University of Wisconsin–Madison

Rome: The New Hogwarts

For the past few days, all I’ve been hearing is “This is it, are you excited? Are you nervous?” I can’t blame people for asking – with less than one week until I pack up and move to a different country, I should be feeling something. I should be excited that I’m about to embark on an amazing experience. I should be upset that I’ll be away from my loved ones for 4 months. I should be nervous that my limited knowledge of Italian will make things difficult. But all I can feel is nothing – the fact that I’m actually going to be living in Rome is too surreal for my mind to comprehend.

Rome is like this illusive, fictional setting. When hearing the myths of Romulus and Remus, it’s hard to believe that Palatine Hill is a tangible place. When watching documentaries on the over-the-top battles of the Coliseum, it’s hard to grasp that I will be living a few blocks away from where these events really took place. You might as well tell me that I’m studying abroad at Hogwarts or about to attend one of Jay Gatsby’s parties.

Even though I can’t comprehend that I’m really going to be living in the Eternal City, that hasn’t stopped me from stressing over packing. I’m a planner – I do my research and map out the best way to get something done. Then imagine my horror when every single website was telling me to only pack around 5 tops and leave my hairdryer at home.

Studying abroad feels like I’m going into this unknown abyss where the only things I will have for the next 4 months are the things I pack. What, you say they don’t have peanut butter in Rome? Or pickles? And their tampons don’t have applicators? What is this madness!? Luckily, living with an Italian foreign exchange student has eased a lot of my worries. Rushing into her room to ask her random (possibly stupid) questions has become a nightly tradition.

“Monica, do they have cotton balls in Italy!?” Thankfully she’s polite enough to not look at me like I’m a lunatic. Even though I was pacing around the house, trying to pack a year’s worth of cotton balls into a zip-lock bag for one semester abroad.

“Um, yeah, we call them batuffoli di cotone.” Words can’t describe how thankful I am to have her around. Without Monica, I’d probably have filled my entire carry-on with q-tips and cotton balls (just to be safe) and would be in the fetal position, terrified and not knowing what to expect.

But, with my packing mostly complete, I’m down to the little pre-departure details; making sure my iPod is up to date with music, tracking down a pillow and blanket for the flight, triple checking which terminal I have to be at, and making sure that my passport is glued to me at all times.

This is it. I have 24 hours before I leave for the airport. 24 hours to finish packing, avoid emotional ‘see-you-later’s, and cram as much Culvers into my mouth as humanly possible. Augurami buona fortuna!