Just a few weeks into my freshman year, following a particularly exciting Latin class, I decided I was going to spend my entire sophomore year abroad in Rome studying Classics and Archaeology. I discussed the idea with my parents that weekend and, less than a week after the idea came to me, I was in the study abroad office looking into programs and meeting with an advisor. Just a few weeks after applying, I was accepted and ready to start preparing for what I knew was going to be an incredible experience. I knew from the second I got my acceptance email from IES that I was about to start on a journey that would change my life and open up a world of opportunity and excitement, and I was right. The first six months that I spent in Italy were some of the best and most exciting of my life.
It didn’t take very long for me to adjust to my life in Rome. From the very first day the city felt like home to me and I was completely comfortable there. My homestay, an apartment in the city center where I lived with a wonderful family and their two cats, was just a short walk from the IES center. Every day on my way to class I walked past Castel Sant’Angelo and saw Saint Peter’s Basilica just a short way down the road. I got to take classes with incredible professors, all of whom I admire greatly and who made every day interesting and engaging. Most weeks we would have one class at the center while the second one was usually a field study during which we would visit a site or museum we had discussed in the previous session. The field studies made the academic experience extraordinary. Being able to discuss something like the Colosseum in class one day and then actually visit it the next was amazing, and it made what we were learning about so much more impactful.
I spent the fall semester feeling like I was living in a dream. I made wonderful friends, traveled all over Italy, and had countless exciting experiences. The spring semester, though it started off in a very similar light, would not prove to be such a dream. For the first month, the spring semester was delightful. I do not have to words to adequately describe the absolute dream that February was. I met so many incredible people in that short time and made friends with whom I explored the city and traveled to new places. The most unbelievable part of it, though, was my once-in-a-lifetime internship. I was given the opportunity to work in the Colosseum as an archaeological intern. It was a dream come true for me and every second I was in there I was smiling so wide that it felt like my face was about to split. That is the state that I was in for most of my time in Rome. I was constantly happy and was always smiling and laughing. For the entire month of February, I smiled so much every day that by the time I went to bed at night my face was sore. It was wonderful, but that all came to a harsh and unexpected end. One day I was at the Colosseum, and the next, classes were canceled as the program scrambled to figure out how to move our classes online. The next two weeks were spent in suspense and dread as we all waited for the email from our universities that would tell us that we had to return home. I watched, heartbroken, as more and more of my friends received news that they had to go, and when I finally got the news myself, I was devastated. I cried every day after I got the email from study abroad until the day that I left, and my heart broke a little more with every goodbye that I had to say.
When I returned home, I felt lost and sad and broken. All of the happiness and joy that had filled my heart for the previous six months had drained away and left me feeling hopeless and empty. I didn’t feel like I was living. Everything I did felt wrong and like I was just going through the motions. I struggled to fall asleep at night because every time I closed my eyes, Rome and the memories I made there flashed in my mind and it was so painful. I ended up taking almost everything related to Rome (posters, pictures, and souvenirs) out of my room and hiding them away where I wouldn’t have to see them. Thinking about the wonderful life I lived there and everything I lost when I had to leave early was just too painful.
It has been over two months since my return now and the souvenirs and memorabilia are back in place and the memories no longer keep me up at night. Every day I see the pictures and other items and I think about my time abroad. Sometimes this brings a smile to my face and other times all I feel is sadness. Whatever the effect, I keep forcing myself to remember, because no matter how it ended, I still had six months in Rome. I still had incredible experiences and met amazing people. I made friendships that I will cherish forever and studied with professors who changed my life. The fact that I cried when it ended cannot erase the fact that I smiled for six months straight. No amount of heartbreak can erase the happiness that my time in Rome brought to my life. This whole ordeal has taught me that, no matter how difficult things may be, we can cherish the memories that we have made, the experiences that we have had, and the people we have loved.
My name is Hannah Huzzey, and I am a sophomore at the University of Iowa double majoring in classical languages and ancient civilizations. I have studied abroad twice, once for a class trip to Athens and then to spend my sophomore year in Rome. I love traveling and engaging with different cultures and learning what they have to teach.