Early spring I was not going to be able to have the chance to study abroad because of financial reasons. I ended up being encouraged by my intern supervisor to enjoy the chances of studying abroad before graduating and starting a family. I ended up talking to my parents; they unquestionably loved the idea because they know how much I love architecture and exploring. They allowed me to start applying for the opportunity and I eventually was accepted into the program. I immediately began to apply for international study abroad scholarships and with hard work and perseverance I was able to receive two University of Oregon scholarships from the UO Mills Center and UO International Study Abroad Committee, and I am so thankful for their consideration and for the support to pursue this life-changing experience.

After the blessing of receiving these scholarships I began to think about how my life, attitude, and perspective on culture and architecture was going to transform with being in Rome, Italy for two months. We as a group of 16 students came together, learned a bit about the Italian culture, packed our things, and off we went. I’ve never been outside the United States so I knew flying into international airports was going to be interesting and somewhat a little bit confusing when trying to find the right gates. Nonetheless, I made it out alive and 21 hours later, I made it to the Fiumicino Airport in Rome.

Finally on the ground again, I met up with another student within the program to take a taxi into the city. We first had to exchange some dollars into euros then find an official taxi. I say this because there are many Italians who try to hoax you into paying more because they think you don’t know any better. Our taxi driver spoke little English, but I was able to communicate with him through some Spanish. Once we arrived at the street of our temporary place, the moist and sweaty feel of the air was not too bad. My classmate and I were lost for about three hours because we did not have our ‘student phones’ yet to call other classmates that were already at the apartment we were staying at for the first week. We eventually found the place and gathered up with all the other guys staying at the place.

Settled in and relaxing, we didn’t have class the first week so we were able to walk around and experience the Italian day and night. We were able to obtain Wi-Fi at the apartment and chat with our families back in the states. Classes started up and the studying was something kind of new to me because I’ve never taken summer classes before. I expected that the program was going to be a slow two months, but it went by too fast and I would have loved more time to learn and explore. I took two architectural history classes, one media watercolor course, and a design studio. It was a pretty packed schedule, but we had the weekends to travel and relax. We were able to travel to Northern Italy (Florence & Venice) and Southern Italy (Pompeii and Paestum). All I could think of was beauty and paradise! The Italian cities have changed my views on all aspects of life. Their food is so fresh, the way of transportation, how friendly they are, and how they obtain natural fresh water is amazing. I had to buy groceries every three to four days, walk or take a taxi to class, and being able to just have a water bottle and fill it up at every street corner or piazza was awesome.

The things I was concerned and shocked about the Italian culture and lifestyle was their smoking habits and ability to keep streets clean. I saw and inhaled smoke many times throughout the program. Smokers ranged from adults to even teenagers. Their approach to collecting and disposing of trash is very underprivileged as well. It is quite wonderful that many citizens walk but the city of Rome itself has a poor means of transportation. The immense amount of parking lots and cars everywhere has made the air feel unclean and muggy; Rome currently deals with a major urban infrastructure problem and as architects we try to repair these problems through design, communication, and user inputs.

My main highlights during these weekend trips were being able to see, touch, and feel the colossal scale of awe-inspiring architectural structures, such as churches and cathedrals. It is still amazing to me today as to how much labor based work a whole city or region had to commit to finishing these huge buildings. The techniques they had to do to collect materials from other parts of the world and bring them back to Italy is astounding.

More importantly I discovered who I was as an individual and who I could become. I’ve never been abroad so I felt like I broke out of a shell of being a follower and transformed into a self-leader. Italy gave me the opportunity to eliminate the anxiety of being lost alone and knowing that I could do things separate from the group. The first couple of weeks were difficult because I felt like I wasn’t comfortable with my surroundings and was not able to see or reach new places. After the trip got deeper into the program I went to scenic places by myself, met some new people, and learned that sometimes our future back in the states could be like this after graduation from school.

These differences in the Italian society from the one back home has taught me that there is a distinct challenge everyone faces. The different attitudes of others on Americans and how others view an American student as privileged and spoiled. As in my student perspective, we are not fortunate because of the thousands of dollars in debt we face to study. The amount of work that goes into living a healthy and manageable life is difficult just like everyone else on earth. We contain the same issues all over the world. This was a chance to be an individual, as well as a representative of my culture, and encourage positive understanding of global diversity and adversity. I now see the United States through new eyes and I am able to spread a new understanding to future prospective study abroad students.

Dylan Garza, Architecture in Rome