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The gift of study abroad

Alum's time in Rome as a student changed the trajectory of her life.

May 17, 2019

Many students are deeply impacted by the opportunity to spend a semester abroad while at the Mount. Marisa Smith ’06 shares how her experience in Rome changed the trajectory of her life.

By Marisa Smith '06

When notified of my indecisiveness regarding my study abroad location, it was the late, great Sr. Joseph Adele, CSJ, who cajoled me into choosing Rome. She regaled me with tales of her times there; other sisters chimed in, and before I knew it, I was on a flight to Rome.

Before I left, I had promised Dr. Jacqueline Doud (then president of Mount Saint Mary's) that I would be an ambassador to the Mount, a promise and position I took seriously.

In Rome, I boarded with three other girls in an apartment that overlooked Basillica di San Giovanni in Laterano. Every night I would pore over my homework, occasionally gazing out the window at the apostles atop the cathedral, and in its piazza, the largest standing Egyptian obelisk, commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmose III.

It is one thing to learn about a different culture than one’s own, it is wholly another thing to experience it; and this is the crux and joy of study abroad.

The most important aspect of study abroad is the chance to make friends with the locals. Each gave me a gift that I cherish: a family in Tuscany with whom I picked olives; Chiara who introduced me to Italian film; Moreno, who let me ride in his bike basket when I found myself lost in Florence; Enrico, in Vico Equense, who upon spying me eating in his restaurant alone, invited me into his house to eat with his family; Alan, a 90-year-old children’s author who resides in Venice, and of course, the staff of the programme itself.

Whilst I learnt a great deal from school, and gained another language, study abroad taught me a great deal about the kindness and friendship one can find anywhere in the world, if you are willing to step outside and let go of your own culture for a little while. Currently, I live in London, with my Scottish husband, and I know I would not be where I am now if it were not for my study abroad experience at the Mount.