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Twenty Years Later


And so I wonder, wonder where my home is
Where I come from, how the makers sowed it
The constellations, how we all connected
In the hall all rows intersected 

-Trevor Hall, Wander


It's been 20 years since I studied abroad. A letter from Temple University Rome arrived today, asking for donations with the words "YOUR ROME, Reimagined" splashed across both sides of the page. 

The pictures immediately took me back to my cobblestone trekking days where we drank Italian beer in the piazzas until who knows when. 

I even think I studied with the quirky teacher in the photo. I thought he was such a snooze back then, but I'd surely be friends with him today. I was too young to realize he was cool. Or maybe I'm too old to care what cool is now. 

What is my Rome, I wondered? And how was Temple reimagining it? 


Marjorie Cottrell Temple University Rome
This was my favorite view of my favorite piazza, Piazza del Popolo. I spent a lot of time here in 2004.

I remember the day I landed at Fiumicino airport for my four month semester abroad. It was January 2004. I brought way too many clothes and toiletries. I brought picture frames and books. I brought black patent leather pumps. There was lots of hairspray in my oversized suitcase that I had to pay the extra baggage fee for.

All of us college students were shuttled in a bus to our apartment. I watched odd shaped trees whiz by my window. Once we dropped our bags, we waited in line at the office to call our parents. I could not wait to call my mom but I was terrified and wanting to cry (then she'd know I wasn't ok). 

But before the line, we had to go to the shop across the street, where they sold sandwiches and cigarettes, to purchase our calling cards. 

So, in line I waited, nervous and unsure of what to do when I got to the curly wired phone at the desk with the big, serious man behind it. 

"Hi mom, I'm here, it's not what I expected." I was able to make out. I wanted to burst into tears but there were dozens of my peers behind me waiting to call their parents. I was too embarrassed.

Temple Universtiy Rome
Me and my mom at dinner when she visited. 

I could tell my mom was worried about me. She did what all good moms do. She assured me and put on her gentle mom tone and told me it would be ok. I bet she cried when we hung up too. 

The brave mom face, whether it's holding their little hands through a medical procedure, or holding space for them when things are falling apart, was not always my specialty. I'm a crier, a crumbler. I've gotten way better at keeping it together in the face of challenge. Experience helps. They need me to be the keeper, not the melter. Just like my mom was for me when I called her from Italy twenty years ago, jet-lagged and weepy.

After the call, I took a nap to even out the jetlag even though they say not to. Then I started to explore. To find my way. To marvel at the differences and experience the adventure. 

The next day, we had a new student orientation with the dean and afterwards we could wait in line in the computer lab to send emails home. I was feeling a bit uneasy physically, my body was adjusting to new a time zone, new food, new everything. 

I found my way to a corner computer and logged in to my university issued email account and started typing away. Email pen palling is one of my many loves. Soon a hot, fuzzy feeling started to wash over me. The room started to swirl and immediately I was terrified because I knew I was going to puke all over the computer in front of me. 

I turned in panic to the stranger student next to me, who was rather intuitive, and shoved a trashcan in my face. Blahhhh. Vomit in the lab.

Did anyone see that? I hoped not.

First I was weepy in the phone line, now I was puking in the computer lab. What's next? 


Marjorie Cottrell Astrology and Todi
I took this in the town of Todi. Temple University hosted a new student dinner there for us. We all sat at long tables. The food never ended  and lots of students were singing. I laughed a lot and loved the adventure.

After that, I was mostly fine. It was all class, clubs and coffee. Most of what I remember from those months abroad is exploring. I loved to wander the streets alone, take in the smells and sounds and find my favorite coffee and pizza shops (Pizza Rustica!).  

Sometimes I'd walk to school, sometimes I'd take the subway. One time I took the bus but accidentally went in the wrong direction and wound up 40 minutes on the outskirts of the city! I missed class and never did that again. 

I had two roommates, the three of us were friendly but wildly different. They made the time there special. 

The roommate I was closest to made friends with some local guys and they took us out in their convertible one night, early in the semester. I remember driving in the backseat with her seeing the city lit up under the dark sky and thinking how once in a lifetime that night was. The guys were so nice and showed us some lesser known parts of the city. In the back of my mind I knew that this could end really bad or really good. It ended well. 

Temple Universtiy Rome
Me in Todi. It looked a lot different than Temple U's campus in North Philly!

I was pretty broke during my time in Rome so buying things felt very stressful. I had enough but not much extra like some of the other students who shopped often and flaunted their goods. I loved to stroll Villa del Corso and feast my eyes on all the fashion. I was able to secure an adorable pair of baby pink cords. They became a staple for me during my winter months in Roma.

Towards the end of the semester, there were only a few days left before we were headed home, a small group of us decided to take the train to the coast for a beach day. I had just received a card with some money from a dear family friend and I felt on top of the world! We went to the best café and got mortadella sandwiches and wine to bring to the beach. We were all so sunburned and happy that night, enjoying some of the final times together before we all prepared to part ways. 

Temple University Venice Italy
This was at the market in Venice. I likely bought cookies.

There was the spring break to Barcelona where I got separated from my friends because I got distracted watching a street magician on Las Ramblas. The scary train ticket incident in Naples. The homeless woman who poked me on the bus in Trestevere, her finger imprint lingering long after the poke. I think it left a bruise. 

Sean came to stay for a week and we had so much fun that he extended his stay for two more days. It felt like we had won the lottery getting two more days together before our tearful goodbye. I sobbed in the airport so bad that I could barely walk or see. People were staring at me the whole way back to my apartment. I was a mess. 

Love in Italia
The party we had at our apartment to celebrate Sean's visit!

My mom and sister came for parents' week and we had too much fun drinking vino until all hours of the night at various restaurants. We have the pictures to prove it. 

Study Abroad Italy
This was on a Sociology weekend trip to Venice. I was more interested in chatting with the man on the balcony than paying attention to the class. : )


There was Venice. There was pizza. There was the Vatican and there was gelato.

I took the train alone to visit my best friend who was studying in a nearby town. I wandered and shopped and ate as I made my way to the Italian countryside. I marveled at her Italia, so vastly different than my Roma, but also the same.

Sisters in Rome
Me and my sis. We joked and said we'll live in this apartment someday!

I studied and crammed for tests and wished I done the readings but I was mostly hanging out and going to bars and clubs. I spoke some of the worst Italian in my class but I got by and it usually came out better when I'd had a beer. 

I was cranky for early morning classes at historic sites and I glazed over with boredom when timeless paintings were explained to me using story and myth. Sometimes I was able to take it in, but mostly every piece of art looked similar to me. Beautiful yet similar. 

I marveled at the grocery stores, all the different options and look! They have Philadelphia cream cheese! I missed American cheese and I savored the olive oil. I devoured the biscotti.

I rolled my dirty clothes to the laundromat in my oversized suitcase. I loved that the laundromat turned into a discoteca at night. They had a beer fridge right there next to the washers and polaroids of people dancing on the dryers with disco lights as evidence.

One night I hung a sign in the common area on the university calendar that me and my roommates were having a beach party. I didn't tell them I was doing it! They were initially unsure of my decision (slightly mad at me) but, in the end, the party was one of my favorite memories. 

This was my Rome

Sean and I went back to Roma for our second wedding anniversary back in 2010 and we visited the school and my old apartment. The new campus will be in a different location. My Rome will now just be a memory. 

This was in 2010 when Sean and I went to Roma. That little office behind me is where I made that weepy phone call to my mom in January 2004. 

Now that I'm an astrologer, I'd love to go back and redo those art history classes, take in those frescos and study each crevice of the myth embedded in their brush strokes. But that's simply not how it works. 

My Rome wasn't to learn art history. Or to speak fluent Italian. My Rome was to wander. To explore and feed my seeker's hunger through social connections and solo adventuring. 

My Rome was to know the joy of a latte in as many locations as possible. To curl up with a book and enjoy the simplicity of being. 

Weekend in Venice
Our class took an excursion to Venice for a weekend. I remember standing on this bridge taking in this view and then capturing the moment with my disposable camera. Click!

My Rome was uncovered in underground metro stations, in vast piazzas and in ordinary grocery stores where I learned to play the game of worming my way into line lest I be ignored for hours. 

My Rome was getting to campus early to see if a card or package had arrived from my people. My Rome was wishing I had a laptop but loving the joy of scoring a spot in the computer lab. My Rome was house wine and Peroni beer. My Rome was dancing late and sleeping in.

My Rome was my third house Sagittarian Moon savoring freedom and finding joy. 

Twenty years later, Temple is reimagining while I'm simply remembering.





Top photo credit: Photo by Lars on Unsplash

All other photos are mine from the semester abroad! I wanted to include so many more but had trouble finding most of them. 



1 comment

  • Dearest Marjorie,
    Oh, how I loved this read… I’m tearing up…. I loved revisiting your ROME with you. I felt like I was there reading this. It was so hard to watch you walk away in the International Terminal all those years ago knowing you were moving to another country by yourself…. So brave you were and still are. Always a seeker…. It was so wonderful to visit with Jill… what a time. I love you. Never stop exploring. ❤️ xo Momma


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