Before taking the tiring, disorienting 12-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean to Rome, Italy, remember these two important pieces of information. Number one: Do not walk in the middle of the street. Unfortunately, it is not Isla Vista. Italian drivers are wild. They will run you over. And when crossing the street, in the crosswalk, you must slowly inch your way out, looking the driver in the eye in order to force him (or her) to slow down and stop. Eye contact is crucial. At times, it can be the difference between a safe journey across the street and an untimely hospital visit. Number two: If you do not want to look American, do not wear flip-flops. In an instant, any given Italian will know and mumble under their breath, “Americano.” At least make an effort to blend in and learn the basics of the language. This will make it easier to avoid gypsies begging for money on street corners or to dodge persistent, in-your-face men passing out restaurant and pub-crawl flyers.

At first, the novelty of every aspect of Rome is overwhelming. The street signs, shop names and food products are all labeled in Italian. Hundreds of photos are taken of these seemingly unique things, not found in California. Compared to any given city in the United States, Rome is old. It is the home of ancient buildings, most notably the Colosseum, which was built circa A.D. 75, and the Vatican. Every corner has a story to tell, a portion of Roman history under its belt. Most people travel by metro, bus, car or scooter. Freeways and highways are used less often, as most places are centrally located. The highway is mainly used for trips to other Italian cities.

Every day, we make the long trek to school. It takes close to 30 minutes to walk from the apartment building to the UC Rome headquarters. Although it is long, it is not an ordinary commute. It involves walking past the Vatican, the Swiss Guards safeguarding one of the many entrances and, eventually, St. Peter’s Basilica. Tourists from all over the world tour St. Peter’s daily, forming large lines of scattered colors throughout Piazza San Pietro. Sadly, it is easy to become immune to its grandeur. It is just a part of the trip to school. However coming home from a long day of classes, and walking toward the dome of St. Peter’s with the sun setting behind it reminds each person anew of its importance and beauty. Recently, strolling home with a group of students, we walked past Castel Sant’Angelo. There were camera crews and security guards. A sign, leaning on the ground, explained that Julia Roberts was there filming the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love,” based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. We pleaded with the guards in hopes of being extras in the movie, but to no avail. However, it was a treat in itself just to be in Rome, our new home, while a famous actress visited to film a movie in one of Rome’s many important, beautiful buildings.

Italy promotes constant exploration. Every building, walkway, alleyway, store, etc. holds some bit of history worth investigating. Instead of wasting time on Facebook, which we admittedly do a fair share of while in the apartment, it is best to go for a walk and turn on to an unknown street (with a map handy). From taking the metro to Piazza del Popolo and exploring Villa Borghese (Rome’s Central Park), to walking to St. Peter’s Basilica at night, there are endless possibilities. Day trips to other cities in Italy are also recommended. One weekend, we visited the small town of Orvieto. We had to take a funicular in order to reach the city, located on top of a mountain. The Duomo, or cathedral, of Orvieto was beautifully constructed, with much attention to detail on its façade. At one point, while wandering through some of the quiet cobblestone streets, I found myself in the middle of a wedding procession. A horse-drawn carriage was making its way down the street, with the bride, groom and family in the carriage. They were followed by a long motorcade, with each car wearing a white bow on its side mirror. It was such an unexpected treat to witness a wedding procession in such a small, close-knit town, in which the bride and groom no doubt were born and raised. This occasion served as a reminder that away from the fast-paced city life of Rome, the citizens of small towns maintain steady lifestyles, holding onto their own distinct, traditional values.