One of the most exciting, frustrating and impactful events I did this week was going to Easter Mass at the Vatican. The day started out early with catching the bus to get to Vatican square. We left around 7 for doors to open at 9. When we got there the line luckily wasn't too bad. However, once they started to let people in, that is when it got rough. For attending a holy event, there was some violence happening. We were all being shoved from behind as though nocking someone down would help them get a better seat. There was even one dad using his teenage son as a ramming block to move us out of the way. It was definitely an experience and that was all before even getting through security. Once we got there it was amazing. We ended up getting seat in the front row of the second section. We had an amazing view. We were also hoping that the pope would drive around and we would be able to see him. We sit there for a couple hours waiting for mass to start. It was well worth it for the amazing seats. Once mass starts it was really interesting hearing it in Italian. About halfway through though, it started to cool down. All the sudden we felt the first rain drops. Then a couple more. Before we knew it, it started to pour. Some people ran for cover, some opened up umbrellas like I did and others grab the chairs they were sitting in and held them over their heads to block the rain. It was the funniest thing seeing people stand in front of the Vatican with chairs over their head. It was also funny because the whole time we had been in Rome, it had not rained during the day yet. It had when we travelled out of Rome but never in Rome. I guess the weather decided Easter would be the perfect day to change that. The rain soon ended and we were able to concentrate once more on the mass going on rather than trying to stay somewhat dry. Before I knew it the mass was over.
Attending mass was definitely something I am glad I did. Before coming, I figured that it was something I was going to skip as I am not Catholic. However, as we got closure and the signups were posted, I realized that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to say I saw the pope on Easter at mass at the Vatican. I am definitely happy that I did. I will never regret that decision and I will always look back at the selfie I got with the pope as a reminder of what I experienced. While I didn't always know what was going on, being there and taking it all in was amazing. It taught me that I should never pass up an opportunity to do something just because I am afraid I am going to stand out for being a different religion. Sometimes, you just have to forget about the differences and take in the moment.
This week, we visited the Rome Siciliy American Cemetery. We were suppose to be paying respect to the solider that we researched this semester with our Italian partners. However, while this was suppose to be an opportunity for respect, closure, and meaning, this was not the complete case this semester. There were three Italian students in my group and non of them came. Not only that but many of the other Italian students were taking the trip as a joke. While this trip was not something we necessarily wanted to do in the beginning, the more we worked on it the more involved we got. It was suppose to be a meaningful trip both to pay respect to the soldiers but also a way to get to know Italians. While I was not pleased with the way that the Italian students took the trip or the fact that non of my partners came, was also kinda a rough way to end the partnership with my Italian partner. This was suppose to be putting a close to our project and our partnership and now, I will never get to say goodbye to her. This trip really opened up to me how school is different in Italy vs America. I also have to understand that while the partners may not have come it doesn't mean that they didn't think what we were doing was important.. It just wasn't their top priority. However, being able to talk with the other Italian students was a way to make sure that I will always remember the time that I spent with the Italian students.
One of my favorite things happened after this trip to the cemetery. After the trip, we had buses going to different places in the city. One was taking people to class, another to campus, and another taking the Italian students. I was suppose to be on the one going to campus however, my fiends and I wanted to go into the city. We ended up asking if we could go on the bus that was going to take kids to class. Ends up they had space so we hoped in and waited to see where we would end up. The first stop; gelato. Turns out where they were dropped off was one block from the gelato place we wanted to try. Not only that but, there was also a bunch of street art around and we looked at it while eating our gelato. It was amazing. It was a great snack and a great way to hang out with some friends. After that we went back into the city doing some shopping and just hanging out. It was a great way to spend the day. Great food and good company. Sometimes speaking up and asking a question will have a greater impact than just staying quiet. It allowed me to go out and do something that I otherwise might have passed on. It was a great way to end the day.
This weekend was our southern excursion. It was honestly my favorite trip that I had been on. One of the reasons why this trip was my favorite was because the whole school was traveling with us. While when we went on our northern excursion, we all didn't really know each other that great, this trip was a completely different. By this time we were all friends and new each other. It was great being able to travel with all of them not just our 4 or 5 closest friends when we travel on the weekend. My absolute favorite thing from this trip though was going to the beach in Paestum before dinner. After getting back from tours, we had some free time before our group dinner. Rather than studying for our quiz on Monday like we should have, we decided instead to head to the beach. I did make the foolish decision to bring my study materials with me thinking that I would actually use them. We timed it just right and ended up there around sunset. Originally I was going to put just my feet in but once we all got there and started playing around that idea went out the window. Before I knew it my pants were rolled up and we were all in the water having a good time. Some people even went all the way under in their clothes. We walked back into our hotel a dripping sandy mess but, it was well worth it. I learned that as much as school is important, I cannot pass up a once in a lifetime opportunity to stay back and study.
However, while this was my favorite part of the trip, there was one part that I did not like. The last stop on our trip was at Pompeii. While Pompeii is a place that many people know, I felt as though the tour I went on was not amazing. It felt as though it was rushed and that because of it we weren't able to get the full impact of the tour. Pompeii was a place where you are traveling through history. You are seeing a town frozen in time because of a catastrophe. One of the other things that I felt wasn't the best use of time was we sat on a curb reading an except Pliny the Younger wrote about his dad Pliny the Elder. We at 20 across on a step reading it aloud. While it was an interesting read, I couldn't hear anything 5 people or more away from me were saying and it seemed as though it was something we could do on our own time. I wish our tour guide had used the time more to teach about the history of the place rather than having us read an excerpt we could have read on the bus. While this may have seemed like poor planning to me, I am learning that not everything will always run smoothly and that sometimes, that is what you will remember.
One thing that I did this week that was both exciting but also nervous this week was going to the Jewish district. We were free this weekend and I wanted to head to the Jewish district to try and find a specific type of food for an upcoming Jewish holiday. Now, going to a catholic school and staying at a convent, I don't typically hare with people other than my friends that I am Jewish. The two directors who I talk with every day didn't learn about it until about 4 days ago. Its just something that I don't typically bring up in conversation. This is why I was kinda nervous to bring my friends there. Even though we were just shopping, it still was slightly uncomfortable for me to go out of my typical hiding of religion. I was also excited though because this was something I wasn't able to do last time I was in Rome and was something I should do. On other trips during the semester I visited Auschwitz, Schindlers Factory and now the Jewish district. While studying in Rome is something very important for those who celebrate Easter, I was able to also make it something important for me religiously too. Once we got there however, all of my worry vanished. It was interesting to see the synagogue, the men wearing Yamakas, the kosher symbols everywhere and the occasional hebrew. The roles switched with my friends and rather than me asking them religious questions like I typically do, it was not them asking me. They were asking what kosher meant and I explained to them how you can't mix meat and cheese. Whether women wear yamakas and how I said no but I did when I was younger. How they kept wanting me to read the hebrew we saw (I can read the alphabet but don't know what it is saying (can't translate it).
Doing this was definitely something I will remember. I made sure to use this trip to also do something that I wanted to do culturally. While I did never find the food I was looking for, I did find some amazing food for lunch and was able to share it with my friends.
One experience this week that was both nervous and annoying was trying to take a taxi home after dinner to the convent in Poland. After visiting the salt mines we were dropped off in the city center for dinner. However, we had about 2.5 hours to eat dinner and get back to the convent. We headed to our reservation early yet, by the time we finished eating just one course we only had about 45 minutes to get back before the curfew. We head over to the taxi stand and ask the driver if he is able to drive us to the address. After consulting his GPS and other taxi drivers he agrees to drive us. We were excited because it meant we would only have to take one taxi to fit us all. Before getting in however, one of the girls ask how much it will be. We all look at her like he doesn't know because we were driving to a random part of the city. However, we get in the car after he ys about 45 zloty (the polish currency). We get driving and notice that we wre going a way none of us recognize. However, i was not that worried given that usually when we drove to the convent we were half asleep and all drivers have different routes that they take. However, being in the car for a little bit, the driver turns off the main road onto a side street. On this street, he starts to slow down like he is looking for a house number. We look at whats around us and all thats there is empty lots. We tell the driver this is not the address. He continues to drive down the deserted dark street and we repeat it is not the address. He stops and looks at us and says rally. We all exclaim no. We ask him to take out his GPS and he does but still looks confident in the place he took us. We had him the address again and he continues to drive down the alley saying its correct. While the rest of the car starts freaking out that we are going to get kidnapped or killed on this street, i begin to pull the address out for myself. When it becomes apparent that he isn't going to find the street, I turn on the data for my phone to put the address in myself. If needed I would literally direct the driver if needed. The rest of the car is still freaking out and extremely nervous while in the car, i calmly put in the address in my phone and realize that we are only about 4 streets away. Good, we would be back soon. I calmly tell everyone else that we are only 3 minutes away and in this time, the driver has figured out where to go. When we get to the convent, the meter says 62 zloty however, based on how he got lost and we had to sit there while he figured out where to go we were not going to pay that much. He ended up saying 50 and we gladly paid and got out of the car.
This experience is making such an impact on me because it is amazing how different my reaction to the situation was to the other girls. While my mind went to how could the driver possibly be lost if it he pit it in his phone, everyone else's went to that we were in danger. This was also kinda annoying to me because they were making a directions error into a huge situation. Part of the reason why I may feel so different is the fact that I am a second degree black belt. The other because its not like he made us get out of the car, we still were in the car and all had cellphones where we could call for help if needed. While I personally was never rall nervous, everyone else was. It is a good lesson to learn how being aware of your surroundings is always important.
This week was spring break and I spent it in Athens, Munich, and Amsterdam. One of my favorite things of the week occurred in Munich. My mom was born on a military base in Munich and she lived there for about a year while my Grandfather was still stationed there. When we were deciding where to travel to I thought that her being able to see her house would be something special for us to do together and something she may not get the chance to do again. During one of our days in Munich, we were close to the street she lived on and decided to get a taxi to take us there. When we got to the house it was a cute small house completely unlike things you would see in America. We got out and took pictures in front to send to her parents and then got back into the taxi and went back into the city. When it came time to pay, I handed the driver the cash and looked at my mom saying Happy Birthday (her birthday is the 27 of March and we would not be together to celebrate). This little act of kindness made my moms day and it was also interesting to see where one of the places she lived was.
This adventure was not one that involved going to the typical sightseeing attractions. This would not be listed in tour books anywhere. It was not like saying I visited the London Eye or went skiing in the Swiss Alps like some of my friends can say. I went an visited a house. I Did not even go in the house. However, this day will always be one that my mom remembers and because of that, it is the favorite things that I did this week.
However, not everything I did with my mom was my favorite thing ever. My mom is very into art ( she was an english major). I on the other hand don't love going to art museums and would rather walk around the city. However, I didn't want to disappoint my mom and went along with her. Turns out the museum we went to had four floors and was huge. I spent all morning walking through that museum and admiring the art. While I noticed that some of it definitely stood out as being impressive, others I could not help but to wonder what their significance was. While it was not my favorite way to spend our last day in Amsterdam, I was happy that my mom was happy.
This taught me that when going on a vacation, there are other people involved who may have their own preferences for what to experience. While my mom always tries to please me and make sure that ai get to do what I want, I can similarly do the same for her. In addition, i don't always have to spend trips with other people. I could go off on my own and do what I want. I could have told my mom that rather than her feeling rushed because of me that I am going to go to a different museum and we could meet up for lunch. I have to be willing to go out of my comfort zone to both make sure that other people are happy but tat I dont compromise too much on my own happiness.
Midterms. Midterms are always a horrible experience but somehow being in Rome they are worse. One of the things that I dislkied the most this week was the fact that I passed up going to the papal audience to stay at school and study. While initially I was really excited and looking forward to going to the papal audience, once I started studying for exams I soon realized that I wasnt sure if I could spare 7 hours with an exam later that afternoon. I made the tough decision to not go. While I spent the whole morning studying and preparing as best I could for my exams, the second everyone who went came back I soon relized the mistake I had made. I passed up going to see the pope and have things blessed by him so that I could study. So I could study the material I already felt mostly confident in. While this was a tough decision I learned that I made the wrong one and looking back on this day it is one of the oens that I am most dissatisfied with.
Experiencing this has made me learn that while school will always be important, it doesnt always mean that I have to pass up doing things. Sometimes, going to see thenpope may just be more important. This concept of school doesnt always come first is a tough one for me but I understand that in order to make the most of being in Rome I may have to make some compromises. While I wil always look back on this day that I dislike, I have taught myself a valuable lesson and will learn from it for the future.
However, one of the things that ai enjoyed the most was travelling this weekend to Barcelona. I traveled with 8 other girls and we ended up not really planning much of anything besides our plane and where to stay. Most of us only knew about one or two things that Barcelona offered which really would only take a couple hours. We were there for 3 days. Normally when I travel, I travel with a schedule of events to do that day with a little bit of free time to allow for things we may discover. This type of travelling was completely different for me. However, I ended up really enjoying it because it allowed for us to just wander and see where we end up. We didnt have any set appointments to make but rather just making sure we were all pleased with what we did that day. We ended up spending most of one of the days walking around through parks and random streets, taking photos, and wandering in and out of stores. It was a blast despite the fact it was pouring rain and we were soaked.
While I am typically someone who has a strong preference for a schedule, especially with a large group of people, I am learning that sometimes it is not the most important thing. It is instead making new experiences that I can look back on in the future. I enjoyed this event the most because it has allowed me to realize how I have changed since coming to Rome. Back when we went to Florence and our schedule got messed up, it really bothered me. Now, not having a schedule only slows me down slightly. Hopefully, as the trip progresses, I can get to the point that I do not need a schedule at all and it doesn't slow me down at all.
This week we went on a group excursion to 4 different cities in Tuscany. This included 2 overnights where we would be staying in hotel rooms together. Before leaving for the trip, we signed up for rooms with who we wanted to live with. Our group ended up only signing up for one night together so we got randomly assigned for the other night. When I initially saw this I was kinda annoyed that they would make us sign up multiple times because its kinda obvious that if we sign up to live with someone for one night then you probably want to live with them for the other. After my initial shock I was actually though harder about what it meant. The two girls I was living with were actually people I know. Now I don't necessarily talk to them everyday but Its not like they are complete strangers. I was also still able to talk to my other friends it just meant we weren't going to be sleeping together. And finally most importantly, i would get to know two people better than I otherwise would. I was excited for the opportunity to get to know them better. I am realizing as the semester goes on that going outside of my comfort zone, while it may initially be nerve-racking, is actually something positive. Doing so allows for me to form more rewarding memories. When I think back on studying abroad I wont be thinking just of the monuments I saw but also the new people I met who otherwise would remain strangers my 6 years at Duquesne.
When we got to the hotel, I headed over to meet with the two other girls so we could get the key. When we got to the room I was relieved to see that our room had 3 single beds rather than 1 twin and a double to share. We ended up staying in the room just talking for an hour and getting ready for dinner. It was nice being able to get to know them better and realize that we have some things in common. The only problem we had was that they both are really into makeup so they spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I realized though, that all I had to do was just speak up and ask if when they had a chance if I could have a turn and they were both more than willing to allow me to.
This experience has allowed me to realize that getting closer to people is not a bad think. In Italian and a lot of European cultures, people greet each other with two kisses on the cheek. If people are willing to accept that as the way to greet each other then I think I can learn to live with some people I normally wouldnt in my own bed. Everty time I venture out with students from my own group, I am opening myself up to accept the Italian culture and of the cities I travel to.
Itinerary: San Gimignano, Siena, Lucca, and Pisa also known as Tuscany
Friday February 17
We leave nice and early at 7 am for our first stop San Gimignano. We head out to our buses that were split up based on what floor we live on. It was a nice system because then it meant one bus did not have alot more people than the other did. We also had this unspoken rule of you sit in the same seat every time we get on the bus which was nice. We get to San Gimignano where we begin our tour of the city. This trip is an academic excursion that Duquesne is sponsoring which means that whatever we learn on the trip we can be quizzed on. For my Christian art and architecture class, what we will be seeing this trip applies directly to our class so we are all assigned in the group that is with our professor. It is nice because she is an amazing tour guide but also sucks because rather than just taking in the cities we visit we have to be actively taking notes. Our tour starts at La Collegiate which is a church and also goes to the Chapel of Santa Fina. There were some amazing fresco paintings inside and it was cool being able to see how art differs in the different regions we visit. After the tour we have free time to get lunch and explore around the city. For lunch they don't provide us with it but they did give us 10 Euros to by lunch with. I can get used to Duquesne handing me money! We go off and find a pizza shop where we can get a huge slice for only 1.5 Euro! More money for gelato after! We get our pizza and eat it while walking around the city taking pictures. We then get some gelato and eat it while walking around and taking pictures. We wander in and out of stores and then it is time to go. Off to our next stop; Siena.
In Siena we continue our tour with my professor and visit the Palazzo Public and Battistero and Duomo of Siena. These were amazing churches, Baptistry and museum in Siena. We even took a whole school group picture after we finished our tours. By the time the tours were over it was time to head to our hotel and check in. We were exhausted after a day of traveling and touring. We get to the hotel and are assigned our rooms. We got to choose our roommates and I end up in a room that has one twin bed and one full. I end up sharing the full with another person which honestly was not that bad. We head out to find dinner around the city after we drop our stuff off and head out to find dinner. We all go in our separate ways to find a spot. I started in a group of 8 and then we broke into two groups of 4 going our separate ways. Somehow, both our groups ended up at the same restaurant. And then after we were discussing how funny it was another group of 5 showed up. And then half way through dinner another group of 6 showed up. It was so funny how literally a third of the student on the trip all ended up at the same restaurant in some back alley that had nothing special about it. The food ended up being really good and then we headed back to the hotel to shower and get some sleep. Tomorrow was another early day.
Saturday February 18
We wake up to the random sounds of the phone ringing that no one could figure out how to turn off. It turns out the school set up a wake up call but did not tell us so we weren't expecting it. I looked around on my table next to me and couldn't find the phone so I yelled out someone pick up the phone and put it down to make it stop. Luckily we eventually found the phone so we could hang it up. After that abrupt awaking we got dressed and headed down to breakfast. Breakfast was pretty good. There were lots of pastries, yogurt, fruit and coffee (or hot chocolate for me). I then headed out with one of my friends to go find postcards because we didn't get them the night before. After our adventure we headed back to the hotel to grab our suitcases and get back on the bus. We headed out to Lucca.
In Lucca it was the one city where we didn't have to learn anything so we had the time all to ourselves. I spent the time walking around with one of my friends. We spent the time wandering in and out of stores, looking at the amazing scenery, snacking and buying postcards. We also headed right outside the city to go to the church of my friends patron saint so she could see it. Lucca was really pretty and after lunch it was time to head to the hotel to check in.
We get to the hotel and it turns out I didn't sign up to live with the same people from the night before. We all got assigned to random rooms but I lucked out and got assigned to a room with 2 of my other friends. When we get into the room I was surprised to see three single beds. We all immediately collapse down on them. After struggling to get the wifi to work for a while I ended up taking a quick nap and then doing some homework. It was then time to get ready to go out. We had the option to go to mass or to walk around Lucca while mass was happening. I ended up walking around Lucca and it was interesting seeing it at night. After an hour we headed back to the church to meet up with our school before our group dinner. I was so excited for this dinner.
We get to dinner and sit down to amazingly set tables. Its interesting because every time we go to a group dinner they differentiate the vegetarians a different way. This time it was a laminated card that had my name and the work vegetarian. In addition, the servers made a seating chart indicating where the vegetarians were sitting. I really appreciated this. We were then all poured a glass of prosecco. They also placed a bottle of red and white wine on the table for only about 6 of us. Guess we will have plenty to drink! After toasting our meal begins. We ended up getting served 5 courses and they were all amazing. I left stuffed and remembering why I love going to eat with Duquesne. We headed back to the hotel and that was the end of the night.
Sunday February 19
Our morning starts out the same way as the day before but this time we were ready for the wake up call. We immediately grab the phone when it rings and hang it up. Turns out breakfast today was even better. There were scrambled eggs! Everyone was so excited to see something that we would normally have for breakfast. It is now time to head to Pisa! Sadly this was another academic city so we went on a tour of the Camposanto, cathedral, and baptistry. They were all pretty cool. At one point in the baptistry to prove how it was constructed to have perfect proportions and acoustics a woman started to sing and it was amazing to hear how it echoed around the building. It was such a cool experience that I am glad I did not miss. After our "class" ended we were given free time to take pictures in front of the leaning tower of Pisa, climb the tower or get lunch. I did not end up climbing the tower but I did enjoy watching people when they came down feeling sick because of the lean of the tower.
After this it was time to head back to Duquesne. It was an amazing weekend but tiring. I was glad to be back in my bed and not have to live out of a suitcase. It was also cool being able to get to see all these cities in Italy that I otherwise may not have seen.
On of the projects this semester involves working with students from a local Italian high school. While we were told that most of them speak English, their abilities all differ. For the first time meeting them they came to our campus where we were all wearing name tags.
Meeting my Italian partner was an interested and nervous experience. Before meeting her I was worried about whether she would speak enough English for us to have a conversation or if I needed to have google translate ready. I was also unsure of when I met her for the first time if I should go for the baci or the handshake. Usually on Wednesdays all I do is homework so I just wear sweatpants. However, I knew I should set a good impression and I should dress up. Turns out I wasn't the only one with this feeling. Before I knew it, the time was here and we were supposed to go upstairs to find our partner. I found it funny how no one would cross from their side of the room. On one side was the Americans all trying to decide whether to go for the baci or not and on the other was the Italian students. Finally, it was like the ice was broken as one person ventured into the unknown to greet their Italian student. From then on it was a free for all for finding your partner. I found it funny how one person wrote the name of their Italian partner on the back of the packet like you see at the airport. When I finally found my partner, I let her take the lead for what to do. She went for the handshake and I was relieved. It was then time to start the interview with each other; the moment I had been waiting for. It turns out her English was good so we could have a pretty good conversation. The only thing she needed help with was the spelling of Maryland and what the letter "y" looks like. She even translated for the other Italian in our group who did not speak that much English.
There were a couple things that surprised me and one of then was the fact that she only has about an hour of homework a day and only for English. She was amazed to hear that I usually have 3-5 or sometimes more homework a day. I also could not believe that they get out of school around 1:30. I have never had that short a school day or that little homework. I was amazed that their school structure was so different. I think she also felt the same about ours. The other thing that interested me was the fact that she said that all she does is sleep, eat, and hang out. While I do these sometimes, a big part of our schooling is extracurricular. Whether its sports of clubs I usually had something every day after school. It was interesting to think that she has no homework and she gets out of school super early yet doesn’t have anything to do afterschool.
Meeting my Italian partner was a super interesting experience. While I went into it nervous I left excited to meet her again. I also feel like this experience is something we may never have the chance to do again and gives great perspective to how a simple thing like school changes with a change in culture. It also showed me that while trying to communicate with someone who may or may not speak english may be nerve-racking, I should not avoid it because the experience I get out of it are far greater than the ones I would get sheltering myself away.
I'm Sabrina Kirsch a sophmore physical therapy student at Duquesne University. I will be spending the spring semester of 2017 in Rome, Italy where I will eat my way through all the gelato and pasta they offer. My goal is to see everything possible and visit as many countries as possible.