In our pre-departure meetings at my home school, our study abroad coordinator was quick to warn us of the emotional roller coaster we were about to embark on. “There will be highs and there will be lows”, she would say. She explained that students often experience a variety of emotions, both positive and negative, throughout their semester abroad. After four months of living and studying in Rome, I can vouch for her findings.
Stepping off the plane in Rome, my nervousness was clouded by a combination of excitement and jet lag. After eight hours and 20 minutes of fruitless attempts to discover a comfortable way to sit in an aisle seat, I was desperate to escape the cramped plane. Too tired to fully think for myself, I followed the crowd of students in front of me. Together we collected our bags and lugged them all the way across the airport to a nearby hotel where we would check in with John Cabot. By the time the university shuttle service dropped us off at the Gianicolo Residence, I was exhausted, sweaty, and, to put it delicately, probably not smelling like roses. A lovely first impression for my future classmates. Fortunately, everyone else was in the same boat. Those first 24 hours in Rome felt like the longest in my life. Although all I wanted was a warm shower and a bed to crash on, I was grateful for all of the distractions that kept my mind from drifting back to America.
Just days later, though, my circadian rhythm adjusted and the panic set in. Why did I think I could live here for four months? What if I can’t make any friends? How am I supposed to remain upright on these damn cobblestones? Filled with anxiety, I was desperate to reconnect with the friends and family I had so foolishly left behind in America. You can imagine, then, how I handled unpacking my laptop battery only to find a wire had ripped. Not well. While I like to think I maintained a calm exterior, anyone privy to my internal dialogue would have thought God had just sent the eleventh plague. My mind was in frenzy; not only was I physically removed from everyone I knew, now I did not even have the comforts of modern technology to ease the separation. Of course, when I say this I mean I no longer had technology at my fingertips. My roommate was kind enough to lend me her laptop whenever she was not using it and the Guarini campus contains multiple computer labs. Despite this, I acted as if every moment on a computer was precious and fleeting. If ever there was a computer in the room I was feverishly typing away to my boyfriend or neighbors, pounding the keyboard as if it would disappear any second. But it didn’t, and as time passed my heartbeat returned to a normal pace.
Eventually I discovered that my panic-stricken questions had some pretty simple answers. Four months of pasta, pizza, and gelato? Deal. Smile and be nice and friends will follow. Just be careful and don’t even bother with heels. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with Trastevere. The winding roads always seem to lead somewhere new (you try reading a Roman map) and here the cobblestones, though still dangerous at times, add charm to the neighborhood. Snack bars and bakeries are on every street, with an endless array of cornetti oozing with nutella, cannoli stuffed with sweet ricotta, and biscotti dipped in dark chocolate. On sunny days the gelatarie are more tempting than ever, with creamy nocciola, sweet banana, and rich caffe. At night the bars come alive. Smoke and conversations fill the air as crowds spill out into the streets. It wasn’t long before I was asking myself, How can I leave in just four months?
I spent the last four months adapting to being away from home as much as to Italian culture. At times I wanted nothing more than to return to my home in Pittsburgh or my home university in Ohio. But, as my advisor predicted, this roller coaster had its high moments, too. While my environment and the people around me definitely impact my experiences, I realized that my own perspective and attitude play the greatest role in determining how I feel about my time abroad. It is easy to visit Rome for a week and determine it is a beautiful, historic city with incredible food and friendly citizens. It is slightly more difficult to live in Rome for four months and realize that historical means antiquated and outdated, this incredible food will turn your jeans against you and the friendliest natives are probably just distracting you while their friend picks your pocket. However, the biggest accomplishment is in discovering these highs and lows and appreciating them for what they are: a genuine semester abroad.