On my first day at Eversheds Sutherland, an international corporate law firm, I had no idea what to expect. What could I do, I wondered, as a 20-year-old intern from the U.S. with no knowledge of the Italian legal system?
On the bus ride over, the fear of being unliked or worse, ignored, certainly festered over the excitement of my new life in Rome for the next four months. As I climbed the big staircase up to two luxury glass doors, I realized I was early…very early! I eventually learned that Italians truly like to take their time, something I came to admire about the city in general. Annarita, one of the secretaries, guided me across the gorgeous office space into a conference room adorned with a ceiling painting (can’t get any more Roman than that!). Soon after, I was greeted by Lisa, dressed in a cool-girl monochrome creme outfit, who I would soon find to be one of the most genuine and kindest people I met abroad.
While I chatted with Lisa, my nerves immediately settled. She led me across the tiny hallways and into the break room for a mid-morning coffee break. Before I knew it, four other young women—Maria, Francesca, Valeria, and Elvira—entered the room, smiling and grinning…at me! After quizzing me on which size of “coffee” I wanted, I knew a budding friendship was emerging. They called me “little sister” and immediately shared some office gossip.
After about a week, I got into a rhythm, not to mention my rotating set of “fancy clothes,” which left me feeling confident strolling into the office. I didn’t need my navigation apps or my stack of paper bus tickets anymore—I had an actual metro card. My day-to-day routine at the office, however, wasn’t as exciting. Most days, I’d sit at my desk, reading and taking notes in EU and corporate law textbooks which I’d eventually learn was my trademark around the office. Still, people would stop to chat about my time abroad, or their favorite places in America (which was, overwhelmingly, Las Vegas). When October arrived, I ventured out with my new Italian friends, who invited me to play padel—which is very similar to pickleball—and join them at aperitivo—happy hour, which was more like 8 p.m.—after work. I also tried to show them my gratitude and culture. Coming from Hawaii, I asked my parents to bring boxes of chocolate macadamia nuts when they visited Rome. As each day of my internship passed, people continued stopping by to say “hi” and introduce themselves. I became a part of Eversheds, just as they all became a large part of me and my experience.
One of my fondest memories of my time abroad was the final day of my internship. As the sun set, I neared the end of my second textbook and kept an eye on the clock to say my final goodbyes and pass out my farewell cards to my new friends. But, something felt off. People were quickly walking back and forth in the hallway next to my desk and, before I knew it, I was the last person in the office. I didn’t think anything of it until Lisa suddenly emerged with a shy smile, acting strangely and looming around my desk. She asked me, “Leila, do you want to take a break?” Of course, I said yes. As we walked down the short, narrow hallways, I noticed Lisa kept turning around to check if I was still behind her, and then, BAM! “SURPRISE!”
Everyone I knew from the office was in that Roman-painting-adorned conference room, with a big bottle of champagne and a huge pandoro (an Italian Christmas sweetbread cake). I was on the verge of tears! I thought they all had a conference meeting! The last thing I’d ever expect from an internship would be a going away party for someone who sat quietly, reading textbooks. I couldn’t believe it—these people, current and future lawyers—were my friends. That night, it felt bittersweet as I left the office, but mostly I had an immense sense of gratitude and privilege. This was it, I thought, this was the best night of my short Roman life.
The next morning, as I sipped on my espresso and ate the leftover pandoro they all insisted I take home, I felt fulfilled. Going to Eversheds Sutherland had given me a sense of purpose in the city, not because what I was doing there was extraordinary (quite the contrary), but because it reminded me that beyond the walls of the IES academic center and the gorgeous red roofs at Oxy, was a world of friendships waiting to be made and invitations waiting to be accepted. To me, it didn’t matter that I was reading legal textbooks most days of my internship. What was most meaningful were the connections I made, the people I met, and the lessons they taught me about welcoming strangers into places that feel completely different from home.