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Post-Departure Blues

Kayne Mettert

That’s it.  It’s over.  The biggest adventure of my life has come to a close.  In the blink of an eye, it seems, I went to Italy and came back to Indiana.  As I drive through town, I realize that nothing here has changed.  My hometown is just as I’d left it which makes me feel as though my European experience was all just a dream.  How is it possible that last week, I could have taken a 5 minute train ride to the Colosseum and now I’m back in the land of the ordinary and the mundane?

On the eve before my last day in Rome, I went out to dinner with my co-workers where they exposed me to some traditional Roman dishes.  During the meal, I mentioned to them how sad I would be when I had to leave Italy the next day.  One of my co-workers looked at me curiously and proceeded to tell me not to be sad.  He told me, that there’s no reason to be sad.  He asked me if I had enjoyed my time here and I told him yes.  He asked me if I had seen a lot of cool things in Italy and I said yes.  He asked me if I had eaten good food in Italy and I said “of course!”  So he told me that I should not be sad since  I had had a fantastic time that will always live with me.  The time I spent abroad may have been limited, but the memories and emotions from my trip are eternal.  I thanked him for his perspective and we continued our meal.

As I sit at home and reflect on the importance of this study abroad program in my life, I begin to realize that it’s importance is invaluable.  Sure, when I was getting ready for this trip, the financial aspects and monetary preparations for the program were stressing me out, but after having completed this journey I can see that the experience I’ve gained is priceless.  Every penny, ounce of stress, and hard work I put towards this trip was worth the professional, academic, and personal growth that I’ve had.  The feats I’ve accomplished are more than I ever could have dreamed of and the wisdom I’ve gained will impact my life for years to come.  I decided to blog my experiences because I wanted to reach other students in an effort to persuade them to study abroad as well.   If anyone reading this is considering studying abroad, I implore you to consider it wholeheartedly and truly understand the profound impact that a program like this can have on your life.  The IU Office of Overseas study is a fantastic resource that can help you travel to some amazing places and see some incredible things.  I am so grateful for the chance I’ve had to live in Italy this summer and I will always remember this adventure fondly and the monumental impact it had on my life.

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Rome Is Where the Heart Is

Kayne Mettert

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.

Roman street

The street I live on.

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.

me looking over balcony

Looking over the city

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.

selfie over Rome

A selfie over the city

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.

walking down a roman street

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Self Sufficiency

Kayne Mettert

Sitting in a small train station en route to Siena in Tuscany after having missed two trains, I reflected on how far I’ve come.  I remember going on family vacations as a child, completely reliant on adults for the scheduling and arrangement of our trips.  Any complications that arose were no inconvenience to me, as I had no responsibility in planning or implementing what we would do.  This, however, was not the case now as I started to panic and wonder how I would get this weekend trip (which was now three hours off schedule) back on track.

train station

Behind schedule at the train station.

The commute, which I had singularly planned and organized, had gotten off track when our original train left the station late.  This threw everything off and made it very difficult to make our subsequent connections in time.  Eventually though, I found my bearings and I figured out where and when I could catch the next train and continue to my destination.  As I rode this train to Siena, I couldn’t help but be proud of myself for navigating through a foreign country completely independently and overcoming this obstacle.  For one of the first times in my life, I felt entirely self-sufficient in every way.

Upon arrival in Siena, I found my hotel, checked in, and proceeded to explore the city.  As I walked, I stumbled upon a giant square surrounding an enormous tower, which I later learned was called Torre del Mangia.  With a little investigation, I also learned that anyone can climb to the top and see the whole city from the peak of the tower.  I began to scale the steps within the narrow hallways and low ceilings of the tower that wrapped up and around probably 50 stories.

Torre del Mangia

Torre del Mangia

My excitement was building with every step because I knew the view would be incredible.  Sure enough, as I reached the top, what I saw took my breath away.  Miles and miles of beautiful landscape dotted with villages, cathedrals, hills, and valleys.  The clouds partially covered the view which gave it an incredible contrast between dark and light, where the sun shone through.  I simply gaped in amazement and awe at what was before me.  It seems that every time I see something new in this country, it becomes my new favorite thing.

view from tower

My view

I explored a little more that night but I had Pisa scheduled for the next morning so I wanted to get enough sleep.  The next day, I (flawlessly) caught two trains and made it to Pisa.  I immediately found the Leaning Tower, or Torre Pendente di Pisa.  It was incredible to see such a famous monument standing before me.  People all over the courtyard were attempting to take ridiculous pictures with the tower and I couldn’t resist snapping one of my own.

leaning tower

Keeping the Leaning Tower from falling over

I eventually made it back home without a glitch, and I can hardly describe how gratifying it was to have successfully planned and executed this little weekend excursion all on my own.  I was able to see two extraordinary places with a little hard work and persistence.  In spite of the minor complications I went through, I persevered and eventually everything worked out.  This was majorly important to me because it serves as a maturity benchmark in the process of my life.  The dependent has become the independent. The child has become the adult.  Some day when I have kids of my own that are reliant on me, I will partially owe my reliability to this weekend experience, and my overall experience in Italy that helped shape me as an adult and make me who I am.

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The Definition of Happiness

Kayne Mettert

As I rode through the countryside of Italy on a charter bus towards Napoli, my excitement was hardly containable. A group of American students and I were headed to a wine tasting in a Cantina at the base of Mount Vesuvius, one of the most famous active volcanoes in the world, before continuing to Sorrento and the spectacular Amalfi coast.  When we finally arrived, the atmosphere of the winery was indescribable.  We were literally in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.  The area was quiet and the air was still.  The food was organic and made rich in nutrients by the volcanic sediments from the eruption of Vesuvius.  In awe of the beauty of this place, our tour guide further explained some folklore concerning this particular region.  Apparently the story goes that when Lucifer was cast from heaven, he was able to tear a small piece of paradise down with him which became Napoli.  There is certainly no arguing that Napoli is a small paradise.


Vesuvius from winery

As I sat down for our meal and wine tasting, I remember thinking how at peace I was.  I was in a calmer state of mind than I had been in quite a long time.  I found myself envying the Italians and the family who owned this small winery.  How much I would love to leave the traffic, busyness, commercialism, and pollution of America behind to live like these people.  Living among nature, in a small town with an amazing landscape, with your own small business in the heart of paradise.  My anxiety and daily stressors would dissolve, ceasing to be important.  At first I was convinced that this was the life I pined for.  Eventually though, I decided that the grass may not be greener on the other side.  Having talked to many young Italians during my stay here, most of them resent Italy’s job market.  They say it’s suffocating with no opportunity for growth since the older generation inhabits a significant percentage of the workforce.  The young men and women have increasingly few options for work during this time of economic hardship.  I suddenly imagined myself growing up in the family business, resenting my obligation to my parents and yearning for the opportunity to do what I wanted with my life.

Place with Vesuvius

Plate with Vesuvius

As we continued to the Amalfi coast, I continued to contemplate the differing qualities of life and what defines happiness.  Winding through the cliffs of the mountains towards the village of Positano on the Amalfi coast, buildings and coast lines were beginning to come into view.  When we finally arrived, we were guided through the narrow streets filled with touristy shops towards the beach.  Again, I thought about the kids growing up in this small town that would be forced to choose between the tourism markets and leaving their home to find better work.  From a tourist’s point of view, this place was heaven.  I sat on the beach without a care in the world as I enjoyed the ocean breeze and the perfect weather as soft electric guitar was being played somewhere in the distance.  It baffled me that Italians with such easy access to natural perfection could want to leave their country but at the same time, I understood.  As much as I yearned for the freedom from stress and pollution, they yearned for the freedom to be in control of their professional life.

winding roads in cliffs

Winding roads through the cliffs.

coast from ferry

The coast from the ferry.

Later we took a ferry ride around the coastline which was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  There were mountains that seem to stretch miles into the sky and elaborate homes on the cliffs by the sea.  I tried to soak up as much as I could because I never wanted to leave, and I promised myself that I would someday return.  I let the experience wash over me like a wave on the beach, trying not to worry about the fact that it was all going to end.  I focused on all the opportunities that I take for granted where I come from, like being able to pursue the career I am interested in with freedom of choice, and even being able to use my resources to study abroad and open up my perspective of the world.  Not everyone is as lucky as I have been, and as I rode the bus back to Rome, my thoughts went to the young Italians who would love to be in my shoes.  It was truly a humbling experience that has made me even more thankful of where I am in life.  I just hope that Italy is able to further recover from its economic crisis and afford young people some of the same opportunities that I have.  I am optimistic.


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A Leisurely Adaptation

Kayne Mettert

Time moves slower in Italy.  The sometimes overwhelming grind of the machine we know as the United States is nowhere to be found.  Here in Rome, the atmosphere is enormously carefree as if to allow its people to relax and remember that there’s always tomorrow.  After only a short period of time in this country, I already feel like I’ve been here for much longer.  I am learning how to live and adapt to the demands of a foreign country more rapidly than I’ve ever had to learn anything in my life.


Standing by a mural I accidentally found while exploring the city.

The first few days were very difficult for me considering I have had no prior knowledge of Italian language or culture before this program.  I remember eating out at a pizzeria across the street and struggling to order from a menu that I could barely understand (luckily for me, almost everything on the menu is delicious).  I experienced similar troubles at grocery stores, gelato shops, and bars that I attempted to order in.  As terrifying and disorienting as these instances might have been in the moment, I have found that my fellow classmates and I have an aptitude for cultural survival.  The amount of experience under my belt and my level of confidence seem to be entirely proportionate.

St. Peter's Basilica

The enormous and intricate interior of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The IES internship program that I am in is different from many other programs because it actually places us in the workforce.  To me, this internship is crucial to understanding Italian culture.  I am entirely responsible for navigation through a city that I am entirely unfamiliar with, using the metro subway system to commute to my internship, and setting up my work schedule.  This may sound bizarre, but the more I immerse myself, the more I feel like an actual Roman.  I am sleeping, working, eating, and living as the Romans do.  In a way, the program throws us into the ocean and it’s either sink or swim.  What better way to truly experience a country than by completely assimilating to its ways of life.


Pausing to take a picture next to the monumental Pantheon!

The internship I have been placed in has also proven to give me a better perspective and increase my worldview in numerous ways.  At the start-up app for mobile devices called “Atooma,” I have been entrusted with promotional design as the company gears up for its launch with Apple in mid-July.  Even after one day, I could feel my pent-up American ideologies fade away as I join a much more relaxed and perhaps even more inviting workplace than I am used to.  I will undoubtedly take some of these Italian values back to the United States and use them in my future endeavors.

Castel Sant'Angelo

I enjoy seeing the Castel Sant’Angelo on my walk to class.

Despite all of my study and work, I have found plenty of time to explore the city and see some truly incredible buildings and works of art.  The awe-inspiring Pantheon, the monumental Castel Sant’Angelo on the Tiber River, and the unbelievably beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica to name a few.  I am in utter disbelief at how lucky I am to be on this amazing adventure.  Not only do I get to be a part of Rome, but Rome is quickly becoming part of me.  I appreciate the quirks and eccentricities of this beautiful city and the way of life of the Italians who live here.  For two months, I am an Italian.  I will share their struggles, enjoy their culture, and live among them, while I soak up as much as I can and even learn more about myself along the way.

What’s that saying, When in Rome?

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