Florence is my Valentine

Florence is my Valentine

Making last minute plans with two of my girlfriends to spend Valentine’s weekend in Florence turned into one of my favorite trips so far.

Our journey started at 5:30 AM Saturday morning and we arrived in Florence around noon. We went straight to the Accamedia Galleria where Michelangelo’s David statue stands. As we expected there was a huge line into the museum, so we ended up waiting for our Valentine’s date with David for almost 2 hours. He was worth the wait. Standing at an impressive 17 feet, this biblical character is depicted beautifully.  The details and life-likeness blew my mind, Michelangelo knew what he was doing. The rest of this Galleria housed Renaissance and Medieval style works. Many of them featured the Virgin Mary, Christ, or other scenes from Christianity.

A much needed lunch stop was next on our agenda. We refueled with some pizza at a small cafe, then headed to our hotel to drop off our things. Where we stayed was steps away from The Duomo so we made climbing to the top our next mission. And I’m sad to admit that this mission was unsuccessful. We waited in line for 45 minutes only to get inside and realize that to enter you have to purchase tickets at a different location. Embarrassed, we circled the building to find the ticket line. That line would have taken over an hour to wait in, then we’d have to get back in the other line, and then climb to the top of the Duomo…We had to cross this sight off our list.

To lift our spirits we went to Vivoli Gelateria–the best gelato we’ve had, and then hiked up to Michelangelo’s Piazza. This hilltop piazza offers an incredible view of the whole city and was completely worth the trek. After taking in the scenery we made our way back across the river for dinner. Thanks to a guide book tip, we had a delicious meal at Osteria Dei Benci. This quaint restaurant was not one we would’ve walked into on our own, but turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. The menu was reasonably priced so we treated ourselves to appetizers and dessert. It was the perfect way to end Valentine’s Day.

Sunday morning brought us to the Uffizi Galleria. To make our early afternoon train we allotted ourselves 2 hours in the museum, but we could’ve easily spent more than 3. The most famous painting in the gallery is The Birth of Venus, which I was thrilled to see in person. Overall, the museum was beautiful, and would be worth a 2nd visit. We took one last walk by the river before boarding our train for Rome. Florence stole my heart–I couldn’t have asked for a better Valentine’s Day.

Making the Pope Proud: Panini Distribution at the Vatican

Making the Pope Proud: Panini Distribution at the Vatican

Every Friday night at 8pm in the lobby of the John Felice Rome Center a group of about 20 students meet Student Life Assistant Pedro for panini distribution. We head over to Vatican City and distribute food to the homeless. For the last two weeks I’ve tagged along and have loved participating in this JFRC tradition.

The men who started this distribution have been doing so faithfully for about 50 years. And there’s no doubt in my mind that they enjoy it just as much now as they did when they started.

At 9pm a station wagon pulls up filled to the brim with food and supplies. The food is either leftover from bakeries or made by one of the couples who started the group. Unloading their car and setting up takes no time at all thanks to the help offered from friends, other volunteers, and our group of students. A buffet-style assembly line is set up with all sorts of food for the homeless to take away. As they wait in line, everyone is given a sack lunch (where the actual paninis come in). Then they are offered all sorts of pastas, some vegetables, meat, bags of fruit, a variety of baked goods, and hot drinks. With so much food to offer there is often leftovers which are left near where we set up.

Last Friday I was on pasta scooping duty and this week I helped serve vegetables and meat. I was happy to have a job where I could have a few conversations or when there was a language barrier at least offer smiles.  Everyone I’ve met so far has been kind and always grateful. I’m learning that there are few things as rewarding as making someone’s day better by providing them with something so simple.

After everything has been packed back up into the station wagon, Pedro has our group participate in a reflection. We sit among the columns of the Vatican and Pedro leads us in various forms of Ignation prayer or reflection. Taking the time to think about the significance of what we helped with is a great way to process the experience.

It’s safe to say that feeding the homeless is a good thing to do, but taking a time out and relating that experience to your faith and study abroad experience overall shines a different light on the situation. A light that makes you realize the significance of volunteering your time. And to me has made it all the more worthwhile.

The Caves and Cathedral of Orvieto

The Caves and Cathedral of Orvieto

On a cold and rainy Saturday morning a group of my friends and I headed to the medieval town of Orvieto for a day trip in the Italian countryside. Orvieto sits atop a hill about an hour and 15 minutes away from Rome and was absolutely beautiful.

We arrived just before noon and started wandering around town. The town is surrounded by a wall, which makes for a perfect view of the valley below. In search of lunch, we walked toward the city center to find a restaurant. We ended up eating a really delicious meal at a restaurant we stumbled across on a side street. I had some amazing pesto gnocchi, but there were all kinds of dishes on the menu–including wild boar stew and pasta with rabbit meat, both of which my friends tried.

After lunch our next stop was going to be La Duoma, the cathedral Orvieto is famous for, but we ended up grabbing gelato on the way. This ended up being one of our best calls of the day because the gelato was the best we’ve had in Italy so far. We even considering going back for round 2 before we left.

As we walked up the street to La Duoma my jaw-dropped. One of our Student Life Assistants told us before we left that this is one of the only churches you’ll visit that is more beautiful on the outside than the inside–and he was right. The steeples tower above the town and feature ornate sculptures with colorful and golden details. The sides of the building are gray bricks in a striped pattern, which was really unique. We only caught a glimpse of the inside because it was closing. Not as magnificent as the outside, but still a pretty.

Even though we arrived too late for a tour of the inside of La Duoma and the museum, we made it just in time for the “Underground Orvieto Tour”. For only 5 euro we were given a guided tour of 2 of the caves that are underneath Orvieto. The man made caves that are under this city date back to the Etruscan Age, but were mostly used during the Medieval Age. Our tour guide told us that there are so many caves under the city that every 3rd step you take is above a cave. The vast majority of these caves were built privately by the families who owned the houses above them. There would be a staircase from within the home down to the cave. Each cave was designed with the specific needs of the family in mind. Many of them were used as work spaces because the town was too crowded otherwise. The caves we went into were outfitted as an olive oil mill and a pigeon house. I found them really interesting and was thankful to get out of the cold wind for awhile.

That evening we walked back through the center of town and did a little shopping. We grabbed some calzones before heading back to the train station for our quick ride back to Rome. Orvieto is a beautiful city that I would definitely visit again–preferably on a day with nicer weather.

Blessed: The Papal Audience

Blessed: The Papal Audience

Once every semester the John Felice Rome Center cancels Wednesday classes so that students can attend a Papal Audience. Each week that the Pope is in Rome he greets a crowd at the Vatican. The program consists of small readings and teachings from the bible, which are translated to several languages, reciting of the Our Father in Latin, an Apostolic Blessing of the crowd, and blessing of any religious articles–such as rosary beads.

The Papal Audience draws a large crowd, so in order to get the best seats we possibly could my friends and I hopped in a cab at 4:30 a.m. There was already a crowd of other Loyola students standing at the gate when we arrived. With no other Romans or tourists in sight. Considering it was a rainy, cold January morning we could have started our trek hours later and still beat the crowds, but it’s all part of the fun, right?

The first few hours were mostly just miserably cold and uneventful. Closer to 8 a.m. the guards opened gate #1 which caused a mad dash to gate #2 where we had to wait for them to file us through a metal detector. The opening of that gate involved a lot of shoving, then a nearly polite single file line through security and another mad dash to the auditorium. Our group was herded into the 3rd section back from the stage, but my friends and I snagged aisle seats–which are the best seats in the house because the aisle is where Pope Francis makes his entrance.

When most of the crowd was seated, some of the cardinals announced large group in attendance according to their country. When Loyola University Chicago was announced our group probably topped the charts in loudest yells. After some more waiting, a band starting playing and I caught my 1st glimpse of Pope Francis making his way down the aisle. The mood of the auditorium changed from exhausted and aggravated to pure joy as soon as he entered the room. When he began his walk everyone around us pushed up to the walls of the aisle and we were left standing on the chairs. I had the perfect view of his procession to the stage, but was just out of reach and couldn’t touch his hand.

The reading and teaching Pope Francis shared with the audience was from Ephesians chapter 6 and centered on the idea of a father’s role in the family. After the Pope shared the message in Italian, a cardinal would read a translation in his respective language. This was followed by the Our Father, which was sung in Latin and then the blessing. Because we were beyond exhausted at this point my friends and I left before Pope Francis blessed the religious articles.

My experience as a whole was a positive one, but certainly different than I had expected. Pope Francis is quite the guy and attending a Papal Audience is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am incredibly grateful for.

It’s All Greek to Me

It’s All Greek to Me

Gyros, baklava, and the Acropolis make for a perfectly Greek weekend. Without anymore JFRC orientation trips, a group of friends and I headed to Athens. It was a quick trip, but completely worth it.

Friday morning we left campus early for the airport, but after boarding our plane was delayed for almost 3 hours because of strong winds. Not the best way to start a trip. I was bummed to arrive in Athens much later than we had planned since we would be there for such a short amount of time. But we put tourist mode on full blast and powered through the weekend.

After dropping off our bags at the AirBnB we rented for the weekend, we went to the Gazi neighborhood in search of dinner. We ended up at a restaurant called Gazi College, hoping for some authentic Greek cuisine. Turns out that even though this restaurant was a pretty popular with Greek college kids, the specialty was American style food. Oops. I ordered the only Greek item on the menu—souvlaki wrapped in a tortilla, which was delicious.

Saturday was our only full day in Athens so we made sure to pack it full of as Greek of an experience as we could find. We hiked up to the Acropolis as soon as it opened. Taking advantage of our “European Student Discount” we got in for free. The hilltop was beautiful and the Parthenon and surrounding ruins were incredible. We spent awhile exploring the Acropolis then working our way down the hill, passing through Ancient Agora and the Theater of Dionysus. The Acropolis Museum greeted us at the bottom of the hill, and housed many of the busts, statues, and pots that were found in the area.

After eating my 1st Greek gyro, we spent our afternoon wandering around the ruins of the Temple of Zeus and the National Gardens. Both of which were really beautiful. We made our way to the center of town and walked through the main shopping district of the city. A big bonus was finding a bakery with baklava, a Greek dessert that I’d never tried, but now I’m hooked. (I had another piece Sunday before lunch).

After a hard day of tourist-ing, we started the search for an authentic Greek dinner spot. We lucked out with a whole in the wall, “mom-and-pop” style restaurant near the Acropolis. The menu was hand written in a notebook, the dishes all mix-matching, and our helpful waitress guided us to some especially tasty appetizers. Our Greek feast started with Greek salad, potatoes, sausage, and baked cheese. We ordered a variety of hearty dishes—fried meatballs, kebabs, and chicken bites (I couldn’t tell you what that all was called in Greek). It was the perfect way to end our hectic day.

Sunday we took things a little slower. We made our way to the Archaeological Museum by 10 and then down to Athens’ flea market by lunch time. Grabbing more gyros to go we had to make our way to the airport early in the afternoon to catch our flight home. Which, thankfully, went off without a hitch.

Even though we got only a glimpse of Greek culture, I really enjoyed my time there. And really hope that I haven’t eaten my last authentic gyro.

Getting Involved While Abroad

Getting Involved While Abroad

When I thought of what I’d be doing on campus while I was studying abroad at the John Felice Rome Center I figured it wouldn’t be much besides studying, eating, and sleeping. I’ve already been proved wrong. The Student Life team at the JFRC has given us the opportunity to be more than involved during our time on campus.

  • Calcio–Probably everyone’s favorite JFRC activity is the campus calcio (soccer) league. For 40 Euros everyone is assigned to a team, given a t-shirt, and on Wednesday nights will take the field for a game. Games start next week and I can’t wait to be a part of this JFRC tradition.
  • Student Activities Committee–Another great way to be involved on this campus is in SAC. This group is similar to what ((dop)) is at LUC. Throughout the course of the semester we will be planning events including: karaoke night, a student forum, a talent show, and the end of semester banquet.
  • Christian Life Communities–CLC’s will meet on a weekly basis and give students the opportunity to share with each other how we are doing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Each group will be a led by a student here and will allow students another chance to build community.
  • Tutoring and Babysitting–Students also have the opportunity to get to know an Italian family in our neighborhood by working as a tutor or babysitter. Tutors will assist in teaching English to kids.
Weekend Numero Uno in the Eternal City

Weekend Numero Uno in the Eternal City

With orientation still underway, the JFRC staff had us in good hands during our first Roman weekend. Massive meals, a visit to the Colosseum, and a day in Lazio’s countryside made the perfect end to week number one, and perfect start to our first week of classes.

Friday night we had the opportunity to partake in a group dinner at a local restaurant of the Balduina neighborhood (the neighborhood that houses our campus). For 25 euros we were served a 4 course meal that lasted nearly 3 hours. As enjoyable as it was, eating itself turned out to be quite exhausting—but completely worth it. In an attempt to walk off our feast, we headed for an overlook of the city. Rome is breathtaking at all times of day, but catching my first glimpse of the Vatican lit up at night was my favorite skyline feature.

On Saturday morning we had our first chance to explore the city center in the daylight with a trip to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Before we headed out, a JFRC professor gave us a lecture about the history of these two magnificent Roman ruins. My knowledge of the Roman Forum was especially lacking, so the lecture was appreciated. Touring the Colosseum was the first time it hit me that I’m in Rome. I loved trying to imagine what this massive amphitheater would have looked like in its most glorious days—covered in marble, filled with a cheering crowd, and gladiators battling lions in the arena.

The Roman Forum was the perfect place to explore ancient Roman ruins. It’s incredible to imagine what a powerful hub the area used to be. The Forum was filled with palaces, arches, a basilica, churches, gardens, and other government buildings that are now crumbling, yet still magnificent. We were there until closing and weren’t able to see the whole thing, but I hope in my time here I’ll get a chance to return and continue exploring.

Sunday morning all 235 JFRC students piled into 4 charter buses that would take us through the Lazio countryside to visit two 16th century villas. Our tour of the Villa Lante focused on its extravagant gardens and fountains. The water all flowed from a nearby natural spring and was able to move throughout the entirety of the garden without any electricity or pumps.

Our next outing was lunch at Parco dei Cimini, which included 3 courses. But perhaps more impressive than our meal were the animals that greeted and entertained us during our lunch. The path into the restaurant was lined with two hawks and two owls—two of which later joined us inside, accompanied by an animal handler of course. Halfway through lunch that same animal handler rode up on a donkey, which a few students then proceeded to ride, because when in Rome! Right?

Villa Farnese was our last stop. The inside of this massive building was covered in beautiful frescos that were all tailored to the (future) Pope Paul III who built it. My favorite room was painted with maps of the world. Of course they were a bit off from how we know the earth to look now—the biggest issue being the lack of Australia, which at the time had not yet been discovered.

Our weekend of further immersion in Italian culture has given me a glimpse at just how spectacular this semester will be.

ROME-ing for the Spring of 2015

ROME-ing for the Spring of 2015

Go forth and set the world on fire” –St. Ignatius of Loyola

As I prepare for a semester abroad at the John Felice Rome Center in–you guessed it– Rome, Italy, St. Ignatius’ words have been on my mind. I think the most important word in this quote is simply “Go”. And thanks to the opportunity Loyola has given me, that’s exactly what I get to do.

I’ve been fortunate enough to take a few short trips to Europe before. Each time falling more in love with the cultures, peoples, and overall European atmosphere. Needless to say, studying abroad has always been a dream of mine and Loyola could not have made the transition from Chicago to Rome any easier. Essentially, I’m going to LUC in Rome–no worries about credits transferring, professors not speaking English, or not seeing familiar faces.

I’m already looking forward to taking afternoon passeggiatas (walks) through our neighborhood, eating authentic pasta dishes, exploring Rome’s historic center, playing in our on-campus calcio (soccer) league, meeting locals, and traveling across the country and the continent. I want to make the most of my Roman experience by immersing myself in the culture. I’ll have to get a little outside my comfort zone and jump in to explore the richness of the Italian culture.

After our study abroad group meeting on Friday afternoon it hit me that this is actually real. In a month and a half I will be flying out of the country to embark on one of the most incredible journeys of my life. At this point I’m feeling a little terrified and a lot excited. I still have a plenty to do before my plane takes off. Next semester, I could very well be writing blog posts in a coffee bar near a piazza instead of my residence hall–I don’t think I’ll mind the change of scenery.


One More Month

One More Month

While looking at my calendar, I saw that I had marked on this day, March 28th, “One month to go :(”.  I can’t believe I only have one month left here in Rome! Time has flown by and I have enjoyed every single minute of my time exploring Europe.

I will be very sad to leave here, as Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center has made a huge impact on my life.  Everyone told me that after this study abroad experience, I would be a whole new person.  I never believed it, but I am starting to see it.  This experience has bettered me and opened my eyes to many things I never knew existed.  I have learned a ton as well as made many new friends thanks to Loyola’s great sense of community at the JFRC.

Although I am sad to leave Europe, I am looking forward to coming home to my family and friends.  Here’s a few things I am excited about.

  1. My mom’s delicious meals: My mom makes the best dinners.  Not only do I miss the food, but I miss sitting with my parents, brother and sister around the dinner table (especially Sundays) all talking and laughing.
  2. My immediate family: As well as my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.  My family is extremely close.  I have 21 cousins and we hang out all the time, especially at my grandparent’s pool in the summer.  I particularly miss my little 2 year old cousin and beautiful godchild, Paylin!
  3. American food and restaurants/not having to pay for water: In Europe, wherever you go, you have to pay for water, and even bread.  I miss going to a restaurant, being able to drink water for free and eat unlimited bread.  Don’t get me wrong, the food here is AMAZING, but it gets a little pricey, and I’m a broke college student.
  4. American stores: European fashion is great and very stylish, but again, it is pricey, and I miss Forever 21 and Target!
  5. My friends: I have five best friends that mean more to me than anything.  We are all very close and have a ton of fun together in whatever we do.  They are the funniest girls I know. Here’s the two friends I’ve known the longest- second grade and then senior year!

It’s crazy that I have one more month here.  No matter how sad I get about leaving, I will be thankful to make it home to everything and everyone I miss!!

Im Tad, Like a Tadpole

Im Tad, Like a Tadpole

In 2009 I started my attendance at Loyola completely unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to help people and I decided I would take advantage of every opportunity that was given to me.

I came to Loyola for a number of reasons, but I stayed after I realized how perfectly the school fit me. To this day I can approach any one of my professors, at almost any time, and ask for help on basically anything. Loyola offered me the college experience that I had never expected.

Since making the decision to come to Loyola my life has completely changed. I have done things that I never would have dreamed of and been involved in opportunities that have opened every possible door for me. Not only was I involved in research my freshman year, I also just got back from 12 weeks in Europe at JFRC (Loyola’s campus in Rome). And this January I am preparing to go to Panama on a dental brigade. And if like that wasn’t enough: I am fully trained as an EMT, I’ m involved in many different student organizations and I volunteer at different places on a weekly basis.

As for majors I started with Biology, like every other person interested in pre-med, and soon after changed everything, and then changed back. After a long process and 5 different changes I am a Biophysics and Biology double major, with minors in Math and Art, on a pre-dental track.

I grew up in Southern California, yes I know, why did I leave? It’s actually a pretty simple answer, Chicago!

Frank Sinatra put it best when he sang “Chicago is my kind of town”. The people are friendly, the sports are awesome, the environment is amazing and I can experience any of it with a simple thirty minute el ride downtown.