Abigail Campbell Rome
Hello! My name is Abby Campbell and I am a junior Sorin Scholar studying abroad in Rome, Italy this semester. At Notre Dame, I am a double major in Political Science and Economics.
It’s great to be back in Rome! I lived in a southern neighborhood of the city last summer through a CUSE research project grant. With this grant, I lived at a refugee center and documented stories and experiences about the refugees’ experiences. I also evaluated and analyzed the refugee center’s activities and initiatives in order to determine the best practices to facilitate migrant integration. It is great to be back in an amazing city and to reconnect with many friends that I made last summer.
My experience this semester is much different. I am studying through Notre Dame at John Cabot University, where I am taking courses in philosophy, economics, international relations, and Italian. Each day I enjoy a walk to our campus on the other side of town; one month later, it is still unbelievable that I walk by the Colosseum and Roman Forum each day. I am perpetually in awe of the history I’m surrounded by, walking the same paths and seeing places that existed during the lives of Caesar, Cicero, and Constantine. Each building and monument is a reminder of the incomprehensible history that lies beneath the city and within its ruins. Often, it is overwhelming to consider the fact that I walk along the same 2nd century ruins or 8th century facades that have transcended political and cultural evolution.
Living at the Notre Dame Villa is an amazing experience; over 90 of us live together from all of Notre Dame’s programs, including architects and engineers. There is an atmosphere of unparalleled community and togetherness. It has been a great opportunity to get to know new people outside of my dorm and in a new context where we can explore a new city and share new experiences. As Rome Undergraduate Program (RUP) students, we are required to take a course offered by Notre Dame called “All Roads Lead to Rome.” This class has been one of my favorites in that we have highly respected authors and art historians that guide us throughout Rome and through centuries of history. We explore the streets of the city and discover them in a new light; we are given the knowledge and ability to position great monuments, buildings, and works of art within their historical and political context. In a way, this makes the works far richer and has allowed me to appreciate the cultural significance of Rome and its grandeur in a whole new way. I know that there will be something new to learn and discover every day.
In conjunction with my academic experience at John Cabot, I am interning at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights. I am specifically working on their human rights projects, which are centered around refugee integration through different learning experiences, especially those pertaining to cultural assimilation and language acquisition. This experience is an interesting contrast to my summer at Casa Scalabrini 634. Living in Rome last summer, I was able to interact directly with refugees which allowed me to hear their stories and learn more about the reality of their experiences. However, at the UNESCO Biochair my work has been much more policy oriented. This diversity of internship experiences has shown me that policy should be informed by both ethnographic research and the knowledge of experts in the field.
Throughout the past few weeks, I have been left in awe by discovering Rome in a whole new light. In the 12th century, in a letter Petrarch said: “we would wander not only in the city itself but around it, and at each step there was present something which would excite our tongue and mind.” 700 years later, this quote resonates with my experience in the city that seems frozen in space and time; with every twist and turn of the Roman streets, I discover a new site, tradition, or insight into history that contributes to the enchantment and allure of the incredible city that is Rome.
While I have been able to spend time discovering new corners of Rome, my academic and extracurricular workloads have kicked in. Each Tuesday, I spend half of my day at my internship which is about an hour away from the Villa. Our cohort in Rome is responsible for writing a guide that aids international and non-governmental organizations in determining best practices for adult migrant learning experiences. One week, I was invited to participate in a meeting about migrant and refugee integration programs in Europe in the Chair’s new initiative that is in collaboration with many different international organizations around Europe. In the meeting with the director of the Chair and other leaders, I was able to bring a fresh perspective to the table in that I was able to raise points about the inconsistency between policy and experience. In this meeting, my colleagues were deciding who to invite to a focus group which would inform our recommendations. They decided on inviting the leaders of many prominent migration-centered organizations. However, I spoke up and advocated for the inclusion of refugees themselves in the recommendation-making process because the experiences I have had have revealed the inconsistency between the perspectives and perceptions of organizational leadership and the reality of the refugee experience.
Living in the city center, I have been able to see the prevalence of the conversation around the refugee “crisis” in Italy. Italy, and Rome in particular, have experienced a nationalist uprisal that is largely founded on anti-refugee rhetoric. Recently, one of the deputy Prime Ministers bulldozed a well-known refugee site. Furthermore, he called upon integral refugee centers to close their doors, leaving thousands homeless and resourceless. Thus, migrants and refugees have become cornerstones in political and cultural conversation in Rome. The first Sunday of every month, most of the city’s museums offer free entry. This month, I decided to wander into one of the city’s most recognizable buildings: the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II. This building is famous for its importance during the fascist period in Rome. During this period, Mussolini was known for his nationalism and xenophobia. When I walked into the grand building, I stumbled upon an exhibit that pays tribute to the migrant and refugee experience in Rome; it displays the dangers of their journey and their struggle upon arrival. The stark contrast between the fascist roots of the building, the current political environment, and the prevalence and persistence of the hardships that characterizes the refugee experience in Italy and Rome.
While in Rome, I want to take advantage of the fact that I have a wide array of scholars, groups, NGOs, and IGOs that are involved in refugee affairs. It is an incredible opportunity to extrapolate on my academic background in international policy and affairs, while tying in aspects of my previous research. As of now, I am considering evaluating the scope and importance of both the Catholic Church and secular organizations in their role in migrant and refugee integration. Further, I want to try to evaluate the influence these groups may have on their respective communities’ attitudes, which seems to be an important aspect that can either hinder or promote a refugee’s willingness to integrate.
As a part of the Rome Undergraduate Program, we have to participate in a community based learning experience. I have decided to undertake creating my own after meeting with one organization, La Communita’ di Sant’Egidio, which has a long history of grassroots social efforts and movements for vulnerable populations. They have begun many refugee-oriented initiatives and have close ties to the Vatican; I first learned about the organization through a friend that I lived with at Casa Scalabrini. Through Sant’Egidio, I hope to meet with different groups to understand their role in migrant integration and to gain a new perspective on best principles and practices.
Spring has brought a wave of renewal upon the Eternal City. The cobblestone streets of Trastevere are draped with green vines and purple flower buds. Walking from one class building to the next, the windy streets are now flooded with people chatting over a coffee or eating a pizza on the go. It is a beautiful time to be in Rome; the warm spring weather makes it easier to be away from the winter that persists in South Bend.
Over the past month, I have been able to dive deeper into work with both my internship, individual research, and coursework. As I have been creating my own community-based learning class, I have been able to meet with a woman who has had an influential role in migration in Rome. As part of the Community of Sant’Egidio, she has been involved in a project called the Humanitarian Corridor. The Community has a partnership with the Italian government which grants them a certain number of visas for refugees. Despite heightened tensions over migration in Rome, particularly given political rhetoric of the mayor and the country’s deputy ministers who have a large presence in the city, the government grants the Community these visas under the condition that the Community will take full responsibility for their integration and wellbeing. In a way, the Community promises to support these refugees, both socially and financially, in return for guaranteed visa and permit to stay, which have become increasingly hard to get. The Community vetts and selects refugees and flies them to Italy, which eliminates the danger of making the perilous voyage from their home country.
Last week, I was able to sit down with her and hear about her work with this project and other integrative projects in Rome. I made a trip to the neighborhood where my work with refugees in Rome began on via Casilina. We went to a coffee shop where she told me about the struggles she has experienced within her work with refugees, which largely paralleled those that I had experienced last summer. While the community brings over many families and has a great reputation within the city and among officials, they face the same struggles that many of my friends spoke of. For example, with the families they have brought over through the Humanitarian Corridor, they have struggled to find people who are willing to rent to refugees, despite overwhelming evidence that they have a stable job and a community that has pledged to support them. In light of the government’s recent closure of a huge refugee center in Rome, this conversation elicited questions about the role of organizations in light of an unsupportive government. Who will take care of hundreds of refugees that are now homeless, jobless, and unable to secure housing? These conversations have largely gone unasked and unanswered.
Furthermore, I have been reaching out to other organizations in order to try to answer this question. In my remaining month here, I hope to meet with some organizations from various spectrums and affiliations in order to understand the networks of these organizations and their perspective in light of the recent policies that have left hundreds homeless. I have been able to begin interviews with some native Romans. In one of my classes, we were tasked with going out into Trastevere to interview people on a global issue and the involvement of the Italian government and the EU. I chose to center mine around migration within Italy. Together with my research parter, a native Italian, we spoke with several groups of people, ranging from high school students to young adults from around Rome. We asked their opinions on the current state of migration in Rome, the government’s stance, and the role of the EU. An overwhelming majority of the roughly 10-12 people we spoke with expressed that Salvini’s anti-migrant rhetoric is largely a result of a populist movement and serves as propaganda in order to gain control of the state. Further, they expressed a desire for the EU to be involved and to create a coherent, cohesive migration policy that fulfils their promise of burden sharing among EU members. Lastly, a few interviewees made note of the fact that migration to Italy has been happening for about 10 years, but Salvini and the new right-wing government has brought the issue to the foreground. Moreover, they mentioned that Italy has many more pressing issues, such as unemployment and aging, that the government needs to work on in conjunction with migration.
In the next month, I hope to enjoy the last moments of living in Rome by endeavoring in as many authentic experiences as possible. I am looking forward to continuing working on my internship; we will be interviewing local organizations that facilitate integration through education. Lastly, I am looking forward to using what I have seen through news, conversations, and personal experiences to engage in interviews and fieldwork to finish up my semester with fruitful fieldwork I will be able to leverage into a thesis that will contribute to migration scholarship.
While Rome may be the eternal city, my time here is transient and has come to an end. Over the past month, I have decided to stay in Italy in order to savor the last few weeks, eat my last gelatos, and to more fully engage in my research. I was lucky enough to meet with twelve additional groups and organizations to hear about their missions and all that they have been doing to promote the human rights and well-beings of migrants and refugees in Rome.
Since being in Rome, I have had trouble with receiving responses from many of the organizations I have reached out to. I had heard about these groups from news outlets or by word of mouth from some of the refugees that have become close friends of mine. Nonetheless, these are prominent organizations that have a lot on their plates; it is not easy to respond to requests to meet, particularly during the political chaos and turmoil that characterizes their daily functions. After about a month of radio-silence, I decided to take matters into my own hands and to reach out to more, smaller grassroots organizations. By doing this, I hoped to gain insight into the ways that the overarching policies and structures of the Italian immigration system and its subsequent changes have affected local groups. The struggle was finding organizations that would be willing to meet with me within the few weeks I had left in Rome.
One afternoon, I sat down and sent emails to over 100 groups and organizations in Rome. I knew that, statistically speaking, at least a handful would answer, and hopefully a few would be able to meet with me. In order to find these smaller organizations, I found a network called “Scuole Migranti” or “Migrants School”, which is a cohort whose primary goal is to coordinate Italian language classes for migrants and refugees. Within a few days, I received an overwhelming response from a number of organizations that were open to meet.
Unlike formal research interviews, I approached these conversations as conversations. I wanted to pick the brains of these local group leaders and to hear about their experiences and learn from their successes and challenges. By engaging in natural conversations about their work, lives, and stories, I was able to gather organic information about the roots of their groups and how they have evolved in the face of political change. These local groups who have been instrumental in local migrant and refugee integration through language training have fought a hard battle of local funding and have overcome adversity due to new, stringent effects that Italy’s new populist government has ushered in. In one interview, the representative I spoke with told a somber story of how the volunteers and founder herself are losing hope because of the government’s restrictions; when the funding dries out, sometimes there is nothing that can be done to salvage what once was a thriving organization. On the other hand, some organizations have been resilient against the restrictive governments. Larger organizations with political and monetary clout have been able to ride out the wave; they have been able to stand up to the government by denying their funding, knowing that the government needs the collaboration of an organization of their size in order to house, integrate, and feed the thousands of refugees within the city’s walls.
In the midst of meeting with local partners, I serendipitously heard back from larger organizations that I had first hoped to meet. Subsequently, I was able to gain insights from the Vatican’s Migrants & Refugees Section researchers. They gave me the insightful contact of a policy expert at Fondazione Migrantes, who gave me a detailed view of the evolution of the Italian migration reception and integration systems and policies. Finally, I was able to meet with a front-end integration consultant from the Servizio Centrale, or the body who is responsible for the government’s SPRAR centers. The SPRAR, now called SIPROIMI after October’s new migration legislation, is a network of local municipalities and their organizations who offer reception and integration for refugees. During our meeting, we spoke about the evolution of the Minister of the Interior’s legislation and the consequences these changes have had for local organizations. We spoke about the potential ramifications the new October decrees will have for refugees and the effects it will ultimately have on the long term wellbeing and safety of the country.
In all, the last month in Rome was a whirlwind. I wanted to use every single millisecond I had to absorb all of the information, culture, and life I could out of such an incredible and irreplaceable city. Over the semester, I was able to foster new friendships with students from Notre Dame and around the world that will truly be irreplaceable. I was able to keep in touch and catch up with my friends from last summer. Some of the refugees I lived with even became good friends with other students from Notre Dame; Godwin and Kebe, who are both around my age, would even come and hang out with me and my friends in Trastevere. It was a great fusion of old and new that created indelible memories. At the end of the day, it was bittersweet and sentimental to leave the city that will forever have a piece of me. But, I am confident in saying that I know I will return again soon!