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August 2015

August 2015,

I am in the middle of my entrance exams... as are most Belgian students. It's going rather well! I only have 2 but my work is finally paying off. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I don't have many exams and the year is not at stake, I still feel a constant sense of stress and excitement. And yes, on the 12th September I will be heading off to Rome.

I found out in May that I had been chosen to go to the Eternal City for my Erasmus term. I will be there for 5 months and although I am really excited I can't help but worry about the fact that 5 months is a long time and I will be there alone. At least at first.

The exams went well, apart from a small hiccup for Dutch. Although that's normal.

It's the big day. I woke up early, my flight is at 9am. I am so stressed.

Some people have an large group to see them off at the airport. I just had my parents there, but that suited me. My best friend left the same day for her Erasmus stay in Manchester, my brother was working and my partner had left 6 days earlier to go get a tan in Portugal.

I get to the entrance to the terminal, it was time to say goodbye. A poignant moment but I was far too excited to cry. I picked up my bag and strolled through the doors smiling. I'm totally alone now. No more mum and dad to help me with any problems.

9am - boarding time. I boarded the plane that would take me to the city which was to be my home for the next 5 months.

After a 2 and a half hour flight I arrived in the terminal at Rome at midday.

First things first, I needed to find the shuttle bus. A convenient little bus that takes you from Fiumicino airport to the centre of Rome, via Crescenzio 2 to be exact, for the small sum of 6 euros if you book online (I learnt that after the fact). I decide to go to the train station to ask for directions at one of the many ticket offices.

Having already been to Rome during the holidays to get to know my future hometown I knew what the shuttle looked like. Unfortunately the first time I came I had taken the Léonard express train which gets you to Rome in 30 minutes. Convenient but more expensive.

I found a nice picture of the shuttle bus at one of the ticket offices. I asked the lady behind the counter, who wasn't at all patient or nice, where I could get the bus and she told me to wait with the people stood to the side of me. She asked me for 15 euros which was a bit weird since I had taken the shuttle from Rome to the airport and that had cost me 8 euros. But anyway, feeling stressed I gave her the 15 euros and joined the queue of people waiting. My first big mistake. First bit of advice: always trust your gut.

So after waiting for 5 minutes a young man comes over and tells us to follow him. I do as best I can given the 53 kilos of luggage I had. We finally arrive at the vehicle that would be taking us to Rome, a tiny van, far from the bus that I wanted, my first time being scammed in Rome. The lady at the counter had certainly done a good job.

Finally, we all get in the van and head towards Rome.

During this trip I genuinely believed my time had come. The Italians are terrible drivers. Stereotype 1: the Italians are crazy behind the wheel. Confirmed. Nevertheless we arrive safe and sound at Termini railway station. So not only had I paid 15 euros for the wrong bus, this lady had managed to send me far from my desired destination.

The metro was my final solution. Rome has 2 metros. With some difficulty I arrive at the station with my 53 kilos of luggage but before I can head down to the subway I must buy a ticket. The problem is that the metro ticket machines only accept 10 euro notes when you are buying 6 tickets . You can't pay for one ticket with a 10 euro note. So I have to go to a tobacconist to buy a single ticket. I finally get my ticket, find the right train and get on. Not too much trouble up until this point. I finally get to my stop and get off, heading towards the B&B which I had booked before I left home.

After walking for 30 minutes in the blazing sun I finally arrive at the desired address. 120 Via Crescenzio, yes, the very same road on which the expensive bus had dropped me off. The patron was waiting for me and I could finally set down my bags and relax a little.

However not too much because now I had 5 days to find some permanent accommodation. In Rome, accommodation is very expensive, especially in the district where my university was, the Prati district, the Vatican district. I had already scheduled a viewing for a room in an apartment on the corner of the street I was now on. I decided to visit the room without further delay. I had my first nice encounter with the girl who lived there who was also on Erasmus. I thought I had found somewhere I could be happy but I am quickly disappointed. The room is in the basement and is very humid. I am asthmatic so I couldn't stay there if I wanted to live. I thank the lovely girl and suggest that we see each other soon to get to know each other better which she appreciates. I had just made my first connection in this unknown city.

Since this room wasn't a good fit, I needed to find another. This was much more difficult than it seemed. But first of all I needed to get an Italian phone number. Second bit of advice: get an Italian number the same day you arrive, it will make your search much easier.

And so began 2 weeks of uncertainty, stress, discovery and meeting people. I did the same thing every day. I got up, had my breakfast and bought the Porta-Portese newspaper which advertised accommodation. I also browsed websites, Facebook adverts and others. Ultimately coming up empty-handed. Third piece of advice: if you are going to Rome look for accommodation as soon as you know. Preferably go for a weekend visit! The problem with Rome is that it is pretty much impossible to find a suitable room for an affordable price in September. But don't risk booking a room before having seen it. So I couldn't book a room beforehand since I wasn't able to go visit. Oh well, what's done is done.

Despite this slight inconvenience the start of my stay in Rome was really great. I met a Dutch girl, Fere, and a French girl, Joanna. I became closest to Fere during my stay.

I didn't lose hope and continued my search as time passed. The patron of the B&B made me an offer that I couldn't refuse, she offered that I could stay for another 5 days for a really cheap price. I accepted in my panic. What would happen if I couldn't find anywhere in the next 5 days? Fortunately I am not a pessimist so I got back to work on my search. It's a friend of my mother who ultimately saves me. She told me to contact the Belgian Embassy and that they could help me. So I rang them and they put me in contact with one of their employees. I explained my problem and they promised to help me and look for somewhere. Reassured, I continued my search but took my time about it.

I had 2 days left at the B&B and I still hadn't heard anything from the woman at the embassy. I started to stress and decided to send her another message.

She ended up getting back to me asking if I was interested in living with an Italian family and, in exchange, taking care of one of their two daughters. I would play the role of big sister. I jumped at the chance. Furthermore, the family's apartment was a stone's throw from my university as well as the place where my Dutch friend Fere was staying. I met the family, they were very welcoming and I finally felt safe, part of a family. I had my bedroom.

I moved in the next day and finally calmed down. I could finally enjoy my Erasmus experience.

August 2015

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