When in Rome: Culture and Community

Though I’m more than halfway done with my third year at Syracuse University, the campus is looking a little different for me this semester as I’m spending spring 2022 taking classes at Syracuse’s Florence Center! Since arriving in Italy at the end of January, I have been lucky enough to not only spend time exploring Florence through site visits with classes, as well as walking around in my free time, but also traveling to other Italian cities and learning more about the history and culture in each place. I stayed in Florence the first weekend I was here, but after that, it was off to Rome for a quick Friday to Sunday trip. 

So, after planning most of the trip the Wednesday before I left, on the afternoon of Friday, February 4, I hopped on a train to Rome and was there in just an hour and a half. Once I settled into my Airbnb apartment, I ventured out for a pasta dinner (the phrase “when in Rome” had never been more fitting!) before calling it an early night.

I started early on Saturday, meeting a small group at 7 a.m. near Vatican City for a tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Through this tour, we were able to enter before the official opening time, so the vast hallways of the museum were nearly empty as we walked through. Even the Sistine Chapel was mostly empty! As an art history minor, to say I had high expectations for this part of the tour is probably an understatement, but the space is even more incredible than I could have imagined. Though I couldn’t take pictures to memorialize the occasion, I think it’s something I’m going to remember for a long time. 

In addition to amazing art, I was also lucky enough to be able to experience the famous food culture in Rome. Around five that afternoon I walked across the River Tiber to Travestere, a neighborhood known for its foodie culture and youthful population, for an evening food tour. Throughout the course of the evening, I got to know the other participants, people of varying ages and backgrounds who had all come to Rome to appreciate the city’s culture and history, just as I had. Though we were all strangers at the beginning, by the end of the four hours we had discussed everything from where we were from and what we did, to why we were in Rome, to our favorite places to travel and where we were headed next. 

This was my first time traveling alone, and I was struck by how much a simple common interest like food could bond me with a group of people with whom I would otherwise have little to nothing in common with. For example, at the first stop of the tour, I was able to connect with a recently retired woman living in Canada who had spent most of her career working in marketing. We talked on and on about the field and what makes it unique and why we like it. At the next stop, I discussed the benefits of remote employment with someone who had uprooted himself from his home in San Francisco and had chosen to spend three months traveling around Europe while working remotely for a tech company. 

While Rome has an unforgettable culture and history, I can honestly say that one of my favorite parts of the trip was meeting new people who were so different from me and had such different life experiences. It even reminded me of my first year at Whitman, when I was able to meet and connect with so many new people who were able to show me a new way of learning and looking at things. Who knows who I’ll meet on my next trip!

Learn more about the study abroad experience.

Mallory Carlson
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