ROME, Italy -

A semester abroad has turned into a once-in-600-years opportunity for Santa Barbara City College Student Julia Hawkes.

The communications student is studying in Rome for the spring semester and is a witness to history as Pope Benedict XVI steps down. Benedict is the first pope to retire in over 600 years.

"When we arrived here we never would have thought we would be in the middle of such a historical time," said Hawkes.

The 19-year-old is overseas with 17 other students from SBCC. They all heard Pope Benedict give his final public address in Vatican City.

"We were able to see thousands and thousands of people from all over come and unite in this one area just to hear one man speak," she said.

Hawkes will be in Rome for the next couple of months and will most likely be a witness to more history as the a new pope is elected.