Molto Monday: Roman Holiday
by Acacia O'Connor
ROMA, Italy--I spent this past weekend in The Eternal City, Roma, visiting with a small tour group from my hometown. I love Rome, so any excuse is good enough to take the three and a half hour train ride from Bologna there.
The reason I went, however, really was more than just a “good excuse” and a lesson in what things and which people influence your life and decisions the most.
And once again, there is a reoccurring theme: some of the greatest influences in my life have resulted from my experiences with and through sports.
In 2002, at the age of 16, I made my first journey to Italy with an ACIS Go-Play Tour headed up by my high school soccer coach, Paul Hemsley.
(Note to readers: Before attending Vassar, I played soccer for most of my life as well as basketball, often coincidently. I nearly played soccer at Vassar as well, but decided to make a choice of one varsity sport or the other.)
ACIS Educational Tours is a division of the American Institute of Foreign Study.
The Go-Play Tour took us on a trip through the northern half of the country, hitting the hot spots—Roma, Firenze, Padova, Verona, Siena, Venezia—and giving us an opportunity to play Italian women’s club teams in friendly matches as well.
The group consisted of about 20 girls from two schools—Bishop Grimes, my high school, and South Jefferson High School in Watertown, NY.
Over the course of 10 days, we played four games and ate roughly 50 portions of gelati.
After the games we would have meals prepared by the families and paesani of the Italian players, all together.
These meals still remain in my mind as unforgettable and unique cultural experiences.
That trip laid the foundation of everything that has happened since—taking Italian for five semesters, spending last summer in Siena, and now this five month stint.
“It could have been any country. Spain, France, Germany. But it was Italy,” I said the group’s ACIS tour guide over a cup of espresso Saturday night.
And I know that in large part, it was Italy because of soccer, because of the first trip and especially because of the encouragement of Hemsley.
Now, I’ve included this slightly tangential backstory to show how this weekend was a sort of coming full circle.
Maybe not entirely full circle, but a small circle in a series of life circles, anyway.
The Syracuse participants of this ACIS tour were, in all: three girls from Bishop Grimes, one of their mothers, my 9th grade earth science teacher Ms. Elsenbeck, her 16-year old son, and another woman from Syracuse.
Even though this was my fourth time in Rome, it could have just as easily been my first, for as much as I enjoyed it.
The group was unbelievably hospitable to me and I was glad I could help them out a few times with my ever-improving Italian language capabilities.
It was good to see people from home. Not because of the language, because I can speak English if I really wanted with my program peers, but because of my recent homesickness for my hometown and my family.
Hemsley was a storyteller, as he always has been.
Spending a few days with him was almost like seeing my parents, especially my dad. (They are good friends and they coach together at Bishop Grimes. There are many similarities, including a shared penchant for corny jokes.)
I had to remind myself Saturday night that I would not be returning to the U.S. with them. Instead, I took a morning train back to Bologna.
Was I sad to see them go?
Sure. The three months still in front of me had never seemed so long as in that moment.
But as I walked through the misty rain back to my dorm, with the Bolognese tower barely visible in the fog, it wasn’t Syracuse or Vassar—but in a way, I was home again.