Le Undici Rose (The Eleven Roses)

The name of the hotel we stayed at for our very first weekend excursion in Viterbo, Italy, was called Le Undici Rose, which means ‘The Eleven Roses’ in Italian. When I discovered the name of this hotel during our first week, I couldn’t help but smile at the coincidence: eleven girls, eleven weeks. We were the eleven roses! For the remainder of our unique semester, I fondly thought of the Summer 2021 students as the eleven roses, and by other names as well: the Chigi Babies, my little ducklings all in a row, my ‘girlies,’ my friends.

As I reflect over the time I shared with these ten students, I remember how thankful I have been for our unique semester. Due to restrictions related to the pandemic, our students had to abide by a new set of rules: a much smaller group, no travel outside Italy, no personal travel, no summer break, and fewer field trips to ‘well-known’ cities… just to name a few. While some may think these restrictions would hold our students back from having the experience of a lifetime, I can assure everyone that the Chigi Babies of Summer 2021 are leaving Ariccia having enjoyed a semester unlike any Chigi Baby before them.

Many of them have waited years for their turn to study abroad. Some had been continuously disappointed since the onset of the pandemic when they heard the news that JSB would be paused yet again, semester after semester. Some had their hearts set on other study abroad programs before they were approached with the opportunity to join JSB for a summer in Italy. We all waited anxiously to hear the final decision on JSB Summer 2021, and each of us jumped through hoops to get us here: moving around class schedules, cancelling summer plans, receiving vaccines, taking PCR tests, and much more. All of these things made it so much sweeter when our plane finally touched down in Italy in May.

These ten special students were willing to sacrifice so many things and jump headfirst into the unknown to study in Ariccia for the summer, and this was something many others shied away from when they heard news about the program changes. In the end, their risk paid off. Together we traveled to over 30 cities in Italy. (This fact alone sets our summer apart.) We used our Italian language skills every day. We created strong bonds with the locals in Ariccia, and sought to make new friends in every place we visited. We immersed ourselves in Italian culture and learned a lifetime of lessons. We laughed, we cried, and we took advantage of every precious day we were given to be here.

I am so thankful for the Summer 2021 Chigi Babies and this special summer we spent together. Without them, I would not have been given the opportunity to return to Ariccia as a teaching assistant, to travel throughout the country of Italy, or to grow so much as an individual and leader. It has been a joy to lead them in their study abroad experience and I hope each girl looks back on these eleven weeks fondly. I hope they never forget the memories we made together and that they feel forever changed by the marks left on them by JSB, Italy, and one another.

With love from Ariccia,

Skylar Biedenharn (Fall 2019 Alumna and Summer 2021 Teaching Assistant)

This is a selfie from our final field trip of the semester in Sperlonga!

Stop Staring at the Mountains

The past eight weeks have manifested into memories that I hope I never forget. I wish I could tell people that I’d always planned to come to Italy and that it had been on my radar before March 2021, but I would be lying. I was in a place in life where big, uncomfortable changes were happening and I felt that I had zero control of any of it. My friends were approaching their graduation day and the reality was setting in that I would be remaining at Auburn an extra year with the expectation that I would not get the chance to study abroad before I graduate. My routine was becoming mundane, and I was unsure of how to escape my redundant reality. Then, on March 31, I got an email about the Joseph S. Bruno Program and decided it was time to do something unexpected; I was going to find a way to go. 

Fast-forward to week number eight of the program, and the decision to sign up for the JSB Program seems minute in comparison to the accomplishments that I have had since arriving in Italy. 

Heights terrified me, but I climbed Mount Vesuvius. 

Bridges petrified me, but I strolled across the seemingly interminable bridge to Civita di Bagnoregio. 

Independence intimidated me because I had allowed myself to become alienated from it, but moving to another continent for eleven-and-a-half weeks with ten strangers demands it. 

Despite the multitude of fears and reservations that I had a few months ago, I decided that it was time to stop staring at the mountains; it was time to climb them. I made the choice to live in the moment rather than allow my fear to consume me. Those fears are no longer staring back at me, rather, they are now dust under my ambitious feet. The weeks remaining may be dwindling, but my adoration for Italy has surged. Obstacles that once seemed to intimidate me have morphed into some of the best memories I have ever had because I took that step to climb.

Go climb your mountains,

– Emaline Stewart

The Beauty of Small Towns

            Porchetta. . . ciambella . . . carbonara.   Eight weeks ago, I never imagined these exotic words would have any meaning to me.   And little did I know that Ariccia, Italy, would be such an enchanting and compelling place to spend my summer learning about Italy’s incredible culture, cuisine, and history.  As we complete the first seven weeks of our program, the spectacular views, impressive palaces and villas, and the numerous wineries make this experience unforgettable. My long-awaited dream has finally come true after signing up for the Joseph S. Bruno program at Camp War Eagle three years ago and I could not be more thankful to be here. 

The Summer 2021 JSB group has had a different experience than most groups due to COVID-19. We are not allowed to travel alone or outside of Italy in general.  Instead, we chose to go on ‘optional excursions’ as a group which are planned for us by one of the program coordinators. At first, I was disappointed and uncertain about the new travel restriction rule. I had planned to go to Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Mykonos like many other students in previous study abroad programs.   Instead, each weekend we have traveled to little-known places that I could never imagined. These little towns include Viterbo, Matera, Castiglione della Pescaia, and Abruzzo National Park.  Each town has its own unique personality that makes it truly memorable. I have learned to appreciate the smaller towns and have really been able to understand the Italian people and culture on a much more personal level.

Through my JSB experience, I have learned that small towns are hidden gems. There is a reason they are not overrun with tourists and have not doubled the price of cappuccinos (Italian version of coffee), gelato (Italian version of ice cream), and pasta. There is a reason the air is pure and the locals continue to stay. There is a reason that I am quickly and easily learning Italian culture. From now on, I will continue to appreciate and visit small towns as I travel in the future.

Yes, we have traveled to towns like Rome and Sorrento. Although these cities are incredible in their own ways, I sometimes find myself being overwhelmed by the massive crowds and the high prices. I am always ready to come home to the familiar, small town of Ariccia and take on our next weekend excursion to an unknown small town.

This experience has opened my eyes to an entirely new world, and I cannot wait to keep exploring.  And yes, I now love porchetta (a type of pork belly that Ariccia is known for), ciambella (powdered donuts sold in bakeries in every little town) and carbonara (a local and popular pasta dish made with eggs, noodles, cheese, and pork.)  These words are not exotic anymore!

Two best friends happily dancing in the Castiglione della Pescaia sunset!

Love from Ariccia,

Bess Watson