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 cannot even begin to think about 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 you are on the go so much you really begin to appreciate the feeling you have when you are “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’s to Rome for the day on a field trip or to Sorrento for a weekend full of sun and fun, regardless of what happens you will always find your way back to the place you love most, home.
I am writing this blog post from the comfort of my very own desk. The desk I am sitting at is the same desk I claimed about five weeks ago when I first stepped foot in the Chigi Palace. 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. 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. On one hand I feel as if I should not let myself feel at home. For how can I accept this as my “normal” life when I am constantly surrounded by all of this beauty and history. 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 a day of class just as I would in Auburn, Al. Is it not normal that I would become used to this routine? 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 staying up a whole 24 hours in order to beat jet lag or trying and failing miserably at speaking Italian and many other examples that may seem small but all work together in order for us to conform to the Italian way just enough to get by. 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, for 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.
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”.
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 then I was skeptical. This was the program that was so desirable it was 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. I knew I still wanted to go and experience study abroad, but I was unsure; a huge part of this particular study abroad experience is traveling around Europe.
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 planned for the weekend, 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 care that there is 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 to 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. There have been a few incidents of needing to have uncomfortable conversations about chores or simple miscommunications; we have all been very open and honest with each other and nothing has escalated to a fight. One of the best things we have done to prevent this from happening is learning our preferred forms 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 makes the experience even more beautiful.
I remember vividly when I was at Camp War Eagle signing up to be on the waitlist for the JSB Summer 2021 Study Abroad Program. I had heard of so many interesting stories and was so excited for when it would be my turn to go. When signing up two years ago, I would never have expected it to turn out like this, but I am beyond grateful it did.
Being the first group back to Ariccia in over a year has shown me just how lucky we truly are. The people of Ariccia are so excited to see us here because it gives them hope that things are starting to get better. It puts the biggest smile on café owners’ faces when they see our group all coming in to buy some cappuccinos and ‘cornetti.’ It makes me realize how much the pandemic affected business and how they struggled due to the lack of tourism and lockdowns. This program has not only been able to show me the kindness and appreciation in the citizen’s hearts, but it has also showed me a new side to the program that has never been seen.
Since we are not able to use public transportation, there are places we would normally go to but unfortunately, we cannot this time. This is actually allowing us to be able to go see places and sites that JSB students have never gotten to see before.
One of the places we got to visit was the Royal Palace of Caserta and we were the first JSB group to go in several years. It is the largest royal palace in the world and it definitely lives up to it. I was awestruck at how beautiful and breathtaking it was. There was a beautiful garden that had a long flowing waterfall and a huge field of flowers.
We also were able to go to Matera for the weekend and got to stay in a cave hotel. It will forever be the coolest hotel I have and will ever stay in. We kept talking about how amazing and wonderful living in a cave was so much that I would not be surprised if they take it into consideration for future JSB groups.
I think that this was the perfect time for me to attend this program and in a way, I feel as if it was fate. I have learned not to take things for granted and to live in the moment and take it all in. I do not think my eighteen-year-old self realized what a once-in-a lifetime opportunity she was going to get when she signed up for the waitlist in 2019, but I can say that it is even better than she could have imagined in her wildest dreams.
When I applied to be the Administrative Intern for JSB Spring 2020, all I really knew was that I would get to come back to Ariccia, a place I love with all my heart, a place that changed me as a student of the JSB Spring 2018 class. There was no way I could have prepared for what a life-changing, unique, crazy experience this would be. I could tell you all about the day trips in to Rome and how we got to experience not only the tourist side of the city, but also the off-the-beaten-path side as well. I could tell you about our overnight trip to the region of Umbria and how we got an inside look at the craftsmanship of the people of Italy and once again got to explore a historically rich area of Italy. I could tell you about the different professors and Italian men and women who came to our classroom, invested in our lives and education, and taught us things that we will remember for the rest of our lives. I could tell you about how hard Lacey works to make this the best possible experience for the students. I could tell you about how Cinzia is dedicated to her job and cares for her people so well. I could tell you about how sweet it is to hear Roberta say “Ciao bella” every morning while working hard to make sure our schedule is perfect. I could tell you about how amazing Maurizio and Franceso are and about how much they love this program, Ariccia, and us. I could tell you about how we were sent home six weeks early because of the Coronavirus and how heartbreaking that was for me, not only because I knew what we were all missing out on, but mainly because the girls did not get to complete their study abroad experience they had waited years to experience. I could also tell you about how resilient they have been in completing their study abroad education online from America. I could talk about it all for hours.
But what I want to tell you about most is the sweet memories I made with these 21 girls in the short six weeks we had together. In some ways, it felt like many months that we lived together in the Palace. But mostly, it felt like it went by way too quickly. Valentine’s Day dinner in town, sunsets on the overlook, weekend trips to new places, cooking dinner together, making tik-toks, watching the Bachelor on the projector, sitting in each other’s “nests” to talk and laugh and cry, talking about the hard stuff and sharing in the really good stuff, getting food poisoning, feeling home sickness, having anxiety attacks, laughing until we cry, squealing about a cute Italian boy who wants to take you out for gelato, getting stuck in a different country multiple times, falling in love with Italy. The list truly keeps going, but this is just a taste of the things we got to experience together. If something happened to one person, the group as a whole felt it because there is something so special about sharing this kind of experience and living in close quarters with a group of 21 girls. And these specific girls are the most caring, fiery, supportive, compassionate, strong, welcoming, and fun girls I have ever met.
We will forever be remembered as the JSB group that was sent back to America 6 weeks early due to COVID-19, and we will forever remember that short time we had together in Ariccia as a time our lives really were changed for good.
With love to Italy, Ariccia, JSB, and my Chigi babies,
Although the class of Spring 2020 did not get the full JSB experience and had our time cut short due to the coronavirus, feeling down after coming home from the program is applicable to all study abroad students. Let’s call it the “post-abroad blues.”
Instead of dwelling on all of the fact that we are now home and bored rather than off travelling the world, we have to focus on all of the positives. There are a few things that a student in this situation can do to brighten their spirits and I have listed them here.
Reminisce on the good.
It is healthy to want to remember all the incredible adventures abroad! I remind myself to focus on all the good that happened and allowing myself to be grateful for those experiences that I had. Another option would be to share stories with family members, create a photo album, or edit a fun video. Find something to capture those moments that you’ll hold on to for a lifetime.
This might sound obvious to a lot of people but arriving back home after spending a lot of time traveling is quite an adjustment. Whether it be adapting to the time zone, the food, or a new schedule, it might be challenging to get back into a rhythm is abnormal. Proper self-care is extremely important during this time. Avoid falling into a slump of sleeping until noon, showering once a week, and living off McDonald’s. Being back home should free up time to get back to a normal life routine, even if it takes a little while to do so. Stay hydrated, active, and healthy!
Whether it be schoolwork, re-finding an old passion, or creating a new hobby, staying busy will be a lifesaver right now. This will allow the mind to be focused on the task at hand, so you are not letting yourself dwell. Personally, this was very helpful for me. Considering our particular situation and being in quarantine, it can be easier sometimes to just be sad which is not good at all. I have started new crafts and painting, which I have found really useful to keep busy when I start to feel this way.
Stay in touch with your friends and staff from JSB.
This one is super important. Stay in touch with everyone from JSB!! These people you lived in close quarters with became family for the past several weeks. Considering that I am no longer living in Italy (which feels like a loss of its own right now), I don’t want to feel like everything from my time abroad is over. Making amazing friends on this program will help in the adjustment back in the U.S. because there is a whole group of people going through the same thing and you have a supportive group of people to lean on.
This is a photo of me and my friends traveling to London for the weekend. I’m missing my JSB girls a lot, but it makes me happy to reminisce on all of our adventures.
As a Type A planner, I am always awaiting the start of what is next to come. This has been my M.O. as it helps me plan, keeps me motivated, and helps me stay focused on achieving my goals. The downside to this method of living is that I find I am rarely able to take a breath and simply enjoy the moment I am currently in. Throughout my time at Auburn, I have made it a goal of mine to be mindful of my current situation in order to be fully present in all experiences I am fortunate to be in. I made it a goal to continue this practice when I arrived in Ariccia.
It is crucial for me to be present during all Joseph S. Bruno experiences! Admittedly, I have caught my mind wondering off to a different topic or thinking about our next experience and ultimately becoming disengaged with the activity I was presently immersed in. Following my disengagement, whether it was listening to a lecture, receiving a tour, listening to my classmate’s presentation, or even during a conversation with my friends, I felt incredibly regretful as I knew there was never a chance I would have that moment back. I immediately knew I missed out on an opportunity to learn, grow, or connect with my peers.
I am currently writing during the COVID-19 pandemic from my home in South Carolina while I continue my learning experiences online through Zoom and Canvas. At-home learning is difficult, but it is imperative for me to continue being all there in my engagement with the course material. Our staff has facilitated lectures and Q&A sessions with various field experts who we planned on meeting in person. While I am meeting the President and Founder of Connecting Cultures through a camera in the United States, I am no less grateful for the opportunity.
Aside from never receiving the opportunity again, there is always something to learn. Positive or negative experience, likeable or unlikeable circumstances alike teach us lessons and foster fantastic environments for growth. The biggest lesson I have learned in my life it not to regress during the unfavorable times but allow yourself to grow.
When I find myself wondering off in my head, I practice the mindfulness tool of reconnecting with all five senses. This is a common practice in meditation as well! I identify a few things I can see, touch, hear, smell, and taste (if applicable) to help ground me and connect with my surroundings.
Participating in the Joseph S. Bruno program is a remarkable privilege and I didn’t want to take a minute of it for granted! In short, my takeaway from the program? If you are going to participate and be there, be ALL there!
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 abroad is filled with a LOT of unknowns.
Where will I live? Where will I travel? What will I do? Who will I meet? How much money will I spend? How will get from point A to B?
While figuring out the answer to most of these questions and unknowns are all a part of the fun, it can also be scary and frustrating. During my time abroad I was faced with quite a few scary and frustrating moments. I was stuck in London for a night due to stormy weather. I missed out on a weekend getaway I had been planning for months due to the catastrophe in London. My phone stopped working during a weekend away with friends from my hometown.
I could go on, but these bumps in the road are not the point.
The point is: I had a lot of time to focus on myself and how I would react to these miniature “international incidents.” Part of the reason I was looking forward to this experience was so I would have 12 weeks to do some major self-reflection, and try to come back with a more positive and grateful outlook on life. So every time I was thrown into a stressful moment I tried to do my best to stay positive and focus on the GOOD. At times, I failed to do so in the moment, but that gave me the opportunity to reflect and try to do things differently the next time.
Essentially, what I am trying to say is a basic goal in life, but it seems it is important now more than ever. We live in a world that likes to focus on the negative. Every day we turn on the news we are seeing people all over the world getting sick, dying, and suffering from Covid-19. People are out of work, graduations are being canceled, weddings are postponed, and basic human interaction is frowned upon. During a time that seems so bleak it is important to remain positive. I encourage you to think of this every time you get annoyed that you are on the couch watching re-runs during quarantine. Focus on spending time with your family, establishing a healthier routine, or having the luxury of a roof over your head and food to eat. Focus on the GOOD.