Venice at night, Ummara Khan

Venice at night, Ummara Khan


Traveling to Italy, I expected that something about the way I view the world and my own life would change. That’s what is supposed to happen. I was ready to embody Mary Anne Radmacher’s quote: “I am not the same having seen the moon shine from the other side of the world,” but there is really no way to prepare yourself for that kind of change.

Sometimes you can feel something inside you shift. Maybe you even go through a brief existential crisis as you try to comprehend the beauty you are witnessing. For me, this happened when we took an elevator to the top of the Altare della Patria, in Rome. As I stood on the rooftop, overlooking the ruins of the Roman Empire, I couldn’t stop looking at the Colosseum. It was swarmed with tourists posing for a quick picture in front of the World Wonder, and then continuing on. Being so high up, my mind wandered to how the Colosseum was built. It bewilders me how something could have been built five hundred years ago and manage to bear countless storms and survive numerous earthquakes (well, for the most part). We could also see the place where Cesar is rumored to have died. Suddenly, this individual that seemed little more than a mythical hero transformed into a historical figure in my mind. I wish I could find the words to describe the pure ecstasy and wonder I felt in that moment, but I know that words will undoubtedly fail.

Other times, the change creeps into your heart and seems to be dormant, until one day you look back and realize how much you have grown. It is a more subtle type of change, but it is one that molds you into the person you are. I’ve had some time to reflect on my trip, and I realize that Italy changed my perspective on how accessible the world is. Statistically speaking, I am not someone who is likely to study abroad. According to a study  done by the Institute of International Education, non-white students make up around 40% of college students in the US, but only the 24% participate in study abroad programs. When socio-economic circumstances are taken into consideration, even fewer students travel internationally from low-income families. Aside from study abroad programs, the idea of visiting another country seems extremely daunting, especially if you are planning the trip yourself. However, while in Italy, I realized that it is completely possible to plan a trip that is fun, informative, and not overwhelmingly expensive. It really is one world, but it takes an experience like this one to understand what one world truly means.

The more you travel, the more you realize the importance of building bridges, and the dangers of building walls. How dull would life be if the only lifestyles you were exposed to were the ones you and the people immediately around you lead? Understanding the world beyond our own community and nourishing our sense of humanity should be a goal for all of us. It’s hard to understand the sorrows and triumphs of people who live in a place you have only heard of, but when you visit that place and interact with those people, you become invested in their well-being.

It’s easy enough to condemn walls, but it’s harder to actively promote the creation of bridges. In our current political climate, indifference is inexcusable. That doesn’t mean that you have to participate in every rally and sign every petition. Advocacy means something different for everyone. Maybe it’s talking to someone who comes from a background you have never been exposed to. Maybe it means searching for opportunities like the Wandering Scholar to travel. However you chose to create your own bridges, the important thing is that you do so wholeheartedly.

Going back to what Radmacher’s said, when I close my eyes, I see the moonlight dancing on the restless Venetian water. That image, along with countless others from the ten days we spent in Italy, is a testament to that fact that I am not the same. I am more confident. I am braver. Most of all, I am more optimistic that we can build a world in which our differences are celebrated, not feared.  read more →

My interest in travelling has always been due to my interest in creating empathy and connections with people who I’ve never clearly seen their perspectives. Something that surprised me about my experience was that a language barrier can be something that is hard to break. I often take for granted that I came to the United States at a young age and that made it easier to learn a second language. Due to this, it was difficult to create those connections and have long, elaborate conversations.

Italy had many surprises for me, but something that was the most surprising was the similarity of the importance of food in their culture as well as in mine. Growing up with fast food restaurants, I’ve learned to appreciate the home-cooked meals my mom prepares for us. The grocery stores in Italy, the bakeries, and the restaurants all had fresh ingredients and many restaurant owners would get offended if you didn’t your food which is something that I’ve grown up with my whole life. This is especially common with my grandmothers because they will often turn their heads over their shoulders to make sure you’ve eaten all your food and that you’ve eaten enough food to the extent to which your stomach can contain. Also, I fell in love with Siena which was my favorite due to the environment of it which made me feel welcomed and reminded of the small town I live in. I felt like I would be able to have conversations with anyone and that they would be happy to make me feel welcome and wouldn’t make it difficult to make friends. Overall, I became deeply interested in Siena’s own history and traditions.

Studying abroad and world relations have always been my interests which have sparked my passion for wanting to pursue a career in political science. Going to Italy and having an idea that I wanted to attain new perspectives helped create a more realistic path to pursuing my passion. It surprised me how I was constantly comparing US customs and regulations to those of Italy and that caused me to gain interest in studying abroad in Italy.

Only 3 out of 6 of my mom’s children have citizenship in the United States and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. I’ve always had the fear of having my family taken away from me because I had already been separated from them due to the fact that I arrived to the United States on an airplane and they all had to go through a more rigorous, risky journey. This increased significantly during the 2016 election when I turned the television to watch the presidential debates, I’d been doing since the beginning of my passion for politics, and I watched as a man spoke about my family calling them criminals when I’ve watched my parents struggle to provide opportunities they never had.

I’d speak to my mom about it and explain what he’s trying to do and how and she’d tell me to not worry because it would never happen because she has an idyllic representation in her mind of the United States. This image had been created in her mind due to the fact that she was never on social media, she was oblivious to when people were trying to belittle her, she’d only take in mind those Americans who “invested time and energy in building human connection” (“Why Build Bridges, Not Walls”). After I had proven to her that there were people in this country that believed she was a criminal and that she had stolen a minimum wage job from an American (which she has due to the fact that she doesn’t speak English), she simply told me that she was raised around the idea to build a longer table if you are more fortunate than others, not a taller fence.

My experience in Italy is something that I will take with me my entire life because it taught me, not only different ideas of how we can help women around the world gain representation, but also the overwhelming amount of history many countries have within them. Having learned that Italy is rich in culture, history, and customs has made me yearn to visit many different countries to get the same feeling I received during my visit to Italy. My attitude has become more open-minded toward cultures and understanding why they have the customs they have. I’ve definitely not been able to stop talking about my experience in meeting new students from around the United States, attaining their perspectives, and having fallen in love with Siena. read more →

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!

  read more →

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 →