The GoGlobal Blog

Alla Fine…

Alla Fine…

Well, it’s finally happened: I’ve become one of those annoying study abroad enthusiasts that everyone loathes. They may as well have me as a promoter in one of the insufferable Loyola orientation groups that so entices a student to go to the alluring Loyola Rome Campus (as they did with me a few years ago). But as I continue to be afflicted by insurmountable examples of culture shock on an hourly basis, I knew that I must write one final post. So, I write to you not from my previous home of four months but from a hipster, only too American coffee shop (not even a café) in Milwaukee to show everyone how I reached this point of both Study Abroad vexation (and hopefully persuasion) to you all.

My final month abroad proved to be busier than any of the rest. Granted, I had finished the majority of my travel after Spring Break was over. While I fell in love with every place that I visited, the country with which I continuously remained the most infatuated by was that which I inhabited. Having seen Florence and found myself captivated by it, I desired to venture to one other city in the same country as my Roma home. After all, I had yet to see the famous city of canals and carnevale, Venezia, or Venice.

Two of my friends and I decided to conveniently take a night train both to and from Venice to save money on hostels. We arrived at the station around 11:00pm and befriended a couple of Texans in our same car (I loved being around any Americans who made me feel superiorly more Euro). We arrived in Venice at 6:00 am, just in time to watch the sun rise over all the rivers of the city.

Having heard quite a bit of build up, Venice delivered on all of the romanticism and radiance I’d assumed it to have. To say it is a city built on water makes me reminisce of similar sentiments expressed about previously blogged cities like Amsterdam. Yet while the main River Amstel flows through that city, it would be easy for someone to see that waterway as a facet of the city which can either be acknowledged or ignored based upon someone’s preference. In walking through the streets of Venice, I sometimes felt as if the canals were a greater part of the city than the cobblestone. You would turn down a street only to find that you were led to a dead end…into water. Luckily, there’s almost always a water taxi to help you out if you get lost which is also almost inevitable. We didn’t survive half the day without asking someone where we were on our map (to which they replied that the papers in our hand were useless). Despite complications occasionally navigating the canals, the day spent in Venice was one of utter peace. It’s not a huge city so there’s not a TON to do or see like some of the other places to which we traveled. However, this suited us perfectly. It was a day that could be spent getting lost in the city, making our way to Piazza San Marco, window shopping for old Carnevale masks and famous Murano glass, and gazing out at the gorgeous water. Before the day was finished, we couldn’t leave without taking a gondola ride. After a bit of bartering, we found an Italian who was not only dressed in the traditional gondola get-up, but was also a Chicago lover. We skipped his serenade and settled for a beautiful ride through the charming canals of the city. From sunrise to sunset, we were euphoric in the perfect day we had in this beautiful city.

BUT THEN, disaster struck. If I was to call my day in Venice euphoric, I could only describe our night train back as the exact opposite: complete and utter misery. The train ride home was the definition of torment. You see, we bought our tickets at 9:00pm for our night train at 11:00pm. We happily sipped on a nice Prosecco as we watched the sun set on the water of the beautiful city. Then, we boarded the train and spread out in our car. We did all of these actions, not realizing that if you want a guaranteed seat on the train, you must purchase your ticket 24 hours prior. However, we SOON discovered this in a very unpleasant way. After the 3 of us had cozily slept for probably 45 minutes on the train, we were awakened by a boisterous, broad-shouldered woman exclaiming in a thick accent that we were in her seats. We confusedly looked at her tickets and unhappily consented to leave, seeing that we were indeed laying the spots that her tickets specified. We moved a few cars down where there was only one other person. Almost as content, we spread out once again and fell asleep. Soon after, I awoke unpleasantly to a bright light shining in my face. I opened my eyes to see a carabineri police officer’s flashlight in my face. I hurriedly grabbed my ticket and attempted to hand it to him. After a short exchange of him not taking my ticket and my very American “What. Do. You. Want????” slow pleading, he stated in poor English that he wished to see our passports. Understandably, for safety reasons, we had not brought our passports because we traveling within the country. When we explained this to the carabinieri, he scoffed and told us that it was a law (false!) that we had to have our passports on us at all times. It was then time to play my favorite game, Dumb American, with a “What? I didn’t know we needed it? I’m so sorry, I’m new to this country, I’ll never do it again”. The officer unhappily told us to not make the same mistake in the future. We fell asleep for the third time…only to be awakened less than half an hour later by a full family of 8! We were in THEIR seats this time. It was not worth the language-barriered negotiations; we grumpily and groggily got up and shuffled into the train hallway. Then the real hell began. We traveled from car to car, searching for a compartment in which there were three seats for us to sit and found none. Every time the train stopped,  we rapidly searched cars to find people leaving their compartments but never found any luck. Eventually, we consented to sitting in fold out chairs in the car hallways filled with only gypsies. Dead tired from so many hours on our feet in Venice, we fell asleep in these chairs where only one of our cheeks fit. But like I said, there were quite a few stops and every time the train halted, people (not as learned as us) walked around trying to find compartments to sit in. Every time, they would walk past thereby knocking our knees and waking us up. When the train started again after the stops, we would be awakened again, either by an incessant man selling “l’acqua! L’acqua!” or a different carabinieri officer thinking we were one of the gypsies who had snuck on. If only my Italian or my patience had been strong enough to tell them, “BELIEVE ME, if I hadn’t paid to be on this train, I wouldn’t be here!” However, after all this horror, the real point of hell came when we met Giuseppe. A balding, middle-aged Italian man started to chat with my roommate and after he explained to us the ticket situation (this was the first we had heard of it), he feigned sympathy and told us that he would trade off his compartment with us. Giuseppe told us we could sleep for a few hours in his compartment and then he would sleep and we would continue to switch off for the rest of the train ride. We thought we were finally experiencing rewards for the ordeal we’d been put through and thanked him profusely. We slept for perhaps an hour in Giuseppe’s car before he woke us up. He called us into the hallway. However, he didn’t go into his compartment; no, he called us out in the hallway to mock the way we were sleeping and hit on my roommate. Furious, we retreated as far away from this biggest gypsy of them all and went to sleep again with the less trickster of gypsies in the hallway. After one of the best days of my life, came one of the worst nights. When I found myself in my dorm after 7 hours of agony, I appreciated the jenkeness of JFRC in a whole new light and resolved to share my ticket knowledge with everyone and anyone who needed it to travel.

Disappointingly, Venice was the last city of Italy (aside from my own) that I further ventured to. My next time in Italy (this is hope and desperation speaking now), I’d like to see Cinque Terre, Sienna, Assisi, or many others. However, I did get to travel once more after my Venetian excursion. The last trip we had booked far in advance when we had arrived in Italy was to Greece. Apparently, I actually have quite a bit of family from Greece (who knew?) and they reside on one of the Grecian islands. So, I guess you could resolve my last trip as a sort of homecoming? However, ancestry aside, I was determined to make my last trip one of the best and I definitely succeeded in that aspect. Where I had taken many trips all over Europe  this semester (and had absolutely adored them all, don’t get me wrong), Athens felt like a genuine vacation. The weather was perfect; I got ridiculously sunburned just by walking around the Acropolis. The city was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen; it possessed the pseudoarchaic appeal of many European cities I had visited. However, it also had the ancient monuments (similar to that of Rome) that left you breathless. Seeing the Parthenon atop the Acropolis was a magnificent memory that you only truly appreciate after you leave.

That being said, getting to the Acropolis was a bit of struggle. My three friends and I wished to see this spectacular ancient structure on our second day in Athens. We followed the main street signs of the city and climbed the picturesque mountain, but could not find a general way to the top by which everyone else was entering. Finally, we did not reach a common entryway which all other people appeared to be using, but a massive gate which seemed to be all the way around the mountain with no opening in sight. Here, we made a decision: from our point of view, we could either give up on making it to the top of the mountain and seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon, or we could jump the fence and continue our way up after that. When I say jump the fence, I allude to about a 10 foot drop. It was no small feat. But I wasn’t making it all the way to my homeland without seeing the primary piece of art and history of the country. My guy friend who came with us went over first. Then us 3 girls, significantly shorter, climbed to the top of the huge fence. Maybe we would’ve felt bad about sneaking into the Acropolis if we hadn’t been cheered on by an Irish woman who noticed what we were doing. She even offered one of my friends a hand on getting down and ordered us “not to get spiked!” by the fence. After the 3 of us girls had risked our lives and jumped over the fence, we further made our way to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, after all that work, we decided to take a detour on a more picturesque route on which we were discovered (apparently being in a taboo area of the hill where people aren’t allowed). After a failed game of Dumb American (“Laura, where is your purse? Aren’t the tickets in there?” “I threw my ticket away!” “We need tickets?”), we were chastised in the nicest and most pitiful way possible by a small Greek woman begging us to “Please get out. Get out please”. Sneaking into the Acropolis: almost completed. We were then directed to the general entrance and went in with the rest of the tourists. However, it was worth it. Not only the structure itself was awe-inspiring, but the view of all of Athens was incomparable. As with my home of Roma, I’m always impressed to see things that are older than the country in which I was raised. I think there is something so awesome and incredible about standing in the presence of such a beautiful, historical edifice.

As illustrated in the woman who forced us to leave the restricted section of the Acropolis, the people of Greece were some of the nicest I encountered in all of Europe. Almost as American-friendly as the Czech in Prague, natives seemed to be not only willing, but ecstatic to help out a lost tourist, especially an American. We encountered people giving us free offers if we dined at their restaurants and proprietors being apologetic, not irritated, if you asked for more than what was offered. I guess it would be hard not to be friendly and happy in so beautiful a place. As you can see, even when we were getting scolded at the Acropolis, the woman did it in a way that made it seem like she was the problem in the situation. And if you now have an accurate opinion of the delightful people, I wish I could show you the food. I liked to try traditional dishes wherever I traveled in Europe. Therefore when I went to Greece, I tried a lot of customary, foreign named dishes out of my comfort-zone, only to discover I  loved them all.

On our final full day in Greece, we decided to take our vacation a step further and journey to one of the nearby islands. With time restrictions and recommendations considered, we decided upon Aegina, an island in the Saronic Gulf. A short and scenic ride away from Athens took us to this island that challenged any tropical vacation I’ve ever taken. The combination of beaches and traditional European city added up to paradise. The day was the most relaxing end of any of our trips. Despite feeling like I was at one big frat party whenever I looked at signs in downtown  Athens, I dreaded leaving this tranquil and stunning paradise of a country.

This semester made me despise airports. I hated going through security. I hated packing under ridiculous restrictions. I hated the damn buses that Europe makes you get on after you get off a plane because you are dropped off too far from the terminal. I would say I hated the plane ride itself, but let’s be honest, I’m too good at sleeping on public transportation to ever remember that part. And I hated the feeling when you were at the airport after a weekend trip was over. I always felt sad to leave each city I visited. However, I always had the consolation that I was coming home to Roma. However depressed I became about leaving a visited country, I felt immediately better whenever I exited the plane and uttered my first “Ciao” to an Italian in the airport.

Having lived in the country for fourish months, I fancied myself a near native by the time April rolled around. This is good because at the beginning of that month, I had my family come to visit me. My parents and brother were joined by my aunt, uncle, and cousin from Kentucky to challenge me on what kind of tour guide I could be. My parents stayed in a villa by Piazza del Popolo, near the Spanish Steps. Having been confined to the wonderful company of the JForce Crew for the past months, it was extremely odd to see familiar faces from the past. However, it was wonderful to see my family. It was their first time in Europe and for once, I felt not like a child on my family vacation but a host in my homeland with them as visitors to this new life I had established for myself. An almost broke college student abroad, I enjoyed the week of tours and fine dining (compared to the couple euro pizza in which I would usually indulge). On the first day with my parents, I saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon another time, though I don’t think I could ever get tired at gazing at any of those. I impressively was able to share with them facts about all of these things thanks to my Art in Rome course. Luckily, my parents were also conveniently located near Villa Borghese. One of the most spectacular views in Rome can be seen from atop the hill and a feeling of total serenity can be achieved while resting in the garden by the pond.

The following day, my family and I traveled to Florence. Unfortunately, there was less time to shop so I was unable to show off the bartering skills I had acquired. But due to decreased shopping time, I was able to spend more time seeing the impressive spectacles of the city. I saw the David once again (acquired more taboo photographs) and this time climbed to the top of the Duomo, showing my parents the magnificent view of the city. We returned to Rome just in time for a wine tour in Lazio. To discover the makings of this staple of my Italian life was certainly a fascinating and valuable experience. This experience was made even more invaluable by the wine tasting that followed. Also, with my parents, I saw the Vatican Museum once again and captured more illegal images of the Sistine Chapel on my camera. Here too I was further able to impart Art in Rome knowledge. Then, I showed my family my campus and gave them advice on where to find the best gelato in the city. I was sad to say goodbye at the end of the week but knew that they were happy that I was so happy in my new home.

With family visits over and all my travel finished, I was determined to take advantage of Rome as much as possible in my final month. I could have gone sightseeing everyday of my final month and still not seen everything the city has to offer. If I had better kept up with my blog, I could have recorded the sights in the succession of which I saw them. However, because in my final month, every moment was either spent seeing the sights or studying (I know, shocking that I actually had to go to school in my 4 month vacation), I have to unfortunately jumble my thoughts together in this post. I’ve already discussed some of the sights I was able to see in the final month. The Pantheon will always be one of my favorite places. To sit in the piazza surrounding the massive structure and sip on a cappuccino is one of the best feelings I’ve ever known. From there, you can take a  short walk to the Trevi. I love the Trevi Fountain because you are just walking down one of the cute narrow alleyways of Rome and then BAM, you are assaulted by this amazing image out of nowhere. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen and you are filled with so much love for the city and all those around you.

In the last few days, I finally stuck it to Loyola by getting inside the Colosseum. I’d seen the outside twice and had been played with promises of entering. Anyone who’d told me it wasn’t worth it to see the inside was sincerely incorrect. Having learned the history behind the Colosseum made looking at this massive structure many times more impressive.

I also saw some less traditional tourist spots in Rome. I went to Santa Maria in Cosmedin to see the Mouth of Truth. Legend has it, if an enormous liar sticks their hand in, the mouth will shut on them. Happy to inform you guys, I passed the test. After that I went to Il Foro, or the keyhole. At the top of a hill there is a door with a keyhole born out. If you take a peak in, you are able to see three different states and a distant St. Peter’s. It is incredible to me that a tiny spot can yield such an amazing view.

And a semester in Italia would have been incomplete without seeing a game of Calcio, or soccer. I got to see a Roma vs. Palermo (where I traveled to in Sicily) game. We may have lost, but I made it all the way to the field, got to wave a flag, and had a great time.

Another of my favorite spots in Rome is Piazza Navona. There are adorable cafes surrounding the Fountain of Four Rivers and a square full of painters and artists. I bought myself a small print for my apartment next year so that I could attempt to forever immortalize my beautiful home of four months when I am in Chicago. Also in Piazza Navona is the magnificent church of San Agnese in Agone (seen in Angels and Demons). I got to learn more about that church in my art class along with many others. My alternate favorite church I saw was San Giovanni in Laterano. The statues of all the saints inside and the magnificent golden ceiling were amazing sights to behold. Even if you’re not Catholic (just like me), you’re able to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of all the churches in Rome. I even got to see the church of San Ignazio di Loyola (holla!). The baroque ceiling applying the illusionistic design of painting and sculpture is an amazing piece of artwork.

Of course, in my own opinion, none of these churches compare to San Pietro, or St. Peter’s in the Vatican. I may have said in an earlier blog post that upon entering, you are overwhelmed by the amount of artwork. The inside is an incredible sight. However, my favorite part of St. Peter’s was the climb to the top (La Dolce Vita style) to get a view of all of Rome. This isn’t any Sears Tower view; my heart swelled with love for the semester and city where I’d spent some of the best times of my life.

In between trying to squeeze every little bit of sightseeing in, I did have to attend my last classes and take final exams – regrettable. In retrospect, I’ll miss all of my classes a lot. This is the first semester of college where I not only found all of my professors to be competent, but brilliant instead. Contributing to my overall euphoria, I never minded attending class. I was just so happy to be in Rome that I actually enjoyed soaking up all the knowledge these genius people could impart onto me.

So final thoughts on the courses I took/advice for any prospective students –

History of Late Antiquity – Now, I’ve always been interested in history. However, as I may have said before, I’ve only always had  a traditional US perspective to draw from. Because of this, I enjoyed this course that much more. The late Roman Empire was fascinating as a society because it was infinitely different than any system of government I’d ever studied. I found the emperors to both be mad and fascinating. These people were insane! They fancied themselves gods (and I guess reasonably so considering they were based on a Pagan religion) and therefore must’ve thought they could make the craziest rules possible. I mean, Diocletian just decided all of a sudden that there should be a tetrarchy out of nowhere? What is that!? Plus the overthrowing of one another out of boredom is ridiculous. All of this was taught to me by my glorified professor Evers. Evers is a bit of an famous personality at JFRC and for good reason. He has a teaching style that is unlike anything I’ve previously experienced, but he made class engaging and humorous. The subject matter could’ve been dry, but he did a good job at stressing to us the most interesting points. I’ll forever miss his “coffee break?” offer every 15 minutes during my history course next semester.

Political Science – There is hardly any experience better for my major than what I had this semester. You don’t get any more legit than being taught by the Italian ambassador to America. I mean, he was teaching us about NATO not because he’d read about it or listened to lectures. He was teaching us about NATO because he FOUNDED NATO. That’s insane!! He had such valuable insight on a different country’s perspective of the involvement of the US in foreign affairs. I admire him very much and am thankful that I was at JFRC in the one semester he was too. I consider myself extremely lucky to know him.

Art in Rome – probably the hardest class of my college career. And it was my Art Core! Who would’ve thought? Though my grade point probably won’t be as thankful, I will never regret taking this class. Because of it, I saw many more sights of Rome than I would have otherwise. Not only did I see more than many of my friends, I knew much more about everything I saw with them. I loved knowing interesting little facts about all the historical monuments. I saw so much beauty through this course and I owe all my thanks to Professor Nicholson. Probably the hardest grader I’ve ever encountered, I have ultimate respect for this man. He’s a genius of Roman Art. Someday if I know ¼ as much about ANYTHING as he knows about the art and history of Ancient Rome, I will feel completely and utterly accomplished in life. When I was on trips, I found myself wishing that this professor was traveling with me, so that he could tell me why that church looked the way it did or who was that person in the painting I was seeing.

Italian Film Genre – Ah, my favorite course. Though I sometimes had trouble staying awake when the lights went out (a few of my friends can attest to my odd sleeping positions), I found this class to be interesting, fun, and insightful. Finally, I think I received a bit of insight into what my brother’s (a film major) courses are like. I no longer know what’s going on in American pop culture so it’s good that I got my fix in film class of what was going on in Italian films. I came to have favorite actors I enjoyed seeing and could recognize different styles of directors I admired. But mostly, I loved our professor DiBiagi. I have a great amount of respect when I see professors who are passionate about their subjects and I could see that Dibiagi loved film with all his being. Not only did I respect his passion for his craft, I found him to be an amusing person. I  may never understand the concept behind the parabola of Commedia dell’Italiana, but I will always picture his endearing “Am I speaking English?” in my head. I appreciated his take on life and I don’t think I will ever forget him or any of the teachers I had this semester. I only wish I could have them all again.

So here I sit…back in the States. Now, in a Starbucks. The Italians would kill me if they knew I was neglecting their way of coffee experience for such a mass produced, label promoting societal fashion. A week has gone by since my return to the States and it has not gone exactly swimmingly. My body has rejected the American air and I’ve gotten extremely sick. The dentists tell me I need my wisdom teeth out. I have to condition myself not to say “Ciao!” when I enter a business and not to insert Italian phrases (Dove? Mi dispiace?) in daily conversation. I can feel people getting annoyed with me when every story seems to begin with “When I was in Paris/Barcelona/London/Amsterdam….”. One of the only consolations is that I know everyone who was with me in Rome is experiencing the same culture shock and withdrawals.

Even after a week, there’s a lot of things that I miss in an immense way.

I miss walking down the street and hearing many different languages. It’s a change to have to tell myself that people actually will understand what I’m saying and I can’t speak freely wherever I go.

Hell, I miss trying to speak Italian myself. I liked the challenge and enjoyed learning new words and phrases whenever I ran errands.

I miss the freshness of every kind of food.

I miss that I can’t get as strong of espresso and that I can’t finish a meal with gelato. I haven’t had pasta since I’ve returned…not super surprising I suppose. That is one thing it might take a while for me to yearn for.

I miss the way the waiters wouldn’t bring me the check for four hours if I didn’t ask.

I miss looking around me and seeing ancient ruins. Here I see only suburban businesses and tall buildings.

I miss the insane driving on the roads. I mean, I miss making fun of it. I’ve since driven in my own car and thought to myself that I am an insanely good driver compared to many people who would go through the lanes in Italia. I would be ticketed in a second if I tried to pull the stuff the Italians did on a daily basis.

I miss the buses which were unpredictably not on time or almost continuously on strike.

I miss the cobblestone roads that messed up my shoes.

I miss the small children playing accordions on the subways, instead of the insane homeless people yelling obscenities at me.

Let’s not be totally down on America. I like the fact that my water is free here. I like the fact I can get Mexican, Indian, or Chinese food instead of pasta, pasta, or pasta. And I like the fact that I’m with my loved ones who missed me so much.

But right now, I’m just missing Roma.

I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve been so euphorically happy all the time. It was the best four months of my life. Even when I was running errands, I was just incredibly happy to be in Rome. I was just happy to be. So that’s what Julia Robert’s friend meant in that horrible movie – the beauty of doing nothing. To be content to just be.

It’s true what they say. You don’t realize how amazing everything is until you leave. And it’s also true that you learn a lot about yourself in a semester like this. I feel like I’ve changed a lot as a person. Grown up, sort of. I guess that’s what sort of being on my own this semester and all the traveling forced me to do. I feel more intuitive about the world around me. Things have changed and my perspective has changed for the rest of my life. I know who and what are valuable in my life. And I now know better the kinds of things I want out of life. But the biggest thing I’ve realized about myself is that I always want my experiences in Rome to be a part of me, continuously. And it needs to be a part of my future too. With the coin I tossed in the Trevi, I made a wish to return to Rome, and, here’s a sappy ending, but I feel as though I honestly will fulfill that wish and return. But that means the process has to start to get there. Let the further acclimation to America continue. Rome was a part of my life and always will be, but it’s time to have my next adventure – even if I’m not speaking a different language, trying a different food, or dodging the insane foreign driving on the street. I had an established life there but it’s time to come back to reality and continue the life I’d already started. See you later Roma. Tornero un giorno. Grazie per il vostro tempo. Arrivederci lettori.

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