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Travel Catch Up: The Joys and Pains of Meeting New People While Travelling

Travel Catch Up: The Joys and Pains of Meeting New People While Travelling

Hello all, it’s been a while since I’ve written, but I have a good reason for my absence- my laptop broke and it has been quite a journey to solve my tech issues. So, I come to you from an iPad, which is a little more inconvenient to type on, but I wanted to make another post catching up on the last few weeks!

Last I left off, I was in quarantine still and hoping that I would be out in time for spring break— luckily, I tested negative on Wednesday in time for in-person midterms, and on Thursday I jumped onto a plane!

Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon, oh my!

My first stop was Barcelona, Spain. I met up with my friend Ellie Stotz (who I had also traveled with in Venice and visited with in Paris) and we spent 3 days walking what felt like the entirety of the city, seeing a beach for the first time in what felt like forever, and experiencing true Barcelona culture: tapas and drinks at 5, dinner at 10, and clubbing until 3 in the morning.

Jamie, Ellie and I on our night out together!






One of the joys from this trip is that I got to meet Ellie’s roommate in Paris, Jamie. She was so fun, we went out with her and her friends from her hostel to a club, and met up with them again for dinner the following night. Unfortunately, I have not gotten to see Jamie again, and she goes to the University of Alabama, so it is unlikely that I will get to hang out with her again, which makes me sad. As I have come to learn, this is a theme from my travels, and also the theme of this post— meeting amazing people I want to be friends with, but having only a little time with them before I never see them again.






From there, we headed to Madrid. Ellie only had one day there before she had to quickly go back to Paris for a school project, and I had another 2 days there by myself. Ellie and I explored most of the highlights our first day, so the following two I got my first taste of solo traveling seeing some museums, visiting everything that we had missed, and finding plenty of cafés.

Because I was alone, I decided to take this opportunity to make some new friends (especially because I still am not the best at eating dinner alone!) My first day without Ellie I explored a ton of museums by myself, and revisited our favorite park, and met a boy named Nate who was studying in Madrid on a semester abroad from the University of Massachusetts. I also met a boy from Cornell that I hung out with the following day, so while I guess I was doing a “solo trip”, I wasn’t truly alone.


Then, I headed to my last destination for break, and potentially my favorite city of all the places I have visited, Lisbon, Portugal. It felt like a European San Francisco (somewhere I also love), complete with a giant red bridge, famous trolleys and hills, and beaches– though it had a lot more history and, of course, Portuguese culture.

We stayed in an amazing hostel where we made a lot of friends that we got to spend time with everyday. There was a group of boys from London staying there for a few weeks that we met, and we also made friends with some of the people who worked there. They stayed for free and worked as compensation, and boy was I jealous of that lifestyle— they just got to hang out with their friends and meet people from all over the world and make new friends all of the time.

The “closest” friend I made in Lisbon was a boy from Germany named Johan that was working at our hostel. This was someone I could definitely see myself being friends with, we had the same music taste and interests, and he was really fun, but I got 3 days with him before I came back to Rome. This was the first instance of me being really sad about leaving friends I had made, because this was someone that I truly felt a friendship forming with, but considering that he lives across the world, I will likely never see him again in my life. While I am jealous of the hostel-worker lifestyle, I’m not sure how they deal with people leaving all of the time, it’s hard to comprehend that these people come into then are likely gone from my life so quickly!

One big cross over episode

My next trip with friends was to Amsterdam in the first week of April! The theme of this trip was old friends meeting new friends— as a friend here put it, it was “one big cross-over episode”.

I went with my roommate Cosette, and learned that my friend from high school, Darren who studies at Georgia Tech and is currently abroad in Metz, France, was going the same weekend. He was traveling with 3 of his friends from school, and we met up with them at the Van Gogh Museum. It was really neat to see him again and to meet his friends, and for Cosette to meet him, I had never had college friends meet high school friends in person before! His friends, Emily, Anahita, and Katie were super cool, and I’m sad that I didn’t get to hang out with them more! (Are you noticing a theme yet?)

On Sunday Cosette and I hung out with a girl named Andrea who had been staying with us. She took one of the beds in the room in our hostel, and she is our friend Malena’s friend from high school! We explored markets and got some famous apple pie, and she was really cool to hang out with but it was odd to meet her without Malena being there. I’ll luckily see Darren when we’re both home, but the other 4 I likely won’t, which, again, so sad.

First Solo Adventure

For Easter break, I had my first solo trip! I was headed to London, England for 3 days, and Edinburgh, Scotland for 2 days. My first day in London I walked around as much of the city as I could, finding cute markets and a huge thrift store, seeing the Tate, a modern art museum, and getting dinner with one of the girls from my hostel, Linda who was from Munich.

The next day I did some more exploring, then actually got a cool opportunity to hang out with people! I had made a friend named Ella when I was staying at my hostel in Venice, and she lives in London working for Netflix. Ella invited me to hang out with her and her friends that afternoon/evening. Ella, and her friends Lydia and Megan, took me to Camden, and up to Primrose hill which had a view of all of London. That evening I got to meet their flat-mate Jonah, and they took me along to a going-away party for their friend Monika. They were all very sweet when I had to leave, giving me hugs and making me promise to follow them on Instagram and stay in touch.

I am not sure how people handled making friends while traveling back in the 90s and early 2000s. I am so thankful to have social media to be able to stay in contact with these people. Even if it’s just seeing a glimpse of their life every now and then, it’s still better than in the past, when it’d really just be chance to ever run into them or hear from them again!


My next stop was Edinburgh. I stayed in a really awesome hostel, right at the foot of the famous castle on the hill, and it was in a great area overall. I also had someone to meet when I got there! My friend Christian Kephart, back at Loyola in Chicago, had a friend from high school Dervla, who had moved there from Ireland. She moved back to the UK for university, to the University of Edinburgh, and agreed to show me around the city! The night I got in, she met me outside of my hostel and we went to a popular chain in the UK called Spoons for dinner and drinks. We ended up getting along extremely well (we have the same music taste and sense of humor, and love to tell/hear stories) and I went back to her apartment with her to hang out more! We also texted Christian to make sure he knew that his two friends were getting along.

(stolen from BeReal, the new social media app the 3 of them made me get) Alex and I are in the large picture, with Diego and Dervla in the top left!




The next day I walked, again, what felt like all of Edinburgh (I have a thing with walking 10+ miles while exploring new cities as I have learned). Then Dervla texted me and asked if I wanted to hang out again with her that day, and meet her flat-mates. So that afternoon I spent time in a famous park there called the Meadows with Dervla, and her two friends Alex and Diego. They were really cool and fun to get to know, and we ended up spending the rest of the day together, getting food, showing me things I had missed on my self-guided walking tour, and going back to their place for a movie.


I think that this group of people was the hardest to say goodbye to. How we interacted felt exactly like how my friends and I back in Rome and back in the States interact, and I really felt like we could have been great friends if I got more than 48 hours there. But unfortunately, they study in Scotland, and I study in Rome/Chicago. It was still amazing to meet them though, and I’m so glad I did. It made my Easter break a not-so-solo trip.





So, that’s me all caught up on trips with new people! I have less than 2 weeks now, and will give an update on my last few trips with friends, how I’m feeling about going home, and what finals season in Rome is like. For now I’ll leave some advice for any students that may be reading this who are considering going abroad:

1. Stay in hostels when you travel, don’t exclusively stay in Airbnb’s. It’s the classic way for young people to travel, and it’s an awesome way to meet new people. You can use the website HostelWorld to find well rated ones or ones that are good for young people/partying, and they’re much cheaper than other alternatives!

2. Put yourself out there to meet new people. Traveling with your friends is great, but there’s genuinely nothing better than being able to come back from your time abroad having made friends from all over the world. (Plus, you’ll always have somewhere to stay if you travel to where they live in the future!) Small groups when traveling with friends makes this easier!

3. Be active on Instagram. You may already be, or you may have gotten rid of it as a social-media cleanse, but it is a great way to keep in touch with anyone you may meet, whether it is people from your school studying abroad with you, or people you meet while traveling. It is also a wonderful way to document your time abroad, in case you don’t want to blog about it 😉 Many of my friends, including myself, have made separate accounts to document our time abroad, and it’s so nice to look back on, and is also a great way to keep friends and family updated on what you’re doing! (If you need an example, my account is lauren_goesabroad, feel free to check it out!)


Well, that’s it for now- if you read through all of this huge update, thanks for sticking with me!

Orvieto, Naples, Pompeii… and classes too

Orvieto, Naples, Pompeii… and classes too

Our first week of school felt much more subdued compared to last week, at least until classes ended for the week.

Personally, my classes all went well, I am in a voice class (despite my inability to sing) because my friends convinced me to join it, as well as a Baroque art class that visits sites throughout the city, a religion and gender class, a European masterpieces literary class, and Italian 101– Italian is required for all students here, which makes sense.

Most of the highlights for me came at the end of the week, which I’ll show below!



On Thursday evening, as you can see above, my friends Claudia, Emma, Malena, and I ventured downtown to pick up some of our books for class, then found an adorable coffee shop that I’ve already returned to.




We finished out the night by watching the movie Luca, which, if you have not already seen it, I highly recommend. It’s set in Italy so of course, we had to watch it, and later this semester my friends and I are hoping to visit the town that it is based in! It’s a part of the 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre, which is a collection of seaside towns that you can hike between.




On Friday we had a second day trip to a town called Orvietto, a small town raised up on a hill. The cliff sides that it is on make it look like it’s on top of a natural fortress, and that is exactly how the citizens used the hills over 700 years ago, as natural protection against invaders!



Cosette, Cladia, and I at the old fortress at the edge of Orvieto.


One of the most chaotic parts of this week was planning our weekend trip. Since we only had 2 days, we decided to stay close and visit Naples and Pompeii. Naples most definitely grew on me the longer we were there, and I wish that we would have known some of the history of the city so that we could have better planned our days, but it was still a great first trip! Pompeii was also really wonderful to learn about, and I highly recommend paying for a tour guide if you ever plan to visit.


The harbor and view across towards Vesuvius at sunset. It was breathtaking and we spent a long time here just looking out at the horizon and watching the colors of the sky and water change as the sun went down.


They weren’t lying about the pizza in Naples. We visited Sorbillos, and it was by far my most favorite pizza I’ve ever had





A view of Pompeii and the mountains and greenery in the background that we saw as we were leaving our tour.




Well, that was my second week! Maybe from the pictures, you might not believe it felt less chaotic than the week before, but settling into a routine with school helped. I’ve met such cool people and am continuing and meet more, and I’m excited for the coming weeks!

First Time Blogging, Second Time in Rome

First Time Blogging, Second Time in Rome

I figure that I should start out by introducing myself to anyone who may read this: my name is Lauren Pflueger, and I’ll be writing to you all from Rome this semester! I’m a sophomore studying Information Systems and Management with a minor in French (if you’re wondering, yes, I am a tad concerned about having to keep up with French while also learning Italian). I love sports and running and music and coffee and travel and, as a less relevant fact, am currently watching Sex and the City, so am definitely channeling my inner Carrie Bradshaw as I write this! (I’ll be more appropriate in my writing, of course, and I’m aware that this is a blog and not a column.)

Here’s a picture of me so you know who you’re reading!

My study abroad process has been quite an interesting one due to the current pandemic going on; I’m sure you’re all familiar with it? I was originally set to study at Loyola’s other campus in Ho Chi Mihn City in Vietnam, but that was canceled over the fall. Then, I was planning to go to the Paris School of Business (work on that minor and all of that), but that ended up not working out either. So, here we are, heading to Rome! Don’t get me wrong, Rome is a wonderful place and I am so looking forward to studying and living here, but as the title of this entry might imply, I’ve been to Rome before, thus had a motivation to try to live somewhere new. Granted, that trip was when I was 12 for 10 days– seeing as I am now 20, and will be spending multiple months here, I think it will be a much different experience.

Me in Venice at 12 years old

I won’t make this post too much longer, but I am going to share some things that I am hoping to talk about! I am in a year-long, long-distance relationship, with a cute, silly boy who runs track at a school called Xavier University, in Cincinnati, Ohio; the majority of our relationship has been long-distance actually, but we have yet to have an international long-distance relationship, so some of my experiences with that may trickle into this blog.

My boyfriend CJ and I at an outdoor museum in Pittsburgh, where we both live!

I also hope to write about your classic travel blog things, such as where I’m traveling to, both within Italy and out of it, as well as the people I meet and friendships that I make. They told us on the first night here to “make Rome our home”, so I’d love to document how that goes and see by the end if I actually succeed. I’ll also be talking about what school life is like here, and what it’s like making new friends in a foreign country, especially after an interesting past few semesters, socially speaking. I’ll maybe even have some recommendations for music I’m listening to, gelato flavors, or other great things I find for anyone reading this who may be coming here in the future!

I was hoping to post this before I got to explore here, but due to technical complications it’s a little late and so I’ve already had some adventures in Rome! I can’t wait to post an update about orientation week, and I also hope that someone besides me maybe read these (fingers crossed!)

欢迎你! Welcome! (+health update)

欢迎你! Welcome! (+health update)

Hey Everyone!

            I have been trying to make a blog post for the past two weeks but have not found the right time where I can sit down and think about what I want to say. Right now is that time!

 I am currently sitting on my bed (my friends and I call it “my rock” because the beds here in China are like sleeping on wood floors lol) trying to think about how I want to format this post since so much has happened these past three weeks! I think I am going to keep it brief and casual, and start from the day I departed the states…

After one 14-hour plane ride from Seattle to Hong Kong, and another 2-hour flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai, I was extremely relieved to finally be able to walk freely.

Me (center) and other USAC friends from the group flight

At the airport is where I met the first group of USAC students (we were all on the group flight to Shanghai). We all loaded onto a bus and headed to campus. First couple of days, January 6th and 7th, we spent time exploring campus and taking tours of the city. We made stops at The Bund, Yu Gardens, Pearl Tower, and Tianzifang. They were all beautiful places even though the weather was pretty gloomy those days.

One of the many walkways of Tianzifang

The next morning, we all woke up early to take a charter bus, we dubbed the Teal Mobile for its color, to Hangzhou where we would spend the night. Once we arrived there, we ate brunch and immediately went to Lingyin Temple, AKA Temple of Soul’s retreat. It is one of the largest and wealthiest temples in China consisting of many smaller temples and grottoes. It was a pretty awesome place. To get to one of the temples you have to climb SO. MANY. STAIRS. According to what my apple watch tracked that day, I walked a total of 36 flights of stairs. The views were so worth it though. After climbing back down and checking out a few of the hundreds of Buddhas carved into the side rockery, we hopped back onto the charter bus and headed to Hangzhou National Tea Museum.

Hangzhou Tea Museum tea fields

The day was ending, and the weather was clearing up, so the rays from the sun were reflecting perfectly off of the damp tea leaves in the fields. The museum itself was empty but our program advisor didn’t give us that much time to explore, so we just kind of passed through, but a small group of us got to try free tea – it was amazing!

Next day, January 9th, we headed to West Lake. It was a cloudy day and all the plants were dead because it is wintertime, but it was still such a breathtaking view. We got to roam the lake freely which was a nice break from the quick pace we had been on the past few days. After looking around for a couple of hours, again, we loaded back onto Teal Mobile and headed to our next destination.

cute gazebo along the west lake

Our next stop was a water village, Xitang. It is really interesting because it is a gated off place and you need a ticket to go inside, however my program director was saying that people still live within the walls (obviously they don’t have to pay to get in, but still interesting) . We walked pretty far into this village to get lunch, and then we had more free time! There honestly was not much to do except check out the little shops and soak in the beauty of Xitang. On our way out of the village, we got to ride gondolas! It was a nice break from all of the walking we had been doing.

boat path in the water village

We rode the Teal Mobile for the last time and headed back into the city. The following week was the first days of classes. My classes are three hours once a week. Some days it is harder than others to sit in class that long, but the topics are quite interesting. The only class I have more than once a week is Chinese; that class is three times a week for three hours. I am so excited to get better at speaking and understanding Chinese. Being here these few weeks, I already have noticed an improvement in my skills.

 I currently do not have class this week because of Chinese New Year, but I also wanted to talk about something that I am sure you are all wondering about. A novel virus known as the coronavirus has been spreading rapidly around China, and now the world. I want everyone to know that I am safe and healthy and have been practicing every safety precaution I can be to ensure that my friends and I continue to stay healthy. I am definitely in a unique situation and I am honestly not quite sure what to think about it. I want to be naïve to it all and continue to enjoy my time here, however with the constant closure of events and tourism sites, the possible extension of break, having my temperature checked every time I enter the gates to my dorm, having to remember to wear a mask, and having to cancel my trip to Beijing makes all of this feel a little more real. I know the news in the States is covering the story of the virus very well, but I want to remind you all that news can be shocking and scary, but it does not paint the full picture of the situation. I am blessed to have really good travel insurance and have access to clean, well-managed American-style hospitals. My school here in China is taking every measure possible to ensure that the students here are safe. Shanghai and the other larger cities are doing all it can to make sure this virus gets contained. The other part of this reality, and what you all have been witnesses to, is that outside of the big city is where the problem worsens. There are many families who are not as fortunate as I am and who do not have the same access as I am able to have, so please keep them in your prayers and if you are able to find a way to donate masks or money to valid fundraisers, please do so. Right now, those in quarantined cities especially need as much aid as they can get as they are now not only limited but restricted to access to hospitals, transportation, and other critical resources. It is important to not panic is times like this but continuing to stay safe and manage the situation as much as possible. I added below a link to video from a citizen of Wuhan where he tells the story of the situation there better than what I can explain and better than what I have been seeing on the news.
*strong language used

On that note! All is not so dark and grim. The sun is supposed to be coming out on Tuesday, I had a movie night with my friends, and I am so grateful for the experience I have already had these first three weeks here in China. I am hopeful for the world and China that it can make it through this hard time, and you will all be hearing from me soon.

me wearing my mask to protect from pollution and sickness!

Until next time!

On-Sites and Sightseeing

On-Sites and Sightseeing

On-site classes are a hack to seeing Rome even when you may not have the time to go on your own.

To start, I’m taking six classes this semester. A full schedule. I would not recommend because you don’t really get a ton of time to venture about the city and balance work and maintain balance. I’ve been taking full schedules since I was a freshman, so I’m used to it.

One of my classes, an ENGL class about writing fiction in Rome, is a class where we travel quite frequently and get to see so much while getting tips about the city from the professor who lives in a nearby neighborhood. Within the first few weeks of classes, we’d gone to the Teatro di Marcello, the Jewish ghetto, the Roman forum, countless churches, and to a keyhole that became a monument if and of itself.

This isn’t the only class I have that takes on-site trips. One of my HIST classes takes trip out, too. We’ve visited the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the tomb of the unknown soldier built into it, and the Olympic Stadium just a forty-five minute walk from campus.

The point of these classes, however, is not just to see these places but to really teach you their history and importance. It doesn’t hurt that the teachers have lived here for years and know where to get the best granita (shaved ice with espresso poured into it and whipped cream on top), and the fun fact that twelve COUPLES ate in the belly of the Victor Emmanuel horse before it was showcased, and that there’s a pretty stellar gelato place across the bridge and over a street from the stadium.

Small City Ventures: Assisi and Bari

Small City Ventures: Assisi and Bari

We started travelling this semester inside the country. I had been to Assisi previously before and so had my roommate, and we loved it and were excited to have the chance to head there again. Only a two hour train ride makes it super easy to get to.

Of course, the legendary Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi is there, looming over the path leading from the parking lot where the bus from the station to the city stopped. Near-white and standing tall above us, it looked familiar because so many of the churches in Rome had white-stone themes, but this one was more angular and square. Sadly, inside there was no picture taking allowed but it was stunning, every wall and even the ceiling filled with paintings and decor. We went downstairs to see the tomb, where there were also no pictures allowed. It had an eerie feel because it was so dark and dim, a few candles lighting. There were pews and kneelers in the cramped space for people to sit/kneel to pray or just take a break.

Once out of the church, the sun beat down on us but there was plenty of shade in the narrow streets. Shops, bakeries, hidden pathways, even a museum lined the winding streets. There were shops for so many things: souvenirs, jewelry, religious items, clothes, leather bags, baked food, even wooden kitchen utensils.

Soon enough, we found ourselves climbing even higher on the eternal hill Assisi is situated on and discovered an old, old church nestled into one of the side streets. We knew it was so old because of the uniformity of building materials, lack of decoration, and small size. Scoping out these stores was what most of our day consisted of.

Until I found a hiking trail.

I found a hiking trail, to where, I didn’t know at the time. But I started up it, in a skirt that went past my knees and a thin tee shirt, and my friends followed me also in nice clothes. It took maybe a little over an hour and a half but we made it to the top where we found a fortress, and a spectacular view for miles.

After a long tiring day at Assisi, we took the train back and relaxed for the weekend, until the next. The next weekend we had a flight and full weekend in Bari.

We got to Bari relatively early in the day and couldn’t check into our airbnb so we explored the city with our backpacks. The center looked like the center of a smaller city in the US, shops on all sides, restaurants too, side streets leading to more of both. The big difference was the government looking building in the middle that had a bunch of high school looking kids with signs. Confused, we tried to read a few, only slightly successful, but we figured out they were for a climate change protest, which was super cool. Soon enough, we found ourselves by the water and relaxed after traveling and walking.

area by the water with benches

My roommate had brought a baby present for her cousin who still lived in Bari with his family. He was so nice and showed us one of his favorite places to eat, which was insanely good (Bari seafood, guys, I’m telling you). We turned in a little early to prepare for the next day when we’d take a train and her cousin would show us around.

Bari is beautiful. I forgot to mention earlier, but it is a wonderful sight, especially if you love saltwater. My roommate’s cousin took us to a popular stoney beach where there were plenty of people, but also plenty of water that was basically see through. I immediately got into the water. I love the ocean, sea, any and all salt water I can get near. And we enjoyed ourselves, swimming, joking around, eating focaccia. The area nearby was filled with white buildings and a park from way back when.

After a few hours, we headed back to the car and went to another beach, much more sandy and less filled with people, in fact you had to pull into the parking lot of an abbey and walk a bit to the area people were. I think there were only thirteen across the whole area. The water was just as pretty here and there was a cave I swam to where residents at the abbey would use to bathe. And there was a hole in the rocks, a hole next to the cave and higher up where you could jump and swim out of it. It took about five minutes, but I jumped into the hole, which was crazy. The beach day was filled with fun, laughs, and plenty of pictures.

Our weekend at Bari was coming to a close with an early flight the next day, but my roommate and our friend weren’t ready to stay in our Airbnb when the city was still alive. We walked around the main center, talking, and we found a bar stand. I say bar stand because it was a bar but there wasn’t anywhere to sit and you had to walk the streets, which we did.

Assisi and Bari were both beautiful cities and a nice expansion of our Italian trips. The next weekend though, would be Vienna, the first out of country trip we’d go on. 

The Day That Lasted Forever

The Day That Lasted Forever

It may have been two. They blurred.

The day of the flight was bittersweet.

Last sunrise of my Chicago summer

I had built up all this excitement over the summer about leaving and going abroad and it was great. But that day I hung out with some of my friends for the last time until I didn’t know when because they graduated, and I had to say sad goodbyes to my roommates.

It was a normal Friday for the most part- I ran, I stretched and did some yoga because I didn’t have to hurry to my internship, and I had a really chill breakfast accompanied with my slew of podcasts. I finished packing all the last minute things I needed to and relaxed.
I had to take an Uber because I didn’t want to try and take the L with a checked bag, a backpack, and a wheeled carry-on. Imagine that.

The flight went how every safe, regular flight went. I never understand when people ask how my flight was. I slept, I read, I wrote a bit, I watched the movies on the plane. We landed in Germany then took off to Rome an hour or two later.

When we landed in Rome, the students were gathered and transported via bus to campus. Many people slept. And once we got there, everyone startled awake and bustled through check-in and throwing your bags into the rooms and quickly cleaning up before having to go to a meeting.

The rest of the first few days were really just full of meetings and told where to go, which in hindsight makes sense and I’m grateful they did that because it forced us to get used to the time difference. But at the time, it was tiring and people were less than willing to do much of anything we were told to do.

Related image

It was a full week of going to meetings and following orientation leaders and sitting while people talked and informed us about stuff on campus.
It was hectic but it was good to get so much out of the way, to learn about the new campus as opposed to the campus I had become very familiar and comfortable with the one in Chicago after three years.

We went to so many places within the first weeks : the Spanish steps, the Vatican, a mass in a beautiful church (the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola) and a lengthy dinner to follow after, and different small towns with each group. My group went to Bolsena. It is an absolutely lovely lake town where the water crashes just slightly and there are plenty of streets to get lost wandering. The orientation groups broke off again to explore different parts of the city on another day. Mine went to the Borghese gardens right by the Spanish steps and it was stunning and filled with green, and the views were amazing.

It was after a “casual” outing my friends and I took on a free day for me to realize, Oh my gosh, I’m in Rome. I’m across the world from where I’ve been for my entire life.

And I couldn’t wait for more.

Better Late Than Never: My Intro

Better Late Than Never: My Intro

Hello hello hello!!

I’m Gabbie Gardziola (Guard-zee-ola) and I’m blogging while I’m studying in Rome!! As you can read in the title, this post is going to be a quick intro before I start to catch up on the weeks I’ve been here.
I’m a senior at Loyola University Chicago and I’m a history/global international studies double major with a focus in social justice and a sociolegal minor. I’ve worked part time at the Wolf’s Kettle when on campus since November 2018. It’s a lot, I know. Yes, I’ve been very busy during my college career. Yes, I can somehow manage all of it and remain sane. 

this is me. hello 🙂

When I said that I was planning on studying abroad this semester, people always asked why but made the connection themselves that I was an international studies major, of course I would study abroad if I got the chance (and I’ve been so lucky to get the chance). But I want to elaborate.
My family is half Italian and half Polish, a common mixture in Chicago, but my grandparents and parents were very much raised in immigrant-American households. My mom’s grandparents didn’t want the kids to learn Italian so they could talk about the kids without them knowing. My Polish grandmother didn’t want my dad and his siblings to learn Polish because she didn’t know it. Long story short, I don’t much about my family history besides the general areas we are from. And I wanted to learn.

As you could probably guess, this is my family, I haven’t been able to see them all at once since Christmas and have seen them for only a few days since.

On top of my family history, I’ve traveled a lot in the past and I wanted to continue. I had the chance to travel to different countries because of the sport I did and organizations I was a part of. I got to go to Mexico, twice, and Bolivia, once, through tournaments and camps for tae kwon do. I got to go to Italy, France, and Greece through People to People Ambassadors. I went to US Open for tae kwon do several times, some to compete and some to not, and seen the variety of cultures under one roof. I’ve been super fortunate to do these things, and if I was able to do it again, I desperately wanted to.

In Europe, many of the countries are close to each other, similar in size to US states, some even smaller. For backstory, I lived in Greenville, South Carolina from fifth grade until I left for school. For example, a drive from Greenville to school in Chicago took twelve hours, the drive from Lecce, Italy (in the heel of the boot) to Switzerland (the nearest Northwest country) takes twelve hours and forty-five minutes. That’s insane to me. When a flight from South Carolina to Chicago takes two hours, and a flight from Rome to Vienna takes a little under that. I love travel and new cultures and now I have a much quicker way to do/experience both.

So here’s the beginning of me telling you how this semester goes while travelling and keeping on top of school. Let’s go!!

Student, Evironmental Scientist, Sourdough Lover, and …Wife?

Student, Evironmental Scientist, Sourdough Lover, and …Wife?

Photo taken in Baños, Ecuador

Who am I? A question for the ages. For most students, the answer is going to be fairly similar. You identify by the class year you are in, maybe you’ve decided on a major and maybe not, and you could even be a member of one club or another. For me, this answer is a little different and may even surprise you, it has definitely surprised some of my classmates! In the end, our identifiers shape who we are and how we interact with the world around us. That’s why my identity is so important to my study abroad journey.

This year, I am a senior Rambler at Loyola where I major in environmental science with IES and have a concentration in conservation and restoration ecology. I love to frequent the farmer’s market on Mondays, where I spend all my cash on sourdough and tamales, and I like to study by the lake on nice days. I have a name that professors find impossible to pronounce (by the way, it’s “ray-leen”) and I’ve even learned to recognize the face they all make when they get to me on the roster. I live in Rogers Park and have just begun riding my bike everywhere. This all sounds pretty familiar, right? Well, I’m also 25 years old and have been married to my husband, Andrew, for four and a half years. Are you surprised? Or did you read the title and completely ruin it?

Super cute right?

My story makes more sense once you know a little more about my past. I graduated from high school back in 2012 and completed my associate’s degree in 2014. Andrew and I just came back to college this past Fall after he completed his 5-year contract with the Marine Corps. We’ve made two major moves across the country between Northern Illinois and Southern California where we lived in a little desert town called Twentynine Palms. It was never my intention to take 4 years off from school, but life has a funny way of working out. While we lived in California, I worked as a vet tech. It was a job that I adored until I didn’t anymore. As it turns out, pet parents are really mean! I’ve always maintained my love of animals though.

Coming back to school is one of the most difficult adventures Andrew and I have embarked on and we’ve been through two deployments to the Middle East. There were 3 hours of commuting 5 days a week, depression, anxiety, financial issues, loss of adored pets, and even talks of divorce. This is what makes my journey a little more unique. I don’t have to only worry about classes, basketball games, and club meetings. I also have to worry about where our grocery money is going to come from, if all the bills for the month have been paid, or if Andrew and I are spending enough quality time together to maintain our marriage. That’s also why it was so hard to decide to study abroad.

After deployment #2

Now that I’ve given you way too much personal information, this brings me to where I’m at now. I chose to attend the GAIAS-Galápagos Extension Program through IES abroad where I am a part of their marine track. I am currently in Quito, Ecuador studying various aspects of marine ecology at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and I will be leaving for the Galápagos Islands in just 18 more days. I am so happy and thankful to be here and while I did all the work to get to where I’m at in life right now, it’s not without help from so many others.

First off, I have an incredibly supportive husband and family. If it weren’t for their help and insistence that I study abroad, I wouldn’t even have considered it. This program also comes with a rather large bill that is almost completely covered by 3 grants, 2 government loans, and 3 scholarships.

I am so thankful to be in Ecuador studying something I love and wouldn’t have a chance to study at Loyola. I’ve been here for a month and some days, I wake up and still can’t believe I’m actually here. There are so many aspects of this program that are incredibly amazing! Tune in for the next episode to learn more!

Call me Scuba Steve.

– Rhealene

In Loving Memory of Maya Papaya and Sheldon Kitty


Begin Again

Begin Again

Rebuilding something after a shatter is quite the undertaking of a project. It can be a mess when trying to fit all the pieces back together as they once were before. After the shatter, some parts may be too small, like tiny, annoying crumbs within the fibers of a carpet, and other pieces just too big to match with any of the small ones. So what I have learned from my past and my recent spring break trip, is that rebuilding is not trying to put all the pieces back together exactly, in the same shape and same form as before, but it is simply more like starting over, starting again, and starting new with different pieces, different materials, and different approaches. It is never forgetting what once was, but realizing the magnificence of what is beginning again, and that is starting over.

Over my spring break, I traveled to Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and then I ended my trip in Hungary. Each of these three places taught me something new, but Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina specifically broke my heart, but would put it back together again and again with its people, faith, and culture. Sarajevo taught me what it means to have strength in love, and never fear. It taught me about what it means to rebuild a city, a community, a home, a faith, a heart, even while everything around you has been horrendously taken away. Before arriving to Bosnia-Herzegovina, I had little to no prior knowledge about the Yugoslav wars of the 1990’s. After learning through various museums, tours and personal stories from people who actually went through the war at the time that they were happening, I became increasingly aware of the extreme magnitude of trauma, pain, heartbreak, and violence these people have endured, and unfortunately still have to carry with them as a part of them everyday. The horrendous violence and genocide of the ‘90’s wars proves the extremely dangerous and inhumane rhetoric and acts around ‘ethnic cleansing’ and territorial revenge. The extremely difficult and traumatic stories of those who have survived are a testament to the need of educational awareness surrounding this war, and others so it never happens again.

Although the people of Sarajevo remember, honor, and commemorate their past frequently, they have show me what it looks like to remain strong and kind, even after the unimaginable. Their architecture is a beautiful mix of old and new with historical remnants of their tragically violent past. The food is their breadth of family and community, while their present faiths are a reminder of peace between peoples themselves, not simply their beliefs. The people, and culture, of Sarajevo are indicators of how the past will always be a part of you, but rebuilding the heart requires a will to move forward. It does not mean you move on, it simply means you start over with the knowledge that the broken old pieces will never be whole once more, but that the different new pieces can create something fully, completely, wondrously, beautiful.

Thank you Sarajevo for sharing your broken, and new, pieces with me…