As an American student going to school in Rome, I thought that the readers of the Italian Tribune might be interested in a bit about my experiences of living abroad. My name is Micayla Mirabella and I am completing my junior year at John Cabot University, majoring in communications and minoring in humanistic studies.
I had lived in New Jersey my entire life and never expected to attend college so far from home. Studying in Rome had always been my dream and even after three years, it is still hard for me to believe that I have had such a remarkable opportunity. John Cabot is a small American liberal arts university in the Trastevere district of Rome; by small, I mean in relative terms. My school has about 1,200 students, but compared to Rome’s largest university, La Sapienza, which has over 100,000 students, the description ‘small’ seems to fit! The school is named for the 15th century Venetian explorer Giovanni Caboto, better known by the Anglicized form of his name – John Cabot.
The university has three campuses and all are quite close to the Tiber River and within a five minute walk from one another. The largest campus is actually a former convent that is surrounded by terraces and courtyards. One of the funny things that I realized early on is what had been the chapel is now one of the student lounges. No doubt the topics of conversation are quite different today than they were back then.
Once you leave the campus, the neighborhood itself is an education. With medieval alleyways, artisan workshops and a thriving nightlife, there is always something to do in Trastevere. Its name refers to its location; Tras means beyond and tevere means Tiber and it is so named because the quarter lies on the opposite side of the Tiber River from the historic center.
We like to say that “Rome is Home” and this could not be truer for me. I am lucky enough to go home to my family during winter and summer breaks, but every time I return, I am reminded why Rome is one of my favorite places in the world.
The district that I live in is by no means isolated from the center of Rome, but Trastevere still manages to feel like a small village in the middle of the Eternal City. A walk through this fascinating place reveals hidden wonders including Renaissance villas, unique and quirky shops, plus the most remarkable pizza I have ever eaten.
It is also very easy to get lost. Once you leave the main roads like Via Garibaldi or Via della Scala, it seems as though every cobblestone street winds around, taking you in the wrong direction, but it is a fantastic place to wander around. For example, about 15 minutes away at Piazza San Cosimato, there is an outdoor market that sets up in the square until about 1:00 pm each day, except Sunday. It is much cheaper than the Todis supermarket across the street. I may be studying communications, but living in Rome has taught me some important lessons about economics, too.
At the southeast end of the piazza is San Cosimato Church and next to it are beautiful cloisters hidden away from the street. The halls are filled with scraps of ancient Roman ruins and are completely free to visit, but most people have no idea they are even there.
A far more well-known location is next door to the campus. It is Villa Farnesina, which dates back to the early 16th century. The villa itself has many fascinating and historical tales to tell, but inside this former noble residence are breathtaking frescoes by Raphael and other classic Italian artists, but without the lines of tourists that are on the other side of the Tiber!
It is not just the beautiful architecture, ancient ruins and museums that caused me to fall in love with Rome. I also cherish the community at John Cabot University, which has become my second home. My classes and professors are fantastic and we enjoy a remarkably low ratio of students to teachers, but college is about learning on many different levels. I have met many wonderful people and now have friends from all over the world. Being immersed in such a diverse university gives me the opportunity to learn about other cultures and in turn, learn about myself. I feel fortunate and blessed to say that I now have friends from six out of the seven continents.
This unique college experience would not be possible if it were not for my support system at home. My parents have given me the wings to fly which have brought me to one of the wonders of civilization – Rome. It is not always easy being so far away from home and the six-hour time difference can make keeping in touch with people back home difficult. I have learned to make time for loved ones in addition to the time that I set aside for myself. It is all part of becoming self-sufficient. My dream is to see the world and grow as a person and John Cabot University is giving me the opportunity to do this.
When I made my decision to go to the University, many people asked, “Why are you going to school so far from home?” I think I’ve finally found a way to explain it: “I am meant to be somewhere else. I don’t know where that is yet, but it is time to find out”
Perhaps my “somewhere else” will be more than in one place; but now that much of my present life is in Rome; every day I am thankful for the opportunity that it presents and for the love and support that I have back in New Jersey!
Micayla Mirabella is the daughter of Phyllis and Union County Freeholder Alexander Mirabella, the Italian Tribune’s 2016 Man of the Year.