By Elisabeth Mistretta by Abby Rupsa


									By Elisabeth Mistretta
Loyola University Chicago Class of 2000

People would constantly ask if I was excited to go to Rome. And my answer was
always “I don’t know.”

For me, it was hard to feel anticipation or a thrill over something completely beyond
anything I’ve ever known. I did not really understand what Rome looked like or the
scent of its air. I wasn’t even certain how well I would fare with the budding Italian
speaking skills I’d gained through classes at Loyola’s Chicago campus.

So I focused on the bustle of everyday life until I stepped off the plane at Fumicino.
And on the bus ride to the John Felice Rome Center I began to see why everyone at
home seemed so thrilled at my opportunity to study abroad.

Even the most mundane of Roman scenes seemed as if they’d popped out of post
cards. Everyone, including garbage men, possessed a keen sense of appearance and
fashion. Even the sun at the end of August, one of Rome’s most oppressing months of
heat, felt somehow better.

It was no surprise, then, that the Rome Center, tucked away from the city center in
Monte Mario, also felt just perfect. Its front courtyard garden, the old-school dorms
and even Rinaldo’s café proved immediately inviting.

My four classes focused on the theology of Jesus Christ, Italian-American cinema,
Italian culture and Dr. John Nicolson’s Art in Rome. The latter took us on-site to
some of the world’s greatest art and architectural treasures, where we studied their
history and symbolism. Very quickly, I found myself earning high marks on tests and
papers because I was so enamored with the concept of living in the place I was
learning about, and vice versa.

Everything I studied in class came to life as I walked Rome’s streets, met its people
and visited its churches and monuments.

Through this combination of classroom and practical learning, I was falling in love
with Rome every day. And to prove it, I ultimately earned straight A’s with what
seemed like no effort. After all, every assignment was a labor of love.

During my semester I visited 13 other cities in Europe, a privilege that humbled me
as I struggled with language barriers, learned to navigate strange cities and different
cultures and budget money wisely. Most importantly, these travels and my time in
Rome helped me understand just how big the world really is. I gained a broad
perspective that still guides me in my current career as a journalist.

Cities like Barcelona, Vienna and Berlin could have tempted me to live there, but
ultimately I always felt a pull to return to Rome. Truly, it had become my new home.
It makes sense, then, that much of my heart still remains in the eternal city and at
the Rome Center. If life had worked out as I’d liked, I would have never left and
remained as an English teacher, a tour guide – anything that would let me stay
connected to the profound growth I experienced at Loyola. But at home my single
mother, who struggled with a rare heart condition, needed my help raising my 6-
year-old sister, Megan. Plus, how could I miss all those school plays?

Ultimately, I was needed for much more than elementary school milestones. My
mother’s heart disease eventually won and, at 26, I found myself a single parent to
Megan, who was just 11 at the time. But even amid my grief and adjusting to my new
role, I quickly planned a visit the city and campus of my heart.

When words and even family could not bring me peace, I was certain I would find
solace in the place that first taught me where I fit in on this earth. And when I
returned home, I was ready to rise to the challenge of my new life as a parent.

Today, a decade later, I am comforted and inspired to see the newest crop of
students each year stumbling through Italian sentences, mastering their way around
Rome’s winding streets and showing off their newfound art history knowledge to
their visiting parents. Someday, I hope Megan will be lucky enough to share this
experience and leave the Rome Center knowing where she fits into the world and
how she can impact it – in the words of St. Ignatius Loyola – for the greater glory of

But for now, I always aim to remain involved with the Rome Center so I might help
other students discover its blessings. And, of course, I will always come back to my
second home.

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