The GoGlobal Blog

Month: May 2011

My Foot Hurts, Can I Go to the Nurse?

My Foot Hurts, Can I Go to the Nurse?

I went to Abruzzo this past weekend, where my body was brutally beat by a mountain and some gravel trails. The leisurely hike that I thought I signed up for turned out to be three days of sweaty outdoor movement. Thankfully I only fell once.

25 students and 2 Student Life Assistants left early Friday morning and traveled East to the region of Abruzzo, a small area in the mountains where many Romans go to in summer months to escape the hotbox of a city they call Rome. We supposedly made good time and got to the hotel well before noon in time for our first death march, I mean hike. Once we got settled into our rooms and then we met outside and grabbed our sack lunches from a restaurant where we would eat all of our meals over the weekend. We walked a few kilometers up a mountain that over looked the town which was pretty pretty, if you’re into breathtaking views of the rolling green Italian landscape. On our way down, we stopped at a cemetery to eat our lunch. If our lunch locale was any indication of what the rest of the weekend would be like, it wasn’t great. After our lunch break with the deceased, we walked back through town and on to the next hill we could find. Just kidding, we knew where we were going. We walked up another hill to a waterfall that very pretty, and very chilly. It was fantastic after walking in the mid-day sun. After the first round of hiking we went back to hotel to rest for two hours, and in those two hours we were treated to our first musical treat of the night; our hotel was hosting a children’s choir competition. After hearing a plethora of Disney songs from across the building, we had a night of swanky activities. The first event was held at a restaurant in Civita d’Antino, it was a wine and cheese tasting. I didn’t like either, naturally. However, while the group chowed down on some cheese, the mayor of the town stopped by to welcome us. Then after hob-knobing with politicians we walked across the very small town, which incidentally looked a lot like an Olive Garden, to the town’s museum which overlooked Valle Roveto. The museum had an exhibit of prints by the Scandinavian artist, Zarhrtman. And at the same museum, we were treated to a small musical performance by a trio of men from the town. They played Italian swing music, which was very neat. After the art and music, we all went back to restaurant and had dinner. We ate locally raised baby lamb and a noodle-and-bean soup, which was delicious.

The next morning we woke up early for the second of three hikes of the weekend. The hotel had a very nice breakfast, which we got to enjoy with all of Italy’s children choirs. This day’s hike was a bit more challenging to say the least. It lasted about 7 hours, and consisted of climbing a mountain in Valle Roveto. It was definitely no walk in the park, considering I spent half of the time strataling the mountain face. The group split up, and some taking the short cut, while others took the road that zig-zagged up the mountain. I chose the short cuts, because I liked the name, obviously my judgement was off. At some points, we were actually climbing with our hands. We were supposed to go to the peak, but the weather didn’t cooperate (thankfully) and we called it a day after reaching a plateau with a cross in the ground, next to a little Jesus figurine… which are also very common on Italy. So after we retreated from the mountain top, we got a few hours of rest and then we went back to the restaurant where the owner demonstrated how to make gnocchi and marinate the chicken we were being served that night. It was nice to be at the restaurant and in the town, because it was totally not a tourist town.

The next and final day was supposed to be a short hike up on another mountain in the morning. The hike was really tiring, considering the day’s previous jaunt. We went to a sanctuary that overlooked the entire valley. The sanctuary was actually a building built into the side of the mountain around 1300 years ago. The town’s people still go up there once a year on a certain day and hold a celebration on the lawn and a mass in the building. After we hiked down from the sanctuary, we went back to the Osteria where we were prepared a lunch of spaghetti and pork roast. The food is especially good in the town because they only use ingredients found in the town, usually the day of.

As much as my body hated the trip, it was nice to leave Rome to see the actually countryside. And as much as I would suggest people to visit the town, there is not really a tourism industry there… better for a day trip due to the lack of hotels. I have midterms the next two days. And then on Wednesday, class is cancelled because we are going to the Papal Audience that morning to see the Pope speak, or do something… I’m foggy on the details. Anyways, my plans for next weekend are up in the air so I don’t really know what I’ll be doing.

Alla Fine…

Alla Fine…

Well, it’s finally happened: I’ve become one of those annoying study abroad enthusiasts that everyone loathes. They may as well have me as a promoter in one of the insufferable Loyola orientation groups that so entices a student to go to the alluring Loyola Rome Campus (as they did with me a few years ago). But as I continue to be afflicted by insurmountable examples of culture shock on an hourly basis, I knew that I must write one final post. So, I write to you not from my previous home of four months but from a hipster, only too American coffee shop (not even a café) in Milwaukee to show everyone how I reached this point of both Study Abroad vexation (and hopefully persuasion) to you all.

My final month abroad proved to be busier than any of the rest. Granted, I had finished the majority of my travel after Spring Break was over. While I fell in love with every place that I visited, the country with which I continuously remained the most infatuated by was that which I inhabited. Having seen Florence and found myself captivated by it, I desired to venture to one other city in the same country as my Roma home. After all, I had yet to see the famous city of canals and carnevale, Venezia, or Venice.

Two of my friends and I decided to conveniently take a night train both to and from Venice to save money on hostels. We arrived at the station around 11:00pm and befriended a couple of Texans in our same car (I loved being around any Americans who made me feel superiorly more Euro). We arrived in Venice at 6:00 am, just in time to watch the sun rise over all the rivers of the city.

Having heard quite a bit of build up, Venice delivered on all of the romanticism and radiance I’d assumed it to have. To say it is a city built on water makes me reminisce of similar sentiments expressed about previously blogged cities like Amsterdam. Yet while the main River Amstel flows through that city, it would be easy for someone to see that waterway as a facet of the city which can either be acknowledged or ignored based upon someone’s preference. In walking through the streets of Venice, I sometimes felt as if the canals were a greater part of the city than the cobblestone. You would turn down a street only to find that you were led to a dead end…into water. Luckily, there’s almost always a water taxi to help you out if you get lost which is also almost inevitable. We didn’t survive half the day without asking someone where we were on our map (to which they replied that the papers in our hand were useless). Despite complications occasionally navigating the canals, the day spent in Venice was one of utter peace. It’s not a huge city so there’s not a TON to do or see like some of the other places to which we traveled. However, this suited us perfectly. It was a day that could be spent getting lost in the city, making our way to Piazza San Marco, window shopping for old Carnevale masks and famous Murano glass, and gazing out at the gorgeous water. Before the day was finished, we couldn’t leave without taking a gondola ride. After a bit of bartering, we found an Italian who was not only dressed in the traditional gondola get-up, but was also a Chicago lover. We skipped his serenade and settled for a beautiful ride through the charming canals of the city. From sunrise to sunset, we were euphoric in the perfect day we had in this beautiful city.

BUT THEN, disaster struck. If I was to call my day in Venice euphoric, I could only describe our night train back as the exact opposite: complete and utter misery. The train ride home was the definition of torment. You see, we bought our tickets at 9:00pm for our night train at 11:00pm. We happily sipped on a nice Prosecco as we watched the sun set on the water of the beautiful city. Then, we boarded the train and spread out in our car. We did all of these actions, not realizing that if you want a guaranteed seat on the train, you must purchase your ticket 24 hours prior. However, we SOON discovered this in a very unpleasant way. After the 3 of us had cozily slept for probably 45 minutes on the train, we were awakened by a boisterous, broad-shouldered woman exclaiming in a thick accent that we were in her seats. We confusedly looked at her tickets and unhappily consented to leave, seeing that we were indeed laying the spots that her tickets specified. We moved a few cars down where there was only one other person. Almost as content, we spread out once again and fell asleep. Soon after, I awoke unpleasantly to a bright light shining in my face. I opened my eyes to see a carabineri police officer’s flashlight in my face. I hurriedly grabbed my ticket and attempted to hand it to him. After a short exchange of him not taking my ticket and my very American “What. Do. You. Want????” slow pleading, he stated in poor English that he wished to see our passports. Understandably, for safety reasons, we had not brought our passports because we traveling within the country. When we explained this to the carabinieri, he scoffed and told us that it was a law (false!) that we had to have our passports on us at all times. It was then time to play my favorite game, Dumb American, with a “What? I didn’t know we needed it? I’m so sorry, I’m new to this country, I’ll never do it again”. The officer unhappily told us to not make the same mistake in the future. We fell asleep for the third time…only to be awakened less than half an hour later by a full family of 8! We were in THEIR seats this time. It was not worth the language-barriered negotiations; we grumpily and groggily got up and shuffled into the train hallway. Then the real hell began. We traveled from car to car, searching for a compartment in which there were three seats for us to sit and found none. Every time the train stopped,  we rapidly searched cars to find people leaving their compartments but never found any luck. Eventually, we consented to sitting in fold out chairs in the car hallways filled with only gypsies. Dead tired from so many hours on our feet in Venice, we fell asleep in these chairs where only one of our cheeks fit. But like I said, there were quite a few stops and every time the train halted, people (not as learned as us) walked around trying to find compartments to sit in. Every time, they would walk past thereby knocking our knees and waking us up. When the train started again after the stops, we would be awakened again, either by an incessant man selling “l’acqua! L’acqua!” or a different carabinieri officer thinking we were one of the gypsies who had snuck on. If only my Italian or my patience had been strong enough to tell them, “BELIEVE ME, if I hadn’t paid to be on this train, I wouldn’t be here!” However, after all this horror, the real point of hell came when we met Giuseppe. A balding, middle-aged Italian man started to chat with my roommate and after he explained to us the ticket situation (this was the first we had heard of it), he feigned sympathy and told us that he would trade off his compartment with us. Giuseppe told us we could sleep for a few hours in his compartment and then he would sleep and we would continue to switch off for the rest of the train ride. We thought we were finally experiencing rewards for the ordeal we’d been put through and thanked him profusely. We slept for perhaps an hour in Giuseppe’s car before he woke us up. He called us into the hallway. However, he didn’t go into his compartment; no, he called us out in the hallway to mock the way we were sleeping and hit on my roommate. Furious, we retreated as far away from this biggest gypsy of them all and went to sleep again with the less trickster of gypsies in the hallway. After one of the best days of my life, came one of the worst nights. When I found myself in my dorm after 7 hours of agony, I appreciated the jenkeness of JFRC in a whole new light and resolved to share my ticket knowledge with everyone and anyone who needed it to travel.

Disappointingly, Venice was the last city of Italy (aside from my own) that I further ventured to. My next time in Italy (this is hope and desperation speaking now), I’d like to see Cinque Terre, Sienna, Assisi, or many others. However, I did get to travel once more after my Venetian excursion. The last trip we had booked far in advance when we had arrived in Italy was to Greece. Apparently, I actually have quite a bit of family from Greece (who knew?) and they reside on one of the Grecian islands. So, I guess you could resolve my last trip as a sort of homecoming? However, ancestry aside, I was determined to make my last trip one of the best and I definitely succeeded in that aspect. Where I had taken many trips all over Europe  this semester (and had absolutely adored them all, don’t get me wrong), Athens felt like a genuine vacation. The weather was perfect; I got ridiculously sunburned just by walking around the Acropolis. The city was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen; it possessed the pseudoarchaic appeal of many European cities I had visited. However, it also had the ancient monuments (similar to that of Rome) that left you breathless. Seeing the Parthenon atop the Acropolis was a magnificent memory that you only truly appreciate after you leave.

That being said, getting to the Acropolis was a bit of struggle. My three friends and I wished to see this spectacular ancient structure on our second day in Athens. We followed the main street signs of the city and climbed the picturesque mountain, but could not find a general way to the top by which everyone else was entering. Finally, we did not reach a common entryway which all other people appeared to be using, but a massive gate which seemed to be all the way around the mountain with no opening in sight. Here, we made a decision: from our point of view, we could either give up on making it to the top of the mountain and seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon, or we could jump the fence and continue our way up after that. When I say jump the fence, I allude to about a 10 foot drop. It was no small feat. But I wasn’t making it all the way to my homeland without seeing the primary piece of art and history of the country. My guy friend who came with us went over first. Then us 3 girls, significantly shorter, climbed to the top of the huge fence. Maybe we would’ve felt bad about sneaking into the Acropolis if we hadn’t been cheered on by an Irish woman who noticed what we were doing. She even offered one of my friends a hand on getting down and ordered us “not to get spiked!” by the fence. After the 3 of us girls had risked our lives and jumped over the fence, we further made our way to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, after all that work, we decided to take a detour on a more picturesque route on which we were discovered (apparently being in a taboo area of the hill where people aren’t allowed). After a failed game of Dumb American (“Laura, where is your purse? Aren’t the tickets in there?” “I threw my ticket away!” “We need tickets?”), we were chastised in the nicest and most pitiful way possible by a small Greek woman begging us to “Please get out. Get out please”. Sneaking into the Acropolis: almost completed. We were then directed to the general entrance and went in with the rest of the tourists. However, it was worth it. Not only the structure itself was awe-inspiring, but the view of all of Athens was incomparable. As with my home of Roma, I’m always impressed to see things that are older than the country in which I was raised. I think there is something so awesome and incredible about standing in the presence of such a beautiful, historical edifice.

As illustrated in the woman who forced us to leave the restricted section of the Acropolis, the people of Greece were some of the nicest I encountered in all of Europe. Almost as American-friendly as the Czech in Prague, natives seemed to be not only willing, but ecstatic to help out a lost tourist, especially an American. We encountered people giving us free offers if we dined at their restaurants and proprietors being apologetic, not irritated, if you asked for more than what was offered. I guess it would be hard not to be friendly and happy in so beautiful a place. As you can see, even when we were getting scolded at the Acropolis, the woman did it in a way that made it seem like she was the problem in the situation. And if you now have an accurate opinion of the delightful people, I wish I could show you the food. I liked to try traditional dishes wherever I traveled in Europe. Therefore when I went to Greece, I tried a lot of customary, foreign named dishes out of my comfort-zone, only to discover I  loved them all.

On our final full day in Greece, we decided to take our vacation a step further and journey to one of the nearby islands. With time restrictions and recommendations considered, we decided upon Aegina, an island in the Saronic Gulf. A short and scenic ride away from Athens took us to this island that challenged any tropical vacation I’ve ever taken. The combination of beaches and traditional European city added up to paradise. The day was the most relaxing end of any of our trips. Despite feeling like I was at one big frat party whenever I looked at signs in downtown  Athens, I dreaded leaving this tranquil and stunning paradise of a country.

This semester made me despise airports. I hated going through security. I hated packing under ridiculous restrictions. I hated the damn buses that Europe makes you get on after you get off a plane because you are dropped off too far from the terminal. I would say I hated the plane ride itself, but let’s be honest, I’m too good at sleeping on public transportation to ever remember that part. And I hated the feeling when you were at the airport after a weekend trip was over. I always felt sad to leave each city I visited. However, I always had the consolation that I was coming home to Roma. However depressed I became about leaving a visited country, I felt immediately better whenever I exited the plane and uttered my first “Ciao” to an Italian in the airport.

Having lived in the country for fourish months, I fancied myself a near native by the time April rolled around. This is good because at the beginning of that month, I had my family come to visit me. My parents and brother were joined by my aunt, uncle, and cousin from Kentucky to challenge me on what kind of tour guide I could be. My parents stayed in a villa by Piazza del Popolo, near the Spanish Steps. Having been confined to the wonderful company of the JForce Crew for the past months, it was extremely odd to see familiar faces from the past. However, it was wonderful to see my family. It was their first time in Europe and for once, I felt not like a child on my family vacation but a host in my homeland with them as visitors to this new life I had established for myself. An almost broke college student abroad, I enjoyed the week of tours and fine dining (compared to the couple euro pizza in which I would usually indulge). On the first day with my parents, I saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon another time, though I don’t think I could ever get tired at gazing at any of those. I impressively was able to share with them facts about all of these things thanks to my Art in Rome course. Luckily, my parents were also conveniently located near Villa Borghese. One of the most spectacular views in Rome can be seen from atop the hill and a feeling of total serenity can be achieved while resting in the garden by the pond.

The following day, my family and I traveled to Florence. Unfortunately, there was less time to shop so I was unable to show off the bartering skills I had acquired. But due to decreased shopping time, I was able to spend more time seeing the impressive spectacles of the city. I saw the David once again (acquired more taboo photographs) and this time climbed to the top of the Duomo, showing my parents the magnificent view of the city. We returned to Rome just in time for a wine tour in Lazio. To discover the makings of this staple of my Italian life was certainly a fascinating and valuable experience. This experience was made even more invaluable by the wine tasting that followed. Also, with my parents, I saw the Vatican Museum once again and captured more illegal images of the Sistine Chapel on my camera. Here too I was further able to impart Art in Rome knowledge. Then, I showed my family my campus and gave them advice on where to find the best gelato in the city. I was sad to say goodbye at the end of the week but knew that they were happy that I was so happy in my new home.

With family visits over and all my travel finished, I was determined to take advantage of Rome as much as possible in my final month. I could have gone sightseeing everyday of my final month and still not seen everything the city has to offer. If I had better kept up with my blog, I could have recorded the sights in the succession of which I saw them. However, because in my final month, every moment was either spent seeing the sights or studying (I know, shocking that I actually had to go to school in my 4 month vacation), I have to unfortunately jumble my thoughts together in this post. I’ve already discussed some of the sights I was able to see in the final month. The Pantheon will always be one of my favorite places. To sit in the piazza surrounding the massive structure and sip on a cappuccino is one of the best feelings I’ve ever known. From there, you can take a  short walk to the Trevi. I love the Trevi Fountain because you are just walking down one of the cute narrow alleyways of Rome and then BAM, you are assaulted by this amazing image out of nowhere. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen and you are filled with so much love for the city and all those around you.

In the last few days, I finally stuck it to Loyola by getting inside the Colosseum. I’d seen the outside twice and had been played with promises of entering. Anyone who’d told me it wasn’t worth it to see the inside was sincerely incorrect. Having learned the history behind the Colosseum made looking at this massive structure many times more impressive.

I also saw some less traditional tourist spots in Rome. I went to Santa Maria in Cosmedin to see the Mouth of Truth. Legend has it, if an enormous liar sticks their hand in, the mouth will shut on them. Happy to inform you guys, I passed the test. After that I went to Il Foro, or the keyhole. At the top of a hill there is a door with a keyhole born out. If you take a peak in, you are able to see three different states and a distant St. Peter’s. It is incredible to me that a tiny spot can yield such an amazing view.

And a semester in Italia would have been incomplete without seeing a game of Calcio, or soccer. I got to see a Roma vs. Palermo (where I traveled to in Sicily) game. We may have lost, but I made it all the way to the field, got to wave a flag, and had a great time.

Another of my favorite spots in Rome is Piazza Navona. There are adorable cafes surrounding the Fountain of Four Rivers and a square full of painters and artists. I bought myself a small print for my apartment next year so that I could attempt to forever immortalize my beautiful home of four months when I am in Chicago. Also in Piazza Navona is the magnificent church of San Agnese in Agone (seen in Angels and Demons). I got to learn more about that church in my art class along with many others. My alternate favorite church I saw was San Giovanni in Laterano. The statues of all the saints inside and the magnificent golden ceiling were amazing sights to behold. Even if you’re not Catholic (just like me), you’re able to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of all the churches in Rome. I even got to see the church of San Ignazio di Loyola (holla!). The baroque ceiling applying the illusionistic design of painting and sculpture is an amazing piece of artwork.

Of course, in my own opinion, none of these churches compare to San Pietro, or St. Peter’s in the Vatican. I may have said in an earlier blog post that upon entering, you are overwhelmed by the amount of artwork. The inside is an incredible sight. However, my favorite part of St. Peter’s was the climb to the top (La Dolce Vita style) to get a view of all of Rome. This isn’t any Sears Tower view; my heart swelled with love for the semester and city where I’d spent some of the best times of my life.

In between trying to squeeze every little bit of sightseeing in, I did have to attend my last classes and take final exams – regrettable. In retrospect, I’ll miss all of my classes a lot. This is the first semester of college where I not only found all of my professors to be competent, but brilliant instead. Contributing to my overall euphoria, I never minded attending class. I was just so happy to be in Rome that I actually enjoyed soaking up all the knowledge these genius people could impart onto me.

So final thoughts on the courses I took/advice for any prospective students –

History of Late Antiquity – Now, I’ve always been interested in history. However, as I may have said before, I’ve only always had  a traditional US perspective to draw from. Because of this, I enjoyed this course that much more. The late Roman Empire was fascinating as a society because it was infinitely different than any system of government I’d ever studied. I found the emperors to both be mad and fascinating. These people were insane! They fancied themselves gods (and I guess reasonably so considering they were based on a Pagan religion) and therefore must’ve thought they could make the craziest rules possible. I mean, Diocletian just decided all of a sudden that there should be a tetrarchy out of nowhere? What is that!? Plus the overthrowing of one another out of boredom is ridiculous. All of this was taught to me by my glorified professor Evers. Evers is a bit of an famous personality at JFRC and for good reason. He has a teaching style that is unlike anything I’ve previously experienced, but he made class engaging and humorous. The subject matter could’ve been dry, but he did a good job at stressing to us the most interesting points. I’ll forever miss his “coffee break?” offer every 15 minutes during my history course next semester.

Political Science – There is hardly any experience better for my major than what I had this semester. You don’t get any more legit than being taught by the Italian ambassador to America. I mean, he was teaching us about NATO not because he’d read about it or listened to lectures. He was teaching us about NATO because he FOUNDED NATO. That’s insane!! He had such valuable insight on a different country’s perspective of the involvement of the US in foreign affairs. I admire him very much and am thankful that I was at JFRC in the one semester he was too. I consider myself extremely lucky to know him.

Art in Rome – probably the hardest class of my college career. And it was my Art Core! Who would’ve thought? Though my grade point probably won’t be as thankful, I will never regret taking this class. Because of it, I saw many more sights of Rome than I would have otherwise. Not only did I see more than many of my friends, I knew much more about everything I saw with them. I loved knowing interesting little facts about all the historical monuments. I saw so much beauty through this course and I owe all my thanks to Professor Nicholson. Probably the hardest grader I’ve ever encountered, I have ultimate respect for this man. He’s a genius of Roman Art. Someday if I know ¼ as much about ANYTHING as he knows about the art and history of Ancient Rome, I will feel completely and utterly accomplished in life. When I was on trips, I found myself wishing that this professor was traveling with me, so that he could tell me why that church looked the way it did or who was that person in the painting I was seeing.

Italian Film Genre – Ah, my favorite course. Though I sometimes had trouble staying awake when the lights went out (a few of my friends can attest to my odd sleeping positions), I found this class to be interesting, fun, and insightful. Finally, I think I received a bit of insight into what my brother’s (a film major) courses are like. I no longer know what’s going on in American pop culture so it’s good that I got my fix in film class of what was going on in Italian films. I came to have favorite actors I enjoyed seeing and could recognize different styles of directors I admired. But mostly, I loved our professor DiBiagi. I have a great amount of respect when I see professors who are passionate about their subjects and I could see that Dibiagi loved film with all his being. Not only did I respect his passion for his craft, I found him to be an amusing person. I  may never understand the concept behind the parabola of Commedia dell’Italiana, but I will always picture his endearing “Am I speaking English?” in my head. I appreciated his take on life and I don’t think I will ever forget him or any of the teachers I had this semester. I only wish I could have them all again.

So here I sit…back in the States. Now, in a Starbucks. The Italians would kill me if they knew I was neglecting their way of coffee experience for such a mass produced, label promoting societal fashion. A week has gone by since my return to the States and it has not gone exactly swimmingly. My body has rejected the American air and I’ve gotten extremely sick. The dentists tell me I need my wisdom teeth out. I have to condition myself not to say “Ciao!” when I enter a business and not to insert Italian phrases (Dove? Mi dispiace?) in daily conversation. I can feel people getting annoyed with me when every story seems to begin with “When I was in Paris/Barcelona/London/Amsterdam….”. One of the only consolations is that I know everyone who was with me in Rome is experiencing the same culture shock and withdrawals.

Even after a week, there’s a lot of things that I miss in an immense way.

I miss walking down the street and hearing many different languages. It’s a change to have to tell myself that people actually will understand what I’m saying and I can’t speak freely wherever I go.

Hell, I miss trying to speak Italian myself. I liked the challenge and enjoyed learning new words and phrases whenever I ran errands.

I miss the freshness of every kind of food.

I miss that I can’t get as strong of espresso and that I can’t finish a meal with gelato. I haven’t had pasta since I’ve returned…not super surprising I suppose. That is one thing it might take a while for me to yearn for.

I miss the way the waiters wouldn’t bring me the check for four hours if I didn’t ask.

I miss looking around me and seeing ancient ruins. Here I see only suburban businesses and tall buildings.

I miss the insane driving on the roads. I mean, I miss making fun of it. I’ve since driven in my own car and thought to myself that I am an insanely good driver compared to many people who would go through the lanes in Italia. I would be ticketed in a second if I tried to pull the stuff the Italians did on a daily basis.

I miss the buses which were unpredictably not on time or almost continuously on strike.

I miss the cobblestone roads that messed up my shoes.

I miss the small children playing accordions on the subways, instead of the insane homeless people yelling obscenities at me.

Let’s not be totally down on America. I like the fact that my water is free here. I like the fact I can get Mexican, Indian, or Chinese food instead of pasta, pasta, or pasta. And I like the fact that I’m with my loved ones who missed me so much.

But right now, I’m just missing Roma.

I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve been so euphorically happy all the time. It was the best four months of my life. Even when I was running errands, I was just incredibly happy to be in Rome. I was just happy to be. So that’s what Julia Robert’s friend meant in that horrible movie – the beauty of doing nothing. To be content to just be.

It’s true what they say. You don’t realize how amazing everything is until you leave. And it’s also true that you learn a lot about yourself in a semester like this. I feel like I’ve changed a lot as a person. Grown up, sort of. I guess that’s what sort of being on my own this semester and all the traveling forced me to do. I feel more intuitive about the world around me. Things have changed and my perspective has changed for the rest of my life. I know who and what are valuable in my life. And I now know better the kinds of things I want out of life. But the biggest thing I’ve realized about myself is that I always want my experiences in Rome to be a part of me, continuously. And it needs to be a part of my future too. With the coin I tossed in the Trevi, I made a wish to return to Rome, and, here’s a sappy ending, but I feel as though I honestly will fulfill that wish and return. But that means the process has to start to get there. Let the further acclimation to America continue. Rome was a part of my life and always will be, but it’s time to have my next adventure – even if I’m not speaking a different language, trying a different food, or dodging the insane foreign driving on the street. I had an established life there but it’s time to come back to reality and continue the life I’d already started. See you later Roma. Tornero un giorno. Grazie per il vostro tempo. Arrivederci lettori.

Bonjour from Italy!

Bonjour from Italy!

Yes, the subject line to this post is in french. I have the natural tendency to greet the majority of the Italian population like this, and cannot seem to shake it. The normal italian greeting would be a simple ciao, but apparently that doesn’t matter in my thought-process. I’m sure the people who don’t know me probably think I am a french or canadian tourist… which is actually better than being thought of as a stupid american, so I got that going for me.

I’ve been out and about in Roma and beyond. During the week, I generally stay in Rome, visiting the Colosseum, The Forum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Borgias Gardens, and St. Peter’s Square. The Colosseum and The Forum were class trips for my Art and Architecture class, and the other Roman attractions were done with friends at night. And then this weekend, my program went to Pompeii during the day on Friday. The town is a pile of ruins that were oddly preserved by the volcanic ash that showered on it way back when. As beautiful as the dusty town was, the more distracting feature of it were the scattered penile organs engraved on the buildings’ walls and the streets, pointing to the nearest brothel. Yep.

Moving on, from Pompeii me and four other friends went on to Sorrento which was a short commuter train ride away. We spent the night in Sorrento which was really great. Our hotel was up on a mountain and looked over the bay. That night we had dinner along the main strip, which was closed down so people could walk without dodging the rather aggressive italian drivers and then we walked up and down the main street going into the different shops, which were full of trinkets. The town was all about the lemons, it had lemon trees everywhere and was filled with Lemoncello. Lemoncello is a really sweet drink with lemon juice, sugar, and some kind of liquor. After one sip, I had a smile that lasted for a good 45 seconds because it was so sweet. We then naturally migrated to a karaoke bar where there was nothing but embarrassment. Lots of college kids, and a a group of VERY old locals. One had a hearing aid, and another serenaded the bar with a lovely rendition of Mercy by Duffy. The next morning we took a ferry to the island of Capri, which was only a 30 minute trip on a really nice boat. Once in Capri we looked around for a bit at the main street of more trinkets and such. Capri is absolutely beautiful… seriously the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The water is the bluest water I have ever seen, and the people are the nicest people we’ve met so far. We stumbled upon a company that did boat tours around the island, and since we didn’t have any other plans for the day, we decided to do it. It was the best the 20 euros (each) we spent. The medium-sized boat took us out for two hours and was the most glorious thing ever. The weather was perfect (I, naturally, got a little crispy), and the whole boat was like one big bed with enough room for all five of us, plus one crew member. It was extra nice because the company that owned the boat were actually americans… or some variation of american. The two captains were brother and sister who have lived on the island for their whole lives, but the their mother just moved to Capri from Connecticut four years ago, and ran the business.

After boating and putzing around Capri on Saturday, we took another ferry to Naples so we could catch a high-speed train back to Rome. As much as I hate to say it, Naples was a complete dump. It literally looked like a third-world country… or at least the route from the ferry station to the train station did. We were warned about big groups of little children who will swarm you and take you for everything you got. They will literally cut your back pockets to let things fall out and cut your bag straps to run away with your stuff. We didn’t see any of this actually happened, but I would definitely not be surprised to see a gang of toddlers snatch up some tourists fanny pack… the town was bleak. Our train back to Rome was delayed for 30 minutes, so we decided to indulge ourselves in a little American comfort called McDonalds. We brought the food on the train and rode the two hours back to Rome, eating fries and then sleeping. We got to Rome late Saturday night and then took the Roman subway system to the nearest bus stop, which was our first foray into the subway of Rome, and it went very well.

Sunday morning we all got up to run the Race for a Cure Breast Cancer 5k in Rome. The race didn’t start until 10am, which is when it starts to get pretty steamy in downtown Roma. And if you didn’t already know, italians smell on a regular basis, so after a jog in the sun there was a distinct stench in the air. There was no water during the race, and let’s just say that after a week of eating gilato, pizza, and pasta at least once a day, none of us were too limber or had the appropriate lung capacity. However it went well, we all finished. And it was absolutely packed! I think I heard over 60,000 people were there. Nobody got timed, which helped our self-esteem a little. Because the city was so packed with the race, and the race closed down lots of streets, getting home was quite a challenge. We probably did out own little 5k tour around Rome trying to find our bus. Once we found the bus stop, it was thankfully next to a pizza place and we all treated ourselves. The weekend was tiring, but we’re back at school and in need of clean clothes and some sleep. We taking a weekend-long class program trip to Abruzto next weekend, which includes a wine tasting, a cooking class, and a hike. The first two sound amazingly italian, but the hike sounds a little out of my league.

¿España?

¿España?

¡Hola! It only seems fitting that now as I prepare to start the last part of my study abroad that I blog again. I started this amazing and wonderful year in Europe blogging, and now, I shall finish it blogging. To date, I have lived and studied in two counties in Europe: Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany, and Roma in Italy. And now, it is time to start country number three: Madrid, Spain.

The last time I started a blog for Loyola, I was sitting at my home in the US, wondering if I would be able to handle studying abroad for 10 months, or if my language skills would be able to get my through University in a foreign country in a different language. Well, some things have not changed. I am still wondering if my language skills will be good enough for University in a foreign country. However, this time I am not looking out over the cornfields of central Illinois. Instead, I find myself wondering these same questions as I sit in my cousin’s dinning room outside the city of Madrid.

It has been a crazy year so far. I have gone from the United States to Germany to Italy, and now Spain. I have made the language switch from English to German to English/Italian, and now, I am attempting to switch to Spanish. In one week, I will be moving into University housing in Madrid, with roommates I have never met, who may or may not speak English, and will start class at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. Since taking Spanish at Loyola my freshman year, I have since taken 2 semesters of Italian and had an intensive language program in Germany. Thus, I do have a few concerns about taking Spanish again. But if going to Italy is any indication, after speaking it and hearing it, it will come back.

Until 2 June, though, I am enjoying my “summer vacation”. After I finished classes at the John Felice Rome Center in Roma, I traveled for two weeks with my sister in Greece and Spain. When she left last week to return to the US, I came here, to my cousin’s house. This time has not only allowed me to start to make the transition into Spanish culture and language, but to also take some time and reflect on this past year, and help me decide what I want to do to make the most of these last 38 days in Europe. So here is what I have come up with, which I guess also doubles (for some parts) as advice to anyone who will be studying abroad, either this summer, next year, or in the future:

1. I have taken many photos, from side trips, to random moments with friends, to daily life. However, it seems that the best moments happen when my camera is at home sitting on my desk. Therefore, I want to have my camera (with plenty of batteries!) with me as much as possible. There are so many moments that I have captured on film and I am grateful that I have them. So for all those who will be studying abroad (or even those at school in the States), bring your camera and take those photos, random or otherwise! You will enjoy them and cherish them, even photos of simple items such as a bus stop you use every day.

2. Get out of the apartment and live and explore!!! Last semester I spent way too much time inside or in the library. Yes, I do need to study and do homework, but that can be done outside at a cafè or in a park. I want to see the city, the country, and enjoy the life here. After class, I want to do homework as soon as possible and then get out and see all that I can. You only have this opportunity once! Make the most of it. As Mark Twain said, “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.” I plan to make this my motto for these last days in Europe.

3. Jump into the culture and language. In Italy, I was afraid of making too many mistakes with Italian. Thus, I shied away from going out and using the language. I would rely on others who were better at the language. I learned later in the semester that this fear held me back. Thus, in Spain, I want to go out and use Spanish as much as I can, even if I make many mistakes. I know more people than not appreciate you attempting to speak their language, and the language of your temporary home, than not. They don’t mind that you make mistakes. Some may even help you and further your knowledge of the language! It also can help you make friends and allows you to see more, as people might even suggest places to go, things to do, or even foods to try.

4. Be better at blogging and recording what I see and do in Spain. I wasn’t the best blogger for my family and friends this past semester. And looking back, it was foolish. While I do have 5.000 plus photos that jog my memory of many events, reading about them is better. There is more information contained in words in combination with photos. These memories are to precious to me to forget-thus in conjunction with goal number 1, I want to blog/write anywhere from 2 to 3 or more times a week. Yes it will take time, but it is worth it. I also know I will really appreciate the written record next year, and in the years to come, when I am missing my friends here in Europe and the adventures we have had.

5. Don’t worry about returning to the US. This may sound strange, but I am terrified of returning. A lot has changed in the past year, not only in my life, but in the world. I have grown as a person, spirituality, athletically, mentally, and emotionally. That is part of the process of growing up and university, along with studying abroad. However, I have kept in contact with my friends from the US, and my friends from various countries here in Europe that I have made since August. I know that with a bit of effort that will continue because it is important to me and to them to keep these friendships alive. I also know that I have many friends in the US who have been abroad and have returned. They are there to help ease the transition back to the American culture and lifestyle, as others were there for them.

6. Do what I want to do, even if it means doing it alone, such as going to a museum that I want to see. This may sound silly, but it is true. It is one of the hardest things to learn while abroad. You want to be with someone you know as you are in a new environment and the companionship makes life easier. But, I only have this opportunity once. Thus, I am going to take full advantage of it. There were a few times last semester that there was something I really wanted to do, but no one else wanted to, and thus, I did not do it. While I do not regret my decision, I also know that I held myself back in those instances. Thus I am not going to let that happen here. I am going to live life to the fullest extent possible.

I think Buddha sums up all of these goals perfectly: The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

So for now, it is about time for bed as it is 23.00 here in Spain. I leave you with the following photos. Enjoy! And check back soon!

Joel

Toledo, Spain

The Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain

Plaza de España, Madrid, Spain

Sunset in Spain

My bag is sooo heavy

My bag is sooo heavy

So in about 15 hours I will be on my way to Spain! It hasn’t quite hit me yet that I am leaving tomorrow or that I will be gone for 7 whole months. It still sort of seems like another crazy idea I came up with and not something that is actually happening. Any way, I have procrastinated for far too long and have to figure out what to take out of my bag because it is so heavy! I’ll be back soon to let you all know about my adventures! Hasta Luego!

Ciao, Prego!

Ciao, Prego!

Ciao from Roma, or more specifically, Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center! I have been here not even two weeks,  but I have already had some great times and seen some of the great sites. It all started on the very first night.

We all arrived at some point on Saturday, May 14. We all moved in and got settled and at orientation learned about  “Notte dei Musei”, meaning that for that one night, and one night only, would all museums (excluding the Colosseum) be free! So, jet-lagged though we all were, we went out to experience Rome and see some museums. A group of us from the JFRC found ourselves at the Piazza Navona, and stumbled into the Musei dei Roma there. All was beautiful and I had my first gelato!

Sunday was our beach day, which sadly was rained out. I still, however, got the chance to dip my feet in the Tyrrhenian Sea!

Later that week, my roommate and I decided to go be tourists and see the “Piazza de Spagna” (Spanish Steps) and “Fontana di Trevi” (Trevi Fountain). My roommate deserves a shout out for using her two semesters of Italian to successfully ask for directions, in Italian! (Even if they answered in half English). The Trevi Fountain is probably one of my favorite places in Rome so far, it really is unbelievably beautiful. We tried to eat our Calzones by the fountain, but apparently that’s not allowed. We came upon this knowledge when a security guard came over to us and literally waggled her finger at our food. No problem though, they were just as delicious on a bench down the way!

We also experienced our first Fr. Bosco tour. Fr. Bosco leads little tours of whoever wants to go twice a week. These tours involve jogging to keep up with his walking pace, lots of churches, and a gelato stop for each tour. Gelato is a key part for Fr. Bosco, he has list of his top seven gelato places and insists on having gelato everyday in Rome. When in Rome, I say!

And all of this in the first week!

Home Again

Home Again

I am supposed to be happy right now. When I saw my mom, my dad, and all my younger brothers at the airport I was so happy. My youngest brother ran to me and jumped up into my arms and I gave my mom one of the longest hugs ever. I am happy to be with my family again, but that feeling has taken a backseat to great amounts of sadness.

            I left Vietnam to hugs and tears. When I left India I was in a bus full of Americans who were itching to get home. We were rushing to our plane because the roads were backed up because of a storm. Some of the girls on the bus were in tears because they were afraid they would miss the plane. When we got to the airport we were rushing through security and ran to the terminal as they were giving the final call. It was really dramatic. Our professors wished us all the best, but it wasn’t like we were leaving close friends behind. It was funny because it seemed like we were evacuating India, and in Vietnam the country had just celebrated the fall of Saigon and reunification where lots of evacuations had taken place thirty six years before. As opposed to those American girls on the bus in India, in Vietnam we cried because I was going to get on the plane. Some of the best friends of my life waved goodbye to me at the airport. Security wouldn’t let them come inside the airport with me, so I hugged all of them for a long time, sharing choked up smiles amidst tears and strong hands on shoulders reassuring we would see each other again… some day. A firm conviction in our eyes meant these were not just words, but a pact. I would return to Vietnam, or they would come to America. No matter what, we would see each other again. A promise hung in the air.

 How does that make sense, I have been studying India for years and the culture of India is something I have always been enamored with, and while Vietnamese history and culture is cool I still love India. Then why was I not so upset to leave India, but very sad when leaving Viet Nam. I’ll tell you, relationships trump any culture. I didn’t make any Indian friends my age when I studied in India last year, but I grew so close to several Vietnamese students my age this semester. Friendships have a great power over me.

After a round of goodbyes I walked with Vien to the doors with my bags where the guard stopped her and told her to turn back. I gave her a big hug still sobbing and she said, “I love you Jimmy” and smiled. I laughed a little and with a smile said, “Love you too Mama”. I turned and waved back to the rest of the students standing at a distance behind the rail, and then saw Nghiem, my roommate standing alone away from the pack looking at me. Something jerked inside me and I ran back to him leaving my bags with Vien. Even though the fence separated us from the hip down, we grabbed each other. We both promised we would see each other again. The face that was above the crowds when I walked dazed out of the same gates a few months earlier was here again, but it was a perked up smile waving crazily and shouting “Jimmy here!” back then. In the present we were both a mess. I pulled away.

I couldn’t look back again. I had to go. It was so hard. If I looked back again I knew I couldn’t leave, wouldn’t be able to. I had to walk through those doors.

With one final hug I walked back to Vien and picked up my bags, “See you” she said. I paused and said, “See you” and kept walking on to check in. We don’t see bye in Vietnam, because we’ll see each other again. Its never goodbye.

When I got back to America the customs official stopped me and looked at my passport and my travel documents. He started off by looking at me for a long time and then said, “What the f*@k were you doing in Vietnam?” I was surprised and replied nervously, “I am a student and was studying there.” “What the hell is there to learn in Vietnam” “Buddhism and Vietnamese culture.” “What is so special about Buddha?” “I’m a religious studies major that is what I study” “What school?” “Loyola University” “But that is a Catholic school, why are you learning all this sh*t?” He continued to berate me and I just about started to cry when he said curtly, “Welcome home” as he stamped my papers and threw them down on the counter. I picked them up and continued on.

            I walked through the terminal toward the gate to Cincinnati and came across a young Vietnamese woman who didn’t know any English. She had just gotten off a transatlantic flight, and service in Vietnamese ends in Hong Kong, so she was completely lost. A pilot was trying to explain to her in English where to go but it wasn’t working. I walked over and offered to help. Using the bit of Vietnamese I know I was able to get her to follow me, get her on the tram, and get her off at her terminal’s station. I wanted to follow her, to go back. I wasn’t read to be home yet. A few more days, a few more weeks, I needed time with all the friends I had made over the past semester. They were my world, and my world was crashing down before me. I was heading back to my normal life, something that will never be the same again after that extraordinary semester.

The First Rule About bin Laden is: Don’t Talk About bin Laden

The First Rule About bin Laden is: Don’t Talk About bin Laden

yay bin Laden’s dead hooray whoop-de-doo!!

yeah……That’s not gonna fly in Oman. Internet access in Oman, for me, is pretty limited. I’ve become a regular at a sheesha/coffee shop just so I can use their wi-fi. So I learned last night that bin Laden had finally been killed while I was at the coffee shop – of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and talk about it with some of the people in the place.

At first I tried to be all “hey guys bin Laden’s dead isn’t that good?”” but that was pretty much ignored. I sat next to a guy watching al-Jazeera and started to talk to him about it. I got a lot of “I don’t know”s and “We’ll sees” and eventually the channel changed to soccer. I was pretty disappointed – I mean, is there any opportunity cooler than the one I had? I didn’t want to let it slip away.

So I started pushing in on subjects that Omanis might be more concerned about. I talked about how he was from the Saudi Arabia, one of Oman’s neighbors, and also the rise of al-Qaeda in Yemen. I wanted to get their opinions’, but I was just met with more ambiguities and question-dodges.

I eventually left the place and went to a little stand outside that sells mishkek (mishkek is like barbecued meat on a stick, it can be goat, beef, camel, I’ve even seen quid, each stick is about 30 cents). I offered to buy mishkek for the people in line. Of course, like Arabs tend to do, they declined. Rather than get into one of those stupid “No I insist,” “No you don’t have to,” “Please I want to,” blah blah blah moments I explained that today was an important day because of bin Laden’s death. That went nowhere, although I did get a few “bin Laden is crazy!”‘s, but that was nowhere near what I wanted.

After trying the taxi driver and the gas station guy I eventually just gave up.

Now today I’m reading the emails from a) the US State department telling me to keep my mouth shut, b) SIT telling me to keep my mouth shut, and c) Loyola telling me to keep my mouth shut. I knew to keep a low profile since I first got here, but when something like this just flew in my face I had to go for it. I’m just glad I didn’t say anything to a cop in street clothes or someone who actually sympathized with bin Laden.

Omanis don’t like talking about bad things, or problems on the horizon. For shame if you mention His Majesty’s death and don’t you even think about talking about oil reserves depleting. Same goes for bin Laden. Oman’s cool – in the sense that it has no insurgency problems, but its neighbors, Yemen and Saudi, are different. There is a fear that some of that could spill over into Oman. In fact Yemen is so bad that it wasn’t even an appropriate topic of conversation BEFORE Osama died. It’s like it isn’t there. So yeah “How cool is it that you’re in the region during such historic times?”

honestly? meh, I could have more insightful conversations stateside.

on another note. I am done. I was hanging out at home in America earlier, remembering the time when I said goodbye to my host family at the airport. Then I woke up. My mind is no longer abroad. I’m done. And by that I mean I’m not at all done. In ten days I’m gonna board a plane to the US, but between then and now there are 30 pages waiting to be typed. But I am done. Of course I’ll get the work done and of course it will be good, but I am done. My mind has officially left the building. I. Can. Not. Wait. to get back home. Nothing against Oman but a) this program has been really hard, b) this research paper has been both physically and mentally exhausting, and c) summer is awesome. I don’t want to do a retrospect yet, because I’m still in the country, but study abroad: great experience, much harder than a regular semester, and, just as I couldn’t wait to get here, I can’t wait to leave.