Since I returned to the United States, I’ve been putting off writing about the end of my semester in Rome.
It’s hard to summarize four months and do justice to all of the cool things I did and places I visited, and it’s even more difficult to succinctly recap my experiences without being trite or cliché. Yes, the semester abroad changed my outlook on the world. Yes, I recognize the value of cultural immersion. Yes, I learned another language and made great friends and had all sorts of fun hopping around Europe. Those are the big things. But I think the real value of studying abroad comes from participating in daily life in a foreign place and becoming part of a community of regular people in another part of the world.
The vivacity and energy that the Trasteverini give to the neighborhood is perhaps what I miss most from my time abroad. The sense of community was palpable in Trastevere. I learned quickly that it’s a place where people look after each other. Over the course of the semester, my morning routine in the neighborhood became one of my favorite things. I loved the outdoor market, the winding streets, the sunny piazzas, the grand palazzos – all of it. It was comforting that the folks at the coffee shop knew my order, but I really began to feel at home in Trastevere when I began to recognize the other residents: the mail carrier on his motorino, the hat-tipping accordion player, the gypsy who limped pitifully in Piazza Santa Maria but walked just fine inside the grocery store, the knife man and his bike with a grindstone tied to the handlebars. Describing it, Trastevere sounds like a caricature of an Italian neighborhood, but I swear I’m not making this up. I feel so lucky to have been able to live and work and play in such a wonderful place.
Coming home to North Carolina was pretty much like I expected it to be. I don’t have reverse culture shock because I know how America is and I didn’t expect it to change very much while I was away. People drive big cars and eat dinner early and drink soda with ice. Fine. I’m finding it amusing to compare certain aspects of life here to life in Italy (like appropriate church attire, for example), but I’m not disgusted with the American way. It’s just different.
It’s good to be back home – as much as I loved my time in Rome, I was ready to come back to America. And now, in just a few weeks, I’ll move up to Chicago for the summer. I’m interning at an advertising agency downtown for nine weeks, and then I will move straight from Chicago to Notre Dame at the beginning of August for RA training. I don’t know if I’ll be back in North Carolina before Thanksgiving, so I’ve had to unpack my Rome things and simultaneously repack for Chicago and for school. That’s the other thing – this is my last time packing for school, what with starting my senior year in college and all. Senior year means graduation and (hopefully) gainful employment. It’s odd to think that this month that I’m spending at home between Rome and Chicago might be the longest period of time I’m ever “home” again.
My year of adventures abroad has come to a close, but the coming year promises to be pretty exciting, too.