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

The Time of My Life

My 20s… the defining time.  The era in which I am meant to move on from school and am expected to have a career solidified.  I will live on my own for the first time, meet a significant other.  Some people even chose to have children. This is the time I am supposed to live life to its absolute fullest.  

With all of this pressure, I tend to ask myself, “What if I am doing it wrong?  What if at this monumental point I am missing a crucial step… am I not attending the right events, taking the right classes, meeting the right people?  What if I am failing my 20s?”

But then, I think…  I think back to Camp War Eagle three years ago when I signed up to spend the summer of 2021 in Italy.  I can retreat to the anxiousness I felt spending the entire pandemic waiting to hear if this program was cancelled, if everyone had called it quits.  I look back on getting off the bus that first day, and all of the wonder, excitement, and nervousness I felt, the homesickness late at night, the deep desire for a single Chick-fil-a nugget.  I can vividly remember meeting all of my 10 new classmates and being so frightened they would not like me (or even worse they would not like taking pictures).  One of my favorite times to reflect on is trying to sort out how I was going to eat turkey melts for the next 74 days, considering it was my one and only cooking talent.

Today,  I have 10 new friends. I have travelled to 22 different cities over the course of a little over a month, toured Rome, slept in a cave, boiled noodles for the first time, made some delicious potatoes, drank wines at vineyards, almost threw up from sea sickness on the Amalfi Coast, learned a little Italian, and have gained pounds worth of gelato.  I have grown in ways that would’ve been absolutely infeasible if I let fear hinder me from committing to this program and studying in this magnificent country during an uncertain time.  In my 20s, I have decided to put myself out there and reach beyond anything close to my comfort zone.  I have decided to immerse myself in a culture so beautifully different then my own.  As I begin my 20s, I may currently lack a solid career, a husband — let alone a child — but I sure have 42 (and soon, 74) days I can promise, without a doubt, that I lived to their fullest.

So here I am, about half way through. Summer 2021.  Italy.  The time of my life.

Sending all my love from Italy,

Kathleen Musick

Living life to its fullest by spending the sunset frolicking in the streets of Ariccia

The Joy of a Crowded Table

I have dreamed of studying abroad for as long as I can remember. I envisioned a semester spent swimming in front of Positano or climbing a mountain in the Abruzzo National Park, two items just checked off my bucket list. I wanted to dive deeper into culture and learn about the traditions that make a city special, also something I am grateful to learn each day. However, what I did not dream of, simply because I never could have imagined such great joy, was making new friends around the world. 

When I first landed in Italy, I was nervous about making friends with both my program companions and Italian neighbors. However, wherever I went, I was greeted by the bright smiles and welcoming arms of people eager to share their stories. I quickly learned that no matter where I was or who I was talking with, people just wanted to feel seen and listened to. This can be as simple as asking a person what their name is. 

Committed to this newly learned lesson, I asked every person I met what their name was. We traveled city to city, week after week, and I began to make friends everywhere I went. Before I studied abroad, I thought my most memorable moments would be my wildest adventures, like dancing in the gardens of Villa D’este or reading a book in the shadow of the Pantheon. These memories are wonderful, moments I will cherish for the rest of my life. However, the place I have found the most peace, the most joy, is seated at a table with new friends and old friends alike. 

It is at a table that we ate pasta and became best friends under a little bridge in Ariccia. 

It is at a table that we meet every morning to sip cappuccinos (type of coffee) and dream of what the day might offer. 

It is at a table that we held gelato (ice cream) in our hands and laughed as the Roman sun made it drip to our elbows. 

It is at a table that we sit eagerly every day to learn about the beauty of Italian history and culture. 

And it is at a table that we will celebrate all that we have learned and all that we have become over this summer in just a few short weeks.

Thank you for those who have always left a place for me at their table. 

Salute (cheers), 

Cat Powers

Our group seated at a table at the La Torretta Winery! 

Sometimes a Break is the Best Medicine One Needs

Growing up, I have always had that “go go go” mentality. I try to keep myself as busy as possible just because “doing” always makes the time go by faster. Because of this, I have never really had free time so this trip has most definitely been an adjustment for me. As a BioMedical Sciences major on a Pre-Med track, I am quite used to 10 hour days with studying on the weekends and my mother, being the intuitive genius she is, thought that I should study abroad as a way for me to gain some distance, not only mentally, but also physically, from my core STEM classes. I, of course, wasn’t too fond of the idea but turns out, taking a break was exactly what I needed. 

Fast forward to right before we leave. I had made a plan, thinking I was going to be spending my free time at the palace studying for the MCAT but my mother, again, quite adamant, said that I needed to take the summer to relax and focus on embracing and learning as much of the Italian culture as I could. The work that we have been doing is definitely different than I am used to, but I feel like I appreciate being in Italy more now that I have the time and the comfort to do so. For example, our group take these optional excursions on the weekends and they are absolutely perfect in that you can do whatever you want. I usually pass the time by walking around and exploring before coming back to the hotel and relaxing for a couple of hours. These excursions have allowed me to get that much needed break at the end of the week as well as rejuvenating me for the week we have ahead.

I am hoping that upon returning back to the United States, I will be able to continue listening to my mother’s advice and giving myself some time to relax as sometimes just “being” is the best medicine one needs.

A pic of me in Rome when I was enjoying myself the most!

Make sure you take some time for yourself,

Olivia Murray

You Always Find Your Way Back Home

It’s a tale as old as time: You can leave the place you call home for bigger and better things, but in the end, you’ll always find your way back. When I first arrived in Ariccia, Italy, I had a hard time imagining that it would be anything more than my temporary dorm for the 11 weeks that I was living here. Thinking about it now, I realize how wrong I was. 

Since the first week we have been here ‘on the go’ is the phrase that I would use to describe my life. Every week we have a different field trip to a different location and every weekend we are off to a new Italian city to experience what the different regions have to offer. When I am on the go so much, I really begin to appreciate the feeling I have when I am “home”. The funny thing is, now when I think of home, I think of my little nest that is settled in my room in the Chigi Palace with my roommate sleeping on the other side of my dresser and the ability to walk to the places that feel most familiar to me. A place that was once the most unfamiliar location to me is now the place that I feel the most at peace and always find myself wanting to get back as quickly as possible. When we get picked up from wherever we have been for the weekend and our driver tells us “Let’s go home” I truly feel like I am going home.

Of all the things I have learned these past six weeks about the Italian culture, history, cuisine, and art there is one that sticks out the most. No matter where I go, whether it is a day in Rome for a field trip or to Sorrento for a weekend full of sun and fun, I always find my way back to the place I love the most: home. 

There are so many things that I love about our home in in Ariccia, but one of my favorites has to be the easy two minute walk to get a good piece of pizza.
There are so many things that I love about our home in Ariccia, but one of my favorites has to be the easy two-minute walk to get a good piece of pizza.

Lots of love from home

Carly Mang

Finding the Balance Between Awe and Adjustment

I am writing this blog post from the comfort of my very own desk. I say
“claimed” because it quite literally has my name on it; though this act is primarily a COVID-19 caution- it still gives me a sense of ownership. What I forgot to mention is that this comfort found from “my very own desk” is a comfort found in Ariccia, Italy. It just so happens that this comfort is found over 5000 miles from “my very own desk” in Auburn, Alabama. Over the past 5 weeks I have became used to this sitting here everyday and doing my work. I have settled into this new place and now find comfort in the familiarity. I often catch myself feeling guilty for this sense of comfort; for who am I to feel comfortable in such a magnificent place? 

This internal struggle has become more prominent as the days progress. I am constantly shifting between being in awe of my situation and being completely adjusted to my current life studying abroad in Italy. On one hand I feel as if I should not let myself feel at home so that I do not take for granted the splendor of this program. On the other hand, I feel as if I deserve to adjust to this pace of life. For example, everyday I wake up and get ready for class just as I would on a normal day in Auburn. How do I become adjusted to living in Italy but also not become numb to the environment around me? 

This has been a recurring conversation lately and I believe that I have made some progress in finding my perfect balance. The first step is to practice gratitude everyday. A way I have begun doing this is moving my journaling to the morning; this way I am able to start off my day by refocusing on the amazing opportunity I have been given. The second, more difficult step involves accepting that I am worthy of this circumstance. All of us who are a part of this program have worked to be here and deserve the luxury of adjusting. Though we are in Italy, we are still entitled to the comfort of feeling at home. 

Ever since we stepped foot in Italy, we have been told to make strides towards adjusting. Whether it be trying to beat jet lag, trying and failing at Italian, and many other examples that may seem small but all work together in order for us to conform to the Italian. So today, as I write this blog from “my very own desk” in Ariccia, Italy, where I am sitting after my daily walk to get my Italian cappuccino… I am reminded that though I am constantly making efforts to find the balance between Awe and Adjustment, I may never find the perfect mix. This is not a complete loss because, while trying to mesh the “once-in-a-lifetime experience” with the everyday life that I live, I find myself growing in admiration of my current situation and it leads me to be more appreciative of the little things throughout the day. It leads me to love my life… not only my life in Italy, but my life that just happens to take place in Italy at the moment. 

A picture of my daily cappuccino that I no longer savor, but rather slurp down quickly because I know I will be able to do the same the next day.

From the desk of,

Molly Grubb

Traveller’s Déjà Vu

The ocean smells the same no matter where I travel in the world. The salt and humidity in the air wrap me in a warm, sticky embrace that can bring memories flooding back. This is what I realized after stepping off the bus at a gas station in Italy. For me the smell triggered thoughts of Gulf Shores, Alabama, and beach trips with my family, but as I talked to other girls on the program, I realized that I was not the only one experiencing déjà vu.

Many people warned me about culture shock, and how out of place I would feel in a foreign country. While all of these warnings are true and helpful, I never expected to feel like I was still inside of the United States. These moments of déjà vu, of remembering a past situation and having it come to me, have occurred a couple times while on this trip. Stepping off the bus near the beach, or standing in a gas station picking out snacks like I would on a road trip back home, something will remind me of home, and all of a sudden, I will feel like I am there. The other girls have mentioned having these moments as well. For some, waking up they forget that they are in Italy and are surprised not to be in their bed at home. One girl mentioned that riding down the highway she would see hay-bales, rolled like the ones in the South; however, these would be painted with the Italian flag, and it would hit her that she is in Italy.

We have all had these moments of zoning out and forgetting where we are, but when we do, the magic of Italy hits us all over again. The best feeling to me though is when we arrive back at the Chigi Palace after a weekend away. We all sigh, drop our bags, and say, “It is good to be home”.

Rebecca Johnson

Chigi Palace-Home Sweet Home

It Matters Less of Where You Go and More of Who You Go With.

I have a lot of things to be grateful for in life, but I think being able to study abroad in the wake of global pandemic may be the number one thing on my list, forever. As a Global Studies major, I am required to study abroad, but the pandemic made that difficult. So, when I received the email that there were spots in the Summer 2021 Joseph S. Bruno Italy program, I was so happy I screamed but I was slightly skeptical. This program is so desirable it is practically impossible to sign up unless you did it years in advance. I kept waiting for the catch and then there it was: no personal travel or travel outside of Europe. I knew this semester would still be worth it but I had no idea how it would play out.

As I prepared for Italy, I spent a considerable amount of time wondering if I would like the girls I was spending the summer with. Since we were such small group, I knew it was important I enjoyed being around everyone. On the first optional weekend excursion I realized that there was no question, I loved them. We had travelled to Viterbo and none of us had a plan for the weekend at all. We spent the entire weekend aimlessly wandering around the shops and checking out the different restaurants in the area. Even with nothing exciting planned, I still had the best time.

Realizing that while the places we visit are amazing, most of my memories will come from the people I am with, has helped me not mind the restricted travel. Some of the most fun I have had so far has been in the Palace. Just a few nights ago a few of us got together for an impromptu karaoke party, it was some of the worst singing I have ever heard but I have never laughed so hard.

There are many benefits of being with a smaller group, including being able to have a connection with every person. Another benefit to the small group is that it has created an environment conducive to improving our communication skills. One of the best things we have done to prevent misunderstandings or interpersonal conflicts is learning everyone’s preferred form of communication, whether we are more direct or indirect. Knowing how to communicate with everyone has also allowed us to get closer in a relatively quick amount of time.

Getting to spend my summer traveling alongside ten of the kindest young women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, let alone call my friends, is something I will always be grateful for. These women have shown me that while the sites we visit are beautiful in their own right, the memories we make together are even more beautiful.

Love from Ariccia – Emma B.

Our first sunset as a group. We spent the whole time dancing around the square taking pictures. (missing Rebecca)