My Defining Decade

At 21 years old I have entered what is known as the “defining decade”. The time where you discover what your passions are, move to a new city, graduate college, and get married. As a rising senior I’m entering a year of uncertainty and change, a time where I don’t have an answer for everything. It’s times like these when most people are faced with the decision to either sink or swim. I don’t always know what choice I’m going to make until I’ve reached the end but there is one thing I do know; choosing to spend my summer with 22 complete strangers is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Coming into this summer I really had no idea what to expect. As an introvert, how would I thrive in an environment with so many other people? Would I experience culture shock? Would I make friends? I won’t tell you that everything just works out perfectly, because that’s not the truth. It takes hard work and action. You have to decide that you’re going to do what it takes to thrive in the environment you’re in if you want to experience real growth in your life. During these past few weeks I’ve learned a lot about myself. Mainly, I’ve learned that the idea of who I think I am is ever changing. Who I thought I was before this program is a different person than who I am now, and I’m sure that will change again by the time August rolls around.

This program has taught me how to step out of my comfort zone in ways that I never would have done on my own. It’s been like jumping off a cliff but landing in calm waters. In all of my times of anxiety and stress during this experience I’ve been surrounded by 22 people who are there to support me. I might not have a clue what’s going to happen after I graduate but I’m finding peace in the fact that this program will play a huge part in my “defining decade”.

All the love,

Mg Ryan

A beautiful day at the mozzarella farm!

There is Beauty in the Waiting

by: Letta Young

Looking up at the Trevi Fountain in amazement at the detail, beauty, and craftsman shift

of the monument. Wondering how was that possible back then and why can’t we make

anything like this now of days? My wondering was shortly answered, “because it took a lot of

time to build”.

Simple “there is beauty in the waiting” the simple quote has spoken a mounds amount

of life into over the past two short weeks of being in ariccia.

I’ve only been in Italy for less than a week now and have already realized an aspect of

life that in America I would’ve never learned. It’s simple the beauty in the wait, waiting, being

patient, enjoying the moment, and not rushing to the next step because there is something

right Infront of me that I have waited a lifetime for but am missing. I discovered I am a runner, I

don’t walk through life I sprint through it; to get to the next moment, to see the next thing, and

to experience the new. But I have quickly come to realize that I need to slow down, enjoy the

wait, and be patient because the most beautiful things take time.

In more ways than one I have already run into some insentience the tervi fountain, it

took over 30 years to complete and now it stands beautifully. My four-hour flight delay to

Rome, sure I didn’t like waiting at the moment but I created great friendships and unforgettable

moments in the atl terminal. Then looking before that the wait was to be here, right now with

JSB and now I am already creating beautiful relationships right off the bat. I’ve even started

seeing it in my wait for dinner to be served. I get so hangry and don’t want to talk anymore, but

I have gained and had some great memories already at the dinner table.

From waiting for dinner to the grandness of the trevi fountain that all took time to

become beautiful. I have learned that waiting doesn’t have to be miserable, that it can be

hopeful of what is to come, and also a moment for me can a new relationship or memories. I

never thought being here for only two weeks would teach me such a lesson in my personal life

that will now change the way I live forever.

The Big Step

Everyone has things they are afraid of.

I am definitely not excluded from this. I have always been afraid or nervous about change, whether it was in my daily routine, my environment, or the people I was with. Going into college, I knew I wanted to challenge these fears that have been holding me back for so long. I knew that breaking this habit would be hard and signing up for the Joseph S. Bruno Trip to Italy would be one of the things to get me past this roadblock in personal growth. It turns out, I was definitely right.

Before I arrived in Italy, I was definitely feeling the negative emotions of change. I was scared, and that is completely normal. It is okay to be scared. It is okay to feel nervous. It is okay to not know what to expect. Doing something out of your comfort zone is challenging and in no way should that make you doubtful of your abilities to face your fears or take that big step. With this, I learned to not be so hard on myself for feeling these things because 20 other girls were feeling the same way as me.

My experience in Italy has helped me learn to take everything one step at a time. Even though not every day is going to be perfect, my time in Italy so far has been a dream. Even though I have only been here a little over a week, I have fallen in love with every inch of Italy. The food, the culture, the atmosphere, the nature, the history have all shown me that there is more to life than what I am accustomed to and that change is a good thing rather than a bad thing.

With love,


Taking It All In

It has been three weeks since I stepped off the plane in Fiumicino, eager to explore Italy and immerse myself in the culture. I had a list of everything I wanted to see and places I wanted to visit, and I was determined to check off every single item by the time I leave.

To be honest, I expected to be going into Rome every week and having more of a big city, touristy experience. Now, as I have only been into Rome twice, I am surprisingly not upset. I have fallen in love with the small city of Ariccia. I have decided that, since I am here for less than three months, it is crucial to take in every single moment. I have made a point to pause and appreciate all that this city holds. From pizza and sunsets with new friends to pistachio gelato at Bamby, this place and its people are some of the best life has to offer.

Although I have been here a short time, Ariccia and the JSB program have taught me the importance of soaking in the world around me. They have taught me to take every opportunity that I can to get and to not waste a second here. They have even made me a morning person, which I would have never expected. I cannot resist waking up for a cappuccino and pastry from our new friends at Antico’s, sitting outside the little cafe and soaking in the charming city of Ariccia.

I also have found myself taking in the long train and bus rides. As tempting as it is to just watch TikTok or take a nap during these moments, I know that I would be missing the sights surrounding me. I have even made a Spotify playlist for times like these to help me appreciate this country. There is nothing like staring out a window and listening to Frank Sinatra as I pass by endless numbers of vineyards and ancient aqueducts.

So no, I am not upset that I have yet to visit the Vatican or go to the Gucci store in Rome, because I have all of these little moments that I will cherish forever.

I am beyond grateful that Ariccia has shown me how to appreciate every second I get here and the beauties that this country offers.


Mary Haden Pickel

Watching my first Ariccia sunset with some new friends

Lessons from Ariccia

It’s been a little over a week since I arrived at the Chigi Palace in Ariccia, Italy. Upon arrival, I was excited and expectant of what the semester would bring, but I can’t pretend that I wasn’t nervous. Moving to a new city across the world for the summer with people I don’t know is something I never thought I would do, but here I am. 

What I’ve come to realize during my short time here so far is that the town of Ariccia is incredibly welcoming. When five of us go into the small shop next door to stumble our way through ordering sandwiches, the employees are patient and kind. When we trip over our words ordering cappuccinos at the café down the street, the shop owner teaches and explains words and phrases to us. The people here are friendly, the pace of the lifestyle is slower, and it has already been a breath of fresh air to me. I am a very schedule-oriented person. I always have to know what is coming up next, what I will be doing for the next meal, what I’m wearing the next day, etc. The first time I sat at lunch for over two hours, I found myself antsy and thinking about what I could be doing and what I should be filling my time with. I am beginning to realize that slowing down and simply existing is what Ariccia is all about, and that is a lesson that I can learn this summer. I am expectant of what the rest of this summer will bring and am so thankful for this opportunity.


Wynne Watts

Me at the Trevi Fountain in Rome! So beautiful!

More Than a Sunset

I left the United States thinking Auburn had the best sunsets in the world. The kind of sunset that makes you stop and admire nature’s beauty. From the first night of seeing the sunset over the bridge through the Chigi palace window, I knew this place was special. I would come to see that the sunset brings so much more than just its pure beauty to my life.  

As I look out the window every Sunday evening on the way back from our weekend adventures, this sunset brings me reflection, and not just because my journal reflection is due at midnight, but for the first time that week, I am completely still. I watch the sunset with my favorite song playing, and I think about my week, the many ups, downs, laughs, cries, gelato, every moment. After the sun has completely set I leave feeling more grateful and blessed for the memories and growth of the week. 

Our new weekly ritual is to go down to the Belvidere and watch the sunset all together while having a little picnic. This has quickly become one of my favorite parts of each week. We take time out of our busy week to all come together and share stories, dreams, and many, many laughs. As the sun goes down, “Ribs” by Lorde is playing, and we all dance and feel life’s purest form of happiness. As Lorde sings, “you’re the only friends I need” I know this sunset brings me lifetime friendships. 

I will forever be grateful for the sunsets in Italy for they bring me so much more than I will ever be able to describe and fully understand. I know now when I stop and admire the sunsets at home I will not only think about nature’s beauty but the beauty of life and every small and big moment leading up to that sunset. Of course, though, every sunset from here on out will also remind me of my experiences in Italy and the amazing friendships I have made.


Meghan Schmitt

Our first sunset picnic at the Belvedere!

I Almost Walked Off the Plane

I had never been abroad. I had never flown to another country. I had never traveled this far without my family ever, and here I was getting on an international flight to a country I had never been to, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t know a single soul…or so I thought.

My time in Italy has changed me. It has made me grow. It has challenged me, and in a lot of ways, it has made me better. While I was scared to death boarding a flight to go to a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know a soul, I grew from it. I learned that staying seated on a flight is the difference between finding personal growth, accepting challenge, and seeking adventure as opposed to remaining stagnant, staying afraid, and continuing a repetitious life. All I know is that if the Lord hadn’t seated that retired pilot next to me on my life who talked to me for the majority of the flight, I most likely would have walked off and missed the experience of a lifetime!

My time in Italy has taught me a lot about myself and a lot about how to trust others. Within my first few weeks, an old friend from my undergraduate career reached out and told me that he was currently in Rome studying to become a priest. I did not know, but the Lord did, that I did know a soul in Italy, and little did I know that José would make all the difference! He showed me around Rome, checked in on me during busy weeks with the program, and was a real friend to me when I needed one. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned while being here is that sometimes we have friends and sometimes we find friends in the most unlikely of circumstances. I would never have seen the goodness of this if it wasn’t for this JSB experience.

Further, I learned a lot about who I am and who I want to be as a professional planning to work with undergraduate students. I feel blessed to have spent the past eleven weeks with sixteen young women who are going to change the world. Each and every one of them has something unique and beautiful to offer the world, and it has been an absolute gift to watch them grow and see them evolve as the weeks have gone on. While not every moment has been easy, every single one of them has been so incredibly worth it. The amount of growth I have felt throughout my time here is indescribable, and I can only hope that I continue to hold onto this feeling and seek growth once I am back in Auburn.

I feel as though it is fitting to end this post with a ‘thank you’ to the Joseph S. Bruno Program and all those involved in it. Thank you, JSB, for changing my life. Thank you for giving me a perspective that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and thank you for growing me in all of the ways I didn’t know I needed. I would not be the woman I am today without you!

All my love,

Haley Sherman

From left to right: Lauren, José, and myself! My friend Lauren visited, and I was able to introduce her to José before we toured St. Peter’s Basilica.

Positive Thinking

When was the last time you were so excited about something, yet so completely terrified of it at the same time? Mine had to be the night before I was supposed to leave for the Joseph S. Bruno Program. While I was on the phone with my mom freaking out about whether I should check two bags or one, I had second thoughts about coming at all. From the first time I had heard about Auburn and the Joseph S. Bruno Program, I knew that studying apparel merchandising in Italy had to be done, but the time snuck up on me before I was truly ready to depart. This had been something I waited for my entire Auburn career, but I wanted nothing more than to stay at my home in Auburn and be with the friends I already knew. Well, I guess my wish came true because just hours before I was supposed to board my plane to Rome, I found out I tested positive for Covid-19!

I am the type of person who has a plan and always sticks to it so having this block put in front of me was catastrophic. I was so lost and frightened. I kept thinking to myself that this was a joke, and I would still get to get on my flight at 7:00 PM that night. As time ticked away, the realization that I would not be joining the other Chigi Babies on the flight out of Atlanta began to set in. 

The days passed as I sat in my quarantine and settled into a new idea about this experience I was about to have. I came to terms that I would be the one late arrival and the “new girl” on the trip. While this concerned me, it also comforted me because I knew I had 15 other girls to show me the ropes once I finally arrived. I have grown to become thankful for my extended stay at home because it has set me up to be thankful for every day that I did get to spend here. 

On the day I tested positive, I decided to read my horoscope from Cosmopolitan to see if it could boost my mood and tell me what to do. It read, “You typically prefer a more controlled approach to your schedule, but that isn’t the way this week will unfold. Be ready for anything.” The idea of “be ready for anything” has stuck with me through all eight weeks we have been here so far. No matter what has happened, I have adapted and overcome every stage so far, and I cannot wait to keep pushing myself alongside all my new friends!


Sarah Siddons

This photo was taken by my sorority little and her friends when they dropped me off at the Atlanta Airport after I tested negative!

A Letter to the Future “Chigi Babies”

Seven weeks down and a lifetime of memories made. When will time stop? The past seven weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye, yet again, it has felt like eternity. However, that is the beauty of this experience. Just the other day I was dragging an extensive amount of luggage out of the airport filled with excitement but chained down by fear. Little did I know what was in store for me. 

 To the future “Chigi Babies,” it is essential that you use this time to truly understand and find yourself. While it took 21 years of attempting to understand who I was as an individual, in just seven weeks, I have grown as a person and learned more about myself than ever before. There are two primary takeaways from my experiences abroad that I would like to share with you: 

  1. Make it a priority to understand yourself and your needs: While there is so much good during your time here, many will also face confusion or uneasiness during this “experience of a lifetime.” However, that is a part of this experience, and you should embrace it. To cope with the confusion and uneasiness you might face, make sure to practice self-care. On the “not-so-perfect” days, take time to evaluate what you can do for yourself to improve your day-to-day life in Aricia and make this a priority. While this may not come easily or naturally to so, take time to figure out if your version of self-care is putting on a Netflix series, reading your favorite book, going for a walk, or all the above. Ultimately, do what feels right for yourself. 
  1. Step out of your comfort zone: This might sound contradictory to my first tip, right? However, the truth is, you will likely get a little too comfortable watching Netflix or reading that book that you just never want to put down. Instead, reflect on your levels of self-care and dictate what you might need to adjust for yourself. From this, live life to its grandest potential. Is there someone you want to get to know more? Spark up an exciting conversation. Do you want to go meet more locals but are too nervous you may forget the essentials from the Italian survival guide? This is the perfect time to practice and immerse yourself in the culture. Your comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there. Take one step out of your comfort zone and notice the new sense of beauty you are overwhelmed with. 

Chigi babies, with all this being said, embrace this once in a lifetime experience, embrace yourself, and live and love every second. You will look back and cherish the memories and the people of this trip, as well as how far you came. Take ample care of your needs and make more memories than you can fathom. There will be a day where this experience seems so long ago, but what will be close to the heart are the memories.  

Sending love, 

Denisse Pena 

Look Out the Window

Train tracks, gondola floats, taxi rides, bus trips, long walks. Our time here in Italy has been packed full of these ‘in-between’ moments. The best thing about studying abroad so far is not just the places we have been, but the journey there. Looking back on all the places we have made our way to this semester; I also begin to think about how we got there. Sure, traveling throughout Italy’s hills, valleys, mountains, and beaches is an absolute dream, but you got to your destination somehow. And while waking up at five in the morning to sit on a bus or train for three hours might not sound like the most exhilarating experience, it’s in these moments where I have surprisingly found myself the most content.

The unique thing about Italy is that there is beauty everywhere you look, no matter where you look. Whether it be rolling green hills covered in vineyards, mountains puncturing the skyline with white snow caps, or even just a small village full of life and love and people. All I have to do is look out and take it in. Soak up every second that I can. Understand the importance of enjoying the present, the ‘in-between’. Because even though I may not be sipping on Tuscan wine or pulling my own mozzarella cheese, I can appreciate the beauty of the stillness around me.

So, while I am eternally grateful for all the experience and opportunity that this semester has granted me, the most valuable lesson I have learned is simply – look out the window.  

Much love,

Meredith McMillan

My view of the beginning of a sunset on our train ride back to Ariccia from Naples.