My Study Abroad Journey as the Ballad of Cleopatra

Headshot of Lily Nannini.
Lily Nannini
February 13, 2023


Whether it is a companion on a 10 hour road trip, background noise for studying or doing chores, country songs for summer beach drives, or motivation to get through a tough workout, music exists as the soundtrack of my life. 

The Lumineers’ Ballad of Cleopatra introduced me to a new outlook toward life and the different roads it might bring me down. This is my interpretation of studying abroad, through the perspective of these five Lumineers songs: Ophelia, Cleopatra, Sleep on the Floor, Angela, and My Eyes.



Ophelia is the intro song to the Ballad. It references the success, expectations, and pressure of the band as they were just getting started. Ophelia is a constant reminder for the Lumineers. It is a reminder to take a step back and appreciate all that has happened to them. In the words of Tim McGraw, “when you get where you’re going don’t forget, turn back around” (Humble and Kind). We all have to start somewhere, and it’s what we do when we get to where we want to be that matters.

For me, Ophelia is touching down on the runway, starting this adventure. I don’t know what these next three months have in store for me, but I can only hope it will be good. And by the end of my time here, I hope I can look back and see how far I’ve come from where I started.



Cleopatra is the next song in the Ballad. In the video, an older version of her character is reminiscing on the “what ifs” that life inevitably brings. It’s not so much about regret, as it is about thinking about the path you took in life, and realizing that for whatever reason, it was the path you needed to take.

Many different people come in and out of the cab, some familiar and some not. Each character has a different story and is temporarily a part of Cleopatra’s life.

Cleopatra is literally the story of all of us. It was written about a real life encounter with a stranger, representing how everyone lives an interesting life. The title for this song works so well because it is about a young girl full of confidence. The world is her oyster and she believes she will rule it one day. As she looks back, she realizes that we all try on these different identities, like an actress, but have no experience to back them up.

I think Cleopatra symbolizes the friends that come in and out of my life and the people I’ve met through study abroad. Like the people that go in and out of the cab, each one of us that is studying abroad has our own lives and challenges and dreams and goals. We are all our own unique person, but there’s something in each of us that sparked our desire to travel, and that is where we are the same. Not everyone leaves the comfort and safety of our own homes, our schools, our routines, and our country. In a way, studying abroad means a fresh start. We can be whoever we want, thus trying on different masks of identities. Ultimately, I believe that staying true to myself and focusing on what I want to get out of this experience is the most important objective. 



Sleep on the Floor is my favorite song from the Ballad, and my favorite music video of all time. The song echoes the importance of deciding on adventure, and moving away from what is expected of you and finding a life of freedom. It showcases the freedom of being young without consequences, to seize the moment and just live. 

Sleep on the Floor is my constant reminder that I’m always one decision away from a completely different life. It emphasizes the theme of leaving a small town before it’s too late. People move to big cities with implied promises. It focuses on the “what ifs” and taking that one step to a future you might have had, but ultimately decided against. I don’t want to look back and have any regrets from this experience.



Angela is about experiencing freedom. The video showcases her being happy even when she is alone. Life has gotten in the way of who she wanted to become, but that still doesn’t change who she is at her core.

This song represents moving to a new place, making friends, learning to call a city your own, and letting this lifestyle become your norm. It emphasizes the need to travel and not feel tied down. 



My Eyes concludes with Cleopatra in a nursing home, sharing stories with the nurse, and waiting for her time to end. Her life is filled with regrets over the paths she never took. The Ballad of Cleopatra tells you to do what is right for you, even if it means having a life no one approves of, or expects. 

You might not end up exactly where you thought you would. Even if you don't become who you thought you would be, it doesn’t matter, because in the end the only thing that really matters in your life are the people you could never and would never want to live without. So choose those people and hold on tight.

I wanna live life to the fullest and take advantage of every moment now, so that I can later look back on all the good (and bad) times and memories and share some wisdom. I crave genuine connections and meeting new people. I cherish my friends from home and school, and am so grateful to have crossed paths with people that bring me so much happiness. I hope to say the same about the friends I make from studying abroad. 



The Ballad of Cleopatra tells the story, not only of one woman, but of all of us. These songs make me realize that it doesn’t matter whether it’s 2020 or 1970—people are dealing with the same problems, the same heartache, happiness, and love. It’s sad and calming and connecting. 

Life is not always perfect, but we have to look at it with sincerity and choose the paths that our gut tells us is right. We get to realize that each random passerby is living a life as authentic and complex as our own. We are all interesting people full of regrets and what ifs. All we have to do is be brave and decide what we make of our lives. And at this point in my life, I chose Vienna.


The Ballad of Cleopatra | Spotify

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Headshot of Lily Nannini.

Lily Nannini

Hi! I'm Lily and I'm from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I currently attend Washington and Lee University in Virginia. I'm always down for spontaneous adventures, catching sunrise/sunset, and taking pictures of food:) When I graduate college I want to renovate a van and travel the country, visiting every U.S. National Park as I go. Hopefully I'll have a golden retriever with me too. I love meeting new people and gaining new experiences, so I am extremely excited for this term in Vienna!

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