By Kacy Stoddard
Two summers ago, my aunt invited me to travel to Rome and stay for the summer. The catch was I had to attend a 50-year high school class reunion with her. Once we arrived and settled in, we were taken on a tour of the campus of St. Stephens by current boarders who showed us around the intimate campus. The school is within an old villa, and was previously a monastery located in the heart of Rome.
Our guides explained how much they enjoyed the boarding experience along with making international friends at St. Stephen’s. My first impression was that the classrooms were outdated, and that dormitories were incredibly small. The campus itself was surrounded by government and apartment buildings, which left very little room for outdoor space. At that time, I had no idea that in two years I would be studying at this very school.
Early in my freshman year, I was toying with the idea of a year abroad for either my sophomore or junior year. The destination of Rome seemed like the perfect place; pasta, pizza, fashion, art and of course, gelato.
My father accompanied me to Rome to help me settle into my dorm room late in August 2015 for my sophomore year. Rome was in the midst of an unrelenting heatwave, and as I discovered after a few days, air conditioning was not a common luxury in these older buildings.
My first experiences at St. Stephen’s were not at all what I anticipated. Not only did we have mandatory study hall and closed campus during the school day, the food, yes the food, was horrible.
Fortunately, I made friends with the boarders quickly who came from all sorts of different backgrounds. My roommate, Maya, became one of my best friends; she was doing a three-month exchange program from a boarding school in Connecticut, and we both loved running. Nearly every morning, we would run at 6:30 along with a teacher, and see the sun rising over Rome–a sight I will never forget, empty monuments and a beautiful sunrise every morning.
There would be no ‘typical’ Saturday as a boarding student. Once a month, the boarding faculty would organize weekend trips, such as olive-picking in Umbria or exploring Venice. We would leave either Friday afternoon or early Saturday morning to various cities in Italy.
By train, I visited the Amalfi Coast, Florence, Naples, Umbria and Venice.
On weekends without a trip, boarders were free to explore Rome the entire day.
Typically, early mornings on the weekend in Rome would consist of a stop at a cafe for a pastry and a cappuccino. My friends and I would walk all over Rome, stopping only for gelato or caffeine. For lunch, we frequently grabbed a slice of margherita pizza or a panino, which is an Italian pressed sandwich, followed by more gelato.
We shopped, explored museums, walked around unexplored parts of Rome, or just admired the beauty of Rome. I loved having dinner with my friends at a trattoria for cheap, but incredibly delicious, pasta.
Upon my return back to the US,the biggest culture shock was to hear everyone around me speaking English. All around me, people were constantly speaking English, and my ears kept searching for someone speaking Italian. I was no longer strolling down ancient paths surrounded by towering cathedrals and buildings, nor dodging the Vespas and small Italian cars.
Coming home to Alameda was like stepping into my favorite jeans, a stark contrast to the speed and sounds of the dense population of Rome. I had planned to stay for the entire year, but I decided not to return to Rome during Christmas break.
What swayed my decision to cut my year abroad in half was that the boarding situation was not ideal, making the gravitation pull back to Alameda unbearable. Secondly, my close friends from St. Stephen’s were departing after the first semester. Finally, even though I used Facetime with my family frequently, almost everyday, I missed everyone.
I am so glad that my parents supported my decision to have studied abroad. I will forever treasure the people I met, the amazing places and events I witnessed, and the Roman culture I was immersed into.