Fall Break, The Lizzie McGuire Dream, and Finding Peace Abroad

There is so much to cover, yet so little time. I will do my best but if at any point this turns into a pointless rant or a wannabe YA novel, feel free to skip through and just look at the pictures.

Contributing to the idea that this feels like a vacation (zero complaints), we had a weeklong fall break after midterms, which felt odd. Odd in the sense that I spent many hours planning a smaller excursion during what seems like a dream from which I haven’t waken from yet. Still, my fall break was all I could ever ask for and more. Two of my roommates and I decided to head to the United Kingdom and found a second home in London and Dublin. Was part of that due to being able to speak English for a week? Well it probably contributed. Honestly though, we fit so many stops within so few days, it mostly felt like a touristy trip, something we tend to avoid at all costs while in Florence. This is where you start though. It was our first time in London so of course we were going to hit the major ‘must-sees.’ Nothing says London like sitting at the Buckingham Palace and getting a picture with Big Ben. It was surreal and amazing (the two adjectives I basically use to describe every experience I have had thus far). Again, it was a start. That is my number one piece of advice I could give to anyone spending their time studying on a program for such a limited time. Of course we wish we could spend more time everywhere we go, but I think it’s often forgotten that we are so young. There are many years in our future to continue exploring and to return to the places we could see ourselves living later in our lives. I am so bad when it comes to this myself, but I think our generation has a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but this saddening condition can limit our experiences and can make memories more bitter than sweet. So in conclusion, from this momentary observation, my U.K. trip was unbelievable, it went by very quickly, but when I come back I will have enough experience under my belt to adventure even further out in England and spend a lot less time working the tube system. But what did I do there this time you ask? Well…let’s see…WARNING: this may read like a laundry list of stops, but when you don’t have much time, you squeeze in as much as possible!

Night 1: Got lost finding our amazing hostel (everyone should consider the Wombat City Hostel – clean, amazing people, and a cave restaurant!), first tube experience, Starbucks trip, and we ended the night seeing Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre!


Day 2: Starbucks trip #2, walk through of Harrod’s, Hyde Park, found the Peter Pan statue, Baker St./Sherlock Holmes Museum, Abbey Road Studios, King’s Cross – Platform 9 ¾, Camden markets, Chin Chin Laboratories (Nitrogen made ice cream), random blues club, and dinner at a place that supposedly housed the worlds’ best fish and chips…and rest at the hostel for the next day!


Day 3: Tower of London, more Starbucks, Tower Bridge, the Borough Market, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Millennium Bridge, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, walk through of Piccadilly Circus, dinner in China Town, and then we walked back to our hostel, taking the scenic route along the river.


London was especially memorable as we were able to meet up with our friend who is studying abroad there and was able to show us our way and help navigate the bus system our second full day in town. I cannot reiterate enough just how jam packed our day was but it was completely worth it. Even though London was short-lived, we moved onto Ireland and knew only more adventures were to come.

We arrived in Dublin with just enough time to catch a bus into town, find our hostel, grab a nice dinner at a local place and grab a late night snack at a grocery store. It was here that we saw some of the snacks that we have been missing since our arrival in Italy *enter Pop-Tarts, Microwave Popcorn, Oreos, etc.*. After our snack food binge, we retreated to our hostel (another amazing spot called the Generator Hostel in the center of town), to find it had a full restaurant and dance hall in the lobby. Not a bad way to spend the night. We started our next day pretty early on a walking tour of Dublin’s city center. Not going to lie, most of my knowledge concerning Ireland stemmed from movies like P.S. I Love You and Once, so hearing the stories and folklore behind almost every street we passed, was very eye opening. We also were able to have lunch at O’Neill’s, one of the most well-known, traditional Irish establishments in Ireland. Our tour then left us to experience the Guinness factory where we took a crash course in bartending and capped our tourist time at their skyline restaurant with a 360-degree view of Dublin.


Our next day in Ireland was my favorite though. We started very early and made our way to the Cliffs of Moher on the coast. Honestly, one of the most unforgettable places I have been since coming abroad. It definitely put things in perspective. After spending a couple hours walking the cliffs and listening to the traditional music of the players sitting along the countryside, we took a bus to Galway. Although we only had a few hours to explore, we tried to make the most of it. After grabbing another delicious meal at a local place, we strolled along the streets listening to musicians who seemed to be coming up every few feet from one another, and peeking in the shops here and there in search of the perfect memento. Our time once again flew by, out of our hands, and before I knew it we were on our way back to Dublin. I feel as though I should also mention that this day happened to be Halloween. YAY! Halloween is a holiday that is not celebrated in Italy for the most part, but the same cannot be said for Ireland. All day it was costume after costume and people throwing candy in the streets. It was quite the sight to see. As a result though, we had to quickly throw together costumes from what we could find at our junk food grocery store. By the end of the day we had a Batman (mask), a cat (ears) and a cowboy (hat).  A super fun trip, a very short trip, but it was definitely hard to leave Ireland. It only inspired me to come back. If I ever live in another country for an extended amount of time again, I can only hope it will be in Ireland.


I will only briefly mention my weekend that followed directly after fall break, but with the ISA program we traveled to Rome for the weekend. This was it, my chance to see and walk in the footsteps of my favorite fictional character, Lizzie McGuire. I have to say, Rome surprised me. I thought after hearing about it from other students studying there, and seeing a lot of the more famous sites in movies and in different T.V. programs, that I would enjoy it less for some reason. That was not the case. In fact, Rome was so stunning, I could have used at least a week to experience everything it has to offer. The Colosseum alone was more magnificent than I could imagine and no pictures I have seen have done it justice. My other favorite moment-in-awe, was walking through the Vatican City and seeing the Sistine Chapel and Basilica. Pieces of art like that of the city itself do not happen anymore. I honestly have never seen anything like it before in my life. It really made me stop and give some thought to our society’s fascination with all things modern. Are these the same people who haven’t been able to experience history and beauty like that of the civilizations we have learned so much from? It would have to be – there is no comparison.


Finally, I don’t think it would be possible for me to be abroad, and not mention the events in Paris. I send all of my love to the victims and residents of Paris after the attack on their beautiful city. I do however employ us to spread our prayers beyond this horrific incident and recognize the travesties happening worldwide and the victims who are not receiving the same media attention and reactions, as was the worldwide concern for Paris. I do not, under any circumstances deem the loss in Paris as any less important, but I do think there are so many people worthy of the world’s love, grace, and attention who are not currently in the spotlight right now. Please join me in sending good thoughts out into the world as we move forward and strive to be decent human beings to one another.

And with that excessively long post, until next time. Seriously, if you have made it this far, you deserve a cookie.




From Beaches to Midterms While on “Vacation”

These last few weeks have been more than amazing. They lay somewhere between surreal and unimaginable. Just within the last two weeks I have made it up an down the Italian coast; hitting Sorrento, Amalfi, Lovanto, Le Cinque Terre, Capri, and exploring Assisi, Siena, Vinci, Chianti and Napoli somewhere along the way.

A quick trip through Manarola, Italy
A quick trip through Manarola, Italy

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was provided with more than my fair share of beach trips that resulted in running into the ocean with wet suits on so we didn’t freeze to death. The second I jumped into the pure teal, mirror-like water on the Italian coast in nothing more than a bathing suit – I was in love. It was a feeling that I wanted to relive over and over again until it was simply my reality. So that became my new priority, to spend what little time left of warm, delightful weather there was, being a beach bum. The only downside? Limiting our travel time to the weekends. I do not regret any of the short, sometimes only overnight, trips we took because we still were there to experience something we wouldn’t have otherwise. Our last beach adventure we took to Sorrento and Capri, involved an overnight bus, a 4am train ride, a ferry ride, and multiple boat transfers. The outcome? I was able to scratch off yet another bucket list item – rowing through the blue grotto in Capri. While this may seem like the stereotypical tourist moment we all try to stay away from, I can honestly say it was the most beautiful place I have yet to been blessed with seeing (also, it helped me conquer my fear of small spaces and sea sickness).

Inside of the blue grotto in Capri
Inside of the blue grotto in Capri

Although my beach days were well lived, and possibly my favorite memory thus far of my time in Italy, this last week has proven to be a serious wake up call into the ‘real world.’ Even though you are traveling way more than you probably would be at home, and you could be in a different country every week should you choose, we are all still here going to school. Funny concept right? Well, while the thought of classes may make you laugh as you transfer trains coming home from your latest adventure, they are very much real and come with the same regularities at home, including midterms. General PSA, midterms are not easier abroad! In fact, most classes here only grade your midterm and final for your final grade, they are very much worth studying for. What I am happy to report is, they are followed by fall break (so don’t worry, you will soon only have to put your brain power to use simply for booking flights and re-arranging your budget). I just finished my midterms today actually, and am now looking forward to trying to run into Ed Sheeran and Bono as I travel to London and Ireland for the next week or so! And don’t worry, my next post will be the woes of staying on some sort of budget while attempting seeing the world while being on the ‘right’ side to do so.

Check you soon!


What it takes to check off the “bucket list”…

I really do promise that I will get better at this technology concept and learn that blogging, really is not that difficult to work with as a medium. In the near future, I predict posts coming on a semi-normal basis with a less scattered-brain style, as I am sure this will turn out. Anyway, that is my informal apology for what is about to come. 

I will start by giving a bit of background of what the heck I have even been doing during my time abroad thus far. Well I began my journey in early August, flying into not Italy, but Amsterdam. I have family scattered throughout the Netherlands as my father was born and raised in Zutphen for the beginning of his life. As a lovely result, I have family to visit and lean on in the beautiful country of Holland. Once in Zutphen, I was able to leave my big suitcase (yes, only ONE big suitcase) with the family and took my backpack and hopped on the train for part one of Justine’s adventure. Although it gave my parents a slight heart attack, I spent a couple weeks backpacking through Holland, Belgium, and France, only really staying in each place a couple of days. In the end though, they understood how rewarding this experience would be for me, and luckily supported my independent streak. I am going to say it once – traveling by yourself is the number one way to figure out who you are as a person. I spent some serious time reflecting on what I want out of this experience and learning how to be flexible. 

On top of the Eiffel Tower
On top of the Eiffel Tower

I am a self- proclaimed control freak who needs an organized plan at all times. Missing trains, having the wrong address, getting lost, living in dirty spaces are all different chapters of my nightmares yet was my reality for those few weeks traveling solo. I am sure I will touch on this throughout my time here, but knowing when to accept the things I cannot change has been, and will be, the struggle I explore daily. 

Fast forward to the end of August – my mother was lucky enough to come visit me and help me move into my apartment in Florence after my backpacking stunt. My clear piece of advice I can pass on to prospective travelers: though it will seem like a good idea in prospect, saying goodbye abroad is harder than doing so at home. Granted, my mother and I are as close as the Gilmore girls, seeing her walk away down the narrow avenues of Florence while still adjusting to life in this new country was more difficult than I ever imagined. For future reference, I think the way to go is to invite a visit from the family mid-program or near the end; something to look forward to, not fondly think of in the past tense.

Well this brings me to my ‘home away from home’… the apartment.  Another way to learn to be flexible; when there are three rooms, six girls, and only two rooms with a view, perspective is what you need to keep in mind. Due to timing, my gentile way of thinking, and general attitude towards confrontation, my roommate and I are sharing a small bedroom in the back of the house that faces a wall and does not get any airflow. Usually, the girl I am back home, would let that ruin a perfectly unrelated experience. Justine in Florence is a different story, I know that I am fortunate to even be here and know that this is a place that will not define my stay here. I feel the need to share that little anecdote because so many people I know have let the small things affect their attitude in the long run, and I personally think that is a waste of time and energy. Being appreciative can be a ‘hard’ job sometimes, but it is the active perspective that will help you make the most of every day abroad (and in general). 

It could be that I was traveling beforehand and have been here a month longer than my counterparts, or that it finally sunk in that this is my new home, but the couple weeks of life in Florence was difficult for me. I did not adjust right away, and I was very home sick. Everything seemed to be building up and my emotion clouded my judgment. I am not going to sugarcoat it, I really did think of ways to come there for bit. What got me through was planning something to look forward to. My ultimate dream when even planning to come over here was my bucket list goal of getting to Croatia. Croatia is in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world. If there had been an option to study abroad there, I would have with no doubt made it my final destination. So when I happened upon a student trip to Croatia, I jumped on the opportunity. Between the island hopping, rafting, and hiking, I accomplished this life-long goal in a matter of a whirlwind weekend. It was such a beautiful four days, it feels surreal that I was even there. It was this trip that also saved me from myself and my tendency to ‘over-think’ while abroad. I am happy to report that I am doing well here now, life is becoming more routine, and beside the amazingly large groups of tourists (ironic I know), I would not change anything about where I am. 

Krka National Waterfall Park in Croatia
Krka National Waterfall Park in Croatia

So overall, these first weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion. There are somehow only about three months left. How it is the end of September, I do not know. Moving forward, I again will be more on top of this posting business and will do my best to follow a bit more coherent trains of thought. But for now, arrivaderla! 

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo
Florence from Piazza Michelangelo


Jet Lag Day 2

My name is Justine and I am a junior this year at Seattle University. I’m majoring in strategic  communication and minoring in Italian. I’m so excited to be headed to Florence, Italy this fall to study abroad! I’ve had this goal since I started high school, really since I shared a dream with Lizzie McGuire, so it is hard to pin point the exact reason Italy was the place for me. Falling in love with the language was stage one though. Although I am so fortunate enough to be taking part in such an experience, it was not an easy decision financially. It is only through the Gilman scholarship program and the other scholarships I applied for that this was a possibility. I am so very lucky, and I recognize what a privilege it is to be a part of the program, as a result, I will not be taking this for granted and plan to make use of this time to grow and learn. My family and friends have been very supportive and have encouraged me along the way, especially on the days where it would have been so much easier to back out, and have a fine experience staying in Seattle. Although driven, I too need a push once in awhile to validate my goals and see that what I am doing and hope to accomplish is worth it.


Food for Thought

(That was kind of meant to be punny).
Within three weeks or so of traveling through Europe I have tried four items I would probably never have eaten in the United States. Those being: wild boar, liver, salmon (I am the worst Northwesterner), and duck. Before I came to Europe I was a VERY picky eater, although I prefer the term selective. While some may not give escargot or horse meat a second thought, each of these meals was a big step for me. 
I have never really been the go with the flow, spontaneous type but I wanted my study abroad experience to reflect a conscious effort to break out of my worrisome nature. So I am pretty proud of the fact that I actually tried new things. It has truly been an adventure!
PS, wild boar was even chewier than an overcooked steak. And do not even get me started on the liver. 


Sick of Rome… but not the way you might think

Having been sick with the flu for several days, after my visit to Belgium, I was beginning to recover in my apartment in Rome. When I felt well enough I obviously wanted to go exploring the city instead of simmering in my germs all day. This was a mistake because I got much worse and developed sinusitis the next day, leading to my red eye visit to the public hospital.

First of all, everything I was warned about was true. American hospitals are luxurious in comparison. The nurses decide how serious your problem is based on a color coded system: red means you lost a hand, yellow means your water broke, green means you are very ill, and white is why are you here? I received green and would have had to sit in a stuffy waiting room if I had not felt so faint and had not been given a bed. The doors to the room I was laying in remained open for the duration of my stay, even during the examination they gave me. No privacy. And they want to get you out of the hospital as quickly as possible so they are not very sympathetic to any kind of medical anxiety, which I naturally felt as the nurse approached me with a big syringe intended for my behind. Was thankful to get an iv drip instead and I finally began to feel like myself again.

I was there until five in the morning. It was an unlikely situation but guess what? Free of charge.


La Festa dell’Epifania

The Feast of the Epiphany may not be a holiday you have heard of. It is a Christian holiday on January 6th commemorating the Baptism of Jesus and essentially an end to the holiday season. For the less religious, Epiphany is a time of indulgence and tradition. The Befana, in Italian folklore, is an old witch that delivers candy to all of the good children – similar to Sinterklaas (BE) or Santa (US). In squares all around Italy, when the clock strikes midnight, crowds gather to watch the witch get burnt for the celebration (fake, of course). I’m not totally sure this aspect of the tradition can be explained but it is great fun.