If there's anything I've learned during my sophomore year of college, it's that a lot can happen in a semester.
I know you're probably thinking of my spring semester here in Rome, but my fall semester at CUA changed a lot of things for me.
Last fall, I was wildly over-committed. I was an Undergraduate Fellow, I was the VP of Catholic Athletes for Christ, I led Athletes Retreat, I lectored at daily mass on campus, I was a member of Gratia Plena, I had a youth ministry internship that I had to commute to every Friday night, the study abroad application to complete, and surprise, had a social life, friends, and family to maintain, not to mention a faith life. Oh, and 5 classes.
Every weekend, I would sit down with my desk calendar and map out my week, hour by hour for each day. And I know when it's all listed out like that above, it seems overwhelming and awful and chaotic. And sometimes it was. But it also made for a semester during which I saw myself becoming who I wanted to be. Every single one of those things that I blocked into my schedule were part of my life because I wanted them to be. I'm passionate about them. Those activities don't even include the 4 or 5 hours a week spent in daily masses and praise and worship, which I would hardly call commitments, since rather than being stuff to fit in, they were what helped me keep my sanity during all the rest of it.
I started last semester not knowing where I stood. I'd lost some friends over the summer, including one I honestly had never thought I'd have to navigate this thing called college without. I was hurt. I didn't know if I was worth becoming anyone's new best friend after having lost mine. I didn't even know my own roommate. I didn't know where I was going, but at the time that I was moving back into CUA last fall, I knew it wasn't the place where I had the friends I'd had when I left. It didn't feel like the home it had become freshman year.
But life has a way of putting people in your life when you least expect it, and when you need them most.
I met Joe and Ross, who became my friends somewhere between classes in O'Boyle and a Confirmation retreat we all ended up leading together, and who taught me that you can turn around someone's day just by having a genuine smile on your face, by doing that for me, and everyone else each of them meet, countless times.
I met Lauren Scharmer, who I'm sure is about to cry reading this, if she isn't already, and learned that I was not the first person to have every possible emotion that there is to have over studying abroad. I also learned that there are some people so kind that they will come up and hug you when they see you crying, and tuck you into bed when you're sick before they even know you, and that she is one of the even fewer people that will end up being your best friend afterward.
I met Colleen, who surprised me by wanting to be my friend just as much as I wanted to be hers, and whose easy friendship helped me get by in those first couple months more than I'll probably ever be able to express.
And most importantly, I met my roommate, Kelly. I met the girl who became my best friend out of nowhere, who is the first person I can honestly say I am always completely and freely myself with, who, by letting me be there for her, showed me how to let others be there for me, who can sing beautifully, who is comically shorter than I am, and who saved me. Kel is my person. Strangers in August, soulmates by December.
So, yeah, a semester can change a lot. It can change your social circle, it can change your major, it can change you into someone who knows who she is, and more importantly, feels like she's growing into the person she wants to be.
And then I left to come to Rome. It was like starting all over again. No support system. Didn't know a single person coming in, not even by sight. But I did know that I had done this before.
Truth is, it was hard. It was hard getting here, orientation was hard, my grandfather dying was hard, it was hard a month in, it was hard when I was homesick, it was hard when I was happy, and sometimes it's still going to be hard.
That's the thing. Life is tough. But it's also good and incredible and exhilarating and emotional and it's worth it. I did so many amazing things this semester.
I went on a gondola in Venice.
I went to mass at Notre Dame in Paris.
I went wine tasting at a castle in Tuscany.
I saw the bones of St. Peter underneath the Vatican.
I prayed the Scala Santa on my knees during the Triduum.
I WAS IN ROME FOR CONCLAVE AND HOLY WEEK
I was in St. Peter's Square as Pope Benedict left the Vatican for the last time as Pope.
I was there again for the white smoke, and saw Pope Francis for the first time with all the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.
I went to FOUR Papal Masses (Epiphany Mass with Pope Benedict; Inauguration Mass, Palm Sunday Mass, Easter Sunday Mass with Pope Francis)
I've been within 10 feet of both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.
I don't say all that to brag. I say it more to remind myself that none of this just "happened" to me. With the exception of all the conclave business, which obviously we can thank the Holy Spirit for, I made all this happen. I made the decision to study abroad in a country where I didn't know the language or anyone coming with me, 4500 miles away from all the new friends I'd just spent a semester making. I chose to make the most of my semester. It was so much harder than I thought it would be. I underestimated the power of foreign homesickness, how challenging it is to keep in touch with people, how emails and Skype never seem to cut it on the nights when you just want to be with the people you love.
I've learned about my faith and about myself.
I've made new friends.
And now, I have to leave this place where all this happened. Where I lived on my own for the first time. Where I was a 15 minute walk from St. Peter's. Where I spent 4 months surrounded by a foreign language in a foreign country. Where I cried and laughed and drank and lived exclusively on pasta and pizza. Where I woke up at the crack of dawn to go to Station Masses at 7am all around Rome during Lent. Where I had some of the highest and lowest moments of my life. Where I kinda figured out who I am.
So as I say goodbye to this place and head home to NH for a few days to see my family before I visit my other home and family at CUA, I can happily say that I achieved my biggest goal for this semester:
I made Rome my home.
To each person that contributed to the 2,500+ hits that this blog has gotten, thank you for letting me share this with you.
Here's to the next adventure. Junior year, I'm coming for you ;)