Studying Abroad, a True Gift

Back in 2005, as a junior at Beaumont school, my college search began. The thrill of leaving town and exploring on my own for four years crossed my mind, but so did my father's repetitive words: "you can go to Ursuline or John Carroll." I learned early on the importance of compromise. I agreed to go to John Carroll initially for two reasons: it was a great business school and it offered a study abroad program in Rome, Italy. At the time, my older brother, Nick, recently studied abroad in Florence and I knew I too wanted to study in Italy.

I had been blessed to travel to Italy many times as a child and teenager, but living in Italy was an adventure I had always dreamed of. I was curious to learn the beautiful language, experience the country's splendor for an extended amount of time, and, most importantly, enjoy this experience on and as my own. Convincing my dad to let me apply to the John Carroll University at Vatican City program was easy (as most topics involving Italy with him usually are) and, of course, he was familiar with the program and personally knew the director of the program, Dr. Santa Casciani.

In August 2008, I made my way over to Italy with about 20 other students. For the first three weeks of the program, we lived in Castelnuovo, a small town of about 100 people within the province of L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region. Castelnuovo is Santa's hometown and while living there, we stayed at her family's bed and breakfast, La Cabina, while being immersed in the Italian language, which we studied twice a day with Santa and her cousin, Stefania. When we weren't studying the language, we were walking through town, meeting the local residents, enjoying a family-style lunch at Santa's home, hiking through ancient ruins, visiting nearby towns, and always ending our day with an amazing home-cooked meal by friends who became family at La Cabina.

Before I knew it, it was time for us to make our way to Rome where we would live and go to school for the next three months. I lived in an apartment with four other girls in the Borgo District, three blocks from the Vatican walls, and attended Pontificia Universersita Urbaniana, a university whose mission is to train priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay people for service as missionaries.

I studied philosophy, history and religion at Urbaniana and continued to study the Italian language with Stefania in her apartment. I explored Rome, daily, and fell in love with the loud, remarkable and ancient city. My best memories are shopping at the local markets for fresh, fall produce, running along the Tiber River, admiring the spectacular window displays on Via Condotti, enjoying aperitivo, and becoming a regular at my favorite gelatarias, pizzerias and cafes. Living in Rome taught me to appreciate and acknowledge the beauty and perspective of enjoying a day and a city by foot. I will never forget the charm and warmth I experienced in Rome.

While living in Rome, I was less than an hour train ride away from my grandfather's hometown of Torrice. Every couple of weeks, I'd jump on a train and spend a long weekend with my relatives. These weekends were filled with home-cooked meals, homemade wine, local festivals, more home-cooked meals, and, most importantly, so much love. My Italian relatives completely stuffed the empty space in me that formed while living away from my family in Cleveland. Although I traveled to many beautiful cities like Florence, Sienna, Milan, Sorrento, Positano, and Paris while living in Italy, my most beautiful memories of my travels are from the time spent with my family.

The fall of 2008 was one of the best seasons of my life. I explored an ancient city, made lifelong friends, ate some of the best meals of my life, and lived simply and fully. Rome holds a special place in my heart and every time I return to it, I am reminded how blessed I am to have experienced it. Unfortunately, Castelnuovo suffered severe damage in April 2009 as a result of the earthquake in Italy and I have not yet returned there, but know I will in the future. The ability and opportunity to travel and embrace culture through a study abroad program is a gift. I urge you to accept this gift and share it with loved ones!