Coming Together for the JFRC’s Inter Religious Week

Coming Together for the JFRC’s Inter Religious Week

This week, the John Felice Rome Center focused on “joining hands for a world of peace, liberty, social justice, and moral value”. And I don’t think there could’ve been a better theme for the week as spring sets in and we all look towards a season of new beginnings (and warm weather of course).

Inter Religious week’s festivities began with a guest lecture by Dr. Janis Fine on the importance of interfaith dialogue. Dr. Fine traveled all the way from Chicago to Rome to lead several events throughout the week. On Monday evening the Student Activities Committee organized a Silent Auction for goods and services provided by students and staff of the JFRC. All of the proceeds from the auction went to support the Jesuit Refugee Services and Relay for Life. The most popular items of the night included a variety of baked goods, a private tour of the Vatican Gardens, and because our campus raised over 1,000 euros Student Life Assistant Mitch had to shave his head… and his beard.

Tuesday evening an Interfaith Dialogue was led by women of the Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish faiths. The dialogue centered on the role women play in each of these religions and was followed by an interfaith prayer service. Wednesday morning a group of students was able to tour the only mosque in Rome, which allowed them a deeper look into the Islamic faith. On Thursday evening Dr. Fine led the students once again in a traditional Passover Seder and Festive meal. Students learned the history of Jewish slavery to freedom while they shared this symbolic meal and reflected on themes of freedom and the blessing of abundance as they see it in their lives.

One of the most exciting opportunities Inter Religious week offers is the Friday day trip to the Jewish Ghetto and Synagogue. Unfortunately, I personally did not attend, but I’ve heard nothing but high praises from those who went. Dr. Fine led the trip which began with historical readings about Jewish suppression along the banks of the Tiber River. The group was then able to tour the Jewish synagogue and a museum as they dove deeper into the practice of Judaism. One big highlight of the day was the Kosher lunch they shared together in the Jewish Ghetto, which my friends said was absolutely incredible.

Although I was unable to attend all the events this week had to offer, I think it was successful in conveying messages of cooperation and peace among those who may hold different beliefs than us. And I definitely think that this message is especially important for all of us studying abroad. As we travel from country to country this semester and experience a multitude of different cultures a willingness to learn about and respect other peoples is of utmost importance.

The Mercatos of Roma

The Mercatos of Roma

This past weekend was the first one in quite a while that I’ve had free time to explore Rome. My friends and I have had the opportunity to experience cities all over Europe, but hardly anytime to explore the city we’ve been calling home. And these new explorations had me falling in love with Rome all over again. Now our last month and half will be dedicated to Roman explorations–we started off well this week by visiting 2 popular mercatos (markets) of Rome.

Without any classes on Friday, a friend and I made use of our morning and visited the Mercato Trionfale. This indoor market feels almost like a shopping mall due to its size–as it is the largest market in Rome, but the stalls filled with an array of produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, spices, and various odds and ends tell you otherwise. Our visit was mostly just to browse, but we ended up buying a few things. My favorite purchase was the box of fresh strawberries I bought for 1 Euro and 50 cents. Although the bombas (filled doughnuts, one cream and one chocolate) I had made for tough competition.

We browsed in mostly the bakery and produce aisles, but the market had plenty of butcheries as well as a seafood section. We also stumbled across a party supply store, pet store, a few clothing stores, and a flower shop. Needless to say, nearly anything you need could be found at the Mercato Trionfale–I think it’d be a great spot to grab a picnic before you continue wandering around the Eternal City.

On a whim Saturday afternoon we visited our 2nd mercato of the weekend in Campo de Fiori. This traditional outdoor market is open daily and is one I will likely be making another visit too. I found the atmosphere in this market to be much more “Roman” or at least more along the lines of what I would imagine a Roman market to consist of. The vendors’ tents filled the piazza with a wide range of goods including Italian leather, kitchen utensils, produce, flowers, and piles of pasta. This market has the potential to supply me with several souvenirs to bring home to friends and family.

These mercatos sold many of the same items, but both offer a very different atmosphere. I may prefer Campo’s mercato to Trionfale’s, but those bombas may bring me back to Trionfale anyway.

Spring Break Part 2: Ireland

Spring Break Part 2: Ireland

Jordan and I on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.
Jordan and I on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.

After enjoying Paris and London stop #3 on our spring break journey was County Mayo, Ireland.

My Uncle Eugene put us in the care of his sisters for the weekend, which couldn’t have been more perfect. Deirdre picked us up from the airport then drove us over to Westport, a really lovely little town with some cute shops and of course friendly Irishfolk. She pointed us in the direction of a good Irish restaurant before she went back to work. Jordan and I both had some of the best vegetable soup and brown bread ever before wandering around town. Pretty much as soon as we landed we noticed how much kinder the Irish people we met were than any other place we’d been thus far. We had some pretty long conversations about our travels with a few shopkeepers and even ended up meeting someone from Chicago. The world can be a pretty small place sometimes. Sharon, my uncle’s youngest sister, met us at 4:30 for a little adventure to the coast.

Westport actually runs right into the bay, so our drive on the way to the beach was beautiful. The beach we stopped at is right at the base of Croagh Patrick, a mountain with a church on top that is often visited by pilgrims. You can’t make up something as picturesque as this scene. We only stuck our fingers in the Atlantic and walked up a little hill to the 1st statue of St. Patrick–even with the sun shining it wasn’t an ideal sun-bathing or mountain climbing kind of day.

That morning Sharon drove us all the way out to Galway so that we could get on a tour bus that would take us to the Cliffs of Moher. We made a few stops along the way, including the Ailwee Caves and some other cliffs that weren’t swamped with tourists. We couldn’t have had better weather that afternoon, the sun was shining and the wind was calm. Jordan and I took a seat right on the edge and took it all in. The pictures I took can in no way do the views justice. We spent quite awhile walking around the edge just in awe of these magnificent Cliffs.

Jordan and the Cliffs of Moher.


Getting out of bed on Saturday morning was pretty painful because I wanted nothing more than to have that bed shipped right over to Rome, but our tour guide Deirdre had to keep us on schedule! We spent the morning visiting family and shortly after 1 we boarded the train to Dublin.

The 3 hour trainride to Dublin passed quickly and when we arrived we took one train to another that brought us out to Killbarack where our AirBnB was for the weekend. We ended up at a pub in Howth that evening, where we enjoyed another round of pub food and some Gaellic football.

We spent all of Sunday exploring as much of Dublin as we could in a day. Our first stop was a visit to the beautiful campus of Trinity College, followed by hot chocolate, and a tour of Dublin Castle. Our next stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is similar to the gothic style of Notre Dame. We spent the rest of our afternoon in museums. We enjoyed our last round of pub food–which we certainly had our fill of over break, but one last shepard’s pie didn’t hurt.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


Monday morning we flew out of Dublin at 6 AM, which brought our spring break to a bitter sweet end. This was by far my favorite trip of the semester, but travelling for 10 days straight kind of wears you out, so my bunk bed back at the JFRC wasn’t an unwelcome sight afterall.

Spring Break Part 1: Paris and London

Spring Break Part 1: Paris and London

With Europe at our finger tips, the students of the John Felice Rome Center spread across the continent and beyond during our 10 day spring break. Students had the option to join JFRC staff on a study trip to the Balkans or Greece and Turkey or embark on individual journeys. I opted to map my own route. I used my European connections to my advantage, having the opportunity to stay with family friends in London and Ireland.

My friend Jordan and I spent our first weekend in Paris, where we met two friends that are studying in Madrid. We stayed in the St. Germain neighborhood which allowed us to walk to all the major sights of the city. We made our way to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees. And might’ve accidentally stopped for crepes twice–when in Paris, right? That night we made our way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The “City of Light” is magical from that high up and certainly lived up to its nickname.

Saturday we aimed to see as much of the city as we possibly could. The Louvre was our 1st stop which helped us beat the crowds and allowed us to get nice and close to the tiny portrait of Mona Lisa and other iconic artwork throughout the museum. Then we walked along the river until we reached the island of the Seine river that Notre Dame calls home. The rest of our afternoon involved a stroll though the Latin Quarter (plus macaroons), lounging in Luxembourg Gardens (plus crepes), and a visit to the Musee D’Orsay (no snacks here, but involved an impressionist feast for the eyes). Our super touristy day ended with full stomachs and happy hearts.

Sunday brought us on a journey to the Palace of Versailles. Where, after our tour of the palace, we got to soak up the sun by the lake before returning to Paris for a double crepe dinner (that brings the crepe count to 6 in 3 days). Although I could’ve stayed in Paris for the next month, it was time for us to head off to city #2 and experience London for a few days.

We kicked off our visit to London by eating lunch at a Mexican restaurant (one type of cuisine Rome just doesn’t have) then taking a lap around part of the city center. We passed by the London Tower, crossed over the Tower Bridge, stopped for tea and brownies at the Borough Market, took a bow by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and made it back over to the tube by way of the Millennium Bridge. Since we stayed with a family friend of mine she gave us a pub recommendation near her flat. Eating shepard’s pie and “bangers and mash” was the 1st time we felt like true Londoners.

Tuesday brought us on a walking tour of the city center past Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, and a pit stop in the British Museum. Since we packed seeing the majority of the city into one day our evening tickets to see Les Miserables gave us the perfect excuse to sit for 3 hours. After such a full day on Tuesday we decided to take things a little slower on Wednesday and took a day trip to Oxford. We wandered around the town and the campus for most of the day gaping at the beautiful architecture before enjoying yet another dinner of pub-style food.

Both of us absolutely loved our time in Paris and London, but our spring break adventure continued in Ireland that weekend.

Planning & Packing for Spring Break Abroad

Planning & Packing for Spring Break Abroad

Last year for spring break a friend and I visited her grandma in Denver, Colorado. I thought packing and planning for a week across the country was overwhelming. This year though, I’m learning how much of a breeze that trip was compared to the 3 country journey I have planned this year.

In the next 10 days my friend Jordan and I will be traveling from Paris to London to Ireland. During our weekend in Paris we’ll be staying in an “AirBnB”—a company that allows people to rent out a house or apartment for a few days—that is near the city center. We’ll be sharing the apartment with two friends who are studying abroad in Spain this semester. Our to-do list in Paris includes all of the essentials: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre, and Versailles. Plus some extras: the Luxemburg Gardens, the Musee D’Orsay, and catching a glimpse of Fashion Week. Fingers crossed we find time to do it all before we fly out to London on Monday morning.

In London we will be staying with a close friend of my aunt who lives just outside the city–so we’ll become experts of “the tube”. Our London to do list is a little more easy-going than in Paris. I think most of what we see will depend on whether or not it’s free and how long the lines are. The one thing we purchased ahead of time are tickets to see Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theater. A show that I absolutely love and cannot wait to see on such a big stage. I’m also thinking that it won’t be such a bad thing to speak English again.

The 4 days we spend in Ireland are going to allow us to tour the countryside and the city of Dublin. My uncle’s family still lives in Ireland and are graciously hosting Jordan and I for 2 nights. They live in County Mayo and are helping us organize a bus trip to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, are taking us to Westport, and potentially a castle. I am beyond excited for this tour of the Irish countryside. Our spring break trip will be wrapped up in Dublin where we will be staying in another AirBnB just outside the city. In Dublin I’m hoping for some authentic Irish music and a bit of relaxing before we head back to Rome.

Packing for this trip has been an adventure in itself. I’ve managed to fit all of my things into the “backpackers backpack” I brought with me—with the help of a space bag. I’ll have to wear some outfits twice and deal with limited options, but I think what I’ve packed will be versatile enough for the weather—that will hopefully be staying between the 50s and 60s.

Now that we have just about everything squared away I think I’m ready to embark on this spring break adventure. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be a trip that I take with me for a lifetime.

A Weekend in the Homeland, Ja!

A Weekend in the Homeland, Ja!

My Swedish heritage has always been a big part of my life thanks to my grandparents, who are both proud of where their ancestors came from. I’ve eaten plenty of Swedish meatballs (and Swedish Fish), taken many visits to a local Swedish settlement, and have always wanted to visit “the Homeland”. Over the years my family has done some extensive genealogy research. Extensive enough to find relatives who still live in Sweden. I got really excited when my grandma talked about our Swedish cousins–which is definitely great–I just didn’t realize that our relation goes back about 5 generations. But family is family! Over the last 10 years my family has been getting to know our cousins on the other side of the pond and have both visited in our respective countries. I planned to visit them at some point during my time abroad and when my grandparents  planned a trip to Rome they went ahead and added a weekend trip to Sweden for us and one of my friends.

Friday morning we set out for Sweden. As soon as we landed I could tell how relieved my grandpa was to be out of the city and back in a country he understood a little better. After we finally found our hotel just south of Stockhom, we went to visit my grandpa’s cousins Rolf, Brigitta, and Elizabeth. Even though we were nearly 2 hours late thanks to traffic, they welcomed us in for coffee and desserts. The dessert was delicious and I really enjoyed their company–especially Elizabeth’s who at 96 baked us a cake, still lives on her own, and said her English was no good, but she actually spoke quite well and is leagues ahead of my Swedish.

Dinner that evening was hosted by my grandma’s cousin Martin and his wife Anna. They prepared a Swedish feast for us. And after eating huge amounts of pizza and pasta this semester the meat and potatoes on the stove were an enormously welcome sight. Before serving us, Martin joked with us that we weren’t eating Rudolph, but one of his relatives…as in reindeer stew. I was a little hesitant, but Rudolph was absolutely delicious. We enjoyed a traditional Swedish dessert of ostakaka, which you might compare to cheesecake or custard, but you’ve got to eat it with lingonberries of course.

Saturday morning we left for my Grandpa’s cousins’ farm near Vastervik. We spent the afternoon visiting and relaxing (and of course eating more good food). My cousin Tonja took Jordan and I on walk around the farm, we got to pet her horses and enjoy some fresh (cold) air. That evening a few more of my Grandpa’s cousins joined us for dinner. To keep in our theme of not-so-typical meat, moose was on the menu and it was really tasty. Elsie (another Swedish cousin) made a cake for dessert and even though she didn’t speak English she talked my friend and I into at least 3 pieces. We talked and ate for hours, and even had a little concert partway through performed by cousin Peter and Jordan.

Sunday the girls went into the bayside town of Vastervik to do a little shopping and the boys went to the forest. I really enjoyed wandering through the town and getting to touch the Baltic Sea, even on this chilly day. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more relaxing weekend, which was the perfect mid-terms week prep. I loved seeing my grandparents so happy to be with family and in country that is their home away from home. Sverigie has a way of making you feel extra valkommen, ja?


Grandma and Grandpa Swanson do Roma

Grandma and Grandpa Swanson do Roma

For the past week I’ve been playing the part of “Roman Tour Guide”. I think I’ve done a fair job, but my grandparents are convinced that they’ve got the best tour guide in the Eternal City—let’s just say I’ve got the best people following me around.

Seeing the two of them at the Zone Hotel last Friday has been one of my favorite sights I’ve seen in Rome so far—along with the chocolate chip cookies my mom sent from home. Our 1st Roman sight was the John Felice Rome Center Campus, I introduced Grandpa and Grandma to a few friends, let them take some embarrassing pictures and then we went on our way to Villa Borghese. I hadn’t realized how huge this garden were, so after a short walk we sat and soaked up the sun–which they had been sorely missing in the mid-western winter. Dinner that evening was at a restaurant on the other side of this neighborhood where my grandparents enjoyed some authentic Italian cuisine. Bruschetta and pasta all around made for some happy and quite exhausted travelers.

Saturday morning we made our way to the Vatican. Our plan was to visit the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel first, but the line was miles long, so we decided we would come back a different day after purchasing tickets ahead of time. The line for St. Peter’s Basilica was almost as long, this line though is unavoidable so we went ahead and waited. The church was absolutely stunning and incredibly ornate, so we took our time taking it all in.

We had a pretty relaxing Sunday, so Monday we took on the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Purchasing tickets ahead of time helped us skip the lines at the Colosseum and gave us lots of time to explore. This ancient amphitheater will never cease to amaze me, especially when imagining it covered in marble–this was one of my grandma’s favorite sights. We also really loved exploring the Roman Forum, which also has too many ruins to take in.

Although we ate well all week, our best meal was on Tuesday when we ate at Osteria dell’Anima. Infamously named “Pear Pasta” by the folks at JFRC, this restaurant is famous for it’s stuffed pear and cheese pasta that is served with a carrot cream sauce–benissimo. Wednesday my grandparents got more of an on-campus experience by attending my monologue performance and then going to the calcio games. Team Giallo couldn’t manage a win, but it was quite the game and my grandparents were great cheerleaders.

We ended our Roman week with a trip to Sweden, which definitely helped my grandparents unwind after their hectic week. I am beyond grateful to have spent the week with two of my favorite people. And even though I made them walk “1,000 miles” I think they still had a good trip.


Taking the Stage–Roman Style

Taking the Stage–Roman Style

Well, at least taking a stage that happens to be in Rome.

This semester a class of about 20 JFRC students (including myself) have decided to “take the stage” and learn a thing or two about the world of theater. Beginning Acting is taught by professor Eric Nicholson who is no stranger to the drama department and is thankfully sharing his wisdom with us. So far we’re a few masks short of a Commedie dell’Arte troupe, but with mid-term monologue performances underway I see some casting calls in our futures.

From 2-5 PM on Wednesdays our class meets in a conference room on campus. The first half of our time together looks pretty typical. We’re assigned readings weekly both from Audition by Shurtleff, which covers the “guideposts”of acting, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream . After in depth class discussions on our reading material we break for about 20 minutes then reassemble for our not-so-typical half of class. This is when we get to put what we learn into practice via lots and lots of improv games.

The 1st time Professor Nicholson tried to talk us into these activities we were pretty hesitant, but the timidness wore off quickly. Sometimes I wonder what other people think when they walk past our classroom only to hear utter chaos coming from inside. Spontaneity is highly encouraged and always helps our “mini performances” turn out better. These games allow us to perform as all different kinds of characters, from high and mighty to meek and nervous–often times switching roles at the drop of a hat. Looking and feeling ridiculous probably means we’re doing it right.

And what would a theater class be without a performance or two? Though there was a small written portion to our mid-term exam, the majority of our grade will come from a monologue performance. We were all allowed to choose one or two monologues of our choice from a play, movie, musical, or even an SNL skit. Some of us have chosen to perform two monologues from differing genres, the other option being one monologue that’s a bit longer. I decided to go with a classic, comedic monologue–Viola’s monologue from Twelfth Night–and a contemporary, dramatic monologue–Sarah’s monologue from High and Uptight. My performance went well as far as I can tell and I was happy to have the chance to play two very different characters. I’m sure I couldn’t have pulled it off quite so well without the coaching of my professor and for that I am certainly grateful.

After our midterm performances come to an end our class won’t have seen the end of our time on the stage. Our final for the class is a performance of (you guessed it) A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If all goes according to plan we’ll get to perform in the courtyard of the JFRC during finals week for everyone to come watch. Our monologue performances have been impressive thus far so I’d bet that we’ll have a pretty successful show–especially if Professor Nicholson has anything to do with it.

So here’s to breaking some legs for the rest of the semester! …Or just having a good show.

SAC’s Got Your Back

SAC’s Got Your Back

The Student Activities Committee is the JFRC’s version of ((dop)). But I’d like to think that even without a Jason Derulo concert on our agenda we’ll have just as much fun.

Monday nights the SAC meets for about hour. Really our meetings could be done in about 40 minutes, but we get off on planning tangents pretty easily, which aren’t always productive–but they make for a good meeting. I’ve got to say that this hour of slightly hectic planning with 20 or 30 other JFoRCers is my favorite way to start the week.

This semester we have elected to run without a president so that we can all have a hand at leading the group. Each week, different students lead us through the meetings–with the occasional words of wisdom from Student Life Assistant’s Jessica and Steven, who sponsor SAC. Usually they let us have free reign on how our meetings go, but they’re quick to let us know if what we scheme up is a little bit too far out there.

In just 3 weeks of working together we’ve already pulled off 4 events–a Student Forum, a weekly movie night, a Carnavale themed masquerade dance, and going to a Roma calcio game. We’ve got quite a few other events in the works, our next being a campus wide game of Assassins. Most of our events go on throughout the school week since the majority of students are traveling on the weekends.

SAC’s Carnavale dance ended up being quite a hit–the free food probably boosted our attendance. We transformed our dining hall into the best dance floor we could manage, complete with streamers, loud music, and some impromptu flashing dance lights on the TV screens. As is typical of a Carnavale party we encouraged both masks and costumes. We also enjoyed a few different fried pastries that remind me of “fair food” back home, just a little bit more Italian.

SAC “scored” with a successful trip to the Roma calcio game this week with about 30 JFRC students–we had quite the experience, which you can read about in my other post.

After we cross our Assassins Game off the SAC agenda it’s hard to say what we’ll plan next–maybe Jason Derulo! Or maybe not.

Siamo La Roma

Siamo La Roma

AS Rome vs. Feyenoord Rotterdam 1-1. Great game to watch. Most terrified I’ve been so far while abroad.

The Student Activities Committee helped organize a group of students to go to the AS Roma soccer game on Thursday night. My ticket only set me back 22 euro–in order to encourage more women to come to the games, tickets for women cost 3 euro less than tickets for men, not too shabby. The next best news I had was that the JFRC is actually within walking distance of Stadio Olimpico. The walk wasn’t so bad on the way there because it was entirely downhill–the walk home wasn’t quite as easy.

Our group of almost 30 students had a bit of an issue getting into the stadium once we arrived. Steven, the Student Life Assistant that came with us,  led us towards the gate he usually enters, but we were stopped by the police because a group of Dutch fans were currently entering the stadium…

Side note: These games are nothing like any sporting event I’ve been to in the States. Not only were there city police patroling the outside of the stadium, the military police was there–in full “SWAT team gear”– and stadium security. The biggest difference though is that fans from opposing teams, especially during games of intense rivalries, never cross paths. Huge glass walls and lines of security guards separate the fans from each other and they enter the stadium through different gates. By the way the fans were behaving throughout the game I would say the separation is for good reason. I can’t even imagine what it would of been like had our game not ended in a tie.

…After the Dutch fans made their way in, we kept walking to the next gate. Only to be stopped by the military police who said it wasn’t safe for us to go that way. So we turned around and started heading for gates on the other end of the stadium. We thought we were home free, but before we even made it to the next gate we were stopped by another group of police officers. They turned us back around the way we came, but this time they escorted us past the military police and right up to the gate. After a bit of a scare from a variety of intimidating, Italian police officers it was a huge relief to make it inside and to our seats.

By the time we finally made it into the stadium the game had already started. We were lucky though, because minutes after we sat down Roma scored a goal! By the way the crowd reacted you would of thought we won the World Cup. Everyone (minus the Dutch) was roaring with Roma cheers (and cursing the Dutch). The most dedicated fans behind our goal were swinging flags in the air throughout the entire match. Some set off flares and red and yellow “smoke bombs”. How they got those past security beats me.

The entire game was a lot of back and forth between these two clearly talented teams. The skill level of these players was incredible watch. But I think watching the fans on both sides was just as entertaining. Shortly after half-time, Feyenoord scored and I was sure the Dutch fans would storm the field–somehow they stayed mostly contained. The synchronization of their cheers was amazing, and their intimidation factor even from across the field.

Roma had a few more chances to score before the game was over, but was unable to make it happen. Ending in a tie may have been for the best, for the sake of the livelihood of the fans at least. Although, I am bummed I couldn’t see them win. But hey, I definitely enjoyed the game so maybe I’ll be back before the semester’s over. Siamo la Roma–We are Rome.