My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad experience in the beautiful city of Rome. Ten other students and I spend five weeks exploring the culture, history, and social dynamics of one of the oldest cities in the world. During the program I was enrolled in a drawing course that allowed me to study the city in a more intimate way than I had expected.
Through participating in this program I grew exponentially as a person in a variety of ways. The life experiences gained from completing my signature project are some of the memories that I will treasure going into my professional life. Initially, I had a limited understanding of the world as a global dynamic and an even more limited perspective on my own ability to navigate such a dynamic. Through my project I understood better the capabilities I have as a single individual in such a vast world, as well as the value in living in such a globalized society. My project also taught me the value in forming global connections and to view the world as is, not as I want it to be.
At first, I had been apprehensive about venturing into an environment that would be wholly unfamiliar to me and had doubt in my ability to navigate without a firm understanding of the language. Living in a Roman neighborhood where we were the only foreigners, and having to navigate basic day to day tasks was at first daunting but, after the initial culture shock I was able to better appreciate my surroundings and their authenticity. I found that while sometimes I felt frustrated or embarrassed at my lack of knowledge, being able to learn more phrases and understand the cultural nuisances was more valuable.
As the program went on I found that I became more comfortable interacting with everyone around me and sought out ways to make conversions with natives, or ask the questions that were on my mind. I felt more connected to the world, and through that connection become more aware of the passion I have to better understand it going into the future.
The environment that facilitated these changes spurned a great deal from my interactions the professor of the course I was enrolled in, the places I had the opportunity to experience, as well as the moments I got to experience the city alone. Rome, as vast and full of life that it is was a city full of little moments that changed the course of my life.
First, to credit the amazing individuals I met while on my trip. My drawing professor, Fabio, had without a doubt one of the biggest roles in creating these changes. The first day that we had class on site at the Pantheon, he engaged me with the passion he had for Rome, as it exist in both the past and the present. While he conveyed the great love for the city he was born and raised in, he also had no issue in addressing the issues that existed in the society, and hopes he had for the future. He could find beauty in things that seemed mundane and had a story for every moment. While taking this course with him we never once sat in a classroom, instead he would take us to his favorite spots in Rome, sometimes busy areas like the Fountain of Four Rivers, or sometimes in little corners that he wanted to share.
I was apprehensive about taking a drawing course since art is not something I have experience in. The way Fabio taught the course encouraged us to be comfortable in our skill set, and to understand that the greater purpose of the course was to engage in our surrounding and truly take the time to study and experience the city through our drawings. This change, to be able to truly take in understand history and art in a more impactful way and to be comfortable in navigating unfamiliar territory was such an incredible skill to gain.
Another experience that contributed to the changes I experienced was visiting other places and being faced with how different the reality was from my expectation, and through that learning to approach situations with a more open mind and the appreciate realism over idealism. While in Rome, the program coordinated a time for us to meet with some of the refugees in northern Italy to learn more about their stories. Through this meeting I learned a great deal about how often that freedom of movement for purposes other than survival is taken for granted. The stories of the refugees, some who had not been back to their homes in decades was inspiring because of their resilience to survive even when faced with political and social turmoil from both their homelands, and their current home.
This interaction changed me because the initial glamour of being in a new place, full of different traditions, and social norms had given me a false sense of the country being without flaw. Through this interaction I better understood that you can appreciate the beauty of a place, and the richness of the history while also holding yourself accountable for being aware of the social and political inequalities the place might also have. The idea of being abroad is sometime veiled by the excitement of exploring a new place, and this interaction allowed me to see Rome in all facets of its beauty flaws and all.
These changes are significant in my life because they inspire me to travel and learn more without fear or reservation and to be more aware of the reality of the world while still holding an appreciation for all the wonderful things it has to offer. It allowed me to see the value in forming personal connections abroad and be better connected to places through those relationships. The things I saw and learned in Rome are moments that can never be replicated and even now remind me of how important it is to allow yourself to experience something without fear in order to grow.