Kathleen Burns, a student from the University of Mississippi, quickly learned that the best way to experience another country is to dive right into the culture even when there are awkward moments or times of discomfort.  Check out her blog below!

Local or Tourist? It’s All Up to You.

We have all heard the saying, “Do as the Romans do,” but when traveling to the eternal city are we brave enough to accept that challenge? No matter where we travel, local or international, we are all faced with the same question. Are we going to remain as tourists or attempt to experience this new place like a local. I will be living in Rome for 5 weeks this summer, the perfect opportunity to interact with neighborhood locals and practice my Italian.

However, the challenge of participating like a local is easier said than done. Traveling abroad completely throws you out of your comfort zone, so the natural thing to do is crawl back into your tiny tourist shell. Yes we can all stay in a well known hotel, rely on the front desk for dinner suggestions, and never speak one word of Italian when traveling to Rome, but that is no way to experience this city fully of such rich passion and history. The language barrier may get in between you and a local Italian sometimes and leave you feeling aggravated or embarrassed, but if you never try to interact with one of the locals, you’ll never know what opportunity your missing out on. A sole conversation with someone could lead you to countless new experiences and amazing memories.

One example where a little bit of effort interacting with the locals completely paid off, took place at la Fraschetta di Castel Sant Angelo, a restaurant just across the river from the Castel Sant’angelo. A few friends and I decided to explore the city of Rome in search for a delicious meal the first week we were here. I hadn’t got my bearings of the city yet, so the map was close clutched in hand. After passing a handful of places, we decided to try an inviting restaurant with outdoor seating, la Fraschetta di Castel Sant Angelo. With worn feet and grumbling stomachs, we were desiring to see the menus as soon as we sat down.

A young Italian women wearing a sweet welcoming smile, greeted us at the table with our menus. Her name was Antonella. She spoke a little English and we spoke barely any Italian, but we eased through the dinner, and even made a new local Roman friend. We conversed through the normal waiter to traveler conversation, but there was something about her that made this dining experience different than the others. Because we had attempted to speak her language and showed an interest for her story, she was nothing but kind and accepting to each one of us. We enjoyed a relaxing yet intriguing dinner, never wanting to leave Antonella’s table. When we finally asked for “Il conto per favore” (the check please) she kindly came to our table and explained how so grateful she was meeting us, and ended our night by inviting us to come back for casual Italian lessons. The following week, I ran into sweet Antonella while out shopping, and even though I wasn’t able to engage in a lengthly Italian conversation with her, I was so excited to see her friendly familiar face out in the real Roman city.

Traveling abroad is so much more than leaving your home with a suitcase for a few weeks. It is about immersing yourself into the culture surrounding you, and seeing what happens. Sometimes you’ll put yourself out there and it will all be for nothing, but other times may turn into some of the best memories you’ll make when traveling abroad. Websites and travel books can only tell you so much. So the real way to experience a new place, especially Rome, is by expanding your horizons and interacting with the locals, the ones that know this place the best.

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