How My J-Term in Rome Changed My Life

College students often return from studying abroad ready to tell anyone who will listen about how their experience changed their lives. I always thought it was a nice sentiment, but I never really believed them. Changed your life? Really? It seemed a bit dramatic. Now, having studied abroad myself, I get it. I was only abroad for three weeks, but it was still absolutely life changing.

I had gone back and forth about spending an entire semester abroad, but ultimately decided that it just wasn’t for me. I still wanted to travel though, to see the world. So when my best friend and I realized that we had both been looking at doing a J-term (January term) abroad, it was only a matter of time before our applications were sent in and we were searching for plane tickets. The entire thing was pretty surreal until we arrived at an airport with all the major signs written in Italian. 

For the next three weeks, Rome was our home and we made the most of every minute of it. We saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Vatican…You name it. We saw it. We didn’t just see it though, we experienced it. We let the cobblestone roads of the Eternal City tell us stories of long ago. They told stories of saints, sinners, emperors and local heroes. We tasted Roman history in the handmade, fresh food that Italians take such pride in. For a country known for its bread, pasta, and pizza, the gluten-free food in Italy was the best we have ever had. Gif of Michelle from Full House eating a plate of spaghetti

It is so incredibly humbling to walk around a city and be completely surrounded by thousands of years of history. Growing up, I’ve always been interested in the incredible amount of history in Europe. Around every corner in Rome there is another statue, column, story or work of art. I felt incredibly small and insignificant in comparison to so much history. Simultaneously though, I felt honored to be a part of preserving and enjoying that history and keeping it alive. 

It wasn’t just this historical privilege that changed me though. I lived with my best friend and two other girls in an apartment in Prati, a part of Rome right outside of Vatican City. We found our way to and from class, used public transportation, and traveled to Siena, Pompeii and Sorrento, Italy on our own. After getting lost somewhere in the streets behind the Pantheon, we not only found our way home, but even got gelato on the way (at 2 a.m., nonetheless). That same night, I sang to a packed bar at karaoke night. After that, going back to school for spring semester suddenly seems very doable. I returned to U.S. soil with a newfound confidence in myself, in my ability to communicate with others, and a great story about an Irish pub in Rome and a Lizzo anthem.Lizzo Hair Flip

I think about Italy everyday. When I’m having a rough week and I scroll through pictures of our adventures, it reminds me that I am capable. It reminds me that it’s okay to ask questions, like Dov'è l'autobus? (“Where is the bus?”). It reminds me how good it feels to cry because of how gosh darn beautiful the ceiling of a little basilica near school is. So yes, studying abroad, even just for three weeks, did change my life. I returned to Siena College with a new appreciation for rich history, more confidence in myself, and a passion to do it all again very, very soon.