The Importance of the Notre Dame Network

Author: Patrick Smart

For the past seven weeks, I have been interning for a government lobbying firm in Rome, Italy. While living alone for the first time (especially in a foreign country–where I don’t speak the language) has matured me in many ways, one unexpected growth I had this summer was realizing the value of the Notre Dame network. By network, I am referring to the presence of Notre Dame students, faculty, administrators, alumni, “subway alums,” etc. across the world.

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For context, while Notre Dame is financing my summer internship in Rome (through my Hesburgh-Yusko Scholarship and the Lyman Scholarship for Public Service), my association with the University this summer has been fairly indirect. I booked my flights, found my housing, found my internship, figured out my transportation, planned and cooked my meals, etc. I have no real connection to any Notre Dame Rome summer programs or connection to the Rome Notre Dame Global Gateway.

Before I landed in Rome, I kind of dismissed the notion that I would want to interact with Notre Dame ‘s network this summer. I loved the idea of living alone, finding friends from other Universities, maybe finding some Italian or European friends—and to an extent, I have done this. I will never forget the Italian acting student who showed me around Trastevere during my first week here, the Russian film student who discussed the Ukrainian war with me extensively out one night, the Polish girl who made fall over laughing when she explained her “Breaking-Bad” themed trip to New Mexico, or the Yale grad student who drank some wine and watched the sunset with me on Gianicolo Hill. Those have been some of my favorite memories in Rome.

However, my internship here is a mere nine weeks–a blink in the eye of the Italians and others that live here. While residents were more than happy to engage with me for an English conversation, they were not necessarily interested in forming a more intimate relationship with an English-only American for nine weeks. And this makes complete sense. While I wanted to explore the Borghese Gallery, bike the Via Appia Antica, go to the Vatican Museum three times, they wanted to engage with their real life, their real family, and their real friends.

But for a student living abroad for 9 weeks, I needed more than just live off one-off conversations with foreigners I met exploring the city. I missed friendship, with its reliability and comfort.

Fortunately, within my first week of being in Rome, one of the directors of the Notre Dame Global Gateway, Antonella, invited me to the Gateway and said I would have access to Notre Dame’s Villa and Gateway for the summer, and put me on the Notre Dame-Rome email newsletter. Even more, one of my bosses back on campus had given me the contact of a Notre Dame alumnus living in Rome who reached out to me to give me advice on the transition (and food!). Most importantly, when the Notre Dame study abroad summer session began, I almost instantaneously had a friend group of 80 students with whom I could grab food, explore museums, and travel throughout Italy. With Notre Dame students, I explored the art scene of Florence, swam in the Mediterranean Sea on the Amalfi coast, and dove into the Capuchin Crypts in Rome. It has been with Notre Dame students I could enjoy non-stop conversation over a three-hour Italian dinner. It’s with Notre Dame students I found stability in my life in Rome.

So, my lesson here is this: Being uncomfortable is the best part of living abroad. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone to talk to some random Italians on a Piazza or go to a part of the city I’ve never been before is where I’ve grown the most in Rome summer. However, I’ve come to the realization that being surrounded with reliable friends matters too. Sometimes having a level of comfort lets you explore a foreign country more fully. Even more, when your version of “comfort” is incredibly intelligent and inquisitive Notre Dame students, your experience abroad gets so much better.

As I prepare to depart for a year away from Notre Dame’s main campus (I’m studying abroad in Copenhagen in the fall and completing Notre Dame’s Washington D.C. program in the spring), the past 7 weeks have shown me the value of the Notre Dame network. Notre Dame’s student body is some of the smartest, funniest, most interesting people I’ve ever met. Notre Dame people are real. They are authentic. They are mature.

Even a few thousand miles from campus in South Bend, Notre Dame’s community makes exploring the world way more fun.