Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Sto Molto Bene

October 5, 2021
By Princess Rahman, CAS '22

Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies - Rome, Italy

Princess is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing her experience abroad during the Fall 2021 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed. 

I know one thing; I will never ignore Duolingo’s reminders to study ever! I really landed in a foreign country with no conversational vocabulary beyond “Ciao”. Which happens to be an informal greeting at that! I am beyond embarrassed that I failed to pay the proper attention to the gravity of this predicament. I was too content with my fulfilled language requirement in Spanish and way too comfortable knowing my program abroad would be conducted entirely in English. Please understand just how profound and humbling the experience of landing in Rome’s airport with zero cell service and no working knowledge of Italian was. It was brutal and a rude awakening as it was honestly the first time any kind of apprehension settled in. Up until the moment I deplaned, it was all Instagram updates, double-checking my Forget-Me-Not list, and containing my excitement so that I could sleep on that 9-hour flight.

The minute the rest of the passengers and I flooded into the terminal for arrivals, suddenly, the normal morning chatter was too loud, and I lost my ability to read. My senses were assaulted with foreign smells, sights, and sounds. I realized, “wow, I really don’t understand anything”. My ignorance was in the way of my ability to navigate, communicate, and obtain my sensibilities! I have arrived safely in Italy without a glitch, narrowly missing a hurricane that would flood Philadelphia but here I am on Italian soil paralyzed by the sudden realization that everything around me is unfamiliar and I did not prepare for the smallest necessities. 

A full bladder would come to pause my minor freak out. Instinctively, I followed the crowd and found a long line outside an alcove with familiar signage. The all too recognizable symbol for the conduit of relief! I found the restroom without using a single word. Now, I don’t recommend taking a chance with having this epiphany, but for me, I was able to begin processing what this experience would become if I leaned into this obstacle with downcast eyes. I decided right then and there, I would enroll in the Italian course offered despite the credit being unable to count towards my major or college requirements. I recognized the unique environment I was in and how being surrounded by the culture and language constantly would enhance the amount of retention and ultimately empower me to maximize the benefits of this experience. So, when Duolingo reminds me for the 36th time in the span of 2 hours that I need to “Get back to Italian for a quick lesson”, I am not mad! In fact, sto molto bene!!

SA Logo

The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.