Rome Away From Home

By: Christina Ferrari

With summer officially over, I want to focus this week on my time abroad last month. It now sits in my mind as a blur of experiences and emotions, but as I step back and reflect on spending a little over two weeks in Rome, I find myself recalling the smells, sights, sounds, and simplicity of the Eternal City.

As if my last name isn’t obvious enough, I am an Italian-American. I have identified with this ethnic group my entire life and my family proudly reminds me of this fact every so often. However, traveling to my people’s homeland this summer had me realize just how un-Italian I really am. I do not speak the language, I do not
tan like everyone in Rome seems to, and I only know how to cook a couple of traditional Italian meals that come from the Trentino region where my ancestors migrated from.

I bring this all up because while I was abroad, I wasn’t simply taking in the culture—I was engaging with it through a course titled “Lessons From Rome: US Students Studying Abroad”. The design of the course was two-fold: to expose us to Italian culture and the various opportunities students have to engage with this culture, and to understand our own abroad experience through a developmental lens. My time in Rome was shaped by the fact that I was in the country of my roots both ethnically and spiritually. Being an Italian Roman Catholic, I deeply longed to connect to this city but could not help but experience it as a tourist.

When we enter another country with its unique culture, the experience often highlights aspects about ourselves that perhaps generally do not seem salient or apparent back home. For me, the experience underscored the fact that I know very little about the ethnic culture and religion I claim to identify with.

However, it also provided me with an opportunity to learn far more than I anticipated about this city and the influences it has had over time for not only Italy, but the entire globe. The experience has created in me a deep desire to learn more both about my heritage and about the Roman Empire and its influence on the Western World.

Perhaps the most powerful lesson I am taking from my experience abroad is the importance of treasuring each moment. Italians are fantastic examples of people who know how to live richly, but simply. They spend a summer evening on the steps of a piazza sipping a beer with friends, or they know that taking a two hour break for lunch is not the end of the world and will lead to a more productive afternoon. They enjoy being with people, they enjoy their food…they enjoy being alive. As I enter what is certainly the most hectic semesters of my life, I am making it a point to stop every once in a while and to do as the Romans do: enjoy the present and enjoy being alive.

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