Rome: my exchange semester

An hour ago, I took off from Rome Fiumicino airport, and my Erasmus experience has officially come to an end. Many of you, however, are now packing your bags and getting ready for an adventure of a lifetime. An adventure that will show you the world from a different perspective, no matter who you are or where you come from. And as reflect on how it has impacted me, I would like to share some of my experience with you.

Cultural shocks

Applying for Erasmus and going abroad is a giant step from one’s comfort zone. So as I stepped foot in Rome, I realized my comfort zone consisted of speaking in English, using efficient public transport, and always relying on my debit/credit card. That worked fine during my year in Estonia, but it turns out that’s not exactly how it works in Italy. Busses never come on time – sometimes don’t come at all, English is unheard of in many places, and in little shops and Tabaccherias’, so are debit/credit cards.

Not to mention that when the bus/metro finally shows up, it’s so crowded that it looks a little like this. 

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This was a cause of many late run-ins to class and embarrassing moments in front of the cashier when they would not accept my card. Slowly, however, I realized that I was not the only one running late to class and not having cash at the counter was not a big deal either. “Tranquilo! Bring it whenever you can,” the cashier smiled as I began to stress about not having cash. By the end of the semester, they knew me in the coffee shop by name and I didn’t even have to mention what coffee I wanted to order. The openness and  constant glee of Italians was something I really enjoyed after Estonia. Not speaking English 24/7 also left me with no other option but learn some basic Italian, which can come in super handy to anyone.

So the cultural shocks that were a cause of profound stress and discomfort in the first weeks also lead me to take life easier than usual. Bus is late? Nothing I can do about that. No English? Use some hand gestures. No cash? Pay later. No problem is stress-worthy in Italy 😉

Student life

 When it comes to student life, all the stereotypes about Erasmus students partying all the time are not entirely false. But the whole Erasmus experience is what you make out of it, so set your priorities straight and go from there.

I did my best to keep a balance between studying and enjoying Italy – took the amount of workload that allowed me to have enough time to actually explore and enjoy the country. So throughout my semester, I managed to travel to Naples, Milan, and Florence. Thinking it would be more convenient, I did not go on Erasmus-organized trips but went with a few friends instead. From what I realized later on, however, nothing beats the Erasmus trips, so whenever you get the option of going with Erasmus, go with Erasmus (although sleepless nights are pretty much guaranteed).

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20 degrees in Naples in the beginning of November 

Aside from a few trips,ESN organizes copious daily/weekly events for students to take part in. And in the beginning of the year, participating and showing up is the best way to meet people and make new friends. During my first few days, I was so worn out from settling down and trying to explore Rome all in a week that I missed out on many fun events that ESN had organized. So my advise for you would be that no matter how tired and exhausted you might be during your first week, push yourself to attend all the events because the beginning of the year is when everyone shows up. As the semester progresses, people disperse into their own crowd and have their own thing going on.

What a metro full of Erasmus students looks like 

Overall, my semester in Rome was a growing experience — fun and exciting but also challenging and cultivating. It was appalling at first to move from a tiny city like Tallinn to a huge one like Rome, but a few stressful days in the beginning were quickly overshadowed by the amount of fun and unforgettable days I had overall. I got to meet diverse and interesting group of people, live in one of my favorite cities in the world, and experience one of the most lively cultures. Not to mention have the best food in the planet for half a year.

And by best food I mean something like this 

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And this 

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Enjoy your semester abroad and see you later!

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