Exploring Rome, a city filled with wonder that captures your heart

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We landed and exited the plane and I couldn’t believe I was here. I was the first person in my family to travel to Italy; the airport was packed with people. I heard so many different languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French and a language I thought was Russian or maybe German. The passport officer, looked me up and down opened my passport and stamped it: Roma- Italia- Fiumicino- EU: 23/05/17. I still couldn’t believe it, I was in another country, I was 6,000 miles away from home. Time stood still for a second maybe two, and my group started moving and that’s when I smiled. I’m in Italy, I am In Rome!

    When we finally made it out of the airport our professor Dr. Ronald Weber was waiting for us with taxis, and I was already in awe. It seemed like every taxi was a Mercedes and all the men and women were so good looking and had this style and coolness. We made our way to our hotel and although my professor told us to relax I took a shower, and with Matt and Eric, I went to explore the neighborhood. We met up with some students from Oklahoma and Iowa who were also traveling abroad with the program Layers of Rome. Our first day was an introduction to the extraordinary time that lay ahead. It was tame but intense all at the same time, Dr. Weber showed us around the neighborhood; and we introduced ourselves to the other schools, had dinner and wine at a restaurant, ate Gelato and had a beer at a pub: day one was pretty good.  

    After day one, days just merged together and I lost track of time. The sun rising and setting and the sights and people we met in Italy. All I can remember is the experience; we rode the bus, took the tram and took the subway. We ate fresh Italian food, with produce from the local farmers; each day my mouth was exploding with different flavors the Italian food had to offer. No two pizzas tasted a like, Gelato was different everywhere I went, and there was an endless supply of Cappuccino. I ate lamb, duck, goat and even seafood, and I dislike seafood but when in Rome do as the Romans do. This trip was jammed packed with memories I will always remember, I got lost at the coliseum and walked around that area again and again looking endlessly for my group. We studied hard and celebrated each night we were abroad. The group I went with was amazing and although I had only known my professors and these students for a short time the bond that was formed while we traveled was something unexplainable.

    Although we celebrated and had fun. Each day would start bright and early with a lecture about the site we went to, then coming back to the hotel to do our work and discussing the objectives and the experience we had that day over a beer or glass of wine. Although a little nerdy when you’re able to discuss things with people that are also seeking a higher education the energy that is involved in the discussions is extraordinary. When we had finished our scholarly discussion of the day, it was time yet again to explore the city of Rome. Even as exhausted as we were with the blisters on our feet from walking on average nine miles a day, it never stopped us from enjoying every second we had abroad. At one point, I remember googling things to do in Rome and being amazed at all the sights we had seen.

    The Coliseum

    The Pantheon

    The Trevi Fountain at Night

    St. Peter’s Basilica

    Roman Forum

    Piazza Navona

    Spanish Steps

    Vatican Museum

    Galleria Borghese

    Piazza Venezia

    Capitoline Hill

    Baths of Caracalla

    Keats Shelley Memorial House

    Piazza Di Spagna

    Trastevere

    The Old Jewish Ghetto

    The Great Roman Synagogue

    Getting Blessed by the Pope.

And Last but not least the Sistine Chapel. It was here that I realized how fortunate I was to experience these things. I remember Dr. Weber taking my hand and walking me to the chapel with my eyes closed. I opened them up and there it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was Art, It was love and it was everything I could’ve hoped for. As someone who went to art school and has a deep appreciation and passion for art I can’t even begin to explain the feeling of awe that I felt when I was in the Chapel.  All I could tell you is that in this moment in time my mind, body and spirit were filled with joy. And although we were told not to take pictures or video I was getting ready to take one, when John De Frank, one of my professors came up to me and said “Matt, just live in this moment man. It’ll never come back.” I put my phone away and gazed at this beautiful building again. I couldn’t believe I was in this place that some of the greatest artist ever, left their mark on this world. I was standing where Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the chapel, suspended. I was in awe, then it hit me the hard work and sacrifices I had made to get here. The love of my grandmother and mother had gotten me here, our hard work had led me down this road which allowed me to experience what I am telling. As someone from a low income single parent household you grow up wanting to see these amazing wonders but never imagine that one day it will happen.

I began to cry as I realized I was here, in this place, in a city filled with 6 million people, in a museum that probably had 100,000 people visiting it and I was in a room where there were probably 1,000 people also gazing at these amazing frescoes. The thought of this made me cry even more. I was balling. I am just this speck on earth, here in this city, in this place where everything is bigger than me.

    My time abroad can be described as euphoric! The people I met, the bonds that I formed, the people I got to meet even if it was just for a month will always be in my heart. My cool friends from Iowa, The Chinese kids I met, and The Oklahoma students that were “hella” cool. The experiences we all had together were epic. The UTEP students and professors I went with were great and our bond was even stronger, we were able to welcome anyone to our group and show them El Paso Love. And show them UTEP students and faculty can’t be beat. Even if I lose touch with them, I can honestly say I had the time of my life. The emotions we felt, the sights we saw, the partying we did and the crazy things we did together like going out and trying to communicate with people who knew zero English, the bus rides and our random one liners and jokes will always be in my heart. Layers of Rome 2017 is branded into my heart and soul. Anyone considering a study abroad program shouldn’t worry about what lies ahead. Just do it, go in with a positive mind and you will have the time of your life, because I know I did.

Editors note: This column is one of a collection of journals kept by University of Texas at El Paso students during their 2017 study abroad experience with the program, The Layers of Rome. The Layers of Rome is both a study abroad program and an online educational resource for high school and college teachers who study Rome and its central role as a creator and disseminator of world culture. 

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