The GoGlobal Blog

Month: March 2018

Afternoon on The Aventine Hill

Afternoon on The Aventine Hill

Views from The Orange Garden

On Friday, March 9th, I spent the afternoon with SLA Ola and fellow JFRC student Noah. The three of us bussed from campus to the area around the Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills Rome was built upon. Armed with her camera and walking shoes, Ola lead the way, taking us to several places that even she had not yet seen. First, we visited the Cimitero Acattolico of Rome, burial site of several famous people like John Keats and William Shelley. The cemetery is beautiful and quiet, rows of ornate graves line the grounds underneath a canopy of trees. Among the graves, cats paw around in search of a bite to eat. The cemetery is free but donations are welcomed to help maintain the grounds and support the cattos.

After the cemetery, we made our way to the famous Aventine Keyhole. When we reached the door, the view was truly impressive. I recommend checking it out if you ever get the chance. Another cool free thing to do in Rome!

Food truck pizza in hand, we walked along some beautiful apartments and houses. Orange trees added an extra splash of color to the cream colored walls. Ola’s next recommendation was the Savello Park, known commonly in Rome as The Orange Garden. The garden is next to a grade school, and the kids were just getting out when we arrived. They darted between the trees, playing tag and chasing their dogs as we took in the sights. The garden spans 7,800 meters and offers a breathtaking view of the city. Unfortunately, a large part of the garden was closed when we visited, but we were still able to get pictures of the sprawling skyline, which included The Vatican, Monte Mario, and The Altare della Patria, (The Wedding Cake Building).

I am excited to spend the rest of the semester visiting the Aventine Hill area to and more of the city. The three of us walked along the river near Trastevere, stopping to take pictures of the biggest rat I have ever seen as it paddled itself through the water near Tiber Island. We stopped in a piazza where two musicians were playing Italian bistro music. We watched as the lively sounds of the accordion and double bass swelled through the square.

We ended the evening with an awesome aperitivo at Freni e Frizioni, a converted body shop that offers specialty cocktails inspired by TV and film along with a buffet style dinner.

 

 

 

 

A group walks down a sunny street on the Aventine.
Some of Rome’s street art on display
The Non Catholic cemetery where John Keats and William Shelley are buried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being an Airbnb host for the right reasons

Being an Airbnb host for the right reasons

 

I have traveled to Oslo, Norway three times now. The first time I stayed with an amazing couple with two kids. I paid 412 SEK ($50) for both nights, which I believe is reasonable. The price was definitely lower than it should have been based on the experience I had. Each night my friend and I came back, it was either talking all night or playing card/board games with our hosts. They also drove us to the city each day on their way to work. On Sunday, the wife (Nina) made us baguettes with over 10 spreads to choose from. Spreads are common to have with snacks and to use on baguettes, or crisp bread. A commonality in Sweden and Norway is food in tubes: kaviar, cheese, and dill spread. Also, we had homemade chocolate cake because it was Mother’s day. I did not know what to expect from booking my first Airbnb, but I was blown away.

They are such amazing hosts so I visited Oslo a month later with my brother and stayed 5 nights for FREE at their home. Again, each day consisted of traveling the city and each night was talking, board games, or card games. My brother is in SLU med school so he geeked out talking about Norwegian healthcare.

The wife is the main contact for all her Airbnb guests. What she wants most out of Airbnb is for her guests to be treated well on their first visit, so they come back and bring something from their home country. Yes, she has a motto, “if I like you on your first stay you don’t have to pay for any further visits, but you do have to bring something from your home country… preferably chocolate :).” Nina wants to hear stories from around the world, so she can visits those places later and experience the stories first-hand. She has been to 29 countries and she is 31 with a 8-4 job, 9-5 husband, and two kids 6 and 8 years old. How does she travel so much? Because it is easy to get away and know where to go when you visit people who were previously your Airbnb guests. I LOVE IT… to the point where I am debating renting out my other bed in my room, if that is even possible.

My “second” family, as I call them now, took me to their family cabin in Hemsadel, Norway. We went skiing all Saturday in the second largest ski resort in Norway. Previously, I only been on slopes that lasted at most 2 minutes. The longest slope here took 20 minutes to get to the very bottom. It was absolutely surreal. We had the 6 year old son with us, so we often took it slow. At one point, myself and the husband went off-piste and that’s where the real test began. I was toppling down the side of the mountains through fresh, powdery, untouched snow. I am hurting so bad three days later, I wasn’t able to go to the gym haha. I can now say I witnessed what real slopes are like, rather than the fake snow back around Chicago. Myself and the husband, 31 years old, had a 6 hour conversation into Sunday morning. What I found amazing is that someone who is 10 years older, from another part of the world, and a father could have such similar experiences and thoughts as I do… We are all humans in the end.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. One, it is to remind me how opportunities can rise from trying new things. I had no idea booking my first airbnb would snowball into so many experiences. Second, it is to educate my readers about how beautiful and exciting meeting new people is. Airbnb is an amazing platform to do so. It shouldn’t be about the money, unless you need it. If you have a part of your home that is vacant, try renting it out. There are a lot of characters in this world to make your world just as exciting to live in. The experiences are endless, if you choose to open yourself up to new experiences.

The Final Stretch

The Final Stretch

When did this happen!!! I’m freaking out a bit because I’ve realized I really only have a little over a month left in Italy. It seems like yesterday that I flew in, but then again, it may as well be an entire lifetime. All that I’ve accomplished, all the places I’ve visited, all the food I’ve eaten, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. This opportunity has left me entirely awestruck and grateful to no end that I was able to even participate.

This past weekend I was able to go to Paris with my roommate and it hit me (for like the hundredth time) how blessed I really am. I routinely posted all the pictures I took and read the comments that my friends and family left me and couldn’t help but bask in the praise. When I’m old and wrinkly, I can always look back on being 20 and how I freakin’ travelled Europe. Does this sound kind of cocky? Probably. But it’s okay because if I can’t fully enjoy these few months and have all these memories to feel nostalgic about, then what was it all for?

I have a graduated friend who has spent the past few years bouncing all over Asia and South America. I’ve always been genuinely so happy for him. I mean, how many people can say they’ve spent their post-college years traveling the world? I’ll probably be freeloading off my parents as I sink into the abyss of adulthood. But he’s gone to so many beautiful countries and dipped his toes into so many wonderful cultures, sharing his experiences through his blog posts and Instagrams. However, the other day he posted a little gem on his Twitter that said:

“Since when did going to London, Paris, Barcelona, and Rome constitute traveling the world? Lmao please stop this nonsense”

HA. Okay. I was a little salty about that one. Omg maybe he was subtweeting me…who knows? And honestly, who cares!! I could write a book about why that tweet was BS but I won’t. Because first of all, traveling doesn’t have to be taking a voyage across the entire globe. Travel is as simple as taking a drive to a street you’ve never been before, visiting relatives in a different state, going on vacation to a warm, sunny place. Getting out of your comfort zone can even be travel! And even if you have gone to London, Paris, Barcelona, and Rome, hell yeah! Good for you! You a boss! Why would you bash on something as petty as that? My friend has been to more countries than I can name (kidding) but for him to come for those who have taken a step outside their usual routine is shady.

I don’t even know if anyone is reading this or cares, but I’m so proud of myself. I’ve been to more countries than those in my hometown and now have a collection of stamps in my passport and although I haven’t traveled the entire world, I’ve been to places I used to only dream about. If you have the opportunity and the means to travel or STUDY ABROAD, enjoy! You’re a world traveler! And if you’ve only visited a great aunt in Montana, hey you’re still a traveler! Small steps are still meant to be celebrated. Don’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty. 🙂

-Andrea

Saigon Living

Saigon Living

 

I feel like I’ve killed this phrase, but time is flying. I’ve spent the last two weeks just enjoying Saigon and going to class and getting into my everyday routine which I have been craving. It’s no secret to people that I had a bit of a rough time adjusting to life abroad which (surprise surprise) is 100% okay. Everyone is secretly having their own struggles, and I’ve been trying my best to be transparent now a days. I feel a lot more okay with saying “I think I’m going to take a nap, but thanks!” to people.

My service learning placement has been amazing. For the program here, you do have to have to complete some hours at a service learning site (or take the internship class) but, honestly it’s something I’ve been craving since I came here. I officially started right after the Tet holiday in late February, and wow it has already improved my time here a million times over. Having something I go to weekly now keeps me sane. I get to get out of the dorm so I don’t keep taking boredom naps, but I also know I’m spending my time here productively within the community. A few of us go to the Green Bamboo Shelter that house boys in Saigon and we teach English. Obviously none of us are qualified teachers, but we are native English speakers which is super helpful for people learning English especially with pronunciation. We have been working on a curriculum to help us guide out study session a little better and to have for Loyola students who follow after our semester, but these sessions are exactly what I needed. We get to talk to these boys who are the cutest, cheekiest, and hilarious kids ever. Its fun to just spend time with them, but also we know we are helping in the ways we can with their English skills. The weekends we have thrown in with a pool day and board games also helps us sneak a few days in just to hang out with the Green Bamboo boys.

Our Bach Khoa partners took us out for dinner the other night and we had quite the meal. First, we had the fluffiest yet crispiest bread I’ve had in Saigon. I know I know Emily shut up about the bread BUT Saigon has the best baguettes (from the long history of awful French occupation). For our actual food we had quail. Yes, the cute lil bird. And it was delicious. In Vietnam they do eat almost everything so after a long deep breath, I ate a quail head. It was an experience. I thought that qualified me as ~fully immersed~ but, no I had another snack to complete my immersive experience in Vietnam. Does everyone know what balut is? If not open a new tab and google it and prepare yourself. So I ate what is the equivalent of quail balut. It took a lot of baguette to wash it down with but, honestly it wasn’t half bad. You’d expect something like that to be disgusting but it was pretty okay with salt and kumquat juice. The only thing I have left to eat is fresh durian to consider myself pretty well versed in the food. I’ve tasted it in a few snacks that have been in grocery stores with less than satisfactory responses, so maybe the fresh fruit will bring me around to it.

Well, next week we head off on our final excursion to northern and central Vietnam. It’s wild how that excursion seemed so far away but, its creeping up on us like our final papers are. I’ve gotten pretty skilled at sleeping on buses and on planes so I say bring it on! I’ll end this entry with the classic food pictures and some food for thought. I think I’ve changed a lot by travelling to Southeast Asia and specifically Vietnam but, for the positive. I’m excited to see my loved ones, but this city has become a lot more than a temporary home for me. So I’m just going to keep making memories and living it to the most of the month and a half I have left.

      

A departure from Cape Town

A departure from Cape Town

Hello everyone. Welcome to the third installment of my blog in Cape Town.

My last two weeks have been relatively routine, with weekend activities including the Cape Town Pride Festival, visiting various coffee shops in the neighborhood, and, most notably, a venture outside of Cape Town to Hermanus (about two hours away) to attend a retreat. We returned from the retreat this past Sunday after two nights away. We stayed in cabins at the Volmoed Retreat center in order to meet with the author of a book we have been reading: Reconciliation: Restoring Justice by John de Gruchy. De Gruchy lives at the retreat place full time and spends his time writing more books and connecting with those who visit. We had three one-hour conversations with him over the weekend, not just about the book, but about his life and his political and religious views. Reconciliation looks at reconciliation in the Christian faith and applies it to the Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa post-apartheid. It’s mainly sort of promoting the Christian way of reconciliation. He’s written many more books, all of which are centered around his Christian Humanist way of life and his views from that lens. The conversations we had with him were relatively interesting, although I wish he would have been more upfront about his own stances, as that is what I, personally, was most interested in – the way that he specifically views the world now and how his book fits into the picture as well. Regardless, it was interesting to meet a South African author and discuss his book and his writings a bit.

Over the course of the weekend, we went into the town of Hermanus (the retreat center was in the countryside) and explored – it’s right on the water so it was beautiful – we spent time around the property we were staying, and my friend and I went on a sunrise hike on Sunday morning (pictured). In Hermanus, we saw a large group of seals, and at our home we saw lots of baboons! The place we stayed was picturesque – we were surrounded by farmland, so it reminded me a lot of the US midwest, minus the mountains; there was a waterfall not too far from our houses, and we could see all of the stars at night. The hike my friend and I went on was incredible; we had some trouble finding the right trail in the 5am darkness, but eventually made it to the top and watched the sunlight over the mountain. I’ve never really watched or valued the sunrise until I came here, but I guess it teaches you that you don’t notice the absence of light until the light comes, which is something I’d never experienced before.

Also in the last two weeks, we’ve had some amazing guest speakers come in, including the former mayor of Cape Town during the 1990s – Frank van de Velde – and an influential woman affiliated with the Amy Biehl foundation, which seeks to help with education of youth. She was incredibly inspiring, talking about joining the ANC during apartheid and going against the law, and also speaking out against her own situation and demanding better education for herself at a young age. There’s one constant thing I’ve heard from many South Africans, which is the power of education. “If our kids are educated, they won’t be oppressed,” she said. While I’ve always been pro-education, I’ve definitely taken for granted in my life my access to quality schools and now my ability to continue my education at a four year university. I’ve never thought of education as a tool for change; it’s always just been something that I need to do to eventually get a good job. And I think that in the US, that’s the general view that many people would hold. But in South Africa, the people that I have talked to emphasize the role of education in liberation. One of Nelson Mandela’s most famous quotes is “Education is the most powerful weapon which you and use to change the world.” This makes me view education differently, and provokes thought about how needed it is in the US right now.

Other than the retreat, my last two weeks have been largely “normal,” with school and service. Our spring break is in two weeks and myself and fourteen other people are all going to Zimbabwe, staying at a hostel, and planning activities from there – which will include a safari, zip lining, and much more! My next post will likely be before that trip.

I want to use this entry as an opportunity to talk a bit about race. Being here is a completely different experience from the US as here, whites are a minority population. In classes at the University of the Western Cape, it’s not uncommon for there to be no white people, other than those in my program. We had a group discussion about race last week, and it was interesting to discuss our experiences here so far with dealing with our white and American privilege (the majority of the people in my program are white, so when I say “we,” I’m talking about the other white people), and how we are all forced to be more aware of our privilege being here. One comment stuck out to me was when someone pointed out that she only recently realized that we (the people in our program) were the only white people in one of classes. Because we’re white, when we walk into a room, we never really have to consider if there are other white people, because we’re always protected by our skin color. This is in contrast to, say, black people in the US, who are constantly aware of how many people in the room look like them. I thought it was especially interesting that even though we were a minority in that class, it didn’t really matter because our white skin always means we still felt safe and included, which is not the experience of many other races. I always have the protection of my skin color, regardless of the situation. I constantly am forced to think about my privilege being here, more so than in the US. At home in the states, as a white person, it’s easy to brush off privilege, and go to a space where you don’t have to think about race or your identity and pretend it’s not a problem. But here, we don’t have that option, so I know that this experience will make me more aware when I go home. My views on race and my own privilege will continue to develop during my time in South Africa, so I’m sure that I’ll have more to say later, but I did want to put that out there and perhaps encourage you, if you’re white, to check how often you’re actually aware of your own privilege in the US.

Apologies that this entry was a bit jumbled. See you all soon. x

MIDTERM

MIDTERM

I’m half way through the semester and through the internship. In retrospect, I think I’ve accomplished a lot so far. At the beginning, I didn’t have any idea what to expect. I wasn’t sure if the office would be like in Chicago where everyone is business formal, or business casual. I didn’t know how serious the staff would be, if they’d be friendly, and actually help me build career skills. There is such a stigma towards business interns where we’re known for getting people coffee, filing, and essentially doing grunt work. This being said, I expected the worst. I’ve never had an internship before and I wasn’t familiar with the work-life in Italy. I’ve only heard that in Italy people are a lot more laid back, so I had no clue what it would be like here. The most interesting aspect of this internship is the staff because they’re really open and give constructive criticism. It is incredibly helpful. My least favorite aspect is the commute. It’s a twenty-minute walk to the train, fifteen-minute train ride, and then a ten-minute walk. Two euros a day, three days a week is no fun. I understand how to use MeetEdgar, I better understand how to schedule posts on social media to reach a wider audience, and I understand how much dedication it takes to market. During this semester I had the hardest time getting used to the work, school, life, balance. Now, it isn’t so bad. All I had to do was get used to the routine by staying consistent. Interning in Marketing reflects what I’ve done in my marketing courses because I’ve constantly got to be thinking about who my target market is, what content they’re looking for, and how to use that to sell a product. Beyond the job itself though, I personally wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing something I had no experience doing. So, here I am doing it. I think by the end of this internship, the most rewarding part is going to be the fact that I got through it. I never thought my first job would be in Italy so that still amazes me. It is difficult, but I’d recommend going through this internship to anyone.

Spring break came around just in time. I truly needed it. My friend Cat and I went to London and it was the best city I’ve ever been to. Our hostel was above a pub and they had free breakfast. We met the nicest people who took us to some clubs and pubs and talked to us about the difference in cutlure in the UK vs the US. It was hysterical. It was such a relief to be in a city where transportation works and people speak English. We went on a slide in Stratford London that was literally the height of the statue of liberty. Afterwards, we went to Paris and Versailles. Not as fun, my friend got mugged in front of the Louvre. On the bright side, I met up with 3 friends from Chicago that I really missed, one of which studies in Paris. We went to a club with a ball pit.  A piece of home is what I needed to pull me through the rest of this semester.

What I Learned: Having Your Parents Visit You While Studying Abroad and Visiting a Different Country

What I Learned: Having Your Parents Visit You While Studying Abroad and Visiting a Different Country

Last month, my parents came to visit me here in Rome. I was so excited because I definitely needed a little taste of home! This was their first time out of the states, so they were a little nervous but very excited. When they arrived, it felt surprisingly normal to see them, even in a place so far from home.

Navigating the city with them was fun because I got to be their tour guide, showing them my favorite places and sharing what I’ve learned about the history of Rome… But it was also a little tricky because I felt like I needed to be the “expert,” knowing where to go and speaking in broken Italian for them at restaurants and gelaterias. I became frustrated because I felt like I either had to do all the talking or, once people heard my parents speak in English, like I couldn’t practice my Italian. I seemed to forget that my parents hadn’t taken a semester of Italian 101 before coming here, like I had.

The weekend after they left, I traveled to Paris with some friends, and I finally understood how my parents felt in Rome. None of us spoke any French, so trying to order food and find our way around was daunting at times. Waiters sometimes seemed impatient with us for only speaking English. I felt self-conscious and wanted to hide in a bathroom sometimes, but after falling up the stairs from the bathroom at a restaurant and having a French man catch me (haha it was wild), I realized that I couldn’t let this fear hold me back from enjoying this place. People travel all over the world without knowing the language or culture of the places they go. It’s important to be sensitive to the culture you find yourself in, but it’s something that you can figure out once you visit a place. Yes, it’s scary and you’re bound to make a fool of yourself once or twice, but the things you see and the things you learn are so worth it.

I spent spring break in three different countries and plan on visiting three more before the semester is over, and I will hold onto this idea through each of them. It’s easy to let fear get in the way, but I don’t know the next time I’ll be back in these places… Or if I’ll know any more about them when/if I come back. So, right now, at the edge of my comfort zone, I am pushing myself to be a little scared. That’s how I learn!

Also, big shoutout to my parents for coming to visit me. I enjoyed the week so, so much. Y’all rock!!!

Pizza and Immigration

Pizza and Immigration

‘It is a privilege to be a resident of Sweden where people are respected regardless of religion, belief, colour, appearance and nationality,’

The idea for this post came from pizza. I love pizza and I guess residents of Sweden do to! It seems that on most corners you will find a pizzeria with a family name on the sign. I have tried about 4 places in Jonkoping and Tenhult. The style of pizza is definitely different from Chicago pizza. Your order is almost always a full thin-crust pizza and is not meant to be shared. Also, every pizzeria has about 30 combinations where some are radically different from anything I have ever seen before. I tried a pizza once that had marinara, bananas (common topping), pineapple, paprika and roasted peanuts… I was the only one who liked it.

I looked up and noticed who was serving me this delicious compilation and not once was it a native-born Swede. One pizzeria owner was interested in my English and we had a conversation about our origins (while he recommended the kebab pizza, kebab being one of the most common foods in restaurants). He told me how he migrated from Iraq to Sweden 27 years ago and opened his pizzeria doors 21 years ago.

Angelo: Do you like living in Sweden?

The owner: No, I miss home too much (long pause). You know, it is the motherland. How could I want to be elsewhere?

And if you read my last blog post, you would know why inside I was like “aww man why does everyone have to go breaking my heart?”

A lot of pizzerias are owned by immigrants mostly form Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Chilean and Iraq. They immigrated their “motherlands” in times of political turmoil. Many Chileans came during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet during the period 1973-1990. The Iran-Iraq war brought many from both countries avoiding a war they did not believe in. They were able to do so according to the Geneva Convention which granted many residence permits to Sweden.

‘I am proud to be part of a country that gives shelter to those in need.’

Sweden also became an asylum for many Syrians during the war zone that is occurring in Syria. Sweden has granted permanent residence permits to all Syrians and led to Syrians being the largest immigrant group in Sweden. Every fourth immigrant is from Syria.

The current situation is that every sixth person was not born in Sweden. Sweden has become an asylum for the right reasons. It is amazing to be able to see the diversity everywhere I look. It is not a new sight for me considering Loyola is similar with diversity, but still beautiful to understand.

The task for Sweden now is integrating refugees into all aspects of Swedish society. From the testimonies of refugees, it looks like all Swedes are excitedly willing to accept the challenge.

Thanks for reading and HEJDA (GOODBYE)!
Angelo

quotes came from this website:

Sweden and migration

Comprehensive and Universal

Comprehensive and Universal

cath·o·lic \ˈkath-lik , ˈka-thə-lik\ adj 2: comprehensive, universal; especially: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests

Homesickness is much different than I anticipated. I’ve experienced longing, obviously, whether for a place or a person, and I know what that feels like. But being in Accra for four months is a little different than spending a couple weeks away from family in the states. Vast space and time are between me and the rest of my familiar world, and sometimes it hurts my heart. These are manageable feelings, and I know they are neither unique to me nor profound. They are just things people feel when they study abroad, and they are things that come and go.

What helps, though, is to catch glimpses of the universality of life on this huge planet.

Sunday the 25th of February, I went to Catholic mass for what was the first time in a month. Circumstances and laziness had kept me from going during my first four weeks in Accra, but that Sunday was a fortuitous one.

I’ve got fourteen and a half good good years of Catholic education under my belt, and I know what a Catholic mass feels like. It’s catholic – universal. It’s said in the vernacular (which, here, is fortunately my first language), all the prayers are the same, and it follows a playbook that saves me from having to really make any decisions during the service. During mass, whether or not I’m feeling particularly faithful that day, I feel comfortable. I feel connected to myself and those around me. And then after the hour, I feel peaceful and calm.

At home, I go to mass because it’s part of my routine and part of my extracurricular commitment. I participate in the ritual because it brings me these feelings of peace that, I believe, bring me closer to God. I also know that I have friends, even a second family, in my faith-based communities in Chicago and Ohio.

But here, I went to mass on Sunday the 25th because I needed something that felt familiar.

I have weird moments here where I feel turbulent, unsettled, and alien, when I know that I should instead be feeling like I belong. The week before the 25th was peppered with many of these moments, and I was desparately in need of an anchor. I knew there was a St. Thomas Aquinas Church on campus, a forty-minute walk from my hostel. I knew they had two mass times on Sunday mornings, so I decided to go to the second one at 9am.

The worship space was semi-circular, with rows of pews surrounding the altar on three sides. One side was occupied by the choir and a small podium for the choir director to stand on. Facing the altar, there were two projection screens displaying the lyrics to the hymns for the service, as there were no missals provided for the congregation in the pews.

A badly taken photo of the worship space from the choir loft.

Genuflecting, I took a seat in the center section near the back as the procession was beginning. All at once, with the incense to my left, the choir to my right, and the altar displaying a Chi Rho before me, I felt exactly as peaceful as I needed to be. I don’t think it was my faith which brought me to this calmness, because I can practice my faith anywhere. And it wasn’t necessarily the environment of the relatively humble worship space that impacted me.

Instead, I think I experienced contentment because I was experiencing something familiar. Something universal. Something catholic.

Since Sunday the 25th, I’ve been searching for these universal experiences from which to draw serenity. I’ve found them in teenagers who walk home from school in groups of two and three, gossiping among themselves; in street vendors and bartenders who get my attention when I forget my change; in the way the earth smells after a light rain. This week I ended up in the hospital with a fever, and the nurse taking a blood sample from me asked how school was going so I wouldn’t feel nervous. The other day I tripped over the sidewalk in a place where the cobblestones had been upset by a growing tree root. Once I saw a toddler take a faceplant in the dirt before promptly getting up and continuing to run along with her older siblings.

When I take a beat to slow down and reflect on what I’m feeling, I recognize these catholic moments. A moment that doesn’t necessarily remind me of anything or anywhere, because I don’t think that would help my homesickness. Rather I cherish moments that could happen anywhere, and in these I feel peace.

I really am trying to make myself feel like I can be a part of this place, to truly be where my feet are. Sometimes it feels hard when I know I’m not staying for a very long time, but I’m trying nonetheless. How do I balance a mindful effort to be present at this university with genuine feelings of longing for the family, friends, and places that are familiar?

Truthfully, I’m unsure. And I’d love for any tips and tricks.

But I bet if I spend enough time pursuing these moments of universality, seeking the catholic facets of my world, and leaning in to my Catholic faith, I just might find some answers.

Ad majorem dei gloriam,

Anna

Spring Break: Cold Krakow and Artsy Amsterdam

Spring Break: Cold Krakow and Artsy Amsterdam

As spring break comes to an end here at the JFRC, I just want to reflect on the places I visited, and talk a bit about the things I learned along the way. I spent two days in Krakow, Poland, and two days in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Afterwards I came back to Rome and have been enjoying the quiet of campus while also getting out to explore more of the Roman city center.

I flew to Krakow with my friend Victoria. Originally, I had planned to visit London and maybe Ireland over break, two places I have always wanted to see. Alas, London is not cheap, and I want to spend more than a couple of days there when I do finally get to see it. Victoria wanted very much to see her family’s roots in Poland and was planning to travel there alone. I thought, “It’s not on my list, but I could go to Poland too!” I’m so glad that I did. The first day, Victoria and I walked around the frigid streets of Krakow, shopping for gifts in an outdoor market and enjoying some delicious pierogi and mushroom soup. Unfortunately, early on the second day, Victoria lost her wallet. After filing a report with the police, and retracing our steps, twice, we came up with no wallet. In the process of searching, we did see a lot of the city, maybe more than we would have had the wallet not been lost.

On day two, we took a guided tour of Auschwitz. The camp was an hour and a half drive from where we were staying in Krakow. It truly was an experience like no other. Nothing has ever brought my life into perspective as powerfully as that 4 hour tour of the expansive camp. We both cried several times and sometimes it took a concentrated effort for me to keep myself composed. The tour was good, at least, as good as a tour of such a place could ever be. Our guide, Domenica, was sincere and patient as she took us through each hall of the museum and every area of the camp.

Of course, I had already known of the atrocities that took place here between 1940 and 1945, but to stand in the spaces where they took place was another story. Touching the wood of the bunks, walking across the uneven stone paths, connecting to this place made me hyper aware of all the blessings I normally take for granted. I missed home more in those moments than ever before. The museum portion features glass walls that hold huge piles of belongings that were stolen from those forced into the camp. Children’s shoes, cookware hastily packed from Jewish kitchen shelves, prosthetic legs taken from those that would never again need them, tons of human hair. All of it saved to remind visitors how real this camp was, and still is.

Although it is not an easy tour to take, I cannot recommend it enough. Before the tour, I expected I would only feel one way: sad. But I felt more than that. I felt dismay, anger, grief, but also strength, perseverance, even happiness. It was a lot of emotion all at once to say the least. Even though the temperature was in the 20s that day, Auschwitz was the coldest place I have ever been.  

From there, Victoria and I flew to Amsterdam to meet with our friends who would be getting in soon after we did. Amsterdam is bursting with its own unique personality. It reminds me of some Chicago neighborhoods like Wicker Park, of Hansel and Gretel-esque stories, and of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory all at once. Everyone rides a bike, electric cars are common, and yes, the coffee culture certainly is, different, than ours. The city is intersected by countless rivers and canals. One such river separated our hostel from the bustling city center of Amsterdam. This is where all of the city’s museums, galleries, and shopping was. To go to the “real Amsterdam” as our cab driver called it, we would walk a minute or two from our hostel, and hop on the 24 hour ferry that takes you across the river every few minutes. Bikes, motorcycles, pedestrians, and cars would drive up onto the ferry just in time to float across on their way to work every day. Amsterdam was the first city that I can see myself living in, for a few years at least.

While Poland had cheap, hearty meals, Amsterdam was full of not-so-cheap, sweet treats. For breakfast I had delicious Dutch apple and cheese pancakes. Throughout the day it was never hard to find ice cream and pastries everywhere. After the bone-chilling Polish streets, Amsterdam’s upper 40s felt balmy. The most notable event was the Anne Frank museum. Tickets were only nine euro, but they have to be purchased in advance. The tour takes you through every room of the building that housed the Frank family, as well as the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. We were given whisper boxes that guided us through the house with English audio explanations of what we were seeing. I learned how smart and imaginative Anne was. I gained a better understanding of what life was like for those in hiding during the NAzi occupation of the Netherlands.

Overall, the four day trip was great. It was shorter than other spring breaks at the JFRC but it was packed full of events, some challenging, some just fun. Now that the weather is warming up in Rome, I’m looking forward to exploring the city more and getting better at public transportation here. Yesterday, I went with one of our SLAs Ola to a few places around Palatine Hill. We saw the beautiful cemetery where poet John Keats and William Shelley are buried. We peered through the famous Aventine keyhole and got a cheap dinner at Freni e Frizioni. They had specialty cocktails inspired by famous movies and shows. Naturally, I got the Better Call Saul.

 

 

The view from a bridge in Amsterdam

 

Bikes, Ferry, and Amsterdam Centraal Train Station

 

The bookshelf used to conceal Ann Frank and the others in hiding.

 

Views from my early flight to Amsterdam from Poland.

 

Just a few desserts in Amsterdam

 

The Non Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley (and many cats) can be found.