy), Valencia, (Spain), or Toulouse (France).
Keep in mind that in Germany, public undergraduate universities are free, with limited fees, for both national and international students. Of course, this only applies if you’re not doing the program directly through your home university and transferring the credits easily by paying your home school’s yearly tuition. In my case, I paid almost $30,000 for my semester because this is what Villanova dictates must be done to easily have these credits count for graduation, while if I had gone directly through the Arcadia program it would have been $13,550 and only €500-€1000 through the Italian university.
After choosing your program and moving abroad, you’re probably thinking about all of the convenient traveling you can do while living in Europe or another foreign continent. Be wary of student trip programs and pre-planned groups that will charge you much more money that you need to spend to travel. In Italy, Bus 2 alps is well known for domestic and international trips (to Positano and Munich for example) and definitely overcharges its customers. Destinations are also important to keep in mind. If you decide you NEED to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, that will significantly cut into your budget for other trips because everything is so overpriced during that time period. Traveling domestically around your home country is easy, cheap and will allow you to fully experience your study abroad country. Save the trips to expensive cities for another time or at least choose your must-sees and prioritize around that. I don’t recommend traveling as much as possible in the beginning of the semester, only to realize that you ran out of money and have to eat pasta and drink boxed €1 wine for the rest of your stay.
When you’re a student, it’s very easy to be lazy and avoid cooking your own food. This problem is compounded when you take into account the amazing foreign food that you’ll have at your disposal abroad, especially in Italy. Why make dinner when I can buy pizza, suppli and a personal tiramisu, all for €15?! Late night snacks and coffee runs do add up though. While it’s temping to always eat out, I think the best way to save money while studying abroad and still enjoy your experience is to remove any negative motivations to eat out and instead only do it when you are excited about it. Maybe you want to try a new restaurant or have a weekly pizza date planned on Fridays, but my advice is to limit the frequency of your meals out and increase the quality. That way you never miss out on something that you’ll really love, while staying in your budget at the same time.
If you stick around your study abroad city there are many ways you can find free and cheap events for students. Many major cities have events, concerts, and exhibitions open to the public that I usually find by visiting Facebook pages or looking at blog roundups. If you can plan out some cheap events beforehand, it’s also added motivation to stick around your city and maybe hang out with some locals. You should also look into any discounts for students or younger people in the area. In Rome, every first Sunday of the month is free entrance to museums and exhibitions for EU citizens. If you’re studying abroad with a program, take advantage of the program’s planned events. Many times the coordinators have a better idea of interesting activities and the price might be included with your program fees.
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Tomorrow is my one-year anniversary of moving to Rome! A year ago, I decided to leave the US for Italy and haven't looked back since. While I've learned a lot since moving here, including more Italian than 4 years of classes gave me, I've mostly been lucky to spend more time understanding the Italian culture and people much better. After living with my boyfriend's family for 6 months and working with Italians on a daily basis in my teaching job, there are a few tidbits that I've picked up. Here are 12 random facts about Italians, from an ex-pat's perspective. Full disclosure, a lot of them relate to food ;)
- Fruit must be peeled
End of story.
- Peanut butter is disgusting
This was a hard one for me to get my head around. In Italy, peanut butter is almost universally despised. My boyfriend won't kiss me after I've eaten in because the taste alledgedly lingers for hours and when you can find it in stores, it's usually €6. When I brought in American candy to some of my English classes (winning best teacher award), Reese's was the one type almost all the children didn't like and I had a couple who even had to spit out their peanut butter cup in the trash.
- Italy is full of single ladies
The average age to get married is much later, more like early 30s while women rarely have children before 35. In general, the dating phase of Italian relationships tends to last longer. People will have a boyfriend/girlfriend for ten years before the pressure to get married starts.
- Public transportation is for peasants (specifically regarding men)
Why take a bus or metro when you can drive? It's always worth paying for gas and then driving around for up to an hour (!) to find a (semi) legal parking spot.
- Kissing is polite
Hugging is weird and reserved for very close relationships. Far more common is the double kiss, which you can use with friends, family, acquaintances, and sometimes strangers.
- Lanes on the road are merely guidelines and are usually ignored by the population of Rome
2 lane roads can fit up to 5 cars side by side in a traffic jams, yellow means go, red means proceed with caution, and the middle of the road qualifies as a valid parking spot.
- 24/7 locations for supermarkets, restaurants and shops are rare, and people like it like that
While sometimes it's frustrating to have to wait, the majority agree that lunch, getting home to your family at night, and taking most of August off is how life is meant to be lived
- Graph paper is used more in notebooks than lined.
It was a STRUGGLE to find my college-lined 3- subject notebook when I studied here
- The Godfather is more realistic than you know
The mafia does exist in Italy and has its hand in many businesses, specifically in the southern half. While on a day to day basis most people aren't effected, the mafia influences the government and other institutions on a national level.
- Why pay if you can find another option?
Italians will always try to haggle down a price, get something for free, or find a friend who can do it for them.
- Air conditioning is the devil.
It will make you sick immediately and if you come down with a cold, the AC or cold air outside is more to blame than germs. Sidenote: wet hair will also kill you, if not blow-dried immediately.
- Conversely, salmonella is not a thing.
Leftovers can be left out of the fridge until eaten and eggs don't have to be refrigerated
Obviously some of these are a little exaggerated, but it really is so interesting to live in another culture that opposes things that you've taken for granted your entire life. I've gotten into more than my fair share of fights defending what I think are FACTS, but that someone else disagrees with. Have you ever experienced something so crazy in a different culture? Share it below!
With the beginning of September in Rome comes an influx of study abroad and Erasmus students to the city. To celebrate the start of many people's journeys and my own 3-year study abroad anniversary, I thought I would write a post with study abroad tips that can be applied to any foreign country. Being a major city central to Europe, Rome is very popular with students and has 146 accredited programs currently. Not to mention the draw of living in one of the most beautiful and romantic cities on Earth, while eating your body weight in carbs ;)
To start your semester abroad in the right way, here are some tips taken from my personal experience studying and living in Rome.
Packing for your trip abroad is a vital part of having a great experience. While there is a lot of advice about packing for a foreign trip, the most important thing I learned is that if there are certain things at home that make you happy, prioritize them. For me that was my pillow, some photos, a few of my favorite books, and the skincare/makeup I wasn’t sure was available in Italy. On that note, I do recommend bringing shampoo, conditioner, and at least one bottle of your favorite face/body products to a different country. Many times your brand won’t be available or if it is, might be super expensive. I was lucky enough to remember all of my favorites, but a word of caution: they just don’t make deodorant and tampons the same in Europe.
focus on the language
I was absolutely terrible at learning languages all of my life. Ask anyone, I hated language classes and didn’t see the point of studying something I thought I would never need. Fast forward 3 years later and I am living in Rome, using Italian every single day. Don’t I wish now that I had paid more attention to my intro and intermediate Italian classes. And don’t get me started about the 10 years of Spanish that have culminated in a grand total of three phrases (hola, que tal, and me llamo).
Learning the local language is integral to gleaning more from your study abroad experience. Many students come to Rome and can get by with a few phrases and speaking slowly in English. But the best experiences I’ve had here never would have happened if I was speaking English. Traveling to remote places in Italy, meeting interesting people, and feeling like a local in your new home all require some knowledge of the language. While I find Italian to be a difficult language to learn, it isn’t impossible and it's definitely fun to try. Italians are always willing to entertain you as you struggle and even making an effort to speak their language goes a long way to breaking down cultural barriers.
push yourself out of your comfort zone
Every study abroad destination has its typical American experience. Rome’s, for example, would be taking pictures in front of the monuments, eating pizza and pasta every meal of every day, and going out in the neighborhoods of Trastevere and Campo di Fiori (shout out to G-Bar and The Drunken Ship). This is where I was recommended to go when I studied here and this is where hopes for a fully immersive Italian experience go to die. You will not find out what it's like to live in a different culture if you hang out with only your American friends, do stereotypically Italian things, and go to the same places every week. Rome has a huge offering of bars, clubs, restaurants, and neighborhoods that actual Italians will frequent. The best way to find out where these places are is to talk to the locals and once you do, you will wonder why you ever felt the need to go to Scholar’s in the first place.
make foreign friends
When I studied here, I spent the first 2 months of my trip avoiding all interaction with Italians and instead hanging out with my new American friends (understandable considering the Italians I did meet out at touristy places were sexually aggressive and not a lot of fun). But then one of the Italians in my friend’s multi-cultural class came over my apartment. And she brought her friend. And a couple weeks later we started dating. Now I’m not saying that to truly experience a new country you need to be romantically involved with a local, but even making friends outside of your roommates and people on your program will dramatically change your time abroad. With Edoardo, I saw so many new sides to Rome and I came to really love this city. Spending time with someone who called this city home allowed me to start feeling at home as well.
travel, but not too much
One thing that new study abroad students are always excited about is the ability to cheaply travel around Europe. They come here with goals to visit 15 countries and travel every weekend out of their four months. But if you’re traveling every weekend and studying during the week, when do you have time to explore YOUR city? Weekends in Rome are so special, with music events, food tastings, and the ability to see the historic center by walk in half a day. In addition, there are so many easy weekend trips inside the country that it’s a shame to be taking flights every weekend. You should try to experience as much of this country’s diversity you can, without sacrificing international travel completely.
avoid believing and reinforcing stereotypes
This might be the most difficult tip to explain and for foreigners to accept, but time and time again I see Americans traveling to Italy convinced by the “Italian stereotype” that the media communicate. Being scared of pickpockets, nervous that Italian men will take advantage of you, certain that the only food people eat here is pizza and spaghetti, are commonly experienced emotions felt by students and short-term tourists traveling to Italy. All of these things happen here, but not with the frequency that outsiders imagine. Yes, it’s important to be cautious and yes, certain foods and places are symbols for the Italian culture. But there is so much more to the Italian people and country than this. People steal money in every major city in the world, not exclusively Rome. Many Italian men love to make friends with Americans because they love talking about our country with us. Pizza and pasta are great but many Italians also love sushi, fresh seafood, and American burgers. It’s easy to stay ignorant about another culture because finding out we (or our society as a whole) are wrong is hard to accept. But by consciously deciding not to believe in and thus reinforce cultural stereotypes, you will have an infinitely improved study abroad experience.
If you skipped down to the bottom (not judging), these are my three golden rules to study abroad in the right way.
- learn the language (at least a bit)
- push yourself to meet locals and try different things
- don’t rush through your semester because it will be the best time of your life
All photos taken in 2013, during my study abroad trip to Rome.
Living in a new culture, meeting different people, eating delicious food, having access to exciting travel spots; these are just some of the reasons why so many people feel the urge to travel and leave their "normal" life at home.
While it definitely requires dedication and a level of sacrifice, I believe that traveling is the single most important thing you can do to improve yourself and to fully enjoy life. There is a reason why if you ask someone to tell you what they did last Wednesday, they’ll sit there thinking it over for a while, but they could tell you in detail all the amazing experiences they had on their backpacking trip to Thailand 5 years ago. Traveling allows us to create experiences that change us in fundamental ways and provide us with lasting memories.
For some motivation for you to ditch your 9-to-5 — or at least take a long break from it — here are 5 reasons why you should live abroad at least once in your life.
to broaden your perspective
Living your life the way it's been laid out for you deprives you of the ability to make personal decisions about the direction you want your life to take. Speaking from personal experience about the culture in the U.S., it is almost expected that you attend university after high school, while also maintaining an impressive list of extracurriculars to put on your resume, and line up a full-time job to commit to immediately after graduation. However, there are so many different paths that you could take, that aren’t always apparent if you just do as you believe that you’re expected to. Traveling in general, but more specifically, living in a different culture, changes your point-of-view in so many ways. You learn to be more open towards foreign cultures and more empathic towards people struggling in different parts of the world. Living in the U.S., watching American news, talking to American people, will never give you such a broad range of perspectives as interacting daily with people whose lives have been so different from yours.
Living in a different country has allowed me to become more objective about politics, social structures and less judgmental in general. When you are struggling to make yourself understood in a different language, are always singled out as “The American”, or maybe just feel a little homesick that day, you start to better understand the world as a global citizen.
to push yourself out of your comfort zone
When you travel or move to a different country, you will naturally experience some new things that you didn’t expect. Every culture has its norms and if you do push yourself to experience a new place fully, you won’t love everything you view. Sometimes food isn’t like it is at home, people don’t talk to you the way you expect, and some things just don’t seem right. But that’s okay. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable; it actually will make you a better person. You can’t grow or improve if you do the same thing all the time. Trying different things will show you at worst, that you can survive some seriously weird stuff, and at best, that you can learn to love something new.
to make the transition from tourist to local
There is a certain charm to going on vacation as a tourist. Your primary goal is to relax, enjoy your time off, and push yourself as little as possible. Many people choose this path when traveling, not bothering to learn the local language or customs, but expecting their hosts to accommodate their needs. When you go beyond this step however, and travel with intention, you will start to see the enormous impact that living abroad can have on your life.
Traveling with intention means doing your research about your host country, attempting to learn some language basics, going out of your way to visit outside a city center and see non-tourist sites. Asking locals for recommendations, talking to people who have traveled or lived there before, or doing internet research before your trip are good places to start. Even better, this sort of mindset becomes necessary when you commit to staying in one place for a month or more.
I promise that when you do make that shift from, “Oh wow, this place is great, but I don’t know where I am or what to do, AH,” to feeling more comfortable in a new environment, and eventually giving out your own recommendations, it will be worth it.
to improve the way you handle challenges—even in the workplace
There are times that every traveler wants to quit. Maybe you missed an international flight, maybe you desperately need wifi to check into your Airbnb but no one around speaks English, or your second bus breaks down as you’re rushing to work (thanks ATAC). Facing new and different challenges is inherent in experiencing life in a different culture. While the physical aspects of traveling and figuring out a new country are certainly difficult, it can mentally be even more taxing. With a language barrier, or even in a different English speaking country, you can often feel disconnected from the world around you or like you don’t belong.
The moment when you push past these challenges is when you really start to grow. I am more confident in myself than ever before. The things that used to give me anxiety, I feel less stressed about because of my new found perspective. The new skills you develop and your ability to perform under stress translate perfectly into the demands of a full-time job. After spending time living in a different country, you will be able to market yourself to future employers with the new skills you developed.
to develop a go-with-the-flow mentality
Some frequent travelers swear by strict itineraries, fully researched trips, and a clear picture of what they want to accomplish when traveling to different countries. Aside from the obvious difficulties of maintaining this approach over a long period of time, one of the best parts of living abroad is that it forces you to move away from this way of thinking. Life in your own city becomes a lot less stressful when you don’t try to plan everything out or control the uncontrollables that life will throw at you. This is especially relevant in Italy, as the Italian culture does not allow for Type A personalities. People are at least 10 minutes late to every meet up, public transit is either late or not working, and should you need any paperwork taken care of in a timely manner, forget about it. People call life here la dolce vita for a reason, and it isn’t for the country’s punctuality ;)
When you learn to live in a more relaxed manner that the U.S. (and many other countries) are known for and to maintain the “flow” at all times, it allows you to fully enjoy the unforgettable experiences you are living.
While there are many other benefits to moving to a new country—learning new languages, meeting new and different people, the instagrams, etc.—these are a few of the most important impacts that I’ve observed in my time traveling, studying, and working abroad. So, what’s holding you back from living abroad?