As I traveled through Venice this past weekend, I continually caught myself referring to my apartment in Rome as “home.” As in “I can’t wait to get home,” or “I need to do laundry when I get home.” This has made me wonder, does my comfort and level of security here in Rome really compare to my American home in only two months? How could that be possible? As my time here dwindles, I can’t help but reflect on my journey and how it has impacted me mentally, physically, and emotionally. The amount of introspection and self-discovery I’ve experienced is exponential. I’ve found essential qualities in myself that will be assuredly important as I venture through life.
I’ve found a resiliency and flexibility in myself that I never knew existed. The human being’s capacity for adaptability is truly astounding to me. I started this journey as a complete stranger to Italian language and culture having no idea what to expect. Now I can navigate, communicate, and work in Italy as if I’d been doing so my entire life. I’ve grown familiar with the strength inside myself that was waiting to show its potential. Not only am I vastly more culturally experienced, I’m also much more confident.
I’ve found my place in the world as a single person among seven billion. Being isolated in one place has a way of making people unintentionally ethnocentric. It is hard to describe how humbling it is to be surrounded by people who couldn’t care less where you come from. While it can seem important to be an American in America, there are people all over the world, for instance, who don’t know or don’t care where Indiana is. This was eye-opening for me and I expect it must be for anyone who travels abroad for the first time. No longer will I venture through life in a bubble. Italy and its people are not abstract ideas, characterized by pizza, pasta, and art. Like anywhere else, whether it is Africa, South America, Australia, or the United States, the world is filled with living, breathing, and sentient beings with thoughts and ideas who can all make invaluable contributions to the world.
I’ve found my convictions and my voice. Being in a large city like Rome, you have to become comfortable making yourself heard. This can become even more difficult when many people don’t speak the same language as you. While violent crime isn’t a major issue here, pick-pocketing and petty theft have become quite rampant. Street vendors, which populate Rome’s streets, can also be pushy. Growing up in a much smaller city, I have always felt uncomfortable on the streets of larger cities like Chicago and Indianapolis. My anxiety, which may usually be unfounded, had manifested itself in a general dissatisfaction with cities and a subsequent aversion of them. My time spent here has done so much to calm my anxiety and give me a brand new appreciation of large cities. It has strengthened my nerves and even shown me how to be more assertive in various social situations.
Finally, I’ve found compassion and understanding. Where I had been cynical about life and people, my experiences have shown me that people are generally good regardless of where you go. During my travels, I encountered people from so many different backgrounds. Empathy isn’t necessarily innate, it is learned and practiced. With observation and introspection, anyone can empathize with anyone else. Being able to observe people in entirely new places and situations has shown me firsthand that it doesn’t matter what corner of the world someone is from, as humans, we all have the same tendencies. Like construction workers in Rome telling each other a joke, we all laugh and smile the same. Like the woman on the train who breaks down sobbing and is comforted by the strangers around her, we all feel the same sadness. Like the young teenage couple sitting by the river staring so deeply into each other’s eyes I wonder if they can see or hear anyone else, we all love the same. Our minds are the same and so are our hearts.
Rome is my home. It has taken me in, kept me healthy, cultivated my growth, and made me conscious. Rome has taught me a lot about who I am and what I am capable of. It has taught me about the world and my place in it. This summer has been such a formative time for me that will always live affectionately in my heart.