I pulled my suitcase over the cobblestone Roman streets of Trastevere in the bright August sun, heading toward the unknown. Not only was it my very first semester at university, but it was also my first semester in an unfamiliar educational system, in an unfamiliar city, in an unfamiliar country.
Although I had already visited John Cabot University in March, and I knew I would be staying in JCU housing, I was filled with doubts about my room and who my roommates would be. At the end of the narrow street, flanked on both sides with yellow and orange buildings, I recognized the residence. What I did not expect to see was the line of around 40 people, queuing outside. Students like me were standing in front of the building, holding onto their luggage, their phones, and in some cases, their parents. Some of the students were talking loudly; some stood in silence. I started to bite my nails to the quick, yet my mum was even more nervous than me. Of course, when it comes to me-related things, I usually have to calm her down. I noticed that other parents were going through this too. Finally, I got my keys and headed to the assigned apartment.
I entered the room. It was dark. I opened the window and the wooden shutters, and rays of Roman sun came down on me. The room seemed bare, but when I started unpacking my suitcase it became cozier. I thought it was going to be hard to say goodbye to my mother (I had never really been away from home by myself) but to tell you the truth, I was glad to see her start to search for her bag because I was ready to finally be on my own. From that moment on, I thought, I would be completely by myself. However, I soon discovered that I was wrong. When I left my room, I met my first friend – my roommate.
While spending the first night in my new room, lying in my bed and staring at the wooden ceiling made of large dark-brown beams, I noticed that my roommates didn’t play loud music in the middle of the night, nor did they snore or sleepwalk. Before long we were all getting along great together. By the time we left at the end of the semester in December, we were almost crying as we said goodbye.
The very first things I learnt had nothing to do with the courses I was taking. I met people from all over the world; while they asked me to say a few sentences in Polish, I got to know that belief in ghosts is very common in Madagascar, what it is like to live in Alaska, and that Italians eat dinner after 8pm and mainly use WhatsApp to send voice messages rather than text or call. In my first class, I expected the question to be “where are you from?” or “what do you like?”; instead I was asked “why do you write?”. That first surprise was only the beginning. The number of students in my classes was so small that after just a few weeks, all of the students were taking part in the discussions and sharing their experiences and knowledge. I was collaborating, talking, and learning with freshmen as well as older students. I was also learning Italian in class and then practicing it with my new Italian friends!
Still to come, in October, was a totally new experience – I celebrated my first Halloween and carved a pumpkin for the very first time. With my friends’ help and the accompaniment of spooky music, tasty snacks, lit candles, and the night sky, I managed to succeed! We laughed a lot, and over the next few days, as I passed by our display of jack-o’-lanterns, a big grin lit my face. It was a wonderful first Halloween.
November was filled with deadlines of projects and essay for my classes. For English Composition, I had to write a joint essay together with a classmate. I had never written a long essay in collaboration with someone before, so I was a little worried about how it would go. However, as soon as we started to discuss ideas and write each sentence together, it all worked out. We both made mistakes along the way, but because of our discussions we could identify, understand, and correct them. I really learnt a lot through that writing experience. Of course, there were some problems and disagreements, but laughter too; for example, while trying to write a conclusion we ended up having a fit of laughter that lasted almost two hours. How did the essay turn out? Well, we got an A!
I decided to join a couple of the many student-run clubs and organizations offered at John Cabot. Art exhibitions, sightseeing, and trips to the many places in Rome filled with art? The wonderful Art History Society was always there! It was extraordinary to see the sunset from the Colosseum during one of their organized trips. Then, as part of the JCU Theater Society, we staged a play titled Baby with the Bathwater.
Before I knew it, it was early December and finals were approaching, I was writing Christmas cards to my friends, and packing my suitcase to return home for winter break. The first semester of my university career was over, with so much more yet to come.
New Year’s resolutions, plans, and promises haunt the days and nights of early January. However, the first month of the new year is also a good time to think about and evaluate what happened in the previous year. For me, 2017 was characterized as the year of a big decision: which university to attend. In August 2017, I arrived in Rome to study at John Cabot University and honestly, I couldn’t have imagined a better beginning to my college experience.
Class of 2021
Hometown: Piekary Slaskie, Poland