A Day in the [Surreal Life] – API Rome


Nick Stewart, API Rome Peer Mentor

By Nick Stewart, API Peer Mentor at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and former API student at John Cabot University, Rome spring 2010.



So what is a typical day like in Rome for a study abroad student really like? How does it compare to life back home at college? I suppose every student’s experience is different, each with its own nuances and events, based on the preferences, perceptions, and desires of each respective student. However, I am quite partial to my very own. Then again, aren’t we all?

Waking up in The Eternal City of Rome, Italy is unlike anything I have ever experienced in all of my life. Knowing you are in the city that was the center of the world’s most famous empire, that holds thousands of years of the world’s greatest history, and is home to some of the greatest pizza and gelato you’ll ever taste, allows for nothing less than a deep breath, a smile, and a self‐inflicted slap to convince yourself you are not dreaming.

ITALY - ROME - Arial View of Rome from St Peters

Life abroad is very different than life at home, but some core occurrences are similar across most cultures. You will still shower. You will still brush your teeth, comb your hair, get dressed, and all the other normal morning rituals will still be part of your routine. It is after these mundane daily activities that the fun truly begins.

Depending on what time you wake up to attend class, you’ll be faced with a difficult choice: Breakfast or lunch? For myself, breakfast usually involved a quick stop in one of the many cafes Rome has to offer on my way to school. Of course, Italy is famous for its coffee culture, so this was an especially great treat. Do not expect to receive your typical “tall white chocolate mocha, half soy, half low‐fat milk, I’m being complicated latte” order at an Italian café. You’ll get a crazy, almost offended look from the Italian you just ordered from. I recommend a pastry and an espresso. It’s something light to start your day off with and something to wake you up and prepare you for the day.

Breakfast of choice

If lunch is your thing, then you really are in for a treat. Stopping by a pizza place for the best pizza I’d ever tasted was something I did at least 5 times a week, whether it was for lunch or dinner. The other option is something you will struggle to find in the United States‐the Kebab. I could describe how wonderful it is to you, but I’ll run out of room. If you go abroad to Europe, you will surely discover this meal somewhere in your travels.

The walk to class is surreal. The buildings you pass as you walk along main roads and through the winding, cobble‐stoned streets of Roman neighborhoods like Trastevere are beautiful and old. The Tiber River flows as you make your daily commute. Depending on where you walk from, you see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, perhaps the world’s most famous church, off in the distance. You realize you are standing in the middle of one of the world’s most famous cities that, at one point, was the center of the world. You’ll also be amazed at the “skill” of the Italian drivers who, despite breaking a number of laws and driving like maniacs, manage never to get into an accident. It’s simply amazing.

Classroom at John Cabot University's Tiber Campus

When it comes to school, you may have to adjust to a few differences. You may not appreciate the teaching style of your professor. You may find it difficult to function in a school with resources much lower than your home institution. Computers may be limited, the library may be smaller, the professors may have an accent, but you will be able to do it. You will adapt. You will learn to function. You will grow as a person and realize you can do it. Be excited for the change of pace.

Your walk home is much like your walk to class in Rome. History and art, fast drivers, strolling Italians, and the smells of Italian cooking and brewing coffee, surround you. The ambient sound of the flowing Tiber River, cars zooming by, conversations in Italian, flood your ears.

If you are like me and arrive home in the evening, you have to make a decision about dinner. Have no fear, however, because there is no wrong choice. If you make the choice to go out with your roommates or the girl you have been romancing or the guy you are being romanced by, you will not regret it. You can go to any number of Italian restaurants and have some of the best bruschetta, pasta, tiramisu, and most importantly, wine, you will ever taste in your lifetime. My personal favorite meal was a tomato‐basil bruschetta, spaghetti carbonara or bolognese, and the house red wine. Order that and you will not regret it. If saving money and cooking is your proverbial “cup of tea”, you are lucky, because one must try hard to be a bad cook in Italy. The ingredients are fresh and the pasta tastes better. Even store‐bought sauces already taste amazing and do not need any dressing up with herbs or spices. Fresh‐baked bread is available at many stores as well. I often times found myself buying bread and snacking on it all day. You’ll find yourself inspired by the Italian culture you are immersed in, and it will seem that cooking skills you never thought you had will roll out of your mind and off your fingertips with ease.

When in Rome...

Two or three nights a week, I would take a walk with a friend and see the beautiful city at night. The perspective changes drastically and I found the city more enchanting when the sun was sleeping. A nighttime visit to the incredible Trevi Fountain is a must‐do. The way the light shines off the statues and water is breathtaking. Take a cab and ask the driver to drive around the Colosseum. The way it flows by as you speed by it is amazing. Of course, you must walk it, too. It is one of the world’s most well‐known and beautiful landmarks. Even if you do not end up at a famous tourist hot spot, appreciate the nighttime beauty of all of Rome. The streetlights play off the colors of the classic architecture and create beautiful hues, while the smells and sounds change from their daytime counterparts. Do not miss out.

Hopefully you are reading this with the intention of going abroad. Wherever you may go, you will not regret it. The world is filled with beauty and culture beyond your comfort zone. Go out and experience, live, grow‐up and change. You will come back with a renewed sense of passion about your life and the world you live in, inspired and driven, armed with self‐confidence, ready to be a global citizen. Get ready; your life is about to happen.
Apply to an API Rome program today – we are still accepting applications for spring 2011!

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  1. Jeramy Johnson says

    LOVE the API Peer Mentor Program – if you are a student that has recently studied with API (or a current fall student), you should consider applying. What better way to spread the study abroad love on your home campus!?

  2. Hi Nick – great post! I think my favorite takeaway is that the (scholastic, housing, educational, cultural, etc.) changes while abroad are neither better nor worse, but just different. Having this mentality / attitude of appreciating things for what they are (rather than comparing to what we’re accustomed to) makes all the difference in the study abroad experience. Thanks for sharing this with us!!

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I really enjoyed writing it and reliving my experience. Thanks for sharing my work with the world. I hope it acts as an encouragement for students going abroad and lights a fire for them to think “differently” as Kim put it. The experience was full of surprises good and bad, but none of which I’d ever trade away for anything. I hope I see you all in Austin somewhere down the road!

  4. nicolette says

    I have been on the fence about studying abroad summer 2011 in either Florence or in Rome. While I know it is impossible to go wrong with any Italian city.. This post has made me sway more towards Rome!!

  5. So, it looks like students in Rome do like students in Paris and eat their way through their study abroad session! 😉 heeheehee!
    I’m curious, what were your expectations of what it would be like BEFORE you arrived, and what did you find was the biggest obstacles or challenges to understanding the foreign culture in which you were placed?
    Obviously the food was a positive point!

  6. Jeramy Johnson says

    Nick, your Rome Resident Directors all loved the post and said it made their day!

  7. I’d love to contribute more if you all have any requests or ideas.

    • Jeramy Johnson says


      Also, there is a student who wants to talk to you about Rome (Nicolette). Check out her comment ~

  8. Great post Nick! I think those little moments, like an espresso and croissant, or even the walk to school, can really make the experience of living in a new city so rich. Great pictures too! You brought me back to few of my trips in the past.


    • Jeramy Johnson says

      Hi Kate! I’m sure you have dozens of stories you could tell as well from your time in Paris and other locales – do share sometime please 🙂

  9. Nicolette- If you read this, I’d love to speak with you in depth. Just send me an e-mail at [email protected] if you’d like to speak more, or sign up for a peer mentor and put Rome as the city you are interested in.

    Melissa- that’s an interesting question. As far as expectations, I can’t say that I had any strong expectations. I really tried hard to abstain from any preconceived notions before going abroad. I knew the language would be different. I knew styles would be different. I knew attitudes would be different. I just went in with an open mind and let things play out like they should.

    I’d say the biggest challenge for me adjusting to the new culture was the loss of, for lack of a better word, convenience. I didn’t have a dishwasher. I didn’t have a dryer. I could not buy in bulk like I can at Wal-Mart. It was hard to find the comfort foods I sometimes wanted like Cheez-Its or CHEDDAR cheese or pancakes. I also missed some of the American cultural experiences I had at home like going to the movies. For all the hard times, though, the memories I made, the people I met, and the changes in me as a person MORE than made up for it.


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