My first (almost) two weeks in Rome have been absolutely amazing. Fun story: I ordered the travelogue discussed in the last blog post from Amazon, but it did not arrive before my departure date. With all of the other things to be stressed about as moving to another country for four months rapidly approached, I decided to just “figure it out when I get there.” On my second day in Rome, I moved into my (very large and comfortable) apartment to find the exact book I needed, sitting on a shelf in the living room in a collection comprised of only a few measly books.
Much of the rest of my experience thus far is going equally well. Prior to my departure, and all the way through my travel, abroad never felt “real to me.” It was after I checked into the hotel my program was staying at the first night, and made my way to small pizzeria with a large group of other students, that a moment of sheer panic came over me. Suddenly I was in a foreign country, with complete strangers, and no reasonable ability to leave. I thought to myself, “What have I done?!” Before a few minutes had even passed, I told myself to get over it, and I did. Included in chapter 6 of Slimbach’s “Becoming World Wise,” is an excerpt from the reflection of a student who studied in El Salvador. Katie wrote, “I’m realizing that there are times in our lives when we should simply ignore ourselves.” This very much resonated with the exact lesson I learned in that small, kind of bad pizza place.
In class, we discussed the concept of “communitas” as those who would go through parallel experiences with us during the rite of passage. We said that our communitas would be the other students in the class, but in a more concrete way for me as the only QU student in my program, the other students here in Rome are my communitas. They are all experiencing separation from home and family, from their schools and communities. During the day, we go without any connection to home as most of us only have phone that we use on wifi. However when we get home, we often times reach for the laptops and immediately facetime with friends or family back home, anxious to exchange stories. This certainty presents where there is still room for needed separation.
One challenge in particular that has struck me more than I anticipated was the language barrier. I was told prior to departure that in the major cities in Europe, many people spoke English. And, they do; there is always someone that I can speak to when I really need to, and what needs to get communicated always does, even if it means pointing. When I have to point at the loaf of bread I want from behind the counter at the neighborhood bakery, though, I feel incredibly rude. Or when an elderly woman in the grocery store tries to ask me for help with weighing her produce, and I cannot even communicate in Italian that I do not understand her, I feel rude. Luckily, classes started this week, and although my Italian class is very difficult, I am excited to start learning to basic communication skills I need here.
In relation to Slimbach’s search for ways to invite the unknown and cultivate a network of close-knit and supportive friends, I am hopeful that I will be able to befriend students at my school that are not just study abroad students. I am very grateful to be attending four year university, where there are people from Egypt and Argentina and Norway and Italy and seemingly every corner of the world. They each have such an interesting story to tell, and I am very interested in hearing as many of them as possible.
Pictured below is a group of other girls in my program and I at the beach in Anzio last weekend. It was our first real adventure outside of the city, and I know I will always remember it fondly. We took it upon ourselves to figure out taking the bus to the train station, buying tickets, taking the train to a small beach town an hour south of Rome, and navigating to the beach from the other station. And the beach we found when we got there was amazing! It was a perfect beach day, and a proud accomplishment for all of us.