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It has been a thrilling and wonderful ride. My trip to Italy was incredible and I learned so much about not only the world but myself too. Every city we visited was special in its own way. I loved the scene of Milan and our bike tour of Romeo and Juliet’s home of Verona was one of my favorite moments. I loved the beautiful glittering water of Venice and wandering around the museums in Florence. Learning about the Palio races in Siena were very interesting and we even got to see a trial run. It was amazing exploring the historical city of Rome and seeing all the major monumental sites. Interacting with my other trip mates was fun and sometimes we had the most hilarious moments. I remember playing sharks and minnows (basically hide-and-seek) close to midnight in Florence and thinking we had really lost a friend because no one was able to find him. Fortunately, he came out and we played another round (we didn’t lose anyone this time). I really enjoyed the cuisine in Italy. The pizza exceeded my expectations and I ordered it multiple times a day. I will really miss the gelato. Every flavor I tried was delicious. It was crazy how I had read about a certain Italian dish and then there I was eating it, like Cacio e Pepe.

I think what surprised me the most was how much everything was different yet the same. I would be walking down the street and look at a building and there would be a centuries-old statue on a building but locals did not seem to see anything different. There it was, a piece of history right there in public and people walked around as if it was normal. I then realized that for them it was normal. I wonder if people from other countries come to the US and are amazed by some of the things that Americans pay no mind to. I think that every place has something that makes it special and unique.

My fellow Wandering Scholar, Ummara, said something along the lines of “Everything here is so rich in culture. It makes me want to learn more about my own culture and find out what makes it so great”. I couldn’t agree more. I would not have expected that going to another country and learning about their culture would make me want to know more about mine. That was incredibly surprising. What really surprised me about myself was how enjoyable being in solitude was. We sometimes had time to explore areas by ourselves and I felt so at peace and as if I belonged. I tend to love being surrounded by friends but in those times of solitude, I could connect with Italy so much more. My dad told me that more than a decade ago he worked in Rome selling bags. I had no idea that my dad was once in that same place and doing the same things as the people that I saw there. It gave me a new perspective and a deep appreciation on how hard my dad has worked for my family.

Global travel has enforced my passion to help others and increase the connection between different groups of people. While in Italy, I could see that immigrants were having the same problems as the immigrants in the United States. I understand that people are going through the same struggles everywhere in the world and we should unify to find steps to solve serious problems. I read the blog post, “Why Build Bridges, Not Walls” and I could not agree more with their message. People in today’s world, do not want to hear from another person who does not share the same viewpoint. They automatically shut off another’s opinion. If we could be patient and listen to what our “enemy” has to say we might find we want the same things or that we have more in common than we don’t. Back in Verona, we were discussing a topic over breakfast. Our tour guide, Devin, said that when trying to debate a topic to say “yes, but” instead of “no, but” because it makes sure it doesn’t cancel out another person’s argument. By listening to one another we can build connections and then bridges where change can come from. I think that’s an important message that I will take along me everywhere I go.

My trip to Italy was really a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so grateful to have been able to go. I want to continue traveling so I can continue to experience new worlds, and build bridges. I think I now have an extreme case of wanderlust. Thank you for reading.

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Venice. Image credit: Tripsavvy

Note: For this assignment we asked our Scholars to share how they’re feeling in the days before takeoff. Their trip to Italy begins on June 23!

The days until Italy are drawing closer and closer and my anticipation is growing more and more.  It will be life-changing to experience another culture and engage in the world.

I am very excited but also nervous although I think the excitement outweighs any nerves. I am most excited to get on the plane and see a whole new country. When you stay in one place so long, you sometimes forget there is a whole beautiful world around you. I cannot wait to try the foods that I have read about and visit the places that I’ve only seen on my computer. I am sure it will feel very different than looking at it from a phone screen! The main reason why I am nervous is that I am afraid that I will forget something or something will go wrong last minute. I feel that is trip and the preparation done for it is a major and significant deal and I do not want it to be ruined. Fortunately, I have amazing and helpful girls that I can talk to. My fellow Wandering Scholars have given me great tips that help to calm my anxiety. For example, Jeraly told me that she double checks her packing list every night before she goes to bed. It is so much easier and I am thankful I have like-minded and very brilliant girls to experience this journey with. I am happy that I will get to know them more once we meet in person.

I still have a bit of packing to do. I received more great tips from an orientation call from Smithsonian Student adventures a couple weeks ago. Our guide said to use a backpack or duffel that would be easy to carry around from place to place. There is also a packing list on the Smithsonian Student Adventures website that very clearly tells you what you should bring. Documenting my trip is much easier after our Wandering Scholar Slack Chat. I received very helpful information to make sure I get the most out of the trip. There are so many useful resources if you know where to look!

The last few weeks have required that I put time aside to dive into researching and planning to go to another country. I have some challenges but I have a supportive team to help me along the way. I am spending the last days before take-off hanging out with my siblings. We love playing Just Dance. It is extremely hot in Greensboro right now. The temperature has been in the high 90s the past few days. The weather in Milan is only a couple degrees lower and I will take happily take it over this oven! I am going to miss my family but I will make sure to call and send them the thousands the pictures I take. I am thrilled to be going on this trip and I can’t wait for the future! read more →

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Cacio e pepe. Image credit: Food and Wine

The Eternal City is full of delicious and enticing food that really expresses the beauty of Italian culture.

Roman food is rich in flavor and history. There are many family-owned trattorias (small and casual restaurant) and pizzerias. The food is based on vegetables and of course, pasta. Pasta reigns in every part of Italy and in Rome there is the pasta cacio e pepe, pasta all’arrabbiata, pasta e ceci, and more. I am very excited to try the pasta and especially the pasta cacio e pasta (pasta in a creamy olive oil, pecorino cheese, and black pepper sauce).

Produce is also very important in the making of Roman food, and artichoke is the king of the group.  It is prepared in two ways alla romana (Roman-style) or alla giudea (Jewish-style). Carciofi (roman for artichoke) is stuffed with bread crumbs, garlic, mint, and parsley and then braised in a bath of olive oil and water. Abbacchio alla scottadito (“lamb finger-burning style”)  is lamb chops seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs like thyme, tarragon, and rosemary and it is traditionally eaten with hands.

Roman street food is amazing. Pizza is popular and customers can buy a rectangular slice and have it doubled over to eat while walking. There is also the trapizzino (cousin of the pizza) and warm, freshly baked baguettes to fill up with. A visit would not be complete without trying some delightful gelato. It would be very hard not to find a savory and tasty dish while walking around the gorgeous city.

Meal times are bit different in Rome than it is in the United States. Romans eat lunch at 1:00 and dinner after 8:00. The meal times may surprise many people because of how much later it is in the day. Another surprise may be the portion sizes. The meat portion is smaller than in the US but it is made up by a large amount of pasta that is served with it.

The food alone is a reason why many people head to Rome. The food is amazing just like the art and architecture. The inviting and delectable dishes shows the rich culture and past of the great city. I look forward to taking a flavorful bite out of history. read more →

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Note: To help our scholars familiarize themselves with their host country, we asked each to watch a different 25-30 minute youtube video about a particular region of Italy. Each video stars Rick Steves, a foremost expert on European travel. After they watched their assigned videos, Scholars were asked to provide a summary of its contents and highlight a topic it covers that especially interests them – this could be anything from a moment in history to a place or a person. In addition to explaining their personal interest in the topic. 

Rome was once the capital of the western world. Today, its ruins show the monumental architectural accomplishment, culture, and history of the great city.

Classical Rome lasted from 500 BC to 500 AD. As the legend goes, Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus. These two brothers were abandoned as children and raised by a she-wolf (I hope those three years of middle school Latin pays off). In reality, the first Romans mixed and mingled in the valley that became the Roman forum. An example of Rome’s great architecture is the Via Sacra. It served as public relations tools. Romes economy was fueled by plunder and slaves gained by war. The Capitoline Hill, which sits among the other buildings of the modern city, is the home of the city’s government. The Pax Romana was a time of stability, military dominance, and good living. Roman history of the Pax Romana can be found in Roman art. A statue of Caesar Agustus -one of the first great emperors of the peace- has trusting and strong eyes that create a feeling of stability and well being. Another statue shows that the peace was coming to an end. The statue is of a boy that is about to become head of state, surrounded by nervous senators (expresses the lack of confidence in the government).

The Romans created many amazing structures, such as the Roman aqueducts and the Appian Way. The Colosseum is an incredible demosntat=raion of the Roman genius. The structure was used as an entertainment house for the million inhabitants of the city. Criminals, warriors, and animals fiercely fought each other to the death as the raging crowd watched and cheered. I would definitely prefer the modern day football over the gory fights of Roman entertainment. The colossal building was made possible by the Roman made concrete and their well-known arches. They respected they Greek culture by decorating the structure with greek of columns-Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian. The passageways under the wooden floor, allowed people and animals to be shuffled around out of sight.

Buildings like the well-preserved Pantheon showcase roman greatness (Its one-piece columns are so huge it takes four tourists to hug one). Modern days architects still marvel at its brilliance. The dome is made of poured concrete which gets thinner and lighter has it rises. The highest is made of pumice, a volcanic stone. The building was used as a place of worship. Emperor Constantine eventually legalized Christianity. As  Ric Steves states ” In the year 300, you could be killed for being Christian. In the year 400, you could be killed for not being Christian. Church attendance boomed and Constantine built the first Christian church “San Giovanni in Laterano”. The adjacent holy stairs are a major stop for pilgrims Thousands scale the Scala Santa on their knees, the stairs believed to be the stairs that Jesus climbed the stairs on the day he was condemned.

Rome collapsed after decades of corrupt rulers, and instability of the great Rome fell in 500 AD. Although the ancient civilization fell, Rome’s political, cultural, and architectural accomplishments are still felt today. Buildings and art are beautifully preserved and can be found today in the equally beautiful country of Italy. I am very excited to see the greatness of Ancient Rome in person. read more →