Until Next Time Italy…

With this experience coming to a close, I look back on the past 11 weeks with all kinds of emotions. As I browsed pictures from the entire semester in order to put the semester photo book together (one of my responsibilities as graduate teaching assistant), I’m amazed at the group of women that this semester brought together. During our first house meeting we went around the room and discussed how we all got to the Chigi palace for the fall of 2013. Surprisingly, it seemed that most of our stories echoed the same theme…a need for change. There were stories of girls who had tried (like myself) to come on this trip on different semesters over the past few years but Fall 2013 is where we all landed!
This last week before crunch time (when all assignments are due) has been full of “lasts”. We’ve had the last time many of us will ride the train from Rome, the last time we saw our bus driver Enrico, the last lectures with all of our professors, and the last field trip. The photo below is from Thursday with the very last class for the students, a resume building class with Linda. I told them all to look incredibly sad and here’s the result….
As graduate teaching assistant, I have had to walk the fine line between student and not actually student, which has been a challenge at times (thankfully these girls know a little about grace because they’ve given me a lot of it!). However, I have had the unique experience of also being on the outside looking in. Sure, I’ve been right along with them, but I’ve had a kind of bird’s eye view to the growth and maturity each one of them has developed. These girls are something special. I have a story about each one of them at some point from the semester when I was impressed with how they handled something, or helped their neighbor, or sacrificed their comfort for someone else’s, or compromised on a frustrating issue.
The students aren’t the only ones that have grown! I told my support system that I had a feeling I’d be coming back to the states a different person, and I now, 76 days later, feel that is true. The things we have learned, the people we have met, the adventures we have encountered have all changed me. I’m incredibly honored that I was hired as the graduate teaching assistant for this semester (even though I had to miss Auburn dominate the football field!!) and I’m beyond pleased at how the semester turned out. HUGE thank you for the supporters who make this program happen. You aren’t just providing an incredible experience for us, you’re changing our lives for the better! 
I close with a word to the parents who’s students will be returning to the states in just a few days… your daughters are so special. Thank you for sharing them with me for three months. I’m sure after awhile, you’ll grow tired of hearing “that one time in Italy” but just let them talk and talk and talk (and maybe show you the 3,000 pictures they’ve taken!). From the ones I have talked to about this experience, they agree that they too have changed and grown a lot, so give them room to tell you all about it!! Oh, and by the way… they can’t wait to see you!
Ciao! Virginia Belt (Graduate Teaching Assistant)

The Adventures Don't Stop Here

It’s a bittersweet time in the palace this week. Most us are beginning to think more and more about getting to reunite with family and friends yet feel guilty because we don’t want this amazing trip to be coming to a close. Thankfully, our administrators know what they are doing and have made sure that we have many more adventures ahead of us.

Today we traveled to the local olive oil press and had the opportunity to tour the facility as well as watch the entire pressing process. We even got to purchase some of the olive oil and we then found out later that they had pressed this batch just for us—talk about feeling special! This trip of course wasn’t just a time placeholder. Academics are always first priority here but it wasn’t hard to gather knowledge from this adventure – all we had to do is look around. We learned that it takes roughly 20 pounds of olives to make only one liter of olive oil, which from the picture below, looks like it takes a lot of picking and patience. We also learned that there are two different ways to retrieve the oil from the olives. There is a hot press (modern) and a cold press (original). Of course, the more modern technique is quicker and more productive but the cold press is the way to go for the best oil which) makes sense- they don’t call it an oldie but goodie for nothing.

This weekend is also full of adventures for a few other girls and me because we are making a trip across borders to Barcelona, Spain. We have little planned for this trip and are looking forward to just exploring the city. We do however plan to stroll down Las Ramblas and visit the beach- even if it’s a bit chilly. We aren’t the only group of girls traveling and looking for just a bit more adventure. There is a small group of ladies making their way to the romantic spot of Paris, France. They plan on dining under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel tower, locking in their love on the famous lock bridge, and visiting the notable flower markets. I hope they take good notes because Paris is next on my list of last minute adventures.

Although home is creeping into our minds more and more each passing day, it’s no secret that this group of girls isn’t phased and plan on taking every single opportunity for one last trip!

Ciao Ciao,
Emma Callicoat

Just a barrel full of olives!

Just a barrel full of olives!

Venezia: The Floating City

Venice, Venezia, City of Masks, that is what it is called. For me, I call it Heaven. When I was little and traveled with my family to Italy, I learned about a beautiful city on the water. Ever since then, it has been #1 on my bucket list. When we stepped out of the train station and waited for the water taxi to take us to the hotel, I could only stand and marvel at the beauty all around me. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get to visit Venice, and I actually cried of joy when I saw it with my own eyes.

The first full day had a simple task–get lost and enjoy what the city has to offer. Elyse, Brook, Sarah, and I went with Ms. Linda (and Rick Steves) on a boat tour down the Grand Canal. We then continued to walk around and peek into mask shops and mask workshops. For dinner, we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. Call us crazy, but we missed American food, ice in water, and separate checks. Of course we love Italy, but I think nine weeks away had us all feeling a bit homesick.

Day two, we set sail for some of the islands of Venice: Murano and Burano. Murano is famous for their glasswork, and we had the opportunity to sit in on a glass-blowing demonstration. After lunch by the water, we took another boat to Burano. Burano, known for the different colored houses and buildings, was a beautiful sight!

The final day of Venice included a visit to the Biennale Art Exhibit. The first half was spent visiting different country’s pavilions, while the second half was filled with room after room of unconventional art pieces. Before leaving, we took what I believe is our best group photo – all 22 of us standing around an “ITALIA” sign.

Group Photo at la Biennale (Venice, Italy)

Group Photo at La Biennale (Venice, Italy)

After this week, I still truly love Venice, and can successfully cross it off my list. I keep my fingers crossed that I get a chance to visit again and ride a gondola with a gondolier serenading me like I saw and heard from my hotel window.


Lauren Campbell xx

Moments and Their Impact

As I boarded the plane from Atlanta to Rome, I had no idea where these next twelve weeks would take me, both intellectually and physically. All I knew was that I was already well on my way. My only mindset for this trip was well… “Wine Not?” I came into this expecting to be immersed in the art, architecture, history, language, food, mythology, fashion, and film of Italy through the guidance of my Italian lecturers who are experts in all of these areas. Surprisingly, the most valuable lessons I learned were not through class lectures, but through the relationships I have developed with my professors, peers, and people that I have encountered along the way.

This trip has taught me to not only learn through structure, but also to live in the moment and accept that life is beautifully unpredictable; to always use the moment to its fullest extent. Each day of this journey has been a lesson and each moment has been unique and beautiful in the impact it has had on me. Through this experience, I have learned a new language, adapted to a new culture, and am able to see the world from a new perspective.

Francesco Petrucci, one of our Italian professors, said to us, “you need to not close yourself off. Instead, open yourself up to people who are bigger than you and you can grow. These people are the ones who can open your mind.” I can honestly say that I would be nowhere if it weren’t for the overwhelming human generosity I have experienced throughout my travels. No matter how brief of an encounter, every person I come in contact with has an impact on me that I can take away for a lifetime.

Our cooking instructer, Mary Lou and her husband Marco enjoying time  and sharing their wisdom with our group.

Our cooking instructer, Mary Lou, and her husband, Marco, enjoying time and sharing their wisdom with our group.

More than anything, Mary Lou taught us to make mistakes. That’s the fun in life. If one knows everything, what a bore.

Mary Lou’s husband, Marco, inspired me to yearn for more. He taught me that there is so much in this world to see and do. He is so in love with knowledge. I was honored when he personally told me that he admires me because I have the chance to absorb everything. He told me that I am lucky to be experiencing everything new.

These are just two examples of the plethora of lessons I have learned from the people who I have encountered on this incredible journey. Although we have only three weeks left, I have no doubt that I will learn many more.

Kendall Carlis