Home Is Where the Heart Is

5,168.

That’s how many miles away Palazzo Chigi is from my childhood home in Tallahassee, FL. 5,168 miles between me and my family, between me and my mom’s homemade lemon poppyseed cake, between me and the comfortable and familiar life I have always known.

Before coming to Italy, I expected to feel uncomfortable and out of place—that seemed a normal thing to experience for anyone that lives in a foreign culture for two and a half months. I never expected, however, to find any sense of home or belonging in a place so different and unfamiliar. How could I? How could a place so far away, filled with people I don’t know, ever remind me of the things, the places, and the people that I love?

The reality is that, at some point, this town snuck up on me. Ariccia, its people, and my classmates have all made me feel included and loved. They have proven a comforting constant through times of uncertainty and have taught me the importance of patience, confidence, and open-mindedness. They have shown me that it is important to recognize your smallness in the world, but to never forget your capabilities and your impact.

The people that I’ve met over the past seven weeks have also shown me that home is more than just a building or a town or a place. It’s a warm smile from Maris or a contagious laugh from Ana. It’s a hug from Kelli or a genuine conversation with Sophie. It’s a funny joke from Olivia or the smell of India’s popcorn cooking on the stove in the kitchen. It’s exactly what I make it, and I know that I always carry small pieces of it with me.

I am grateful to say that this experience thus far has taught me invaluable lessons that have shaped who I am. It has pushed me to be better than I thought I could be and has challenged me to dream more ambitiously. To embrace discomfort. To search for the commonalities that unite us as people, no matter how different we may seem or where we may be in the world. But above all, it’s shown me what home really is—the summation of the experiences, feelings, and people that we love. The things that bring us reassurance and the memories that we never want to forget.

I know that my home may still technically be that house in Florida 5,168 miles away—the place that I’ve always known—and it might also be my little one-bedroom apartment in Auburn where I feel content and secure. But they say that home is where the heart is, and I think it’s safe to say that a piece of mine will always be in this quaint and unassuming little town that I’ve grown to love.

So wherever, whoever, whatever your home may be—I hope you know that no matter where you are or what season of life you are in, you never truly leave it behind. You take pieces of it with you wherever you go. And, if you just so happen to end up in Ariccia, Lazio, Italy, just know that there’s a whole community waiting to welcome you with open arms. Maybe even a community that you might someday consider home.

Best wishes and ciao for now,

Gabby Thabes

This picture was taken on the bridge in Ariccia shortly after I arrived in Italy!

The Perks of Being Uncomfortable

I found that one of the most important things for me to get the best experience while studying abroad is to push myself out of my comfort zone. This may sound obvious, but it is important because it is where I learn the most about me and where I am. No experience in Italy is the same as it is at home, even buying stamps and ordering cappuccinos were hard and awkward at first (honestly they still are sometimes). But eventually these things become more normal and comfortable and then there is room to try something new again. 

I have been pushing myself to try new things and now I have found myself a part of a kick boxing training group. Making the 1.2 mile walk up the hill to the Parco Romani Biodistretto was nerve racking for the first couple of times. Ana and I didn’t know if we would be able to understand what was going on or if the group would be open to two inexperienced American girls crashing their training. It turned out that both instructors, Gabriele and Emanuele, spoke amazing English and were willing to help two struggling girls try to learn good form for a jab (I think… I’m still new at this).

Every Tuesday and Thursday, in addition to learning something new physically and mentally, I have been able to just be an observer rather than the observed. 

Usually moving around as a group of fourteen American girls in Italy we become a spectacle and tend to dominate a space. Going to kick boxing class has been one of the only spaces where I have been able to feel like a part of something where people are focused on a common goal instead of us. It is one of the only places I have been able to observe people living their normal life and participate without totally disrupting it. Don’t get me wrong, we still don’t make it easy on them: our Italian is sub-par, and they have to explain a lot of things for us in English, but we are learning. I have learned a lot of new words and phrases. I don’t know where I would have learned things like “pancia terra” (on your stomach) and “cambio!” (change) without this experience. 

The best advice I can give from my experience here so far is to keep pushing yourself once you realize that you feel comfortable. Also, while here, push yourself at some point to do something alone or with one or two others, so you can really see how people live their lives without everybody around. It could be acquainting yourself with somebody at the market, becoming a regular at a coffee shop, or sitting in the square or on the belvedere to watch people in their normal lives.

Who knows what my next step to push myself will be. Maybe it will be to actually speak some Italian when I go to class. Maybe it will be to tell Gabriele and Emanuele how much Ana and I appreciate all the extra work they do to help us amateurs, who don’t understand much Italian, feel included in the class. Maybe it will be to go to the produce shop where I have to speak to the shop owner instead of going to the grocery and picking out my own food. Whatever it is I’m ready for it and I encourage you to be too.  

Best, 

Sophie Young

Me, Gabriele, and Ana after a class.

People Are Strange When You’re a Stranger

Have you ever heard of the term “philoxenia”? Translated from Greek, it means the friend of a stranger. While living in a foreign country with nothing but strangers, it’s is something everyone needs. Like most of the world, I am in the process of healing from the traumas brought on by the past couple of years. For a while, healing to me was partying and making a pitiful attempt to distract myself from the painful truths of life. I was missing something deep down. 

It wasn’t until I began traveling on my own that I realized that what I had been missing was inside of me the whole time, waiting to come to the surface. Discovering this was not easy though, and it required me to take on one of my greatest fears: talking to people. I mean really talking to people. The funny thing about humans is that we can all relate to a two truths. We are all born and eventually, we will all die on as well. But what happens between those two events is completely unique to every single soul that has ever inhabited this planet. So imagine how much I was missing out on by never going out of my way to get to know people.

Now going back to the topic at hand, this philoxenia can also describe the hospitality we experience when meeting others, no matter their identity. In Ariccia, I was met by people who were eager to welcome us into their homes or share their lives with us. This basic kindness showed me that, despite how awful the world can be sometimes, there is always someone who cares. 

This is why Italy is special. The landscape enough can bring me to tears, with the mist clinging to the mountains in the early morning or the thunderstorms that echo across the whole valley like a bellowing cry from the heavens. But what truly makes the difference, is the warmth of the people (oh and the wine). The people are personifications of philoxenia itself; from the servers who are patient with my broken Italian to the winemakers who eagerly share their passions with us in their vineyard. Every time one of these connections is made, I am shown a new dimension of the human race.  I’m not sure if I would have ever discovered my own philoxenia had I not experienced all the pain of the past. As much as it hurt, it challenged me to push my boundaries and brought me to Italy. I now recognize that the people I meet along the way, are more than just mere side characters in the story of my life. They are vibrant, distinct souls, that each have something to show you. 

-Liv Elam

Different Country, Different Kelli?

Six weeks since arriving in Italy. Thirteen intimate relationships with women who were previously strangers to me. Twenty-one years of learning who I am as a person could have never prepared me for the experience of Auburn’s JSB Program.

To share that my time in Italy has been nothing short of a picturesque dream-come-true with perfection attached to every moment would be more optimism than my normally positive self could articulate. However, it has been the most worthwhile experience that has graced my life so far.

Studying abroad has been a goal of mine since I was a child. I adore learning foreign languages, connecting with people, relishing in new experiences, and diving into the unknown. Other than utilizing modern technology to educate me on a language I had no background with, I did not prepare for an anticipated experience that I crafted using imagination—I came to Italy with minimal expectations.

Living with, eating with, traveling with, learning with, and spending leisurely time with the same group of people has unveiled many aspects about my personality, interpersonal skills, and adaptability. As much as I feel energized by the company of others, this experience has shined a light on the parts of me that crave solitude, rest, freedom, validation, reflection, and predictability. I miss being able to cook three exquisite meals per day, exercise intensely multiple times a week, and take a walk without my phone. I miss planning my days in a way that is convenient for me and having a schedule that remains consistent.

I do not miss times where I was lonely in college—I have friends in Italy who have patience and love for me unconditionally. I do not miss the longing I felt before getting to live in another part of the world. I do not miss trying to learn a language without immersion—interacting with local Italians brings me immense joy. I do not miss the ignorance I had on how beautiful an Ariccian sunset is. I do not miss the opportunity to run away from my problems. I do not miss the effort it takes to drive a personal vehicle. I cannot conjure an ounce of my being that misses life without the JSB experience.

Although it feels as though I am learning more about me than the country I am in, I am still trying to decide if I am a different version of myself here. But, I do know that I am exactly where I need to be. I encourage every person who has the opportunity to study abroad to embrace the opportunity with open arms.

Kelli Graham

Beautiful sights in Tivoli with a cherished friend

One Step at a Time

“Where are my shoes?” my mom would question; once, twice, even three times a day. My dad would find his leather slippers missing and my sisters’ sandals were never to be seen. Even the guests, leaving our house after a visit, would ponder over where they last left their shoes, and why they were not conveniently by the door. 

I have always been fascinated by shoes. I am not entirely sure why or how it started, maybe I had a young eye for design or maybe it just was a mischievous way for me to play dress-up when nobody was looking. My reasoning has since evolved and I have found a deeper, less materialistic meaning to shoes and a further appreciation for the special tools that help us move about our individual lives. 

Here in Italy, I have seen all different kinds of shoes, some with familiar branding but others I have never heard of. Some are worn, evident of a fulfilled life, while others are fresh and clean,  maybe even worn by a smiling child: eager to show off their new back-to-school look. The best place to observe is the RomaTermini train station. It is filled with fast paced people heading to a part of their varying paced lives. All equally important and honestly at the root of it all, quite similar to one another. At the least, their shoes are the common denominator. 

I have been able to find at least one thing in common with every person here, even if language is not one of them. Being able to travel has not only allowed me to see just how small I am in this large world, but also has allowed me to gain a new perspective on the everyday, mundane parts of life. I enjoy feeling small and unobserved because I feel free and untethered. I am free to live and learn from mistakes without many external worries.  I have obtained more knowledge these last 6 weeks than I could have ever imagined and am excited to translate what I have learned while I finish school and begin the next phase of my life. 

There will come a time, hopefully many years ahead, where the memories of Italy will not be so fresh in my mind. I won’t remember the correct way to pronounce certain words or the feeling of sipping an espresso will begin to feel foreign. But, I know that I will always remember the Docs that encompassed Jessie so well. I will remember the white sneakers with tie-dye laces that Sophie consistently wore. The platform converse Morgan rocked and the silver Supergas Sandra shocked our class with. How could I forget about Gabbie’s tiny, embroidered Nike blazers? 

I encourage those who are reading this to find something special that you can observe. Something that often catches your eye and you can’t help but respectfully stare. Find things that are interesting to you and that you will remember. Recognize those things but also their surroundings. Get curious! Think of questions and ask them if you can. You will be able to remember these moments for the rest of your life. 

Our shoes have been an essential tool of our experience in Italy. They have allowed us to walk the ancient Roman streets, dance in Sorrento, climb the Spanish steps and ultimately, arrive safely back home in 6 short weeks. 

Remember, just take it one step at a time and don’t forget to look at cute shoes along the way. 

Love,

Ana Hanger

These are my favorite shoes that I brought here to Italy.

“The Days are Long, but the Weeks are Short”

From the moment I arrived in Italy and stumbled out of our bus into the streets of Ariccia, I felt something different. It wasn’t the smell of espresso coming from Antico Cafe, or the Mediterranean sun warming our cheeks, but it was the knowledge that our time here was going to be very different when compared to any of our previous adventures. On our first day of class the next morning, Lacey said something that has stuck with me since. “The days are long, but the weeks are short,” she told us. At that moment, I realized that in order for me to appreciate this trip as much as I possibly could, I was going to have to take my mind and completely change up how I saw Italy. Since then, my semester has been nothing short of indescribable.

Singular moments stick out to me more than others: my first porchetta sandwich, getting to hear Mary Lou talk for the first time, or laughing with my friends as we accidentally ordered an appetizer big enough for ten people; this isn’t to say, however, that things aren’t hard. Early mornings, brutal walks through Rome, and some… interesting hotel rooms on weekend excursions make certain days crawl by with a frustratingly slow pace. However, assignments I saw as being forever away in the future are coming at a quick pace now, and weekend excursions I anxiously waited for are around the corner with shocking immediacy.

This semester has flown by- there’s not a question about that. It’s more gratifying than sad, however, when I think about all of the little things I’ve learned to appreciate in the meantime because even though they seemed to crawl by, those moments have beauty. Grueling walks in Rome turned into side-splitting laughing fits with Ectore, our guide. Early mornings meant naps on the bus and sharing music recommendations, and some character-filled hotel rooms encouraged us to go explore the cool cities we were visiting. Coming to Italy and adopting this mindset has made me realize this too: you can apply the same principle to life. In life, some of the days are going to be long. And I am talking very long. But, you are one day going to look back on those weeks and wonder what you could have seen if only you had realized. I am so grateful that I did. 

A Big War Eagle, and an Even Bigger Arrividerci!

Emily Fackler

Here’s me in Nemi! Ft. an Aperol Spritz of course:)

Stop Letting Fear Stop You

Tomorrow marks one month since I left America. This past month has flown by and I am happier than I ever have been. I haven’t always been this happy to be here though.

I spent the month leading up to us leaving crying and stressing out over everything. I was the kid growing up that refused to go to summer camp because I didn’t want to be in a place that I didn’t know. In fact, the one time I did go I cried every single day to the point where they counselors allowed me to call my mom. Moral of the story is I grew up being a huge homebody, but as I have grown up I discovered my love for traveling.

My love for traveling led me to being certain that I wanted to study abroad. Which then led me to finding this study abroad opportunity. I remember the day I found out I was officially accepted. I thought to myself “I’ve got this, it’s just like going away to college and I did great at that.” I kept that mindset for months because I was just excited to finally live out my dreams of studying abroad. That mindset slowly diminished as the realization of me leaving the country for two and a half months set in.

The month leading up to us leaving was incredibly tough. Suddenly, it was like I was back in elementary school begging my mom to not make me go to summer camp. I was still excited but the fear was setting in. The fear of the unknown. The fear of leaving the country for the first time. The fear of being far away from my friends and family. The fear of forgetting something. It was debilitating fear and hitting me like a train very fast.

Luckily, I have an incredible support system that was nothing but encouraging to me. My mother in particular is amazing, no wonder why I have always had the hardest time leaving her. I would call her just about everyday just to make sure I was gathering all the right paperwork, getting my credit card set up, and most of all just to have her reassure me that I was making the right decision. Even when I called her bawling my eyes out, she would calm me down and reassure me that I was going to be okay. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I ever would’ve gotten on the plane.

I did get on the plane though. I faced my biggest fears and just kept walking. I am so thankful that I did.

This is from our first weekend here. You wouldn’t even know I was ever scared to come to Italy – my happiness is radiating.

Follow your dreams, no matter how scary they are.

Ciao for now & War Eagle always! -Maddie Harris

How to not look like a tourist in Italy!

My classmates and I decide to go to a neighboring town called Genzano for our first weekend in Ariccia. We scoured the various clothing stores in Genzano touching each item that we saw. There aren’t a lot of contemporary luxury stores or luxury stores or any kind of that matter in Aricca or Albano the next town over. Most of the stores in Alabano are stores that are priced fairly. As we strolled through Genzano a shop caught my eye with glamourous boots and bags, I knew it was pricey, but we didn’t go in the shop just yet. We continued our stroll through the affordable boutiques touching and trying on various items. After we finished our final walk through the corso, we decided to go back to the store that caught our attention. We walked into the expensive store and didn’t greet the sales associate. That was our first mistake, we continue to parade around the store gawking at the luxury items specifically merchandised on the display. I noticed the sales associate giving us a death glare as we picked over the items. I started to notice that everything we would touch the sales associate moved it back to its specific location, but I didn’t think anything of it. After parading around the store for 15 minutes we decided to leave dreaming over all the luxury pieces we saw. That following Monday we finally understood why we got those death glares, in Italian culture, it is accustomed to speaking to the sales associate when you walk in the shop and the most important rule is to always ask before touching an item in the store.

Here’s me at Villa d’Este

One Month of Growing Pains

At the time of this writing, tomorrow, October 1st, 2021, will commemorate our first full month in Ariccia. I have only ever lived in Alabama and I have only ever resided with people of whom I am related. Tomorrow represents one full month of life across the world with six roommates, sharing bathrooms, pieces of ourselves, and shared experiences. Where I initially was hesitant of the culture shock, I now look forward to the discomfort, as I have learned to translate it instead to growing pains.  

These growing pains have been numerous, as almost nothing is what it initially seems. “Peperoni” on a pizza will result in bell peppers, ordering a “latte” at a coffee shop will mean a glass of warm milk, and a “frappe” is a milkshake, almost never with coffee. The people here are kind, but in a different way from the South. Rather than the immediate hospitality of back home, the people of Ariccia display reservations at first, but then reveal themselves to be the most genuine, thoughtful people. I will make a point to never forget them.

Learning the Italian language has been a form of culture shock as well. With only my background in Spanish, my lack of Italian often leaves me frustrated. Ironically, locals will apologize repeatedly for not speaking perfect English; they only wish to be accommodating in their own spaces. The human condition of wanting to connect and empathize on a basic level gives me hope, and after an entire month of change and growth, I welcome the shock. I will cherish my remaining time with my thirteen-classmate support system and the wonderful people of this country.

Maris Laney, Fall 2021

Waste- Where?

One of the major differences between Italian culture and American culture is the amount of waste produced. On the tour of campus, one of the main areas covered was the recycling and compost bins. My group was given an extensive rundown of what products and packaging can be recycled, and photos are placed above the bins for even more clarification on what waste goes where. 

When walking around the city of Ariccia, I noticed that this wasn’t unique to the palace, and every one in town also had the same waste bins, separating non-recyclables, plastics, paper, and cans. Some states in America are lucky to even have recycling. Many cities cannot afford it. 

Speaking of food waste, Italians are extremely resourceful when it comes to their meat and produce. On our latest trip to a vineyard, we saw the harvesting of grapes. These grapes made oil, marmalade, and of course, wine. The cheese that was being made in front of us made prima salle, and the leftover liquid was used for a completely different type of cheese. When our group was being taught about meat, every single piece was used, and treated more respectfully. 

The relationship with clothing is different as well, buying quality over quantity, and acquiring more neutral colors so clothes can move from season to season, and last for years. Black never goes out of style, and I have noticed that it is the color of choice for Italian women. 

The attitude towards these raw materials are inspiring, and everything is cared for so much more. Clothes are meant to last a lifetime, and recycling and composting are a given here. When cooking, Italians view it in a restorative way, nourishing their bodies with food that has been locally sourced, and enjoying the ingredients from start to finish.

This is me molding cheese at our wine harvest. I bought a block of this cheese right after we ate it with the grape marmalade. It was the best cheese I have ever had.

Jessie Roller