Program: American University of Rome (ISA)
Time Abroad: Fall 2008
Major: English & International Studies
After studying abroad in Rome, Italy, I have realized that study abroad is not just something that you do for four months; instead, it is an experience that becomes a part of you for the rest of your life. I know that sounds incredibly corny, but it is entirely true. For me, the Italian language, culture, people, and food will forever have a special place in my heart and my time in Rome helped me discover myself through the challenges and joys that made up my study abroad experience.
My whole semester abroad was memorable, but one of the most memorable was my last day volunteering at Caritas, a homeless shelter in Rome. I spent one evening a week volunteering there and at the beginning it was extremely challenging. The language barrier alone made my three or four hours there exhausting and frustrating and instead of feeling like I was helping, I just felt that I was a burden on the other Italian volunteers. Eventually though, I met Marco, who supervised the kitchen volunteers. He at first had me doing small jobs that required little Italian vocabulary (like putting salt on people's plates), but with every week, he gave me a new challenge and in doing so, showed me that he trusted me and knew that I could handle the mass chaos that is an Italian "mensa" or soup kitchen. On my last day, when I asked him where he wanted me, he said he thought I should serve the "primi" or the first course, which clearly, is a big step up from salt girl! Even though I was just serving meatballs, the whole evening was much bigger than that to me. I had proven myself to these Italian people and, at the same time, had proven to myself that I can indeed live, work, and enjoy myself in a place that may not always be comfortable. It is one thing to overcome the language barriers and the culture shock so that you can function abroad, but it is quite another to go past that and be able to actually live abroad. Dumping salt on someone's plate was functioning abroad, but joking with the other volunteers, having the frequent diners recognize me and ask about my day, all while serving meatballs was, to me, living abroad.
After abroad, I had a much clearer idea of what I want to do for the remainder of my time at DU and also what I want to do once I graduate. I know that continuing to challenge myself to truly live in new places will always be part of my future plans and while I am excited to live abroad again and challenge myself with a new culture and language, I also cannot wait to get back to Rome and to my mensa and to my meatballs.