From ideas to reality: envisioning my study abroad experience

Right now my abroad experience is a disparate mix of emails, the IES Rome Spring 2019 Facebook page, my passport with my Italian visa (which feels like such a trophy after all the work I had to do and hoops I had to jump through to get it), and a mess of clothes on my floor, ready to be wadded up and stuffed into a big big suitcase and backpack. In four days, I’ll be in Rome and everything will be concrete and real and completely different.

I know where I’m staying, but it’s just an address on a map and a fuzzy Google Maps picture. I know who’s on my program, but right now they’re just a list of names. I know what classes I’m taking, but they’re just sets of course descriptions that blur together. It’s so crazy to think that all these things I’ve been seeing, which have really just been abstract things, are going to be assigned meaning in just a few days. Memories and feelings will become attached to these random facts I have been listing off about my soon-to-be experience; soon they will become daily parts of my everyday life.

Here’s what I know about my experience so far:

  1. I’m taking a whopping six classes. 

This is super unusual for me, since I usually only take four classes at Whitman. I might have to whittle it down to five, but we’ll see. Here are the classes I’m signed up for as of now:

  • Rome as a Living Museum: an Art History, Urban Studies, and Sociology hybrid course. I’m super excited for this one because I think it will give me a really immersive, in-depth look at Rome as a city. I think it’s important to know the place you’re staying in wholly, to make living there an experience vs. seeing it as a place you’re just staying in as a host city. Of course this can be done in ways other than taking this class, but I’m happy that I’m able to take this class and form a unique connection to Rome through it!
  • Politics and Philosophy of Power in the Land of Machiavelli: this class looks intense. I’m using it to fulfill my philosophy credit for my Psych major. At Whitman, philosophy and politics have been two of the most intimidating subjects for me, so combining the two in this course, especially in the context of a place and person I’m direly unfamiliar with, should be interesting. I think I studied Machiavelli for a tiny blip of time in AP Euro my junior year of high school, and he was complicated. But unfamiliarity is one of the main driving forces behind taking classes and learning, right? I’m up for the challenge.

  • Valuing Diversity? Italian Contemporary Immigration and Integration Policies: this class is super context-dependent and applicable to the place in which I will be studying in, which is just what you want out of a study abroad class. So I’m so, so excited for it. I don’t know anything about Italian immigration and integration policies, but it’s a super important topic. It will be especially interesting to study it considering Trump’s stance on immigration–I know I will be constantly comparing Italy’s policies to our own and doing a lot of reflecting throughout the course of this class. The emphasis on diversity and questioning whether or not Rome values it according to their policies is really important too, especially considering the size and scope of the city.

  • Beginning Italian: I know zero Italian, so this course will definitely help me survive the next few months. I haven’t taken a language class since high school, and I have always struggled with learning new languages, so we’ll see how this goes.
  • Developmental Psychology: Compared to everything else, this class seems super random, but I’m taking it in Rome to fulfill a requirement for my Psych major. I actually think it’ll work really well in tandem with my internship (which I’ll get to later). I actually decided to switch from a program in Florence to this program in Rome because Rome offered this psych class and I desperately need to fit in all the psych classes I can since I recently switched my major. It goes to show though that studying abroad is still very possible, even if you declare your major late or switch it late in the game like I did.
  • Social Action Seminar: This class will accompany an internship I’ll have in Rome, providing a space to reflect on and critically engage with the internship.

2. Like I mentioned, I have an internship in Rome! 

I am so excited for my internship. I think it will provide me with such an immersive experience. I’ll be interning at a preschool whose next-door neighbor is the Colosseum. The freakin Colosseum! What?! Wild. I still can’t believe I’m going to be living in Rome, nonetheless walking by such a famous landmark every single day. Anyways, the preschool seems really, really cool. It seems comparable to the Montessori-style education system here in the States, really emphasizing creativity, individuality, and learning through play. If you know me at all, you know that I’m super passionate about education and an education system that values these things, so I think this internship will be perfect for me. The preschool is trilingual; they speak Italian, French, and English, so I’ll be helping the kiddos practice their English language skills. If you’d like to learn more about the school, here’s a link.

3. I’ll be living in an apartment with other study abroad students and an Italian           Companion Student (ICS). 

My apartment is in the best location! It’s super close to Vatican City, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and dozens of beautiful Catholic churches. As much as I love wide-open Walla Walla, it’s gotten me used to being surrounded by wheat and the same old buildings, so it’s going to be quite the change being surrounded by such prominent and important landmarks. I’ve been an RA for the past few year, so I’m very used to dorm life and dorm food. It will be very different cooking for myself and living so far away from most of the people on the program (there’s countless apartments sprinkled across Rome housing other IES students, and our apartment seems to be pretty far away from the others). I will be living with four other IES students though, so that’ll be super nice! They are from all over the country, so that will be a really nice change. As much as I love Whitman and the people in it, being on campus for the past three years has made me realize that Whitman really is a bubble; it’ll be nice to interact with some new faces from other parts of the country. We’re also living with a student from Italy who is supposed to help us get acquainted with the city!

Well, that’s all I know for now. I’m excited to see how these random facts transpire into my life and start to mold my experience. I can’t wait to meet this wonderful city! Let’s get this thing started!

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