In Rome, it is the ordinary things that are special

Bernardi Campus director Thanos Zyngas, left, and students Kyle Fettig and Chris Hnasko, right, stand by the Piazza Navona in Rome.

In Rome, it is the ordinary things that are special

By Thanos Zyngas
Director, UST Bernardi Campus

Another study-abroad semester in Rome seems to be flying by very quickly, and our students (Catholic Studies and Liberal Arts programs), who study in the Eternal City and reside at the Bernardi Campus, are almost done with their fall semester.

Holidays are just around the corner and all kinds of Christmas decorations have begun making their appearance in some of the city’s most crowded hang-out places and streets, and several shop windows have been decked up forecasting the upcoming holiday season.

Despite the moderate temperatures this fall it made being outdoors in Rome a pleasure for our students. The crisp, silky air and the golden light of Rome this season have been additional incentives for our students to be out and about in the city without having to worry about getting bundled up to walk on the streets or sit outside in one of the city’s many piazzas and sip a caffe’ – espresso to most of us – or a cappuccino. Not to mention, they have also been able to satisfy their sweet tooth while enjoying a gelato, the fine Italian ice-cream that comes in an abundance of flavors, and visit several of the city’s museums and churches for Mass and reflection.

Being in the Eternal City for a few years now and getting acclimated to a culture that has so much to offer for the mind and for the soul, I realize that it is the ordinary things, the little things in which one can take part of every day, that are special. Hence my advice to our students every semester is to try and blend in with the culture and do what the Romans – not as the tourists – do when in Rome.

Little things might make the study abroad experience a meaningful one and give students the fulfillment of not feeling like a tourist, but like a Roman and being treated as one. For instance: a walk to the local market where fruit and vegetables can be much cheaper than at supermarkets, watching the locals interact with one another and letting your ear tune in on how a simple conversation of buying something takes place so that next time you are also able to carry out that simple conversation all in Italian.

Venturing out to eat is another beautiful experience that adds to the little things that are special for our students living and studying in the Eternal City. With the use of "meal tickets" as part of the students’ meal plan, students can use a meal voucher to a plethora of locations. In Rome, when it comes to good food, word of mouth spreads like a fire all around the city and our students do not need to look any further or in a guidebook for recommendations, they just simply look for the long line on the street outside. It’s better to wait in line than opt for the second-rate alternative next door.

In addition, adjusting to the later eating habits is one of the main cultural differences that I hear from our students as they are taken by surprise when no restaurant is open for dinner before 7 p.m., it doesn’t fill up before 8 p.m. and it is overflowing by 9 p.m.

Of course, for sightseeing purposes there will be occasions for our students to join the mass crowds of tourists as they are flowing from the Colosseum through the Roman Forum, along the Via del Corso where all the shops are, past the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and on to St. Peter’s and the Vatican.

Making the out-of-the-classroom experience complete for our students in another culture is also being willing to embrace the cultural differences and the little, ordinary things that make the student’s experience a meaningful and memorable one. Hence the purpose of living and studying abroad is for the students to expand their horizons and view our world from a different perspective. As Rome was not "built in a day," it cannot be enjoyed and absorbed in a day either.

The Bernardi Campus overnight rates will be in Euros (not dollars) starting Feb. 1, 2007. For a list of rates, click here.