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First impressions of Perugia

By Luke Miller, Arcadia University

The bus ride from the Rome airport to Perugia was the first impression I got of Italy when I arrived here in mid-January. I was mesmerized by the rolling hills, antique houses, and bustling rest stops along the highway that somewhat reminded me of home – however, finally getting to Perugia was an entirely new experience. The streets, while small, did resemble those of an American city, and the attire of pedestrians on the street seemed very similar to home as well. Our first night was spent in a hotel far from the center of Perugia, which is where we would be living for the semester. In all honesty, that first night was very groggy – we all were getting used to the 6-hour time difference. We fought the jet lag as best we could, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner prepared by the hotel as a welcoming ceremony. The next day, we grabbed a quick continental breakfast and boarded shuttle buses that would take us and our luggage up to the center city so we could get accustomed to our housing. This is when the first true impressions of Perugia began!

The center city, in contrast to the lower city where the hotel was, is incredibly unique and not like anything I had ever seen in America. Pictured on the left are two of my roommates walking down the street we live on, Via Dei Priori, on the day we moved in. As you can see, the streets are incredibly narrow compared to American streets – especially when cars drive up and down the street! Whenever a car comes, all the pedestrians huddle on one side to allow the car to pass through. While this was unexpected at first, it is a practice we quickly got used to as we walk streets like this every day. On the left side of the image, there is a large tower: this is Torre degli Sciri, a 13th-century medieval structure, and our next-door neighbor! The tower is now open to visitors for free on the weekends (though tips are appreciated). As my roommates and I explored the city during our first days in Perugia, we decided to climb the tower to check out the view of our new home. The views we were met with were nothing short of breathtaking:

The opening picture of the blog is indeed a beautiful view of Perugia’s city center from the top of Torre degli Sciri. The old styles of architecture, especially the terracotta roofing, really emphasized to me that I was no longer in America. One of my favorite things about Italian homes/culture is the importance of porches and outdoor spaces: every house, regardless of size, has a patio or at least a large window to take advantage of fresh air and the outdoors. I think this is a really cool feature, and something I wish more American homes had!

My favorite view from the top of the tower, though, was the view towards the lower city. Pictured on the right, the entire city of Perugia can be seen – and beyond! The flat valleys behind the city contrast with the stark mountains in the back that crest above the clouds. Rays of sun shower down from above and illuminate the entire town, allowing the vibrant colors of the houses below to really pop. Additionally, you can see the emphasis on nature I was mentioning above; there are so many trees and green spaces all throughout the city! I wish more American cities followed this European style of city planning and featured more green spaces because they really bring a lot of character to the city of Perugia.

After our first weekend exploring the beautiful Perugia, we started our programs with Umbra. Firstly, I was incredibly impressed by Umbra’s hands-on approach towards acclimating us students to Perugia. I studied abroad in London the year before I came to Perugia, and in London, while I had an amazing time, there was far less help provided by the program I was with. Umbra, in comparison, helped us step by step get acclimated to Italian society. We had an “Italian immersion week” the first full week we were there, an entire week dedicated to full-day Italian language classes and learning how to function in the city, such as going to the grocery store, using the mini-metro, and how to order in cafes. That initial entry into Perugian culture was incredibly helpful, as it helped minimize the learning curb associated with living in a new country.

After Italian immersion week, real classes started. While the first few days of any college course are never the most interesting as the professor introduces the course content, syllabus, and general information about the class, I was very happy with how engaging my classes were. Each of my professors is incredibly passionate about what they teach. As an anthropology major, I take a lot of history and humanities courses; so this semester, I am taking a renaissance art course, a class on ancient Roman civilization, an anthropology course on food, and the required Italian class. As mentioned before, each of my professors are incredibly enthusiastic about what they teach. This makes it incredibly easy for me, as a student, to also feel engaged and excited about the course content. Each of the courses provided at Umbra feels very applicable to Italian culture, and honestly, I couldn’t be happier taking these classes in Italy – it feels like the ‘motherland’ of many of the subjects, especially ancient Rome and the Renaissance!

Day-to-day life in Perugia continued after classes started. We only have class on Monday-Thursday, so we have 3-day weekends to really take advantage of being abroad. Whether you explore Italy, Europe, or just the city of Perugia, there is always something to do here! And the courses we take provide engaging content that only enhances our enjoyment of Italy. Learning about ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and food culture while in Italy allows me to have a better appreciation for the city I live in, such as when observing art, walking through ancient streets, or eating at local restaurants. So far, my first impressions of Perugia and the Umbra institute have been resoundingly positive. I have had such a great time so far, and I can’t wait for everything that comes next in my Italian study abroad experience!

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