Personal Statement: Rome interrupted

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By Carly Fromm, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 25, 2013

ROME — It was 2:20 p.m., and my class started at 2 p.m. We were supposed to meet in St. Peter’s Square in front of the Vatican, but amidst all of the other groups of 15 or so people I couldn’t find anyone that looked familiar. I panicked. I tried calling my professor – no answer. I tried calling two of my classmates – no answer. I tried calling my host institution – no help. So I continued running around St. Peter’s Square trying to find my class. This episode of hysteria lasted until 2:45 p.m., when I finally gave up and came to terms with the fact that I had just completely missed my class.

After a big sigh, I panned the square in front of me. How had I not noticed the countless news crews stationed throughout the area? I walked up to a nearby newswoman and asked her, in very broken Italian, what happened. She didn’t speak English, but she probably said something along the lines of, “The Pope resigned. The Pope resigned for the first time in almost six centuries.”

My first thought was, why? I asked another reporter who spoke English. “The official reason is health.” Health … that’s all? This answer left me with so many looming questions, but when I asked my professor and Italian classmates what they thought, they seemed satisfied with the simple explanation. Congress required President Bill Clinton to testify about his marital affair under oath. But the leader of the Vatican state can resign his position by citing health?

This was not the first time that I was confused by the conservatism I experienced in Italy. Though the Vatican became an official and separate state from Italy through the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the church still exerts immense influence over the country, and Rome specifically. In the first three weeks I have spent here in Rome, I have become increasingly aware of this conservative influence.

In my Italian language course that day, we learned how to say the names of a number of different professions in Italian. Almost all professions can be used with both masculine and feminine articles, except a few: doctor, architect, and lawyer, for example.

I raised my hand and asked my teacher what would stop a woman from using the feminine article? Had Italian women never protested for this right? She explained that there had been a movement for exactly this, but it simply lost momentum due to the Italian language’s inherent conservatism. She then continued on with the class, seemingly unaware of how confusing this was for her American students.

What seems paradoxical to me is that every Italian I talk to lauds Americans for their election of President Barack Obama. They did not remark on the president’s specific policies, but on what he symbolizes: progressivism. From how I understand it, Obama represents the future that many Italians hope their country will end up with amid the nation’s political turmoil.

This weeks elections have yet to result in a stable coalition. Will the status quo change? I am here amidst not one, but two selections of new leaders: Italy and the Vatican state. Where will the course of history steer towards next?

Carly Fromm is an LSA junior studying through the University's Arcadia in Rome program.