Sono arrivato a Roma! This has most definitely been one of the craziest weeks in my life. Once I sat down in my window seat on the plane, looking out at the country I would be leaving for four months, I thought: “What am I doing here? Why am I leaving?”. However, regardless of these last-minute frantic thoughts, hours later I found myself bewildered in the city of Rome, Italy.
Due to the fact that I have already traveled to Rome and Italy countless amount of times in the past, I was sure that I wouldn’t be taken back by my new surroundings. Despite my past travels, everything here felt and looked different. I wasn’t in a big rented car with my fifteen sleepy family members tightly packed in, I wasn’t heading towards the apartment where my father was born and raised in Napoli, and I wasn’t looking out for a grand hotel near a quiet beach in Italy. This time, I was driving through the residential streets of Rome, looking out the window waiting to be told that we have arrived at my home for the next four months. I grew increasingly anxious and nervous while awaiting the arrival of the five other girls I would be living with. Up to this point, I knew nothing; not their names, their nationality, or their contact information. Once they stepped through the door, one by one, I must be honest that I grew comforted to learn that four of them are also American. The last girl, however, is Brazilian and we became direct roommates. I grew excited when hearing her background story and her Portuguese tongue when FaceTiming her parents to tell them that she arrived. It was then that I knew I would not only learn more about the Italian culture, but many others while on this life journey.
Right now I am definitely living in liminality. It is difficult to say where exactly I am mentally after just one week in my host country. Separating from home and my loved ones was much more difficult than I anticipated, however, I believe it was successful. I figured that once it came down it, I would dismiss the fact that I wouldn’t be seeing them for so long, and focus on the path that was ahead of me. Truthfully, I did my best to do so, but it was much more difficult than what I imagined. My family and boyfriend understood that when they were saying goodbye to me, they were allowing me to begin a life transition in which I will grow from. They understood that I could not be attached to my phone, text messaging, and FaceTime every moment of every day. They understood that next time they see me, I would be more culturally aware and educated. But most importantly, I understood that no matter the obstacles I faced, I could not resort back to the things in which provide me comfort. Once I accepted this fact, I felt as though I successfully executed my separation plan, and was prepared for what was in store for me.
Thus far, my experience with my communitas has been extremely helpful in easing my transition from home to this lifestyle abroad. I was lucky enough to meet many great friends, who I already know I will keep in touch with years after this experience. Study abroad creates a special bond with other students, as you almost can understand exactly what the other is thinking when scared, nervous, excited, amazed, homesick, and so much more from just a look. Most of the times, we try our best to put ourselves in the shoes of others. With study abroad, my communitas and I are all living in the same pair. I found that my communitas tend to rely on me for everyday tasks, as I can speak the native language fairly well. Because of this, I have been able to work on one of my main goals for study abroad and practice the Italian language extensively. Some of my strengths of being outgoing and unafraid to try new things has definitely assisted me in this leadership role my communitas has assigned me. I am not timid to go up to natives and ask them questions, ask for directions, create unique friendships, and much more. With all being said, I am truly happy that I can help my communitas better understand their surroundings, as a foreign tongue can certainly be intimidating. Regardless of my communitas and I all helping each other, I do agree with Slimbach’s analysis of communitas being double-edged. It can be difficult to go out and go to local cafés, talk to natives, and go beyond your comfort zone once you have become reliant on your communitas, and your communitas reliant on yourself. With that being said, I have been trying my best to find the best of both worlds and reach that happy medium which will further enrich my experience.
Unfortunately, time was not generous with me in regards to challenges on this trip. The first night in Rome was nothing short of a disaster. While reading the story of Jesse’s struggles from Bangalore, India I found myself crack a smile at the identical experience I had (2010, p.157). After spending a long first day roaming the foreign streets, my roommate and I decided it was time to get settled in and make our run-down apartment look like home. We both ignored the fact that we were slightly disappointed with our living conditions, trying to remain positive on our first day. The four other girls in our apartment were fast asleep, and all the lights outside of our room were off. While unpacking, I noticed a few bugs here and there, but figured it was just due to the humid climate. Shortly after, I went to the kitchen to get some water and was shocked with what I found: over twenty tiny bugs crawling, jumping, and flying out of the kitchen sink onto the walls, floor, and counter. I was both disgusted and concerned. After dealing with the problem in the kitchen, I said to myself that the worst was over and it was just a coincidence. This foolish mindset was once again quickly corrected, as I walked into the bathroom startled by several bugs on the floor and walls. My roommate, Fricya, and I were confused as to where these bugs were coming from so we decided to remain in our bedroom. Much to our disliking, we then found bugs on our beds (while sitting on them) and bugs crawling in and out of our clothes after just unpacking. We went around taking videos of the situation, needing no more convincing that we had a bug infestation on our first night. I sat up in my bed all night, wide-eyed, fighting the weights trying to pull my eyelids down. I had not slept in days and was sure that I had made the wrong decision to go abroad. The next morning, I contacted Student Life at my host school and shared the videos in which Fricya and I had taken. Luckily, they too were in disgust and wanted to get all six of us out as soon as possible. That afternoon, we moved into a beautiful apartment…with NO bugs!
Bug infestations may not be a crucial issue to some, but personally, I was very proud of myself for acting quick and dealing with the issue the way I did. Knowing how Italians can be from my past travels and family experience, I knew that I needed physical proof in order to agree on a reasonable solution. Taking those videos, contacting Student Life, and not racing back to the airport allowed me to resolve the issue and move on with my best foot forward. From this experience, I learned that I am much stronger and can handle much more than what I thought. I needed to remember what Slimbach so accurately explains in the following quote, “Sometimes the best we can do is to remind ourselves that we’re not going crazy—that we are reacting in normal and even predictable ways to circumstances over which we have little control” (2010, p.159). As my mother always tells me, there is always a solution to every problem, you just have to find it. I also learned something about my host culture by facing this challenge as well. Because of previous experiences I assumed that there would be no way out of the problem, that no one would care enough to help, and that everyone would be nonchalant regarding the issue. I was pleasantly surprised at the quick help and attention, and realized that I held some perceptions of Italians that are not true to everyone. Not all Italians are stubborn and laid back, and I now know better moving forward.
In order to invite the unknown and create close-knit relationships with international friends, my plan is quite simple: to say yes. I plan to say yes to all obstacles that I face with a strong front, I plan to say yes to trying new things, I plan to say yes to meeting new people, I plan to say yes to going to new places, and I plan to say yes to learning new things. This is of course in reference to situations in which are safe, however, I am sure that by doing this I will refrain from remaining in my comfort zone with only my communitas. Saying yes seems easy and like a silly thing to mark as a noteworthy plan, but I find that people often are haunted by regrets that begin with the words, “I wish that I had…”. It is far less often, however, that people wish that they had not tried something new. I am hoping that this simple plan guides me in the right direction throughout my journey here in Rome, Italy. I am ready to invite the unknown and cultivate new relationships with individuals who are foreign to my culture and homeland.
This picture definitely best describes my journey to date. Although I had an emotional and stressful start in Rome, I now could not be happier with my decision to study abroad. I am trying my best to get out as much as possible and enjoy every minute of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. If that means having gelato everyday, than I am certainly doing a great job! In the case that another alarming or difficult situation presents itself in the future, which I am sure it will, I will try to remember Slimbach’s wise advice, “The transformative potential of global learning requires that we not waste our sorrows. Instead of treating them with disdain, as unexpected and unwanted foes, we can learn to welcome them as inevitable and indispensable friends” (2010, p.163). Ciao!
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).