By Quinn Western, senior journalism major
I’m a senior journalism student spending my last semester at Chico State in Viterbo, Italy. It’s a small, medieval town where few of the community members speak English and finding avocados is a struggle. The city center where I live, is enclosed by towering stone walls. My apartment building is thousands of years old (which explains why I have to pile on the blankets at night) and is said to have housed cardinals. Viterbo (about a two-hour train ride from Rome) was once an official home for the Pope as well.
I learned quickly that my time in Europe would be filled with “Oops,” “Mi dispiace, parlo un po Italiano,” “What did I just eat?” and “How do you say that?”
I’ve been lost, frustrated, mocked, and had some of the best laughs of my life.
There’s no exact routine to life abroad, except for cafés and school, of course, but here’s a peek into my daily life.
7:30 – Wake up and make a flawless cup of coffee. (Insert Beyoncé reference here.) The coffeemaker in our little Hobbit hole-like apartment is an adorable, small, steam-punk-esque contraption that produces life every morning with little care.
9:00 – I walk 10 minutes to school and start the day in my Italian language course. I learn why people looked at me funny when asking for face wash (apparently I was aggressively repeating “I do wash!”). Everyone in brings their mistakes to class. We all learned to get over the embarrassment pretty quickly.
11:00 – Every week, I either sit in cuisine lecture or indulge in a hands-on cooking class. On other days of the week, I have more Italian language courses and classes in photography, travel writing, and Italian art during the Renaissance. It boggles my mind to read about Michelangelo’s David and then just pop up to Florence for a quick trip to see it. Or to turn a corner in Rome and be greeted by the Coliseum.
15:00 – It’s off to the local gym, where the walls are thousands of years old and maybe the same goes for the equipment. The owner, Egido, was a boxer in his day and always tries to teach some new phrases to the American students who are members. It took 10 minutes of him punching toward my confused face to figure out that he was teaching me boxing terms and phrases in Italian.
17:00 – This is a typical homework/social time over a cafè. Sometimes I’ll hang with some locals, like my friend Salvatore who is helping me read Harry Potter in Italian, at Cafe San Sisto. It’s a modern-looking cafe with white couches on the second floor and complete with a Nutella stool (their Nutella is to our peanut butter—it’s everywhere). The seats are filled with chattering teenagers from the high school down the street and grandfathers bickering over Lazio and Roma futbol players. Few locals speak English, which gives plenty of opportunities to embarrass ourselves and practice. Ricardo at San Sisto is very patient when I order and practice conversing, and so is the woman at the minimart by my apartment from whom I have ordered way too much buffalo mozzarella.
19:00 – Aperitivo. This is one of the best times to make friends and enjoy a variety of new, fresh foods. While I enjoy indulging in the unknown, it’s good to double-check what foreign foods you’re eating. My roommate, a vegetarian, accidentally ate pig cartilage at Mangia Mangia, a warm, hipster jazzy bar. If I’m not eating out in the medieval nightlife, I often throw together pasta or other new recipes I learned in cuisine class. My favorite to make so far is the eggplant lasagna, a greasy, cheesy, deep-fried Sicilian dish.
21:00 – This time after dinner is usually dedicated to homework, socializing, and/or trip-planning. In Italian culture, dinner is eaten very late, sometimes not until 21:00. But the great thing about mealtime in Italy is that it’s always an event. Most nights there’s a buzz at the door, and we’re surprised by a fellow student or local pal coming up the stairs for a visit. When writing this and looking at my shrinking jeans, I’ve realized that my life revolves around food more than ever before. The palette is what brings people together here.
So, although my average day in Viterbo is filled with new experiences and sights (and a lot more espresso), the friendly community and student camaraderie keep me from getting too homesick for Chico. (I still really miss the abundance of avocados though.) My time here comes to an end in a few weeks as I head home for graduation, but I know I’ll be bringing back pieces of Italian culture and so many lessons learned with me.