Rome campus director offers reflections from his cultural journal

It is that time of the year again to take a step back and reflect on the past four months, as the spring ’07 Catholic Studies semester program in Rome comes to a close. In less than a month, our students will end another chapter of their college careers, four of their best months in Rome – a memorable semester that will hold a special place in their hearts and minds for many years to come.

“This semester has been an amazing experience,” animatedly shared UST junior Anne Marie Stiles. “Not only have I had the opportunity to travel around Europe, meet an amazing group of friends (referring to her fellow Bernardians), but I have also grown immensely as an individual. Meeting the new friends over here and growing closer to them by the day, I have realized how to love others.”

Another UST student, sophomore Mark Pavlak expressed similar thoughts as the program also provided him the opportunity to expand his horizons and branch out with other people. “I came into this program not being familiar with many people,” said Pavlak. “I've grown as an individual thanks to everyone else here (referring to the Bernardi community). We all try and reach out to everyone to try and know something about them – and I've tried to do the same. Friends are something so precious – especially friends who share your passion for your faith.”

Typically, at this time of the semester (and every semester, for that matter), there are many emotions, feelings and anxieties that might overpower our students, as each one of them is about to reach closure on this wonderful experience and move on with his or her life. As our students are getting ready to make the trip back home, they will fill their luggage with souvenirs and other purchases they made while here. But they will take away much more: the great things that Rome has taught them – the history, the art, the geography, and the culture. And beyond all that, they will also take everything they internalized from the Eternal City; the invaluable knowledge, the experiences that contributed to their growth in becoming a better person, a better student, a better son or daughter, a better citizen.

“I have learned how to survive and flourish in a foreign city, relying only on myself and, crucially, on God,” expressed University of Notre Dame junior Brian Boyd. “Approaching this semester as a pilgrim, not a tourist, has shown me in very concrete ways the redemptive power of suffering and the beauty of the little things in life.”

For many of our students growing in their faith has been a valuable learning experience living and studying in the Eternal City for four months. “I have grown as an individual in so many ways, as the Lord does not withhold his generosity to even the greatest of sinners,” said UST junior Isaac Huss. “And it is He who is the source of any good growth in my life, most especially this semester. He has shown me on so many occasions that He is indescribably in love with me, and He wants to show me that love at every opportunity.”

A four-month experience in the Eternal City has affected our students greatly. Many humbled themselves when need be, others stood tall for their convictions, and still others grew stronger in their faith. "As an individual I have grown spiritually and intellectually," said junior Bill Vagenas.

For John Carroll University junior Ryan Cubera this semester in the Eternal City placed him in a community of people of different backgrounds, from different schools and a different seminary. “Living with my fellow students has been a challenge in remaining open to the various aspects of the Catholic faith that are made manifest in their unique characteristics,” said Cubera. “It has been a challenge to seek to be open to the vibrant faith without reducing it to a "cookie cutter" Catholic, forcing everyone into a reductive stereotype.”

Through their daily interactions, these students have embraced the locals as well as other people they met in their journeys and each shared a piece of his or her life with them. Some made mistakes, and learned from them, or so we hope! Many took risks such as to love bigger, not to be afraid to view cultural differences as a positive experience, and to endlessly work on becoming a better person. They have shown their maturity, wisdom and spirit of adventure. They made memories and lifelong memories that they will be with them through a lifetime.

“My semester has been a huge point of growth in my life in many ways. The cultural experience has enabled me to appreciate other ways of living as well as my own. Also, living in such a close knit community has allowed me to get to know people on a much different level,” shared UST junior Amanda Kuehn. “In addition, the faith experience of studying in the heart of Rome and with such faithful Catholics has made me stronger as a person and has enabled me to grow deeper in faith!”

For the homebound parents and friends awaiting a chance to see these students, hug them, and hear all about their son’s or daughter’s or friend's experiences, they also know how much their loved ones have changed and how much they have grown as they are not the same person that they were when they left home.

As I reflect on this spring semester, it is my hope that our students who study abroad and experience firsthand a different culture will continue making a concrete difference wherever they may be and with whomever they come in contact. I hope they will always be able to embrace others whether they are like them or not, embrace them with love, care, compassion, kindness, genuineness and all the good virtues that anyone could have.

But no matter what life has in store for each of our students – the ups and downs, the challenges, the joys, everything that is part of life’s journey – we will continue to be enriched by keeping the faith, by praying for one another, by believing, and by continuing to grow.

A presto,