My Study Abroad Experience: A Not So Roman Holiday

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When I found out that St. John’s University offered multiple fantastic study abroad programs, I was all for it.

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I planned what semester to go away and what countries to visit; I felt thrilled that I could finally visit places I had only witnessed in movies or pictures. So, when an opportunity came for me to go to Rome for a week with my theology class, I couldn’t say no. I figured it could represent a good warm-up for when I went abroad for the semester. We would be going from Jan. 6 to the 14th, and for the first few months before the trip, I was so excited.

The Colosseum, the Vatican, the catacombs: all places I was dying to go to! But things never turn out quite as we picture it.

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However, when I landed at the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome, I knew I was in trouble. Just coming back to my senses from being on a turbulent, eight-hour flight, I realized that my international plan was never added to my phone and I couldn’t get in touch with my family. Needless to say, I panicked. I managed to snag a friend’s phone to tell my family that I made it, but I already felt a sense of foreboding within me. Then, of course, came the debacle with converting my dollars to euros. With only one Western Union blocks away from the campus, it took about four trips and several hours before I found any money I could use.

The culture shock also proved an adjustment: who knew that Italians turned on their faucets by stepping on a button on the floor?

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So, my first day? Not the greatest. But the second day was questionable too. I never traveled so far away from everything I knew in New York, and I only just met my classmates a few months before the trip. I made a few good friends in that timeframe, and to be honest, they were the ones who got me through the trip. When you look up at the towering walls of the Vatican, in a small flock of students, surrounded by seasoned travelers and native Italians, you definitely feel small. Swallowing my nervousness, I went into the Vatican Museum a little leery but with a twinge of curiosity. That hint of curiosity developed into a wild sense of wonder as I wandered the corridors. I never saw so many exquisitely crafted pieces of art in my life than I did in that moment! It felt like being in a dream. But, once the tour ended and the amazement of human creation faded, my hesitation returned.

This tug-of-war between incredulity and fear pushed me through the first three days. However, every time we booked a tour or visited a new part of Rome, I became immediately enraptured. After all, how many people once had walked those cobblestone streets before me? How could I be sitting on the very same steps that Audrey Hepburn did in “Roman Holiday”?

Am I really seeing Michelangelo’s art in the flesh?

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Only when my friends and I visited Villa Borghese did I really manage to catch my breath in the midst of everything going on around us. A massive park filled with beautiful architecture, lakes and even a horse track that overlooked the city of Rome—it became my favorite place that we went to on the whole trip. A musician played on a main path, and when we stopped to dance to his music, I finally let loose for a while. But I never did get my Lizzie McGuire moment while I was there.

When we got back to New York, I flew into my family’s arms and swore that I could never go abroad again. While the food and art were indescribable, I really couldn’t see myself going through the anxiety again. I went to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean to find that I am utterly tiny in comparison to a world that seemed endless, and that scared me. But, a year and a half later, the memories from my trip to Rome now feel like treasures to me. I wish I could wander around the Colosseum, and power through the climb up to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica again. The COVID-19 pandemic made me realize that life is just too short, and I can’t wait to try and travel abroad again.

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