More Than a Sunset

I left the United States thinking Auburn had the best sunsets in the world. The kind of sunset that makes you stop and admire nature’s beauty. From the first night of seeing the sunset over the bridge through the Chigi palace window, I knew this place was special. I would come to see that the sunset brings so much more than just its pure beauty to my life.  

As I look out the window every Sunday evening on the way back from our weekend adventures, this sunset brings me reflection, and not just because my journal reflection is due at midnight, but for the first time that week, I am completely still. I watch the sunset with my favorite song playing, and I think about my week, the many ups, downs, laughs, cries, gelato, every moment. After the sun has completely set I leave feeling more grateful and blessed for the memories and growth of the week. 

Our new weekly ritual is to go down to the Belvidere and watch the sunset all together while having a little picnic. This has quickly become one of my favorite parts of each week. We take time out of our busy week to all come together and share stories, dreams, and many, many laughs. As the sun goes down, “Ribs” by Lorde is playing, and we all dance and feel life’s purest form of happiness. As Lorde sings, “you’re the only friends I need” I know this sunset brings me lifetime friendships. 

I will forever be grateful for the sunsets in Italy for they bring me so much more than I will ever be able to describe and fully understand. I know now when I stop and admire the sunsets at home I will not only think about nature’s beauty but the beauty of life and every small and big moment leading up to that sunset. Of course, though, every sunset from here on out will also remind me of my experiences in Italy and the amazing friendships I have made.


Meghan Schmitt

Our first sunset picnic at the Belvedere!

I Almost Walked Off the Plane

I had never been abroad. I had never flown to another country. I had never traveled this far without my family ever, and here I was getting on an international flight to a country I had never been to, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t know a single soul…or so I thought.

My time in Italy has changed me. It has made me grow. It has challenged me, and in a lot of ways, it has made me better. While I was scared to death boarding a flight to go to a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know a soul, I grew from it. I learned that staying seated on a flight is the difference between finding personal growth, accepting challenge, and seeking adventure as opposed to remaining stagnant, staying afraid, and continuing a repetitious life. All I know is that if the Lord hadn’t seated that retired pilot next to me on my life who talked to me for the majority of the flight, I most likely would have walked off and missed the experience of a lifetime!

My time in Italy has taught me a lot about myself and a lot about how to trust others. Within my first few weeks, an old friend from my undergraduate career reached out and told me that he was currently in Rome studying to become a priest. I did not know, but the Lord did, that I did know a soul in Italy, and little did I know that José would make all the difference! He showed me around Rome, checked in on me during busy weeks with the program, and was a real friend to me when I needed one. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned while being here is that sometimes we have friends and sometimes we find friends in the most unlikely of circumstances. I would never have seen the goodness of this if it wasn’t for this JSB experience.

Further, I learned a lot about who I am and who I want to be as a professional planning to work with undergraduate students. I feel blessed to have spent the past eleven weeks with sixteen young women who are going to change the world. Each and every one of them has something unique and beautiful to offer the world, and it has been an absolute gift to watch them grow and see them evolve as the weeks have gone on. While not every moment has been easy, every single one of them has been so incredibly worth it. The amount of growth I have felt throughout my time here is indescribable, and I can only hope that I continue to hold onto this feeling and seek growth once I am back in Auburn.

I feel as though it is fitting to end this post with a ‘thank you’ to the Joseph S. Bruno Program and all those involved in it. Thank you, JSB, for changing my life. Thank you for giving me a perspective that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and thank you for growing me in all of the ways I didn’t know I needed. I would not be the woman I am today without you!

All my love,

Haley Sherman

From left to right: Lauren, José, and myself! My friend Lauren visited, and I was able to introduce her to José before we toured St. Peter’s Basilica.

Positive Thinking

When was the last time you were so excited about something, yet so completely terrified of it at the same time? Mine had to be the night before I was supposed to leave for the Joseph S. Bruno Program. While I was on the phone with my mom freaking out about whether I should check two bags or one, I had second thoughts about coming at all. From the first time I had heard about Auburn and the Joseph S. Bruno Program, I knew that studying apparel merchandising in Italy had to be done, but the time snuck up on me before I was truly ready to depart. This had been something I waited for my entire Auburn career, but I wanted nothing more than to stay at my home in Auburn and be with the friends I already knew. Well, I guess my wish came true because just hours before I was supposed to board my plane to Rome, I found out I tested positive for Covid-19!

I am the type of person who has a plan and always sticks to it so having this block put in front of me was catastrophic. I was so lost and frightened. I kept thinking to myself that this was a joke, and I would still get to get on my flight at 7:00 PM that night. As time ticked away, the realization that I would not be joining the other Chigi Babies on the flight out of Atlanta began to set in. 

The days passed as I sat in my quarantine and settled into a new idea about this experience I was about to have. I came to terms that I would be the one late arrival and the “new girl” on the trip. While this concerned me, it also comforted me because I knew I had 15 other girls to show me the ropes once I finally arrived. I have grown to become thankful for my extended stay at home because it has set me up to be thankful for every day that I did get to spend here. 

On the day I tested positive, I decided to read my horoscope from Cosmopolitan to see if it could boost my mood and tell me what to do. It read, “You typically prefer a more controlled approach to your schedule, but that isn’t the way this week will unfold. Be ready for anything.” The idea of “be ready for anything” has stuck with me through all eight weeks we have been here so far. No matter what has happened, I have adapted and overcome every stage so far, and I cannot wait to keep pushing myself alongside all my new friends!


Sarah Siddons

This photo was taken by my sorority little and her friends when they dropped me off at the Atlanta Airport after I tested negative!

A Letter to the Future “Chigi Babies”

Seven weeks down and a lifetime of memories made. When will time stop? The past seven weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye, yet again, it has felt like eternity. However, that is the beauty of this experience. Just the other day I was dragging an extensive amount of luggage out of the airport filled with excitement but chained down by fear. Little did I know what was in store for me. 

 To the future “Chigi Babies,” it is essential that you use this time to truly understand and find yourself. While it took 21 years of attempting to understand who I was as an individual, in just seven weeks, I have grown as a person and learned more about myself than ever before. There are two primary takeaways from my experiences abroad that I would like to share with you: 

  1. Make it a priority to understand yourself and your needs: While there is so much good during your time here, many will also face confusion or uneasiness during this “experience of a lifetime.” However, that is a part of this experience, and you should embrace it. To cope with the confusion and uneasiness you might face, make sure to practice self-care. On the “not-so-perfect” days, take time to evaluate what you can do for yourself to improve your day-to-day life in Aricia and make this a priority. While this may not come easily or naturally to so, take time to figure out if your version of self-care is putting on a Netflix series, reading your favorite book, going for a walk, or all the above. Ultimately, do what feels right for yourself. 
  1. Step out of your comfort zone: This might sound contradictory to my first tip, right? However, the truth is, you will likely get a little too comfortable watching Netflix or reading that book that you just never want to put down. Instead, reflect on your levels of self-care and dictate what you might need to adjust for yourself. From this, live life to its grandest potential. Is there someone you want to get to know more? Spark up an exciting conversation. Do you want to go meet more locals but are too nervous you may forget the essentials from the Italian survival guide? This is the perfect time to practice and immerse yourself in the culture. Your comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there. Take one step out of your comfort zone and notice the new sense of beauty you are overwhelmed with. 

Chigi babies, with all this being said, embrace this once in a lifetime experience, embrace yourself, and live and love every second. You will look back and cherish the memories and the people of this trip, as well as how far you came. Take ample care of your needs and make more memories than you can fathom. There will be a day where this experience seems so long ago, but what will be close to the heart are the memories.  

Sending love, 

Denisse Pena 

Look Out the Window

Train tracks, gondola floats, taxi rides, bus trips, long walks. Our time here in Italy has been packed full of these ‘in-between’ moments. The best thing about studying abroad so far is not just the places we have been, but the journey there. Looking back on all the places we have made our way to this semester; I also begin to think about how we got there. Sure, traveling throughout Italy’s hills, valleys, mountains, and beaches is an absolute dream, but you got to your destination somehow. And while waking up at five in the morning to sit on a bus or train for three hours might not sound like the most exhilarating experience, it’s in these moments where I have surprisingly found myself the most content.

The unique thing about Italy is that there is beauty everywhere you look, no matter where you look. Whether it be rolling green hills covered in vineyards, mountains puncturing the skyline with white snow caps, or even just a small village full of life and love and people. All I have to do is look out and take it in. Soak up every second that I can. Understand the importance of enjoying the present, the ‘in-between’. Because even though I may not be sipping on Tuscan wine or pulling my own mozzarella cheese, I can appreciate the beauty of the stillness around me.

So, while I am eternally grateful for all the experience and opportunity that this semester has granted me, the most valuable lesson I have learned is simply – look out the window.  

Much love,

Meredith McMillan

My view of the beginning of a sunset on our train ride back to Ariccia from Naples.

Appreciate it All, Even When You Don’t Want To

Since attending my first study abroad meeting as a freshman at Auburn, the JSB program has always stood out to me. I loved the idea of living in a small town outside of Rome rather than right in the middle of it, the thought of a group of students from the College of Human Sciences taking on a foreign country together, and the opportunity to visit architectural sites that up to that point, I had only learned about from afar. My journey to get a spot in the program was not an easy one, as I had originally signed up to participate during Fall of 2021. Life got in the way, as it often does, and that time was no longer feasible for me. I was then moved onto the waiting list for both Spring and Summer 2022 but was then told that the waiting list was long, and I may not be able to have this experience at all. You can imagine my surprise when I received an email in late September 2021 stating that a spot had opened for Spring 2022, and it was mine if I wanted it. Of course, I jumped upon the opportunity immediately and haven’t looked back since. Well, that’s not exactly true. Let me explain:

The idea of moving to a foreign country with 17 girls that I had never met before was, to put it mildly, terrifying. I imagined that there would be hard times, but there would also be life-changing moments that would make me forget all about the times where I felt sad, alone, or discouraged. That has held true in every way and to be honest, I think that the hard times make the good times more enjoyable. I mean, it is Italy after all. That’s cheesy, I know, but it’s said for a reason.

My first few weeks in Italy were rough. I had a very hard time acclimating to the complete uproot of my life and missed my family and friends at home immensely. I think I spent more time thinking about all the things I was missing out on at home (like Auburn’s amazing basketball season – War Eagle!) and less time noticing that I was in gosh dang Italy. Traveling to Italy had always been a dream goal of mine so I knew I needed to give myself a wakeup call. I’m in Italy! I better enjoy it!

Around Week 4, I finally decided that enough was enough. I would only be living in a palace once in my entire life, and I better start appreciating it. So that’s what I did! And this new mindset has totally changed my experience. I started to see the beauty in each thing that we did, even the early morning wake ups and the long walk back from the Albano train station (which at times, can feel impossible). But the truth is, I would wake up at 5am every single day to visit Tuscany, or to get to experience the vintage market of Rome. I would make that walk back to the palace after a day full of non-stop activity every single night if it allowed me to see the Colosseum in real life or visit Milan during fashion week. Times can be hard here, but when I look back on this trip, I am not going to think about that. I’m going to think about the smell of gelato, or the sun setting over Ariccia. I’m going to think about how the JSB in Italy program has changed my life forever.

Much love from the Chigi Palace,

Gina Brillanti

A photo of me enjoying the sweet sun in Tuscany 🙂

Making Myself at Home

When I signed up for the JSB Auburn Abroad Program my freshman year of college, I had no idea what was in store for me. All I could think of were the sights I would get to see or the places I would get to travel to, but I did not account for the growth I would experience during my time abroad. I did not account for the independence and confidence I would gain, and most importantly, I did not account for all the change I would encounter, externally and internally.

In late January this year, I took a leap of faith and traveled to Italy with a group of strangers and having not a single bit of international experience. For most of my life, I have found myself in situations that I am comfortable in, surrounded by my best friends and family and always feeling like I had a little piece of home with me wherever I went. However, when my plane landed in Rome and I found myself in a foreign country with people I have never met, I had an overwhelming feeling that home was a lot further away than it has ever been. Little did I know that home was not a particular place, person, or belonging, but rather, home is this special kind of feeling in the most peculiar moments of my life.  

Essentially, my experience thus far with the JSB Program has taught me how to be comfortable in the most unusual situations. Here I am, week 6, looking back on our field trips to the ancient ruins of Rome, the rolling hills of Tuscany, and the moment I got to try pizza in Naples. Here I am reminiscing on my personal weekend travels to Carnival in Venice, skiing in the Italian Alps, and experiencing fashion week in Milan. And somehow, during it all, I have still managed to make myself at home. Because like I said, home is this special kind of feeling: a feeling of content wherever I go. It is knowing that no matter where I am in the world or who I am with, I can look around me and appreciate life for what it is and how it comes.

Elizabeth Langner

This photo was taken in San Gimignano; a quaint, unique town of Tuscany. I had that feeling of “home” that I spoke of in my writing above.

Learning to Live

If someone told me a year ago that I would be going on the Joseph S. Bruno program, I would not have believed them. I am very much a planner and like to have everything in my life laid out in front of me, and this was never on my radar. After COVID-19 and lots of little mishaps, the opportunity to come on this program fell in my lap in late October of 2021. I did not know anyone coming on the program, and I was a little disappointed because just this past summer I had done a study abroad in Rome, so I wanted to experience something different. I questioned my decision every day up until the moment I was on the plane. Did I make a mistake? Should I have run the risk of not getting my study abroad credit and stayed home? Auburn is my dream school and missing a whole semester- unplanned- did not sit well with me. I can say confidently, one month in, I am glad that I was given this opportunity.          

I struggled my first week and a half here. Everyone around me was ecstatic to be here and to be in Italy for the first time. I was feeling so down and hard on myself because I was questioning my purpose here. I had already had my “once in a lifetime” experience in Italy with once in a lifetime friends. I was letting my past endeavors cloud the future I could have on this program. Everything moved so quickly in the beginning, and I look back on that extremely grateful. I did not have time to dwell in the unknown or in the memories I was missing back home. I cannot believe that we have five weeks left. I have created new once in a lifetime experiences with new once in a lifetime friends. I have formed friendships with people I do not think I would have crossed paths with back in Auburn, and that is so exciting to me. I guess I am lucky that way. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity, and I can see so much personal growth. I will take away many different things from JSB, but my most prevalent is that I truly allowed myself to live. Being in a different environment for so long allows oneself to live in unprecedented ways. I would not have had this much growth in Auburn, Alabama and when I return home, I know I will have values instilled in me that allow me to fully appreciate life. 

-Ally McElwee

A beautiful day in San Gimignano! One of my most favorite days so far.