January 30, 2014
For most of my Hamilton career, I was certain that study abroad was not in my future. As a double major I was sure it would never work with my course load. Spending several months in a foreign country seemed like a long way to go and a long time to stay there. I had never taken a foreign language classes at Hamilton, and high school French was only a distant memory.
But as more and more of my friends casually mentioned their plans to study abroad, I started to get curious. By the beginning of my junior year, I had finally decided to give it a shot, even if I was a bit late to the game, and so I scheduled meetings with my advisors and the Office of Off-Campus Study.
Somehow, I got all my materials in on time, and now I’m spending four months in Rome studying at the Centro. The Centro (properly known as the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome) is a small program run by a consortium of American colleges and universities. There are only 36 students here studying with me. We all take a double-credit Ancient City course, dedicated to Roman history and archaeology together, as well as some combination of Latin, Ancient Greek, Italian, and Renaissance and Baroque Art History.
My first week here reminded me strongly of first-year orientation. Introducing myself to everyone and desperately trying to remember names, having to live with a roommate I had never met before and, most of all, the jam-packed schedule of activities they had for us (Information sessions! Museum field trips! Wine symposiums!). Orientations can be exhausting, but they tend to be pretty fun and exciting too. My first hours in Rome, on the other hand, were anything but.
I was so nervous when I stepped off the plane but luckily another girl from the program was on my flight, so we could try to find to the Centro together. But by the time we got in the front door I was sweating in my sweater and peacoat, exhausted from the sleepless plane ride and overcharged by the cab drive They warn you not to take the unmarked, unmetered cabs in Rome, and it’s worth repeating here. By the time I got to my room, I was wishing I had never left my bedroom at home, let alone the country.
Luckily, a shower, a nap and a trip to the ATM took care of my bad mood, and I was ready to start enjoying Italy! The Centro meal plan would not start until the Monday our classes started so we went out to explore our neighborhood. Within 48 hours of my arrival, I had tried real Italian pizza (I discovered a love for focaccia, which we wouldn’t think of as pizza, but the Italians do), pasta, wine and gelato.
On the first weekend my friends and I visited the Colosseum and the Forum. There’s a lot to figure out in Italy, such as the bus system (not as confusing as I thought), and the weather (mostly cool and rainy this time of year, but occasionally warm and sunny), and figuring it all out is part of what makes being here so fun. One of the things I like best about the Centro is the many, many field trips we take for the Ancient City and Art History courses. Not only do we get to see amazing landmarks, but we also learn so much more about them than we would if we went on our own.
I don’t yet have any profond take-aways from my experience to share but I can say this: If you are having a bad time, make sure it’s not just jet lag or the unmarked taxis. Everyone is different, and study abroad experiences reflect that. I was beyond scared to start mine. As my departure got closer and closer, I started to descend into a panic, not just about forgetting to pack something I needed or not being prepared, but about leaving in the first place. I have never gone so long without seeing my family and my boyfriend amd they will not be coming to visit me while I’m here. In fact, I had never left the country before I came to Rome.
I was terrified that I would arrive for my experience abroad and find out I’d made a horrible mistake—I wasn’t cut out to be a world traveler, I wasn’t independent, I belonged in a safe, friendly place like my house or Hamilton where I knew what to expect. I felt that way when I got out of that taxi, but soon discovered that my fears weren unfounded. The Centro is a safe, friendly place, one that’s way more like Hamilton than I expected. Most Romans who own shops or run businesses speak at least a little English. And every day here in Rome I try or see something new, whether it’s cappuccino or the Pantheon. I have learned so much in just a week and a half, both from my classes and just from being here.
Most importantly, I’m having an amazing time! Of course I miss home (and Hamilton!) but I know it will be waiting for me at the end of this adventure, and I can’t wait to come back and share all my stories and pictures. And though I am a little afraid of returning to the Hill as a caffeine addict next fall, I couldn’t be happier that I decided to come to Rome.