I’m back from a semester abroad, I’ve moved off campus, and I’m an upperclassman. Fall 2015 has been a period of adjusting to say the least.

Last spring I had probably the best semester of my college career studying at the John Felice Rome Center. So being back in Chicago has been a little more challenging than I anticipated. I absolutely love going to school in Chicago, but not being able to explore a new country every weekend is a bit of a bummer. I’m also back to taking classes for my major rather than taking courses about Italian language, literature, and culture. But I’m adjusting.

This year I signed my first apartment lease and get to live off-campus with two of my best friends. We decorated our apartment perfectly and it makes Chicago feel that much more like home. But off-campus living isn’t all bliss, now I have to begin the adjustment to adulthood as we pay bills, deal with our landlord, and leave on-campus living luxuries behind (i.e. wi-fi and dining halls).  But I’m adjusting.

I’ve finally made it to upperclassman status, which has been absolutely surreal. It feels like I was a junior in high school about two minutes ago, so how on earth did I make it to my junior year of college? Now that I’ve finally adjusted to being in college, I’m nearly finished. Which really freaks me out. I’ve finally made it through most of my CORE classes (LUC’s fancy way to structure “gen eds”) and nearly all my classes pertain to my major (and I’m still adjusting to even having a major). I’m at a point in my life where I thought I’d have things pretty well figured out. As it turns out I’m not quite there yet. But I’m adjusting.

We’re already halfway through the semester, but I’m still working on adjusting to doing college in the US again, living in a real Chicago apartment, and being half way through my college career.

I’ll let you know if I ever actually adjust.

Why Your Next Semester Should be at the JFRC

Why Your Next Semester Should be at the JFRC

They say a semester abroad will change your life. They say it will be an unforgettable experience where you learn so much about yourself and the world around you. They say your mind will be opened to new ideas, cultures, and people. Well, after my semester in Rome I would have to say that I agree with all of “them”. Spending my spring semester at the the John Felice Rome Center was the best decision I’ve made in my college career, and I think it very well could be the best one you’ll make too.

Here’s why you want to become a JFRC alum…

  1. The JFRC is as much Loyola’s campus as the Water Tower Campus, so all of your credits transfer and you don’t have to shed an ounce of your Rambler pride.
  2. Living in a building with 200 other students gives you an instant and welcoming community. Plus plenty of travel buddies to choose from.
  3. Pizza. Pasta. Gelato.
  4. No classes on Friday means you always have an extra long weekend for your European travels.
  5. The experienced Student Life Team always has your back–whether that means giving you directions in Rome or figuring out how to order Chinese food in Italian, they’ll help you out.
  6. The Eternal City will offer you (nearly) an eternity of adventures.
  7. You get to learn Italian, a bellissimo language that will help you feel more at home in Italy.
  8. You’ll learn to appreciate the way Italians live life–slow walks, fast espresso, and the most inconsistent bus system I’ve ever seen.
  9. When you get tired of planning trips for yourself, you can sign up for a pre-planned study trip led by the JFRC crew.
  10. You will be changed over the course of the semester, but all for the better.

I’ve only been gone for 2 days and I’m already wishing I was back. So do yourself a favor and give the John Felice Rome Center a chance. Oh and when you get there, have some gelato for me.

Time for a Study Break…or a Trip to Pompeii

Time for a Study Break…or a Trip to Pompeii

Since the beginning of the semester my friends and I have been talking about taking a trip to Pompeii. We talked about going a few different weekends, but we never got ourselves together and made the day trip. Then all of the sudden it was the week before finals and we decided we needed to get our act together and head down the coast to Pompeii.

To get to Pompeii from Rome we took the train from Termini station to Naples where we transferred to a local train that dropped us off just down the street from the city’s ruins. We ended up buying tickets for Pompeii and Herculaneum for 20 Euro—another city that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius’ eruption that we visited later that day.

With help from the guide book I had with me and the brochure provided we gave ourselves a pretty solid tour of the city. Pompeii was a lot bigger than I expected and not covered in ash at all like I thought it might be. The city was set up like a typical ancient Roman town with a large gate at the entrance, a Forum where most of the political, judicial, and religious matters would have taken place, and cobbled streets lined with villas.

Many of the buildings in the city were actually quite well preserved so we got a glimpse of a traditional Roman bathhouse and several villas with beautiful frescoes and mosaics. The Romans were masters of engineering as can be seen in marvels like the Colosseum, but I was just as impressed by the no-slip tiled floors in the bath. And especially impressed by the “fast food restaurants” we saw throughout the town. It was uncommon for Pompeiians to cook lunch at their homes so there were counters set up with spaces for pots to keep warm or cool for people to enjoy quick lunches together during the day.

Pompeii’s most famed remnants are the plaster casts of the people who once lived there. These eerie molds show them in their final moments and left me feeling uneasy. Without these casts it’s easy to imagine that this city just deteriorated over time, but these offer a reminder to the devastating end of this city. Most of the plaster molds are actually in a museum in Naples, which we were unable to visit, but I’m sure it would be worth the trip.

After lunch, we spent the rest of our afternoon in Herculaneum. This smaller town closer to the coast was even more well-preserved than Pompeii. And because it is lesser known there weren’t as many tourists—never a bad thing. If you ever get the chance I would visit both of these cities since they offer different looks into the past.

Even though we were cutting it close to the end of the semester, we managed to sneak this trip in and it worked out as quite the nice study break. I’m still a little taken aback by the fact that a trip to Pompeii could count as a Finals study break. Yea, I don’t mind studying in Rome at all.

JFRC Prom Night

JFRC Prom Night

Well, I suppose the End of Semester Banquet wan’t exactly prom, but close enough. Getting dressed up, posing for pictures, eating a fancy meal, and spending a night out in Roma as one big JFRC community had it feeling just about like my senior prom. Well, besides the fact that my senior prom wasn’t in Italy.

Our “Night Among the Ruins” began with some pictures in the JFRC courtyard before we all hopped onto the coach buses that shuttled us to our dinner destination. We went all the way from the northside of Rome down through the south passed the neighborhood of Testaccio. Our bus ride was accompanied with some good music and a nice little sight-seeing tour of Roma. The restaurant that hosted our banquet had a really nice courtyard area where we had a “cocktail hour” before our meal.

One of the full year students opened up the final festivities with a welcome speech about just how incredible and transformative his experience at the John Felice Rome Center has been for him. Even though I had only a semester, rather than a full year, to enjoy the JFRC I definitely agree with him that this has been a time in my life where I have been “transformed” and will remember this experience for the rest of my life. Then after a few toasts and an opening prayer dinner was served.

Our first course was a pesto rice dish followed by a pasta dish with tomato sauce and bacon–both delicious. We took a break course number two to have an end of the semester awards ceremony. There were 6 students presented with academic awards chosen by their professors as having done outstanding work in those subject areas. The next round of awards were probably everyone’s favorites of the night. All the students nominated each other to win a variety of superlatives. We had categories like Best Roommates, Italy’s Next Top Model, Most Likely to Be an SLA, Best Italian Look, Most Likely to Walk into a Fountain While Texting, and Killin’ the #SelfieGame. I’d say we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well in the last 100 days because everyone definitely deserved their awards.

Students were also recognized for participating in extra-curricular activities and awards were given out to two students for their involvement in volunteer work throughout the semester. While the 2nd round of awards were being handed out we were served course number three–beef and potatoes. Before too long the administration was giving farewell speeches to the 4 Student Life Assistants who will not be returning next semester and we were enjoying one of my favorite Italian desserts, tiramissu. With a few closing toasts and speeches from the faculty another student closed the evening with a speech about her semester. She too talked about how the JFRC has changed her and made her apart of a whole new and awesome community.


We were only here for 100 days, but now Rome feels like home. We were only here for 100 days, but I built friendships that will last a lifetime. We were only here for 100 days, but we have learned more than we could have imagined and transformed in ways we haven’t realized yet. We were only here for 100 days, and these 100 days have been some of my favorite so far.


Finals Week and Final Roman Adventures

Finals Week and Final Roman Adventures

Somehow this semester slipped past me and now here I am trying to write end of the semester papers and study for finals…in Rome. It’s hard enough to push through finals week in Chicago and now I’m finding it even harder here. My classes are starting to feel like actual classes and I have to prepare to fly back to the States in just one week. Where did my semester go?

My course load definitely isn’t as intense as usual because I am taking less credits this semester. The harder part about my finals week is going to be balancing my studies with finishing off my Roman Bucket List. I lucked out with a pretty good finals schedule that should allow me ample time for sight-seeing…assuming of course I get this 2,000 word essay finished.

My friends and I worked out a schedule so that we can make the most of this last week abroad:

THURSDAY: The last day of classes at the JFRC is followed up by the End of Semester Banquet. “A Night Among the Ruins” more lovingly referred to as JFRC Prom, will be the last time that all of the students, faculty, and Student Life Assistants will be together as one big group. We’ll celebrate an absolutely incredible semester with good Italian food, an awards ceremony, and some really great people.

FRIDAY: The JFRC’s Fine Arts Festival begins on Friday. Early in the afternoon students who earned the International Leadership Certificate will give poster presentations to the administration about their leadership experience abroad. At 5 that evening is the JFRC players performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (which I’m in!), using the JFRC’s courtyard as our stage. This performance is followed by an art exhibit from the sculpture class and fiction readings from the writing fiction course.

SATURDAY: Final exams begin! All students will be taking their Italian exams on Saturday and to celebrate crossing final #1 off the agenda my friends and I plan to celebrate by going out to dinner at a Roman restaurant we have yet to visit.

SUNDAY: For a bit of a study break 2 of my friends and I planned a day trip to Pompeii–one Italian destination we had yet to visit. Don’t worry though, we’ll be studying on the train.

MONDAY: It’ll be back to the books for most of us (especially for me as I have 2 tests on Tuesday). So I see potential for a mid-afternoon gelato break. That evening the Fine Arts Festival continues with vocal performances from the voice class and a viewing of the short films created by the film class.

TUESDAY: My last day of testing with finals for my European Novel course and my Italy Culture and Context course. Hopefully there will be time for an afternoon nap to refuel and go on a Roman adventure that evening–I’m thinking about finding a good spot to watch the sunset over the Eternal City.

WEDNESDAY: One of my friends is done early with her finals as well so we’ll spend the day exploring the city. The number one sight on our list is “The Keyhole”–a literal keyhole on a gate that perfectly frames a view of St. Peter’s Basillica.

THURSDAY: By this point hopefully I will have started the expedition that is packing my suitcase for the journey home and making sure my room is all cleaned up before spending one last night in the city. One of our SLAs mapped out a walking tour of Rome (gelato stops included) that hits all of the major sights. So I’ll have a chance to say good-bye to Roma–for now anyway.

Friday morning the entire JFRC has to be cleared out by 10 in the morning and all 235 of us will be on to our next adventures. Some are staying in Europe for another week or so, a few spending most of the summer here, and then there’s those of us (like me) who will be returning to the States. See you in a week, America!

Taking Our Turn With International Leadership

Taking Our Turn With International Leadership

Before I set out for my semester abroad people told me that my experience would be one of the most enriching experiences of my life–and an experience that would look good on a resume. I planned on coming abroad regardless of adding a line to my resume, but when I first got here I wasn’t sure how exactly I could even put my study abroad experience into a few sentences that would get me hired. I didn’t think that “Studied in Rome and had the time of her life” would translate quite how I wanted it to. But the John Felice Rome Center had my back this semester and thanks to a new program I easily earned a certificate that allows me to put “Study Abroad” on my resume that says more than “I experienced Italy for 4 months”.

This semester Student Life Assistant Jessica and the JFRC’s Director Emilio Iodice put into place the JFRC Student Life Leadership Certificate. The goal of this certificate was to offer students something tangible to market their study abroad experience with by participating in activities and organizations they would have been involved in regardless. To earn the certificate students had to complete 4 of the following: Enroll in Emilio Iodice’s leadership course, be a member of Student Activities Committee and organize or lead an event, participate in calcio as a captain or commissioner, go on the WWII study trip, write a reflection paper in any format (as in this blog post!), volunteer at panini distribution or the Ronald McDonald House, or attend two of the four monthly leadership workshops. Then at the end of the semester (this coming Friday, actually) students will give poster presentations reflecting on their leadership experiences from the semester.

This certificate has enriched my study abroad experience by allowing me to market the past four months of my life in a positive way to future employers, so that they know I did more than prance around Europe seeing sights and eating good food. All of the programs and clubs that counted towards my certificate are things I would’ve been involved in anyway this semester. And now I’ve got proof that I was enriched as a person and of course as a leader this semester.

“Global Leadership” is an intimidating term that I’ve heard tossed around here and there, but now I’ve realized that this term is much more accessible than I thought. My time here has shown me that a good leader is a good leader no matter where in the world they are. And when you become a “Global Leader” you are certainly more aware of the world and more willing to adapt yourself to someone else’s culture in order to lead to the best of their ability. I don’t think I could pinpoint all the ways I’ve been changed this semester, but when I get home I know it will be obvious to others and myself that my time abroad impacted my life in positive ways.

Discovering Roma: the Neighborhood of Testaccio

Discovering Roma: the Neighborhood of Testaccio

I’ve been calling Rome “home” since January, but there is still so much of this city that I have yet to explore. Before this month is over my friends and I will be checking out the lesser known neighborhoods of the city. Who knew there was more here than the Colosseum?…Only kidding.

For our Italian class we had to visit a neighborhood in the city and then give a presentation about our experience to the class (all in italiano of course). So on Wednesday morning a friend and I headed to the southern part of the city to do some exploring in the neighborhood of Testaccio. I’ve been here briefly during the Food Truck Festival I took my family to last week, but this time around we just needed to explore.

One of the first sights we saw in the neighborhood was a pyramid. After conquering Egypt the Romans had quite a love for Egyptian architecture, so though it seems out of place this Egyptian touch wasn’t a huge surprise. This pyramid is a funerary monument dedicated to a member of the College of  Septemviri, who died somewhere around 12 BC. We walked down the street a ways and found the Piazza Testaccio, a really beautiful square that was especially clean for Rome and then continued on our adventure.

The best thing we stumbled across all morning was the Mercato Testaccio. This market was very similar to the Mercato Trionfale I visited a little while ago, but I enjoyed Testaccio’s more. It was a bit smaller, calmer, and cleaner than Trionfale’s and would definitely be worth a second visit. This neighborhood would be considered on of the more “hipster” neighborhoods in Rome so many of the stalls sold goods that are pretty trendy–as in gluten free pasta and  a juice bar.

Part of our project included interviewing someone that worked in the neighborhood. We pulled up a chair at the juice bar and talked with a girl named Anna (who made us some delicious juice). Anna told us how she was born in Rome, but her father is of Sicilian descent. She’s been working at the juice bar for a few months because a friend of hers owns it, but her real passion in life is studying monkeys. She actually has a doctorate in biology and hopes to continue researching monkeys again soon. Anna is one of the nicest people I’ve met in Rome–she even offered us some travel advice as we finish out our semester abroad. I wouldn’t be surprised if we meet her again soon because that juice was really, really good.

We did a little more exploring in the neighborhood to see what is left of the stockyards that used to be very important for this area as well as Monte Testaccio. Monte Testaccio is essentially an ancient Roman dump that consists of rubble from broken oil lamps. We only caught a glimpse of this hill from the street, but I’m sure a more in depth tour would be really interesting.

I’m grateful this Italian project got us out of the JFRC’s campus and into a really cool neighborhood for the day. Next week, project or not, I’ll have to keep up these Roman neighborhood adventures.

A Sicilian Easter Weekend

A Sicilian Easter Weekend

Easter has always been a holiday I celebrated with big family meals, Easter egg hunts, and attending church, so I knew this year it would be hard to celebrate this holiday away from home. Because my friends and I were all in the same home-sick boat we did our best to make our most of Easter in Italy by taking a little beach vacation to Sicily (the island the boot of Italy is kicking).

As soon as we landed I could tell we picked the perfect spot for our long weekend. Sicily is filled with all sorts of cliffs, hills, mountains and of course the beach. The coastline was absolutely beautiful and the Mediterranean was an incredible blue and turquoise.

The AirBnB we rented for the weekend was in the town of Mondello–a tiny beach town just north of Palermo. The apartment was just around the corner from the center of town, 3 blocks from the water, and had a view of the sea from the bedroom. Yea, it wasn’t too bad.

We ate lunch at a pizzeria just off the boardwalk and we were proud to say that we could definitely taste a difference between the Roman pizza we’re used to and the Sicilian pizza (I like Sicilian better). Then after a quick afternoon nap we laid on the beach until the sun sunk below the hills. We did a little grocery shopping at the alimentari for snacks and ingredients to make our own Easter dinner on Sunday. We ate dinner next door to the pizzeria we were at for lunch. My friends enjoyed some fresh seafood pasta, while I opted for pizza again. The rest of our evening was spent playing card games in our apartment.

After sleeping in on Sunday morning we inspected the goodies the Easter bunny left us (thanks for sending us sweets Mom and Dad!), put on our swimsuits (even if it wasn’t quite warm enough to swim) and made our way down to the beach. We laid in the sun for the next few hours, managed to get a little sun burnt, then ate some gelato.

We decided that the best way to make it feel like a holiday was to cook dinner ourselves. It wasn’t the ham and potatoes I usually get at home, but we cooked up some pretty good (and authentic) pasta. I think we pulled off a pretty good holiday weekend for ourselves. I was grateful to be in place where the only thing I wanted to see was the beach, rather than a bunch of museums and monuments.

Sicily on Easter made for one Buona Pasqua!

Holy Week, The Family, The Eternal City

Holy Week, The Family, The Eternal City

This year during Holy Week, my family has been blessed beyond belief with one incredible week together in the Eternal City. I’ve been awfully spoiled this semester by not only having my grandparents come to visit in February, but now my parents and brother as well. …And don’t worry our family selfie skills are improving.

SUNDAY. My family arrived to the Zone Hotel a little before noon on Sunday. I was greeted with big hugs, a bit of a jet-lagged haze, and some home-made chocolate chip cookies. After a quick campus tour and some pizza, I dragged the 3 of them downtown for what turned into a bigger adventure than it should have been. Rome was hosting a street food truck festival that I figured would be a lot of fun–and I’m sure it would have been if your company wasn’t running on no sleep after an overseas flight. I couldn’t have been happier to be with my family again, but let’s just say it was a relief to get them off to bed early so they’d be able to enjoy Rome a little better on Monday.

MONDAY. Because my family came to visit the city that doubles as the capital of Catholicism during Holy Week we strategized our tourist-ing to avoid the crowds as best we could. We planned our trip to the Vatican early in the week in hopes of avoiding the masses that would be around that weekend and we actually pulled it off quite well. Thanks to an early start that morning the line for St. Peter’s Basilica was the shortest I’d ever seen it, this left us enough time to see the cathedral and climb the dome. To avoid even more tourist lines we booked tickets for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel online and were able to walk right in and take our time seeing everything we wanted to. Though the Vatican City is the smallest country in the world it certainly houses some of the most incredible art and architecture I’ve ever seen.

TUESDAY. To make sure they saw all of the Roman essentials, Tuesday became Palatine Hill/Roman Forum/Colosseum/Trevi Fountain Day and it actually worked out pretty well. With guidebook in hand we tackled Palatine Hill first and since that’s usually everyone’s last stop we were just about the only people there. The Roman Forum was a little more crowded, but definitely still enjoyable. I had to come back to campus for class that afternoon, but my family managed to tour the Colosseum, eat gelato, find the Trevi Fountain, and successfully take Roman buses back to the hotel before I came to meet them that evening. Pretty impressive for a bunch of tourists.

WEDNESDAY. We slowed down our fast-paced week a bit on Wednesday with a picnic in Villa Borghese, preceded by a wander through the park of course. I had to set them loose again that afternoon while I went to class and they checked out the Spanish Steps. That evening my family came to the JFRC’s calcio games to be Forza Giallo’s biggest fans–they managed to cheer us on to our 1st victory of the season!

THURSDAY. Thursday evening we did a little exploring in some of my favorite Roman neighborhoods. After getting off the bus at Piazza Cavour we made our way across the Tiber to the Pantheon–I’d seen this at night before, but we were able to go inside and the architecture of the dome blew me away. Just down the street from there is Piazza Navona, which was buzzing with a really fun atmosphere at that time in the evening. We made our way over to Campo de’ Fiori (after stopping for some gelato) then wandered the streets before dinner. We ate at the infamous “Pear Pasta” restaurant, a perfect way to end our night out on the town.

FRIDAY. We spent our last day in the city visiting a few other Roman classics. We saw the Baths of Diocletian, which is now actually a basilica designed by Michelangelo that stands where these Roman baths would have been. Then made our way outside of the old city walls to tour the Catacombs of Priscilla. Catacombs were high on my list of things to see before I leave Rome and I’m glad we all got to see them together–pretty creepy, but very interesting.

I am beyond thrilled I had the opportunity to show my family around the city I’ve been calling home for the last few months. I’ve definitely missed them, but before they know it I’ll be home with them in The States again!

Why Villa Borghese Should be at the Top of Your “To See in Roma” List

Why Villa Borghese Should be at the Top of Your “To See in Roma” List

The largest park in Roma has recently become one of my most visited attractions in the Eternal City–and with good reason. In my 4 recent visits to Villa Borghese I’ve managed to see something entirely new each time. This park was made for wandering and each time you visit you’re bound to find a new adventure. Here’s a few things I hope you stumble upon that during a Villa Borghese “wander”–

  1.  A romantic row-boat date. Last weekend one of my friends and I stumbled across a pond where you can rent row boats (only 3 Euros for 20 minutes). We were laughing at how ridiculously romantic our girl-friend date turned out, but it was a lot of fun.
  2. A visit to the Modern Art Museum. I’ve only walked passed this one, but it is a huge building that I’m sure houses an incredible collection.
  3. A bike ride. On nearly every street you can find a bike rental stand with all kinds of options. The next time I visit you’ll probably find me on the 4 person bike that looks more like a golf cart. (No worries though, they do have regular bikes as well.)
  4. A visit to the Galleria Borghese. You’ve got to be sure to check out the actual Villa that started it all. Built in order to show off a bit and allow people in the community a space to appreciate fine arts, this beautiful building is worth checking out. (If you do plan to visit you’ve got to book tickets ahead of time.)
  5. A stop at the zoo (or the dog park). Roma’s zoo finds its home in Villa Borghese, but when you’re on a college student budget the dog park on the hill below can be just as satisfying. Both good finds, but the type of animals you spend your afternoon with are up to you.
  6. A panoramic view of Rome. Just above Piazza del Popolo (also worth checking out) is an incredible overlook of the city. Straight ahead you can see Vatican City, off to the far left is the Victor Emmanuel Monument, plus the rest of Rome in between. One of the most breathtaking views of Rome I’ve seen thus far.
  7. A perfect afternoon picnic. My family and I planned ahead for lunch in the park and stopped at an “alimentari” where we had fresh sandwiches made. This made for an awesome lunch, on a shady bench, later that afternoon.

These are just a few adventures you might have in this magical park–now it’s up to you to come visit and have your own Villa Borghese experience.