When people told me going abroad would be an experience of a lifetime they weren’t lying. The days of this program are packed with activities from sunrise to sundown and though some days are exhausting, it has been worth every minute. I have been here three weeks now and each day is something entirely different. Rome has been our second home and with a short train ride from the town over, we arrive in Rome with high expectations and our apple watches ready to count our steps. I think being in Ariccia really gives you such a traditional experience of how an Italian lives, whereas if we lived in Rome, I would feel like a tourist that lived there for a short few months. Arricia is beautiful and homey, with the best cappuccinos I have ever had.
The field trip days are the best with our amazing tour guide and friends we meet along the way. Yesterday, we attended a water buffalo farm where we learned how mozzarella was made and had such an amazing and fun experience. We toured the farm as well as was treated with a tasting of the best cheese I have ever had. I think this has been my favorite experience so far, but dress appropriately!
Overall, I think this trip has taught me a lot about international lifestyles and the amazing culture that Europe has to offer. I cannot wait for what the rest of the experience has in store for me and am overall just so grateful for this experience.
Have you ever heard of the term “philoxenia”? Translated from Greek, it means the friend of a stranger. While living in a foreign country with nothing but strangers, it’s something everyone needs. Like most of the world, I am in the process of healing from the traumas brought on by the past couple of years. For a while, healing to me was partying and making a pitiful attempt to distract myself from the painful truths of life. I was missing something deep down.
It wasn’t until I began traveling on my own that I realized that what I had been missing was inside of me the whole time, waiting to come to the surface. Discovering this was not easy though, and it required me to take on one of my greatest fears: talking to people. I mean really talking to people. The funny thing about humans is that we can all relate to two truths. We are all born and eventually, we will all die as well. But what happens between those two events is completely unique to every single soul that has ever inhabited this planet. So imagine how much I was missing out on by never going out of my way to get to know people.
Now going back to the topic at hand, this philoxenia can also describe the hospitality we experience when meeting others, no matter their identity. In Ariccia, I was met by people who were eager to welcome us into their homes or share their lives with us. This basic kindness showed me that, despite how awful the world can be sometimes, there is always someone who cares.
This is why Italy is special. The landscape enough can bring me to tears, with the mist clinging to the mountains in the early morning or the thunderstorms that echo across the whole valley like a bellowing cry from the heavens. But what truly makes the difference, is the warmth of the people (oh and the wine). The people are personifications of philoxenia itself; from the servers who are patient with my broken Italian to the winemakers who eagerly share their passions with us in their vineyard. Every time one of these connections is made, I am shown a new dimension of the human race. I’m not sure if I would have ever discovered my own philoxenia had I not experienced all the pain of the past. As much as it hurt, it challenged me to push my boundaries and brought me to Italy. I now recognize that the people I meet along the way are more than just mere side characters in the story of my life. They are vibrant, distinct souls, that each have something to show you.
One of the major differences between Italian culture and American culture is the way that waste is handled. On the tour of campus, one of the main areas covered was the recycling and compost bins. My group was given an extensive rundown of what products and packaging can be recycled, and photos are placed above the bins for even more clarification on what waste goes where.
When walking around the city of Ariccia, I noticed that this was not unique to the palace, and everyone in town also had the same waste bins, separating non-recyclables, plastics, paper, and cans. Some states in America are lucky to even have recycling. Many cities cannot afford it.
Speaking of food waste, Italians are extremely resourceful when it comes to their meat and produce. On our latest trip to a vineyard, we saw the harvesting of grapes. These grapes made oil, marmalade, and of course, wine. The cheese that was being made in front of us made prima salle, and the leftover liquid was used for a completely different type of cheese. When our group was being taught about meat, every single piece was used, and treated more respectfully.
The relationship with clothing is different as well, buying quality over quantity, and acquiring more neutral colors so clothes can move from season to season. And, they last for years. Black never goes out of style, and I have noticed that it is the color of choice for Italian women.
The attitude towards these raw materials are inspiring, and everything is cared for so much more. Clothes are meant to last a lifetime, and recycling and composting are a given here. When cooking, Italians view it in a restorative way, nourishing their bodies with food that has been locally sourced, and enjoying the ingredients from start to finish.
This is me molding cheese at our wine harvest. I bought a block of this cheese right after we ate it with the grape marmalade. It was the best cheese I have ever had.
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.
This means leaving behind everything and everyone you know for a new, personal experience. It is so important to me to keep in touch with those people back home- whether it’s significant others, parents, or roommates. These people who knew me best and could offer support and guidance during this season of change.
Being far from home can be hard and I’ve learned I’ve needed someone to lean on at some point, whether I liked it or not. It’s a matter of when, not if.
One of the hardest adjustments for me was the time difference. Living in Ariccia meant I was six hours ahead of my family and friends in the states. I am the Queen of FaceTime. I use FaceTime not just occasionally to catch up, but multiple times on a daily basis. Not being able to have that part of my daily routine was challenging. I had to make time for these relationships. There are many obstacles, don’t get me wrong. Schedules are unpredictable and while my life was completely different, everyone at home was continuing on. Tests, quizzes, all-nighters were still happening, even if I was no longer there.
My solution was planning. I sat down and looked at my week ahead. I had to ask those I love in advance about when we each could talk, even if only for a few minutes. It was much easier than I expected, it turns out they missed me just as much as I had been missing them.
It was very comforting to share a laugh with Dad after I fell in front of everyone or to tell my best friend that I got separated from friends on a train in the middle of Italy (but thankfully found them a few panicked minutes later).
My advice? Enjoy all of the people you meet and get to know them during your time abroad. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. However, don’t forget about the ones that are cheering you on from across the pond.
A photo from my first weekend in Italy, which I sent to my family in the states.
Traveling alone can be stressful
– from expenses, to transportation, and the dread of packing. We can all agree
that adding a group of people to this situation can make or break the
If there’s one thing I’ve learned within the first few weeks of my study abroad experience, it’s that traveling with friends brings about some of the most unforgettable moments – good and bad. In order to get the most out of travels, it’s essential to take the right steps to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Plan ahead of time
Planning ahead is a great way to save money and time – something that everyone in the group will be happy with. Doing this also gave me the opportunity to have a heads up on the preferences of group members (like if they prefer to travel earlier or later in the day.)
Understand each other’s expectations
Having some prior insight of what group members want to get out of this trip saved me from conflict of interest once I was there. For example, when I travel I like to plan a mix of scheduled and unscheduled days so I have some room to explore once I’m there. Some people are go-getters and prefer to plan a jam-packed itinerary (and some just want to relax.) Understanding these expectations and not letting differences get the best of me were essential for a smooth trip.
Find group members that have the same
One thing I found when traveling every weekend was, just because I traveled in a group didn’t mean we had to do every little thing together. Sometimes splitting up to do different activities can help the group dynamic, especially if there is a difference of opinion.
People are going to want to
pop into shops, restaurants will be closed, and plans throughout travels will
change. Going into a trip with a “go with the flow” mentality made it a lot easier
to adjust to changes when they happened.
Find that happy place
Privacy is rare on a group trip, and as an introvert, I sometimes need time to myself to recharge – it helps to take some time before traveling travels to do this. Find a way to get to a happy place; for me it’s a few deep breaths or reminding myself what an amazing experience it is.
Plans will change, people will have differences in opinion, but ultimately my attitude and outlook on how I wanted my experience to go is allowing me live my best life while studying abroad.
Not one single word can be used to describe the experience of studying abroad in Italy with the JSB program. I signed up for this study abroad experience my first week of freshman year, over two years ago. The excitement continued to build up, along with a lot of feelings of the unknown. I felt overwhelmed as the experience was getting closer but at the same time was filled with hope of so many new possibilities. As I have learned in the past two weeks, I the best way to take down such an incredible and bigger-than-you experience like this is to jump right in.
I most definitely recommend bringing a small personal journal. I started writing in mine about 12 days before my departure. I filled it with emotions of leaving, how I was packing, the places I wanted to go, and so on. Living in the Chigi Palace is an experience on its own. Living in a place with so much rich history and with amazing friends that I know will develop into lifelong relationships makes this experience even more special. The personal journal I have, gives me the extra space I need keep track of where I am emotionally, mentally, and physically. I would highly suggest to anyone getting ready to study abroad with JSB or any other program to bring a special journal that can be used to be present and stay aware of every aspect of this incredible experience. It is also something special to hold onto to look back on in the future.
I would also suggest to, no matter what, always say yes. Never stop exploring, and always say yes to hanging out with the other students for lunch or dinner. To always remember this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that not many people are lucky enough to have. I have gained such an incredible feeling of gratitude and perspective throughout my first two weeks here. Through this journey I am excited to see how I will grow through challenging myself to always say yes to the places I want to go and things I want to do.
My second weekend in Italy, a couple of other girls and I went to Rome to complete our Rome Scavenger Hunt. This assignment involved getting around the city and taking pictures in front of famous landmarks to help us acquaint ourselves with our new home.
The first day went perfectly. The sun was shining. Birds were chirping. Everyone was in great spirits, and the first half of our assignment went great! We decided as the day was drawing to a close to leave the rest of our landmarks for the next day.
The next morning, one of my friends woke up feeling very under the weather. The time change, lack of sleep, and long day exploring the city had left her feeling terrible, and the worst part was that we still had things to do.
As luck would have it, the landmarks we had left for the next day were the furthest ones from our hotel room. Normally we would have just walked, but today was different. My poor friend felt so ill we knew we couldn’t walk the thirty-minute walk it would take to get there.
Our hotel room was conveniently close to the train station where all the taxis arrive to pick people up, so we decided it was the best option to get us to our destination. We got in line and waited our turn, but it turned out we had been waiting in the wrong area. We marched down to the first taxi we saw and asked him if he would be so helpful and take us to where we needed to go. He agreed, and we were so grateful!
He spoke perfect English and was chatting with us as we were making our way to Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains). We arrive at our stop and we get out the cash to pay, 26 Euros. We hand him exact change and go to leave when all of a sudden he acts as if he has never understood English. He said this isn’t the correct change and starts demanding more. We argue back and forth for a bit, still very confused as to what was happening. In the confusion and miscommunication, we ended up giving him more money. Turns out he had taken our 20 Euro bill and replaced it with 2 five Euro bills, trying to show that we had, in fact, given him less money. The only problem, we only had one 5 between the four of us so we knew what he had done.
Moral of the story, don’t let taxi men swindle you out of your money, and just take the metro.
I found that JSB has a workout planned for students
everyday, either it be mental or physical. I’ve been training to walk across
the big stage for a while now. Upon returning I’ll walk across the stage at
Auburn, looking ahead to many big stages in life after graduation. All of the
knowledge gained from school and experience at JSB will never be forgotten.
Over the past few weeks, I have pushed myself to become a
better version of me. Being in a new country, all I have is myself to depend on
for everyday choices. This has allowed me to stick up for myself more than I
have in the past. JSB has contributed to my inner voice just like I knew it
would. For example, here in Italy I am I the foreigner. I get the looks, the
buzz, and the judgement. I know now that I want to give extra attention in
helping foreigners in the US. I appreciate any Italian responding to my Italian
question in English because they understand that my Italian is rusty. The
phrase, “take a walk in my shoes” is reality. Living, traveling, and studying
with all different personalities is a challenge. The challenge was well
accepted because it prepared me for the workforce. Communicating in another
language and really listening the ones concerns. Being here, I gained a whole
new perspective on a way of life, patience, and thought. As a young
professional, I grew to trust myself and what I believed even when everyone
else thought differently which was very hard to do in the mix of learning and
traveling. After finishing my required major curricula, JSB allowed me to put
all of my Auburn experience to work.
Not only did I learn a new culture, but I also learned about
my peers more than I did when present on campus at Auburn. Being in the company
of other students allowed me to see a different side of my peers, outside of a
learning environment. These ladies will always hold a special place in my
The final lap is always the hardest, but packs the best
impact. For that, I am ever empowered! JSB, I’m out!
Sincerely, Mariah Gullatte | Apparel Design | AU Fall ’19
Before coming on this study abroad, I was informed by a previous student of the friendships I would make, of the challenges I would face, of the adventures I would embark on, and of the person I would become. To this I responded, “Super, now bring on the wine and pasta.” But upon my arrival, l looked across the room seeing many familiar faces, as well as a few unfamiliar, and a sense of standing at the edge of something exciting came over me. Maybe this student was on to something. Maybe this summer wasn’t going to be so much about finding the best pasta or cheese but more about exploring myself and how I want to live in this world.
That night I nestled into my bed (which by the way is surprisingly comfortable) and prayed for courage. My hopes for the summer were to make real memories, filled with real conversations, real experiences, and real people. I knew I would have to be fearless in my pursuit of these goals. I may have added in there a little request for pasta, wine, and cheese but it was definitely a secondary supplication.
As the semester began, I started to realize just how much
time we’d be spending together. I made the conscious decision to throw privacy
to the wind and embrace the opportunities to build meaningful friendships. This
decision has paid off in spades. This experience has pushed me past any
boundary that I thought existed and shown me that we are only limited by our
own minds and incessant need for security. I will admit that I look forward to
my own private bathroom back in the States, but the tradeoff has been well
Touring the small town of Ariccia as a class would soon turn into visiting the Sistine Chapel, which would then turn into hiking the side of an active volcano, and eventually flying to Greece in a group of twenty-two girls. One may ask, how do you travel with a group of twenty-two seamlessly? The answer is, you don’t. But it’s the seams and cracks along the path we travel that make life most interesting and memorable.
We all miss our moms, we all miss Chick-Fil-A, and we all want to explore Europe. We are a diverse group. We do bring a broad range of attributes to the table. But we have built a culture of twenty-two very different students who have found common ground and are building lifelong friendships through the exploration of new and different cultures together. I’m certain this summer will rank as one of the greatest experiences in my life.
Being surrounded by these students has brought out sides of me I had no idea existed. I’ve learned a lot about each one of them but more importantly I am beginning to discover my own true nature. I have been introduced to my adventurous spirit and I like her. My terrible sense of direction has been confirmed, but who knew I enjoy listening to Chinese love songs and I was cooking basically everything I eat incorrectly.
This experience has been wrought with extremes. My luggage was lost on the way here, I arrived with the flu, and came close to cutting my finger off in a cooking class. But I also have stood beneath the work of Michelangelo, strolled Las Rambias in Barcelona, and shopped until I dropped in Paris. It seems I have taken the leap off the edge of something exciting and even though I have hit a few jagged edges, the air is sweet up here and I plan on sticking the landing.