Coming into this program, I could not have been more excited. I had traveled a good bit growing up; although, never for more than several days. But, I knew I loved traveling. I love exploring new cultures, tasting new foods, and seeing the beautiful sights of the world. However, there is a huge difference in a week vacation and actually living in another country for three months. I always thought it was fun to pick up foreign words here and there while traveling. I thought I was doing well to know how to say “Hello” or “Thank you;” yet, that can only get me so far.
This program has been such a growing experience for me. I have learned that in order to truly immerse myself in a foreign culture, I have to go, as we Auburn people like to say, “all in.” The more I try to learn the language, to meet local people, and explore beyond the tourist attractions, the more I begin to see the beauty of a new culture.
Even though it is sometimes hard to communicate because of the language barrier, I have met some of the nicest people here in Italy. As much as I like to think I blend in sometimes, I seem to always have people approach me, both young and old, wanting to know how I am liking Italy, how my studies and traveling are going, and wanting to give me suggestions on places to go. It is so comforting to meet people with such great hospitality.
I especially appreciated the great hospitality when we had our dinner with our “Italian Family.” I had so much fun getting to have dinner at their home and really getting to know the family, even with a slight language barrier. Although we have grown up across the world, it is neat to realize how alike we are. The children of the family I visited with had studied abroad just like me, and had lots of tips for travel. The matchup with an Italian family has been one of my favorite experiences so far. I am excited to see what else is to come!
Eating at one of our favorite local restaurants in Ariccia, known to Auburn students as the “Sunflower Restaurant”
This past weekend, I took a trip to Barcelona, Spain with nine of the other Chigi Babies during our personal travel time. The interior design girls were very excited to get there because they had studied a lot of the city’s architecture. I couldn’t wait to get there because I had always heard so many wonderful things about the city, and had also learned a lot about the city’s art in an art history class. All of us on the trip continuously joked that we would be moving there one day.
Aside from the paella, tapas, sangria, and soccer, the main thing everybody knows about Barcelona is Gaudi. He was the most important artist of his time. His most famous works are Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. Sagrada Familia is a ginormous church that still hasn’t been completed! Park Güell is a large park, that was originally intended to be a housing development, covered in beautiful mosaics. Even though these two sites are the most popular, one can simply be walking down any street and stumble upon a work of Gaudi.
While in Barelona, our hostel provided a free walking tour. Going on this tour was one of my best decisions. I learned so much history about the city. Barcelona is different from the rest of Spain. It is mostly made up of people called Catalans. The Catalans are very proud people and still want to be their own independent country. They have their own language, architecture, art, and traditional foods. The girls and I loved learning about their history and culture.
Visiting Gaudi’s Park Güell
At the end of the weekend, we were excited to get back to our palace in Ariccia, but Barcelona was definitely a nice change of scenery. The people, city, and food were all beautiful. The city has something for everybody. We all found a different piece of the city to call our favorite. If I could suggest one place to travel to during the free time within this program, it would definitely be to my future home, Barcelona.
I knew that studying abroad would be exhausting, I just didn’t realize how exhausting it would be. Weekdays are packed with interesting lectures on topics ranging from any and every subject, plus field trips to sights we learn about in class. Weekends are given to the students to do as we please. Knowing that our time abroad is limited, the Chigi babies have not been spending our weekends catching up on sleep. Instead, we have been spending our personal travel time jet-setting to the cities of our dreams: Paris, Monaco, Budapest, Prague – you name it!
A few of us Chigi babies spent one of our weekends in Munich!
It is a well-known fact that I have a severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I find myself worrying that if I don’t try to do every possible thing that there is to do in a city, I will have missed some life-changing moment. Should I try to see every sight in a city that is twice (if not three times) as big as my hometown all in the span of two days? Probably not. Do I continue to do so every weekend anyways? You bet I do.
I asked myself this morning if trying to experience all a city has to offer is worth missing out on a little extra sleep. I honestly changed my answer at least 7 times but I finally decided that it is, without a doubt, worth every hour lost. How many times in my life will I be able to say that I hiked Mount Vesuvius or that I swam in the Mediterranean Sea at sunset? How often will I get the chance to spend a weekend in an amazing city like Rome, Munich, London, or even Barcelona with new friends I didn’t know I would have? The answer, for me at least, is probably once, and that one time is now. So while I may keeping saying that my legs hurt from walking or that I could really use a nap, I will continue to happily give up my sleep this summer because I can sleep when I’m dead.
I believe some of the best blessings in life are the experiences you have and the people you share them with. This week, I received a truly huge blessing and it came straight from the man himself, Pope Francis. After waking up at 5 am, standing in line for an hour, sprinting to the gates, waiting inside Vatican City for two hours, and fighting for a spot near the Pope’s path with a million 2nd graders, I finally got the ultimate selfie and I am extremely proud.
My “ultimate” selfie with Pope Francis
However, this experience was not about getting the selfie of a lifetime and being able to post the picture on Instagram and Facebook. I was in the presence of the man that is known as “God on Earth” and what is more humbling than that? As a group, we were able to be a part of the Papal Audience and listen to Pope Francis speak on poverty in the world. One of the most interesting things that happened was that Pope Francis did not have bullet proof glass surrounding his Pope Mobile. Talk about a man with no fear. During the actual service, he sent his blessings to each and every person in the audience, their families, and said every country by name that was in attendance.
As of now, life in Italy could not be better. Each day is better than the day before and for that I am extremely grateful. Keep sending your prayers our way and we will keep making the absolute best of this experience.
From all of us to all of you, ciao belli!
Street graffiti in Athens describing my feelings about Greece
One thing I have greatly appreciated about this program is the opportunity it provides to see other countries and cultures. This past weekend, friends and I took advantage of this and headed over to beautiful Greece.
We spent our first two days in Aegina Island, which I had never heard of before this trip. This tiny but beautiful island was filled with hospitable locals that made our experience all the better. We stumbled upon a family birthday party and were heavily persuaded to sit and feast with them. After enjoying birthday cake, we were swept away in traditional Greek dancing which even included jingly skirts and finger tambourines. We all had a blast and were blown away with our luck of getting to have such an authentic experience.
Besides the friendly welcome, the food was beyond amazing. We tried gyros, octopus, stuffed peppers, chocolate cake, Greek salad, spinach pie, and of course buckets of Tzatziki. It was all so flavorful and fresh. As a Dietetics major, the time, energy, and joy that is spent on and taken from food hits home with me. I savor Europe’s pleasure in food, and I pleasure in savoring their food. I cannot wait to take back to the states what I have learned here about eating slowly and enjoying food with family and friends.
These few words don’t even begin to scratch the surface of a wonderful summer. I have learned that there are some moments in life that simply cannot be described or explained, but must be experienced. I am so thankful for the memories I have made so far and know the best is yet to come.
Tonight, we Chigi babies hosted an aperitivo in order to show our gratitude for our professors, lecturers, and the townspeople whom have all welcomed us with open arms. An aperitivo is an Italian tradition of a pre-dinner drink, typically wine or sometimes cocktails, served with finger foods. The aperitivo is meant to open one’s palate while giving time to relax and socialize. In Italy, aperitivo is typically from 6pm-9pm.
For our aperitivo we tried to stick to a southern theme in order to share a piece of our home with our Italian family. The dishes served included a cheese platter, cornbread, guacamole, spinach and artichoke dip, grilled cheese, smoked weenies, pigs in a blanket, pizza bread, egg frittata, chicken salad, arugula and watermelon salad, peach cobbler, toffee, cookies, and of course lots of wine!
The group, minus Courtney Day, with our home cooking (Photo taken by Cinzia)
Everyone we’ve met through the Joseph S. Bruno program is so compassionate and loving. All of our teachers have a fire for life within them. They are all so intriguing, and genuinely want to get to know us. It was wonderful to be able to sit down and have authentic conversations with people. I highly enjoyed the evening and getting to know everyone on a casual and deeper level. I was overfilled with joy when Mary Lou, our cooking teacher, told me that she loves our sweet group already, just after 16 days of us being here!
I finished the night with a full stomach and an even fuller heart. I am so grateful for my time in Italy, and for the relationships I’m gaining with everyone on this trip.
Francesco sharing his wisdom at the Chigi gardens
The first impression I had of the classroom lecturers was that they were the most kindhearted and personable people I had ever met. Francesco and the other lecturers were incredibly welcoming and it was easy to see that they genuinely cared about the betterment of the students. As we have begun to learn more and more from them, their passion shines through every word they say and that is what makes them such compelling lecturers.
This is evidenced by the time we ran into Francesco while doing the scavenger hunt in Rome. We were feeling a little overwhelmed by the vastness of Rome when we saw him with his grocery cart while he was on his way to the store! He was just as excited as we were and stopped what he was doing to show us around the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. He spent the next hour giving us a tour of the church, showing us the importance of the Chigi family there, and introducing us to a friend of his that is a priest! When we left the church and said goodbye to Francesco, we were rejuvenated and ready to take on the city with fresh vigor!
Francesco has such a gift for making history come alive to people who have never studied it and we were so grateful for the unexpected opportunity in Rome. On top of all of his hospitality and humility, his influence and reknown within the community and around the world is unmatched by anyone I know. It is such an honor to learn from such world-class people such as Francesco.
To all of our gracious lecturers, thank you for going above and beyond with your students!
Group standing inside the Colosseum – from left to right: Courtney D., Caroline C., Ginny N., Elisabeth E., and me (Mary Maud M.)
It is week three here for us Chigi babies in the beautiful place of Ariccia, Italy. This past week we toured the Vatican, Roman Forum, and Colosseum – and what an adventure that was! We also learned from Mary Lou how to prepare a real Italian meal from and had our wine tasting class with Maurizio. Thinking back, I know that I could not navigate/survive (this week especially!) without the help of Roberta, Cinzia, and Linda!
I completed an assignment this past week that consisted of explaining the highlights of an incredibly gorgeous and old Roman arch called the Arch of Titus. I had so much fun learning about the Roman Forum and how important everything inside it is. The fact that so many parts of the Forum left there is so preserved and sturdy, gives me chills. It makes me feel so small, but very much in awe. Sometimes I get caught up in daily life, like traveling or homework, and forget to notice, and most importantly, soak up, the rich history of the world that we are living in.
After a long week of classes and touring Rome, I embarked on a journey to Munich, Germany along with ten other awesome gals. We visited the famous Catholic Church in downtown Munich, toured Dachau’s concentration camp/memorial site, and ate way too much food. As much fun as we all had, I have never missed my twin bed in Ariccia as badly as I did Sunday night,-while traveling back. As I stepped off of the jet in FCO airport, I had a calm spirit and thought to myself, it’s good to be home.
Mary Maud Meacham
It is week two on our personal Grand Tour . When I first arrived on my Grand Tour I was excited for the places that I will would visit, but I am quickly learning that this Grand Tour is not a solo adventure. It is a journey that I will continue on with 20 students, 1 teacher’s assistant, and 14 amazing lecturers.
On May 11th, 21 girls landed in the Rome airport anxiously anticipating the summer ahead. We pulled up to a beautiful light blue palace that will call home for the next 12 weeks. During that first week, it was whirlwind of new faces and people. Some faces, I recognized from a class or passing by in Spidle. As the week went on I found my self myself getting to know each girl in a unique way.
Later in the week, we are introduced to our faculty. The faculty has been thrilled to share their extensive knowledge of the Italian culture. Linda, Cinzia, and Roberta are like the three guardian angels. They each have a unique strength that allows them to work as a team. Having them around, has allowed the transition into a new culture a breeze. They are always willing to help in any way they are able to, just like a mom.
Between the 21 girls and the faculty, it seems like we created a new little Chigi family. It is a strange sensation going from strangers to best friends looking out for each other while traveling in Rome and new cities. Even from just a few short days, I can already guarantee these friends have turned into family experiencing a summer of a lifetime.
Our first group picture on top of Montecavo.
We made it to “Ah-ree-cha,” and thank goodness we are finally over the jet lag and starting to get settled into this beautiful place we get to call home. It has been one week, and yet it feels like a month and a day all at the same time because we have seen and done so much. I am so inspired by everything around me right now because there is beauty everywhere I look. It makes me want to become an artist or go write a book.
I can speak for all 22 of us when I say that this has been a much-needed change of pace. We are beginning to get used to eating for hours and sitting around drinking wine over good conversation. Aperitivo is everyone’s favorite because who doesn’t love cheese, bread, and meat? I’m a foodie, and it seems like everyone else is too, so we are all getting along just fine. Our nights are usually spent cooking dinner, drinking wine, and pretending we can speak Italian. We’re learning. Life isn’t bad at all.
Italy is the only place that makes Mondays look good because we have our cooking class with Mary Lou, and last Monday we even had a wine tasting with Maurizio. Mary Lou taught us how to make the most amazing carbonara and tiramisu, while Maurizo taught us about the history of wine. We tried several different types of wine and enjoyed a light aperitivo prepared by our lovely lecturers. Speaking of our lecturers, they are all so wonderful and selfless, and we really appreciate all they do!
Mary Lou explaining how to cook pasta properly. Isn’t she beautiful?
I’m sad one week has already come and gone, but I also feel so fortunate that we each get to have this experience of a lifetime!