Buckle your seatbelts, it’s time to study abroad

I had a lot of expectations about how my study abroad was going to go, and none of them came to fruition the way I thought they would. Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t have the best time of my life — I definitely did. That being said, my study abroad experience taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve gotten out of my time at Notre Dame: Just go with it.

When I found out I was accepted into the Rome Undergraduate Program in January 2021, I immediately let my Lizzie McGuire dreams run wild. I would stare at maps of Europe, read about Rome and practice my Italian whenever I could. I had never been abroad before, so my parents and I were anxiously looking into airline tickets and what was the right luggage to take. Given that the only flight I had ever taken was to Orlando with the band for the Camping World Bowl Game in December 2019, I was nervous about flying across the Atlantic by myself. However, by the time the end of fall semester 2021 rolled around, I felt ready to go to Europe that next month. As fate would have it, though, everything went to the dumpster fire.

My journey to Italy consisted of a bickering-filled car ride with my mother, who was even more stressed with dropping me off alone due to my dad’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis, a very strange interaction with the German customs agent who made me show him my wallet at 6:15 a.m. and over an hour-long wait for my ride in the Fiumicino Airport parking lot. I should have known then that I’d be in for a wild ride.

My time in Europe was filled with crazy adventures to different cities, countries and places within Rome. I met so many great friends in the RUP program, and I strengthened my previous friendships from campus by visiting people in other programs. Reflecting on all of those happy memories, I can’t help but remember how much those bonds grew with the pressure of traveling. I’ll give you a fan favorite among my friends.

Imagine this: it’s the end of your spring break and you’re in Paris. The weather has been gorgeous all weekend, you’ve seen so many beautiful pieces of art and your eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store when the Eiffel Tower started sparkling at night. You’re feeling pretty good when it’s time for you and your friends to head back to Rome, where you also know your parents have just landed to visit you. That’s when the chaos hits. Ryanair’s airport is an hour and a half outside of the city, and the only feasible option to get there is to take the bus they recommend getting on two-and-a-half hours before your flight. You and your friends were already late getting to your storage locker, so you’re sitting in the back of an Uber with stuff piled on your laps up to your necks. There’s about two minutes until your bus is about to leave, so your friends push you out of the side door when the car stops, and you frantically run to the French driver yelling in English to hold the bus. Turns out, there’s a very long line of people that you still had to wait through, so you end up missing the next two buses, too.

We ended up making it onto the plane by the grace of God. We had to run from the bus to the gate, but luckily, they ended up holding the plane for us thanks to two of our friends who had left earlier. I’ll never forget the look of the Italian man in the plane seat next to me who looked very concerned when I showed up panting with all of my friends. I’m telling you this story as an example of what I most valued out of my personal journey during study abroad. I learned to just deal with things.

A person can learn a lot from immersing themselves in another culture. When a language is being spoken around you that you don’t fully understand, you become so much more self-aware and notice more about what exactly makes up a culture by noticing the differences from your own. It’s a scary thing to do at first, but anybody would come out of an experience like that feeling more mature and capable of taking on any situation. In my case, I never felt more like an adult than I did when I was living in Rome. I may not have met a Paolo and sang in the Colosseum like Lizzie McGuire, but I did grow a whole lot more into myself.

You can contact Sophia at

This views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


The language of music

I started college in the fall of 2020, attending socially distanced classes and football games. As I ate dining hall meals out of disposable containers in my room while it got colder outside, I was determined to swallow my homesickness. One day that semester, I walked by Au Bon Pain in the library and was stopped in my tracks when I heard a vaguely familiar sound in the cafe. I realized that it was a Hindi song, which I later found out was the wistful, bossa nova sound of the song “Kyon” (Why) from “Barfi,” a whimsical Hindi film.

Though I grew up in India, I never used to listen to much Indian music on my own. In Mumbai, the city I grew up in, popular Indian music is often Hindi songs from Bollywood films. I grew up learning Hindi as a second language in school but my family is South Indian, so we didn’t speak it at home and watched very few Bollywood movies. I had a narrow idea of Bollywood films as having implausible storylines and incessant musical numbers ranging from maudlin ballads to ‘item’ songs with cringeworthy lyrics.

This disinterest in Bollywood music was probably also a symptom of living my life poised towards the West. As a teenager I listened to Ariana Grande, Beyoncé and indie musicians like dodie. When I was in sixth grade, my sister and I discovered Andrew Lloyd Webber and Barbra Streisand and would listen to CDs of their Broadway hits with a strange kind of devotion. We would even listen to songs by the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga that my sister had downloaded on her Nokia brick phone.

Despite this, when I heard Hindi music on campus, I almost felt like my homesickness was making me imagine the tune. As it turns out, one of the employees working at ABP was Indian and had put on one of her playlists during a shift, but I was surprised by how much it struck me.

That year I spent the 10 week long winter break with relatives in New Jersey rather than going home. I barely left the house and filled the swathes of time watching all the Bollywood films I hadn’t seen, from the classic 2003 film “Kal Ho Naa Ho” set in New York City to the more contemporary “Kapoor and Sons.” My conception of South Asian music broadened — I discovered indie bands, Indian electro-pop and even Pakistan’s Coke Studio. But even the stereotypical Hindi music grew on me being away from home — the maudlin ballads seemed heartfelt and the upbeat songs felt invigorating.

Now Hindi music is the soundtrack that accompanies my life. I walk to class immersed in Arijit Singh’s plaintive vocals on cloudy days and listen to soundtracks from Bollywood sports dramas as I run on the treadmill. One of my best friends here is Indian-American and some of our best memories together have been singing along to Hindi songs while driving to Warren Dunes State Park or playing Bollywood music at parties where it’s too loud for people to tell the difference.

Rather than gradually losing my grip on Hindi, I can now appreciate the metaphors hidden in romantic songs. When my friend asks me the meaning of certain words she hears in a song, I try to explain the subtle differences in usage. By sheer osmosis, my vocabulary has expanded to include traditionally Urdu or Persian-influenced words that Bollywood often uses to make their songs more poetic. Through different majors, friendships, clubs and seasons in my life at Notre Dame, exploring new Hindi music has been the most strange of constants.

As I was thinking of ideas for this column, I felt hesitant to write on this topic, thinking it was far too self-indulgent and perhaps unrelatable to a lot of other students. Even if you’re not an international student or the type to analyze changes in your music taste, you’ve likely felt the tension between being your authentic self and wanting to fit in at college.

But the most remarkable thing about our tri-campus community is the spectrum of beliefs I’ve encountered here. I’ve learned so much about the world beyond the narrow silos of identity politics by listening to people’s authentic stories.

The Observer want to see our campus’ constellation of opinions reflected in our Letters to the Editor. Pitch us stories about arts and culture that you care about.We want to hear about your connection to the K-pop zeitgeist or how your favorite film affects your life on campus.

If there’s an event on campus that we’ve missed, a questionable decision by the administration or a broader institutional problem that you want to investigate for a story, our News editors want to hear from you. This is your tri-campus community and your independent newspaper, so I promise it’s not too self-indulgent!

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Angela Mathews

Contact Angela at


To the women who make Notre Dame my home

When you hand a little kid a piece of paper and a crayon and tell them to draw “home,” it’s pretty likely that they will draw a triangle stacked on top of a square. Maybe they will add a chimney, a door, a tree and some windows. 

As we grow up, a lot of our definitions change. We learn that family doesn’t just mean our parents and siblings, but can also include our chosen family, as well. 

If you handed me a piece of paper and some crayons today and told me to draw my home, I would draw two pictures: my childhood home and my quadmates. So here’s a love letter to some of the women who make Notre Dame my second home.

Nicole and I were random assignment roommates as first-years and have been inseparable since. The first time I saw her is burned in my mind — I walked into our room and there she was, a perfect stranger who I already felt like I had known my entire life. She does the best pterodactyl impression I’ve ever heard, makes the best brownies I’ve ever tasted and has the coolest collection of pants I’ve ever seen. She would run through a rainstorm to find her friends if she knew they needed her, she stays up until 3 a.m. blowing up balloons to make sure someone feels special on their birthday and she makes my life better every single day.

Lizzie is one of the most hardworking people I know. She is generous with her time and talents. Last semester, when I told her that I wanted to try to relearn piano after not playing for eight years, she started running down to the Flaherty chapel with me at 11 p.m. multiple nights a week for jam sessions. She is an incredibly talented musician, but an even more patient teacher. When she does something, she excels. When she loves someone, she loves them with her full heart.

Rachel keeps me on my toes. Even though I feel like we know each other very well, I don’t think there will ever be a day when she doesn’t surprise me. Seeing her smile is like a shot of dopamine going through my veins. I really admire how she knows who she is and wears it proudly. She is a ray of sunshine that has a soft spot for bad boys and edgy choker necklaces.

We like to call our quad the “pentagon” because it would be incomplete with just four points. Mary Grace, the fifth member of our quad, is the epitome of compassion. Anytime I’m walking around with her, we run into multiple people who she calls out to and asks about how some specific thing they have on their plate is going. She cares deeply about everyone in her life and is not afraid to show it. Not only is she sweet as pie, she cracks me up on a daily basis.

One of the things I love most about my Notre Dame family is that no matter how long we are apart, I know that as soon as we are together again, it will feel like we were never gone. I hate to think about how we are halfway done with our college days together, but I know that my life will be forever changed for the better because of the strings of fate that brought us together. 

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Maggie Klaers

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Art, the great balancing act

This past summer, I embarked on the adventure of creating an album. While artistic work is typically idealized as the realization of an unadulterated vision, I found the creative process to be a balancing act between the impulses of the audience and the various inclinations within the artist. If art imitates life, then the creative process is a microcosm of the human balancing act of living — that endless quest for unachievable equilibrium.

The foremost lesson I gained from this process is that authenticity in self-expression is paramount. Whether in the sphere of fashion or filmmaking, poetry or producing beats, one must embrace the styles and subjects that genuinely resonate with them, as there is nothing more powerful than true passion. There are parts of us and our self-expression that are essential and not negotiable, and while it takes good effort to discern these pieces of ours, once we find them, they will be the bedrock of ourselves in society.  Starting with and loving our authentic attributes gives us pride in how we connect with others and peace when others misunderstand or dismiss us. In art, this process does not always lead to autobiography but rather something truly representative of sentiments and interests deep within the creator. Redefining stories about ourselves to be emblematic of ourselves encourages our imaginations to produce new types of stories and the imaginations of the audience members to find what these works mean to them.

The focused work on this single project also allowed me to refine my relationship with work. The two extremes of labor are laziness and perfectionism, and while the former is almost universally condemned, perfectionism is perpetually upheld despite how destructive it truly is. Nothing is perfect, and in art the best ideas usually arrive on their own in a way for which a creator can take limited credit. The idea that enough work can yield success is obviously tantalizing as a promise that all our dreams can come true, but as my dancing abilities can testify, this is not the human experience. Nothing can ever be perfect, but it can be good and finished, which means that we must set a limit with our work, especially because endless time working means neglecting relationships, which sustain and nurture us more than any labor could.  Fighting against my perfectionism meant campaigning for a project people could hear and for the space to prioritize the people around me.

Only the divine can accomplish anything alone, and in the case of this album, I needed the opinions of others to ensure my creation was the best it could be. We are not omniscient, which means we make mistakes, including in the creative process.  Art is communication, and sometimes our messages don’t work. An audience has enough distance from the creation of a work to discern whether it is successful without the positive creator’s bias, and while making this album, my best friends had the respect and love for me to let me know when a piece didn’t accomplish what I hoped it would. There were certain elements of the project, however, on which I wouldn’t compromise — those aforementioned authentic parts — and my listeners were all moved by those aspects of the work. There are times to accept criticism and times to hold true, and it is only through continuous discernment and then presentation of one’s conclusions that one strengthens that muscle of judgment.

I believe the questions art demands of its creators, the same queries we all face, are impossible to answer definitively. Reconciling personal manifestation with social constructions and the pursuit of a product’s success with the search for fulfilling relationships between oneself and others is the labor of at least more than a lifetime. But I think that keeping an open mind throughout my process has brought me closer to that unreachable answer, in the same way a mathematical function approaches but never hits its limit. I am proud of what I have learned in this field experiment of being human and am resolved to stay receptive for the next lesson I get, from wherever it may come.

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Ayden Kowalski

Contact Ayden at


What I’ll carry with me

If you ever happen to see me walking around campus this year, there’s an incredibly high chance you will also notice my 40-ounce water bottle. 

It’s actually kind of hard to miss. Aside from how large the bottle is, it’s also a bright mint green and shows off my favorite stickers (with more on the way from Redbubble). 

I think the thing that sticks out the most about this water bottle is that I have to hold it in my hand. My large green friend will not fit into the side pocket of my backpack, no matter how much I try.

So I carry my water bottle with me everywhere — whether I’m in class at Saint Mary’s, walking up and down The Avenue to get to Notre Dame or sometimes off campus to my field placement. As any large water bottle owner knows, you feel the added weight of the bottle, in addition to everything else in your backpack.

But you learn to adapt to the extra weight in your hands. If you start to walk away without picking the bottle up, you know right away that it’s not with you. You realize what you actually carry with you every day. 

My vision of what college would be has drastically changed when I moved in around this time three years ago. At some points during my time in college, I have been overwhelmed by the things I’ve lost to the pandemic. But in turn, I have already gained more than I would ever imagine — my best friends, The Observer and the students I have taught in South Bend. 

And while I still have another year before I’m done, I know the things I will carry with me after I graduate. 

To the first-years still settling into the tri-campus, I’m definitely not the first to tell you the next four years will go by in an instant. 

When I moved a few weeks ago, I sat in my room alone and thought about all the things I would do for the last time this year. The thought of everything I loved in this place ending was terrifying. Then I thought about all of what lies ahead for me. 

I have been lucky enough to discover what direction I want to take my life by being involved in the tri-campus. I know what college experiences — good and bad — will shape me for the rest of my life. 

So embrace all of these new parts of college. Find your way out of your room. Talk to that person who you might be afraid to introduce yourself to. Get off campus and explore the South Bend community. Don’t change yourself to fit other people’s expectations. 

Fill your bottle with the things that will sustain you — long after you leave the tri-campus. 

Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve is an Assistant Managing Editor. Contact her at


This time is yours

For 16 years, I’ve measured my life in school years.

Fall is an exciting fresh start, full of hope and promise. Winter is a halftime break. Spring is a time to wrap up and summer is a timeless in-between. It’s part of the reason I’ve always disliked spring. The trees and flowers may start to bloom and the sun comes out behind its permacloud, but the season is more so a period of goodbyes, endings and change. And sometimes, I don’t want to talk about the way that it was.

Freshman years are for learning names, sophomore years don’t matter all that much and when junior years roll around, there’s a feeling of superiority and independence that comes from being an upperclassman.

And then there’s senior year: the beginning of the end, the pinnacle of it all. 

College is a place where everyone here is in a different stage of their life, but also the same — learning more about the subjects that have always interested them, figuring out what they want to do in their life and taking leaps of faith toward the future.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I’ll measure the passing of time once I’m done with college. When everything you’ve ever known is different, what happens? But the thing about your four years at college is that it’s so much more than school. It’s living steps away from your best friends. It’s being no more than one degree of separation away from any student. It’s laying on the quad until 3 a.m. on a Monday night just talking.

For some people (read: me), it’s finishing up the newspaper at 4 a.m. so it can be distributed throughout the tri-campus. While The Observer is my college endeavor, everyone devotes themselves to their own passion in their four years here.

I spent the past summer living away from home for the first time. (Yeah, I’ve lived at Notre Dame for the past three years, but something about living in a small dorm room with your best friend makes campus feel a lot like home.) Living somewhere else made me realize that Notre Dame is an escape, for better and for worse. 

Here, days are measured in class schedules, lunch breaks, study sessions, parties, extracurricular meetings, on-campus jobs and walks around the quads. Weeks are measured by assignments, tests and time until mid-semester breaks. Then before you know it, fall turns to spring real quick. 

And a lot of the time, you get too caught up to think about it. 

As I spent most of the summer trying to decide what I wanted to say in this column, my mind kept going back to what I learned from a magazine writing class last semester taught by Kerry Temple. He talked about the importance of thinking time: time to mull over ideas and thoughts and time to figure out what you actually want to write, not what you write in the rush of the moment. He said he gets that most college students don’t have time to do this.

It hit me that he was right — I didn’t feel like I had the time to let thoughts, ideas and feelings simmer in my mind.

And that’s the advice I have for first-years. Give yourself time to stop and think. College is fun, but it’s more bittersweet and fleeting than you first realize. Measure it by the number of nights spent with friends, hours spent in a meeting for your favorite extracurricular and minutes of a home football game. The time is yours.

The views in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

A version of this column was published in our Aug. 19 issue.

Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a senior majoring in history with minors in digital marketing and journalism, ethics and democracy. Contact her at