“Enjoy it while you can,” Sophia advised me sagely, when doubting whether to embark on an unusual adventure. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen in Scotland.” Which I think is a perfect sum-up of our year in Rome.
My only contact pre-arrival and best friend of my year abroad, Sophia – artist, art historian, professional swing-dancer and primary dialogue of my travelogue – this London girl in Italy ain’t the same multi-coloured-flourescent-tights-wearing woman you thought you knew in Edinburgh.
Now unlikely to be seen wearing more than two colours at once, she admits, “Yeah, I dress differently and I’m more relaxed.” She also “eats pasta every day and drinks lots of coffee.” Though she concedes, “I couldn’t say I’m a fully-fledged Italian girl…They all still think I’m mad and English.”
It’s been a whirlwhind year. And not what she expected. She said she didn’t really give much thought to it before arriving. Though when I saw her in Rome last June, us both hunting for a room to rent, she had met a former Edinburgh erasmus student and sort of based her vision of the year ahead on what the other student said her year was like. “But it has turned out quite differently” she reflects with hindsight.
Her first week in Rome was all about a friendship with a glamorous assistant at American Apparel, “Monti” (cool area in central Rome), her artistic flatmate (see ‘Zara of Monti’), “weird stuff”, “going out” and visiting places like Circolo degli Artisti, to which she has “never returned since”.
That all changed with the early introduction to Mr Alonzi (see ‘Mr Alonzi’) – for which she’d like to thank Italian Professor Babini for putting them in contact.
Although not having succeeded in slowing down to the Roman pace of walking, she’s generally learned to be “much more chilled out” and to “not take herself so seriously”.
Other aspects of the Italian culture she hopes to take back to Edinburgh include “going out for coffee more” and “just sitting and watching people”.
She’s ready to leave, having drawn out the event of ‘departure’ for a week, since her organised goodbye picnic in the Villa Borghese. Also, “it’s hot”.
Though there’s a lot she will miss – not least the friends she’s made over the year. Having found that the big student network in Edinburgh could make her quite anxious; in the more relaxed environment of Roma Tre, she’s been able to “value the smaller group of friends” she’s found and spend more time with “individuals”.
When asked how she met people, she thinks back to “the language course at the beginning of the year, tandems and swing-dancing club.” Other people who have been important to her year abroad include her flatmates Giuseppe and Enrico and Anna, a fellow art-historian who she met by introducing herself in a lecture.
Whilst admitting that the Erasmus organisation “does really good things”, she puts her limited involvement down to the fact that “it doesn’t seem to be a massively authentic Roman experience…going on trips which all blur together…getting drunk with the same people.” Insomma, it’s not really her style.
A highlight has been getting to know the “real” Italian culture, in fact quite different from what she had imagined before living here. Being based in Rome has also been a great opportunity to see more of the country: Naples, Florence, Bologna, Orvieto and Tivoli; as well as visits to Italian friends’ houses outside of the city – not least the beautiful mountaintop town of Picinisco, where Mr Alonzi has roots.
It’s been a wonderful year from a History of Art perspective – “Love a bit of Michelangelo”. Though overall she doesn’t think they have the best education system here. “It’s alright if you’re conscientious” she explains, but “you can sort of wing it and you can extend your degree for ten years.”
She also slates the “inconsistency of the exam process”. Whilst the oral exams didn’t go too badly for her, she expands, “the system hit other people and that was unfair.”
Having arrived with only a basic knowledge of the Italian language, she describes her current level as “good”, but “could be better”. “I need to keep trying” she admits, but believes that for anyone, learning a language is “do-able, even if you have linguistic difficulties”.
Finishing her last coffee in the yellow-tiled kitchen of flat 12, 37 Via Principe Umberto, she leans out of the window beside Riccardo, and agrees she’s changed. The pair peer into the unknown kitchens and private terraces of the condominium tenements opposite whilst reminiscing about their first meeting in the very same room, having come to introduce me only to find me asleep in bed.
Sophia remembers how preoccupied she was about completely immersing herself in Italian at the beginning of the year, determined to not speak English to anyone. She declares her intention to do so the next time she returns to Rome. Then concedes that full-immersion might make her go mad.
“You shouldn’t put anything above your happiness,” reassures Riccardo.