Studying abroad in Rome: tips on how to make the most of it
Rome is the city of gladiators and Popes, artists and politicians: the belly-button of the world, as the locals will keenly tell you. The city has everything to offer, and if you are lucky enough to study abroad there, here are a few tips to make the most of it. I lived in Rome for three glorious years as an international student and I’ve put together a few dos and don’ts, take note.
Do: breakfast at the bar
Find the cafe closest to your new home, il bar in Italian, and have breakfast Italian style a couple of times a week, (cappuccino standing at the counter). This is an easy and delicious way to get to know your neighbours, plus the people watching is unparalleled.
Don’t: dress for the weather
Italians have excellent style, no one is denying this. But when it comes to getting dressed, there is one eyebrow raising ritual to bear in mind: the cambio di stagione (change of the season). In the face of record October temperatures Romans will bravely don their cashmere jumpers and leather jackets. At the start of autumn you swap in your winter wardrobe regardless of the realities of weather. Prepare to be berated by the local nonnas if you think you can walk down the street with no tights after August.
Do: eat the tripe
Italian food is delicious, but there are a few rogue items on the menu. My advice to you is try them. Keep yourself open to new experiences, culinary or otherwise. Trippa alla Romana is a must for gaining the respect of the locals, and let’s be honest, once you’ve eaten the tripe you’ll be up for anything.
Don’t: shop in the supermarket
The markets are where it is all happening, put the supermarket to one side and get your groceries at Mercato Testaccio instead. You’ll find fresher and cheaper ingredients and get to know the local oldies. Make the effort to go to the butcher for your meat and the bakery for your bread, it adds a little je ne sais quoi to the shopping experience and you’ll get to know your neighbours. For clothes, don’t miss Porta Portese, an enormous outdoor market in Trastevere every Sunday.
Do: live with Italians
This is a no-brainer for so many reasons. Ready made local friends who will start teasing you for foreign food habits in no time! Plus, nothing improves your Italian like a flatmate. Look up the Facebook pages of Roman universities for spare room adverts, or, if you’re already in the city most will have a notice board with room ads pinned to it. You can also peruse rental websites for potential new homes.
Don’t: let the public transport get you down
Rome wasn’t built in a day, in fact they are still finishing off the final touches. Don’t expect the buses to arrive or the metro to get you where you need to go. There is a public transport strike more or less bimonthly and you’ll never find a parking space. The key thing is not to let it upset you, you’ll get there when you get there. This attitude will be reflected in your school schedule, for instance my classes started at 9am – 9.20am, make of that what you will.
Do: take advantage of the art
There is art everywhere: the churches have Caravaggios, there are Bernini sculptures in the parks, the museums are heaving with Roman ruins and Renaissance masterpieces. Visit the underrated National Museums, they are free if you study art history or architecture. While you have it all at your fingertips, go!
Don’t: snub organised fun
Show up to the Erasmus karaoke party, go to the bar hosting a language exchange. You should also look for classes in Italian you can join, maybe a local yoga studio or a painting class? The more things you get involved in, the more people you’ll meet, the more fun you’ll have.
Italian families are often looking for an international student to teach their children a new language (especially English). This usually takes the form of an hour or two of playing games while their mother prepares you delicious snacks. You’ll meet some lovely people, earn a bit of money and get a total insight into Italian home life.
Don’t: Limit yourself to Rome
Rome is only a thirty minute train ride from the beach, not to mention the spell binding gardens of Tivoli or the natural hot springs around Viterbo. There is a great train system and you can go anywhere in the Lazio region for only €8. Although why limit yourself to Lazio, Napoli is so close you can go there just for the pizza. Check out our guide to the best day trips from Rome.
Do: find exciting places to study
Your university will have somewhere to study, but don’t miss out on the beautiful public libraries around the city complete with mahogany staircases and lemon tree gardens. Casa delle Letterature and Biblioteca Casanatense were some of my favourites. As well as the libraries there is a great student culture in the cafes, pop into Caffè Letterario, Er Baretto or Ex Circus to name just a few or check out our guide to the best places to study in Rome.
Don’t: let bureaucracy ruin the experience
The Italian system will be dramatically different to what you’re used to, my advice is to let the chaos of registering for classes and the horror of oral exams wash over you like a kind of harmless mist. Everyone who has come before you has managed to fumble their way through Italian university’s notorious organisation and you will too, just don’t let it take over your precious time in Rome.
Do: date a Roman
Every middle aged woman who hears you’re moving to Rome will tell you “the best way to learn Italian is to date one”. I can tell you now this is really not the case, they’re far too busy showing off their English. But, this is a very fun way to explore a city as romantic as Rome, plus you’ll be introduced to bars and restaurants you never would have discovered without a local guide. You could also sign up for an Italian language class.