What a Wonderful Adventure

It is surreal how Ariccia and the Chigi Palace become your second home after studying here for three months. As I reflect on my SECOND 3 month stay, I am blown away by how easy it was for me to fall back into the routine of things and how fast 12 weeks flew by – anyone know how to turn back time?!

It is hard to express the feeling I got when my taxi started driving across the bridge as I saw my first glimpse of home again – my eyes started to water and my heart started to beat faster – I was back in what seemed like a fairytale and was greeted by my second family (Cinzia, Roberta, and Linda). I could not believe that I had returned after just three years, and was awestruck to come back as part of the staff and get to help 18 unique personalities navigate their new adventure of living and breathing the Italian culture.

And what a wonderful adventure it has been.

Part of what made Ariccia feel like home are the experiences I have had with the souls I lived with, the locals, the staff and the guest lectures. All of these interactions provided me with self-growth that is almost indescribable. I have found myself improving skills I already had and learning how to navigate new situations while forming new talents. That being said, I think the most growth I experienced was breaking out of my shyness and becoming more outgoing and engaging.

When I was studying here last, I mostly kept to myself and spent my free time having ‘me time’ in my nest (a word used to describe your personal bedroom area). However, being the GTA this semester forced me to break these habits. I found myself spending more time in the common areas of the palace and exploring Ariccia, Albano, and Genzano. What a difference this has made in my experience here. It is funny how I thought my last 12-week stay was impeccable and now I reflect on these past months and realize that it was surprisingly even more perfect the second time around.

If I could give one piece of advice to future JSB students it would be to live life in Ariccia to its fullest. We are each here for such a short amount of time and should take full advantage of our second home, because trust me, it will 100% become a home away from home and alumni often find themselves constantly missing it.

Love always,
Suzanne Merlino
Fall 2017 Graduate Teaching Assistant

eating at Charlie’s restaurant in Albano

Hidden Gem

Planning weekend trips while studying abroad is one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve ever encountered. I felt invincible having Europe at my fingertips for 3 months. I can honestly say that taking advantage of exploring as many places as possible has been beyond worth it and the highlight of my experience abroad. Before arriving in Italy I had endlessly surfed the web from Lonely Planet to Pinterest building up my ultimate list of places to visit. I eventually narrowed down to popular tourist cities like Paris, Barcelona, Milan, etc., which all exceeded my expectations.

Surprisingly, my favorite place was a city I had never heard of before in my life and had never come across it during my research of best places to visit in Europe. This was Ljubljana, Slovenia. For midterm break I gave the reigns to my Mom, who could choose any top city in Europe. But instead she had chosen a wild card. I had no clue where Slovenia was on the map and I walked onto the plane prepared to take a full risk.

On my boat cruise along the river in the heart of the Ljubljana I felt at complete peace and escaped to a place away from all the tourists. The whole city displays elegance in the sophisticated architecture and atmosphere. The colorful buildings, dragon bridge, and castle on the top of the hill made me feel as if I were in a fairytale. Slovenia is truly a treasure in Europe that I had just discovered.

It might seem strange to prioritize random places when having the opportunity to go to all the popular, “touristy” areas. However, I encourage everyone who gets the chance to travel all over Europe to consider traveling off the beaten path and indulge in adventure. It’s surprising how satisfying it is to discover unique qualities of an unfamiliar place. Slovenia has shaped my perspective of traveling and in the future I will prioritize finding more hidden gems.

Kaila Bailey

Ljubljanica River, Slovenia

Lifetime of Memories

Making memories is an important part of studying abroad; they inform your life when your journey as a student is over and they stay with you to build the foundations for future memories. Most importantly they represent the decisions you’ve made, the risks you’ve taken, the people you’ve met and the friends you’ve made. All of the memories made on the JSB Program have become core memories and serve as the foundation of who I am today and every day.

Unfortunately, we cannot travel back in time. Instead, what we can do is bring the memories with us. Upon completion of our tenth week here in Italy I have learned a lot, but most importantly I have learned how to be present in a situation and absorb the beauty that surrounds me. I have learned that being present is undoubtedly the only way to enjoy life to the fullest. Being here in Italy, I have experienced a lifetime of unforgettable memories. I have endured in great conversations that matter to me, I have helped someone at their exact moment of need, I have spent lots of quality time with precious people, I have become immersed in a foreign country that now feels like home, I have made many international incidents, I have seen places that I thought only lived in my dreams, and for these memories, I am eternally grateful.

As we return home in just two short weeks, I am reminded that what I do today will go with me. I will carry my memories around like a suitcase, and it is up to me whether my suitcase is full of vibrant memories or of what could have been. The most important things in life are not things, but experiences and memories. We only get one life. There’s no reason to waste any time forgetting it.

~Caroline Dillard

Kaitlin, the friend that convinced me to study abroad with her in Italy, and I making memories in London on a weekend trip.


The Price of Learning

“What did you learn while you studied abroad?”

This is the question that I’m expecting to hear every day once I’m home. I know my family and friends will wait with bated breath to hear the details of everything I’ve learned while being in Italy. Most will expect me to tell them about what information I’ve memorized from my lectures and field trips and will want me to recite back facts about the history of Rome. However, learning isn’t just about information, it’s about growing as a person and finding your place in the world.

First, I learned to love coffee. Call me crazy, but I hated the stuff before. The few coffees that I did have at home I made sure to load with sugar and creamers. The coffee here is AMAZING. It’s become a staple of my mornings!

Second, I learned the Italian culture. It’s a beautiful thing. Fun fact: they eat dinner at 8 (2 hours later than I usually do) and you won’t find a shop that’s open midafternoon. Dinner is considered a family affair and usually lasts 2 or 3 hours. They’re very laid back people. You’ll often find old men sitting outside coffee shops laughing and chatting away. Everyone I’ve met is super friendly! Even though they usually speak little to no English, they’re very willing to try and communicate and have a passion for learning.

Third, THE FOOD. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a gelato from Grom. The pasta and pizza is to die for. The mozzarella is like nothing you’ve ever had. Everything is fresh and phenomenal.

Finally, I learned the importance of growth. I am in no way the same person who arrived on this trip 10 weeks ago. Being away from your family and friends for 12 weeks forces you to come out of your shell and become more independent. It’s an exciting time and I’ve loved soaking up every minute of it.

Caroline Duncan

Laughing at Montre Marte


Tastes of Italy

Borgo San Jacopo, Florence, Italy, October 10th, 2017

As a Hospitality major, there is much to learn from the various experiences that I have enjoyed while traveling and living abroad. I have learned far more about the tourism industry and what it takes to qualify and excel in that career than I ever could have if I was sitting in a classroom, and I have obtained a new appreciation for the hotel industry and the efforts required to stand above the rest. But most importantly, I have seen and tasted a food industry that, in my opinion, out shines the rest of the world.

While I had previously focused my major specifically on event planning, living in Italy and traveling around Europe has opened my eyes to a new passion for food and restaurant management/ownership. I have accumulated many ideas that I would love to bring home and one day make into reality. While I don’t plan to share all my ideas with you, I do hope that sharing a few of my experiences with European food will encourage and excite you to make the trip yourself to this amazing country and try the unique and exciting flavors that have inspired me and many others.

I recently traveled to Florence with my parents’ and some close friends to celebrate my parents 28th Wedding Anniversary*. Based on my experience I highly recommend Florence be at the top of your Italian itinerary. The art is inspiring, the streets and piazzas are beautiful, and the shopping just might lessen the weight of your wallet. However, since this is about food please keep in mind that just like in the States, good food comes in all different settings and prices here.

In my case, since we were celebrating a very special day, we went for elegant and uniqueness at Borgo San Jacopo. Perched on the Arno with an amazing view of the Ponte Vecchio, this restaurant is known for their tasting menus that allow you to sample some of the finest Italian dishes “enhanced with innovative twists”. The restaurant encourages their guests to

savour the freshness and utter quality of the produce and ingredients hand-selected by the chef, Peter Brunel, himself before being skillfully prepared and presented in inventive dishes.”

What an amazing experience this was. The menu offered three specific category choices, each with seven, petite, carefully selected courses encompassing one central theme: My Tuscany, Potatoes & Potatoes, From the Garden, or you had the option to order a la carte. For an example, the Potatoes & Potatoes tasting menu is described and presented below. Each course was perfectly portioned, perfectly plated, and perfectly tasteful. Every dish had a distinct flavor I had never tasted before and I admired the chef’s attention to detail and the presentation within the plating.

While some of our big cities back home may have a tasting restaurant here and there, they do not compare to the ones over here. Italian food is so much more than pasta and pizza, trust me or you can come here to see for yourself. I promise you, if you have an adventurous palate, you won’t be disappointed and you won’t be bored. This restaurant has inspired me to bring these ideas home and one day create my own version of a unique restaurant such as this.

xx, McKenzie

*Mom & Dad, thank you for an amazing week. Thank you for sharing your special day with me; your love and dedication to each other inspires every day and I hope one day I will find what you two have. I love you both.


Seeking New Opportunities


Studying abroad is about seeking all the opportunities I can while I have already taken advantage of my first amazing opportunity: studying abroad. Almost every day that I’ve been here I have a conversation about how lucky we are to be a part of this program. And truly we are some of the luckiest college students in the world. How many people can say they have spent a whole semester traveling Europe? Think about it: with the JSB program we are not only exploring Italy 4 days of the week but exploring other countries 3 days a week. Take advantage of this! The chance of ever having the freedom to travel like we are is slim. I think the biggest thing I have learned during my time abroad is to be open to anything. I came with a very open mind – I had three places I knew I wanted to travel, but for the most part I was open to traveling wherever the wind blew. Some of the most important things that studying abroad has taught me so far are:

Not sleeping is not a problem

Yes, I am tired some days but I can sleep during the week. I’m the person in the group that wants to be leaving by 10am because we have such limited time in some of these places and I want to see as much as I can. Some days I am so tired on the bus back from a field trip, but I have to remind myself that this opportunity is once in a life time and that for me if I am a little sleep deprived for a semester it will be well worth it.

Spending money is inevitable 

We all come in with a budget and after the first 2 weeks I felt like I had spent half of it but that’s okay because by then I had almost all of my trips planned. The first week I felt like I was throwing money left and right between booking hotels, flights and train tickets but really I had so much done and I won’t have to spend that money twice. My biggest suggestion is to spend the money on the experiences not things because those memories are priceless.

Don’t let fear get in the way

If I were to say I’m not traveling to places where something could go wrong, I would never walk out of my house let alone be abroad. We cannot control everything but we can take precautions. I want to experience the world and I cannot let the fear of “if” stop me from doing that.

Be open/Try new things

Coming here I made it my goal to try new foods, explore new places and meet new people. I am used to living life in the U.S. in my little comfort zone but if there is a time to step out it is now. I went to Croatia, a place I had only heard about once or twice, and had one of the best weekends ever. Being open to all the opportunities we have here has really let me set out of my comfort zone and experience things I never knew I wanted to do.

Talk to everyone

Everyone here has to have something in common — other than all of us being crazy enough to sign up to live in Italy for a semester. The whole group is hilarious and so nice that I want to travel with a different group every weekend so I can get to know everyone.

Write it all down

This is the hardest part for me. Some nights I am so tired and I’ll be weeks behind but I know I want to remember these days for the rest of my life so writing down some of the best memories of the days is a great way to look back on my time abroad.

~Oliva Frazier

My favorite weekend by far exploring Paris, France


Never Coming Home

I am somehow already on week six of my study abroad experience and I am shocked. Everyone told me how quickly it would go by, but I honestly did not believe them because twelve weeks sounded like such a long time. But oh boy, was I wrong! My time in Italy, so far, has been unbelievable. I can truly say that I have already learned more being abroad, than a whole year’s worth of school at home. I learned how to make a fresco, cook Italian dishes, speak some survival Italian, had genuine conversations with locals, experience the nightlife, gone to countless churches, seen the Pope, and much more. I really have felt connected in the Italian culture, especially in the little town we are staying in, Ariccia.

I have also become a world traveler outside of Italy. Before coming abroad, I had not been to many places outside of the United States and the places I went I was always with my parents. It is not even halfway through the program, and I have traveled to Barcelona, Rome, and London with girls I did not know very well. I was nervous at first but now I am so confident in booking flights, hotels and traveling in unknown territory with these girls. I am much more aware of my surroundings and know how to get by, especially in stressful situations. My favorite place that I have been to so far was London. London was very pretty and had so many parts to it we obviously did not get to see everything we wanted to see in one weekend, but the places we did go to were unbelievable.

Overall, I have had the best time so far and I cannot believe it is almost halfway over. It makes me sad thinking about going home. I have made great friendships, seen amazing places and eaten outstanding food. I never would have thought I was going to have a place where I am comfortable calling home, so far away from America. Please do not make me leave!

XO, Sutton

Caroline Hargreaves and I on our last day in London!

Papal Audience

On Wednesday, September 13th, the students of the JSB Auburn Abroad in Italy had the awesome opportunity to attend the Papal Audience. This day was especially important to me because I have been raised Catholic my whole life. To have been able to visit the Vatican City, let alone see the Pope, was such a blessing. We arrived in Vatican City early enough to beat the crowd, and we were fortunate to find seats to be able to see the Pope pass by in his Popemobile.

To start the event, groups and pilgrims from around the world were announced and welcomed. I was shocked (in a great way) when they called out “And welcome students from Auburn University representing the United States.” I couldn’t believe our group was recognized in Vatican City during a Papal event! I remember watching Pope Francis after he had been elected Pope in 2013 like it was yesterday, and to be within feet away from him, when he came through the audience, was life-changing. The picture below is my view of Pope Francis, and it shows how close he was to me. I will always remember this day and how beautiful it was to see him smile, wave, and even kiss little babies as he drove through the crowd.

Before this study abroad trip, I never imagined having the opportunity to attend the Papal Audience, and I am so thankful that I was there to experience it with such an amazing group of girls.

My view of Pope Francis as he rode in the Popemobile through the crowd.

Erin Maher


The Red Checkered Diary

We have officially begun our fifth week abroad in Italy, meaning I have spent more than a month away from the U.S. I feel like I just arrived, and at the exact same time, like I have been here for much longer. One month down, two to go. In just one month, I have traveled throughout Italy, to the Netherlands, as well as Germany. I have experienced the challenges of beginning to learn a new language, traveling by public transport and the inevitable travel fails that sometimes you cannot control. My credit card was hacked and my airline lost my luggage all within a weekend away – despite these hardships, Amsterdam was my favorite place I had visited yet! A month in, I am finally well adjusted to my new Italian way of life of fieldtrips, class days, checking budget travel sites, and ordering pizza in Italian.

The highlight of my experience so far had been traveling to the Netherlands with a classmate. Amsterdam, as described by my airbnb host and Dutch native, was ‘dazzling’. This city was diverse, culturally significant and beautiful. The iconic architecture of the buildings surrounded by canals, the pancakes and stroopwafels, as well as visiting the Anne Frank House all made my short weekend in Holland one I will never forget. I will always cherish the opportunity to see where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II, the museum was touching, heartbreaking, inspiring, and most of all worth the two-hour wait. After reading the Diary of Anne Frank in school years before, seeing her original little red checkered diary in Amsterdam was a very special experience and made me incredibly thankful for the opportunity to study, learn and travel through Auburn Abroad.

The Amsterdam Canals

Bailey Mersereau

All is right when in London

I don’t think that it’s even begun to hit me that my new home for eight more weeks is Europe. This trip so far has been so surreal that I constantly feel as though I’m living a dream on repeat. I can’t even begin to put into words what these past four weeks have been like for me, but I can give you a little taste of what has been my favorite so far.

To wrap up week four, my best friend and I traveled to London. It is seriously the little things that get me through day-to-day adventures. London has my heart forever and I could honestly picture myself living there. There is so much beauty and love in this huge city. There is night life, city life, country side, and peaceful parks. London really has it all.

I got to visit and walk through the Green Park and oh my goodness, it took my breath away. This park is so magical and peaceful. The Green Park is something that you would see in a movie – there are dogs playing with each other, squirrels coming up to you waiting to be fed, and people strolling by. I had time to just reflect on my life and realize how fortunate I am to be living the life that I am. London has so much to offer and so many things reminded me of America, so much that I felt at home right when I stepped off the plane.

When I earlier said it’s the little things that get you by – it truly is. What I mean by that statement is that I’ve been craving M&Ms the whole time I’ve been here, well we stumbled upon M&M world and I literally could have cried tears of joy. I was so ecstatic that I customized my M&Ms to have my face on them. Some times it’s nice to get away from the group and have some time just to reflect upon yourself and be able to soak everything in. I can 100% say that I’ve fallen in love with London, and it will not be my last time there.

I’ll forever be grateful for this trip and all the experiences that I’ll gain along the way.

Morgan Rice

Green Park