Why Studying Abroad Was the Best and Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Me

September 20th, 2014:

A Saturday different from any other Saturday I had ever experienced.  It was a day that I had been dreaming about since the day I committed to Saint Mary’s College. It was a day that excitement and butterflies overcame my body. It was the day I was finally leaving to go back to the motherland. It was a day that marked the beginning of my study abroad in “la citta eterna”, better known as Rome.  

My flight left Chicago O’Hare International Airport at 8:40pm and was scheduled to arrive in Rome the next day at 12:40pm.  Lucky for me, 10 of the girls going abroad also live in Chicago so we all made sure to be on the same flight. We gathered in the airport with all of our families, hugged our moms and kissed our dad's and walked away with tears in our eyes and smiles bigger than ones on Christmas morning. It felt like it took forever to board that plane, but once we did, it was hard to sit still.  My mother arranged with the travel agent who booked my flight for me to sit next to a good friend of mine, Kati, so that I wouldn’t have to be alone.  Lucky for me, Kati is afraid of flying so I got the window seat (my favorite seat in the plane).  I read an entire book on the flight and the rest of the time I spent sleeping.  

September 21st, 2014:

When I woke up I could hardly believe my eyes! It had been a long time since I had seen that beautiful italian scenery.   We landed 30 minutes early and quickly traveled through customs and to claim our luggage at the italian baggage claim carousel.  I’m sure you could imagine how funny a group of 30+ girls with at least 2 giant suitcases each trying to maneuver their way through Roma Fiumicino Airport looked to the outsiders at the airport.  Needless to say, we made it through and safely got in cabs to the hotel.  I swiftly claimed my room key and went upstairs to meet my roomies (two of my best friends- Molly and Serena) so that we could get settled and begin our adventures.  Within the hour that we spent in our room unpacking, I am almost positive that I took 50 pictures. Of what? Who knows, but like they say, pics or it didn’t happen. By the time we finished unpacking it was time to go to the first mandatory meeting at the restaurant below the hotel called “Teatro dei Pompei”.  Little did I know it would become one of my favorite restaurants in all of Rome.  The after dinner adventures were the best part of it all. All 35 of us girls walked over to Campo dei Fiori, aka our side yard, and began exploring.  However, myself and 3 other girls decided it would be best if we split up a bit, so the four of us spent the rest of the night sitting in the piazza on the steps near the fountain talking about our past summer, how excited we were, and  what we wanted to accomplish in our semester abroad.  It was the perfect start to the greatest 3 months of my life and definitely a night I won’t ever forget.  

September 20, 2016

I’m sitting in my Psychology of Personality class wishing and dreaming  more than anything I could be back sitting by that fountain in the piazza, with 3 girls who still remain 3 of my best friends today.  Before I left for Italy, I heard many people who had previously studied through the SMC Rome program say that you will learn more about yourself and the world around you than you can ever imagine in that short time frame.  

Did I believe them? Of course I did, but did I know that it would have more of an effect on me than words could portray? Absolutely not.  

Words do not even come close to explaining how large of an effect studying abroad had on me.  Not only did I push myself to become fluent in the language so that I could go home and speak Italian with my grandparents, but I fully immersed myself in a culture that I wasn’t used to and I can not thank myself enough for doing so.  Although I am 100% Italian, it doesn’t take much to realize that Italian culture in America is completely different than Italian culture in Italy. I never knew I could appreciate my Italian culture more than I already did, but Rome proved me wrong. Just like anything else, it took some time to get used to, but over time, it got easier and I soon realized that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.  My confidence boosted, my sense of self skyrocketed, and it was during that time that I finally understood who I was and who I wanted to become.  

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Rome or wish I were still there, sitting by the fountains in Piazza Navona, shopping at the mercato in Campo dei Fiori in between classes, eating gelato on the benches outside of Frigidarium, stopping at the bar for a quick espresso before class, or getting lost (in a good way) while exploring the beautiful streets of Rome.  I will forever be grateful for the 3 months that I spent stuffing my face with endless amounts of pizza, pasta, and gelato, creating friendships that will last a lifetime, meeting new people from all over the world, reconnecting with family members and spending time learning about my family history in my family’s hometown, traveling to different countries and staying in crappy hostels with the people I care most about, endless amounts of karaoke nights at Scholar’s Pub, and so much more.

Not a day goes by where I don’t think about my time abroad, and each time I smile brighter thinking of all the wonderful times I once spent there.  Nowadays when I see the girls who I went abroad with I can’t help but run up and hug them. We may not see each other often, but I know that we will always in some way remain friends because we share a bond that many people are not lucky enough to have.  After all, we will always have Rome because Rome is where the heart is. Ci vediamo presto, Roma.