Little Utopia

Little Utopia

Every now and then I am walking down the street, caught up in my own head thinking about groceries or diapers or a student complaint about receiving a B+ and then suddenly I am hit over the head with a jarring thought.

“Holy Sh*t! I live in Rome, Italy. Rome, mother-effing Italy! Hello. Look around. Look at the beautiful orange buildings against the blazing blue sky. The balconies are all full of flowers and not one building isn’t adorned. Check out the view from Gianicolo Hill as the sun shines golden beams down into the ancient city center below as all the beautiful people in business suits and fashionable attire zip along on their motorini past the neighborhood coffee bar patrons chatting away the day’s news on sidewalks while sipping the world’s best cappucini.”

Trust me. I could go on and on. But this post is not actually about the joys (and trials) of living in Rome, Italy. I’ll leave that to the travel blogs, newspapers, and the guide books to sing Rome’s praises and point out its shortcomings. They’d do a much more thorough job than I.

This post is actually a perhaps long overdue “love letter” to the place where I actually work inside Rome. First of all, who actually LOVES where they work? I guess I do, but it took me a little while to realize it and my appreciation waxes and wanes depending on which day you ask me. The truth is, a few days ago I was procrastinating on working on a particularly trying scene in my upcoming animation, This Too Shall Pass, and wasted a few minutes of my life by visiting the website, The Triangle of Happiness which helps you calculate your current job satisfaction or lack thereof. I got something like an 85% for a score for my current place of employment. Huh.

I was surprised. I knew that I liked my job, but the online quiz told me I was “on my Honeymoon.” Really? But I’ve been here almost eight years. Where’s that seven year itch when you need one?

I am a professor at The American University of Rome. All anyone can talk about when they visit or see photos is its utter beauty and its magnificent location. When I arrived back in 2006, I was given the best office perhaps in the whole world. It’s on the 5th Floor of Building B and has a breathtaking view of the entire city. It now belongs to James Walston (lucky!), but I am also perfectly happy in my lovely enclave next to the Multimedia Lab on Via Carini. At least I no longer have to climb five flights of stairs daily, though I was in the greatest shape of my life my first year at AUR.

What really is special about where I work is that here on Gianicolo Hill we have a small international community of roughly 600 students, faculty, and staff from all corners of the earth. Now, I’ve lived and taught in New York City and New Jersey who always can boast an impressive international community. Somehow though, here at AUR it’s more of a thorough and extreme mix due to the fact that many are just passing through for a semester or a few years as opposed to immigrating outright.

kristen

Early days at AUR teaching storyboarding to a Belgian, Japanese, Venezuelan, American, Italian, and others.

Since my time here, I’ve seen Bulgaria become best friends with Senegal and Israel giving computer tips to Spain. I’ve comforted Beverly Hills and Palestine in my office with tissues and some kind words while Guatemala and Bangladesh have waited patiently outside to get my feedback on their latest multimedia creations.  My best animation students so far have been Syria and Brazil, though USA, Turkey, Italy, and Slovakia are giving them a run for their money this semester. Sometimes at a Faculty/Staff meeting it will dawn on me after a good ten minutes that I’m actually the only American in the room, not that it even matters.  While I have been teaching here, I even met a North Korean student (!!!) and we shook hands in advance of a summer course he planned to take with me. Unfortunately he and his family returned home before he could take the course. Shoot! He was such a nice guy.

To fully appreciate how amazing I find all this, please note that for the first sixteen years of my life I very rarely had an opportunity to travel more than 20 miles in any direction from my hometown of Swansea, Massachusetts. I did however have a world traveling, adventurous cousin from Brazil who would send me little dolls representing her latest adventures abroad. There they would sit on my bedroom shelf as a small collective monument to all the places I had never been and all the people I’d never met. I was fascinated by these dolls and they instilled a sense of hope that someday I WOULD venture beyond 60 Rangeley Street. Here is where I pause to fix a smug look on my face all these years later.

And that’s when I get the thought again.

“Holy Sh*t! I live in Rome, Italy and today I spoke to someone from the UK, South Africa, Egypt, Indonesia, and Hackensack, New Jersey all before lunchtime.”

Of course, our idealistic little microcosm here in Rome does not have the full features of the real world. Nobody is lobbing bombs at each other and there are no drone strikes. Everyone is well fed and at least moderately lucky. Our close-kit community of multinationals already has been educated (not that it ever ends) or are in the process of getting an education.  No one who makes under $1 a day is represented (that I know of), yet studying here is the next generation of humanitarians, business leaders, teachers, artists, filmmakers, creators, doers, and thinkers who no doubt will contribute to their world in a positive way for the benefit of all. At least, that’s my hope.

So every now and then when I get lost in the hustle bustle of daily life and concerns big and small, I have to remind myself that I am now living my childhood dream. I don’t just talk to the little international dolls on my dusty bedroom shelf.  I walk among them. And after almost eight years of living in the Eternal City, I only have Rome to thank for showing me how to stop and smell the roses and to take notice of this little Utopia within its walls I find myself in.

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