Perhaps no aspect of the UD undergraduate experience is more defining than the Rome semester. Approximately 80 percent of UD’s undergraduate students can personally attest to their own transformation in the Eternal City.
Perhaps more significant than the dramatic effect it has on the development of each individual student, is the semester’s impact on the social dynamics of friend groups, grades and the entire student body.
Freshman year of college, many will tell you, is the year you are most likely to form the interpersonal bonds that will last you a lifetime.
I remember a speech President Thomas Keefe gave during my orientation. With a dramatic fair, he told us the statistical likelihood that our future spouse was in the room with us. I can’t recall exactly what it was, but the “Oh s**t!” feeling I had in my gut won’t be forgotten. The friends I made in the coming months, I thought, would define me.
I was wrong.
Friendships formed freshman year seem to last forever … until sophomore year. The Rome program is arranged such that it splits your class in half, often splitting cliques down the middle and sending fault lines through even the sturdiest seeming bonds.
Following that with an intense semester of individual development and exposure to foreign environments does little to stabilize the volatile social scenario.
By the end of it all, the juniors, still dazed by their summer vacations, find themselves accidentally reintroducing themselves to classmates they had forgotten about over the previous year.
That Rome has an immense social effect is obvious, but exactly what it is and what to do about it, if anything, is a complex question.
The first factor, of course, is distance and time away from friends. Rome is very far from home. Between differing time zones, a shockingly busy schedule and limited Wi-Fi, it is difficult to maintain frequent communication with your friends back in Irving. It is inevitable that you will miss out on things back home and vice versa.
Furthermore, you become very close to a whole new group of students by living in very close quarters and sharing so many experiences. The memories made with them will never die, and constitute a bond that your friends in Irving will not share.
Most of that, though, ends when you leave Rome. Why do so many social dynamics not return to normal?
In my experience, students are changed so drastically in Rome that their social lives are inevitably altered.
Rome seems to have a moderating effect on students. If you are of a nervous disposition, you will probably return with more confidence. Arrogance is moved toward humility. Even drinking habits, oddly, seem to be moderated. Students who had thought of alcohol as no more than a means to debauchery experience it in its capacity as a cultural element and social lubricant and develop an appreciation for it.
Rome effects lasting changes of behavior, particularly in the social sphere. These changes in habitual behavior inevitably affect friendships, and when compounded a hundredfold by the number of students, reshapes larger social dynamics.
Change, it should be noted, is not a negative. In this case, it is generally positive. Friendships that are “meant to be” can be strengthened by separation, and the relationships forged in Rome are invaluable.
I have friends who did not go with me to Rome, with whom I was able to pick up where we left off when I came home, and I made friends in Rome with whom I expect to be friends the rest of my life.
In hindsight, it is also easy to see that many of the relationships that fell prey to the Rome semester would have died in any case. Rome at least allowed them to do so with discretion: a service I appreciate.