ROME diaries

When in Rome…

Final reflections July 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kerie Kerstetter @ 2:04 am

About a week after I got back from Europe, I was merging onto a congested highway on my way back from my Grandma’s house. I joined the flow of traffic in front of a gray truck, in the only gap I could find. Since my merging lane was dwindling, I’m not sure where else the truck expected me to go, but apparently I was unwelcome in front of him.

His flashing headlights drew my attention to the rearview mirror. He was clearly yelling at the top of his lungs and waving his middle finger at me in rage. And as if I could have been unclear about his message, his wife proceeded to hang her entire torso out the window, cussing me out as their truck sped by.

All I could do was smile and wave in bewilderment as they passed. And then, as if my life was some redneck American satire, “Aint That America” came on my radio.

First of all, welcome home Ker. And yes, I suppose that is America in some people’s eyes.

There’s usually a reason that stereotypes are born. Perhaps from my example, you can see how Americans could have a reputation of being impatient, egocentric, and uncultured. I expected my experiences abroad would further demonstrate these downfalls, and I expected to find the European way of life more sensible and desirable. And in many ways it was.

Italy showed me a society that was less wasteful and more in tune with their surroundings. Conserving energy and resources was a moral obligation many people felt to the earth. The country’s history was everywhere—respected and embraced by every Italian. The people were patient and appreciative, careful not to miss the joys of each day that are often undervalued in a hurried lifestyle. Passion was poured into the making of foods, wines, and goods. Time with friends and family was valued above all else, and the cornerstone of their culture.

Although the Italian society has plenty of problems of their own, the essence of the culture that I experienced was refreshing. Yet instead of yearning to stay there and never leave, I gained a completely unexpected perspective. Despite the juxtaposition, I gained a greater love for the very place I hailed from…

My time abroad made me realize that Americans are a unique culture like every other culture in the world. Our country may be nearly two thousand years younger, but that doesn’t make our history any less important or foundational to our identity. Our traditions and holidays are grounded in the same importance of being with the ones you love and giving thanks. Although I’ve fallen in love with Italy, I know I don’t have to be an Italian to live each day more sensibly, never forgetting the blessings I’ve been given.

And while we’re on the topic of giving thanks, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m thankful that stereotypes are neither all-encompassing nor permanent. God help me if, ten years from now, I’m missing my front tooth and hanging halfway out a car window while my very own Ricky Bobby husband flicks off surrounding cars. I experienced that being American is often a stigma in others’ eyes, yet all it takes is one positive interaction to make someone change their opinion of you and everything you represent.

When an Italian friend told me how much he appreciated my effort to understand their culture, I knew I had done just that, if only on a small level. In the past seven weeks, I’ve been pushed farther outside my comfort zone than ever before. I’m proud to say I’ve achieved every goal that I set for my self, and saw everything I set out to see. I want to thank everyone who made my experience perhaps the best one of my life (you know who you are gattis), and want to thank my parents most of all, for believing that this experience could be as valuable as it was.

I’ve fallen in love with this country. Ciao Italia, until we meet again!


July 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kerie Kerstetter @ 12:14 am


Just call me Rick July 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kerie Kerstetter @ 11:33 pm

Before I came to Italy, I wanted to do a little research. My mom kindly picked me up an Italian travel book from the book store.

Meet Rick,” she said, “He’s supposed to be pretty good.

Apparently anyone who’s ever traveled outside their front door, or at least to Europe, has heard of the Rick Steve’s books. He’s a travel expert out of Seattle who has developed his love of traveling into an extensive series of guidebooks. I came to find that he knows his stuff pretty well.

Before I left, I read his Italy book from the first page to the last. The book covered every Italian town—from Milan to Montepulciano—providing maps, summaries, and recommendations for each. We could plan every hour of each excursion before we left our apartment.

Whenever my roommates and I backpacked to some exotic location, Rick Steves was our guide. His book became known as our Bible.

“where should we eat?” —“I dunno, ask Rick.”
“where should we sleep?” —“I dunno, ask Rick.”

Since I was the holder of the cherished book, “Rick Steves” eventually became my new name. I believe that some of my roommates may have forgotten that I was originally “Kerie,” despite how unfitting it seemed.

At the culmination of my travels, the value of the book is quite apparent. The pages are worn, the cover is tattered, and it bears the wounds of coffee spills and spaghetti sauce mishaps.

In the end, my hat goes off to Rick Steves. Never once did you point us to a bad restaurant or lead me down a wrong road. To the small percentage of the traveling population that doesn’t already own your book, I’ll be sure to mention your name.

You can just call me Rick. Everybody else does.


Oh the places I’ve been… July 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kerie Kerstetter @ 1:33 am

After seven weeks, I’ve covered quite a bit of ground…


Post-program travels July 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kerie Kerstetter @ 5:47 pm

I’m back from Venice, Cinque Terre, and Tuscany! Check out photos (CLICK link below)


I’m gonna miss Italy… (okay not quite everything) June 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kerie Kerstetter @ 6:37 am

Like a Vera Bradley pack mule, I arrived in Rome with a lot of baggage. Not only my most-precious belongings, but a lot of so-called cultural baggage as well.

My policy from the beginning was open-mindedness and flexibility when it came to acclimating to Italian life. I knew some of my everyday habits and American luxuries would have to be sacrificed, and I knew that some of those changes would be harder than others. I adjusted regardless.

While I’m extremely proud of how I’ve lived for the past seven weeks, I’ve decided I’ll have no problem eagerly welcoming the following things back into my life…


(1) My car (Come to mama…). Although public transportation is not unique to Itlay, it was new to me nonetheless.

Never before had I navigated the mass-transit system of a major city. (I’m assuming a double-decker bus in NYC doesn’t count…)

on the tram

My time in Rome required me to master the routes of the city trams, subways and buses. Often I would have to take a combination of the three to get where I was going.

The bulk of my learning was through trial-and-error.

“Hmm, this bustling community of hobos doesn’t look familiar… perhaps I wanted the other stop.”

And once I made a navigation error, I seldom made the same one again.

Sometimes the buses would be on time, and sometimes they never came. On certain days, I could enjoy a view of ancient ruins out the window; on others, all I could marvel was a sweaty armpit.

I quickly learned when the kids were dismissed from school and avoided the passionate, power-hour of preteens sucking face. And a further word to the wise: always look in your seat before you sit.

How funny is it that I’ve finally mastered the public transportation system right around the time I have to leave!? (Not funny at all.)

I just hope I can remember how to drive.


(2) English (Parla inglese?) Obviously I was aware that I would have to acclimate to an Italian-speaking society. I adjusted to this change by studying the language, carrying a translation book, and honing my artistry of charades.

Imagine my first week—lost and confused in a major city, unable to read street signs or ask for direction. It’s beyond frustrating when you’re not even able to turn to the person beside you to communicate.

“Excuse me, what bus stop is this?”
“Which way to the Colosseum?” or
“Could you roll your wheel chair off my toe?” (true story)

The good news is, when you come knowing nothing, the only thing in your future is improvement.

I picked up crucial phrases within the first week, and eventually developed the language proficiency for daily functioning. I learned how to buy produce at the market, politely greet our neighbors, and order coffee to-go. Luckily, Italian is a Latin language, so my few years of Spanish made the grammar much easier to grasp.

ok, they weren't all this bad...

The good news is that Italians appreciate it when you try to speak their language, and they’re happy to help you when you butcher it. Many of them were very patient with me, making any language attempts much less daunting.

However, I think it will be a pleasant shock when I’m once again able to understand and communicate with without restraint or limitation. I think my big toe will be pleased as well.


(3) American Restrooms (their availability, cleanliness, and… existence) If I didn’t know it was anatomically impossible, I would say the Italians never had to go to the bathroom.

Finding a bathroom in Italy is like discovering a rare gem. I got very good at waiting for long periods of time.

There are hardly any public facilities, and the few times I found one, I usually had to pay to use it. Many cafes didn’t have restrooms, even for paying customers. Oh, and silly me to assume that a toilet seat was the international standard.

In America, an unkempt restroom is considered unsanitary, unacceptable, and bad for business. In Italy, a bathroom break in which you can scrounge a square of toilet paper and emerge without falling in is a small victory.

You know it’s bad when your vision taunts you with a mirage of Port-a-Potties.

God bless America and our little perks.


Mom arrives June 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kerie Kerstetter @ 11:52 pm

A stormy view of the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Well my mom arrived Friday, marking the end of my program and the beginning of our travels together. We’ll be off to Venice, Cinque Terre, and Tuscany, but first I must show her around Rome 🙂