michael-tolan

A mid-study abroad crisis

About two weeks ago, my parents, aunt and uncle came and visited me in Rome (or should I say, they used me as an excuse to take a trip to Europe).  It was a fantastic visit—besides just being happy to see them, I got to show them around the city that I’ve gradually been able to call my home.  I got to take them to the best restaurants and gelaterias that I’ve found.  I got to brag about how much knowledge I’ve been able to pack into my brain here and let them know their money and son aren’t going to waste over here.  I got to show them the great off-the-beaten-path places I had discovered over the past two months.

And that’s when it hit me.  When I told my parents goodbye in the St. Louis airport, I said “See you in two months (for the visit)!”  I’m here for four months.  Two months is half of four months.  I’m halfway there.  As in, I’ll be home in two months.  WHAT!?!

Yeah, it’s pretty hard to comprehend that I’ve been here for two months now already.  It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long yet.  Or, does it feel like it’s been longer?  I can’t really tell.  By this point, I’ve become so absolutely assimilated into life here—even if I haven’t completely mastered the Roman bus system or the Italian language—that time has passed by extremely quickly.  Yet life has become so normalized that I often forget I haven’t lived here long and wont for much longer.  Two months are gone, and if my experience is correct, the next two will fly by faster.  So with all that realized, I’ve undergone a bit of a “mid-study abroad crisis.”  Thoughts of leaving Rome with regrets about what I missed filled my head as I realized what I hadn’t seen yet.  I’ve only been to two of the major basilicas of Rome!  I haven’t seen any catacombs!!  I still haven’t been inside the Colosseum(still not sure how that’s happened)!

I think now the initial panic has calmed down, but the interest remains keen.  The great thing about studying abroad is the absolute wealth of opportunities at your disposal.   Some seek to take advantage of their European position and skip around the continent to the major cities—London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona.  What I want to do though is make sure that I know Rome before I leave.  Whatever you choose, I think it’s important to note that obviously, like most things in life, it’s going to take some gumption.  In order to get the most out of your experience, you’re going to have to work outside of your comfort zone, go the extra mile and any other idiom that expresses this thought.

As my initial panic set in, my thoughts turned big and planned:  I have to go to this museum, take this bus to here and see this monument, go to this restaurant,etc.  But the beautiful thing is, to see, sense, feel, experience something sensational doesn’t mean you have to do something massive and organized.  You just need to adopt a little spontaneity and then have the chutzpah to act on it (that’s where the gumption comes in).  Whether that manifests itself in going to a different café and ordering a new type of delicious pastry, booking that trip to Torino you’ve been tossing around your head (that’s what I did!) or just deciding to go get purposefully lost in your own city on a lovely Saturday afternoon (did that too)—it doesn’t matter!  Just as long as you’re doing something!

This very evening, I was headed to the library to work on a presentation.  As I walked into Piazza di Santa Maria, which is adjacent to my apartment, I realized that I had never been inside the church which dominates the square:  Santa Maria in Trastevere.  It happens to be one of the oldest in Rome (try 1700 years old) and probably the first church mass was ever held in.  So I put off work, spontaneously (see?), and walked in.  I’ve been to a lot of churches, and I expected the same:  eerie yet beautiful silence, gorgeous frescos, etc.  But there was some sort of late night mass going on (I’m not familiar with what it might’ve been), and a choir was singing a beautiful tune accompanied by melodious organ in front of a large crowd seated in the pews.  And all of this in front of shimmering golden medieval mosaics cast in a nearly 2000 year old building.  I was absolutely overcome, and the scene’s awe-inspiring beauty actually brought me to tears.  I couldn’t help but feel this sense of magic, warmth and hospitality.  I’ve never been inclined towards organized religion, but this!  This, I thought as a humble observer of religion,is what it can be:  Warm, communal, inviting…but with an overarching and pervading aura of a long and tradition-heavy history.  I could so easily, and romantically, imagine the early Christians gathering here together for the first ever mass, full of love and dedication.  And then they would’ve continued to do so for the next 1700 years until the present day.  When I stepped back outside into the piazza, a full moon in a cloudless sky glimmered overhead as I started off to do my homework.

So!  That was just a flicker of spontaneity that I acted on, and look what happened!  Just imagine if you really tried…

Michael Tolan is an student blogger from Carleton College, studying abroad with API in Rome, Italy.