This reflection is by current AquinasAbroad student Olivia Casbarro on the halfway point in the semester in Italy.
I rise every morning to the Bracciano sun seeping over the mountainous horizon and take in the beauty of God’s creation. I’ve become accustom to the morning rooster’s crow and made friends with the neighbor’s yappy dog. Six weeks have now passed and the morning air continues to get crisper every day as Autumn approaches. As much as it surprises me, life in Italy has finally become something considerably normal. I first started to notice this one afternoon as we all walked back from town. “I need to stop at the Tuodí and pick up shampoo,” one classmate said. “Alright, see you at home,” I replied. That’s when I knew we were truly settled.
Since arriving in Italy in late September, the first AquinasAbroad team has climbed mountains, looked our over the Tyrrhenian Sea, visited the bones of Saint Peter, stood in buildings constructed before the time of Christ, walked the dark hallways of the catacombs, witnessed the making of Saints, stood where the Pope is elected, and numerous other notable things. Our travels have taken us to Turin, Oropa, Aquino, Montecassino, Florence, Siena and some of us as far as Poland. In the classroom, we have been walking the path of the ancient Church, studying the Apostles, Early Fathers, schisms, heresies, and the Reformation. We have discussed in depth what exactly beauty is within art, architecture and music. Our discussions have helped us to understand beauty as an objective truth and its relation to the Church and the preservation of Her mysteries. We have met artists like Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Bernini and Raphael. Philosophical studies are leading us to understand our life giving principle—our soul– and how we differ from other life forms. We spend time with the great philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Aristotle. Theologically, we hash out the nature of sin and the role our emotions play in our daily activities. Our private Italian class also has us soaring to the heights of a new language, enabling us to communicate with more of the world. Full immersion creates and environment in which we can learn the customs and habits of the Italian people, enabling our understanding to come full circle.
The Aquinas College study abroad program isn’t just about classroom learning or excursions, but is the beautiful blending of the two in a harmonious balance that brings to fruition personal growth on every level. And that’s not all! Living at Villaggio Betania gives the eight of us a brilliant opportunity to grow in virtue as we eat, sleep, study and recreate under the same roof. Emotionally, we all learn to lean on each other and the meaning of true friendship. Community life, especially intensified by life in a foreign country, has really helped me to understand the significance of the other in life.
Life on Via San Celso is like living in a castle; it has even been said to us by the ex-Vilaggio inhabitants that we are princes and princesses living in a far away kingdom, and it is true. There are some days when classes are really stressful and I’m tired of taking trains and busses, but then I turn a corner and catch a beautiful glimpse of the Tiber at sunset or I walk into my literal backyard and see a stunning volcanic lake and realize that I’m living the dream of so many people. Here in Italy, things get put into perspective very quickly. There are days when I do miss home and simply want to drive my own car, but then I realize that I live in one of the most beautiful cities and study under some of the most brilliant Sisters in the world.
At this halfway point in our journey, it’s an amazing thing to look back on all of the experiences we have had as well stand at the brink of more to come. People often ask what life is like over here in Italy. While I know that their question is put forth with good intention, they simply don’t realize that they seek words that will never do this program justice. One cannot describe the wonder of AquinasAbroad in full. I suppose we each do need to experience it for ourselves.