It’s hard not to have any presumptions about what a semester abroad in Rome could be like before you actually go. For me, a lot of my presumptions centered around the proximity of my apartment to the Vatican: how close would I be?! I thought that I would see the Vatican and Pope Francis all the time. But what I did not fully realize before I came is that there are 900+ churches in Rome, and that most of my time would be spent amongst the other 899. Along with that, the Vatican is one of the most visited places in Rome, and that means lots and lots of tourists there every single day and a crazy long line to get in. Also, Pope Francis is often travelling and busy doing things Popes do, so he isn’t just lingering around the nearest gelateria waiting for me to meet him.
My expectation that the Vatican is an easily accessible church that I would visit regularly was wrong. However, that leads to a new reality: I have been exploring the other 899 churches in Rome. Some of my favorites are Santo Spirito in Sassia and San Gioacchino. Each parish has a unique community, and it has been cool to witness the different parish communities here. I expected there to be more English Masses here, but that did not prove to be true. Though there are some, they are few and far between. That pushes me, though, to go to Mass in Italian often and thus learn the language better. It has also helped me to see my Faith in a new way through the lens of a new culture.
Academically, I expected my classes to cover mostly psychology and religion, but I decided not to take a psychology class. Instead I chose a class called History and Myth of Ancient Rome. I wanted to capitalize on being in Rome and dig deeper into the city I was living in. I am really glad I took the class unexpectedly, because it has helped give me a great background of the Roman Empire and thus a context of the pivotal history that took place in this city. I expected to learn a lot of stuff in the classroom, but the reality is that most of our learning happens at field studies on site all over the city of Rome! This is one of my favorite aspects of the IES Rome academic program. Through field trips to famous landmarks like the Roman Forum, Vittorio Emanuele, Hadrian’s Villa, St. Paul Outside the Wall, and much more, I am seeing more layers of the city.
Professionally, I am not interning or working in Rome, so I cannot give a good perspective of any true professional experience here. All in all, my academic and personal expectations have been challenged by some realities that I never could have imagined before coming here, and I am excited to see what else I will learn over these next couple of weeks.