The Spring 2016 Rome semester is officially over, and students have scattered throughout Europe and the United States, heading off to more independent adventures or back to the land of free refills and unlimited data plans. With finals finished and goodbyes said, the time for cramming experiences into limited time is over, and we can finally reflect upon the air traffic control strikes and dates with Swiss Guards (yes, really) that have filled the past semester.
It seems that every time University of Dallas students reunite after a long weekend or a trip into Rome, all conversation centers around our different adventures, comparing selfies and stories for hours. And while the competition for worst public transit disaster story can be interesting in their variety, it becomes increasingly obvious that the stories that unite all of us, from interesting class discussions to the universal struggle of Mensa meals, are just as extraordinary.
The Rome semester, as we’ve all been told countless times, is unique.
We’ve all gone through those first few weeks of UD when every conversation in Haggar centered around whatever we were all reading in Lit Trad I, just because Homer is always a safe topic among freshmen in a desperate search for an exciting, or at least fresh, essay topic. In many ways, Rome puts those days to shame. In Rome, every student spends their days eating the same meals, reading the same texts, listening to the same lectures and panicking over the same exams.
At times it can be frustrating — solidarity can quickly turn to boredom, and if you relied on friends with more helpful professors to supplement your own Core studies, good luck in Rome. Sharing the same subjects, all with the same professors, can be surprisingly soul-sucking if you need any amount of variety to thrive. Particularly if none of the classes in Rome directly relates to your major, anything less than GPA-induced panic may be inadequate motivation to actually finish the assigned readings.
And yet, something about having the same schedule and classes as everyone else on campus really changes things. Not only are we living and traveling together, we’re also exploring the human condition in philosophy and covering vast swaths of history in West Civ I.
I’ll be honest: I’m not always happy about the situation. Over a hundred students, however interested in the art and architecture of Rome they may be, will never be able to have a class discussion with the same depth as a class of ten might manage. This has been a source of frustration for many students throughout the semester, myself included, but an unexpected consolation presents itself.
When we walk out of class together now, everybody has the same thing to talk about, and they do. Countless conversations among students traveling on the metro or developing nicotine addictions outside the dorms center around class discussions that had been reluctantly cut off for the sake of time. Students complain about tests and bemoan the 8 a.m. classes, yes, but they also debate the merits of various authors recently encountered in Western Theo Trad and gush over Baroque mausoleum decor.
This is what characterizes UD, both in Rome and in Irving. The sheer size and nature of the Core might mean that our class sessions themselves differ slightly from those of other schools, but the true magic happens outside the classroom, over breakfast or in a long line at the Cap Bar.
I truly hope that come fall, when we split off into our respective bio labs and art studios, this semester’s Rome class can maintain an element, however faint, of the pattern established on the Due Santi campus. Even without sharing every minute of every day, the most important aspects of this experience should linger as English majors discuss their JPo subjects with interested business majors. Perhaps Art and Arch can inspire some intrepid souls to venture into the Art Village for the first time, or to set aside a night to attend a senior studio production.
If so, then Rome will have fulfilled its role as the culmination of the Core; not because the classes are any more or less foundational than their counterparts or because students will take more major-specific classes in the future, but because we have learned to communalize our educations.