The GoGlobal Blog

Category: John Felice Rome Center

Break Spent Exploring Greece

Break Spent Exploring Greece

Where do I even begin? I adventured across Greece for ten days. I walked down streets that fellow Greeks walked as well. Each city I traveled to had ancient roots that went back thousands of years. The things I saw, felt, heard, and tasted made my experience memorable and life-changing. My tour guide, a professor named Ioanna, helped to make all the student’s experiences in Greece amazing. She took us to the old Greek city-states Athens, Delphi, Sparta, and Corinth. One of my favorite parts was seeing the cities and lands in which they ruled.

The sites we visited were very relevant to my current history class I am taking at John Felice Rome Center. It is one thing to learn about history in class, it is another thing to visit the lands in which the Greeks dominated. I have had the wonderful opportunity to live and flourish in the eternal city and have experienced much of Roman history, yet Greece’s history dates back much further. The things I touched and saw were the same things that ancient Greeks saw and touched thousands of years before me. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to take part in such a life changing opportunity.

view looking over Athens

Life is a good, a world filled with happiness, friendship and love. Ioanna taught me that love is good, kind and it is in everything. The Greeks believed in six kinds of love: Eros, Philia, Ludus, Agape, Pragma, and Philautia. I have experienced almost all during my time in Greece. I was taught so much in ten days. A large group of students came together and went on an adventure through Greece. I gained knowledge of Greece and her history. I was gifted the greatest opportunity, to have my dreams turn into reality and have my curiosity and love of art run wild. I flourished in Greece’s culture, beauty, individuality, and history. I lived, walking through the streets of Greece, a city where I made memories that will last a life-time. There were good times and bad, but together with the sites, museums, monuments, and beautiful landscape of Greece, I have found a new place to call home.

Temple of Poseidon
Beautiful Egypt

Beautiful Egypt

This year for fall break (which was a glorious 10 days long) my father and I traveled to Egypt and Turkey. Why those countries, you ask? They’d been at the top of my bucket list for years. Before, my dad used to say that we couldn’t go, which was probably right with all the political happenings. But this year the trip was planned and booked by June.

My dad met me in the Cairo airport. I landed first and late, so it wasn’t very crowded. I wandered around baggage claim waiting for him, trying to find WiFi to let him know where I was. He got in two hours after me, and then we met our driver and transit guide (from EMO Tours) outside. This was our first major interaction with an Egyptian person, and he was nothing but kind.

The drive was about an hour, and we must’ve driven for about five minutes before we left the secure airport area. The “highway” was surprising clear, as I’d learn later, and we drove past signs for New Cairo, Maadi, and Giza. There were no lines on the road to separate lanes, and there were tons of billboards lit up with English and Arabic words. People were gathered on the side of the highway, waiting for a bus of sorts to come pick them up.

Our hotel was gated and the car was scanned before it was allowed to pass. Dad tipped our driver and guide in Egyptian lira. One of the most heartbreaking things about Egypt is that 1 USD equals 17 Egyptian lira/pounds. We ate at the hotel restaurant a few times, and our bill would say 98 pounds, which in reality is just under $6. And it was good food too, no detail missed.

The next morning we saw the pyramids for the first time from our hotel window. They were just as grand and I had to pinch myself to make sure that I was actually there. When dad and I went downstairs to meet our guide for the day, a woman holding a sign with EMO Tours on it met us. Her name was Ola and she wore a long black skirt that swished around her ankles, a warm-looking green long sleeve, and a black hijab. Over the day, we would learn much about and from her, and she would come to feel much like family.

Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, the first mosque we visited.
A busy street in downtown Cairo.
The building on the right is what the majority of buildings in Cairo look like. Some are even empty, and you can tell which ones those are because they don’t have windows yet.

Over the first day we visited mosques, the Step Pyramid in Sakkara, the three major pyramids, the Sphinx, a major historic street, and so many other gorgeous sites. At every site, we went through a metal detector. There were usually multiple armed guards, and tons of salesmen trying to sell cheap little Pyramids, scarves, and other souvenirs from China. And of course, a good number of tourists and Egyptian people alike.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was one of my favorite sites. First of all, it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and probably the only one I’ll get to visit in my lifetime. Second, the view from up there was amazing, and it was my first time seeing the sandy and dark brown city from above. The air was warm and dry, and the sun was baking. Third, I got to stand on the Pyramid! (We didn’t go in because we’d heard that there wasn’t much to see and that it was just cramped.) The blocks that made up the Pyramid itself were huge, and the ones we walked on were worn from shoes. It towered over us, and put history in perspective. Ola was very kind and let us explore on our own a little bit because she knew my dad and I both loved photography. She waited patiently for us and gave us tips on how to avoid getting scammed out of our money, one of which was don’t take a picture of a camel because the rider will charge you money for it! Another bit of advice was avoid the people in bathrooms trying to turn the faucet on for you or give you paper towels because they will ask you for money too.

The view while standing on the side of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Great Pyramid of Giza with the Pyramid of Khafre in the foreground.

We ate lunch at a local shop, where Ola ordered us food that she thought we should try at my dad’s request. It was amazing. My dad asked Ola tons of questions, some on the etiquette of men and women in Egyptian society. Ola told us that if I hadn’t been with them, another woman, people would have frowned upon Ola because she was with an unfamiliar man (my dad) who wasn’t her husband. When we first met her, she shook our hands, which she later explained wasn’t normal because she wasn’t supposed to touch a man. She greeted/said goodbye to me by “kissing” both cheeks, which I came to expect while in Egypt and Turkey. We stopped at a papyrus shop on the way back to our hotel where we learned how papyrus paper is made, and purchased a small bit to take home.

The next morning, we left for the airport at 3:30am. We were flying to Luxor, Egypt, which is about 400 miles south of Cairo. Our second tour guide, Shimaa, met us at Luxor Airport. Our driver for that day had a car with a bright, lime green interior. It constantly baffles me that although the average income in Egypt is $300, the majority own cars.

Luxor was much quieter than Cairo, with far fewer cars, and much warmer. We drove alongside the river, past a herd of sheep, tied up horses and donkeys, and gatherings of kids on the tall bank above the water. Trees sprouted at the edge of the water and on the higher banks. Both in Cairo and Luxor people still use horses/donkeys to pull carts of produce. It’s definitely a unique cross of developed and undeveloped.

The herd of sheep we passed while on our way to the Temple of Hatshepsut.

Our first stop in Luxor was the Temple of Hatshepsut. It’s carved directly out of the side of the mountain, with three layered terraces each with an impressive set of columns. It has a “modern” feel, that was not repeated in that time. Shimaa, our tour guide, told us the story of why the temple was built so large, which was because Hatshepsut was unhappy each time the designer added another layer. On its walls it featured beautifully painted walls that were mostly faded, but some held their color.

The great Temple of Hatshepsut.

Next up was Karnak Temple, a huge temple that’s still largely intact. It had absolutely gorgeous columns carved with Egyptian symbols. Then we ate lunch at one of the open restaurants, which was rice and stew. We also met a family of six that was originally from America, but were living in Saudi Arabia. After lunch we went to our last place of the day: Luxor Temple. It is a good sized temple with huge statues of Egyptian kings and pharos, such as King Ramses II and King Tut. It has giant columns like other temples, and at sunset the light shining through them was beautiful. That night we returned to Cairo.

Karnak Temple.
The Temple of Luxor at sunset.
A typical fruit market in Luxor, Egypt.

On our third day in Egypt, Ola was our guide again. She took us to the Egyptian Museum, which we breezed through. We saw hundreds of artifacts from King Tut’s tomb, which must’ve taken up half a floor of the museum. We spent only an hour there, when we could’ve spent five. Next we visited a series of religious buildings, which included a Catholic Church, two mosques, and an old synagogue. The last hour of the time we had with Ola she took us on a cruise on the Nile River. We got on a huge sailboat and ate koshari, which is a traditional Egyptian dish made up of rice, lentils, pasta noodles, and topped with tomato sauce. It was delicious! Dad asked Ola if we could make it at home, and she laughed and said no because it would take a long time because there were so many parts. When it came time to say goodbye to Ola, we tipped her 50 Egyptian pounds (about $3) and €20, which for her would go a long way. We wanted to help her out, even though we knew that it wouldn’t go very far for long.

View of Cairo from the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.
The Nile River at sundown.
The Mosque of Amr.

We spent a lot of time in traffic on the last day, but the first two days were fairly easy. Friday and Saturday are holy days, so nobody works. Sunday is a work day, which caused every single car it seemed to be on the road. Cairo, and Egypt in general, is a country that never sleeps. We were out at 12am and a decent number of people would still be out. A interesting part of Egyptian culture is that they eat breakfast around 10am, lunch around 4pm, and then dinner around 10pm and sometimes even later. Traditionally, only men are “allowed” out at late hours. Families hope for boys to be born because they have much more freedom than women do. Egypt is a country tied to their traditions, although some are trying to change the norms. The difference between Ola (living in Cairo) and Shimaa (living in Luxor) was vast. Shimaa said that she believed that believing in her religion was enough; that she didn’t need to pray the allotted five times a day because Allah already knows that she believes in him. Ola, on the other hand, prays as much as she can. She finds comfort in it, and at one of the mosques we visited, my dad and I explored while she went to prayer. Ola also told us that she doesn’t listen to music because it’s forbidden, while Shimaa talked openly about what music she liked.

Walking around Cairo people stared at us. My dad asked Ola if she noticed it once, and she said yes. She said it was because he was there, and that I had my head uncovered and was wearing a short sleeve t-shirt. Ola said that they appreciated us being there because we were tourists. After the revolution in 2011, the tourism at some monuments dropped 95%. Its made a slow recovery, but nothing like it used to be pre-revolution. That is evident in the “average” life of Egyptians, where they work hard if they have a job and work hard if they don’t. This was the closest to poverty that I have ever come. Ola worked incredibly hard and suffers from neck and back pain. She doesn’t complain because she has to work to help support her family (husband + two kids). I hope someday that I can return to Egypt and see her. I’ve never had a friend in a country like Egypt, and it tugs at my heart when I think of her.

Me and our wonderful, amazing tour guide Ola. I hope to see her again one day!

P.S. Turkey is blogged about in a different post. Happy Halloween!

Capri State of Mind

Capri State of Mind

Another early morning for a wonderful day trip. Capri was on the top of everybody’s list of places to visit, so naturally we booked a last-minute train and ferry to the island. Coming in to the island by ferry offered a stunning view of the rocky cliffs and sparkling waters. I grew up spending summers on the East Coast, so I was extremely happy to be close to the water again. I wished there was a sailboat I could rent for cheap to get out on the water! We got there by 10am, and the place was already a hub of activity. There were buildings climbing their way up the steep hillside, and taxis with open roofs and small motor scooters  weaved in and out between tourists.

The first view of the port we had.
The port area is full of boats, big and small!

The first thing we did when we got there was try and find out how to get to the Blue Grotto. We ended up paying 14 euros and getting on a tour boat, which we thought would take us inside the Blue Grotto, and take us on a tour around the island. The boat motored out of the small harbor and into more open water, with the sun glinting off the surface like hundreds of ice crystals. The air that whipped by held only the faintest traces of salt, but I could feel it sticking to my sun-warmed skin.

We passed by huge cliffs, other tour boats, and smaller, private ones. The guide pointed out major spots on the island, and we saw a few other grottos. They were small, and the tour boat would turn around and stick the back end, where we were sitting, in as far as it could go. The water was absolutely gorgeous, and was my favorite shade of blue. I’m grateful now for the opportunity to visit such a beautiful place!

The bluest water I’ve ever seen. 
The Faraglioni cliffs.

The most disappointing thing was not getting to go inside the Blue Grotto. When the tour boat approached it, there were about eight other boats already there with passengers waiting to get in line for the rowboats that would enter the Blue Grotto. The guide told us that it would be a three hour wait, time that we didn’t have. So we went on our way with only a glimpse of the outside.

Back on dry land, we made our way to the small rocky beach. I hadn’t brought my swimsuit, but two of my friends had so they jumped right into the water. I stood taking pictures of my surroundings, while my other two friends walked a little down the beach to a outcropping made of huge rocks. I was content just to stand with the air blowing around me, shaded by the trees behind me.

The small, rocky beach where my friends swam.
Andrew and Selena jumping in!

We found lunch at a uncrowded little restaurant, one of many lining the touristy street. Three of my friends then had a ferry to catch to Sorrento, while my roommate, Audrey, and I stayed. We’d catch our ferry back to Naples at 6. In the hour we had left, we did our last minute shopping (I got a postcard and handmade sandals, and she got a sweatshirt) and got gelato from the place we’d been eyeing. The sun was now blocked by the island itself, so the port was in the shade, dropping the temperature a few degrees. It was still beautiful out, and I didn’t want to leave.

All in all, Capri is worth it. I had a great time, and although we didn’t get to go into the Blue Grotto or see much other than the port area of the island, it was worth getting up at 4am for. It’s a photographer’s dream, and so I was content.

The port area with tourists galore.
Mass of the Holy Spirit

Mass of the Holy Spirit

Last Wednesday we had our Mass of the Holy Spirit which concluded the orientation activities. Students traveled to Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola or the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola for a mass where we were blessed and encouraged to continue our journey of education in the eternal city. There is an altar to St. Robert Bellarmine, one of the many people I have to thank for my introduction to the Jesuits and all that they stand for.

 

 After mass we celebrated our survival and completion of orientation to Rome with one of the best meals I have ever had, at Osteria l’anima. The highlights of the meal included the famous pear pasta that was absolutely to die for and the amazing company I had that night.

The Birthplace of Pizza

The Birthplace of Pizza

At 3:30am on Saturday morning I rolled out of bed (well, not literally because I sleep on the top bunk), dressed, and grabbed the small backpack I had packed the night before. That day we were going to Naples! As it happened, the day before my roommate and I spontaneously bought cheap train tickets to Napoli. Friends joined us until we had a group of seven. Our train left at 5:30am, and we met in the lobby of JFRC at 4am to get a taxi to Roma Termini, where our train would be leaving from. We played the card game BS while waiting for the train, which served as a little pick-me-up for all of us groggy travelers.

We arrived in Naples at a little past 8am and immediately jumped on another train to Pompeii. This was unplanned, and resulted in a scramble for all of us to purchase tickets on the same train at the same time. The train ride to Pompeii was about 45mins, in which we snoozed, and we hopped off and took a shuttle to the archeological site.

Pompeii is an absolutely amazing place to experience. It is much larger than I expected, and seems like we only covered a small area in the three and a half hours we were there. We didn’t get a tour guide, which I partially regret, because we’re all broke college students and couldn’t spare the extra seven euros. So instead we walked and explored on our own.

The streets are made of huge, worn rocks that have been walked on a thousand times over by tourists. The walls and some bigger structures are still intact, and the first thing we went through was a large amphitheater. We followed our feet, catching snippets of information from tour guides as we went. Mount Vesuvius loomed in the background, but the most we did was observe it from a distance.

This amphitheater is one of the first things we saw walking into Pompeii.
One of the lesser traveled roads in Pompeii.

It’s easy to imagine what the flourishing city of Pompeii would’ve been like when you walk through their living spaces, walk the same streets, and see Mount Vesuvius. I could feel the history surrounding all of us.

After exploring the site, we exited and hung around the plaza browsing through the many souvenir shops. It was sunny and hot that day, so we all wanted water and some food. I bought some postcards and a cup of orange juice that was so worth the 4 euros.

By 3pm we were back in Naples and ready to find a yummy pizza place for an early dinner. Walking out of the train station in Naples at first made me nervous. Naples is a smaller city than Rome, population wise, however Naples immediately felt busier and more crowded. It is a bustling city, as they say. One of my friends said that they felt like Naples was the kind of city people warn you about concerning pickpockets, unapologetic cars and Vespa’s, and just overall danger. I felt unsafe for about 10minutes, but was always walking with our group of seven. After that I adjusted to the city and felt like not everybody was staring at us.

On our way to the pizza place, we stopped in a few stores. Andrew, the only guy in our group, stood patiently near the exit of each clothing store, waiting of the rest of us to be done. I was with him, though, because I’m not a big fan of shopping for clothes! Eventually we made it to a beautiful street that we walked most of in order to get to the pizza. It was narrow, with stores, shops, and a few churches on each side. Cars and motorcycles would honk and slip through the crowds of people walking, and we all kept an eye out for each other to make sure we wouldn’t get hit. Smaller streets led off of the busier one, and between the tightly packed buildings people hung string on which to dry their clothes on. The only downside of our walk was that it was around 85 degrees and the sun was setting right in our eyes.

Via dei Tribunali in Naples, Italy.

The pizza place we decided on was quiet and the food was delicious. You can’t beat the prices in Naples, the birthplace of pizza, and the best part was that they had tiramisu for desert! I got a fried pizza that’s basically like a funnel cake. It was so, so good and was only 4 euros. Every pizza my friends ordered was amazing, even the traditional ones. We all got an equally delicious desert, and sat enjoying conversation.

Carole and her pizza from Pizzeria Donna Sofia.

 

The bill was paid and we set off down the street again to explore in the time we had before our train departed for Roma. It was more pleasant this time because the sun was further down on the horizon and not in our eyes, and we wandered in the general direction of the train station. By the end of the walk I could see why people would want to and wouldn’t want to visit Naples. The city itself has a fast-pace, and there is trash everywhere along with cigarette stubs. A huge part of downtown is residential, and there were street vendors along every street we walked.

Overall, I love the city. We weren’t there for very long, so we didn’t get to see many of the touristy places. If we go back, we’re definitely getting more pizza!

From Roma, with Love:

From Roma, with Love:

Finally.

I have made it to Rome.

And it’s pretty spectacular.

Actually, I have been in Rome for about two weeks already. I should say: finally, i’ve made it to this blog post, which has been open for the past week. Classic, procrastinating Joe. It’s okay, i’m on Roman time. I’ll be better in the future, pinky swear.

Once again, i’m very late! Apologies to all my fans…

Thank you, thank you.

It’s absolutely grand to have you all here. As Dr. Beazley, our beloved Dean of Academic Affairs would say: “I’m overwhelmed by your enthusiasm.”

Anyhow, i’ve looked forward to writing these posts for a long time, and i’m thrilled to be able to share my adventures with all of you. Before I actually get down to the topic of my Roman holiday, I believe that relatively brief, one-sided introductions are in order:

My name is Joseph Ignatius De Larauze, known to most as Joe, to many as French Joe, and to a select few as French. As stated by my sobriquet, I am French and American by birth. I was born in the lovely town of Evanston, Illinois, in the distant year of 1997. After 8 years living in the vicinity of beautiful Chicago, my family moved to France, in a town west of Paris. Culture shock, patriotism, and a strong dislike for the French (inevitable for one who has to live with them for the first time), ensued. But never fear, I lived a very eventful and incredibly awkward decade of my life in that beautiful country. I was schooled in the Lycée International, which still has a very special place in my heart today, even though it was no piece of cake. After High School, and after the International Baccalaureate, I said au revoir to my parents and two sisters, Nathalie and Maggie, and made the hop across the pond, back to Chi-town. I have been studying at Loyola University Chicago for the past two years, and am currently studying abroad at the John Felice Rome Center, which is the reason for our encounter today. I read with an all-consuming passion, which has influenced my majoring in English, and aspire to write and set people’s hearts on fire with my stories, as mine has been by theirs. I am also an Economics major, though i’m still trying to find my way with that one. I am a (very) part-time musician, love to listen to music, play it, and occasionally compose it. I love good food, good company, and hugs. I am Roman Catholic by birth and practice my faith intentionally, though imperfectly. There you have it. I hope that this introduction will suffice to help you get to know me, if you do not already.

So, about five paragraphs in, let me lead you through my journey, as it has been since my arrival in the Città Eterna. I did warn you I would be relatively brief, remember? I will accompany my narrative with a few pictures, but would rather let my words take you to where I am, and have been. On that note, let’s begin. Wherever you are, sit back, relax, get some coffee, and enjoy.

The Eternal City carries her name well. There is a kind of agelessness to her that is palpable, walking her streets, speaking to her people, admiring her splendor. Before my arrival here, I had believed Rome to be luxurious, like a crown perched upon a hill. I thought she would be ornate and sparkling, like the Eiffel Tower at night. I likened her to Paris, my point of reference as European cities go, and the real city of Love, thank you very much.

Now, I have arrived. Half-walking, half-tripping along the cobblestoned streets, I make my way through crowds of tourists, who snap pictures right and left. I try my best to escape the noise. I pass countless gelaterie, restaurants and street-vendors brandishing their wares like trophies. Rome is a tourist attraction. Yet, exploring the city, the edifices built hundreds and thousands of years ago, Rome beckons to me in a secretive manner. I am privy to something greater.

I walk the Forum, where countless musicians, philosophers, and various speakers once stood. I enter the Colosseum, and cheer on with tens of thousands of others as men fight men fight beasts. Bread and games. I don’t know about you, Russell, but i’m entertained. In the Campidoglio, rank upon rank of soldiers stand stock-still, eyes front, back strait, pilum held high. They await orders to conquer the world. I see the street-merchants, selling pottery and food and jewels, yelling over each other to attract customers.

Rome is history. All the years that have passed are still here, buried beneath my feet. Strolling through the city with my friends, I am awed by the ancient majesty of this place, eternal in her grandeur.

” Trois mecs”

Rome is a dream that I have lived every day since my arrival.

I miss Chicago. I miss my friends (you know who you are). But I am thrilled to be in this marvelous place, and I like to think that when you read of my journey, you are all here with me. There is still much more for me to share with you, so I don’t doubt that our paths will cross again.

Until then, I wish you all the best.

From Roma, with Love:

Joe I. De Larauze

Oh, the Places I’ll Go

Oh, the Places I’ll Go

Ciao amici from Roma, Italia,

I’ve been in Italy for about a month now and honestly, I like it more now than when I first arrived. I think I came with so many expectations of how Italy would be that I forgot to stop and think about what it could be. To experience Italy myself instead of pictures I saw on Instagram. In some sense it took away that aesthetic appeal that allows you to feel ‘awe’. 

After a three hour delay, I arrived in Rome where my aunt and uncle came to pick me up and we went to Padova. I stayed in Padova for the first two weeks of my trip, traveling to various near by cities.

The day after I arrived, we took a train to Venice.

First impressions of Venice: it’s so hot and crowded.

I don’t think I’d ever go back though. The buildings are beautiful and Venice itself is, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t feel impressed or that something different was there. If you plan on going to Venice in the near future, I suggest you go around or after 6 pm, that way you get to see the city during the day, but also during the night. Plus, it won’t be a scorching 92 degrees!! Also, a lot of people that I know that have taken a gondola ride, have said it’s amazing. But for me, I thought I was gonna drown the entire time because the boat was literally tipping to one side. And the water smelled really salty, not sure if this is recent, but it gave me a headache. But, I’m sure your experience will probably be better than mine.

Palazzo Giardino Giusti

Next, I went to Verona on the evening of my fourth day in Italy. We first went to Palazzo Giardino Giusti, basically there is a traditional renaissance garden with lots of statues. I highly recommend wandering around the gardens, there is quite a view at the top. Next, we went to Casa di Giulietta (the most awaited). It was very crowded, but definitely reminded me of the scene from ‘Letters to Juliet’. When I turned into the corner to her house, both sides of the walls were filled with letters, bandaids, big black heart outlines, and a statue of Giulietta (in bronze which is considered to be lucky) at the end of the entrance.

A few days later, we went to Switzerland!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (can you tell that I was excited for this?) I had always wanted to go to Switzerland  and I was so happy that we were able to make this happen before school started, however, I would want to go back to spend more than a day there. In the time that I spent in Switzerland, we went Berne, Lake Brienz, Lucerne, and Interlaken. There’s so much to see and the VIEWS are absolutely breathtaking. It’s so beautiful!!

Lucerne
Interlaken
Lake Brienz
Giessbach Falls

***Lowkey wish that I studied abroad here (not that I don’t like Rome)***

My two favorite places in Switzerland were Interlaken and Lake Brienz because I felt it was something different from what you normally would see and feel. There was just a pure sense of serenity. We wondered off a little from Lake Brienz and found this magnificent waterfall that was hidden. Its called Giessbach Falls in Obwalden, it’s literally ten minutes from Lake Brienz (sorry I can’t upload the video:/ ). But, the view will not disappoint after you’ve hiked a little. Lucerne was nice too, but it’s just more of a city.

I can’t wait to go back someday! I’ve left a piece of my heart in Switzerland, for sure!

Came back to Italy for a quick trip before school started, but there wasn’t much to see in Pisa or Florence. Sort of wish I had more time to explore the town.

In Pisa, we saw the Torre di Pisa and the surrounding buildings. The architecture was beautiful, however, I wasn’t a big fan since I live near a replica of the tower anyways (I see it almost everyday, LOL). But it was interesting to see the real thing in person. I found out that the tower was built on soft grounds (because it’s between two rivers) and the first level started leaning right after it was built. It took a 100 years, before the construction of the tower started again. Even then the tower leaned at 0.4 degrees. Right now, the tower leans at about 5 degrees and they believe that it should be stable for another 200 years, hopefully.

 

In Florence there are a lot of churches, and each of them has something unique about them. The outside of Duomo – Cattedrale di Santa Maria dei Fiore was fascinating with the different colors that were used, but also the detailing. By the time we got to Duomo the tickets were sold out for the day, so plan ahead. We decided to look around before we went to Piazzale Michelangelo, where there was a breathtaking view of the city.

During the orientation days after we started school, we had the opportunity to tour the Colosseo and Foro Romano. This was the first time that I got to see Rome since I’ve been in Italy. We walked around the coliseum and then went to see the inside. Afterwards, I walked through the forum and at the top there was an awesome view that overlooked the ruins, but also the coliseum on the other side.

Just a few tips when traveling:

  1. You don’t always have to go to the major tourist attractions. I think the main thing I liked about going to the places I did, was that I tried to find a few hidden gems that normally tourists would miss. It’s because they are too focused on things they want to post on social media to show back home. I am guilty of this, it’s very hard! But there is so much to see and enjoy. So unplug(, if you can)!
  2. It’s okay to wander without having a set plan. It’s a great way to learn how to find your way throughout the city, learn to talk to locals and maybe even learn to use transportation. You also find places that you’d never see if you just went from point A to point B. After all, it is about the experience. Mind as well immerse yourselves into the culture.
  3. You don’t have to leave Italy!!! There is already so much to see and experience in Rome. And since you’ll be staying in Rome for three and half months, I highly recommend that you take this opportunity to get to know Rome.

So, am I still pre-med? Of course I am!

Arrivederci alla prossima,

n.p.

Following My Heart

Following My Heart

Hi Friends,

Deciding whether to study abroad can be a stressful yet an exciting process, but you also have to keep in mind whether you’ll graduate on time and be prepared for grad school (if you plan on going). Especially, if you’re a pre-professional major, like me. If you’re on the fence about taking this opportunity, I hope my study abroad journey sheds some light and gives you the answer that you’re looking for.

For all of you wondering how I decided on studying abroad, well here is the long story short.

Chicago (I’m on the right)

I’ve been asked multiple times throughout the last two years about what I’m studying, where I’m studying and why I chose to study what I did. The answer seems rather simple. My name is Niyati Patel, currently studying Biology and Psychology at Loyola University. However, the real question doesn’t start there. When I say that I’m on the pre-medical track, their faces would drop in shock, like they didn’t believe I’d be able to do it.

 

“Why are you pre-med?”

“You know it’s going to take 12 years for you to finish school, right?”

“Are you ready for this?”

“You better get all A’s…. and study hard for that MCAT!”

 

Hearing a lot of this backlash made me feel a little disheartened about my dream because I felt like I needed someone else’s approval just to gain mine. But in the last two years, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what others believe or think. I know what I want and I just have to keep my head up and work hard.

Loyola had always been my top choice. But before I started my journey at Loyola, I researched things that made Loyola stand out to me. And one of those reasons was the study abroad program. I have always wanted to travel the world, experience different cultures and meet new people. It would be a great opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, be a little more outgoing, and also meet new friends.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year when I became serious about planning a study abroad trip to Rome. I was hesitant to apply because of all the pre-requisites I needed to complete for medical school. Being a pre-med student, we’re bound by certain norms. Having to take the pre-requisites in a timely fashion, and basically just STUDYING, STUDYING, STUDYING. But that’s not how I want to be portrayed. I wanted to be DIFFERENT.  A few months before I applied for the study abroad program, I had a conversation with a first year medical student. We came upon the topic of studying abroad and whether it would be a good fit for me. All she said was “Follow your heart. Do what you want to do. Enjoy undergrad as much as you can. That’s all the admission committee is looking for (besides GPA and MCAT scores, of course!).”  This conversation made me feel more motivated to make this trip happen.

So, a few days later, I applied. Got accepted. I still hadn’t told anyone that I was planning on going abroad for a semester. I was cautious to say anything.

 

“What if I get BACKLASHED again?”

“But, I’m only following my heart…”

“And WHEN ELSE am I going to get this opportunity, again?”

 

It wasn’t until the end of my spring semester that I muttered up the courage to tell my roommates. At this point, my cousins didn’t even know. I told my cousins that I was going in July, a month before I was leaving. Even then, they were like…

 

“Why are you going? Do you HAVE to go? Is it ABSOLUTELY necessary?”

“What about the MCAT? Are you sure you’ll graduate on time?”

“Will you still be PRE-MED?”

 

Those five words haunted me right when they came out of their mouths. I knew deep down that medicine was the only thing I wanted to do, so why were they telling me that I wouldn’t be pre-med when I returned? They went on to explain that after people experience traveling and not having to study for a semester, they change their minds. So what if I did? It wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Honestly, being pre-med requires a lot of commitment and dedication not just to school, but also to other extra-curricular activities. I know what my end goal is and don’t need people to tell me otherwise. By me studying abroad it doesn’t change the fact that I still want to go into medicine. Instead, it makes me wonder how I can get involved in medicine while I’m in Rome. Not just that, but I can look for opportunities that would strengthen my skills, whether that’s learning to communicate with people of different cultures or experiencing the different and the changing atmospheres around me and learning how to respond to them. Both of which would be a crucial experience to have once going to medical school and even afterwards.

I’m just following my dream and my heart. I don’t want to leave Loyola in two years with regrets of the opportunities that I didn’t take when I had them.

I still can’t believe that the day is closely approaching of when I’ll be in Rome. It’s so surreal. I am extremely excited to have taken this opportunity to find myself and can’t wait to share my journey studying abroad in Rome as a pre-med student.

Remember:

You may be told NO a thousand times, but you only need one YES to make your dreams come true! If I can do it, so can you!

Hope you stop by next time when I’ll be in Roma, Italia,

Ciao(:

n.p.

Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path

This weekend we went to visit the beautiful Umbria. Despite the fact that we had to get up at 7am every day, the trip was overall a good introduction to the Italian countryside. On the two hour bus ride there, it was captivating to see the scenery change from urban to less urban, and then to flowing fields and mountains. Everyone did a lot of napping on the trip, which was much needed after going to sleep around 12am and rising at 6am.

Our first stop was the quaint town of Narni. We met up with our tour guides, and then split into groups for a walking tour. The town is beautiful, with little shops and houses. It offered gorgeous views of the valley, and we got to visit a underground place where prisoners were held. After that we boarded the buses again and headed out for lunch.

Valley view from Narni.
The view from the restaurant where we had lunch!

We took a boat to the other side of a small lake where lunch was going to be served. It was situated almost on the water, and was beautiful. Across the lake we could see rows of colorful houses that we associate with seaside towns. I’m beginning to realize that in Italy meals are meant as much a socialization thing as they are meant for the actual meal. We were there for about three hours, in which there was a three course meal. Another thing I have to get used to is the fact that Italians love their fizzy water, and sometimes do not even put out a pitcher of “regular” water.

After that we went headed to the hotel where we would be staying for the weekend. The SLAs divided us up into rooms of either three or four. I had two other people with me, who were roommates back at JFRC and had been for the past two years. My roommate was across the hall with two other girls. That evening we had dinner at the hotel, which was very good. There was always wine served with dinner, and at least three courses.

The weekend continued much in the same fashion. We’d wake up early, have breakfast at the hotel, and then head out for the day’s activities. We visited historical sites in various towns in Umbria, and had meals at local restaurants. My favorite place we went to would have to be the vineyard. It seemed like we drove up and up forever, and finally came to a good sized vineyard on the side of a hill. We got a tour of the facilities, and learned all about the process of making wine. The most surprising thing to me was that it takes 3-5 years after harvest for the wine to be ready to sell. It has to sit for a few years (different depending on whether it is a white or red wine), and then sit in its bottle for another year or two. It’s an extensive process, and although there may be a large spacious and hundreds of grape plants, harvest only takes a little over a week. After the tour we got lunch and then got to just wander and enjoy being at the vineyard.

Le Cimate winery.
Friends at lunch at the winery.

The last day we were in Umbria, it rained all day. We therefor didn’t get to go on the archeological tours that were planned, and instead simply visited the sites and then went to lunch before heading back to JFRC.

We’re back now, and just stared our second week of school. It’s not hard to slip back into my school routine, and I know that in a few days I’m going to miss the freedom of being here without a schedule. However, we have three-day-weekends so we can travel all we want! 

Umbria!

Umbria!

This past weekend was our last bit of orientation to Italy with a trip to Umbria!

Friday morning started bright and early with a bus ride to Narni (the inspiration for Narnia) where we visited an underground monastery and torture room that dated back to the inquisition over 3000 years ago. As a new(ish) Catholic I have never learned about the inquisition and as my friend Christopher put it “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam means something totally different now than it did then.” Visiting this site really shook my perspective of the Catholic Church.

The tour of Narni was concluded by a lovely glass of wine and some snacks and followed by a rather strange lunch on a beautiful island.

bus
Drinks with Francie and Christopher!

Saturday we toured le Cimate vineyard and had a lovely wine tasting and lunch! The rolling hills, sweet grapes and massive barrels are all etched in my mind forever (PC: Melissa C.). Not to mention the yummy rosé that I bought two bottles of….

 

A nice nap on the bus lead us to il Museo delle Mummie e la Chiesetta di S. Stefano where we saw perfectly preserved human remains from the 13th century and a beautiful mass at the ’Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle lead by Father Al (PC: Duncan C.).

Sunday was a bit of a bummer as we were rained out of our planned visit to the Partenza per Carsulae di epoca Romana (Archaeological Site). Instead we visited the (rather small) museum about the site and then made our way to lunch at La Taverna dell’Arco. Finally, we piled on the busses one last time to make our way back to campus and after a weekend of amazing conversations, views, and laughs we all passed out.