I'd been trying to think of a good way to relate my study away experience to Olin, which seemed difficult to do at first with blog entries - I'm not at Olin right now, after all. I finally came up with the answer, though, when I was talking to a friend recently about homesickness and cravings. Thus, this post will be an abbreviated listing of the things that I do and do not miss about Olin.
Figure 1: One thing I miss about Olin (left to right: Andrea, me, Vivian, and Lyndsey, all members of Olin's class of 2009).
Figure 2: One thing Olin cannot provide (taken inside the Colosseum; the cross is located in front of what was once the emperor's booth).
What I miss about Olin
1. My friends.
Olin is home to the most fun, interesting, and intelligent people I have ever known. I feel slightly cheesy writing this, but it's definitely true. I've met some interesting people here, especially in my various travels, but nothing really challenges the diversity, intensity, and hilarity of my Olin friends.
2. Living in an absurdly safe place.
At Olin, venturing out alone at night can hardly be considered dangerous. There's no need to constantly cling to one's valuables or bury money in the depths of one's pockets. There are rarely any strangers (especially at night), much less ones who blow in your ear, shout obscenities at you, or expose themselves to you (all of these things have happened to me and/or my friends since arriving in Rome).
If one chooses to go to a party, not only will it be within a few floors of one's room (or perhaps the next dorm over), thus making a taxi or public transportation unnecessary, but it also will be filled with friendly, chatting, trustworthy people. Additionally, one's friends (and trained R2s) will make sure one is safe, healthy, and looked after, no matter what.
3. THAI FOOD.
We all know of my addiction. Rome, however, is unaware of it and/or unwilling to enable me.
4. The internet.
My Roman apartment has a router. Currently, 11 people use it (me, my 4 roommates, and the 6 guys next door). When everybody else is asleep, our roughly 50 mbps connection is fine. When everybody is awake, 50 mbps might as well be 0. Additionally, the router is too far from my bedroom, so I have to sit in the kitchen if I want to check my e-mail. AND I paid 80 euros for it - roughly $120 - as did all 10 other users and my sixth roommate (who went home after 10 days - studying away wasn't her thing, evidently). 12 times $120 divided by 4 months... Fume.
At Olin, I've never had a problem with the internet being too slow. Ever. I also routinely e-mail people while lying in bed. I can even sit out on the lawn and check my e-mail - on warm, sunny days, of course. It's lovely.
5. Guilt-free sleeping in on weekends.
When in Europe, one feels that one must be constantly on the go, seeing as much as there is to see and doing as much as their is to do. I miss being able to sleep in without feeling too guilty about it, or only feeling guilty because it means further procrastination on a problem set or similar task, which is not exactly a life-threatening level of guilt. Sleeping in when I could be Seeing Europe and Discovering Myself and Becoming a More Independent Person makes me feel like a Lazy Slob.
6. Prices in dollars.
1 euro equals roughly $1.47. When a shirt costs 20 euros, that's $30. I can't buy a $30 tank top. That's just silly.
7. My cell phone.
I am renting an Italian cell phone, but it costs over $0.30/minute to call the US, and occasionally gets strange text messages (in Italian). It doesn't vibrate. It doesn't take pictures. It doesn't tell me what time I missed a call (just who called, and the fact that I missed it). It sometimes won't place local calls. It spends most of its time searching for a network. I hate it.
8. The Dining Hall's chocolate chip cookies.
Italians don't eat chocolate chip cookies. In fact, as far as I can tell, they don't even eat soft cookies, period. They have biscotti, and little hard cookies that go with espresso, but no big, soft, chewy, melty chocolate chip cookies. I bought some chocolate chip biscotti, but it just wasn't the same.
9. The laundry rooms.
The inside of my washer here is roughly a third or a half the capacity of an American washing machine. There is no dryer. I live on the first floor, so I often hang my wet laundry up in my shower during the day instead of out the window, as is the Italian standard. It takes two days for my jeans to dry, and is generally inconvenient. (Though, admittedly, I now feel like a dirty, wasteful American for writing that...)
10. The cereal.
I found my first box of Rice Crispies in Rome this week - for about $6 USD. At Olin, the cereal is available whenever the Dining Hall is open, and makes an excellent between-class snack. I miss my free and virtually unlimited cereal access.
What I don't miss about Olin
1. My schedule.
Digital Photography is a class here. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?! I run around and take pictures of things anyway. Now I get to pretend like it's homework.
I'm also taking Political Development in the Third World and Intensive Italian (which is really not all that intense; restaurants tend to be much more so). I read a little and study a little, but it's not much to complain about. I don't foresee any nights where I'll be up past midnight working on problem sets or simulating electromagnetic phenomena or even writing lengthy papers. Yay.
2. The distance to the nearest grocery store.
My grocery store here in Rome is a block away from my apartment. The second-nearest grocery store is about two blocks in the other direction, and is directly next to another (larger) grocery store, and across the street from the international grocery store (where I buy my maple syrup, pancake mix, and kimchi ramen noodles). The nearest grocery store to Olin is about two miles away, which is not fun to walk when laden with groceries (especially in the winter).
3. The nearest historical sights (and how much awe they inspire).
Don't get me wrong; Boston is pretty cool, and there are certainly some interesting historical sights, but it just can't compare to Rome. Ancient ruins abound, and sometimes in the most unexpected places (in the middle of a shopping district, for example).
4. The nearest weekend trip locations.
Traveling almost every weekend is so much fun. So far, I've seen Rome, Ostia Antica, Anzio, and Napoli (Naples). This weekend, I'm going to Zurich, and then (in the following weeks) I'm traveling to Venezia (Venice), Firenze (Florence), Amsterdam, Berlin (to visit Joe, another Olin student studying abroad), London, Aix (to visit Lyndsey, another Olin student studying abroad), Paris, Cinque Terre (5 villages on Italy's west coast, northwest of Firenze), and hopefully the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, and Barcelona. If I had more time (and money - ack!), I would try to see much, much more.
5. The soft serve machine.
As good as soft serve is, and as celebrated as the soft serve machine has been (it was installed this past summer), it can't beat gelato. There is no contest. Yesterday, I tried kiwi, white chocolate, and hazlenut gelato, and although the flavors were a bit strange when mixed together (next time, maybe I'll do the cream-looking flavor instead of kiwi), it was fantastic.
6. The pizza.
Italian pizza is so delicious. Thin crust, fresh ingredients... Yummm.
My friends and I went to Napoli (Naples) last weekend, which is said to be the birthplace of pizza. The pizza was amazing. My pizza ("Nonna Carolina," named for the restaurant owner's grandmother) was topped with fresh basil pesto, chunks of tomato, and mozzerella cheese. Really, it was life-changing. I solemnly swear that I will never eat Domino's again.
7. The coffee.
Olin doesn't (usually) have its own coffee shop, though the Dining Hall does provide carafes of Seattle's Best coffee. In Rome, on the other hand, there are coffee shops and snack bars that sell coffee in every block. For about $1 USD, one can get a shot of espresso (the default drink you are delivered when you order "caffÃ¨"). For less than $2 USD, one can get a delicious cappuccino (note, however, that cappuccino is a drink meant for the morning; don't order it after about noon or so). Standing at the bar, eating a cornetto (pastry/croissant) and drinking a cappuccino is my favorite way to have breakfast in Italy.
8. The nightlife.
Being 20 in Boston... What nightlife?! If I want to go to a bar and have a drink with my friends here, I can. It's, well, extremely expensive, but still possible. Legally speaking, that is.
9. The weather.
Compared to Boston, Rome's weather is lovely. It's very temperate here; I don't have to put on boots and a coat and a scarf and a hat and gloves if I want to walk to the next building, which is massively convenient.
10. The doors.
Olin's doors are incomprehensible. They are bizarre. They are unpredictable. They are hard. Freshmen spend the first several months just walking into doors. It's very unfortunate. Rome does not really do the whole "double door" thing, and thus the doors are not a big issue.
I hope you have enjoyed this abbreviated listing! I'm off to sleep so that I can get up at 5:00 am tomorrow and catch a train to Zurich. Once in Zurich, I'll be meeting up with a few Olin students to hang out and be tourists!