Category Archives: study abroad

a love story of cities.

“It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with [the city]. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.” -Joan Didion

There’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for the past 10 years or so–ever since I left my first year of summer camp in North Carolina–and is this question of how to be present in one place when your heart is so fully entrenched in another. How can I be present to the moment and and place in front of me while still honoring what has affected me deeply? Last year, this was a constant struggle in Boston, and this year, I am facing the same problem but in reverse this time.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve picked up this image of leaving pieces of my heart in the places that I’ve loved, that have felt like home. Some of these places are unspeakably grand and famous–St. Peter’s Square, for instance–while others are much more humble: my grandparent’s lake, my family’s farm, the football field I spent so many Friday nights at back in high school.

As happy and grateful as I am to be back in Missouri, I feel different here… I am not always as willing to make mistakes. This place is mine because I grew up here, first in my hometown for 18 years and then at college. They belong to me because of choices that were not mine to make (well, I did choose SLU, but less so). They belong to me in an effortless sort of way, my default almost. This doesn’t diminish the love that I feel for them at all, but it’s a different kind of love.

Rome was my choice. Boston was my choice. They belong to me because I made them mine. I chose them–and they choose me. I pulled out maps and took it upon myself to explore new neighborhoods. I found my favorite places and spaces not because I always knew them, but because I discovered them.

Last year, I belonged in Boston. That is a certainty in my life full of questions. And while I still have my moments where I wonder why I ever left, my heart and my head knows it was the right choice. Even though, for awhile after leaving, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.

St. Louis will always have a place in my heart as the first city I ever called home, the first city I ever loved as mine. For that reason, it will always have a sense of comfort to me, the sense of “I knew you when you were just becoming who you are. My love has shaped you in a different way than any other.” They say you never get over your first love–maybe cities are that way, too.

(Also, if St. Louis is my first love, my hometown is the next store neighbor, who you grow up with. Practically speaking, they should fit you because of all of your history, but they ultimately just end up being the wrong fit, as your lives grow in different directions. While I still love that little town, it’s not where I belong anymore.)

And then came Rome. Rome was a brief, passionate love affair that I knew from the beginning would never last, but savored every moment all the same. It’s the intoxicating feeling you can’t drag yourself away from, free falling and loving every second of it. Leaving them is over-dramatic and irrational, and you almost have to be pulled away kicking and screaming because you can hardly bear the thought of life afterward. Walking away feels like something you might never get over, but after you’ve gone, you’ve left, and it’s done, you smile and treasure every moment with nothing but the fondest memories.

And Boston? I think Boston was the first city I ever learned to love in an adult–a mixture of all of the love that came before. The comfort and ease of St. Louis with a dash of the passion of Rome, and the sense of belonging that I can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t know when I felt that for the first time. It was fast, but it wasn’t dramatic. It was just natural, effortless, matter of fact. Like, of course I’m in love with Boston, of course I fit here, hasn’t it always been that way? Boston felt real in a way that Rome never could. While leaving Boston was easily one of the most emotional things I’ve ever done, it was not like leaving Rome.

Leaving Boston was like a progression into adulthood–still very difficult, but also resigned. Because by that point, I knew that for me, it was absolutely what I needed to do. Boston taught me how to love people well, as an adult; and ultimately, that love meant learning when to walk away even when everything looks perfect, if you know in your heart of hearts that it isn’t quite right for you. And maybe it’s just a simple matter of bad timing. Or distance. Or the first love beckoning you back in the distance. Or a combination of all of the above.

I’m still trying to figure that out.

But in the meantime, here I am back in St. Louis, learning to love this city and make it mine in a way that I never could in college because so much of surroundings were chosen for me. Even though I’m still only a few minutes away from SLU’s campus, it feels different knowing that I chose this neighborhood, I chose my coffee shops (and chocolate shops) to frequent, and I can go beyond the SLU bubble (although I rarely make it beyond the South City bubble these days, let’s be honest). I’m relearning this love, and I think St. Louis and I are better together now because of the distance than we would have been otherwise.

Maybe this love can grow and develop into something completely different; I think it’s already on it’s way to doing so. While leaving St. Louis is never easy, I keep coming back again and again because somehow it finds ways to grow with me. That ability to keep growing with me? That might make it my forever.

Or maybe someday again, the timing will be right for Boston, and I’ll get to relearn Boston as an FJV. Or maybe another city will sneak it’s way onto this list; jump right in and surprise me.

I’m just learning to live in love, no matter where I am.

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and I remember how it felt.

… as I woke up early on Thursday mornings, bleary-eyed, still not quite recovered from the previous night’s escapades playing Calcio and going out afterward for beer and pizza. As I crawled out of bed and gingerly stepped down the ladder attached to my top bunk, I attempted to be quiet to not wake Roommate Beth, but I secretly knew I was fighting a losing battle in our tiny dorm room. The cold marble floors underneath my feet helped awaken my senses, and the first bits of sunlight began to peek through our windows. It was time for another day in Rome.

I hurried to get ready, while still trying to maintain the silence of the early morning, as I pulled open the creaky drawer under Beth’s bed to retrieve my clothes for the day, put in my contacts, threw up my hair, gathered up my possessions, and headed downstairs to meet my classmates to head downtown for Art In Rome class. (You’ll notice there was no mention of taking a shower, but honestly, that was not even a consideration after my late evening the night before. When the decision is between sleep and being clean, unfortunately, sometimes the less hygienic option must prevail.)

As I walked with my classmates to the bus stop, we were mostly quiet, still waking up and taking in the day. There were always debates about which bus (the less reliable 990 or the more frequent 913) would get us closer to our destination in a timely manner, and we would stand waiting impatiently–just like the Americans we were and still are–for it to arrive once our decision had finally been made. The bus–just like the streets of the city centro–was usually crowded, and there always seemed to be that person who wanted to stand just a little too close to you for comfort; it’s not like Italians are known for their sense of personal space. As we navigated our way around the city, the sun continued to rise, as well as the temperature. The bus began to feel a bit stuffy and claustrophobic, but in a slightly comfortable way. Just like the “real” Italians, we were part of the life of the city in that moment.

Eventually, we would arrive at our destination for the day’s class, which usually consisted of some type of ancient Roman ruin or Baroque church. While at the beginning of the semester these places were always very exciting to us, by the mid-point of our time in Rome, we had grown relatively nonchalant about them. It was just another class we had to wake up entirely too early for, another struggle to stay awake, another few hours of note-taking, another weekly occurrence, one of the rare routines in our chaotic Roman lives.

However, our first real order of business before class even began was one of humanity’s most primitive needs: food and drink. We would scour the streets nearby for any sign of a cafe (known as a bar in Italy) and hurry off to satisfy our early morning urges for cornettos and cappuccino before class.

Eventually, we would all drag ourselves away from our impromptu breakfasts, collect the day’s handouts, stick in our earpieces so we could hear our elderly, bald professor lecture in the midst of the crowds of tourists, and begin another day of classes. As we strolled around some of humanity’s most beautiful creations, I would like to say that I spent my time in awe of these aesthetic masterpieces, but in reality, I spent most of my time wishing I was still asleep, looking forward to lunch at Mensa, or dreaming about where the next weekend would take me.

It was just another day in the life after all.

I remember how it used to feel.

Bet you didn’t expect to hear from me again, huh?

Well, I’m not back in Rome. I’m still in St. Louis, still at SLU. In fact, it’s been over 10 months since I left Rome (10 months and one week to be exact). And in these past ten months, a day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t thought about Rome, missed something about Rome, or been thankful for Rome.

That’s what brings me back here today. The more time goes by, the more I realize how much I never wrote down about Rome and how much I still have yet to say.

When I started this blog, it was mainly to keep friends and family members updated about what I was up to over in Europe. As time went by, however, it morphed into something that I also did for me. If I’m honest, I have really missed blogging since last December.  So, I’ve decided to continue blogging about my experiences in Rome and Europe, but just for me this time.

Who says that a study abroad blog has to end as soon as you come back home? In fact, I would argue that it shouldn’t end. No longer being in a place physically doesn’t mean that you aren’t still there on some level emotionally.

As Natalie Goldberg (and Hemingway) say, it takes time for us to process these types of things anyway:

It takes a while for our experience to sift through our consciousness. For instance, it is hard to write about being in love in the midst of a mad love affair. We have no perspective. All we can say is, ‘I’m madly in love,’ over and over again. It is also hard to write about a city we just moved to; it’s not yet in our body. We don’t know our new home, even if we can drive to the drugstore without getting lost. We have not lived through three winters there or seen the ducks leave in the fall and return to the lakes in spring. Hemingway wrote about Michigan while sitting in a café in Paris. ‘Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough.’
–Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones

So, here I am–to reflect, to remember, and most importantly to write about Rome and Europe again. Probably rather sporadically, but I know this is something that I need to do.

“We’ll always have… Rome.”

It’s been almost 4 days since I arrived back in the USA; home is both entirely different and entirely unchanged at the same time. It’s strange how quickly I have been able to slip back into my old routines and leave tiny parts of my life in Rome behind without almost even realizing it.

Rome and this past semester almost feels like a crazy dream. Even on the plane back to Chicago, I was writing on my journal, and I could hardly believe that everything I was saying was real. Did I really spend the past 4 months living in Rome? Did I really spend most of my weekends traveling around Europe and Africa with my friends? Did I really hike the seven miles linking the Cinque Terre? Did I really skip around the gardens of Salzburg? Did I really ride a camel around the pyramids? Did I really spend Thanksgiving in Paris? Did I really see the house my great-great grandfather was born in in Germany? And by the end did I really know Rome like a local? Yes, yes, and yes.

At the beginning of the semester, I feel like most of us at the J-Force lived our lives in a constant state of disbelief. “Guys, we are on our way to Italy for 3 months… We just landed in ROME!… Oh my gosh, we’re at St. Peter’s… I can’t believe we just spent the weekend at Capri… We just had class at the Colosseum… You can buy good wine for 2 Euro?!?!…” and so on and so forth. Much like David, we often wondered, “Is this real life?” The answer was always “yes” and “no.” Yes because it was real, but no because it wasn’t permanent. We always knew we’d have to pack up our bags in a few short months and leave this experience behind.

After awhile, statements of disbelief stopped being quite so frequent in our lives. They were instead gradually replaced with ones more along these lines: “Yeah, I’m just staying in Rome for the weekend. Nothing too exciting… Okay, we’ll meet you at the Spanish Steps at 10:00 and then go to Campo like normal… We’re just going downtown to get gelato and walk around–it’s a pretty chill night… Another Art in Rome class in a Baroque church this morning… I just booked a plane ticket/spent a weekend in [insert European destination of your choice]…” Rome and our way of life there became comfortable; it was never remotely close to a routine, but it was comfortable in it’s inconsistency, drama, and excitement. Despite the fact that things were always crazy and different, after awhile, it was a sense of change that we grew accustomed to.

At the very end of the semester, we all began to realize that this change in perspective had taken place almost without us noticing it. As our time drew to a close, we all focused on appreciating our last moments in Rome by spending them in the places we had grown to love.

As for me, while I said many of my goodbyes with my fellow J-Forcers before they returned home on the group flight, I had an additional round of goodbyes with Rome because of my travels to Germany. After returning to Rome on Friday afternoon, I had all day Saturday to spend the way I liked before flying out on Sunday.

So, on Saturday morning I got up early and walked to the Vatican, where I watched the sunrise from St. Peter’s Square. So beautiful. There are no words. After that, I paid my last visit to the Basilica itself before it became crowded with tourists groups. Instead of standing on my tiptoes to see a glimpse of the Michelangelo’s Pieta, I looked at it by myself, admiring the emotion and detail in the work. I knelt to pray for the last time, in thankfulness and gratitude for my gift of a semester.

Then, I left the Basilica to spend the rest of the day wandering around Rome, reliving my memories, visiting my favorite sights, and bidding them goodbye. I spent two hours at the Borghese Gallery, hanging out with two of my favorite artists, Bernini and Caravaggio. I ate my last real Italian pizza, pasta, and gelato and drank my last glass of wine. I remembered beginnings at the Colosseum, art classes in churches, nights out at Campo de’ Fiori, meals eaten with my parents, afternoons shopping with my friends, and all of the moments in between. As I walked miles around downtown for the last time, I realized how many memories I really had acquired in Rome; they were every corner I turned. I ended my day in Rome the way it had began and the way my time in Rome had begun, at St. Peter’s Square–my favorite place in the city. It was the perfect ending to the best semester of my life.

Then before I knew it, my alarm clock was ringing at 4:30am, all of my bags were packed, I was armed with snacks of pizza and Italian pastries for the plane ride, and I was stepping into a Roman taxi for the last time. I chatted with the cab driver in Italian on the way to the airport about simple matters, how long I had been in Rome, what I was studying, the weather, etc. “Fa molto freddo!” he commented, almost shivering in Rome’s low 50 degree temperature, while I wasn’t even wearing a real coat at the time. As I had recently returned from snowy, windy Berlin, I corrected him saying, “Germania fa molto freddo!” He laughed at that and agreed with me. He asked “Ti piace Roma?” (Do you like Rome?”) to which I could I could only answer emphatically, “Si, mi piace Roma molto,” my Italian-speaking abilities falling short in expressing how dearly I have grown to love that city.

Once at the airport, I thanked the cab driver for his kindness, checked my two suitcases, bought one final beginning-of-a-trip muffin, and eventually stepped onto the plane that would take me back to the United States, leaving Italy behind. As the plane ride went on, two emotions overwhelmed me: thankfulness for my wonderful semester and excitement to be going home. You see, it’s Christmas Eve today after all, and I can’t imagine being anywhere but here, with the friends and family that I love. At the end of the day, it’s the people that matter, not where you are–even when where you are is Rome–and I don’t know if I have ever appreciated being home so much.

But no worries, Rome. I am fully confident that I’ll be back; I threw my coins in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee it. You couldn’t keep me away if you tried. And until then, we will always have our memories.

Love always,
megan

la fine.

Guten Tag!

A quick note…

Well, the semester in Rome has now officially come to a (rather dramatic) end, and I have found myself in Germany for the week! So far, Beth and I have been to Rothenburg and Munich, and today we leave Munich for Berlin. I LOVE Germany so far!!! It is definitely one of my favorite places that I have traveled to. It’s wonderful… and I especially love being here during Christmas Market season! I fly back to the States on Sunday, and I am starting to get more excited about coming home though. I think once I finally get there after all of my traveling, it will be great. 🙂 Okay, well, I have to go make one more quick round around the Christmas Market before we leave!

Prost!
-megan

“Just blame Rome…”

Rome, you’re no good for me.

You make me crazy, make me laugh hysterically one minute and want to cry hysterically the next. I make decisions that don’t make sense to me, do ridiculous and impractical things, and when I wonder “why?” out loud, all I’m told is to blame you.

You–with all of your inconsistency, your chaos, your completely disarming and yet charming sense of beauty. There is no place like here, no place like you, and you know it. You are proud, but not cocky; regal and majestic; ancient and full of wisdom–wisdom you don’t share easily. You know what’s gone on before, and you know that it’s not worth the trouble to deal with it again. You don’t even have to try; you are content to exist, to just be. You understand that being is an art grander than the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, or even St. Peter’s. Rome, you know how to live.

Rome, you’re no good for me; you make me weak, lower my defenses, let me stumble, leave me exhausted. You push me around, and when that’s not enough for you, you knock me down on my face. You shape me; you make me. I get sucked in by your mystery and your romance, and you spit me back out laughing, making me stand up on my own two feet again. You have taught me passion, to live in the moment, to seize adventure with both hands and take off running.

Oh, Rome, we’ve had less than four months together, but a lifetime wouldn’t be enough for you. After all, you’re the Eternal City–you’ve been here for thousands of years before me, and you’ll still be here after me. In a city of this scale, I never thought I’d really get my hands on you, but I’ve made pieces of you my own. And I haven’t left yet, but before I do, I’m leaving a piece of myself here too. I’ll be the girl in the dress sitting on the cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square, gazing up at the Basilica with a cone of gelato in my hand, still as completely in awe of you as I was my first night here back in August. Others may not see me, but a memory of me will always remain; you’ll know I’m there, and that’s enough.

Oh, Rome, you’re no good for me, but I’ve loved you relentlessly all the same. I’ve defended you, and I keep coming back to you over and over again. You’re intoxicating, and you draw me back in every time–from the alleys of Trastevere to Via del Corso and back to Monte Mario. Somehow my roads have led me to you, and I can’t escape–and I don’t want to.

You have given me everything, but you’ve taken all of me too. I can’t get enough of you because there will never be enough. You’re everything, and you’re definitely too much for me.

Oh, Rome, you have been so good for me.

-megan

“… Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to – Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.” –Roman Holiday

“Let’s see how far we’ve come.”

Sometimes…

Sometimes it takes stepping onto that plane to begin the best journey of your life.

Sometimes it takes being away from your family to realize how much you treasure their presence.

Sometimes it takes leaving your best friends to make yourself realize exactly why you became friends in the first place.

Sometimes it takes being halfway across the world to understand that when it comes to the people that matter, distance doesn’t change a thing.

Sometimes it takes making the effort to meet new people to remind you how worthwhile of an effort it is.

Sometimes it takes pushing yourself to do new things to experience all that you came to experience.

Sometimes it takes taking a chance to have the memories you’ll never forget.

Sometimes it takes wandering Rome by yourself to really start to see it.

Sometimes it takes seeing history firsthand to reassure yourself of the value in studying it.

Sometimes it takes having nothing to rely on except God to realize that He always provides.

Sometimes it takes questioning yourself to understand who you really are.

And sometimes it even takes making the wrong decisions to make you realize what the right ones are.

Rome, I’ll miss you, but I’m almost home.

Less than 3 days left at the J-Force… Rothenburg, Germany on Thursday.

-megan