The Tumultuous Honeymoon Phase

Headshot of Ian Donahue.
Ian Donahue
February 5, 2023
While walking alongside the Tiber River, the sunset illuminates the water in beautiful colors.

Whenever I am faced with a profound change in my life, the effect of said change does not kick in immediately. What do I mean by this? I have walked through the Vatican everyday as a shortcut to get to the IES Abroad Center and it feels unnatural each time. It almost does not feel real. Even writing this now in my room a part of me knows that soon enough I will be right back in Ithaca. But no, Rome is my new home for the next few months. The moment where it finally set in that this unfamiliar environment was to be my new home was only today. This moment occurred as I was walking to the Altar of the Fatherland. It was there where I would meet up with the Italian student companions and climb up the Capitoline hill. As I neared the corner before the altar, I turned and actually saw it. It was a magnificent structure I had not seen anything quite like, and it was breathtaking. And Rome is known for its breathtaking monuments. I most likely stand out as an American here, but I must have looked like an idiot. This was due to my mouth being wide open and the only word coming out of my mouth being, “Woah.”

When I told all my friends in Ithaca last semester that I was studying abroad in Italy, everyone was excited. My friends who studied abroad already assured me time and time again I was going to have an amazing time. And it was hard to believe. Once the initial splendor of being in a new country wore off, then what? I know only one other person on the program from Ithaca, but what about all the other people I am supposed to meet? Where do I eat? This new place I am staying in seems nice but there are a few things I do not like about it. I could not bring everything I wanted, I do not speak any Italian so what would I do if someone asked me anything? There was a lot of excitement but also quite a bit of anxiety. An expectation was placed on me as soon as I decided I wanted to study abroad, regardless of where I chose to go.

That brings me back to the Altar of the Fatherland and that “woah” moment. The anxiety I felt did not go away completely but part of it eased up and was replaced with a feeling of growing comfort. If I count flying out of JFK last Sunday, then I have been in Italy for a week. And that week was full of new food to eat, new people to meet and not enough sleep to keep me awake all day. I guess all my friends and family can pat themselves on the back and say “I told you so” because yes, I am having fun. To me, the sign of losing oneself in an unfamiliar environment is the lack of knowing exactly what happened. You do not have memories, instead the feeling of what you did supersedes memory. This is a fancy way of saying I forgot what I had for dinner two nights ago, but the feeling of an amazing pasta lingers. The immaculate vibes of this past week combined with new sensations have set up a semester full of magic. All the people I have met so far are wonderful and as enthusiastic about making this new city their home as I am. Every day for a week my new friends and I have walked for hours on end exploring. Every new street contains a new sight, whether it be a rubber duck store or one of Rome's many churches. I have seen enough statues to fill a New York City apartment building and enough Roman ruins to build it. I cannot detail all the things I have done this past week, so you can text me if you have questions or want to know more!

But nothing is perfect and there are bumps in the road that prevent me, as of now at least, from finally settling in. For one, the smell of cigarettes is almost everywhere and I prefer my cities to smell nice. Crossing the street makes me realize a few things. The first is that New Jersey drivers are experts compared to Italian drivers. Every time I want to cross the street it feels like playing a game with Frogger with a death wish. The funniest aspect of this is that I have not started class yet. The vacation mentality that has dominated my mindset will have to be completely undone if I am to put the study in studying abroad. Yet for every bad driver, there is the greatest gelato for only 2.50 euro. For every cigarette-filled street block, I meet another fast friend. And for every feeling of homesickness I get, there is the awe-inspiring might of a thousand-year-old city for me to explore. In other words, things could definitely be worse.

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Headshot of Ian Donahue.

Ian Donahue

Hey! My name is Ian and I am a junior at Ithaca College, where I major in history meaning long papers are my specialty. I play on my school's club ultimate frisbee team and we even went to the national tournament! I am from New York City so navigating public transit is a refined skill of mine. I am beyond excited and grateful for the opportunity to study abroad in Rome, eat amazing food and see places I've dreamed of seeing my whole life.

2023 Spring
Home University:
Ithaca College
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