For all those who have started at a new school or moved to a new house in a different state — I’m sure you could understand how much I feel the same way right now. Studying abroad, for me, is akin to starting my freshman year at UMass Amherst. The challenge of making new friends, adapting to a new lifestyle, and generally being pressured socially into doing things you know are a stupid idea, such as getting obliterated the night before a mid-term exam.
Viterbo, Italy and the USAC are are essentially offering me the chance to repeat the culture shock and homesickness I felt when I first started college. Only this time the stakes are higher. I cannot drive home when I’m overwhelmed or even call my family and friends. The next four months of my life will be a test of my will. I’ve brought four years of knowledge and lessons I have learned along the way to the country I have dreamed of going to ever since I was nine. I never thought this trip would be possible, so I’m determined to make the next four months of my life matter as much as the last four have. I’m prepared this time to handle the mother of all challenges and I’m determined to prover to myself how far I have come since freshman year.
Since I didn’t get to post when I was at Boston Logan International Airport, we’ll start the conversation there.
While I arrived at the airport to see a familiar building, the familiarity quickly waned as my dad drove into the parking lot, anxiously waiting to send me off into the wild. Terminal E, that’s where all international flights leave from was where my mother met my dad and I. I had two bags, one of them was very clearly over the 50 pound weight limit, the other — over the carry-on limit. So after overpaying for over-stuffing, I was finally ready to go through the security checkpoint. As I hugged my parents goodbye, tears welled in my eyes. I instantly thought about how much I loved them and how much I would miss having daily conversations with them.But I fought back the tears and traversed through security with a feeling of relief. I kept thinking to myself, I finally made it! I did it and I can’t believe it! It was at that point that I vowed to think only positively. The relief countered the anxiousness I had been feeling since Christmas as I walked to Gate E5 to board Alitalia flight 0615 to Rome (FCO) Leonardo Da Vinci airport.
Not as rocky as I thought it would be. My first thoughts after landing. Alitalia has many cool features about their planes. First, the seats were comfortable and included a very generous amount of legroom by today’s standards. The airline provides the standard pillow, blanket and headphones. As soon as I saw the headphones I was expecting some early 2000s B-film like Barbershop or 8 Mile. Instead I had dozens of movies in four different langauages to choose from. Newest action movie or an old Italian film? How about both I thought. After all, I can’t read on planes without resisting the urge to fall asleep nor can I study the Italian language in the pitch dark. The plane also had this neat front-end camera, which allowed me to watch take off and landing. Its worth noting that the runway lights at FCO form a strip, one like you might see in SSX Tricky. I legitimately felt like I was getting on a theme park ride.
GETTING TO VITERBO
Getting to Viterbo proved much harder and much more costly than I had originally thought. I grabbed my bags when I hopped off the plane and proceeded to call my parents letting them know I crossed the big bad Atlantic without a problem. It was at that point I realized I had a problem, my international calling card wasn’t being accepted. Strange. So I used my debit card to place a very expensive collect call. That’s gonna hurt the wallet.
After waiting for my fellow Alitalia flyers to get off the New York plane, we made our way for the rail station. Our goal was to take the train to the Roma Trastavere stop, and switch trains. We wanted to take the Viterbo: Porta Fiorentina train to Viterbo and get to the Baletti Palace Hotel. Now let me tell you what actually happened…
Katrina, Ariela, Milena, and I crossed the airport to get to Trenitalia, the country’s transit giant for all trains within the country. We had two Italians stop us and ask us to ride in their unmarked caravans to either the Roma Trastavere train station or all the way to Viterbo for 40 euros. We elected to take a train shuttle to the Roma Termini station.
On the way to the station, we passed the great Coliseum and other historic monuments in
Rome, which I plan to visit. Man, it was beautiful, incredible. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There’s so much to like about Rome! Just from driving through it, I noticed so much. In Rome, signs are posted to the trees, instead of metal poles. Gas is 1.62 euros. Imagine Rome as a cross between Florida or California (in that there are lots of trees that line the roads). Today it is 49 degrees and Sunny. No snow … yet.
At Rome Termini station, an Italian man helped us buy train tickets to Viterbo and when he was done he made sure to ask for his “Caffe,” which in Italy means coins ($$) for him to buy coffee. It was interesting because obviously we looked like tourists, so he cam up to me and asked, “Inglese o espanol.” Everything went sideways when he left us, though. First, I had a different ticket then my traveling mates, somehow, we were slated to leave from different destinations. It didn’t make sense to me or the group, so we asked the Polizia, other Italians, the Info desk which platform we were to take. After getting four different answers, we took the subway to the correct station on our ticket and hopped on Trenitalia there.
Our ride to Viterbo was about two and a half to three hours. I slept for a micro-fraction of the time, but when I had my eyes open,I saw beautiful green hills, sheep being herded together, architectural detail on buildings similar to Rome, graffiti, and more. The ride was amazing because it was basically Italian country — no tourists, no congestion. Nothing but the sun, the grass, and a few houses scattered in between. Once in Viterbo, we took a taxi to the Baletti Palace Hotel. Kind of a crazy first day in which I stupidly spent 30 euros. Oh well. Live and learn.
What a wild day I must say! Later this evening, I’ll be meeting up with the rest of the Viterbo spring 2013 USAC group for dinner at La Scaletta, a pizzeria inside the walls. Tomorrow I start orientation, which lasts until Saturday. Italian language classes start Thursday, though.
Throw down a challenge to yourself because you never know where it might take you. It took me from Amherst, Mass., U.S.A. to Rome, Italy.