As many of you already know our 2018 Wandering Scholars went to Italy this summer with Smithsonian Student Adventures. Their one week adventure took place in various cities throughout Italy where they were able to explore and learn about the different regions, cultures, and cuisine of the beautiful Italian country. Throughout their voyage our scholars contributed to the Smithsonian Student Adventures blog and shared their experiences traveling in Venice, Florence, and Siena.  


Our scholars spent two days in the wonderful city of Venice. Two of our scholars, Maggie Seye and Nancy Espinoza, wrote about the architecture and history they took in, the wonderful food they ate, and the many sights they visited.

Maggie described their first day in the city where they first explored the Grand Canal and went on a gondola tour. 

“I watched in awe as the beautifully crafted gondolas passed by. Equally beautiful, were the buildings. I learned from Devin that the front of the buildings were made with marble and the sides with brick to save money, while also impressing people. Marble or no marble, I was still very impressed.”

Jeraly, posted an amazing timelapse video on her twitter of their ride on the boat. The video does a beautiful job at showcasing how grand and stinking the water is along with the buildings.

Venice by Maggie

The scholars ventured on and explored one of Venice’s most famous sights: St. Marks Basilica and Doge’s Palace. Maggie beautifully describes her experience as,

“The palace is massive, which can fortunately hold the great amount of history entrapped in its walls. We split up in groups and took off in different directions. My group headed towards The Institutional Chambers where the important parts of the government (like the Great Council, Senate, and Full Council) were housed. Every single room (I mean every single one), had me entranced and my jaw dropping to the floor. Incredible paintings draped the walls from top to bottom with the most intricate details. Each painting tells a story and each one was told with the finest artistry.    

Venice by Maggie

To end their day the scholars reflected in their apartment and Maggie finishes her post by stating,

“Finally, we headed back to the apartment and looked out into the beautiful Venetian night. My friends and I agree that no photo or even video could truly capture the glittering water and colorful beckoning lights. I think from now on, when someone speaks of something captivating and mesmerizing, the word ‘Venezia’ will pop up in my mind.”

Nancy recounted their second day in the gorgeous city of Venice.

“It was our second night in Venice and only two things seemed to stay constant: the Sunshine and Cold Nights. This was something unusual to me, because my everyday life seemed like a routine. While here in Venice, different people and different languages appeared every which way. Granted it is summer and tourists are everywhere, I’ve still come to see its true significance as the island on water.”

Murano and Burano by Maggie

Their itinerary consisted of traveling to the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Nancy writes,

“The three islands made me understand three completely different things about Venice. The “Island of Glass” or Murano made me understand the delicate nature of our world and how most of us want to protect that delicacy. Although we want to protect it, most of us end up neglecting it, and sometimes breaking it entirely….The “Island of Lace” or Burano exposed me the beauty of “ancient” wisdom and human kindness; its Pastel Wonderland embraced the tourists with all its might…The third island was the Deserted Island or Torcello taught me that silence is okay, even if you’re traveling as a group. With only 10 inhabitants on the island, I was able to self-reflect and be one with nature. I heard the birds and saw the young tadpoles in the water. I heard the animals and saw the insect fly away. I appreciated the silence and sounds of nature whispering in my ear.”

Burano and Murano by Maggie

To finish their time in Venice, Nancy described their last dinner experience in the city.

“Dinner always included a scavenger hunt or being on the lookout for the restaurant. This particular restaurant greeted us with open arms, and fed us until our bellies were full. The owner came out to greet and speak to the group about the three course meal. He had taken into consider everyone’s dietary needs, as our group included vegetarians, a vegan, and meat eaters. It was the best hospitality any of us had ever experienced in Italy, 100% recommend: Osteria Ai Do Pozzi.

Since we are on the subject of food, Maggie shared on twitter a delicious dish that her fellow scholar Ummara ordered! All we can say is we sure are jealous of all the meals they had in Venice!

Venice by Maggie


Upon their arrival in Florence our scholars, off course, decided to get some gelato. Once again, we are all envious of the delicious food they consumed while adventuring around Italy. Jeraly writes,

“We left our luggage in the hotel because our rooms were not ready for us to stay in, so we went out to eat gelato. It is going to be odd going back to America and facing the fact that I will be unable to receive the same tasty, real gelato that I have been consuming almost every day in Italy. When we finished our gelato and Devin and Charlie finished their animal guts, we made our way to the Galleria degli Uffizi and saw many beautiful sights on the way. Something that really captivated my eyes was the amazing and aweing sites of the bridges. The aesthetically pleasing sights of Florence were mesmerizing and hard to believe a city could be so beautiful. Not only was the glittering water pleasing to look at, but even glancing up at the amazing architecture of the city was something I’ll never forget.”

After indulging it was time to explore. Our scholars visited the Galleria Uffizi.

“The Galleria was overwhelming in the aspect of it containing so many amazing, descriptive, and rooted paintings and sculptors. Often, I enjoy people-watching because you notice many things about people. Something I learned from watching people in the Galleria was that not many people bother to actually take the time and analyze a painting. Many just took pictures and of them and that sufficed. We had a time limitation of an hour and thirty minutes. Although that sounds like a perfect amount for just staring at paintings, I found that it wasn’t enough. This was because I could stare at the same painting, ceiling, sculptor, and any other art piece in the Galleria for thirty minutes, and I would still be unable to create my complete perspective on the painting. Also, I found that every time I would stare at it from a different angle, it would change my whole idea of the meaning because every detail had a part in the story the art was conveying.”

Jeraly ends her post reflecting on the time spent in the Florence.

“Soon enough, it was over but we all engaged in more conversations with each other on our way to the hotel, still admiring the glistening water. To me this day felt short, but that moment where there was music playing, no one complaining, a beautiful sunset, people taking pictures, and watching others unite as well, I felt like that was one of the best moments we’ve had so far. I wish to come back one day and have the opportunity to witness more sunsets and the union of people.”


Following Florence, our scholar Ummara Khan wrote about their time in the beautiful city of Siena. Ummara starts her post by describing one of the most famous events in Siena; the Palio di Provenzano

“Unity through division. This paradox captures the attitudes of the Sienese people during the Palio di Provenzano, a horse race which is held twice a year (once in July, and once in August). Walking up and down the hilly streets of Siena two days before the Palio, we saw buildings lined with flags representing the out of the seventeen contrade, or districts, competing in the Palio this year. The tradition of hosting a horse race in the Piazza del Campo dates back almost four hundred years. After centuries of attacking each other, the districts of Siena decided to replace the feuds, in which the people of Siena were trying to kill their neighbors, with an event that allowed pride for the different districts in far less violent manner.”

Siena by Ummara

Ummara signs off by writing about heritage and traditions; something that is important to many individuals around the world but more importantly, something that connected with her during her time in Italy.

“More than anything, Siena has planted a seed of desire in me to learn more about my own heritage. We all have roots that nourish us and help shape the people we become. May we partake in traditions of our own cultures that evoke the kind of pride that the people of Siena feel during this time of year. May we be fortunate enough to witness traditions from other cultures that showcase the beauty that arises from our differences.”

Siena by Ummara
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plane travel high school scholarship international wandering scholar

Plane travel. Image credit: google.

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 day I received the email stating that I had been chosen to be able to travel to Italy to do research on something that I was passionate about, I had a rush of happiness and couldn’t stop talking about it.

As the days went by, it was always on my mind, the assignments we were doing made me more excited because the more you know about something, the more questions you have and the more interesting it becomes. Learning about the language and how similar it was to Spanish, discovering the history in their food and how much passion is put toward it, and even the type of clothing they wear. The videos, the podcasts, the blogs of others, and the YouTube videos that have watched have somehow made me yearn for more information and want to be standing in Italy myself and have conversations with the people walking around.

Now that we are approaching the date, I am nervous but excited as I’ve never been. The essence of being able to travel to Italy and acquire knowledge on their policies and the controversial situations at the moment is something I never thought I’d be able to do. It is an honor to be able to represent our country, meet new people, and learn in the manner of being in that situation and feeling what it’s like. Although part of me may be nervous due to the logistics, my feeling of being excited surmounts any of those. I went to dinner with my friends to say goodbye and have been spending my last few days with my family and my closest friend. It seems as if they are more nervous about me going than I am, but I understand because it has been a long time since I have been away for two weeks and not near them. Due to having summer practices for cheerleading, I’ve had to make sure I make some time for saying goodbye and it has been arduous, but it’s been feasible. Besides leaving my family, I am most worried about people receiving my questions as an offense or that I have caught them at the wrong time. Speaking to people is something that I can do easily but I’ve never tried it in a foreign country, so I’m nervous about the outlook of it. On the other hand, I am most excited about meeting new people and having conversations with people who may have a completely different point of view of mine and cause me to amend more-which is a good thing. I enjoy learning new ideas and having to reevaluate my old ideas because it means that I have advanced in my learning.

The adventure at home has been delightful, so I can’t wait until I’m in Italy myself, finally meeting the amazing girls that are coming with me, and together attaining information on subjects we are passionate about!

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suitcase travel scholarship high school wandering scholar

All packed and ready to go. Image credit: Wander Wellness Travel Magazine

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!

Three…two…one, and then off to Italy! The closer the trip gets, the harder it is for me to conceptualize myself traveling without my parents. This newfound independence is not something I am afraid of; in fact, I have been craving it for quite some time. Being the eldest in my family, I think I have always had the autonomy that I will have in a few days, although to a much smaller extent.

I spent some time reflecting on how I feel about the trip. I still don’t know. It feels as though I leech off the emotions of those around me. When I am with my friends, who are enthusiastic about me going, my excitement overwhelms me at moments. When I am with my mother, who still has some reservations about her little Marie flying halfway across the world, I feel anxious.

For me, the hardest part of the pre-departure part of the trip has been convincing and consoling my mom. She, of course, knew that I had applied for The Wandering Scholar fellowship in February, but the chances of me being selected were so minuscule that neither of us gave it any real consideration. When I was chosen and the idea that I would be traveling without her set in, I spent a good two weeks addressing her preoccupations and outlining all of the reasons I had to take this opportunity. Although she finally came around, I know she is not completely comfortable with me going. I always suspected that when it was time for me to “fly out of the nest”, my parents would have a harder time coming to terms with our separation than I would. Granted I haven’t actually been without my parents before so maybe I should wait and see how I cope before passing any judgments.

Researching the immigration crisis in Italy has been heartbreaking at times, but extremely interesting and necessary. One of my biggest goals has been to raise awareness of the struggles of refugees worldwide, and The Wandering Scholar allowed me to do that in ways that I had not considered. One of our requirements for the fellowship was to tweet every day and to follow different Twitter accounts that related to our research about the trip. On Twitter, I found so many organizations that are designed to help refugees. The amount of information that I have gathered from these accounts is unfathomable. Two of my favorite accounts are the Tent Partnership for Refugees (who you can check out on Twitter:@TentOrg and their website: and Concordia (@Concordiasummit). I have become exposed to a venue of advocacy that I plan to make full use of in the future.

I feel ready for Italy. The research I have done in the past three weeks, and the support from the Wandering Scholar Team as well as my amazing mentor, Jennie, have prepared me well for the trip. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned my fellow Scholars, Jerlay, Nancy, and Maggie, yet! Those girls are incredible and I cannot wait to spend time with them. Whatever awaits in the next two weeks will be absolutely amazing. read more →

planes travel scholarship high school wandering scholar
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!


Like any other person, I’m a little nervous to leave home. This experience has been an incredible eye opener; I’ve come to “see” more of our world in its true light. I see its beauty and its beasts, and although I knew them before, I got to look at them from different angles/take on a different perspective. All the research and investigating helped me get a clearer picture of our world, and has prepared me for this adventure.

I have invested time and time again in this program. I have organized the needed documents for my documentation on Italy’s Immigration Population. I’ve translated words, phrases, and looked up Italian etiquette to assimilate myself, and make the process easier for my Italian brethren. I’ve always believed in what Nelson Mandela said about language, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” All I want to do is understand, so through all this research, I hope I get to.

I think, when I get nervous, I immerse myself in research. So, with everything “entirely/mostly done”, I started packing. Packing has been difficult, because like most people, my mother doesn’t have enough to pay for luggage. She’s helping me by packing; we had to pick up containers to store my essentials, because the airport had policies. I’ve enjoyed the process, even though parental advice is sometimes frightening. We talked about the movie Taken and what I would have to do if that ever occurred. After taking about all the worst case scenarios, the fright turned into happiness and joy. Talking with them made me happy and filled me with laughter. They are the reason I live my life the way I do, I love them whole heartedly; most of the nerves are from leaving them. They give me so much support in everything I do, I’m lucky to have them.

With everything said and “done”, I can’t wait to experience these new and exciting events in my life. They have lead me to my mentor Kat Yalung, and the young girls of the Wandering Scholar. All the women/girls, I’ve come to know on this journey have shown great passion, and have inspired me immensely. The things that await me in Italy are so profound and I can’t narrow down what I’m most excited about. One thing I can say,  is that meeting the young girls/women will be one of the highlights of the trip.

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travel scholarship high school wandering scholar

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 →