Honors Program at Ferris State University

Rome Study Abroad Story

Honors student, Chandler Owen recently studied abroad in Rome, Italy for 5 weeks. Below is the blog her kept on his trip as well as some pictures. Thank you, Chandler, for sharing!

“Do you ever wander over to Wikipedia to look something up? If so, do you ever unexpectedly fall into a seemingly endless series of links? By that time you just end up clicking on  page entirely different than you initial venture into the interwebs. Maybe it’s just me. Regardless, I discovered the New Economics Foundation’s (NEF) Five Ways to Wellbeing after falling into one of these so-called ‘wiki-holes.’ I’ve learned that these Five Ways are a set of evidence-based steps that promote a person’s wellbeing and mental capital.

I’d been searching the Internet over for a sort of so-called ‘self-improvement challenge’ to engage in as I’d be in a brand new environment during my five week study abroad program in Rome, Italy. I now consider myself lucky to stumble across this specific research project, as it has become the pillar of my stay here in Europe. Being immersed in a culture unlike your own is a challenge in itself without attempting to tackle the feat of changing perceptions and mindsets. I decided to focus on one step per week (how perfect that my venture was exactly five weeks!). Let’s dive in.

Week 1: Connect 

My first week in Trastevere, Rome lead me down labyrinthine streets, induced an awareness of emotional intelligence, but mostly just lifted me up in a whirlwind of excitement and intensity. This whirlwind left me in the perfect mindset to focus on the first step: connect. By focusing solely on the action of connection, you realize the importance of building relationships. Human connection is the cornerstone of life and one should invest time and love into developing relationships.

The Italian culture is heavily connection-based. They understand the necessity of developing relationships with those you interact with on a daily basis, even though the interaction may be temporary. In the state, I’ve taken notice that we put stock in relationships that only benefit us long-term. Rather, connecting to enrich and support one another should be our primary focus.

During the first week, we came across Pimm’s Good, an amazing little restaurant with an eclectic vibe. Pimm’s became a weekend breakfast staple for the remainder of our stay. The waiters at this cozy restaurant maintained a healthy relationship with us during that time – remembering who we were, what we studied, and giving excellent recommendations. They connected with us, even though they have temporary John Cabot students going in and out of their doors constantly. Our study abroad crew decided to do the Santa Marinella to swim in the Mediterranean Sea for a beach day on the fourth of July. We invited some kids from Miami’s Barry University to come with us, and it blossomed into an amazing friendship. By focusing on this step of connection, I fostered a long-term, enriching relationship.

Chandler in Rome. Courtesy of Ferris State University Honors student, Chandler Owen.

Week 2: Take Notice

Rather than beginning class on campus, our professor met us in our apartment complex’s courtyard. After a rowdy applause when we found out coffee was on him at Cafe Lungaria – it’s a 9am class, mind you – he told us there was a catch. We are to engage in an ‘experiment’ of sorts, aimed to heighten our awareness. Walk slowly. Notice the obvious. Walk slower. Examine the hidden. Walk so slow it’s uncomfortable….Because that’s where you grow: outside the comfort zone, where the ego is threatened.

So I walked down the street I’d been down countless times the past week, and I saw it in an entirely different light. I saw art everywhere. Whether it was in the graphics of hip bars, the graffiti done by rebellious teens, or the arranged pots of flowers planted by shop owners. I saw it in the vines that crawled up the aged walls. I saw it in how specifically the cobblestones were place in the ground. I saw it on the fingerprinted windows of storefronts.

These are vital, quintessential pieces of Rome that makes this city so lively and romantic. Yet here I am, walking too fast, talking too fast, and thinking too fast to even take notice. I couldn’t imagine missing out on Trastevere’s hidden gems because I’m too busy looking at my phone. Take it slow – walk at an uncomfortably slow pace, just to remind yourself to enjoy the moment.

Week 3: Give 

I knew the homeless population in the heart of Rome was ungodly high, so I wanted to use this step to give back to those in need. Initially, I though this step would be rather difficult considering I’m a college kid on a pretty tight budget. I was far too focused on the monetary aspect of ‘give’ that I didn’t realize it’s more than that. It’s treating those around me the way I want to be treated. It’s about accepting ideas or values different from my own with love. It’s about understanding the new culture around me without ridicule or contempt. Other’s happiness is directly linked to my own.

There’s a little market that pops up every morning in Campo di Fiori, which is about a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. It’s a little cluster of tents selling everything from olive oil to ceramics to handmade leather goods to fresh vegetables. Amidst my search for extra virgin olive oil – which proved to be quite the feat, considering the olive oil scandal –  I ran into a father and his son selling an innovative vegetable peeler and fresh vegetables from their farm. I obviously am not in the market for a new vegetable peeler, but I stopped and talked to the duo about their little invention.

Both of their faces lit up as soon as I expressed interest, and they both began to chatter away about the variety of uses and ways to use this peeler. Their excitement made it immediately worth standing in the sun talking about a vegetable peeler with two Italian farmers. Lending an ear and giving expressed interest about another individual’s passion is a gift in and of itself. I’ll never forget those two, and hopefully they appreciated the American girl with the apparent odd interest in vegetable peelers.

Roman Buildings. Courtesy of Ferris State University Honors student, Chandler Owen.

Week 4: Be Active 

My apartment complex sits right at the foot of the Gianicolo Hill, home to busts of Italian Risorgimento heroes, a statue of the great Giuseppe Garibaldi on horseback, and the Cannon of Gianicolo that signals noon with a blank shell since the early 19th century. This thirty-minute walk up Rome’s ‘8th hill’ has provided me with a nightly activity to get the blood flowing coupled with amazing sights, beautiful architecture, and ancient art. Stepping out into the eternal city for a nightly routine was a blessing, as my second choice was a night-in with Netflix. The music I discovered, the people I met in passing, and the beauty of the hill was nothing short of inspiring. I am astonished by the impact a walk can have on one’s wellbeing.

On top of my nightly venture up the hill, I found myself walking an average of six miles for the entire month of July. I am so used to hopping in my little Honda Civic to grab something to eat only a mile or so away. Since I’ve been in Rome, a mile walk feels like nothing. I’ve walked to the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon all within a day! I never complained or even thought about the length of my walk, as a long walk just comes naturally with the average Roman day. Staying active and exploring the different boroughs that Rome has to offer was such an adventure. Considering the amount of carbonara I’ve consumed over the past five weeks, I’m sure my thighs were pretty happy to walk it right off!

Week 5: Keep Learning 

I purposely saved this step for last because I knew how tired I would be during my final week. I stretched myself to the limit over the past five weeks, experiencing and learning new things. It’s easy to tell myself that, and just use this last week for rest and relaxation. But I didn’t fly over the North Atlantic Ocean to sit at my apartment complex and nap all day. It took a lot of effort to pull myself out of that mindset and push toward the finish line of my travels here in Rome.

Instead of counting down the days until I get to see my dog, I got out of my room the most I could. I went to new places, saw new things, met new people, and tried new food. This final step was an incredible way for me to synthesize my time here in Rome. We never stop learning. As my high school English teacher would always say, the world is your oyster. My time in Rome really emphasized this axiom for me. I’m forever indebted to the Eternal City for opening my eyes and my heart to how beautiful this classroom called life really is.”

Chandler and Friend in Rome. Courtesy of Ferris State University Honors student, Chandler Owen.