Ciao a tutti!
I’m Anastasia, 19 years old and am currently living la “vita romana” during my voluntary civil service in the beautiful city of Rome!
During my last year at high school in 2020, I applied at the “Evangelische Freiwilligendienste” (Protestant voluntary services) for a year abroad to make new experiences and gain insights on the life in another country. I was overly happy when I got the chance to volunteer in the Lutheran community in the heart of Italy’s capital.
My journey began September 1st 2020, when I hugged my parents for the last time at 3 am in the morning on the train that would travel to Munich. Basically sleeping all throughout the journey, I changed in Munich for Bologna and in Bologna for Rome, and was already amazed when I started hearing people talking rapidly in Italian while overlooking the picturesque Tuscan landscape from my window seat.
I had not yet built a sufficient vocabulary in Italian, but due to my knowledge of Spanish it seemed easy to understand at least what was written on the signs.
When I arrived at the central train station Termini (after having mistakingly got off the train a stop too early), I was greeted most warmly by the former volunteer Anton, who had to introduce me to my workplace. He showed me the parish and my new apartment (which is luckily situated right on top of the community’s office) while we were munching on some leftover “cacio e pepe” pizza, a Roman classic. At the moment, we have an Iranian refugee living with us, and we recently celebrated the age-old Persian New Year’s festival Noowroz with him.
From the first day on I felt kindly welcomed in the office, where I support the pastor and the secretary in the daily tasks like answering calls and emails, contacting our community’s members and preparing the Sunday services. It feels incredibly special to be part of a Lutheran community right in the center of the Roman Catholic Church. The Sunday services are mostly held in German, with a monthly afternoon service in Italian. The office work is also German-Italian combined, thus we almost feel at home with the German-speaking office members, while still learning Italian by answering professional emails.
A crucial part of being a volunteer here, as I previously mentioned, is the preparation of the Sunday services – for example being responsible for lighting the candles on the altar and switching on the microphone for the Gospel’s reader, noting the church’s visitors in case of having to track down a possible chain of infection (which we fortunately never had to do) and setting the table outdoors for a pleasant meet-up after the service.
It has now become a habit of mine to go to church and I thoroughly enjoy getting to know the many members of our community, reaching out to them and listening to their interesting stories of for example how they come to live in Italy. Especially at the start of the year, I adored the meet-ups in our church’s garden, where we would share delicious food, chat with the students from the Melanchthon center who are staying in Rome for almost a year as well and just enjoy the warm late summer nights. Every Wednesday, we also host a meet-up for the elderly women of our community, in which we have a cup of coffee alongside some tasty cookies and chat about anything. Sometimes, we have somebody from the community hosting the meet-up who would hold a presentation about some famous Roman families and their stories, or when we recently had an US-American theology student accommodated at our church, we talked about Lutheranism in the United States.
Another wonderful aspect of the voluntary year at the community is the many events we have: for example, in December, the founder of the “1-to-1-concerts” asked our pastor for the opportunity to have his special concerts take place in our church. We, the volunteers, helped out at preparing the concerts, receiving the guests and also introducing each one of them to the exceptional concept – one musician would play in complete silence for only one guest, and based on what kind of connection the musician felt with the latter during a one-minute eye contact, he decides what pieces of music he plays. Additionally, there was no fee to pay and all donations went to churches that ran projects for the poor!
As we approached fall, we had to endure more restrictions, such as wearing a mask all the time, even outside. In November, a decree was introduced, separating the Italian regions into the colors red, orange and yellow, with specific curfew rules. Most of the time, Lazio, the region in which Rome is situated, stayed orange or yellow. We were fortunate, as the shops and restaurants stayed open and although we could not eat outside past 6 pm, we often went outside to share pizza, pasta and our favorite gelatos for lunch.
By the way, the reason why I have been referring to “us” as in “we” during this text is because of my fellow roommate, with whom I have been sharing not only the apartment since September, but also work and in general life here. I am glad to say that we get along very well and we often stroll through the city together enjoying gelato, watch series and movies in Italian for improved comprehension and love to bake while listening to music (a recommendation of ours is the “New Music Friday Italia” playlist on Spotify, where every Friday numerous popular songs, recently released, are listed. Most of them are in Italian). It has been a great joy, since due to the restrictions we often had to stay at home, and in compagnia it’s way more fun passing the zona rossa.
A definite highlight of the past months was the consegna delle corone dell’avvento (sale of so-called Advent wreaths, a wide-spread German tradition of lighting a candle each Sunday during the Advent time before Christmas)! Some 15 (wo)men got together and planned the production, managing and sale of the Advent wreaths. It was delightful to sit in the garden, crafting the wreaths with our hands and talking to whoever came to sit next to us. In total, we actually sold close to 200 Advent wreaths! It was a grand success. However, normally, the community would plan a huge bazar in the entire parish building with hundreds of people flocking in, having a slice of one of the dozens of cakes offered by volunteers, browsing through the giant basement – filled to the brim with books and toys – and deciding which one of the homemade jams and cookies to buy. I hope that this year, fingers crossed, it will be possible again!
The Italian way of living is obviously very present here. I have noticed that on any occasion, many Italians style up and make a bella figura, especially on Friday and Saturday evening when young adults come together in bars. And speaking of that, I do have to say that it has influenced me in some way, because I have grown to like observing what latest trends people have been wearing and seeing avant-garde fashion pieces. In addition, since for the first time in my life I am fully independent and have to cook myself, I have grown to love preparing food and now understand why the Italian cuisine is just so renowned. Even the simplest plate of pasta can be so flavorful and delicious! We have integrated going to a local market on Mondays and selecting fresh produce directly from Italy into our weekly to-do’s. And digging a spoon into homemade Tiramisu is absolutely the best. Therefore, in a way, I have adopted some Italian customs.
I cannot complete this text without going into depth about Rome: you have certainly heard of the great Roman Empire, and it is mind-blowing to ponder on how fascinatingly old Rome actually is. Through the centuries, not many buildings have been destroyed by wars, and the Italians are blessed with ancient remains such as the temple Pantheon, the Foro Romano and, famous all over the globe, the gigantic Colosseo. Even in the district Ludovisi where we live (the “dolce vita” street Via Veneto is just a 3 min walk away), we admire the artistic houses we casually pass by wherever we go.
The perfect get-away from the bustling metropolitan life is the Villa Borghese, only a stone’a throw away from our church. We have passed hours reading books and learning Italian while enjoying the sun in a quiet corner of the park.
And aside from the typical sightseeing places and monuments, we have also found some wonderful spots: the quiet Montesacro quartiere with its lovely park; the EUR part of the city, initiated by the dictator Mussolini, where one almost feels like in the US; the historical Via Appia Antica, a road already built by the Romans, which is ideal for bicycling. They are just three of the many spots one has to visit.
And besides that, there are just too many splendid fountains, cafés and tiny stores to even count.
On the other hand, some Saturday mornings, we would get up early to have breakfast at a local café and then head towards some interesting place outside of Rome that we heard of: for instance, we visited the sea-side city of Ostia, approximately an hour away by train from our parish, where we enjoyed long walks by the beach and the crisp and salty air. And recently, when a new decree was published stating that Lazio would become Zona Rossa again, we decided to have a day-long trip to Castel Gandolfo, an aesthetic town located on a hill overlooking the scenic Albano lake!
Grazie di cuore (thanks a lot) for reading my blog entry and I hope that I gave you an interesting insight into my life here!