I have always dreamed of traveling, seeing every continent, visiting as many places as possible, learning about new cultures, and experiencing different ways of life. When I first learned about the JSB Auburn Abroad Program, I was immediately interested and signed up for it my first semester at Auburn. After the initial excitement of signing up for the program faded, summer 2022 seemed so far away that it almost didn’t feel real when I thought about it.
Suddenly, I was on a plane and landing in Rome. I still couldn’t grasp that I was in Italy, my first time being in Europe, and I was going to be here for the next three months. The taxi ride from the airport to the Chigi Palace was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, as I was processing the events of the last 24 hours and trying to take in everything that I could. One of the most distinct things that I remember from that taxi ride was seeing a single poppy sprouting up on the side of the road. I now know that this is very common, and I see them everywhere, especially on train rides and hikes. They are a small part of Italy that I never expected to become so meaningful to me. They have begun to represent travel, endurance, and in general my time here.
When I came to Italy, I honestly didn’t know what to expect or how my time here would go. After a month and a half of being here, I can confidently say that the times I have spent being present in the moment have been the most valuable to me; the time that I have taken to stop and smell the roses—literally and figuratively. There has been a balance of wanting to be constantly going and experiencing everything this amazing country has to offer while still taking the time to simply be and appreciate what is around me. Every time that I see a poppy, it reminds me to slow down, appreciate the moment that I am living, and just be.
This study abroad experience has been wonderful and eye-opening in countless amazing ways. I knew, going into this program, that it would be a season of learning and growth while being immersed in a new culture and navigating how to live in a foreign place. Even though I came into this semester unsure of what to expect, a common theme that I have picked up on while being here is to expect the unexpected and to be okay with whatever that may be.
When traveling, things have often not gone as we had hoped, thought, or planned, and the best way to get through these seemingly frustrating moments is to laugh it off, shrug it off, and figure out what’s next.
I’ve learned that some of these moments will end up becoming some of my most hilarious memories, my best stories that I’ll be able to tell for years to come, and have led me to find and do things that I would otherwise never have. Putting a smile on my face or stopping myself from speaking out loud that negative thought that pops into my head goes a pretty far way in making the best of a situation.
In many ways, this is a large part of Italian culture and one of the sweet, sweet beauties of the way of life in Italy – to not sweat the small stuff, to make the most of every moment, and to enjoy the now, whatever that may be. So, go with the flow and ‘trova la gioia’ – find the joy in every situation, because I promise that there is a little bit of joy everywhere, if you just look (especially in Italy!).
Do you ever catch yourself missing a moment while you’re still living in it? This has been my experience for the past five weeks while on the JSB program. This summer is something I’ve been looking forward to and saving towards for my entire college experience. Actually, to be more accurate, this experience is something I’ve been looking forward to for my entire life! Ever since I knew what the concept of studying abroad was, I knew it was something I had to do. All of this buildup made stepping on the plane to Rome feel like an out-of-body experience. I just kept saying to the girls around me, “I just can’t believe this is real!! We’re actually doing this?!”
When I stepped off the bus into the square of Ariccia, the surreal feeling intensified. This is a place I’ve seen photos of and been dreaming of for so many years, and I couldn’t believe it was actually real! Once the dust settled, I realized how lucky I felt to be living here. Every day brings a new adventure, whether that’s practicing my Italian with Paolo and Barbara at Antico, hiking Mount Vesuvius, getting lost in Venice on our personal travels, or not being able to translate an Italian menu and waiting to see what it is I’ve ordered at dinner! I have always been someone who craves adventure and new experiences, so all of this has been so exciting for me!
Because this whole experience has been so wonderful, I find myself missing moments while I’m still living them. On one of our first days on the program, we read letters from the previous semester of Chigi babies. One of them said, “Soak it all in, because nothing will ever be like this or feel like this again,” and the more time that goes by, the more I can see how true that is. I look around at the wonderful 21 women I’m surrounded by, usually while we’re crying laughing, and realize how lucky I am. We could be singing and dancing on the streets of Venice, jumping into the water off the Amalfi Coast, looking at ancient Roman ruins, or simply just hanging out in the kitchen, and I just want to freeze time and live in the moment forever. It’s the most bittersweet experience of my life to look forward to every day, and also want the next day to never come because that means one more day closer to leaving.
I guess this is the best problem I could have. Stressing myself out because I am missing a moment I’m living in is definitely the best way I could remember my study abroad. Some days my heart just hurts thinking of leaving this beautiful town and its sweet people. I hope there never comes a day in my life where I forget any part of this experience – it has been truly magical, and if I could start it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.
Sending all my love from my favorite town in the world,
I have always loved flowers, ever since I was young. Whether it was my nana singing me a song about sunflowers as I sat by her side as a toddler, or being given roses by my dad when he was promoted to Admiral in the Navy, or receiving a Hawaiian lei on preference round of sorority rush and knowing I had found my home away from home at Auburn, flowers have always been something that have appeared and grounded me in the big, small, and in-between moments of life.
One of my favorite sayings comes from the Les Miserable musical – a full song dedicated to a message about rain making the flowers grow. I have found that it is the hardest, most mentally, emotionally, and/or physically trying times that are the ones that teach me the most about myself. The last time I was in Europe, the only time I had ever been, was when I was eleven. Traveling to study abroad in Italy one decade later had me realize that my passion for the meeting new people, exploring new places, and seeing new things has not wavered. While it has only been a month since I arrived here in Italy, at times, it feels like a whole lifetime has passed.
The adapting process in the first few weeks was one of the most surreal, challenging periods for me and when I finally was feeling ‘settled-in’ I thought that that would be where my discomfort ended. Obviously, that was not the case! Studying abroad is an experience that really pushes you beyond what you truly think is possible, and through the moments when I thought to myself “I can’t” I knew I had to at least try.
All of the things I thought myself unable to do, like traveling to a foreign country with 21 strangers, being able to communicate with small-town Italian locals when I knew no Italian besides “Ciao” (Hello/Goodbye) and “Grazie”(Thank you), going an hour without calling or texting my mom, not going on TikTok or Youtube for days at a time, overcoming group tensions and travel conflicts, living without substitute milk options, and even learning the Roman metro and train system, have all been things that I have overcome since I’ve been here. I know that our lives are captured on the highlight reels of social apps and that my friends are keeping up with me through my Instagram posts, and while those have been some of my favorite moments of my experience here and I will always cherish them for the rest of my life, it is the moments that I do not post that are the ones that are shaping me and forcing me to grow beyond who I was prior to stepping off the plane in the Fiumicino airport.
Although the rainy days come and go, I try to remind myself that sunshine is always ahead and that without the rain I wouldn’t recognize the moments when I really start to flourish the most. Through all the rain that I know is ahead of me, I plan to grow through it and focus on the remarkable experiences that are blossoming before me. I hope you are able to do the same, wherever you are and in whatever season of life you are in.
I am so close to graduating and joining corporate America. Technically, I walked at the end of the Spring and only have this summer semester before I am done. I have always wanted to travel more and do it independently. I wanted to be able to test myself and see how I would do in a foreign country without knowing anyone. Being alone really scared me at first, but I realized that it was the best decision I could have made. It forced me to open up to other people and got me out of my comfort zone. I have forced myself to be more extroverted and speak up for myself. This will really prepare me for when I move to a new city not knowing anyone or how to get around. I have been exposed to so many different people, cultures, and locations that now I can use my experience to impact where I end up at.
I wanted to have this summer abroad to be able to explore the world. My biggest concern since I was younger was that I would do four years of college, find a job, settle down, and never get to live in a foreign country. I am someone who likes to play things safe and not do anything too risky. Honestly, this study abroad trip for three months is the biggest risk I have ever taken in my life. This trip was a big risk by being away from my friends and family for a long period of time. But it was so worth the risk. I truly hope my takeaway from this trip will be my personal growth towards independence and becoming more culturally aware. I have truly enjoyed my experience and believe that studying abroad was exactly what I needed to prepare me for graduating.
Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a glass box watching your entire life pass you by with no idea how to stop it? It sounds dark, I know, but it has not been that bad. I have had great times with even greater people, but a part of me always felt like I could not live in the moment. I felt the constant urge to live my life to the fullest and soak in every second, but I didn’t know how. I wanted to feel the rush of nervous new beginnings, not knowing what was coming next, but still confused on how to confidently experience it. It is safe to say being here for the past month has finally taught me how.
There is a bittersweet feeling when you realize in a single moment, “I am going to miss this moment for the rest of my life,” and there’s nothing else you can do but sit in it. So far, I have learned to fill up your mind with as many smells, sounds, and memories that you can. But when the moment passes, it does not mean it is gone. Small moments like those are what keep you going and remind you that there was memorable past and an exciting future ahead. Change, growth, and discomfort are inevitable, but it is what you do with those feelings that shape you into the person you will soon become.
Taking the first step onto the plane away from my parents, away from a city and country I knew so well, and away from every comfort I knew gave me a thrill of independence. I knew I had to grab a hold of that feeling and run with it. Immersing myself into an experience with 21 girls I had never met before, but had probably crossed paths with hundreds of times, has already taught me so much about the joys of trying new things and sinking into every moment during them. Don’t be scared to say yes, always keep an open mind, and take life one step at a time.
Being here for three months, something I have noticed the most is that Italians take life slow and easy. They live in each and every moment, not rushing from place to place. In America, almost everyone is working on their next move, figuring out what step to take next, and not looking down and realizing the blessings right where they are. If there is one message I take away from living in this beautiful country, it is to find the moment and live in it.
What does it mean to embark on your own Grand Tour?
To answer this question, I think we need a brief history lesson!
The Grand Tour was an individual journey through Italy which many renowned artists, poets, writers, and established members of society (William Turner, Mary Shelley, and Louisa May Alcott to name a few) would embark on between the 17th and 19th centuries. The Grand Tour would usually endure for three months to a year’s length with multiple stops along the way to learn about culture, art, architecture, literature, etc. While part of the motivation for this journey was to become established and elevated in society, another purpose (and arguably a more important one) was to inspire ambition and creativity within.
Nestled within the Grand Tour route, just outside of Rome and along the Via Appia (the Appian Way) lies Ariccia. While many may assume this little town was just a place to rest your head for the night and move on in the morning, Ariccia was actually a beloved place of respite for Grand Tourists. This town set on a hill provided an escape from the city and connection to the natural landscape with its ethereal light and expansive views.
Grand Tourists found great inspiration in Ariccia, and their artistic works, explorations, and intellectual thoughts began to flourish. And through this growth, Ariccia became a gathering place for tourists and locals to cultivate new works, actively listen and engage, and uplift one another to further improve as creative individuals.
And this still holds true today. Ariccia is a place of respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Away from the tourists (and the heat). A place to connect with nature but also gather with one another. A place where people listen and exchange stories and ideas. A place that encourages quality over quantity, rest over busyness, and understanding who you are rather than what you do. While the town may be small, it does not confine. It greets you with open arms and allows you to grow.
This is the whole point of a Grand Tour. To venture to places which allows you to flourish.
So, what does it mean to embark on your own Grand Tour in today’s world?
If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said that the purpose of a modern Grand Tour is to explore the top sites in Italy. Visiting the Trevi Fountain and having a Lizzie McGuire moment in Rome, seeing Michelangelo’s David in Florence, and going for a picture-perfect gondola ride in Venice.
But I think we just learned the true answer to this question has greater depth.
Of course, you should say hello to David in Florence and throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome. There is something quite amazing about experiencing something you have learned about in history class or seen in the movies come to life in full scale! But remember to also take time to savor the small spots along the way. Seek out (or wander to) the places which appear still. These could be empty cobblestone streets away from the tourists, small artisan shops with quality products, a small town next to a big city, or a quiet cafe serving swan cappuccinos. Whatever draws your eye and captivates your interest, go to it.
And once you get there, take the time to truly immerse yourself. Have conversations, both deep and brief, with locals and those passing by. It is amazing the depth of conversation that will come when you make the effort to carry it beyond a simple “buongiorno” (hello). Ask questions about the local culture, history, and cuisine. Try a new dish. Observe local art. And challenge yourself to learn.
This is what I have learned over the past month of living in Ariccia. While my Grand Tour includes some famous sites, the memories I will cherish the most are the conversations and experiences held in the quiet corners along the way.
So I now encourage you to embark on your own Grand Tour, whether that be in Italy or wherever you find yourself in this moment. Take the time to stop and savor all that surrounds you. Connect and gather with the local people and listen to their stories (and share yours too!). These moments will lead to flourishing, and your Grand Tour will be a great success.
Studying abroad is something that I hope everyone can experience sometime in their lives. I grew up in a family that always traveled around the world but there is just something special about experiencing this on your own with people your age.
Studying abroad starts off as a new and scary “trip” alone in an unknown country with random people you barely know or possibly don’t even know at all. Once you really get to know the people you are with every day for the next twelve weeks, you have the sudden realization that studying abroad is not just a trip. It’s an experience that we are fortunate enough to be able to endure. You all realize you want to grow together, you want to travel together, you want to study together, and you want to become culturally-rounded, independent people together. It is a huge milestone that we reach around week three of this amazing program.
Traveling to various unknown countries, studying the material we need for quizzes, learning the new and beautiful Italian language and history, and even walking around the Chigi Palace or the town of Ariccia have all become normal things while on the JSB program. It is almost becoming difficult to fathom how we will endure life outside of this bubble we have created together but in the end, you realize you have gained a whole new family within these twelve weeks. You gain a forever friendship that will continue on after the program.
As I sifted through my thoughts for a title for this blog post, the one I chose resonated with me particularly for a few reasons. The places you will go are more than fun side trips you take with friends when you have time. You will go to a place of growth, a place of happiness, a place of education, and occasionally a place of sadness or even anger. You will have this amazing new family to be by your side throughout the places you’ll go.
As I approached the opportunity to study abroad with the JSB program this summer, I was met with many mixed emotions. Because I will graduate upon my return from my semester abroad, before leaving for Italy I not only had to say goodbye to my best friends and family but my college years and Auburn which has become my home. I experienced overwhelming sadness and fear as the end of my last spring semester drew closer. Time seemed to be moving faster and faster and all I wanted was for it to stop. I wished I could be eternally frozen in time in my frilly pink living room of my college apartment on a weeknight with my best friends sitting on our squeaky pleather couch in our sweatpants while eating our favorite meal and watching one of our ~lame~ reality dating shows. I know this may sound dramatic, me wanting to stay in a seemingly unremarkable moment forever, but it was true and I hope whoever is reading this one day will understand the feeling of love and peace that those moments with those people gave me.
Stepping on the plane to Rome was a different experience for me understanding that this was my last summer of being a ‘kid.’ In the fall I am moving to a new city, starting my career as a designer, and beginning a new phase in my life as an adult. I find myself continuing to will time to move slower and slower. A month has already flown by and while this experience is different from all I had expected, it has been the most eye-opening, incredible opportunity. Meeting new people, immersing myself in a new culture, and experiencing places that I have spent the entirety of my education learning about and dreaming of seeing with my own eyes, is something that is a rarity and that I am going to cherish.
Being in such a transformative stage of my life has encouraged me to slow down, take in the moment, and remember how fortunate I am to be here in this beautiful place. It is not always easy. Sometimes the anxiety about the future creeps in and in those moments, when your mind is spiraling into the unknown, it is hard to continue to be in the moment. But for now, I am creating new moments here in Europe, like those that I had back in Auburn, that provide me with the same warmth and appreciation for my life and I find myself yearning to be eternally frozen in forever.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. -Helen Keller
The start of this summer was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Growing up I have always been someone to play it safe and stay in my comfort zone. Years ago I never would have seen myself moving to another country for a summer, but here I am. The past few weeks have been an amazing adventure that is only the beginning.
So far, my experience with the Joseph S. Bruno Program has pushed me to grow as a person. What I am learning about the culture and history will always stay with me, but more importantly, I am learning things about myself. Italy has begun to show me that it is okay to try new things, push myself out of my comfort zone, and just live in the moment. It is only the beginning and I have made many memories and connections that I never could have expected.
My time in Italy is teaching me that you can only live once. Typically, I am someone that wants to have everything planned out way in advance so I can know what to expect. Sometimes things do not go as expected, but I’ve started to learn that a change in plans can be okay. The worst that can happen is things do not go to plan or I do not enjoy the moment, but I can at least say I tried. Sometimes, it is about doing something for the memories, even if it is not how I envisioned it. In the end, I will look back at my adventures and cherish all the memories, good and bad.