What does the University of Dallas student bring back from Rome? It’s easy to see the Rome semester as something apart, an intensified experience of history, beauty and culture that will live as a rosy memory forever. Students experience things many of them never have before – such as solo travel and bar-hopping – in places many of them have never been.
But surely there’s more that changes in the UD student than a higher alcohol tolerance and worsened smoking habits, something that makes the question, “How was Rome?” virtually unanswerable. It’s more than a memory: something comes back from Rome with the UD student. Or at least, something should.
The majority of UD Rome students spend half of their sophomore year in Rome, from which they return and are either gradually (if they are Fall Romers) or abruptly (if they are Spring and Summer Romers) catapulted into life as an upperclassman. While it is jarring to spend two semesters on two different continents, there’s something about the change you experience in Rome that eases the shock.
Undoubtedly, Rome increases the confidence of UD students. Learning how to travel as individuals or small groups in an unfamiliar land and likely unfamiliar language is frightening at first. But by the end of the semester, students are comfortable with organizing extravagant trips and thinking quickly when plans don’t work out.
Navigating foreign countries and thriving in them lends us an unstoppable attitude and surety in our capabilities. However, if we only go to Rome to gain confidence in ourselves or to feel cultured, we are doing ourselves a disservice and undermining our potential.
There’s a wonder that comes from living in Due Santi and traveling Europe. Walking into Saint Peter’s for the first time or running upon the Duomo from the side-streets of Florence are awe-inspiring and soul-uplifting experiences that we ought not to leave on the cobbled streets across the sea.
The beauty of Italy and Europe at large does not give your life meaning. Rather, it is your life that has the great potential to see and revel in the beauty of the world, whether in Italy or in Irving.
Life becomes suddenly vibrant during your Rome semester, from the food to the sites to the classes, but that vibrancy should be brought on the plane with us at Fiumicino. Our adventurous spirits and appreciation for life should be some of our most wonderful souvenirs.
Part of what makes life so beautiful in Rome is the prevalence and power of Catholicism. Even if you are not a Roman Catholic in Italy, the outstanding beauty of the religious art is soul-stirring. However, going to Rome as a Catholic is particularly powerful; you feel connected to the strongly religious cities of Italy in a unique way.
This experience is perhaps the hardest thing to bring back from Rome. As you walk down the streets of Italy, it is easy to stop by a small church or great Cathedral to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. It is easy to find Mass on campus or in the city. It is easy to feel the strong universality of the Church as you follow along to a Mass you cannot plainly understand.
In each church you visit, you walk a little circle, making a pilgrimage to the images of Mary, Saint Joseph and patron saints. Many students return home from the Eternal City with a new devotion to the saints, wearing St. Francis’ Tau or St. Benedict’s medal. Yet it is undeniably harder to maintain these devotions in Protestant America.
However, perhaps we can bring this pilgrimage spirit into our lives here, too. Campus is filled with religious images, we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every weekday and we have four different daily Masses within walking distance. If it is harder here to maintain the devoted faith we find in Rome, we must strive all the more to keep kindled the experience of faith and beauty we find in Subiaco, Rome and Assisi.
On social media, we’ve been seeing the Fall Romers going through their semester, having a castelli day, finishing their Greece trip, and it’s easy to get “romesick,” to desire to be in their shoes. But instead of looking back on our Rome semester with mere fond memories, what if we reveled in the life we’ve been given, wherever we are?
We bring more from our Rome experience than Florentine leather and Superfast Ferries merchandise. We bring an uplifted spirit that’s undergone a renaissance and been revived by the beauty of Europe, beauty which Pope St. John Paul II says, “is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future.”