When in Rome, live as the Romans live

Author: Costanza Montanari

Michela D’Orazio, a 19 year-old university student, recently moved to Rome from Isola del Liri, a small town in the Lazio region. In September, the chemistry major started at La Sapienza university, the main university in Rome with more than 112,000 enrolled students.

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This year, she is living in the Notre Dame Villa, along with Notre Dame students who came to Rome to study abroad. As D’Orazio did, they also left their hometowns and will be living far from their relatives, in a different environment, for one or two semesters.

“This is the second year that an Italian student will be living together with the Notre Dame students in Rome, as an expression of Notre Dame’s international strategic goals for study abroad and the Rome Global Gateway residential living-learning community’s learning outcomes,” says Silvia Dall’Olio, executive director of the Rome Global Gateway.

D’Orazio has a shy, but strong smile. She is excited and yet a little bit worried for her first year at a university, as well as her first year living outside her hometown and far from her parents. While a big city like Rome can sometimes be overwhelming, she is happy to be spending her time with a community of peers the same age, going through the same excitement and nostalgic feeling.

At the beginning of the academic year, Notre Dame study abroad students have been offered the opportunity to share their room with a local student, and three of them were very enthusiastic about the idea. Bailey Jordan, Jennifer Trzaska and Hope Halvey from the School of Architecture undergraduate program in Rome thought this would have been a unique experience for them, and were looking forward to meeting with their new roommate.

“The opportunity of living together with an Italian student facilitates deeper integration with the local culture, regular occasions for language exchanges, and the mutual understanding and knowledge that derives from proximity and friendship,” comments Dall’Olio.

“I am extremely excited to start my new life in Rome and get to know my American roommates,” says D’Orazio. “We have different time schedules, but at night we try to find some time to spend together. I am willing to learn more about university life in the US and the habits that differentiate us, as well as unite us. It is interesting both from cultural and personal perspectives.”

The Notre Dame Villa in Rome is located two blocks away from the Rome Global Gateway building, at the center of the Celio district. The mission of the Villa is to foster an academically, culturally and spiritually transformative study abroad experience for Notre Dame students in Rome. Therefore, the Villa living-learning community promotes student learning by establishing direct links between the residential, academic and co-curricular activities of study abroad students in Rome. As part of this goal, the residential living-learning community aims to immerse students in the many cultural offerings that this diversely global city has to offer by making available to all members of the community a variety of academic and cultural programs and resources. In addition, the opportunity to share their everyday life with an Italian student is critical in experiencing first-hand cultural differences, linguistic exchange and friendship. 

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“While living with Michela, we get to learn about what normal Italians do every day; what they eat and where they go,” comments Jennifer Trzaska. “So far, we mostly talk about food. We’re able to teach each there where to find American favorites, which brands Italians actually eat, and where to find the best gelato. Michela has broadened my comfort zone in regards to food here and has introduced me to some of my new favorites. I am excited for my comfort zone to grow in other ways as the year goes on.”

“The first thing that captured my attention was observing my roommates in their morning routine,” comments D’Orazio. “We all shower and get ready before going to class, but they don’t dry their hair before going out! I was shocked at first. How can they do it? If I would have done it, my head would ache so strongly I would have not been able to attend class!”

D’Orazio also gets to meet the rest of the Notre Dame students living at the Villa, as they all share common spaces and participate in the community activities. She says that it is interesting to study the habits of her American counterparts, and also compare how they perceive time. Often she goes to the kitchen to prepare some tomato sauce for lunch at noon, and some of her peers would be having breakfast with French toast and bacon.

“I am excited to improve my language skills and hopefully learn more about Italian culture,” says Jordan, D’Orazio’s roommate. “I’ve already learned that we have plenty in common, like late night sweets and a love of Game of Thrones.”

Learn more about programs at the Rome Global Gateway.