“When I told someone that I was from Rome / it didn’t feel like a slip of the tongue.”
–from the student farewell speech at the end of the semester banquet
This semester has changed me, shaped me, and reminded me who I am—but that’s all underneath the surface. On the most basic level, this semester has also taken a toll physically on me.
I’ve been sore, beaten, and bruised. I’ve walked miles around Europe’s most famous cities, hiked trails linking the tiny towns of Italy’s coast, climbed a volcano, and even walked a mile just to go to the supermercato. I’ve acquired strange bruises of mysterious origins. I’ve tripped and fallen on the cobblestones of Rome more often than I care to admit. I now bear a scar on my left knee from tripping while playing calcio in the rain—a scar I hope doesn’t fade anytime soon because it serves as a physical reminder of my time at the J-Force. My feet are still sore from wearing heels to last night’s end of the semester banquet downtown (not the smartest idea I’ve ever had).
I’ve gotten knocked to the ground while trying to board the train back to Rome after a wine festival, squeezed onto the crowded 913 bus on the way to on site class, and generally forgotten about having any sense of personal space. Living, eating, studying, and constantly being in one building with the same 150 people will also do that to you.
I’ve woken up at 1:30am to catch a flight and almost as early for trains, napped on more train rides than I can count on two hands, considered six hours of sleep more than adequate, and generally grew to view late nights followed by early mornings as normal. Weekend mornings where I slept in until 11:ooam have been non-existent this semester, in exchange for exploring some of the world’s most fascinating cities. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I slept until 11, but I can remember waking up at 7am yesterday morning after going to bed at 2:30am.
I’ve eaten more train station sandwiches than I can count, bought over-priced muffins from Rome’s Termini train station on numerous occasions, feasted on McDonald’s at the end of many trips, and considered beginning to drink coffee more than once. I’ve also snacked on trains, not ordered water, and eaten sandwiches instead of full meals to save money. I’ve learned to love olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, and olives, and I can at least sound like I know what I’m talking about when it comes to wine. My main food groups have become pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and gelato, and that has probably had an effect on the way that my clothes fit, but it was worth every bite, every meal, every 60 Euro cent cornetto from Rinaldo’s. I’ll start running again once I’m back in Missouri (where flat ground does occasionally exist).
I suffered through the heat of Rome in August without air conditioning, the days when our window was always kept open in hopes of a breeze and we would shower right before going out just so we would at least feel presentable. Some people here didn’t see any sites in Rome during the day until we’d been here for a month because we never went out in the city when the sun was out. Then, two months later, I slept in layers of clothes before the heat was turned on at the J-Force. I’ve stood in the rain at Auschwitz, frolicked in the snow of Salzburg, and had shoes full of sand in Egypt. Just last week, I walked across the bridge in front of the Eiffel Tower with my best friend in the world in the pouring rain as we both got soaked. Standing and watching the Eiffel Tower light show afterwards with our respective umbrellas is one of my favorite memories of that entire week.
There’s been other things too—I’ve skipped showering more often than I care to admit (usually in favor of sleeping), my hair has grown at least 2-3 inches, and I think I even dress a little bit differently. New clothing has crept into my wardrobe, from scarves from Cinque Terre, Cairo, and Florence to the purple coat I bought yesterday at the Roman clothes market.
But I’ve adapted to this physical change. All of the behavior I’ve just mentioned somehow became normal to me over the course of the last 3 months. I been so conditioned to a certain sort of behavior that it’s hard to imagine how I’m going to go back to the way I was before, although I suppose the short answer is that I’m not, but that’s the point. I have changed, and it will leave effects on me, even though I will probably go back to sleeping in until 11 pretty soon.
And I’ve loved every minute of it; I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’m going to miss it more than I can express.