When I first came to Rome in 2001, I thought it would probably be my only trip here. I figured that in a few years I’d get married, have kids, and thus have no time for cross-Atlantic travel. So how did I end up in Rome twice in one year? Well, besides the no husband and kids business, there’s still a long story behind my journey. As it often goes in life, this isn’t the way I planned it. But you know what they say: If you want to make God laugh, make plans, and at the rate I’m going, I’m keeping Him in stitches.
It all started out in the spring of 2013. I’d been at my current school district for six years, and apparently the seven-year itch had decided to settle in a year early. I wasn’t looking to change jobs entirely. I just needed a chance of pace. Enter . . .
I was going to live in Italy for a whole year! It would be great. I would finally master the Italian language, which I only knew a tiny bit of, and it would be totally different from the same old, same old. I’d live like a real Italian and savor “la dolce vita.”
According to my teaching contract, I’d be eligible to apply for a leave of absence after my seventh year. That meant that this coming school year (2014-2015) could be spent in Italy if my leave of absence were approved. I started looking into options for working/teaching in Italy for a year, but my enthusiasm quickly faded as I remembered my mother’s on-again-off-again health issues, which seemed to be more “on” than “off” lately. A year would be too long to be away. If something happened to her, and I couldn’t make it back in time, well . . . let’s just say that it was time for . . .
I’d go to Italy for the summer! Despite most people’s imaginings of teachers lolling around in the sun all summer, I’ve worked every single summer I’ve been a teacher. At first, it was out of complete necessity as I was working for peanuts in the Catholic schools. Now it’s more to fund my travel habit. And to be honest, teaching summer school still leaves me with afternoons for sun consumption and half the summer for travel.
For Plan B, I decided I would take the whole summer off and spend it in Italy. I started investigating cheap places to stay. Convents seemed the most likely option. I could definitely spend lots of time contemplating the next phase of my life. But then . . . would I end up speaking much Italian if I was shut up with the nuns in the convent praying? I started bouncing my plan off other people to get their thoughts, and the response I kept getting was, Why not take classes while you’re there? And that led me to . . .
I would take summer classes at Loyola University’s Rome campus! Now this was sounding like a plan. Their second summer session lasts for four weeks (basically all of July). You are required to take two classes, so I could take Italian and then an education-related class. Several of my coworkers had taken an educational philosophy class there and said that the professor did a great job of using Rome as a classroom. This sounded perfect. It was too late to sign up for classes for summer 2013, so I began to make plans for summer 2014. I went out and purchased the entire Rosetta Stone course in Italian with a goal of knowing enough Italian that they’d let me bypass Italian I and go right into Italian II.
Every day for six months I spent about an hour studying Italian. I announced to people that I would not be teaching summer school. I would be going to school in Italy instead!
And then December rolled around. And Loyola posted its summer courses. And educational philosophy was not listed. In fact, no education classes were listed. There weren’t even any Greek and Roman Mythology classes or literature classes, except for Introduction to Fiction (and considering I’ve had several short stories and articles published, and my first book comes out next year, I didn’t think this was the right fit for me).
I was convinced God was really, really laughing at my plans. It was one off those “Why do you hate me, God?” moments, even though you know He doesn’t really hate you. But then a week later, I received a shocking email that restored my faith in God’s love for me and brought me to . . .
I would go on pilgrimage to Rome for the Canonization Mass for John Paul II and John XXIII! I had entered a lottery for the chance to go with this very popular pilgrimage group. Out of over 800 people who submitted their names, I was one of 30 whose name was pulled out of a hat. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After a few tense weeks of waiting for approval from my school to take time off in April (and listen, getting that approval from my school was John XXIII’s second miracle), I readjusted my travel plans.
OK, forget the summer travel. I would teach summer school after all and just do my traveling earlier. What had started out as a year-long trip was now going to be a nine-day pilgrimage. I sped up my Rosetta Stone lessons. I had planned to finish them all by June. Now I needed to finish by April!
Time flew by. Before I knew it, I was on the pilgrimage, and it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t getting the kind of experience I had wanted all along. I had very few opportunities to speak Italian other than to ask where the bathroom was (Scusi, dov’e il bagno?) or to ask how much a small gelato cost (Quanto costa un piccolo?).
So I came home from the pilgrimage feeling a little bit cheated. Mind you, the pilgrimage still had many, many wonderful moments, but I had strayed so far from my original plans to speak Italian, to live like an Italian, and to spend some time in prayer figuring out the next phase in my life. Although we spent a good amount of time during our pilgrimage visiting churches, I always felt a bit rushed and like I had to keep an eye out for when our group was moving on.
So it didn’t take long after returning home to devise . . .
A little thing I’m calling “Speak, Pray, Cook.” My plans may have downsized from a year to just a few weeks, but I’m back to the original goals. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be taking Italian immersion classes. When I’m not in class, I’ll be visiting a few sites and doing some very quiet, non-rushed praying in churches. Then on Saturday, I’m taking an Italian cooking class.
As I type this, it’s 5:00 p.m. in Rome. I’d like to tell you about my first day here, but I’m exhausted. Maybe if I get up early tomorrow (because I’m definitely going to bed early tonight!), I’ll write a post about my first day. In the meantime, I’m going to finish this panino I bought for dinner, and then chase it with about a gallon of water to replace all the fluids I’m sweating out in this 90 degree heat! Ciao!