When (Studying Abroad) in Rome: 9 Things You Should Know

amnaalabdulla February 5, 2012 8

“These two years are going to be a transitional phase in my life.” This was the first thought that entered my mind when I was first granted the scholarship to study in Italy. Living in Rome, the eternal city has been one of the greatest experiences of my life so far. I have to admit, it was a big challenge for me if you know where I come from. So here is a brief background on me:  I was born and raised in Dubai and had lived there all my life, until I received a scholarship to study in Rome.

People in Dubai are usually quite well off financially, and live very easy and laid back lives. I think it would be true to say that a lot of people in Dubai live very comfortably and somewhat forget that it’s not the same elsewhere. I grew up having maids around the house, so I didn’t have to do any chores. I had a driver who would take me wherever I needed to be, so I wouldn’t have to stress over transportation. I had a huge safety net knowing very well that if I fall, I would not get hurt. All that changed last year. I actually had to start to depend on myself.

During my stay in Italy, I noted down a few things that are essential to know when living abroad.

1. Language

 In a city like Rome, it is very difficult to find someone who speaks English. Italians in general take great pride in their language and so many do not deem it necessary to learn any other. The Italian language is a musical one and has a lot of grammatical rules that are totally different than the ones we use in English. Knowing how to introduce yourself at the beginning would be the most important thing you should learn and the rest you will learn eventually when you get to meet people and hear the language more often in the streets.

A tip from a new comer: Practice makes perfect. The more you practice speaking with locals, the sooner you will pick up the language. Another tip to add; every language uses a different tone of voice. Don’t be surprised if you people ignore you if you speak in your normal, soft voice, because Italian for example, is usually spoken much louder than other languages.

2. Food and beverage

Of course as you all know, being the youngest in the family always had advantages and disadvantages to it. But after living alone, I discovered that one of the biggest disadvantages was having never learned how to cook. After a month of eating fast food (and by fast food I mean pizza and pasta), you eventually get bored and start craving home-cooked food.  It’s not difficult to find the recipes, but trying to implement them is difficult for a rookie. I have burnt a lot of dishes and eaten many tasteless ones.

Tip from a hopeless cooker:  always have extra 2-minute noodles packs in store, they come in handy! Other than that, try watching cooking shows instead of just reading recipes online. When you see how things are done, you get a better idea of what you need to do yourself.

3. Doing your own laundry

After a long day of classes and day-to-day errands, the last thing you want to do is laundry. However, the knowledge that you have may have nothing to wear the next day should be enough motivation for most. Doing your laundry regularly is a necessary burden to undertake unless you don’t mind smelling like yesterdays work out!

A tip from a person who never switched on a washing machine: make sure you put soap and don’t wash your laundry with only water!

4. Transportation

Read up on the transportation system of the city you are going to. If I had assumed Rome was just like Dubai, I would have bought a car, because it is almost impossible to get around in Dubai without one. But the most common method of transportation in Italy is the motorbike. It’s difficult to find parking and to navigate narrow Italian roads, and traffic is a huge problem. Moreover, the public transport system in most Italian cities is quite sophisticated so owning a car is pretty much unnecessary. Not to mention a good walk in the beautiful city may was refreshing from time to time.

A tip from a person who never used public transportation: keep an eye on the Bus’s number. If you don’t, you will end up walking all the way back to where you started from because some streets are only one way and it’s hard to find the returning bus! Also, make sure you are early waiting for your bus otherwise; you may find yourself running behind it breathlessly. It doesn’t just happen in the movies.

5. Freedom and Comfort Zone

The incredible sense of freedom you get when living alone, especially if abroad, can be a double edge sword. Either it makes you a stronger, more responsible and independent individual, or that same freedom can be abused and you may end up doing things you wouldn’t normally do. The increased freedom certainly serves as an eye-opener and can sometimes teach you valuable life lessons about responsibility and individuality.

Another good thing about living alone abroad is that it completely takes you out of your comfort zone. Personally, it helped me to acquire new skills and to learn more about myself. I have come to believe in myself more and it has definitely increased my self-confidence!

A tip: Enjoy life but don’t cross the limits you have set for yourself.

6. Climate

As you all know, I grew up virtually in the middle of the desert. OK, Dubai isn’t really like that, but the weather sure feels that way. The season that we call “winter” in Dubai feels identical to the spring that is experienced in European countries. Experiencing a real European winter was tough for me and I’d usually wearing 3 to 4 layers to keep myself warm.

A tip from a person who comes from the middle of the desert: Due to the double & triple layers you may end up wearing, I would suggest you buy slightly larger sized coats/jackets/sweaters to help you move more comfortably.

7. Socializing

From a person who was shy and quiet, I had to make an effort in developing certain aspects of my personality. I was forced to became more open to people, and I now enjoy socializing and like to get together and meet new people. Socializing can open many doors for people as it allows you to widen your circle of friends and this can potentially allow you to build a new network of contacts.

A tip for other shy folks: Try to find things in common with new people you meet. It’s the best way to connect with people!

8. Stereotyping

I had a preconceived notion of what life in Italy was like before I even stepped into Italy. Needless to say, I had watched the Godfather way too many times, and it had left me with a skewed idea of what Italian culture was really like. No culture is adequately portrayed in the media, and you really can’t truly understand what a certain country is like until you have experienced it first-hand.  Living in Rome allowed me to discover what Italy and its lovely people are really like.

Tip: Mix with as many locals as you can! This is the only way you will learn what the people are really like, not by limiting yourself to a circle of people who may share your nationality.

9. Education system

To study under the Italian system is one of the greatest obstacles I have faced in Italy. Every country obviously has its own system,and understanding how it works is key to being a successful student.

A tip from experience: always ask what your mistake was and never have high expectations.


Overall, living in Rome has been perhaps the greatest experience of my life so far. Despite the obstacles I have faced in the first year, it has taught me lessons that I would have never learnt by staying at home. I can proudly say that I will never limit myself simply because I’m not used to something, or something feels foreign and unfamiliar.