Monday, December 24, 2012

All God's Children: Reflections


It's been a while since I posted anything. I have been busy enjoying being back in the good 'ol U.S. of A! I have loved every bit of being in 'Merica! Paying in dollars, eating In'n'Out, speaking English and using my blow dryer (random, but seriously it's the little things). Since I've been home I have had a lot of time to reflect on this past semester. Here is my final reflection from this semester...

Initially when I thought of my semester abroad I envisioned the timeless art, the picturesque landscapes, the exotic foods and the historic churches. When I continued to reflect on this semester abroad I realized that the things that impacted me the most were the everyday people I met. From my interactions with strangers, acquaintances and new friends, I became aware of the beauty and charity of people of every culture. Here are a few of the people I met that have left a lasting impression on me.

This semester I had a strong desire to meet local Italians and get a feel for what life was like in their shoes. God knew this desire and answered it in the form of Chiara Braccini. To be honest, when I first met Chiara I was intimidated. To my fascinated eyes I thought that all Italians were super cool, both in style and in attitude, and weren’t too impressed with American students. I thought for sure she would be the same. Instead I found that she was super cool as I expected, but also very kind and friendly. Her beautiful smile put me at ease and her friendly demeanor made me realize that we were just two college-age students from different countries who enjoyed each other’s company. During my time in Italy she introduced me to her friends from the university and grade school. She wanted me to be able to meet other Italians and to practice my Italian. Chiara’s hospitable and light-hearted attitude put everyone at ease and it made for an enjoyable evening in the city. Chiara was the first one to show me true Italian kindness and hospitality from someone my own age.
Chiara and I with 2 of her friends in front of Piazza Pitti
A group of people that left an impression on me were the staff at Villa Morghen.  Sharing everyday life with them taught me a lot, and I have so many great memories from my time in the Villa. In particular, Marina, the housekeeper, showed me so much love. The language gap was very apparent in our interactions, but she loved me so well in spite of it.  She would often call me “Tesoro,” a familiar term of endearment in Italian, and always greeted me when I came for meals.  I truly learned to appreciate our silent conversations and unspoken appreciation for one another. 

Marina was not the only one in the Villa that left an impression on me. Angelus and Giovanni will always have a special place in my heart as the first two people that welcomed me into the Villa on September 10th. Giovanni, in all his seriousness and intimidating persona, showed his love to me through humble service. I will always be grateful for his attempt at locating my pajamas that disappeared with the linens. After two weeks of inquiring into the whereabouts of my pajamas, he finally told me that my “pajamas are lost forever.” I couldn’t be mad or sad because I saw how much of a servant’s heart he had and how he wanted to help in such a trivial matter of my life. Angelus, in all her joy and spunkiness, showed me love and kindness through her thoughtfulness and curiosity. I loved this ease of sharing that we had. Not only did she serve through her words, but she also served through her actions. She was always the first to know if a student was ill and would suggest some remedy or comfort food. It was so obvious that she cared so much for all of us students by her joy and desire to serve.They showed me how to love through sharing life and serving others in the big and little things.

Another couple I met in Italy left me with so much joy, I can't help but to share it! While in line for confession at Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi I met an adorable Irish couple. The husband offered me a holy hard with a prayer from a saint to make a good confession. As I was entering the confessional he said to me, “I’ll pray for you to make a good confession, and you can pray for me.” This man’s faith in the communion of saints and in the sacraments was so beautiful. Even in this 5 minute encounter, this couple left a lasting impression on me.

Some of the people that impacted me I didn't get the pleasure of meeting, but I was given the gift of seeing them live their lives well.  A few examples come to mind. To read about these beautiful people check out my blog on Italian Hearts

So many people influenced my time abroad and impacted me forever. Overall I witnessed God’s love through the many different people that I met, experienced the love and kindness of many different cultures and learned to appreciate the universality of charity. For some reason, God put these people in my life to teach me something. Whether it was how to receive love differently, not to judge based on appearance, or to just appreciate the little things in life, all of these people were placed in my life for the exact purpose that they accomplished. 

 From this experience I continued to learn to see Christ in every person that I meet, no matter their outward appearance. These experiences have convicted me to avoid judgment and accept differences. With or without Faith, they showed me Christ through their goodness.  From this experience I have a growing desire to boldly invest in others lives and show interest in their experiences. From these encounters I have developed an understanding of how not to judge others, searching for the good in everyone. Whatever path that I embark on after college I hope to take these lessons with me to build up the body of Christ.

God bless you and your family during this Christmas and Holiday season. I hope that you have enjoyed following my journey through Italy and beyond this semester! It has been such a pleasure to share this part of  my journey with you. I'm excited to share the rest with you all! 

Love and Prayers,

Italy To Do List:


October 2012:

Things I want to do before this semester is over:

  • Go to the Mexican food restaurant, Tijuana. 
  • Go to l'apertivo in Florence. (Happy hour)
  • Ride a bike around Florence. 
  • Day trip to Lucca, bike around wall.
  • Go out with Chiara and Italian friends
  • Run down the Arno river (walking down the Arno was good enough)
  • Sit and read a book in Piazzale Michelangelo (Didn't read a book, but I had a good conversation with Annie and Maddie!)

  • Hike to Fiesole (Didn't get to visit, but I took the bus!)
  • Go to Palazzo Pitti (didn't go inside the museum, but got to peak into the courtyard thanks to Chiara)
  • Buy wine, bread and cheese and have a picnic in a park. (Enjoyed a sack lunch in the park with Becca in Fiesole)
  • Go to La Fiorentina Soccer match. 
  • Have a girl's night with Jennifer
  • Order the "Semester Panini" at Desiderio's Cafe
  • Visit the Garcia's in Rapallo (Won't make it to Rapallo, but visited Enrica in Milan instead!)
  • Go wine tasting
Wow! This semester went by so fast! I can't believe all the amazing things I was able to do. I feel so blessed to have had all of those experiences with such great people. Even though I didn't get to do everything that I had on my "To Do List" I still had such a full, wonderful time in Italy. I only wish I had made my "To Do List" at the beginning of the semester (Take note future study-abroaders). The rest of the things I will have to save for my next trip to Europe =]


Monday, November 12, 2012

The "Average Week" Post


I was reminded that I really haven't shared with everyone back home what a normal day/week is like here in Florence! (Thanks for the reminder, Christie!) You may be surprised that my days and weeks are not full of art museums, vespa rides and gelato runs. Nonetheless, I hope this post is not a disappointment about life in Florence, but rather a look into my semi-average life here.

Average weekday: 
8:00 a.m. - Wake up, get ready for the day, eat breakfast (Same thing every day: toast with jelly, hard boiled egg, juice, yogurt and cereal), pray (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m.I usually go to Daily Mass in Settignano. The old ladies there are the greatest!).
9:30 a.m. - Walk downstairs for Italian class (Yeah, I'm spoiled).
11:00 a.m. - Coffee break (I usually just drink juice. Even Italy can't turn me into a coffee addict)
12:30 p.m. - 3 hours of Italian class: Finito!
1:00 p.m. - Finally Lunch Time! (Why do they eat so late?)
2:00 p.m. - Theology of Pope Benedict XVI
4:30 p.m. - Done with class for the day! On Mondays we have a debriefing on the schedule of events for the week. Then it's time to run on the hilly streets of Settignano, exercise, check email/facebook, plan the next weekend trip, do my laundry (in the bidet), and on special days I take bus 10 from Settignano and go into Florence to explore, shop or run errands.
7:00 p.m. - Dinner! (Usually I'm famished by this time. Also, there is never a shortage of pasta at dinner! American food, Here I come!)
8:00 p.m. - Start homework, procrastinate some more, or maybe even Skype my family or Maggie!
11:00 - 12:00 p.m. - Go to bed and do it again! (Don't ask me what I did during those last few hours, I couldn't tell you)

Special Events during the week:
One week during the month we take 2 days and go into Florence for our Art and Culture class. We go to museums and churches around Florence to see the many beautiful works of art and historical sites.These days are always very interesting, but very tiring. Our teacher, Francesco, calls us "turtles" (Because we "walk too slow." I'm convinced he was a speed walker in his younger days. It shows) and tells us to "stop sleeping standing up!" It makes for an interesting day.

Monday nights we have an inspiring movie night. We have watched "The Pianist," "The Mission," "Francesco," and  "La Vita Bella."

Wednesday nights we have a guest speaker who comes and talks to us. Usually it has to do with their field of work and how it relates to faith. We have heard from 2 Physicists, a midwife, a musician and an artist from Ireland. I have appreciated meeting so many faithful people who challenge us to live our faith and see God in even the smallest details of life through our respective vocations.

Thursday nights is pizza night! Dr. Pizza comes and teaches a group of students how to make pizza in the wood oven on the patio. Other students make tiramisu  and then everyone enjoys the fruits of their labor! Two times this semester dinner is followed by a karaoke party. Good times.

And then comes the weekend! And that is how I have spent the majority of my time these past 8 weeks!

Today is the start of the last week I have here in Italy. On Monday I will head back to the U.S. to spend time with my family and friends for the holidays. This semester has been an amazing experience. I feel so blessed to have been able to have this experience. I have learned so much and had so many amazing experiences. Later I hope to reflect more deeply on this semester, but now my focus is on getting through finals. I can do it!

Oh look! Its 7:00 p.m. Dinner time!

P.s. Just for fun, here is the video that my Italian class made for extra credit. My Italian lip syncing skills have greatly improved these past few months!

Last Three Days of Good Craic // Ireland Fall Break pt. 2


Fall Break Pt. 2: October 31st - November 2nd:

The last 3 days in Ireland were just a continuation of the first 3 amazing days. We saw so much! A few of my favorite memories were:

  • Climbing the Rock of Dunamase (The castle that Amy Adams climbs to in the movie "Leap Year." Haven't seen the movie myself, but now I really want to!) 
  • Kissing the Blarney stone! Now I have the gift of gab. Watch out everyone!
  • Hanging out at O'Shea's Irish Pub for our last night in Dublin.
  • Spending Halloween in Dublin, watching people walk around in scary costumes and drinking more cider beer =]
  • Taking a tour of the Guinness Factory.
  • Learning how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness! (p.s. I've decided to leave BC and go to bar tending school, just fyi) 
Here is a video I made of some pictures from my trip! (TripWow made it pretty, I just uploaded the pictures)

  • Ireland! Slideshow: Michela’s trip to 6 cities including and Dublino was created with TripAdvisor TripWow!

    In conclusion, I love Ireland. I look forward to exploring more of it's beautiful countryside and small towns. Thank you to everyone that made my Ireland Holiday a success!

    God bless!

  • Wednesday, November 7, 2012

    First Tree Days of Good Craic! // Fall Break in Ireland! Pt. 1


    Fall Break: October 28th - October 30th

    Welp,  this is fun. I had written up my whole spiel on Ireland (the first three days at least) and was going to post it, when low and behold, I delete the entire thing. Oh well. One more lesson in patience I guess. Here is what I would like to share with you about Ireland...

    Being in Ireland for more than 3 days was an amazing experience. I loved seeing more of a country than just the big cities and having time to just enjoy my surroundings and the people that I was with. It was a blessed Fall Break. I didn't know what to expect from my trip to Ireland other than beautiful landscape and English speakers with fun accents. God had a lot more in store for me than I did for myself.

    From the first day that I was in Ireland I felt an abundance of joy (even abundance doesn't describe how much joy I had). It must have been something in the air, or maybe just God's love, that made me smile and feel so happy I could die! Ok, I didn't want to die, but I was really happy.

    The first place we visited was Galway City. Galway is a really fun, young town,  with a lot of things to do and see. There were street performers playing classic Irish tunes or their own songs. It was a very lively place. I enjoyed my first cup of soup and hot tea to warm me up from the cold fall day outside.

    While we were in Galway I got to reconnect with a friend from High School. Kayla is student teaching in Galway for this semester and I was able to meet up with her and her friends before she headed on her own fall break trip to Italy and Germany. Seeing people from back home in foreign countries is so fun! It was a little reminder of where I come from and what is waiting for me back home.

    Halloween is a huge celebration in Ireland, so the whole time we were in Galway people were dressed up in various colorful costumes, kids performed the "Thriller" dance, and Halloween parades were going on every night. It was a continuous party!

    I have realized that traveling is not so much about what you see and where you go, but it's about who you are with and who you meet. I was so blessed to meet two girls on our walking tour of Galway. Lisa was from Holland and Theresa was from Austria (Salzburg to be exact, where the Sound of Music was filmed!). They are studying in Limerick, Ireland and in Galway for a holiday. It was so cool talking to them and exploring Galway with them. When we had to leave it felt like we were saying goodbye to two good friends. Hopefully our paths cross again one day!

    Not only did we meet a lot of awesome fellow-travelers, but meeting the natives was awesome too! They are all so friendly and welcoming! The joy I received from being able to strike up a conversation with anyone was unmatched! I know that I am a people-person, but this trip reminded me how much I really do love people!

    When in Ireland we took a 3 day tour of Southern Ireland with the Paddy Wagon Tour Company. It was awesome! We saw so many small towns, tons of beautiful views, and countless Kodak moments. I was also in my element because I was able to meet all the other travelers on the tour with us. We had Croatians, Canadians, Italians, Aussies, Frenchies and a few Germans. And how could I forget our awesome tour guide, Mark! He was a native Irishman and full of that good 'ol Irish humor. It was a very colorful group of people.

    A few of the highlights from our tour:

    • Visiting Cong, the city where John Wayne's movie "The Quiet Man" was filmed.
    • Walking through beautiful parks and seeing Ashford Castle.
    • Visiting Cork and walking through the colorful English Market. 
    • Listening to Irish music and rockin' out with all my tour bus friends.
    • Taking a horse and buggy ride through Killarney National Forest.
    • Listening to Live Irish music almost every night of the week.
    • Listening to "Fields of Athenry" while driving through the actual fields of Athenry!
    • Visiting the Cliffs of Moher and climbing the "baby cliffs"
    A pub in Galway with the same name as my mom's side of the family. Maybe I'm related to them!?

    Loving the tea and soup on cold fall days.

    Happy Irish rubber duckies.

    Me and my travel buddies with the Claddagh village in the background.

    We had lunch with our new friends, Lisa from Holland and Theresa from Austria.

    The cottage where "The Quiet Man" was filmed.

    The Ashford Castle, and me, pretending to be the princess.

    A peaceful walkway.

    Background story: I was so happy and amazed by my surroundings that I couldn't stop smiling. I decided to document the moment and the God-given joy I had with a selfie. The end.

    They love their ducks.

    Our Paddy Wagon tour bus!

    The Kylemore Abbey. Definitely a place I want to visit again.

    This monument had a very interesting inscription on the back to commemorate a very special event... Continue to next picture...

    Haha! Gotcha! Gotta love that Irish humor.

    Irish traffic jam.

    Our tour guide, Mark. This picture pretty much defines our relationship.

    Authentic Irish dinner: Bangers and Mash

    The whole Paddy Wagon Gang!

    Cliffs of Moher with Theresa, my roommate.


    Haven't seen that recently. Still makes me proud.

    In conclusion, I was reminded in my first few days in Ireland that I need to thank God for new friends, good travel buddies, English-speakers, good beer and the beauty of His creation. Soon I will post the last few days!


    Friday, November 2, 2012

    And The Saints [Went] Marching In...


    First I should start by apologizing. I'm sorry.

    Ok good, now that that's done...It has been a while since I have updated my blog. Really though, I should be apologizing to my mom and grandma. (Sorry Mom and Grandma! You guys are the best!) The rest of you just like the pictures (which are at the bottom) =] These past two weeks have been crazy busy, but now I'm ready to get down to business...

    Two weeks ago (October 20th and 21st) I went to Rome for the canonization of Sts. Kateri Tekawitha, Marianne Cope (two North American saints) and 5 other holy men and women! My second visit to Rome was much more relaxed than the first. Strangely, it felt good to be back in a familiar place. I never thought I would get that feeling about Rome, but I did! God works in strange ways.

     Saturday afternoon we went to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian and walked through the tunnels where thousands of Christians and Roman citizens were buried. It was pretty cool being down there. There were miles and miles of tunnels. St. Sebastian's body is said to have been buried there after his martyrdom. It was surreal to be in the place where the first Christians said mass and had meals together. A beautiful testament to the strength and endurance of our Holy Catholic Church!

    After the tour we walked into the church of St. Sebastian and I noticed about a dozen young college age students praying in the church. This may not sound very curious to you but it caught me by surprise because throughout this semester at places of pilgrimage me and my classmates have been the youngest people there by about 20 years. It was curious and refreshing to be praying alongside other college students. I found out later that they were studying abroad in Rome and were actually from Thomas Aquinas College on the East Coast, Ave Maria in Florida, and one other school that I forgot. They were on pilgrimage to all the major basilicas as a school trip. Another awesome testament to faith!

    A funny little story for you all: A little later I was waiting to meet up with a friend from NET, Maureen, who is studying abroad in Rome as well. We were set to meet up at St. Peter's Square at 7 and I had some time to spare so I decided to sit on the steps around St. Peter's and people watch for a little bit (It's one of the few fun free things to do all across Europe. Never ending entertainment!).

    When I was sitting there an Italian man in his 30's or 40's came and sat next to me. [Note to my mom: Don't worry. Nothing bad happens in this story. I'm totally fine!] After a few minutes of silence he asked me, "Que ora sono?" I proudly responded in my own Italian with the time (proud that I knew what he asked and knew how to say the time) and he was surprised to find out that I spoke Italian. (Then why did he ask me the time in Italian in the first place, right? Weird). Unfortunately that was the extent to my Italian because he insisted that we speak in English so that he could practice his. He asked me if I was Catholic, if I had many "boyfriends and lovers" (exact words, not even kidding) and if I had been on many "adventures." It was the most awkward conversation ever! To every questions I answered with a cold and vague answer (Yes, A few, No, umm.. adventures?, etc.).

    After about 5 minutes of this I told him I had to go and walked into a huge group of tourists right in the middle of St. Peter's Square, hoping my new friend would not realize that I actually was just significantly creeped out by him and wanted to get away. Somehow I found my way into a crowd of Asian tourists and realized that I would stick out like a sore thumb if I hung around them too long. After only a few minutes of camouflaging into the crowds I found Maureen and we had a lovely pizza dinner! And that is the story of my all-too-curious Italian friend.

    The next morning started very early (4:30 a.m.) with it's own set of adventures. We I woke up super early to get in line for the canonization so we could get good seats. By the time we arrived at St. Peter's (6:30 a.m.) there were already hundreds, maybe thousands of people lined up to get a seat for the canonization. It was crazy! People were making "Italian lines" (which really just means crowding together and elbowing your way closer to the front). The nuns were the worst ones! They would sneakily wiggle their way to the front of the line and cut everyone! It's hard to say no to a cute little nun, but in that line no one got any special privileges. One of my friends said it was like we weren't Catholic till we got our seats. The sad reality of it all. The prospect of getting close to the pope makes everyone a little crazy.

    The liturgy was beautiful! The actual canonization lasted about 20 minutes and then we had mass. It was amazing to witness the crowds and crowds of people that were in attendance. Some people estimated there were about 100,000 people there. I don't know how accurate that is, but ever seat was filled and the steps around St. Peter's were crowded as well. it was beautiful.

    I got teary eyed during communion. Pope Benedict XVI had been giving communion to the people in the very front section. They would walk up the ramp to the altar rail that he was supporting himself on, and he would distribute communion to them. Not only is he getting old and having a hard time walking far but he is the pope! Of course you would walk to where he is to receive communion from this vicar of Christ!

     Well, the last two people in that section were in wheel chairs, one was a young boy and one was an old man. The pope was assisted by his two servers down the ramp to where the man and boy were waiting to receive communion from him. His love and compassion for these two sons of God was so beautiful! I couldn't help but tear up at his small act of love and humility. It was beautiful. (So you see Dad, I really do have a heart! I cried!)

    It was a wonderful weekend in Rome. I couldn't have asked for better weather, better company, or a more beautiful liturgy. I feel so blessed to have been in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI again and to go to Mass in St. Peter's Square. Welcoming the 7 new saints was an amazing experience and a good reminder that we are all called to be saints. The only thing holding us back is ourselves.

    Prayer of Canonization for St. Kateri Tekawitha:
    O God who, among the many marvels of Your Grace in the New World, did cause to blossom on the banks of the Mohawk St. Kateri Tekawitha, grant we beseech You, the favor we beg through her intercession that this Young Lover of Jesus and of His Cross may soon be counted among her Saints by Holy Mother Church, and that our hearts may be enkindled with a stronger desire to imitate her innocence and faith. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Note: Photos are not in Chronological order. Don't get confused ;)

    St. Sebastian Basilica, where the young people pray!

    Where St. Sebastian is buried now.

    Pizza with Maureen! It was amazing! Good company and good food!

    The thousands of people that came to see the new saints welcomed!

    Look at all those bishops! Our awesome shepherds!

    This one is for you Aunt Helen! Msgr. Cihak, a friend of my cousins in Oregon, is an assistant to the Pope in Rome and was assisting the pope in the canonization liturgy. Can you see him on the left?

    6:30 a.m. in St. Peter's Basilica. This was just a fraction of the line. Don't all those people look happy?

    St. Peter's with the portraits of all the new baby saints =]

    Annie, Stephanie and I. Can you spot Ryan's photo bomb?

    Papa BXVI riding along in his pope-mobile 

    The catacombs of St. Sebastian.  Walking in the footsteps of the early martyrs.

    Friday, October 19, 2012

    ADL's in Florence [Activities of Daily Life]


    So I've put up posts every week about what I did on the weekend. So tonight I wanted to share with you a few pictures of what I have been up to in Florence and the surrounding areas.

    Wanderings in Settignano...

    Cappucini + Theology = Perfect Combination

    A beautiful Florence sky

    Look! I'm actually studying abroad!
     Exploring Florence...
    Exploring Ponte Vecchio and other places in Florence!

    Random picture of an old man sleeping on a park bench

    We visited San Miniato al Monte, a Benedictine Monastery in Florence 

    The view from San Miniato al Monte! All of Florence is at my fingertips...

    Dusk in Florence in front of Piazza Pitti

    Me and my new amici Italiani! Daniele, Lauri and Chiara! They showed me around Florence!
    Chiara and I from a look out point in Fiesole. All of Florence was lit up behind us. Bellisima!

    Molto amici italiani! 

    The lights over the river from Ponte Vecchio
     Experiencing Tuscany...
    A church we stopped in during our visit to Panzano, a little city outside of Florence.

    I can't see this picture. Can you? 
    Katie and I tasting some amazing wine at the Accademia di Buona Guista! 

    Stefano (on the right with the funny hat) was a great host! We tasted over 7 different wines under his direction!

    Cutest couple award goes to... Katie and Brayson! 

    Comedic entertainment for the day went to Pietro! 

    Jenny and I love Accademia di Buona Guista!

    Two peas in a pod. 

    Stefano teaching Katie and Gabby how to taste olive oil. 1. Smell 2. put in the palm of your hand 3. Cover it with your other hand 4. Dance 5. Taste. Molto Buono!

    Everyone, meet Umberto, Stefano's wild cinghiale.

    Stefano made me kiss Umberto. Pietro said I will not have good fortune for my whole life! Thanks Pietro!

    We have too much fun with Pietro. 
    We graduated from Accademia di Buona Guista!

    Stefano and his amazing hat.

    Buona Guista!
    Good times...
    My classmates and our two fabulous Italian instructors!

    We wanted to honor Daniele (only guy in the middle) and all do our hair like him! 

    Walking to the bus stop is an activity of daily life hear in Italy.

    The sunset on our walk. This night we were having girls night in Florence...

    The girls and I at Tijuana, Mexican Food!!!! Complete with 1/2 off Margheritas!

    Mi piace Mango Margherita molto!

    Welp, that's all for now, folks! I love Florence and have been enjoying all the time I have here. It is crazy to think that I will be back in the U.S. in a month! Today, as we were driving through the rolling Tuscan hills, I was thinking to myself, "This is really my life... Weird." God is so good and I can't begin to express how blessed I feel!

    You all are in my thoughts and prayers constantly! Lots and lots of love is being sent you way!