The dreaded fear of every study abroad student: looking like a tourist. We all make efforts to look like a local. Those of us living in Rome do this by occasionally throwing an “allora” into our conversation, only ordering cappuccinos before noon, and crossing the street with confidence. Despite all of these efforts, something was missing.
In my first few weeks in the city, I began to feel more comfortable, as I discovered the ins and outs of the city. But, even as time passed, I still felt like a Texan living in Rome. I lived in the same city as the Romans, but not amongst them.
It was my service-learning that eventually led to my site feeling like home.
It did this by giving me a community. A group of people, both Italians and what I like to call “new Italians” to share the city with.
In Rome, the ministry we take part in at the refugee center is all about welcoming each other. It’s a place where people can share their stores, learn and laugh, and inspire one another to have hope for the future. We don’t do much work, but just try to be there with open ears and open hearts.
Like any service experience, it was me who truly gained the most during my time there. While it was supposed to be me making the refugees feel welcome, it was them who did that for me. The guys at the center were so quick to welcome me in as a friend. They invited me to join in on their card games, taught me how to dominate at dominoes, and made sure I knew all of the best pizza places in Rome.
They helped me with my Italian and made me feel comfortable enough to laugh at my mistakes.
Those not from Italy could relate to my language struggles and even taught me some Farsi. Those who were from Italy, welcomed me to their home and opened my eyes to the part of the city not on a tourist map.
It’s difficult to make a place your home when that home already belongs to people. What I was missing before, was an invitation from those living their lives in the city to join them, to become a part of the community– I found that in the refugee center.
When I think of Rome now, I don’t think of the Colosseum or the Trevi Fountain, I think of the people I saw them with. I think of the people who grabbed pizza and strolled down Via del Corso with me. The people who made me laugh at the Spanish Steps and who showed me hidden views I would have never stumbled across alone.
It’s the people who make the place and the people who can make you feel at home. The guys at the refugee center are these people for me and I’ll forever be thankful to them for making Rome my second home.
The world awaits…discover it.