I’ve wanted to do this since learning about the Rome program when I applied to Temple three years ago; and yet, somehow, every remark, warning, observation or exhalation about how this experience changes your perspective of the world – uttered by every faculty member, student representative, informational website and scrap of paper in any way remotely connected to study abroad – has not quite sunk in. I suppose it’s one of those things you have to get thrown into headlong before muttering “oh, that’s what they meant” in sheepish resignation.
Still, I’ve prepared as best as I think that I can. I’ve spent countless hours researching online, talking with people who have been around the block: cultural differences, practical travel tips, budget expectations. In between learning about public service announcements about exploding hairdryers and unreasonable currency conversion fees, I struggled mightily to bring my second and final undergraduate semester of Italian language to a graceful close. I took two years of it while in high school but didn’t learn nearly as much as I thought I did. Fast-forward to matriculation at Temple, where a placement test somehow landed me borderline between Italian I and II. I sat on that for two years and managed to free up just enough space in my schedule to jump right into Italian II in the fall semester of my junior year. I probably did not deserve to pass, but I did, so naturally I jumped into Intermediate Italian I the following semester.
But why? Why study abroad, why Italy, why commit that much time and effort to making any of this happen? And why Rome? This requires a brief digression into both my personal background and into music history at large. A truncated edition is as follows: the world of Western art music was torn apart following the First World War. Things had begun to fray at the beginning of the century, but the war left the musical community bitterly fragmented. The two strongest movements that emerged from this climate were arguably the Second Viennese School, after the work of Schoenberg, and neo-Classicism, after the work of Stravinsky. Ottorino Respighi, an Italian composer born in Bologna in 1879, came to reject both schools of thought, instead conceiving a future of music that “reset” to the pure, fundamental principles of music established in the Church and during the Baroque (from which all Western music has evolved), combined with what he understood as the “human” element of music prominent in the traditions of Italian song. He arrived at this conclusion years after relocating to Rome, where, after a brief period of feeling overwhelmed by the city (during which he also produced his well-known Roman Trilogy), he devoted much of his time to the study of ancient music. Now, he left little music in this style at the time of his premature death, and his vision remained unrealized by anyone of note after him. However, it has had a profound effect on my own musical development, and perhaps in part due to my own Italian heritage, I am ecstatic at the opportunity to follow in his footsteps to the Eternal City.
So here I am: a music composition major who has never left the country, about to travel thousands of miles from home to participate in an academic program that has no direct correlation to my major in a country that speaks a language I’ve just barely been able to pass introductory classes for while balancing costs and finances. Why? The simple answer is that I may never pass this way again. It’s taken a bit of bending to my will in order to justify, but I’ve been able to arrange private composition lessons with the help of close coordination between wonderful administrative faculty at Boyer and contacts at the Rome campus; I’ve been blessed to receive several scholarships, without which this adventure would not be possible at all; and there’s no guarantee I’d have the time or resources to commit to studying a foreign language once I enter the workforce (let alone with this level of academic support at my disposal), so I cannot but be grateful for that which I have already acquired.
Which brings me full circle. I’m in a unique place, having the opportunity to study for six weeks in a foreign country. I’ve been told that it will make me think in ways that I haven’t thought before. I’ve been told that it will be difficult to adjust. I have been told that the experiences that I encounter on this trip will remain with me for the rest of my life. How do you prepare for something that you’re not supposed to comprehend until you experience it? Outside of ticking all the standard checklist boxes, at this point, the only thing that I can definitively expect to obtain from my trip is something that I’m not expecting.
And I’m counting on it… so that I won’t have failed Intermediate Italian I in vain.