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Lessons Learned Outside of the Classroom: Fall Break Wrap-Up

Lessons Learned Outside of the Classroom: Fall Break Wrap-Up


What makes a place difficult to leave? Is it your comforts? The familiarity? The relationships you’ve made there?

But before I get to that; with a blink of an eye, fall break, the ten day pausa from all of our hard work here at the JFRC that I’m pretty sure 99% of the student body was looking forward to, has come and gone. Don’t get me wrong, I think we all love or have grown to love Roma, but sometimes you need a break, you know? I had the opportunity to go to three cities over my fall break with three lovely travel companions. We all had a vote in cities and so Munich, Vienna, and Prague were our top three choices that also seemed feasible and logical (in some sort of geographic sense…).

_DSC1398-001München aka Munich aka where my (in another universe) husbands, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller play for Bayern. Oh and the world’s biggest Oktoberfest is held here- but that ended last week which is why there are so many less tourists and our flight here was only around 30€ #bless.  It was stunning! The sky was bright blue, the sun was shining, we were excited that München actually has a Starbucks. Yup. I’m THAT basic. In the words of comedienne Iliza Schlesinger, when we applied to be girls, we were asked what our favorite seasons were, and of COURSE the answer is fall and so I had a pumpkin spice latte and IT WAS A GREAT MOMENT. Surprisingly, there are A LOT of Italians in Munich, so I felt right at home talking to the very attractive barista who was actually from Bolzano and thought I was Italian because he said my accent was great *cries*. Genuinely, Munich was a lovely surprise and I found myself a little sad when we had to leave.


Wien (Vienna) was also wonderful, although it was difficult to follow Munich. Everything seemed quite grande and impressive- the old palaces, the palaces that are now art museums, the architecture throughout the city- EVERYTHING! Previous to this trip, I never really had any particular notions about Vienna/Austria in general, so it was nice to experience something new and to go in like a completely clean slate. The city definitely had a cool vibe, our hostel in particular had such interesting people in it that it almost deterred me from wanting to go out and explore, and the desserts we had every day were divine!

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And lastly, Praha. Prague was a city that was at the top of my list of places to visit outside of Italy during my time abroad and I’m ecstatic that I got to visit it over fall break. It reminded me a lot of Krakow, Poland, and I felt the connection both cultures share with the Slavic spirit- quindi (as I say all the time in Italian), I felt right at home. It was breathtakingly gorgeous. I absolutely loved the walking tours we took (our tour guide, Pistis, was probably THE coolest person ever), they had kielbasa (something I had been missing profusely back in Italy), and the overall, I was just in love. I didn’t want to leave- I could have stayed here the whole 10 days of break. I would definitely consider coming back here in the future.

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Regardless, some of the things that fall break has taught me:

1)The beautiful thing about Europe is that all of these countries I want to go to are at the very manageable to get to in a short amount of time, which is INSANE. I want to go from Rome to Munich?- an hour by plane. That’s only about 20 minutes more than my L commute from the Loyola Lake Shore Campus to Water Tower. The other beautiful thing about Europe are all of these cheap airlines that offer affordable flights. My flight to Munich? €30! (About $33!!!!). Sure, it was at 7 in the morning, but it cost less than the cab we took from JFRC to Fiumicino. One of the least glamorous things? The reason those prices for the actual ticket are low are because it only includes one carry-on. I never thought I’d be able to say I can live out of one backpack for more than 10 days, but hey, now I can cross that off my bucket-list, too.


I don’t think I’m very high maintenance (and if you think I am totally wrong or blind to this, please feel free to chuckle about it here), but 10 days with a weather forecast calling for all types of crazy weather (we saw potential snow in Prague), teeny-tiny toiletry essentials, and enough clothes* (*underwear) to last? I’ve been conditioned and accustomed to being allowed at the very least one GIGANTIC suitcase, so this was something I was definitely NOT used to- but with hindsight, I’m really proud I could actually do it AND have a little bit of room for souvenirs for both me and my mama back home (we collect Starbucks mugs… so now we have two more to add to our collection!). Plus, it’s made me an expert on what’s necessary VS. what I WANT to bring for my own comfort. It also made for an excellent excuse to buy a new scarf and hat, something I definitely brought with me to Rome but not with me to Munich, where the weather was at least 20 degrees colder.

2) As I’ve said in one of my posts on my photography blog, the human body is capable of many amazing things; one of them being the ability to take everything that comes your way while traveling. Sitting for hours in a cramped and uncomfortable seat that was way too overpriced, food that shouldn’t be deemed edible (I’m looking at you, overpriced airlines), sleep deprivation and yet; we somehow keep on pushing until we make our final destination. There were mornings where we’d be up at 5am, trying to figure out what bus to take to which train station where we’d find a train to take us to the airport. But yet, on those same days, we’d walk at least 10,000 steps in a new city, IN A NEW COUNTRY. That’s pretty amazing, especially when I think that I tend to consider myself a pretty stationary being.

3) I received a HUGE wake up call when we got into the Westbanhof train station in Vienna. Of course, one of the first things we normally did when we got to a train/bus station or airport was try to connect to wifi, just to let our parents know we were safe and made it to our destination or to check alternate travel routes to our hostels. Something I noticed was the wifi networks offered at the Vienna station. One of them clearly had Refugee Info as one of the titles, while another just said Refugee Free Wifi.

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I knew Austria was one of the main countries that many of the refugees were traveling to in order to get to their destination in Germany or other desired countries (mostly in Scandinavia) and I also knew that this ongoing crisis was really happening- but there’s a difference between seeing it in a newspaper or television set and actually seeing it with your own two eyes. I never doubted that this was a serious thing that was actually happening, but this just made it more real. I was taken aback, seeing so many families with maybe two or three more bags than I was carrying- bags that were probably carrying what was left of their whole life. I have to admit, I don’t understand politics and I don’t understand how the E.U. works when it comes to how to approach aid- but at that moment in time, I felt a huge surge of sympathy for them and gratitude for all my life has given me so far. I think everyone goes through their fair share of hardships and it’s truly difficult to compare who has it worse, because everyone reacts to obstacles differently. The worst thing that can ever happen in your life could be way less serious in the eyes of someone else, but you both could potentially react to it in the same way. These people had to leave behind their homes, their lives. Meanwhile, here I was, thinking how much I missed Chicago and how far away home seemed. It was sobering, like I said, but it did make me thing of all that I’m thankful for in my life.

4) Lastly, although this is actual a general lesson that’s slowly becoming more and more clear to me throughout the semester, being in other cities in Europe have definitely solidified my thoughts of coming back to Europe after I’m done with my senior year at Loyola. Would it really be that crazy to move to Europe? My whole family moved to America, not knowing any of the language and sacrificing so much and yet here I find myself entertaining the thought of “coming back.” What do Roma, Prague, Munich, Dublin or Krakow have that Chicago doesn’t? What is it about Europe that makes me want to come back. I love Chicago with all of my heart. I was born and raised there. My lack of Portillo’s cheese fries and deep dish is always tugging at my heartstrings, and don’t even get me started on missing the whole support system that is my family and friends. And yet, here I am in Rome, already considering becoming an ex-pat for just a little bit longer.

Riddle me this: I’ll admit, I had no problem leaving the small neighborhood where my family currently resides to Rogers Park- and I lived there my whole life. I mean, I knew I’d be back for breaks/summers/etc, but for me, that was the beginning of “leaving home” for me. I knew that after that first semester, Rogers Park was my new home and I loved it. Leaving Rogers Park for Rome on the other hand was extremely hard- despite knowing that I’d be back within a year. And now, I find myself ALREADY dreading leaving Rome. There’s a sense of “I feel at home” here and there’s still so much I want to do and see and be a part of here, despite not having the same connections to people that I do back in Rogers Park. I don’t know what to make of all of this, but it’s definitely got me re-evaluating my plans for after graduation.

So what makes leaving a place difficult? Is there really a concrete answer? Like most things in life, probably not, but I’d like to think that with this fall break experience has given me a little more insight into answering that question.

Made it to the end of the post? I congratulate you, because Lord knows I can ramble on and on. Until next time 🙂


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