Summer in Rome

My CIEE trip learning and experiencing the language and culture of Italy


Summer with her PL Alessio, Lillian Tan, twin sister Winter and group members holding tiramisu. The group took a pizza and gelato making class. (Photo provided by Summer Phenix)

Nine hours in and 36,000 miles high.
Horrible isn’t enough to describe my flight to Rome, but knowing that I was headed to historic scenery took that feeling away.

I wondered what I was sacrificing for my studies, but the fluttering excitement in my stomach had already trumped the fears on my mind as I began my month-long adventure in Rome, Italy.

When we arrived, senior Lillian Tan, my sister and I were greeted by the rich, Italian ambiance surrounding the gateways of the Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Staff members of The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) led us out of that labyrinth to introduce us to the group of students who would be my “new family.”

After leaving the airport, we headed to a CIEE building where we idled for hours, hungry and jet-lagged, but also curious. We were introduced to our program leaders (PL) who became more than just chaperones for the journey. The long orientation was boring but led to an instantaneous bond between all of us.
Next, I had my first real gelato and experienced my first taste of Rome – salato caramello e ciccolato, a salted caramel and chocolate delight.
After gelato, we went to Camillo B, an Americanized-Italian restaurant that we’d continue to eat at every day for the rest of the trip. Today, though, pasta and apricot fruit tarts were on the menu.
The pasta was green and when I bit it, I spit it out, thinking, “What in the world is this?” My PL, Alessio, had to explain to us that Italians say the proper way to cook pasta is to leave it al dente. Americans tend to “overcook pasta”.

Summer eats mango and strawberry gelato while visiting Florence. The gelatos usually came with a cookie on top for an extra crunch. (Summer Phenix)

Later that evening, a group of us took a trip to the local supermarket, Pamlocal. I was in awe of how American supermarkets are so different because Pamlocal was so small. It reminded me of a classroom.
It was also weird because of how used to American snacks I was – they had no peanut butter, no snack cakes and limited bottled water (because they drink from fountains), but they did have every aisle filled with Nutella, pasta and cookies.
My sister accidentally bought sparkling water because we couldn’t understand Italian and I bought granola bars and fruit.
On the way back, it was already night. While getting to know the others I saw a rat, and it ran across my foot. I screamed, accidentally jumping on someone from shock.
In the end, I survived my first day, anxious to wake up for the next one.

Daily Life
Every day we’d wake up, go downstairs in the hotel’s breakfast room to grab a buttery croissant and stuff it with jam while our daily cup of coffee was brewing in the espresso machine, and then get ready for the day’s adventure.
Our mornings would consist of exploring Rome and its historical culture in the vicious heat of the long summer days.
We visited all of the tourist attractions- Colosseo, Vatican City and Trevi Fountain- including Roma’s most historic gelateria shop, Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi. At Fassi, we learned how to make gelato the old fashion Italian way. A group of about 20 of us followed the workers to the freezing gelato factory in the back of the store where we were able to help churn the gelato ourselves.

Summer’s apricot-filled croissant and espresso on her first morning in Rome. Croissants and coffee is a traditional Italian breakfast. (Summer Phenix)

It was at Fassi that I tried pistachio gelato for the first time. The smooth nutty flavor blended perfectly with the passionate flavors of mango and strawberry. This contributed to the more than 20 cups of gelato I consumed over the course of 30 days. Some days I doubled up just to make sure I tasted as many flavors and places as I could. Mango came out on top as the superior flavor.
After our morning adventures, we joined the other half of our 60+ group for lunch at Circo, a more traditional Italian restaurant.
Following lunch, we attended a three-hour class. Our teacher, Floria, mainly spoke Italian to us. With the lesson I learned in class I could order my gelato like a native and interact with locals in stores and markets.
Dinner was one of my favorite parts of the trip because I got to see my friends that I had not seen all day. We would fill each other in on the quests we conquered throughout the day. A nightly group activity or gelato trip usually followed.

Tivoli and Florence Trip
While in Rome we were granted the opportunity to visit Villa d’Este Gardens in Tivoli, Lazo (Tivoli is a small city in Lazio, Italy) and Florence, Italy.
In Tivoli, the views of the countryside went out further than my eyes could see. The ancient paintings inside the castle told stories that went around the entire room. The fountains were so big I could host a party in them. The greenery was endless, and I was wonderstruck by its beauty. Next, we ate the best meal of my life. The traditional Italian dish, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), was so irresistible I ate two servings.
Florence was nothing short of the beauty depicted on TV. From my first train ride through the terrains of Italy to the long alleyways I took to dodge tourists, I felt like I was living in a dream. We visited the Museo Galileo, spent hours shopping and ended the trip with a carousel ride and gelato that excited the inner child in us.
I took home more than the language skills I expected to gain from sacrificing my life at home to travel a seven-hour time difference. In Rome, I gained the most amazing friends and learned from the most loving PL. The people I was so nervous to meet helped me crawl out of my shell and experience life through a new lens. They gave me memories I will cherish forever and lessons I can’t imagine forgetting.

I loved my stay in Rome and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed to it.