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la vita è bella

November 15, 2009

Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. If I had the chance to do it again, I would have gone for the entire school year as opposed to just one semester. My coworker Steph also studied abroad in Rome for a semester and we occasionally discuss Rome itself, but just the other day we discussed the impact Rome had on us.

Steph mentioned how difficult the transition back to the States was for her. The same goes for my experience. I don’t think anyone takes into account the reimmersion process for lengthy European travel. It’s not just the intense pasta carbonara and gelato cravings. It’s not the lack of any decent Nutella croissants in the States.

There’s something so spiritual about being uprooted from everything and everyone you know and thrown headfirst into the fires of a foreign country, foreign language, and figuring it all out yourself.


There’s no user manual for a new cultural immersion. Even if you speak enough of the language to get by, you might not speak the right dialect. Calling home is easy in the States. Ordering coffee is easy in the States. Finding a spot for lunch is easy in the States. Reading a map is easy in the States.
Suddenly, you’re in a foreign country and NOTHING is easy, not even washing your underwear.

But doing laundry in the sink, ordering wine and pizza in Italian, catching a train to Naples all become routine, second nature. In the same breath, so does having lunch at the Pantheon, spending the afternoon at the Vatican, and drinking beer with Swiss Guards.
((The beauty and horror of studying abroad is becoming used to being abroad.))

Being left behind in Bologna, conversing with the signori at the dress boutique entirely in their language, buying shoes in sizes like UK37,  and being asked “Mangia qui o porta via?” when you order lunch from the small cafe are exactly the kinds of experiences that solidify your sense of self.

I saw it in the other students in my program. Rome suited them in one of two ways: either your foundation becomes so shaken that you completely fall to pieces or your foundation is so solidified that everything about your SELF suddenly becomes chiaro – clear.

Rome silenced the cacophony of being 19. It forced me to put life in perspective. It forced me to see ME, without the haze of college and boys and family and drama, ME in my truest, purest form.
And it forced me to make adjustments to be the ME that I wanted to BE. I became who I am thanks to five too short months that flew by much too quickly.

Rome lies quietly just below the surface of my skin, bubbling up just to let me know it’s still there when I need it. Rome manifests itself in my love for blood oranges and white wine, in my quest for the perfect croissant and hazelnut gelato, in my occassional slip into translating nonsensical things into Italian, in that whaft of cigarette smoke + rain + car exhaust combination that immediately takes me back to the streets that wind from Piazza Navona to the Colosseum.

CP1010073oming home to the States was bittersweetly difficult. I found myself slipping into the hybrid Italian-English language my pals and I had taken to speaking. I would yearn for the incessant buzz of history at my fingertips. I craved the richness of faith and the humanity of the people. I ached for the discovery of SELF to reveal itself again and again.
I came back to the States more sure of myself and my capabilities than I have ever or will ever experience in my life. I knew who I was, who I am meant to be, and what passions needed my energy most. The one single thing I was absolutely most sure of, though?
I need to go back.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. ohhayitskk permalink
    November 15, 2009 9:52 pm

    this made me tear up. i studied abroad in rome in college too, and ever since then, i’ve felt like i’m totally out of place here in the states.

  2. November 15, 2009 10:18 pm

    Totally agree with you. Studying abroad was a great experience and I absolutely need to go back too. One day!

  3. phampants permalink
    November 15, 2009 11:21 pm

    Your five months in Rome is how I felt the last 5 months of my life. Unplant, uproot and be me.

    Here’s a ping back:

  4. November 16, 2009 12:19 am

    I feel the same way about Madrid… It’s not constantly on my mind, but it’s there when I least expect it, when I draw on some emotion or experience or feeling.

    And I especially can relate to the cigarette smoke + rain + car exhaust — that definitely brings me back!

  5. November 16, 2009 12:50 am

    Since I graduate a year early, I wasn’t able to study abroad. Which, I’m pretty sure, means I need to go with you when you do go back.

  6. November 16, 2009 3:25 am

    I admit it, you said nutella croissant and I went yumm….. And blanked for a moment.

    I would have loved to go abroad for a semester or a year. Instead my military family lived in germany for 2. So…. I was already abroad.

    my husband and I both plan to encourage our kids to do it though. It would be a good experience for them.

    so when are you going back? 🙂 I plan to be back in europe (probably germany again but i’m open minded) before i’m 30. Even though it’ll probably only be a few weeks, its better than nothing. Though we’re trying for a longer stay sometime too.

  7. November 16, 2009 7:36 am

    I spent three years with my family in Europe and then four months on my own. I too really wish that I had just said screw it, put school on hold for a year and stayed longer. But then I wonder if I ever would have come back.

  8. Sarah663 permalink
    November 16, 2009 9:25 am

    I loved studying with SMC’s Rome program! I definitely wouldn’t be the same without it.

  9. November 16, 2009 9:39 am

    this post is the reason i regret not going to a big school that had a study abroad program, or just saying screw it and taking off on my own. beautiful.

  10. November 16, 2009 10:09 am

    While I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve never done something like this where you’re totally immersed. My sister is leaving to do a semester in France in January, and she spent 3 months in Thailand last year. It blows my mind, and makes me jealous… but I’m glad we have our house & puppies even if they make that kind of travel impossible.

  11. November 16, 2009 2:40 pm

    I really regret not doing travel abroad during school – but I was an RA and was afraid if I left for a semester I wouldnt get my position back!! 😦 I’m trying to make up for it now by traveling as much as I can. 🙂

    And I went to Italy when I was 16 and LOVED it.

  12. November 16, 2009 8:40 pm

    I think it’s so amazing that you were able to do this! I wanted to study abroad so badly, but it’s basically impossible to do in a teacher-training program. So, I chose the Peace Corps instead…and then they were jerks too. Someday, though, I hope to be able to have a full immersion experience in another culture.

  13. November 16, 2009 8:40 pm

    Hi.. found my way over here from i heart my shoes…

    I definitely think I couldn’t handle doing that, I have a hard time traveling and feeling comfortable in a place where I have family and friends… and I’m only there for a week. But it sounds like quite the experience… and omg, I always wanted to got Rome!

  14. November 17, 2009 7:07 am

    I’ve been living in Rome for the past 2 1/2 years (it was supposed to be a year after college but I fell in love and stayed), but I’m leaving in 3 weeks! I’m devastated. I love this city to death. Luckily, my boyfriend is from here and lives here, so I think I’ll be making my way back here when I finish grad school.

    I love reading other people’s perspectives about this city, it makes me nostalgic for Rome, even though I’m still here. Only a truly glorious city can make you feel that way.

  15. November 17, 2009 1:15 pm

    I traveled in Italy twice in one year and it managed to sneak into my being. I realized recently that I have to go back for a long period of time. It’s not a want, it is an absolute necessity and I will figure out how to do it even with a new house and a dog. Thank you so much for this post.

  16. November 19, 2009 11:38 pm

    Lets go back asap!

  17. March 22, 2010 7:43 pm

    fabulous post!!


  1. Life is Beautiful « .:: phampants ::.

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