Senior English major and Path student Mykayla Bowser spent her summer at The University of Arkansas’ Rome Center. While she was there, she took advantage of everything her new environment had to offer, finding value in both the grandeur of Rome’s ancient ruins and the niftiness of foreign vending machines. Here, MyKayla details cultural differences and shocking first encounters with an entertaining mix of sincerity and panache that gets right to the heart of the study abroad experience.
Before embarking on my Roman adventure, I was less than prepared for the experiences that would unfold. I was certain that I was desperate for a new atmosphere. The cliché life-changing journey that I was guaranteed to experience from studying abroad was too tempting to resist. I was excited for my coming-of-age story. I planned to travel across Europe, shedding who I was in the United States and transforming into a cultured butterfly.
Obviously, I have a rather vivid imagination.
However, that enthusiasm soon deflated when I was met with my first major shock — flying. Who knew a six letter word could stir up so much anxiety and adrenaline? Before landing in Rome, I had never ridden on a plane. The closest I had ever been to take-off was sitting in the back seat of my car, across the street from the Memphis International Airport. I remember watching, in wonder, as planes would rise higher into the sky, and I would continue to gaze even after they disappeared. I was fascinated by the idea of cruising through the clouds, completely distant from the world.
Now ladies and gentleman, I can proudly say that I’m a flight aficionado. I’ve been on a plane four times. *pops collar* The plane shaking as it builds momentum and the random popping of my ears from air pressure gives me a rush I can’t overcome. Flying is addicting.
On to the good stuff.
While in Rome, I visited many of the most famous sites in the world – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and St Peter’s Basilica (which I climbed!) to name a few. However, my favorite visits were the excursions I would take with my professor and classmates. I took two courses on the Italian Renaissance, under the instruction of William Quinn and his wonderful, spunky wife Tricia, our unofficial tour guide. Not to brag, but I’ve never had a better instructor than Dr Quinn. He’s the man. We could spend hours shifting between topics about Petrarch’s weird sense of humor to how many popes high the Colosseum may be. There was never a dull moment in our classroom, which was conveniently placed beside a vending machine and some coffee contraption that makes surprisingly decent cappuccinos at a low price.
In between walking the streets of Rome for endless hours and traveling to Florence to visit other interesting sites*cough* and shop *cough*, I experienced my second major shock — train rides. I had never ridden a train before this trip either (I don’t get around much). I was lucky enough to have my first train ride be on a rather fancy train, where I could sit across from another person and possibly hold a conversation about my favorite places in Rome or the Eurocup. Truth of the matter, I fell asleep after getting slightly motion sick from riding backwards for an hour and a half. (Tip: Stand by the edge of the platform at least ten minutes in advance. Italian’s do not believe in the “first come, first served” rule. Push and shove if needed).
Even though going to countless museums and churches is fascinating, it’s also rather exhausting.
There were many times I needed a break from the archaic richness of Rome, so one weekend my roommates, two other friends and I took a trip to the Amalfi Coast. We rented an adorable house in Sant’Agnello, a short distance from Sorrento, and spent the next two days touring the city and gushing over everything in sight. On Saturday, we visited the Isle of Capri, where we had planned to take a boat tour of the island and visit the infamous Blue Grotto. Here, I experienced my third major shock — the sea.
Big surprise here, I had also never been to the beach or seen the sea before Italy. Ellie, Becca, Kayla, Rachel and Savannah, my travel buddies, were more excited for me to go than I was. During the tour of the island, my luck ran out, and I got motion sickness…again. Then, like the smart person I am, I took two Dramamine in hopes of curing the growing uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I didn’t realize it was the drowsy form. So there I was, sitting on a sidewalk in Capri, “resting my eyes” while my friends were talking to me, and I was attempting to listen. I gained consciousness again after a failed attempt to walk up a hill followed by fish-n-chips at a restaurant by the dock.
I’m no Audrey Hepburn (whom I have slowly become obsessed with), but my Roman holiday has been the best time of my life.
The late nights walking with my friends to our favorite hilltop view where couples reinforced the fact that I’m forever single, scrapping up coins to get yet another gelato from yet another famous gelateria, and sitting in the piazza with locals watching “A Bug’s Life” in Italian are moments that have shaped my trip and made it whole. I wish I would have known beforehand how attached I would become to the Italian culture, food and people, because now I don’t want to leave, despite being homesick. I’ve gained more independence, a deep love for travel and a better appreciation for the privileges of America. Studying abroad has been the most rewarding experience I have yet to have, and I cannot wait to do it again. I’m hooked. I recommend it to anyone who’s willing to push themselves outside their comfort zone and try something new!
Once again, arrivederci Roma! We will meet again because I threw my coin in the Trevi Fountain. I’ve sold my soul. Until then, I look forward the Chick-Fil-A I’ll be eating at the Atlanta International Airport.