From New York To Rome, Italy: A semester abroad

ROME, ITALY- I think it was Einstein on his deathbed that said, “My semester in Rome was the greatest four months of my life, and the time I spent there influenced everything that I have done since.” Actually, Einstein probably never said that (in public). I just figured that would be the best way to start out trying to write about an experience that is nearly indescribable.

In Queens I studied history. Here, I run by it every morning. It’s bizarre and sublime all at once. To spend a semester here is to experience history come to life. We walk along the Vatican Wall on our way to class; we talk by the stretch of Forum where 2,000 years ago Julius Caesar was murdered, and as much as it is in our nature to ignore amazing things that we see everyday, as much as a true New Yorker learns to not strain his neck to look up at skyscrapers, here it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer amount of history and culture of Rome.

It is unlike any other place I’ve ever been. It seems as though it is a city without actual suburbs, where urban and rural communities inhabit different sides of the same mountain. Picture a hilly New York, where a 20-minute run away from the center is a trip back in time. A few days ago I ran by a vineyard with roosters, actually crowing! That doesn’t happen in an East Coast city.

So far, Rome has been a combination of the old and the new, the ancient and the contemporary. Here it’s possible to sit and write on your laptop in the shadow of a monument erected centuries before Christ or run inside of a 17th century church to find modern-day sanctuary. As of right now, life here has been an escape from the stress of life in a present-day metropolis, while still being mired in it.

I’m not from New York, but the past four years of going to St. John’s have made me accustomed to a number of things that are characteristic of the city. I never really noticed this until my first day in Rome. It is normal to see lines that wrap around corners while workers greet each other with kisses on their cheeks and friendly conversations. At first, it was hard to get used to, but about two weeks into this semester it started to make sense.

No one lets their job become their life here. In New York it’s commonplace to see someone make insane sacrifices, repeatedly putting their work ahead of their personal lives all in the name of possible career advancement, or worse-simple brownie points. Even on our campus, it’s not hard to find people who put school, work, clubs and organizations before all else. After less then a month here, I’ve found myself asking, “Why? Why work so hard? Is it really necessary?” That’s not to say I’ve stopped working altogether or that I’d rather not be successful, but just a few weeks in Rome have at least made me appreciate a different outlook on the relationship between life inside and outside of work.

Not even a quarter of the way through the semester, I can tell that this is something as many people as possible should go through before entering the real world of 9 to 5s and juggling work with everything outside of it. If you have the means, and I know that’s a pretty big if, I think it is an almost necessary experience. St. John’s offers a number of study abroad programs in many different parts of the world, and without trying to become too much of a stealth marketer, I just want to say that it’s worth a look (Bent Hall 388). There are even a number of scholarships available to those who are willing to fill out some paperwork. If at all possible, you have to experience this for yourself.