Unlocking Rome’s Secrets: History Major Katelynn Cunningham
A History major from California, Katelynn Cunningham transferred to John Cabot University in Fall 2016. In October 2017, Katelynn was one of three JCU students who were honored at the Italian Parliament by the Italy-USA Foundation. A member of the Lady Gladiators soccer team, Katelynn was voted Most Valuable Player during the 2016-2017 season.
Tell us about your background.
I am from Martinez, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is not exactly a small town but has a small-town America feel. My middle school and high school were right next to each other on the same street. Then when I graduated, I attended my local community college, which happened to be on the other side of the road right in front of my high school. I basically ended up getting my high school diploma and completing my first few years of college with the same people I had grown up with. So transferring to John Cabot University was a big move for me.
What made you decide to earn your degree in Rome at John Cabot University?
When I first found out about American universities abroad I initially had my heart set on studying in Paris. I had studied French throughout high school, I had visited the city and other areas in the country, and I loved the culture and atmosphere. I had initially applied to John Cabot as a backup, but the more I learned about JCU, especially in terms of student services, clubs, activities, and sports, the more it started to look like the better fit. I had never been to Italy and didn’t know a single word of Italian, but ultimately I decided to take a leap of faith and move to Rome. I haven’t looked back since.
You have been involved with the STAND club and you play soccer on JCU’s Lady Gladiators team. How important is it to be involved in extra-curricular activities?
When I transferred to John Cabot I was worried about making friends, not just because I was moving to a new city but because I was entering university at a weird in-between stage: I wasn’t a freshman just starting out my college experience, but I also wasn’t returning to my established friend group after summer break. Extra-curriculars at John Cabot like the clubs and sports teams are the perfect place to meet people who have similar interests. But beyond that, it was also through STAND and soccer that I was introduced to Rome on a level beyond that of a tourist. Through STAND I was able to take an active role in the community and learn about Italy’s immigration situation and how both Italians and refugees are affected. Soccer provided me with a universal language before I could hold a conversation in Italian. Traveling to games and meeting people from other teams also enabled me to see the city and make friends outside of Trastevere and the university.
What is, in your opinion, a class that all History majors at JCU should take?
At some point, I think all History majors should take one of the on-site classes. Whether the course is history, art history, or archaeology, whether it is 100% on-site, partially on-site, or one of the courses that require a weekend trip outside of Rome, take advantage of it! Seeing your textbooks come alive is one of the most amazing experiences and personally, I remember more information from my on-site courses than from my lecture-based ones.
What advice would you give to new JCU students?
Learn some Italian and get out of the Trastevere bubble. My entire experience at John Cabot has been enriched by seeing all areas of Rome and talking to people from the city. Just as Italy is full of regional differences, Rome is too, but for someone who is not Italian or from Rome, it can be difficult to see. Being able to talk with people around Rome can unlock its secrets- suddenly you are in-the-know about underground music performances by local artists and you have new friends wanting to show you to their favorite places to eat or the best views of the city at sunset. Rome is so much bigger than just Trastevere and the historic center and there is something to be found in every neighborhood.
What are your career goals?
While completing my required courses for my History major I had flexibility in my schedule to take a few archaeology courses for fun. These classes were partially on-site so we learned about aqueducts, for example, and then went out into the city to actually see them. Thanks to these classes I have developed a strong interest in archaeology. Living in Rome, I have the unique opportunity to visit amazing points of interest in the city and throughout Europe, but the more I study and travel, the more I recognize that steps need to be taken to preserve these places for future generations. For these reasons, I want to pursue a career in cultural heritage management and preservation while promoting sustainable tourism ethics so that future generations can continue to enjoy these spaces as we have.
What is something that you wish you knew when you first started university?
Don’t worry if you are not sure where your path is headed. By taking advantage of every little opportunity that comes your way, you will slowly figure it out. Take new courses that have nothing to do with your major or apply for internships even if you don’t have the required experience. Eventually, you will find something that fits even if you have to take extra steps to create opportunities for yourself. But along the way, don’t become discouraged by comparing your experiences to the accomplishments of others- everyone is on their own journey and no two paths are the same. Your time will come and everything will turn out just fine.