Growing up around the world, I was used to living internationally. However, due to my parents’ jobs, I always lived in some type of bubble. I was a part of the expat community, and was often surrounded by fellow U.S. Embassy families. While I embraced the local culture of many places, I still often felt that I had an “American” safety net. But that all changed when I moved to Rome. Although I was “protected” by the John Cabot bubble in a way, I believe that immersing myself into Roman life truly prepared me for an adult life overseas.
As I went off to college, I had no idea what my future had in store for me. I knew I would love my time in Rome, but didn’t know that I would continue living internationally after graduation. After college, I moved back to Moscow for a year and a half. Then I spent almost a year in the United States, before getting married and moving overseas yet again– this time to Belgrade, Serbia. Besides my time at John Cabot, this was my first international move without the safety of my family or an international community around me.
The sudden immersion was harder than expected, but as I adjusted to this new phase of my life, every day I was thankful for my time in Rome, which had prepared me. At John Cabot, an American university, I felt safe being within the American education system I was used to, with international peers and a global atmosphere of fellow TCKs (Third Culture Kids). But I also had to face the reality of living on my own in a European city without my parents. My time at JCU impacted me more than I realized at the time, and truly set me up for a lifetime of success overseas.
Here are four ways that living in Rome prepared me for a life overseas:
1. Public Transportation
In Rome, it is very common to use public transportation. In fact, public transportation and walking are usually the easiest options. Because of this, I only learned how to drive after finishing college, when I spent some time in the United States. I took a tram, bus, or metro, or walked, every single day in Rome, and that is exactly what I do now on a daily basis in Belgrade. I’ve grown accustomed to the crowds of fellow commuters and the waiting time (sometimes in cold weather). I love the convenience (and adventure) of taking public transportation, and the fact that it makes me feel like a local. Rome definitely prepared me for this.
2. The Marketplace / Grocery Shopping
In Italy, it is very common to do your food shopping in more than one place. You don’t usually go to one large grocery store to get everything you need. Instead, it is customary to go a farmers’ market for the best fresh produce of the season. You will then head over to the nearest grocery store for your regular, everyday household items. Many locals also go to a bakery for freshly baked bread, to a butcher’s shop for meat, and to a pescheria for seafood. These habits really prepared me for life in Belgrade. To this day, I don’t do my shopping all in one place. I love walking over to my neighborhood’s open-air market for fresh fruits and vegetables, and grabbing a hot loaf of bread from my local bakery.
3. The Hustle and Bustle
It’s no secret that Rome is a metropolitan city. Although Trastevere can feel like a village, Rome itself comes with a lot of crowds, tourists, traffic, and noise. The hustle and bustle of a large European capital city can take some getting used to. Thankfully, this is one of the aspects of Rome that I absolutely loved. I enjoyed being in the middle of the excitement, knowing that life in a city never gets boring. Living in Rome taught me to embrace the craziness of living in the middle of a big city. I am often reminded of my Roman days when I’m out and about in Serbia’s capital city.
4. Foreign Language
Growing up in Russia, I was surrounded by a language that was not native to me. But since my family had been studying Russian since I was about two or three years old, it wasn’t too foreign to my ears. It felt familiar and I learned it fairly quickly. But when I moved to Rome, I remember the initial culture shock and surprise of hearing a new foreign language every single day. The Italian language is beautiful, but being surrounded by a language you can’t understand is challenging at times. After a while, you start picking it up, and don’t even notice that the entire city around you is carrying out their lives in another language. The same thing happened when I moved to Serbia, and my time in Rome helped me adapt quickly and work on learning a new language.
Alexa Vujaklija (Shearer)
Class of 2015
Grew up in the United States, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria