After four years, Loyola’s Rome Start program is finally hitting its stride.
Through the program, Loyola gives students who were either born in or lived in another country the chance to study in Rome at the John Felice Rome Center for their first year of college. After that, the students move to Chicago to finish their degrees.
However, the first group of students to come to Chicago had a hard time transitioning from Rome’s laidback lifestyle to the hectic bustle of the Windy City.
While the orientation in Rome was well organized, there was little communication between the two campuses. Students had problems adjusting to the Chicago campuses after spending time at the smaller Rome Center. Without another orientation in Chicago, Rome Starters were left to fend for themselves.
“I felt like there was not enough support for us Rome Starters,” senior Cayla Turain said.
The 21-year-old, who was born in the U.S., was part of the first group of Rome Starters in 2011 and had trouble with her switch to life in Chicago.
“We were lost because we only knew what the faculty had told us in Rome,” she said.
Since her family lived abroad for several years, it was difficult for Turain, an international studies major, to transition back to living in the U.S. without support, she explained. She didn’t know how to find her way around the Chicago campuses, how to schedule her classes or how the move-in process worked. She didn’t even know which data plan to get for her cell phone.
“It was difficult to move in and figure out how the Chicago campus worked since we never got to have tours or anything, so I wanted to do something for the future generations of Rome Starters,” Turain said.
To make the transition easier for future Rome Starters, Turain created a Rome Start club at Loyola last year. The club helps incoming students from Rome get to know Chicago and meet others in the same program.
Student Activities and Greek Affairs approved the organization for this year, so now they’re working with the current group of Rome Starters who will graduate in 2017.
This year’s group was able to have orientation in Chicago the week before classes started. By reaching out and helping incoming sophomores through their transition to the city, the older generations ensure that these students get the full experience of Chicago.
Starting off in Rome instead of Chicago allows these diverse students to get to know each other and build a strong community before they move to the U.S. Using these connections, the Rome Start Club has created a support group to help students transition smoothly into typical American college life.
Senior Alex Lakin, a film and digital media studies major at Loyola, was part of the first Rome Start program along with Turain. Because of his mother’s job as a management analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense, Lakin lived in Japan and Germany before starting school at the Rome Center.
“In Rome, I found a very open-minded environment, and since the program had just started, the staff was eager to take suggestions from us, in order to improve the program itself,” the 21-year-old said.
“We decided that for people to be considered for the Rome Start program they had to have an international background, so that they would be able to integrate better with their peers because of the sharing of similar experiences.”
More than 600 students move through the Rome Center each year, and its mission is to promote a global understanding of the world while creating long-lasting relationships.
For those who start in Rome, the program lets eight to 20 freshmen study in an environment that fosters integration with upperclassmen who are also studying at the Rome Center.
The program has a huge impact on the students who are part of it. While in the Eternal City, Rome Starters finish most of their core requirements; doing so, they get to test different fields and decide which area of study interests them the most.
“Rome Start was really important to me because it helped me to overcome my timidity and not being afraid of conversation,” Lakin said.
Most of the Rome Starters get their first glimpse of Chicago over fall break of their freshman year. Through several activities, such as tours of the city and dinners downtown, students have an opportunity to explore their soon-to-be home.
Loyola staff and Student Life Assistants, the Rome version of resident assistants, have organized this trip since the program started.
Rome Starter and Italy-native Giovanna Giuriolo, 22, a junior history and international studies double major, said her experience in Chicago during her freshman year convinced her to stick with Loyola.
When she came to Chicago during fall break, she met previous Rome Starts who shared their experiences with her.
“Initially, I wanted to transfer to another school after my first year in Rome, but when I got to Chicago I fell in love with the city,” Giuriolo said. “I met other Rome Starters and heard about their experiences.”
By meeting the older Rome Starters, Giuriolo had a better idea of what Loyola was like. She even knew which dorm she wanted to live in for her sophomore year.
Giuriolo said she fell in love with Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, the amazing views Chicago offers and the city’s diverse cultures.
Even with all the difficulties, the young program has left a good impression on most students who participate. Rome Starters have found that the city offers a lot of opportunities for discovering different cultures, between its different neighborhoods, restaurants, museums, music and art festivals and clubs.
“Overall, I have to say that when I left Chicago to go back to Rome, I was sure I wanted to stay at Loyola.” Giuriolo said. “I couldn’t wait to move to Windy City.”