Sunset over the Tyrrhenian Sea at the beach in Sperlonga, Italy. It is best known for the ancient Roman sea grotto discovered in the grounds of the Villa of Tiberius.
Anxious. Thrilled. This was how I felt when I took a leap and signed up for the Maymester program in the heart of Rome.
While I was doubtful at first, everything changed when I stepped off the plane. In just ten days here I have been able to explore Rome’s hidden treasures, write and photograph sites I never thought I would see, and make long lasting friendships that I know will last beyond the boot of Italy.
No matter where you might be headed, here is how you can do the same:
- Make the most of your free time.
As a group we went on guided tours of Rome’s greatest attractions including the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum, and Vatican City. Each day started with an early wake up call and ended with sore feet and tired eyes. It was easy to return to the apartment, nap, and prepare for the next excursion.
Get a group of people and explore the city at night, wake up early and head straight to the famous stops to admire them without the chaos of the crowd, book a spontaneous day or weekend trip to anywhere a train can take you, and stray off the beaten path.
You’ll sleep when you’re dead.
- Talk to everyone.
The teachers, the locals, the guy behind the pizza counter making your pizza sandwich, the tour guides, the 22 people by your side, everyone.
Put your trepidation aside and attempt to speak the language. The Italian’s will appreciate it no matter how badly you butcher the word “grazie.” (Pronounce the e slightly.)
If you stay in your shell you will not make new friends, get to know the locals, or have nearly the same experience as the people around you.
- Spend your money on experiences.
Book the Airbnb in Florence for one night with 13 of your new best friends. Buy the train ticket to Sperlonga even if you arrive just before the sun sets. Call a taxi from the Sperlonga train station when you realize you have no idea where you are. You just might get lucky enough to end up with a driver named Luigi who will rescue you and your 8 other clueless friends, bring you to the beast beach, and blast Pitbull the whole way there.
4. And local items.
Buy the 400-euro handcrafted, black genuine Italian leather bag from one of the most authentic leather stores in the country. Buy matching leather friendship bracelets with your friends to remember the weekend you spent alone exploring a new city. Buy murano glass, which can only be found in Murano, Italy. Find a local jeweler who sells unique products that you can’t find in the tourist pop-up shops all around the city.
Don’t completely break your bank account, but allow yourself to splurge without regret on the little (and big) items that will commemorate your trip abroad.
- Eat everything.
Indulge in the local cuisine. Give yourself a break and eat all the carbs, gelato, and meat. Try new foods, particularly the supplì, cacio e pepe. carbonara, seasonal artichoke, and gnocchi. Attend a food tour and local cooking class to explore the local cuisine on a deeper level.
It is normal to be anxious and thrilled before a trip, but put your worries aside and take the leap.
Map of Sperlonga. This is where we went to the beach, watched the sunset, ate at a local restaurant, and met our favorite driver, GG.