The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Ben LaScola

Hi, my name is Ben LaScola. I'm from Mt. Greenwood, a neighborhood on Chicago's south side. I am a sophomore at Loyola majoring in communication and working on a marketing minor. I chose to study abroad because I believe it's important to jump at the chance to explore and see more of the world. It can be easy to get trapped in our own local bubbles and I want to avoid that by experiencing other cultures. I'm looking forward to seeing everything Italy has to offer, hiking, making memories, and hopefully learning more about myself.
Arrivederci Roma!

Arrivederci Roma!

Arrivederci Roma! We sang that song three times at our Voice concert celebrating the end of the semester on Monday, April 23rd. There were a lot more people in the audience than I expected. (Many of us had pleaded with our friends not to come.) They came anyway, and we laughed and stammered through a few classic Italian songs, including our solo pieces. Most of us were not singers, but we had fun with it, breathing sighs of relief in between phrases because the semester was almost over, we were almost on our way back home.


Street art in Prati, Rome


     Early on in the semester, I read a blog post written by a former JFRC student, she warned future students not to spend too much time wishing they were home. She wrote that during her semester, she never really stopped missing home, but that’s okay. I too found myself stubbornly missing home and looking forward to going back all semester. I never woke up one day no longer missing home at all. When I read her post, I realized every moment spent wishing I was home was a wasted one. Soon, I knew, I would be writing this last blog post, from my own kitchen table in Chicago. I think after I read that, I was more motivated to make the most of each day, and I did that the best I could for the rest of the semester.


A guitarist plays on a curbside in Rome


     Looking back, I loved my semester. Even though it wasn’t perfect, it was my own, unique experience that I wouldn’t change. I traveled to Poland and Switzerland, I toured Auschwitz and jumped off of a mountain. I had pizza in Naples and gelato in Florence. Saw the David, the Trevi, Botticelli’s Primavera, and dropped coins in the hats and cases of dozens of street musicians.


St. Peter’s Square


     Not only am I lucky to have been able to take this trip, but doubly lucky to be able to come home to a place I love. Friends and family, and a whole list of things I missed. Less than 2% of American college students study abroad, an even smaller percentage gets to study abroad, all the while looking forward to coming home, while still enjoying their experiences in the host country. Needless to say, I have a lot to be grateful.


Snowfall in Rome!


     I got home Friday, April 27th. It’s been a relatively smooth transition. Three months is long enough to grow and change, but not enough to forget what home is like.

     Next steps: Have a fun summer, and hopefully work a good internship related to communications. Next year I will be an RA at Loyola University Chicago, living at the water tower campus near Michigan Avenue. One more thing: I can’t wait to travel like a tourist in Chicago. It’s time for me to see more of my city, and my country!


One angle of Amsterdam


A hungry scavenger waits for a meal above a fish market


Artwork on display during the WWII trip






One Weekend Remains!

One Weekend Remains!

     This weekend I stayed in Rome and took some time to revisit some of my favorite sites in the city. On Friday I went to a cool cafe called Ex Circus in the city center. They serve many different types of tea, healthy sandwiches, and salads. It’s one of the few cafes in Rome that welcomes students to come in and do some work on their laptops. Many cafes are made for a quick espresso and maybe a bite to eat, nothing more. It was nice to hang out in a cafe like at home.

     I enjoyed some gelato near the Pantheon and walked around, checking out The Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona. The city is even more colorful now that flowers are growing and the summer tourists from all over the world are making their way to Rome.

     The weekend was warm and mostly sunny, and Saturday was a good day to visit the Villa Borghese Gardens. Borghese is a giant green space in Rome with gardens, museums, and restaurants. Go kart drivers, rollerbladers, and dog walkers travel through the almost 200 acres of the park in the spring and summer. SLA Ola, two other students, and I had more gelato and took a roundabout way to the park. We rented a rowboat and paddled around a small man-made pond in the park. After everyone had had a turn clumsily trying to row the boat, I became the designated driver. The girls did not enjoy it when I brought us close to the angry honking geese on the shore.

     I’m always surprised by how close everything actually is in Rome. The city is chaotic and can seem confusing, but in the center, the main sights and structures are only a few minutes apart on foot. When you can get an overhead view, like at the top of the Spanish Steps, it’s easy to point out landmarks and see that the main sights are all fairly close together.

     After a fun weekend walking around and ignoring my homework, I’m back in the library writing this post. With two weeks left, I’m determined to make the most and not let them slip by.



A pond in Villa Borghese
Piazza Navona
On The Streets of Balduina
The Pantheon


Everybody has one of these in Italy


Walking Assisi and Biking Via Appia Antica

Walking Assisi and Biking Via Appia Antica

     On Saturday, April 7, I went with SLA Vanessa and some other students for a bike ride along the ancient Roman street known as the Appia Antica. Getting to the road took two buses and a train, about an hour of commuting each way, but it was well worth it. The important road was used for military transportation in the 4th century BC. It connected ancient Rome to Brindisi, a town in Southeast Italy. The area is now a huge protected park. The stone road is flanked on both sides by beautiful green fields and ruins of walls and castles, probably used as military bases and outposts hundreds of years ago.

     The trip was the highlight of the weekend. We had perfectly sunny and warm weather that day and I had a blast riding a bike for the first time in a couple of years. I even got some color on my arms from the sun! We watched as a herd of a hundred or more goats passed by on their way to a nearby farm. We stopped for group pictures at the best viewpoints. After riding for almost two hours down the road and back, we grabbed a delicious lunch at a nearby restaurant. The special that day was pasta with salmon. I asked the waiter for formaggio to sprinkle on top and I was laughed at. I forgot that putting cheese on any pasta dish with fish is frowned upon. I did not get cheese.

     Saturday was an even longer day. Got up at 6 AM, headed out at 7 for a pilgrimage to Assisi. This is a study trip offered by the JFRC, so I had been looking forward to it since January. Unfortunately, I finally got sick this past week, probably from insufficient sleep over Easter break. Not wanting to miss the trip I had been waiting for, I stumbled out onto the bus, groggy but excited for the day. The trip was full of beautiful churches in an awesome location. Assisi is a hilltop town built above acres of farmland. It is significant because it is here in Assisi that Saint Francis and Saint Clare lived and worked to help improve the lives of others. Saint Francis was somewhat of a revolutionary figure in his day. He spoke openly about the need for all creatures to live in harmony. He is the patron saint of the environment. If I had a favorite saint, it would be him. The weather was great and I was relieved each time I stepped out of every chilly basilica and into the sunlight.

     We must have sang 100 “alleluias” that day, as it was still Easter Season and we spent a lot of time celebrating Jesus’s infinite love and mercy. If I had been feeling better, I would have appreciated the time spent reflecting and praying during mass and the prayer services more. Despite my sore throat, I sang when I could and tried to get the most out of the experience. All the while, I eagerly awaited dinner.

     Dinner was a delicious, extravagant, four course meal at an agriturismo (bed and breakfast/farm) 30 minutes away from Assisi. The wine flowed freely and the servers kindly offered seconds of each plate. The thing about these big Italian meals, is that instead of making you terribly full, feeling like you’re going to burst, they usually leave you perfectly satisfied. This is because each course is smaller than meals at home in the states, and there is enough time in between plates to digest and enjoy.

     What made the meal so great were the jokes and burns exchanged between Father Ted and Father Al, the two priests who lead us on our trip. They had us cracking up. At one point, Father Ted, an older, usually quiet man, stood up and asked if we had ever heard his impression of a German Shepherd. When we said no, he proceeded to shout instructions at an imaginary herd of sheep in a terrible German accent. (There were many more similar jokes and puns throughout the evening.) A little girl of about 7 or 8, holding the hand of one of the waitresses, walked up to Father Al, and wordlessly handed him a drawing she had made. The drawing was of two people lying on a beach under some palm trees. There was no explanation, it was just a simple and sweet moment. One teacher, Sander, known for his long-winded speeches and toasts, shared some lovely thoughts on his time spent with the two fathers as the meal was winding down.

     Sander remarked that the Assisi trip is a great way to bring people back to their roots, spiritually and emotionally. This was the last official trip of my semester and I feel closer to home than I have since the winter. The trip was exhausting but it reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for, and gave me some new ways to get closer to my roots when I get home.




Views of Assisi
A herd of goats passing by
One of many ancient ruins along the Appia Antica
The group stops for pics on our ride
One of the many times I dropped back to climb on something
Can you spot the biplane?



Coasting Through to Spring

Coasting Through to Spring


     On Thursday, March 29, I hopped on a bus and headed down to the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. I went on the trip alone using tour company Bus2Alps. The company provides all types of trips for students studying abroad. They boast that they are “Europe’s #1 Student tour operator” and their most popular trips are to the Swiss Alps and Amalfi. Back in January I took the ten hour drive with them to Switzerland and had a great time taking in the beauty of the alps and glacial lakes there. Since then I had explored a number of cold destinations like Poland and Florence and I was looking forward to laying out on a beach under the sun. Back in January, the thought of a trip to the picturesque coast at the end of March sounded like a distant dream. The semester has come and gone so fast, and now Easter weekend is behind me too. The trip to Amalfi was certainly one to remember, though the chilly weather wasn’t ideal for the swimming and tanning I spent the last few months fantasizing about.

     We arrived late Thursday night, with only enough time to get our room keys and go to bed. For my last Bus2Alps trip, I was with my friend Kate. This time, I was on my own. Of course, traveling with a group of 200 other American college kids is not exactly a brave, lonely venture, but the experience of traveling alone is different than traveling with friends. My roommates were all friends studying in Barcelona for the semester. They were halfway through their weekend of drinking and having fun together on their trip. Wherever you travel, odds are there will be times when you want to relax, or take a moment to breathe and take inventory. Sometimes this can be difficult when you don’t know anyone besides the tour guide who emailed you the itinerary weeks ago. If you’re planning to travel alone, even with a tour group, be prepared for some time to yourself, and maybe some situations that are less than ideal. For example, because I had 7 strangers for roommates, I had to take the only bunk bed in the room. Of course, the bottom of said bunk bed was occupied by one of the frat guys – and his girlfriend – both nights. Like I said, less than ideal.

     Moving on, I wasn’t going to let minor discomforts ruin my trip, and neither should you when you travel! Friday morning we left the hostel early and took a boat ride to the nearby island of Capri. Capri is beautiful and the best part was taking a chairlift up to the top of Mt. Solaro, the highest point of the island, for a 360 view of the surrounding blue waters. The colors around Capri are unbelievable when the sun is shining. (See images below) If you like citrus, Amalfi is the place for you. Known for their lemons, nearly every shop offers some sort of treat featuring the fruit. Lemon desserts, chocolate covered orange skins, and, if you can stomach it, limoncello.

     Day two was beach day, but the overcast weather forced me to stay in my jeans and sweatshirt. Thankfully, Positano has tons of shops, cafes, and art galleries tailor made for tourists. It’s easy to spend a whole day walking around looking at the art and ceramics, or sampling gelato. This is definitely a trip meant for summer or late spring. The Bus2Alps itinerary includes private boat tours, cave exploration, and swimming under the sun. We had to skip several of these activities due to the windy weather. If you go before April, there’s a good chance you’ll have to skip the beach or brave some chilly water.

     On Sunday I got to hike Mt. Vesuvius, and tour the ancient ruins of Pompeii. In 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted, covering the thriving city of Pompeii in ash and smoke, destroying buildings and burying citizens. Pompeii is famous because so much of it was preserved by the volcano. You can even see plaster casts of people in their last moments, frozen in time by the cooling liquid rock that buried them. That part can be a little depressing but it really is a beautiful place. I walked down the once-bustling avenues and intersections of the city. Pompeii is a lot bigger than I thought. I recommend paying for a guided tour, or at least using an audio guide like on Rick Steves’ travel app so you don’t get turned around.

     I had been most excited to hike to the top of Mt. Vesuvius. I didn’t realize how windy and cold it would be on the way up. I tightened the hood of my windbreaker and kept marching up. The top was cool, but a little underwhelming. I couldn’t actually peer down into a vast pool of lava. It was just a sunken valley of gravel and rock. The volcano is still active today though. I still recommend the hike to any adventurers out there. There are some stunning views of the city and ocean along the way. If it was a sunny and clear day it probably would have been amazing.

     We ended the trip with margherita pizzas in Naples. Best pizza ever. I went to Naples earlier in the semester and had a vegetarian pizza. It was disappointing. If you get the chance to have pizza in this classic Italian city, you have to get classic margherita. Trust me when I tell you you don’t want to ruin it with other toppings. Less is more here.

     By the end of the weekend, I had gotten a little bit of sun, taken a lot of good pictures, and I felt ready to return to Rome. Some of my favorite things were the stray dogs and cats that lounge around the islands, the views from the top of Capri, and the pizza at Pompeii Pizza. I recommend the trip, but it is best taken in the warmer part of the year.  As for the solo aspect of the trip, I’m glad I went by myself. Traveling alone is a great way to test your self-reliance and do some reflecting. Bring a journal on your next solo trip so you can jot down your thoughts throughout and look back on them later.




Views of Capri from the water.


One of the beautiful art pieces in free galleries of Positano.


Classic Amalfi Coast spot, but a little cloudy


Beach Dogs


It says “Explore”


Statue at Pompeii


Wow, this is a real place!


Cat Nap


It’s good with or without the vodka
Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

On Friday, March 23, I visited the famous Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. I have wanted to see this building in its entirety since I first visited Rome junior year of high school. I had seen the outside many times but now I finally had the opportunity to step inside and walk the halls and passages. I must admit, a big reason I like this building so much is because of its appearance in the video game Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. The game franchise was one of my favorites growing up. Okay, it’s still a fun series and I am excited to play it more when I get home. Castel Sant’Angelo serves as a fortress and hideout for the antagonist in the video game. During one mission the player must scale the walls of the castle, sneak past countless guards on their patrols, and kidnap the wife (and sister) of the bad guy. Breaking into that fortress was always so challenging and now I know why.

Built in the second century AD, the castle is a huge cylindrical tower of stone and brick. It has been a prison, a fortress, a hideout for fleeing popes, and an apartment complex for wealthy political leaders. It was first built as a mausoleum for the Roman emperor Hadrian to store his remains and those of his family. Since construction began, the tower was built upon gradually as different popes and emperors took power and added what they wished to the foundation. So many of Rome’s ancient structures have been reduced to ruins over time but this castle still stands tall overlooking the Eternal City. I took a solo tour and slowly worked my way up to the top, where I got some great pictures of the entire city.

Inside the castle you’ll find weapons used by guards that worked there. Swords and incredibly long, heavy guns encased in glass give you a sense of how intimidating those guards must have been. Each viewpoint has an informational sign that guides you through your own tour. There are lavish apartment suites and guest rooms used by the rich popes and clergymen who lived there. My favorite parts were the various traps and obstacles put in place to ward off invaders and attackers. If Rome was to be attacked, the rich people taking shelter in the fortress would have been protected by a moat, trap doors, catapults and cannons.

It’s kind of weird thinking of what this building used to be, compared to what it is now. I sat in a cafe built into one of the upper floors and sipped an overpriced cappuccino. Centuries ago people may have died in that same space, fighting to build and protect a powerful city. What was once a powerful symbol of Rome’s dominance is now a tourist museum that the locals probably mean to visit but never get around to it. (Hello Willis Tower and Chicago Cultural Museum) I want to make more of an effort to visit places like this at home. If you can’t be a tourist in your own city, why live there? Of course, we don’t have any landmarks with that much history in them, but we do have some really great sights and things to do. Sometimes seeing places like Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome only make me want to be home so I can explore our landmarks too.

Michael The Arch Angel watched over Rome



An examples of armor worn by castle guards.




Many famous Roman landmarks can be seen from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo




WWII: Italian Invasion and Roman Resistance

WWII: Italian Invasion and Roman Resistance

I spent March 17th and 18th traveling around Rome and western Italy learning about Italy’s role in the Second World War. I discovered that during the war, Rome and the rest of the country played key roles for both the Allied and Axis powers. Lead by a JFRC teacher, SLA, and JFRC alumni Phil O’Connor and Jim Centner, the trip was extremely educational and fun. I was hesitant to go at first. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the money (€ 50) or the time, and I had no particular interest in talking about a war that I had already studied in high school. I figured I knew the history, and the trip would not be anything new. I am happy to report that I was wrong in every way. Not only was the trip worth every penny, it taught me a ton about the war and 20th century Italian culture.

On the first day, we bussed around Rome, visiting historic sights at which major events took place during the Nazi occupation of Rome. First, we walked down Via Rasella, the steep and narrow street where, on March 23, 1944, a group of 16 members of a communist resistance group The Gruppo d’Azione Patriottica (Patriotic Action Group) attacked a column of SS police as they carried out their routine march through the streets. The attackers used an improvised bomb made of 40 pounds of TNT encased in metal and hidden in the bottom of a garbage cart. As the column of soldiers approached, the man pushing the cart lit the fuse on the TNT. The explosion killed 28 SS policemen and may have killed two civilian bystanders as well. When the bomb went off, the soldiers, confused and alarmed, began firing their weapons into the apartment windows above them. They thought that the bomb had been dropped onto them from above. Civilians near the windows were killed and the street was a scene of chaos as everyone panicked.

Following the attack, Hitler ordered a reprisal as punishment for the killing of his policemen. Nazi leaders agreed on a reprisal of ten Italians for every one German soldier. In the end, 335 Italians were killed as punishment for the deaths of 30 SS policemen. The 5 extra people were killed to keep them from disclosing the location of the massacre. You can read about the Ardeatine Massacre online, so I’ll spare you the details. I learned that reprisals like this one were common among opposing groups during the war. I spent the day wondering how and why people continue to do these things to one another. The area is now a cemetery for people killed in the massacre.

From there, the day became a little more cheerful. We visited the Liberation Museum in Rome. It had been a prison where some of the victims of the Ardeatine Massacre were kept, but since the 1950s it has been a museum celebrating April 25th,  in 1945 when Italy was liberated from Nazi rule.

Day Two started at 7 AM. We hopped on the bus and visited a large German cemetery. It was pouring rain so our visit was short. The cemetery was perfectly symmetrical with plain white crosses at each grave. Each gravestone marked the place of at least 6 German soldiers. Typical Nazi resourcefulness. As the rain cleared up, we made our way to my favorite place of the trip, Piana delle Orme, a huge WWII museum and park. We spent two or three hours at this museum, walking through the giant hangars full of jeeps and tanks used in the war, depictions of battle scenes, and iconic cultural items of the time. Many of the rooms used mannequins and models to create scenes of big events during the war. Several exhibits had red buttons that, when pressed, would play music and sounds of explosions and battle commands that enhanced the experience of each scene. Here I enjoyed walking around at my own pace, reflecting on each room as I tried to take in all the information. Before this trip, I didn’t know how important the invasion of Sicily had been. I had never thought about the combat that took place in North Africa. It’s hard to explain through this blog, but I felt connected to the time period more than I ever did before.

For whatever reason, the museum also had several exotic animals like peacocks and black swans called Cigno in Italian. The grounds were lined with palm trees and small streams. At one end there was a landing strip with several WWII planes and jets. After all of the death and sadness of the first day, the museum offered another look at 1940s Italy. Of course, we were still learning about the war, but the museum’s displays somehow made it all seem a little less grim. I left feeling proud and in awe of the sacrifices made by everyone who lived during the war, on and off the battlefields.

We visited The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial next, which was infinitely more beautiful than the German one from that morning. Nothing against German cemetery design, but we definitely did a better job here. The grounds were made of sprawling green lawns with a fountain in the middle. It didn’t hurt that the sun was shining and a light rain left a rainbow hanging over the Italian cypress trees. Adjacent to the graves is a building and memorial with paintings depicting the Allies routes as they fought their way up through Italy. We stopped in to hear more about the efforts to liberate Rome from the axis powers and took a group picture. Before we left, we visited a few graves. One was that of Ellen Ainsworth, a nurse who was awarded the silver star for her bravery.

The weekend was packed full of walking, learning, propaganda posters, 1940s music, pizza and beer, some sorrow, and more walking. Every time we talked about a tragic event from the war, something beautiful was there to remind us that life goes on. For any future JFRC students that managed to read this whole article, I highly recommend being a part of the WWII trip.  




A monument depicting the brotherhood between members of the U.S Navy and Army
A Menacing Sherman Tank on Display
A Rainbow Forms Above the American Cemetery
One of the lifelike displays in the Piana Delle Orme
Some Encouraging Street Art















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.









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.














Prati, Ramen, and Reading for Fun

Prati, Ramen, and Reading for Fun

This past Wednesday, I took a tour of Prati, a Roman neighborhood that is home to Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Square, with several other JFRC students. What made this tour unique, was that it was led by Italian students. The students study English at a local school and they were between 15 and 20 years old. They had the chance to practice their English by teaching us about the local sights as we walked around. We practiced our Italian and heard about what life is like for students living in Italy. They were all very nice and their teacher Frank did a good job motivating everyone to step out of their comfort zones and start conversation in their secondary language. I had never been to St. Peter’s Square and it looked exceptional in the setting sunlight. The lights in the square had just come on and my pictures fail to capture how pretty it all looked under the navy blue evening sky.

On Friday morning I traveled outside the ancient walls of the city to see St. Paul’s Basilica, which was equally beautiful. I has been raining all weekend here in Rome, so the trek was cold and wet. After what seemed like hours spent on two crowded buses, I arrived at St. Paul’s and got to spend as long as I wanted touring the cavernous church. St. Paul’s church is different than those of the Renaissance era because it is not filled with ornate decorations, paintings, and statues. St. Paul’s is quite empty, just a huge, quiet space for prayer and reflection. There are several rooms along the perimeter with some art and stories that tell the histories of religious figures like St. Ignatius of Loyola who founded the order of the Jesuits. Lining the walls near the ceiling are portraits of every pope since the beginning of the papacy. The coolest thing about the basilica is that it is likely the final resting place of St. Paul himself, and there you can see his sarcophagus and the chains that he was bound in while imprisoned. After the basilica, I went to a nearby ramen place called Akira which was really great. Hot green tea and a bowl of steamy veggies and noodles was exactly what I was craving after walking around in the cold rain all morning. Plus anything other than the same dining hall food here is a welcome change!

One of the best parts of being here for me has been the free time I have. During the week, I enjoy a much lighter work load than I have during normal semesters in Chicago. I have been using the extra time to work out in the gym almost every day. I’ve been reading and writing a lot more for fun, watching less Netflix and taking in much less social media. I feel good about that and I hope to keep up these habits when I get back to Chicago. Now, watching the occasional movie is a treat, it’s much more fun because my appreciation for it has grown. Similarly, reading is much more fun, like it used to be before high school. Things are good and I hope to keep improving them throughout the rest of the trip.

I am about halfway done with my semester in Rome and it feels like I’ll never be able to fit everything into the next 6 weeks. In an effort to try, I finally put together a list of things I want to see and do in Rome before I go. I realize I’ll have to skip some things because of my budget and limited time frame. My plan is to do my best and spend every weekend that I have left in Rome off campus, rain or shine, checking out as many restaurants and sights as possible. This way, when I get back home, I’ll have no regrets and I’ll know I did my best to fill the trip with as many memories as possible. Be on the lookout for more posts in the coming weeks as I get really familiar with Rome, while also getting to see Poland, Amsterdam, Assisi and the Amalfi Coast.




St. Peter’s Square at Night
Also St. Peter’s Square at Night
St. Paul’s Basilica Ceiling
The Popes at St. Paul’s















Take a Hike!

Take a Hike!

On Friday I went on a hike around Monte Mario, the big hill that is home to the JFRC and the surrounding Balduina neighborhood. Soon after setting off, JFRC librarian and enthusiastic hiker Ann Wittrick in the lead, I heard murmurings from some other hikers that this trek would be four hours long. Four hours!? I hadn’t seen anything about this on the posters. Apparently, the information was on Facebook. Once again, I was out of the loop because I don’t check Facebook. I was not the only one taken by surprise though, other hikers quickly grew apprehensive, several suddenly regretting their light breakfasts of coffee and cornetti. Nevertheless, we were off! As our feet pounded along wooded trails, up and down the hills of Rome, many of the original bright-eyed travelers fell away, opting to catch a bus home as the rest of us continued. I’d say that about 15 of us stayed for the entire trip. I’m glad I stayed because I got some cool pictures of the city and saw the Olympic Stadium where Rome’s most famous soccer teams play.

We made our way up the trails of Monte Mario Nature Reserve which is 139 meters (456 ft.) high. The hill is home to a lot of biodiversity which is not so easy to find in today’s metropolitan Rome. The ground beneath the oak and maple trees is a mixture of sand and gravel from the ancient days of Rome. Though there was more wildlife there years ago, the area is still home to rodents like house and field mice as well as birds like the Jackdaw, Long-tailed Tit, and Rome’s infamous Starlings. (The last of this group swarm the city every year in November and December, burying the city in buckets of their, umm, gifts) The hill gave us some unique views of the city. From different viewpoints along the trail we could see the Vatican, the Colosseum, and the Olympic Stadium poking out among Rome’s orange and yellow apartments.

After the hilltop, we visited a French cemetery for fallen French soldiers of World War II. Many of the soldiers had German names, evidence of the many changes throughout France’s history between the cultures of Germany and France. There were many graves honoring fallen Muslim soldiers as well. These had gravestones with different shapes, and symbols of a crescent moon and star. One of the JFRC’s theology teachers was with us, and he remarked that the Muslim graves were here because there had been so many Muslim soldiers recruited by the French army during the war. Not too far from the cemetery stands a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, meant as a symbolic praise to God for keeping Rome safe during WWII.

As we made our way back to campus, we visited the Olympic Stadium which was built to host the 1942 Olympic Games in Rome, but did not because of WWII. The stadium and adjacent Olympic Village was used to host the games in 1960. We saw the buildings that housed the athletes, and a practice field and track next to the actual stadium. The grounds of the stadium are dotted with Greek style statues depicting muscular athletes. Our S.L.A Judy, told us that fascist leader Benito Mussolini had ordered the statues to be built, with the ideal fascist Italian man in mind. These brawny dudes (not a woman in sight of course) were meant to symbolize the way Mussolini wanted every man to look. I thought it was funny then, when Judy also told us that the reason each statue was made to look across the field at the statue opposite it, could be traced back to ancient Greek traditions; specifically, the tradition of young men forming relationships with older men as a way to enter adulthood. We also saw the old headquarters of the fascist party in Italy. It was, an extremely square, plain grey building with no defining features. It looked like it had come out of a Fascists Architecture 101 textbook. In the courtyard outside, there were huge stone blocks inscribed with a highlight reel of Mussolini and, by extension, the fascist party. The blocks at the end of the rows have been left blank, with the idea that they would be filled in as the fascists continued influencing the world.

At the end, though my feet were tired, I was glad the hike was so long. I left with the nice reminder that taking a nice long walk is an effective way to clear one’s head. A hike in the woods, or a walk through the town can boost your mood and bring everything into perspective. I hope to visit the Monte Mario Reserve at least once more before I go.




Some of the Muslim graves in the French WWII cemetery we visite

The public soccer field next to the Olympic Stadium

View from Monte Mario trail