For my STEP project, I traveled to Rome, Italy in order to take a history course, known as “Modern Life in the Eternal City.” Over this 5-week course, I toured different parts of this eternal city, as well as the history that makes up its present day culture.
Prior to going abroad, I was very nervous about a number of things that I anticipated I would bump into whilst in a foreign country. For starters, there was the language barrier, which I tried to prepare myself for by using the Duolingo app. In the past, I have experienced minor language barriers when our home hosted foreign exchange students or when I traveled to foreign countries with my father. However, the extensive amount of time I spent abroad meant that certain aspect of traveling to a foreign journey would be heightened to levels than I was not really used to. I came to learn more about what it really felt like to be a ‘foreigner,’ rather than just a tourist. I felt disconnected from the rest of the world at time because of all the differences in culture, lifestyle, and most pointedly, the language. While I learned more about what it felt like to be a foreigner, I also learned a lot about how independent I could be, and how much humble observation could help in a new environment.
Before I actually started my history course in Rome, I took a moment to explore other parts of Europe, such as London and Prague. While there was no language barrier in London, I underestimated how vast the cultural difference would be. Buildings were smaller and yet more bunched together, streets were more compact, and traffic was insane. I arrived and had to figure out how to get to the place I was staying via “the Tube,” the most common form of public transportation in London. While this subway was very efficient and well organized, I was not at all well enough acquainted with London that I felt confident navigating it myself. But navigate it myself, I did – or at the very least, I tried. I ended up getting lost during my first connection between subways, during which time I hauled my 50-lb suitcase up and down several flights of stairs as I searched for the station I was meant to go on. Finally, I deemed myself helpless, and realized I needed to seek outside help. I approached a seemingly friendly middle aged couple with two children and asked them for further instruction, showing them screenshotted directions on my phone, so that they’d have something other than me to work off of. Luckily, they knew just where I had to go, and I finally made my way to the correct line, heading in the correct direction.
This narration depicts just one of the several times I ended up getting lost in London. The city life was one I was just not used to, and much less the European life. However, while you may expect that my trouble with navigation would only increase once I reached a country where they spoke another language, it actually got much better. Realizing that my biggest problem with navigating had simply been my lack of preparation, I made a point to note every detail I would need to know in order to properly and efficiently travel around, as well as potential alternate routes should everything not go according to plan, as it often didn’t. And so, my navigating in Rome actually went by seamlessly, and I even managed to plan a solo trip to Nice, France, where I did not get lost a single time, and managed to make it everywhere I wanted to go without a hitch! I grew to become much more comfortable traveling new places I was not well acquainted with, even if I knew there was going to be a language barrier. Before this trip, I had always been scared of going to other places on my own, especially if it was a place I had never been, discounting any form of communication barriers whatsoever. My confidence and comfort levels in other foreign places increased significantly with the experience of traveling around to new places with such varying cultural differences through this experience I could have only gotten with STEP.
My program in this study abroad was very small, especially in comparison to other programs, coming in at a count of 10 people total for the entire Rome program for our session. To make matters even smaller, this group was divided into two for the classes, meaning only 5 people were in my class. Coming from Ohio State, this class size was practically microscopic. However, this was not necessarily a bad thing. I had not had a class size that small since one of my Latin classes in my junior year of high school, and so it was nice to revel in the intimacy that came from having such a small class size. I was able to become much more well acquainted with my professor than I had been able to for my undergraduate career. The class was strongly based in direct immersion; every day for class we would all walk around different areas of Rome, and learn about the history behind them. Through this classroom style, I was able to feel connected to the material I was studying, and also view the city from a completely different perspective. This experience encouraged me to learn more about the background of any place I go to, as it ends up shaping the cultural, political, and social design of a city, much more so than I ever understood before. Huge shoutout to my professor Dr. K for opening my eyes to that entirely new perspective. I will seriously be forever grateful for everything she taught me in those five weeks.
I will say that the class size reaped many good things, but also a few bad things. Unfortunately, I did not necessarily mesh very well with a couple other students in my class. This is not to see that we got in fights or disagreements, but rather that the ways we approached our study abroad program were different. Some may say converse, even. With our varying interests, I had to get comfortable doing more things by myself. However, because of this, I, again, became more comfortable figuring out what I would want to do, advocating for myself, and making it happen. One time, when our group went to Florence, I made it clear that I would want to go see the statue of David, and actually ended up getting everyone to come to the museum with me. While they only stayed 30 minutes total, and my friend and I ended up staying triple that amount of time, it was still nice of them to come, even though I knew many weren’t really interested. Through this trip, I improved my leadership skills, and became more comfortable doing the things I knew I wanted to do on my own.
While I grew and further developed during my temporary stay in Europe, the changes I underwent proved to be permanent and will remain with me in America, or wherever it is that I end up going next. My perspective of Rome shifted as I learned more about the significance behind the architecture, and the richness of the history associated with all the beautiful places I saw. My professor would constantly push us as a class to step outside of our comfort zones and open our minds up to new parts of Rome that only a true inhabitant of Italy could show us. Through this trip, I learned more about what it means to be independent, and further developed my leadership skills. All of these skills will enable me to step into the world, and peer at it from a new lens acquired in Europe. I have a newfound hunger to learn more about world history, and want to start right here in Columbus. It was crazy to me how much there was to learn about Rome, and it occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about Ohio’s history. I am eager to listen, learn, and experience more than ever.