The Time of My Life

My 20s… the defining time.  The era in which I am meant to move on from school and am expected to have a career solidified.  I will live on my own for the first time, meet a significant other.  Some people even chose to have children. This is the time I am supposed to live life to its absolute fullest.  

With all of this pressure, I tend to ask myself, “What if I am doing it wrong?  What if at this monumental point I am missing a crucial step… am I not attending the right events, taking the right classes, meeting the right people?  What if I am failing my 20s?”

But then, I think…  I think back to Camp War Eagle three years ago when I signed up to spend the summer of 2021 in Italy.  I can retreat to the anxiousness I felt spending the entire pandemic waiting to hear if this program was cancelled, if everyone had called it quits.  I look back on getting off the bus that first day, and all of the wonder, excitement, and nervousness I felt, the homesickness late at night, the deep desire for a single Chick-fil-a nugget.  I can vividly remember meeting all of my 10 new classmates and being so frightened they would not like me (or even worse they would not like taking pictures).  One of my favorite times to reflect on is trying to sort out how I was going to eat turkey melts for the next 74 days, considering it was my one and only cooking talent.

Today,  I have 10 new friends. I have travelled to 22 different cities over the course of a little over a month, toured Rome, slept in a cave, boiled noodles for the first time, made some delicious potatoes, drank wines at vineyards, almost threw up from sea sickness on the Amalfi Coast, learned a little Italian, and have gained pounds worth of gelato.  I have grown in ways that would’ve been absolutely infeasible if I let fear hinder me from committing to this program and studying in this magnificent country during an uncertain time.  In my 20s, I have decided to put myself out there and reach beyond anything close to my comfort zone.  I have decided to immerse myself in a culture so beautifully different then my own.  As I begin my 20s, I may currently lack a solid career, a husband — let alone a child — but I sure have 42 (and soon, 74) days I can promise, without a doubt, that I lived to their fullest.

So here I am, about half way through. Summer 2021.  Italy.  The time of my life.

Sending all my love from Italy,

Kathleen Musick

Living life to its fullest by spending the sunset frolicking in the streets of Ariccia

The Joy of a Crowded Table

I have dreamed of studying abroad for as long as I can remember. I envisioned a semester spent swimming in front of Positano or climbing a mountain in the Abruzzo National Park, two items just checked off my bucket list. I wanted to dive deeper into culture and learn about the traditions that make a city special, also something I am grateful to learn each day. However, what I did not dream of, simply because I never could have imagined such great joy, was making new friends around the world. 

When I first landed in Italy, I was nervous about making friends with both my program companions and Italian neighbors. However, wherever I went, I was greeted by the bright smiles and welcoming arms of people eager to share their stories. I quickly learned that no matter where I was or who I was talking with, people just wanted to feel seen and listened to. This can be as simple as asking a person what their name is. 

Committed to this newly learned lesson, I asked every person I met what their name was. We traveled city to city, week after week, and I began to make friends everywhere I went. Before I studied abroad, I thought my most memorable moments would be my wildest adventures, like dancing in the gardens of Villa D’este or reading a book in the shadow of the Pantheon. These memories are wonderful, moments I will cherish for the rest of my life. However, the place I have found the most peace, the most joy, is seated at a table with new friends and old friends alike. 

It is at a table that we ate pasta and became best friends under a little bridge in Ariccia. 

It is at a table that we meet every morning to sip cappuccinos (type of coffee) and dream of what the day might offer. 

It is at a table that we held gelato (ice cream) in our hands and laughed as the Roman sun made it drip to our elbows. 

It is at a table that we sit eagerly every day to learn about the beauty of Italian history and culture. 

And it is at a table that we will celebrate all that we have learned and all that we have become over this summer in just a few short weeks.

Thank you for those who have always left a place for me at their table. 

Salute (cheers), 

Cat Powers

Our group seated at a table at the La Torretta Winery! 

Sometimes a Break is the Best Medicine One Needs

Growing up, I have always had that “go go go” mentality. I try to keep myself as busy as possible just because “doing” always makes the time go by faster. Because of this, I have never really had free time so this trip has most definitely been an adjustment for me. As a BioMedical Sciences major on a Pre-Med track, I am quite used to 10 hour days with studying on the weekends and my mother, being the intuitive genius she is, thought that I should study abroad as a way for me to gain some distance, not only mentally, but also physically, from my core STEM classes. I, of course, wasn’t too fond of the idea but turns out, taking a break was exactly what I needed. 

Fast forward to right before we leave. I had made a plan, thinking I was going to be spending my free time at the palace studying for the MCAT but my mother, again, quite adamant, said that I needed to take the summer to relax and focus on embracing and learning as much of the Italian culture as I could. The work that we have been doing is definitely different than I am used to, but I feel like I appreciate being in Italy more now that I have the time and the comfort to do so. For example, our group take these optional excursions on the weekends and they are absolutely perfect in that you can do whatever you want. I usually pass the time by walking around and exploring before coming back to the hotel and relaxing for a couple of hours. These excursions have allowed me to get that much needed break at the end of the week as well as rejuvenating me for the week we have ahead.

I am hoping that upon returning back to the United States, I will be able to continue listening to my mother’s advice and giving myself some time to relax as sometimes just “being” is the best medicine one needs.

A pic of me in Rome when I was enjoying myself the most!

Make sure you take some time for yourself,

Olivia Murray

You Always Find Your Way Back Home

It’s a tale as old as time: You can leave the place you call home for bigger and better things, but in the end, you’ll always find your way back. When I first arrived in Ariccia, Italy, I had a hard time imagining that it would be anything more than my temporary dorm for the 11 weeks that I was living here. Thinking about it now, I realize how wrong I was. 

Since the first week we have been here ‘on the go’ is the phrase that I would use to describe my life. Every week we have a different field trip to a different location and every weekend we are off to a new Italian city to experience what the different regions have to offer. When I am on the go so much, I really begin to appreciate the feeling I have when I am “home”. The funny thing is, now when I think of home, I think of my little nest that is settled in my room in the Chigi Palace with my roommate sleeping on the other side of my dresser and the ability to walk to the places that feel most familiar to me. A place that was once the most unfamiliar location to me is now the place that I feel the most at peace and always find myself wanting to get back as quickly as possible. When we get picked up from wherever we have been for the weekend and our driver tells us “Let’s go home” I truly feel like I am going home.

Of all the things I have learned these past six weeks about the Italian culture, history, cuisine, and art there is one that sticks out the most. No matter where I go, whether it is a day in Rome for a field trip or to Sorrento for a weekend full of sun and fun, I always find my way back to the place I love the most: home. 

There are so many things that I love about our home in in Ariccia, but one of my favorites has to be the easy two minute walk to get a good piece of pizza.
There are so many things that I love about our home in Ariccia, but one of my favorites has to be the easy two-minute walk to get a good piece of pizza.

Lots of love from home

Carly Mang

Finding the Balance Between Awe and Adjustment

I am writing this blog post from the comfort of my very own desk. I say
“claimed” because it quite literally has my name on it; though this act is primarily a COVID-19 caution- it still gives me a sense of ownership. What I forgot to mention is that this comfort found from “my very own desk” is a comfort found in Ariccia, Italy. It just so happens that this comfort is found over 5000 miles from “my very own desk” in Auburn, Alabama. Over the past 5 weeks I have became used to this sitting here everyday and doing my work. I have settled into this new place and now find comfort in the familiarity. I often catch myself feeling guilty for this sense of comfort; for who am I to feel comfortable in such a magnificent place? 

This internal struggle has become more prominent as the days progress. I am constantly shifting between being in awe of my situation and being completely adjusted to my current life studying abroad in Italy. On one hand I feel as if I should not let myself feel at home so that I do not take for granted the splendor of this program. On the other hand, I feel as if I deserve to adjust to this pace of life. For example, everyday I wake up and get ready for class just as I would on a normal day in Auburn. How do I become adjusted to living in Italy but also not become numb to the environment around me? 

This has been a recurring conversation lately and I believe that I have made some progress in finding my perfect balance. The first step is to practice gratitude everyday. A way I have begun doing this is moving my journaling to the morning; this way I am able to start off my day by refocusing on the amazing opportunity I have been given. The second, more difficult step involves accepting that I am worthy of this circumstance. All of us who are a part of this program have worked to be here and deserve the luxury of adjusting. Though we are in Italy, we are still entitled to the comfort of feeling at home. 

Ever since we stepped foot in Italy, we have been told to make strides towards adjusting. Whether it be trying to beat jet lag, trying and failing at Italian, and many other examples that may seem small but all work together in order for us to conform to the Italian. So today, as I write this blog from “my very own desk” in Ariccia, Italy, where I am sitting after my daily walk to get my Italian cappuccino… I am reminded that though I am constantly making efforts to find the balance between Awe and Adjustment, I may never find the perfect mix. This is not a complete loss because, while trying to mesh the “once-in-a-lifetime experience” with the everyday life that I live, I find myself growing in admiration of my current situation and it leads me to be more appreciative of the little things throughout the day. It leads me to love my life… not only my life in Italy, but my life that just happens to take place in Italy at the moment. 

A picture of my daily cappuccino that I no longer savor, but rather slurp down quickly because I know I will be able to do the same the next day.

From the desk of,

Molly Grubb

Traveller’s Déjà Vu

The ocean smells the same no matter where I travel in the world. The salt and humidity in the air wrap me in a warm, sticky embrace that can bring memories flooding back. This is what I realized after stepping off the bus at a gas station in Italy. For me the smell triggered thoughts of Gulf Shores, Alabama, and beach trips with my family, but as I talked to other girls on the program, I realized that I was not the only one experiencing déjà vu.

Many people warned me about culture shock, and how out of place I would feel in a foreign country. While all of these warnings are true and helpful, I never expected to feel like I was still inside of the United States. These moments of déjà vu, of remembering a past situation and having it come to me, have occurred a couple times while on this trip. Stepping off the bus near the beach, or standing in a gas station picking out snacks like I would on a road trip back home, something will remind me of home, and all of a sudden, I will feel like I am there. The other girls have mentioned having these moments as well. For some, waking up they forget that they are in Italy and are surprised not to be in their bed at home. One girl mentioned that riding down the highway she would see hay-bales, rolled like the ones in the South; however, these would be painted with the Italian flag, and it would hit her that she is in Italy.

We have all had these moments of zoning out and forgetting where we are, but when we do, the magic of Italy hits us all over again. The best feeling to me though is when we arrive back at the Chigi Palace after a weekend away. We all sigh, drop our bags, and say, “It is good to be home”.

Rebecca Johnson

Chigi Palace-Home Sweet Home

It Matters Less of Where You Go and More of Who You Go With.

I have a lot of things to be grateful for in life, but I think being able to study abroad in the wake of global pandemic may be the number one thing on my list, forever. As a Global Studies major, I am required to study abroad, but the pandemic made that difficult. So, when I received the email that there were spots in the Summer 2021 Joseph S. Bruno Italy program, I was so happy I screamed but I was slightly skeptical. This program is so desirable it is practically impossible to sign up unless you did it years in advance. I kept waiting for the catch and then there it was: no personal travel or travel outside of Europe. I knew this semester would still be worth it but I had no idea how it would play out.

As I prepared for Italy, I spent a considerable amount of time wondering if I would like the girls I was spending the summer with. Since we were such small group, I knew it was important I enjoyed being around everyone. On the first optional weekend excursion I realized that there was no question, I loved them. We had travelled to Viterbo and none of us had a plan for the weekend at all. We spent the entire weekend aimlessly wandering around the shops and checking out the different restaurants in the area. Even with nothing exciting planned, I still had the best time.

Realizing that while the places we visit are amazing, most of my memories will come from the people I am with, has helped me not mind the restricted travel. Some of the most fun I have had so far has been in the Palace. Just a few nights ago a few of us got together for an impromptu karaoke party, it was some of the worst singing I have ever heard but I have never laughed so hard.

There are many benefits of being with a smaller group, including being able to have a connection with every person. Another benefit to the small group is that it has created an environment conducive to improving our communication skills. One of the best things we have done to prevent misunderstandings or interpersonal conflicts is learning everyone’s preferred form of communication, whether we are more direct or indirect. Knowing how to communicate with everyone has also allowed us to get closer in a relatively quick amount of time.

Getting to spend my summer traveling alongside ten of the kindest young women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, let alone call my friends, is something I will always be grateful for. These women have shown me that while the sites we visit are beautiful in their own right, the memories we make together are even more beautiful.

Love from Ariccia – Emma B.

Our first sunset as a group. We spent the whole time dancing around the square taking pictures. (missing Rebecca)

Finding Miracles in Your Journey

I remember vividly when I was at Camp War Eagle signing up to be on the waitlist for the JSB Summer 2021 Study Abroad Program. I had heard of so many interesting stories and was so excited for when it would be my turn to go. When signing up two years ago, I would never have expected it to turn out like this, but I am beyond grateful it did.

Being the first group back to Ariccia in over a year has shown me just how lucky we truly are. The people of Ariccia are so excited to see us here because it gives them hope that things are starting to get better. It puts the biggest smile on café owners’ faces when they see our group all coming in to buy some cappuccinos and ‘cornetti’ which are croissants. It makes me realize how much the pandemic affected business and how the Italian citizens struggled due to the lack of tourism and lockdowns. This program has not only been able to show me the kindness and appreciation in the hearts of Ariccia citizens, but it has also showed me a new side to the program that has never been seen.

Since we are not able to use public transportation, there are places we would normally go to but unfortunately, we cannot this time. This is actually allowing us to be able to go see places and sites that JSB students have never gotten to see before. 

One of the places we visited was the Royal Palace of Caserta, and we were the first JSB group to go in several years. It is the largest royal palace in the world and it definitely lives up to it. I was awestruck at how beautiful and breathtaking it was. There was a beautiful garden that had a long flowing waterfall and a huge field of flowers. 

We also were able to go to Matera for the weekend and stayed in a cave hotel. It will forever be the coolest hotel I have and will ever stay in. We talked so much about how amazing and wonderful staying in a cave hotel was that I would not be surprised if our program directors take Matera into consideration for future JSB groups.

I think that this was the perfect time for me to attend this program, and in a way, I feel as if it was fate. I have learned not to take things for granted and to live in the moment and take it all in. I do not think my eighteen-year-old self realized what a once-in-a lifetime opportunity she was going to get when she signed up for the waitlist in 2019, but I can say that it is even better than she could have imagined in her wildest dreams. 


Dozier Dansby

The gorgeous waterfall in the garden of the Royal Palace of Caserta with statues at the bottom of the falls.