Traveling by yourself is an absolutely terrifying experience. When you travel with friends, the responsibility is at least partially deferred. You might have to get the flight, but someone else can find the hostel! I don’t have to figure out how to get to the city from the airport an hour away! Traveling by yourself means that all those responsibilities are yours, but it is so incredibly worth it, if only to prove to yourself that you can do it. In the final weekend before the end of the program, I decided to take a trip by myself to the city of Fès in Morocco.
While taking trips by yourself is amazing, it’s also terrifying for parents. When I told my mother about it, I knew she was going to be worried. Through in some paranoid family friends who had ‘one time seen a movie where something bad happened in Morocco!’ and it’s a worrier’s worst nightmare. Traveling by yourself can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but just be safe about it. Plan in advance, know the local culture, and just don’t be a jerk and you should be fine!
Morocco was unbelievable. It was so different from the European cities I’ve visited so far, but that was definitely a good thing at this point in the semester! The center of the city is all the original medieval structures, which makes for a very confusing layout for tourists! I didn’t have many problems navigating, if you don’t count about an hour lost trying to find my way out of the Medina the first time I went in!
Plus, I got to play with monkeys! A trip up to the Atlas Mountains was a great break from the bustle of cities. We visited a beautiful park with waterfalls, a lake, and last and most fabulously the forest where you could play with monkeys. They were a lot friendlier than I thought they would be, but with tourists feeding them all the time I’m not actually surprised. The surprise came when they managed to outsmart us and get away with stealing 3 whole bags of peanuts from us!
Traveling by yourself seems like it would be a lonely experience, but hostels are actually great places to meet other travelers. Most of them are college aged, and they’re from all over the world. Many of them are traveling alone as well, so you know that you’re all in the same boat! The people at my hostel in Morocco were incredibly friendly and welcoming. I thought I’d be antisocial the whole time and hide when not out and about, but instead I managed to make some friends that I plan on keeping in touch with.
One of the best experiences I’ve had studying in Temple Rome has been the opportunity to work with the Mamiani Project. It’s only the second year, but this program is a volunteer project that has allowed me to go to an Italian high school for a cultural exchange program. Once a week, I go to work with the students on their English skills by giving presentations on American culture and listening to their presentations as well. This is a great program that has really helped me to understand the average Italian life. As a study abroad student, I’m a little separated from Italians. My Italian is functional, but not fabulous and meeting people is always hard.
Italian high school is weirdly different and the same all at once. Italian high school is 5 years long, so students stay until they’re 19 rather than the typical 18 of the United States. But the way teenagers are is the same. My students complain about how school is not fair, about how their teachers don’t care about anything but their subjects or about making school an enjoyable experience, and that it’s hard to find other students with the same interests. Listening to them talk about their workloads and complain about teachers was like teleporting back to conversations between High School Beth and her friends.
One thing that Italian schools have that there is absolutely no comparable American phenomenon is the ‘occupazione’. It’s a form of student strike where the students take over their class buildings and don’t let anyone in. Classes are completely stopped until the occupazione is over. I still don’t really fully understand it, my class tried to explain it to me but it ended with the students and teacher disagreeing on the way some pretty crucial parts work, but suffice to say nothing even close to this happens in American high schools!
Through working with the students in my class I learned a lot about Italian life and culture! The students did presentations in English for me, so I learned all about Italian Christmas traditions, the roots of popular music, and of course Italian food! The students even brought in food they had made for me to try. It was delicious!
This project was a truly amazing way to get in touch with the lives of average Italian families. If you’re living in the Residence and not a home stay, it can be the only real connection you make with daily Italian life. Working with the students at the Mamiani school was a great experience for me, and definitely one of the best programs I participated in through Temple Rome. I highly recommend that any prospective students with a real interest in Italian life, or who just want to be part of a really cool community outreach program, participate in this program when they get here too!