No Ombrellos Necessary

I leave for New Zealand in 9 days. And while I’m buzzing about, making lists in my notorious Moleskine notebook and studying my dad’s 1970 World Atlas, I feel quite calm. Although I am going to a completely new place, I previously studied abroad, and am ready to go again.

Last spring, I lived in Rome, Italy and studied creative writing through UW’s English Department. The day I arrived in Rome I was alone, I hadn’t slept in 48 hours, and it was pouring rain. I was given directions in Italian (which I do not speak a lick of) and an accompanying map (which quickly became undecipherable due to the large raindrops that smeared the printer ink). I began the trek from the Rome Center to my apartment. The walk, which usually takes 20 minutes, took me two hours. I hauled my overstuffed backpack through a maze of cobbled streets, winding about and backtracking through alleys and over bridges. My back hurt so terribly bad from my backpack, and every time I stopped beneath an overhang to rest, people came up to me trying to persuade me to buy an umbrella, chanting “Ombrello?! Ombrello!? Ombrello!?” as they shoved colorful, plastic umbrellas in my face. NO I DON’T NEED ONE I’M WEARING A RAIN JACKET. I was all alone, trying to find the stupid place with a stupid map and I kept on attempting to prepare phrases to ask someone for directions, but everyone was hiding under their “Ombrellos,” and I was stuck beneath my drenched, sweaty backpack in a Roman rainstorm.

I thought, well, it can’t get much worse than this—and it didn’t. I went to a bakery  and said, “dove” (where) and pointed at the address. The baker showed me the way, and I arrived at the apartment. I was greeted by wonderful roommates in a beautiful living space. And I witnessed the only rainstorm the entire time I lived in Rome. Throughout the quarter our program explored the city, studying places famous and unheard of. Our traveling classroom met at the Rome Center and at various museums, churches, and landmarks every day. We studied, wrote, lived, ran and ate (lots of gelato) together, leaving Rome only to reunite in the U District two weeks later, where we remain connected despite our program being over.

While my initial struggles in the rainstorm weren’t the warmest welcome to the Eternal City, I learned how to cope with frustrations, how to haul a massive, overweight backpack through cobbled streets, and how study abroad is worthwhile and amazing for all reasons—both good and bad. And now I set off again, seasoned and ready to take on any rainstorm that comes my way. (However, I’m not complaining that it’s summer in New Zealand…)