Rebecca A. Leaf

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In Florence, Italy

Me on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.
(photo by Robert Leaf, 2004)

Study Abroad Lessons

By Rebecca Leaf

I fondly look back on my study abroad semester in Rome, Italy, as one of the best experiences of my life. From start to finish, the trip changed me and made me a more open-minded and accepting person.

When I first arrived in Rome on Jan. 20, 2004, everything moved so quickly. After being rushed to our school in the Trastevere neighborhood for a mediocre information session and housing assignments, my four roommates and I were left to figure out the basics of living in the city on our own. We lugged our heavy suitcases up what would become known as our “dreaded hill” to our small apartment on Cornaro Street, and began exploring the city that would be our home for the next four months.

Although my roommates and I didn’t know it at the time, being forced to learn everything on our own was the best way to get acquainted with the city. We learned our way around the city, found out what buses went to certain locations and soon became our own travel agents—we didn’t need anybody’s help. Although it would have been easier to receive all this information from the school, we enjoyed finding our own way around and really becoming residents of Rome.

The Coliseum

The Coliseum
(photo by Rebecca Leaf, 2004)

Although small, lacking heat, English television and any English-speaking neighbors, our small apartment became a place we grew to love. We had a favorite restaurant called Bruno’s that served the most amazing eggplant parmesan I have ever tasted, we settled on a favorite gelateria that we visited on a weekly basis, and we even had our own neighborhood cat we named “Dirty Felipe,” because his white fur was always black from being outside.

Not everything in Rome was always wonderful, however. It rained a lot, our apartment got broken into and was always cold, and the teachers and classes at our school were less than adequate. Sometimes my roommates and I felt a lack of purpose because we were not constantly busy with jobs and activities like we are in the United States. We often had to fight off gypsy children in the streets—even if we felt bad for them—and we always had to watch our belongings.

Cornaro Street, where we lived

Cornaro Street
(photo by Rebecca Leaf, 2004)

The language barrier was often an issue for me. I struggled with my elementary-level Italian when trying to figure out directions or trying to convey a message to a native. I realized how frustrating it is to live in a city where the language is not native to you, and I came back to the United States with more compassion for non-native speakers.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Rome. I sometimes daydream about the city—I retrace my walk to school, up the gradual hill, past the local butcher, the hair salon and my favorite pastry shop that made every pastry imaginable in miniature sizes. I remember nights out with my roommates, visiting the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be able to arrive at these highly sought-after tourist destinations in less than an hour.

At job interviews, I am often asked what my biggest accomplishment is. I confidently answer: Adjusting quickly to another culture and being able to fully appreciate another way of life. Living and traveling around Europe is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had, and I encourage others to take full advantage of their semester abroad in college.

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Copyright © 2005 Rebecca Leaf