This morning I ordered a cappuccino from a café in my hometown. Despite their best efforts, it just wasn’t as good as an authentic Italian cup. I’ve been back in the States for almost two weeks now, and I think it’s safe to say I’m “Rome-sick.”
These two weeks have provided me with time to allow the past three months to really sink in and reflect upon the ways in which they have impacted me. Studying abroad in Rome was a life-changing experience that I will forever be thankful for.
Before I studied abroad, I often heard it said that after spending an extended period of time in another country, you become much more “open-minded.” Apparently I was too close-minded back then to understand what that meant, but I think throughout the past three months I began to see the truth in this statement; Italians simply live their lives differently than we do. This is evident in even the littlest things that I never would have imagined: the way they drink their coffee, what they define as a “take-away” cup, how the bathroom appliances work, their lack of super-stores, and how most shops, businesses, and even churches shut down during the mid-day “riposo” for a long lunch (what you may know of as a siesta). Individually, these may all seem like trivial things, but collectively they result in a whole new way of life.
For thousands of years, Romans have carried themselves with great pride. They are passionate about everything they do in life. They love their history, their city, and their daily activities. Living in Rome, I like to think I echoed this passion for life.
Without a doubt, studying abroad teaches you many life lessons. There’s not a second to be wasted in a city as incredible as Rome, so we learned the importance of following through with a daily game plan. It is necessary to think ahead of time to figure out what, when, and how you’re going to do whatever you want – not to mention taking other people into consideration. At the same time, you have to be completely prepared for anything and everything you have planned to go wrong or to be changed unexpectedly. (Shout-out to bus 870 for only ever coming when it’s not needed.) Rome creates this paradox in which you learn to simultaneously keep your life organized and structured while maintaining flexibility, living in each moment without worrying about the next. I quickly learned first that somehow it all works out in the end.
Rome for me was not only an incredible cultural experience, but also a really special spiritual experience. While there I learned a lot about living each day for God, striving to answer His call, and being open to His will. Meeting seminarians, religious sisters, priests, and others dedicated to the faith became a regular occurrence. I found that by getting to know them as individuals I had a unique insight into the life of those pursuing religious vocations, and in that, it became real to me that they are just ordinary people living ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Such a lifestyle is one I strive to live, and it is inspiring to me to know many men and women doing exactly that.
Furthermore, this semester I loved learning about many saints and martyrs who lived their lives to the fullest for Christ. One of my favorite saints that I got to know more about this semester was Saint John Paul II, whose perseverance through the hard trials he faced in his life inspires me. Saint John Paul II, as well as many other saints, truly followed the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). I see this reflected in the lives of many who have gone before me, which has helped me to recognize how important it is for us men and women today to model our lives after them for the glory of God.
Now that I’m home, people ask me about my favorite church, city, day, experience, etc. and I have seconds to scour my thousands of memories for one that stands out above the rest. There were countless times throughout the semester that my friends and I decided we had the “best day ever.” As my friend Sean (a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome) pointed out: my friends and I use a lot of superlatives. It seemed like each day we had the tastiest cappuccino, saw the most magnificent piece of art, went on the coolest adventure, or just simply had the best time ever. I don’t think our enthusiasm was without reason. The past three months have been some of the happiest times of my life.
Honestly, some of the best times were had doing things that most people don’t put at the top of their to-do lists in Rome: having a picnic on the Tiber Island, driving some bike-carriage thing through the Villa Borghese gardens, drinking way too much hot-chocolate, making a secret club with friends (#SLS), and sitting on the steps of a fountain in Trastevere at night and people-watching.
When I look back on this semester, I cannot imagine it without each and every individual who was a part of my time abroad. The experiences I had would not be the same without them, and the friendships formed cannot be replaced. I am eternally thankful for everyone who helped make my semester studying abroad so wonderful.
They say that “home is where the heart is,” and I know that I definitely made Rome my home. While there I embraced life in a way which I have never before. I took time to focus on personal growth and becoming the best version of myself, and know that I have been changed as a person in ways that I still do not yet entirely understand. My view of humanity in general has been expanded, and I have become more accepting of what once was entirely foreign to me. I know that after all this time has passed and things have changed, going back to Ave Maria in the Fall will be different. I’ll suddenly be an upper-classman and will have so much to catch up on with all of my friends. None-the-less, I am excited to be reunited with the Sunshine State and all of the wonderful people there, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for me next!