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Study Abroad Rome: Then and Now

14 Jan

Fortunately, history does repeat itself, albeit with some changes.

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Later today, our daughter Benita will depart for a semester at Loyola’s Rome Center. Her bags are almost packed, carefully staying under the 50 pound weight limit to avoid a ridiculous $150 fee for a few ounces over. Her backpack is filled with all the technology used today to communicate and record life’s events…computer, tablet, smartphone, digital camera, etc. And she has already set up a blog, Romeisalwaysagoodthing to document her experience. While I don’t have the exact numbers, I think about 200 students from about a dozen universities will make up the group. She’s not going over with any of her good friends but is sure to return with many.

Later today, we will hug goodbye (and yes, I’ll cry) at the Lufthansa counter hours before her actual departure, then I’ll check flight tracker when I awake tomorrow. During her time in Rome, or wherever she travels, we can communicate for free using various downloadable applications. While her study abroad adventure is yet to be written, it is sure to be incredible as she visits new cities and countries with her new friends.

In 1970, I left for a similar adventure. If my memory serves me correctly, we numbered over 200 students from about 90 schools across the country. Most of us left in August and returned the following May – one entire academic year! Back then, Loyola offered one of the few study abroad programs, unlike today where nearly every college and university has an affiliation. 

While I can’t remember, I imagine I brought two suitcases with no regard to weight limits. What I do remember is that all the parents waived goodbye to us from the window at the gate as we pulled away. Although there were tensions and targets in the world, US airports were not among them…no security, no TSA.

I always loved photography and wanted to document my adventure, so I purchased a Minolta SRT101 while in Rome (which Benita still uses for B/W photography). The only live communication most students had with their families came through very short and expensive collect calls we made home from the hall pay phone. We actually wrote and received  letters and even received care packages filled with homemade goodies.

Mostly college juniors, we left the US with a few suitcases and returned one year later with lifelong memories and lifelong friends. A salute to my fellow campers!

While some 40 years separate Benita’s adventure and mine, some constants remain. There is nothing quite like having the opportunity to experience living like a local in a foreign country. Absorbing the culture, speaking a different language, learning and practicing new traditions, experiencing new tastes and smells, seeing sites thousands of years old, learning about history and life by living it, and creating lasting memories and friendships are just some of the amazing opportunities afforded to study abroad students – then and still now.

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

To Benita and all those on this adventure, Buon Voyage!

Ciao!

Judy

A Rome Reunion to Remember!

30 Sep

There are many things that can make one fall in love with a country. I was reminded of so many of them this weekend as I celebrated the 40th reunion of my junior year abroad with many fellow “Rome Campers” at the 50th anniversary of Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center.

In the fall of 1971, 358 students, mostly from across the U.S., descended upon Loyola University of Chicago’s Rome campus.  Eager with excitement and perhaps a bit nervous about the unknown, we came together to spend our junior year in Italy. And what a year it was!

Although our classes were in English, we all studied the Italian language and became fluent enough to eat, shop, travel and carry on with the locals. Our beautiful campus on Monte Mario provided the perfect setting for our home away from home, and our teachers and classmates became our new family.

We ate, drank, socialized, studied, shared our innermost thoughts, chased our dreams, learned about new cultures, confronted our fears, and most of all, had an amazing opportunity to discover who we were and what made us tick. Most of us turned 21 that year.

Besides the classroom academics, much of our study abroad learning happened in the classroom of world travel. Over the course of a school year, and with no classes on most Fridays, travelling was easy…I visited 17 countries.

In small or large groups, spreading out in all directions like the spokes of a wheel, we ventured from Liverpool to Leningrad, from the Netherlands to the Nile, and just about every place in between.  We rode camels to the great pyramids; saw the birthplace of Jesus; toured ancient Greek ruins; visited the home town of the Beatles; hosted a Christmas day party for an orphanage; gathered on a hillside to film a Coke commercial http://soc.li/wOdW4Qf;

celebrated numerous 21st birthdays at Carmellos; wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI about Vietnam; rode Vespas throughout Rome; literally “jumped” into the Trevi Fountain (ok, it was the night before we were heading home and a few of our classmates wanted to be certain it was a memorable evening!);

marveled at the amazing art and antiquities throughout Italy and wherever our travels took us; flocked to the Vatican after the Pieta was damaged (before it was behind glass);

attended the “real” Oktoberfest and Mardi Gras; learned to eat calamari; loved to drink cappuccino; and just simply had the time of our lives.

Over the last few days, with friendships renewed and hugs abundant, many of us gathered from near and far to retell and relive the stories as if they had happened yesterday. We raised our glasses – to each other, to those who could not attend, and to those who have left us. How incredible, after 40 years, to so vividly remember each other and the events that shaped our lives that year. Sure, a few well earned wrinkles and gray hairs have emerged, but they have done nothing to lessen the sparkle in our eyes and the smiles on our faces. We loved our experiences then and still cherish them to this day. For most of us, our year together in Rome still ranks among the best years of our lives.

Saturday night, at the 50th anniversary gala, a Fiat 500 was auctioned. None of us won the car, but for sure, we all walked away winners. You don’t need to look hard to see that!

Over the last 50 years, more than 14,000 students have attended Loyola’s Rome Center. Not surprisingly, those just returning shared the same enthusiasm and reaped the same rewards as we did so long ago. At Saturday night’s grand celebration, 50 years of Rome Center attendees, aged  20’s to 80’s, gathered to celebrate. While the heels were higher and the dresses shorter for the younger generations, there was little difference in the glow of all the faces of alumni brimming with stories to share. In fact, some of our stories trumped those of the more recent attendees as they discovered we actually had birrra machines in some of our hallways!

When our class left the Rome Center in 1972, I’m sure most of us thought we’d return within a year or so. I know I did. But after college came my career and graduate school, then a wonderful marriage and family, and incredibly, it took me 25 years to return. My advice, especially to students, is to take advantage of any opportunity you may have to study abroad and learn about other parts of this world we share, whether for a year, a semester, or a summer. Careers and yet unknown responsibilities have a way of postponing your best laid plans for travel, so jump at the opportunity if you can.

To my classmates, ci vediamo a Piazza Igea, alle otto, domani mattina! Well, perhaps not tomorrow morning, but hopefully our paths will cross again soon. And thanks to all whose pictures I have copied and shared here. I can’t believe I found the commercial!

Grazie tutti for a most memorable and wonderful weekend! Campers, and spouses, you’re the best!

Ciao!

Judy

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