A Roman Holiday

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A peaceful night in the neighborhood of Trastevere, overlooking a festival held along the Tiber River. (PHOTO COURTESY OF KYLE J. KILKENNY)

By KYLE J. KILKENNY, Contributing Writer

This past summer, with nearly 30 Fordham Rams from both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses, I traveled to Rome for an insightful short-term study abroad program. The program was coordinated by Ms. Sajana Blank, assistant director for Fordham’s International & Study Abroad Programs (ISAP), and hosted by John Cabot University (JCU), an American University in the heart of Rome. Fordham students were housed at the beautiful Gianicolo Residence in the popular Trastevere neighborhood, which was just around the corner from the JCU classrooms at their Guarini Campus.

Fordham’s Rome Athenaeum Program offers three engaging courses for students to choose from: “Documentary Photography in Italy,” taught by Prof. Stephan Apicella-Hitchcock, “The Art and Architecture of Rome,” taught by Professors Jennifer Udell and Jo Anna Isaak, and “Performing Italian,” a course taught by Dr. Joseph Perricone of the Italian Department and George Drance, S.J., of the Theatre Program. As an Italian major and a lifelong performer, I jumped at the chance to take “Performing Italian,” and after encouragement by my freshmen advisor, Dr. Isaak, and my Italian advisor, Dr. Perricone, I purchased my ticket in hopes of exploring the culture and language of the “Eternal City.”

On the academic end of things, I will be the first to say mastering a language is no easy task, especially when you have a thick Long Island accent as I do. Learning how to put my mouth in the shapes of the vowels before I speak was integral to building upon my seven-year Italian education, going from a nervous reader and writer to a rather comfortable Italian speaker. These lessons, of course, proved to help me in navigating the intricacies of Rome and its fellow Italian cities, as I was able to order food, wine and water with ease. However, after traveling to Naples, I quickly learned the dangers of Italian dialects and how they can stifle one learning a foreign language. While a great deal is the same throughout this stunning country (pizza and wine never failed to impress this New Yorker!), dialects can often contradict each other, adding a fresh yet confusing spin to some of my weekend adventures.

“A term abroad is not a vacation, but rather an opportunity to grow and experience yourself in a new, fresh and often daunting environment.”

Having the foundations of the language and incredible professors on my side, I was able to enjoy Italy more as I continued to immerse myself in the atmosphere. It’s amazing to recall how Rome was once the center of the world, but has now continued to transform and evolve as both a hot-spot for tourists and the permanent home of His Holiness himself, as well as the Roman Catholic Church. As a Catholic continuing my studies at a Jesuit University, it was thrilling to be in the epicenter of such powerful faith and overwhelming positivity. Faith is an area where I continue to be challenged, but living a mere 10 minutes away from Pope Francis made it much easier to confront, accept and embrace my ever-changing spiritual landscape. As Father McShane would add, a Jesuit education is one of transformation- and that was evident over the course of 39-day pilgrimage to the Capital of Catholicism.

I’d be lying if I said it was all fun and games though. It’s important to note, as I’m sure any other student would say, a term abroad is not a vacation, but rather an opportunity to grow and experience yourself in a new, fresh and often daunting environment. Especially in this global climate, a world plagued by terror and fear, there were often times when my fellow students and I found ourselves in a funk of uncertainty and particular anxieties. It’s one thing to walk down Arthur Avenue or west 62nd Street alone, but I quickly realized that my safety in Rome and other Italian cities should always be my paramount concern. I rarely strolled alone as I indulged in the nightlife Rome had to offer my fellow Fordham Rams and me. As a lifelong New Yorker, I’m nothing if not tenacious, but it’s also important to highlight that a term abroad is a blessing, though a challenging one at that.

Throughout my trip and after my return to New York, my friends and family asked and continue to ask me: “Was it amazing? Did you have the time of your life? I bet you had a great time!” While all these things are true, I think the most valuable lesson I learned was not to strive to have a good time, but to simply have a time. Being present and illustrating my gratitude to myself, my hosts and my colleagues were of the utmost importance to me, and even I, an ambitious and often-times too-busy-for-my-own-good student, was able to quite literally watch the sunset, smell the roses and taste the fine wine. Being mindful is key to any success story, but especially wields its command over how much you enjoy your time studying abroad.

After living in Rome for over five weeks, with frequent excursions to the Vatican, the Teatro dell’Opera (Opera House), Pompeii, Napoli and Orvieto, a quaint town in Umbria, I was able to experience a trip which was truly a dream come true. It was my first time in Europe, as well as my first trip outside of the United States, and it was overwhelmingly insightful and exciting, as well as a tremendous gift to my confidence and future academic opportunities. I cannot wait to return to Europe one day, but in the meantime, I’d like to encourage all of my fellow Rams to take the leap and chase their own passions in the gorgeous cobblestones of Rome.