The Taste of Independence

September 26th-28th. Weekend in Southern Italy.

We have been in Rome for one month now, and with the passing of every day I am constantly overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude. This past weekend was the first independent trip I took with my roommate Andrea, and all the beauty of Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast surrounded us. We conquered Naples in 3 days and even managed to see the Amalfi Coast and the ruins of Pompeii. The first day we did everything my Italy guidebook told us to, and it was an incredible day. The week before I also asked my Italian professor for the best local places that I wouldn’t find in my guidebook, and she came back to me with a great list of restaurants, cafes, and churches that we couldn’t miss. The highlight of our time in Naples was taking the cable car up the hill to Castel Nuovo and watching the sunset from the top of the castle.

View from Castel Nuovo, Naples

View from Castel Nuovo, Naples

That same evening we went out to dinner at Da Michele, a famous pizzeria in the heart of Naples. Inspired by Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, we tried to reenact some moments she had at the restaurant on camera. It was the best pizza I’ve ever had.

Da Michele. Amazed at how much pizza we were each given!

Da Michele. Amazed at how much pizza we were each given!

The following day was spent on the Amalfi coast and although we were surrounded by lots of other tourists, the sights were stunning. Although it was one of the longest days of my life, we managed to see four cities in ten hours. Again, with the help of my guidebook we hit the highlights and tried to get off the beaten (very touristy) path, and were successful! On Sunday, we ended our trip with a visit to Pompeii. After learning about the ancient city every year in history, it was really amazing to finally see Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii, and to put it all into perspective.

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy

While Andrea and I conquered Southern Italy, the rest of the Rome Start class stayed in Rome but kept busy. Some of the girls went to a wine festival, and some even volunteered to hand out sandwiches Friday night in St. Peter’s Square. The JFRC has some really interesting community service opportunities and I hope to be able to participate in some throughout the semester.

I am grateful for this past weekend, but also for the dozens of other places I’ve seen in this past month. Looking back on my last few months home, I hadn’t even begun to comprehend all that I would experience in the coming year, but I was ready for this challenge and new experience. Classes are in full swing, and everyone is feeling the pressure of exams, etc. We are all trying to plan our weekend trips with such urgency that the calendar seems to be shrinking. Along with all the incredible tastes that Italy has to offer, I have enjoyed the taste of independence the most.

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Papal Audience

Living in the Eternal City has quite a few perks, and one of those “perks” is the ability to stroll down to Vatican City on Wednesday mornings to see our Holy Father, Pope Francis (and maybe get a selfie with him)

On Wednesday September 17th the students of the JFRC could be heard stirring as early as 4 am, in preparation for the downhill walk to Vatican City. The Rome Starters waited a bit longer and began their trek at 6 am, catching a bus down the hill and walking the rest of the way through the gates of the beautiful country.

Anticipation was high and excitement was tangible as we waited for the gates to open! As the hour long wait past, the line grew longer and longer as people from all of the world gathered to see the pontiff, nuns tried to cut the Rome Start group and tourists edged toward the front, but ultimately nothing could prepare the crowd for the Olympic sprint that the JFRC students led to some of the best seats in Piazza San Pietro! (Many of the upperclassmen were front row!)


After finally getting our seats the Rome Starters settled in for the two-hour wait for the actual audience to begin. At around 10 am (don’t forget that by now we’ve been waiting with anticipation for four hours!) the introduction began! All of a sudden thousands of heads turned and cheers echoed throughout the Piazza as Pope Francis came around the corner in the “Popemobile,” for the next twenty minutes tourists from around the world strained their necks and focused their cameras to get a glimpse of our beloved Holy Father


Photo taken by Anna Johnson

Pope Francis then proceeded to give his blessing and homily (later translated into English) and the entire Piazza chorused together the Our Father in Latin and held up thousands of religious articles for a blessing from Pope Francis.


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Embarking into Umbria

Orientation has officially ended and that means its time to buckle down and actually read the textbooks we purchased. However, the amazing staff here in Rome wouldn’t unleash us from the lightheartedness of orientation week without some sort of phenomenal ending, and staying true to tradition, that’s what they did. 150 students headed off into Umbria for an unforgettable weekend…


Umbria, the only landlocked region in Italy, is an amazing destination to experience traditional Italian culture while being surrounded by an ever-modernizing society. The picturesque landscapes and ancient cities are, by far, some of the most beautiful scenes I have come to witness in my eighteen short years, and the orange villas nestled into hill sides seem to come straight out of a movie. Yet, even though these images are ones I will never forget, perhaps the most important part of the weekend was the friendships created through this experience. Tasting wines with your roommate, and getting lost in Spoleto or Foligno with the girls three doors down is the best way to experience a new culture and forge friendships that will last a lifetime.


Our first day in Umbria included wine tasting, candle making and a trip to a paper mill. The second day was filled with walking tours of the ancient cities of Spoleto and Foligno, coincidentally we happened to be in Folignio just in time for the kick off of their medieval festival, so colorful banners and traditional music were found in surplus around the city. Our final day in the beautiful region consisted of a tour of Spello and free time to roam the streets and explore the beauty of a city that’s been around since the first century. Pork, potatoes and pasta filled our bellies and fantastic wine accompanied each meal, our lively conversation could be heard from a distance and we left the region with the hope of soon returning…

My bee’s wax candle remains (unlit) here in my dorm room, a happy reminder of an amazing weekend.


Photo credit: Anna Johnson, Katey Lantto, and Courtney Bickle

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Rome Start: Let’s Start

On August 24th, sixteen students from around the world gathered together to spend the first year of their collegiate experience in Italy. Students from Spain, Germany, Panama, as well as students with citizenships in Italy and France have embarked on an adventure that will undoubtedly shape their futures…


Orientation week has been an exciting and eventful experience for us freshman here on campus! Pasta, Pizza, Prosecco, and Paddle boarding have all been a memorable part of the first couple of days, and I’m sure such things will continue to play a part in our lives for the next nine months! However, as the start of classes and homework loads is fast approaching such magical experiences will have to be wait for the weekend, as we prepare to study in one of the most ancient cities in the world. This amazing city has become more than just our playground, it is now officially our classroom.

This 1,285 km² city is the largest classroom I have personally set foot in, and I am excited to get lost in the history of such a majestic place; I look forward to studying the layouts of every twisted street, sketching pictures of the monuments I have seen sketched onto postcards, and conducting important experiments such as where the best gelato is sold…

paddle board 2

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New Year, New Semester


With the start of the new semester, it was also the beginning of “Part 2” for the Rome Starters full year at the JFRC. As with any start to something new, we had expectations and goals for what was to come for the Spring 2014 semester. Whether it’s about visiting as many countries as possible or exploring every single nook and cranny of the Eternal City, the Rome Start class has been excited for whatever will come our way in the near future.

One of the most significant differences between this semester and last semester is the amount of students studying here. There is a forty-plus person difference to be exact, making the grand total around 220 students studying at the JFRC. Not only does the community feel larger, but also the campus itself is undergoing a series of renovations. For example, Rinaldo’s, our downstairs “basement hangout” was moved down the hallway to another room and was updated with a modern ambiance and sleek European style. Rinaldo’s not only has a new setting, but has expanded their menu to serve both Italian and American-inspired dishes. It has truly become a hit among both the Rome Starters and Study Abroad Students for the perfect after-class hangout spot.

Among the Rome Start class, we don’t have the opportunity to have as many classes together due to many students’ involvement with the internship program. Despite not necessarily seeing each other as often as we did last semester in the classroom environment, we still make it a priority to gather together for lunch and dinner where we exchange interesting stories and experiences regarding our diverse classes and internships.

Even though things are not exactly the same as our first semester, we as the Rome Starters are making the transition and remembering those fond memories of our first semester of freshman year. We hope that we can share together in new experiences that will be just as memorable.


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A Home Away From Home


Dorm Life is one of the most integral parts of daily life at any university, and this could not be more evident than at the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC). The reason being is because at the end of each day, we come back to a home away from home, where many of us study, unwind, reflect, have a fun time or maybe even try to do it all (sometimes all at once). Since the Rome Start class consists of twenty students, we have been paired into rooms of two, with the majority of roommates representing different nationalities. This is by far one of my favorite aspects of dorm life, because this gives both the American and International students the opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures and perspectives in an environment in which we share great commonality. 


In addition, all the Rome Starters have the luxury of occupying most of the fourth floor, which adds to the experience of connecting to one another. Living with roommates and literally living together as neighbors on the same floor has bonded us as the literal international family we have become in this short amount of time. By establishing such a strong connection and a warm environment almost immediately, we have also inherently filled a void of family. If it was not for this opportunity of living so close together, I know the experience we’ve had thus far would have turned out to be something completely different.


Our dorms in some ways are like the perfect oasis from the “chaos” that may lurk outside the hallways or common spaces. The dorm is a place that represents the individual student, the roommates as a whole, and a piece of their respective hometowns and university experiences. This of course is an amazing thing in addition to the close proximity to the laundry room and having spacious, personal balconies.  In certain respects our rooms could be described as paintings, where the elaborate framework is derived from our previous experiences at home and where the actual subject itself represents our current state and our prosperous future at university. 


As the saying goes, “you truly get to know someone when you live with them.” This quote could easily sum-up how we have all learned about one another during the course of our first semester in Rome. Throughout a typical week at the JFRC, the Rome Starters spend frequent hours together between living, eating, studying, and socializing. Even when there are times that we may be apart, we still know that at the end of the night when we return to the comforts of our fourth floor dorms, that we are still a unified family. This family has instilled a sense of home, even if this home may be only an hour away or oceans away, from our first home. 


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Roman Life


Living and studying in Rome could only be described as a truly magical experience. We are so fortunate to have Rome as the setting to the “starting line” of our collegiate careers, because we are living and studying in an environment that is more than 2,700 years old. This opportunity of being in Rome is purely incredible for the accessibility a student has to ancient ruins, contemporary museums, magnificent churches, great restaurants, and much more.

After living here in Rome for about two and a half months, we as Rome Starters now have a bit of a better understanding for both Roman and Italian culture. Since the JFRC is situated in a residential neighborhood, we not only get the chance to witness Roman daily life, but we also get to live it everyday. From roaming the streets to shopping at the supermarket to even watching a calcio match, we are exposed to the lifestyle and culture in ways that can’t be obtained from a textbook, but only understood through first-hand experience.


Most of us try to utilize the weekend in order to explore both different sides of Rome and different sides to Roman culture. Whether it’s riding a bus, savoring local cuisine, exploring a new neighborhood, or discovering a hidden piazza, it’s fascinating learning more about this beautiful city. During the week we are hard working students trying our absolute best in school, while on the weekends we reveal that in addition, we are also cultural enthusiasts on a quest to unveil and understand the Eternal City one layer at a time. Even though we have an entire year here, we will most likely not even scratch the surface to fully comprehending the power of Rome.

One thing I look forward to on Mondays is comparing what adventures we all had during the past weekend with the other Rome Starters. After many stories, experiences, and lots of laughter are shared, we continue on with our weekly routines, until the next weekend arrives and we press the “repeat button” on filling our appetites for more Roman life and culture. 


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