The Eternal City
Our trip to Rome consisted of four intense days visiting sites all over the city including St. Paul Outside the Wall, the Roman Forum, Colosseum, St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican Museums, the Borghese Gallery and many other sites.
Our trip to Rome is unlike any of our other group trips in that we do not use onsite teachers. Instead, each student is assigned a site or topic to research beforehand and then has to teach the rest of the group when we arrive in their given location while in Rome. Each student becomes the information source for the rest of the group to learn from.
While we are together during the mornings and some afternoons, the students are given free time each of the days to explore the city on their own so they can experience The Eternal City.
A couple weeks ago, we had the privilege of visiting Rome for a few days.
We saw all of the iconic places: the Pantheon, Colosseum, and of course the Trevi Fountain - places we've only seen in history books (and for all of us on the trip, our many viewings of the Lizzie McGuire Movie). They truly were dreams come true, but it was something else that really caught my eye and made me think a little bit harder.
A few of us stumbled across a cat sanctuary located amongst a city of ruins. Somehow, seeing all of the cats roaming around, made me imagine the time when it would have been people doing the roaming. What did they wear? What did they eat? How did they approach relationships with others? You can read anything you could possibly imagine in a history book, but somehow seeing the ruins with your own eyes helps it "click". It was so fascinating to me to put two and two together - this must have been an amazing place. So when in Rome? Do as the Romans.
Several of us decided to spend one of our nights living like Italians - we went out for a four course dinner. From the bruschetta to start to the tiramisu for desert; we laughed, shared stories and simply enjoyed each other's company. It was there, around the table, where so many memories were made. We were distracted from the technology and all other worries, and three hours seemed to vanish in no time at all.
When we paid for our meal, I realized that's how it must have been back then - people enjoying the company of other people. No technology or possessions to distract from the building of relationships: they just had people. And I think that's what this adventure is all about and that's what HUF is all about.
I very much enjoyed my time in Rome seeing the ruins of a once great (and still great) city. However, I also couldn't wait to return to our beautiful villa in Florence to continue building those relationships around the table as I had just done "when in Rome".
-Kailey, HUF student
Be the Difference - Never Again
From the Director:
For several years, HUF students have been involved with a program called “Be the Difference – Never Again.” This program, with its various projects, was started by Elizabeth Bettina, author of the book “It Happened in Italy,” along with myself. If you go to the programs website (click here) you can watch a 10-minute video we put together last year that explains how we participate in this initiative with the HUF students. We have already completed the first part of the program: students watched the video “From a Soldiers Eyes” three weeks ago. Then, on Monday, October 17 the students watched "Debt of Honor" (a PBS documentary).
Each student was assigned a US soldier who is buried at the Florence WWII cemetery and asked to find as much information as possible about that individual. On Wednesday, October 19 students from Kent State University and Kennesaw State University joined the HUF students in Scandicci and bused together to the WWII cemetery near Florence. Fiorenzo Iacono, cemetery administrative assistant, welcomed us and shared some introductory information with the students about the cemetery. More information about the Florence American Cemetery can be found here.
Students were given 20 minutes to reflect and place a flower at the grave of the individual they conducted research on. We met at the grave of Charles Spiegal where Mr. Marco Tofani, an Italian that has been honoring a fallen soldier for over 50 years, shared his story about meeting members of the family of Charles Spiegal. He spoke to the students about having received as a gift the flag that once laid over Charles’ casket from the Spiegal family. After our time with Mr. Tofani we met at the wall of mosaics in the covered area above the graves.
Fiorenzo Iacono shared the movement of the 10th mountain division and how they fought their way up the Italian peninsula, past the Gothic line, through the Apennine Mountains towards the Po Valley and the Alps. Fiorenzo also shared some war stories including one about four brothers and a cousin (five men from one family) that fought in WWII. Two of the brothers died and one is buried in the Florence cemetery. From there we all went to the cemetery chapel.
Carla Fioravanti spoke to us about her life during WWII. Carla lived in Florence during WWII and her home was destroyed by the Allied bombing attack against the Nazi and Fascist troops. Her home was near the Florence Leopoldo/Porta al Prato train station during the war. Carla also shared about the difficulties of life during the war. She was 8 years old when her home was destroyed. She shared vivid details about the destruction of the Florentine bridges over the Arno but how the Ponte Vecchio was spared. She told us about how she left her home only to return shortly after and see nothing but a mountain of rubble after the airstrikes.
Dr. Harper, historian from Kennesaw State University, spoke to the students about WWII history from the perspective of his family’s involvement, as did director of Kent State University, Dr. Fabrizzio Ricciardelli. Dr. Ricciardelli’s grandfather and other male family members left Italy and moved to the United States before the war because of their opposition to Fascism. Veteran and visiting professor at HUF, Mike Bucchi, spoke to the students from a soldier’s perspective about honoring those buried in the many war memorial cemeteries around the globe.
We ended our time at the cemetery singing two hymns, the Doxology and Amazing Grace, after which Mike then lead us in a closing prayer.
We had lunch together afterwards at the Harding Villa with our friends from Kent State and Kennesaw.
It is always a sobering visit for us when we go to the cemetery. It is a moment filled with mixed emotions of pride, sadness and thankfulness.
First Independent Travel
The students traveled all over Europe during their first independent travel. Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and parts of Italy we do not see as a group were all visited by our students!
When I imagined going on independent travel I imagined frolicking around Europe and posing for cheesy Instagram pictures. But when Kayla, Zach, Justin and I set out for our first stop—Vienna, Austria—we had no idea what was in store for us.
Now, you might think that I’m about to tell a crazy story that was terrifying at the time, ultimately brought us closer together as friends and taught us a valuable life lesson. If that’s what you’re expecting, I’m very sorry to disappoint.
What I can tell you, however, is that while in Vienna we had a ton of fun. We got to go to the Schönbrunn Zoo, which is the oldest zoo in the world, and see polar bears (amongst other animals), try honeycomb and honey from the bees in the zoo, try honey gummy bears, enjoy the beautiful Shönbrunn gardens, see how apple strudel is made, bike around the city at night and enjoy authentic Austrian schnitzel. In short, we had pretty a great time.
But it wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows.
The stresses of travel paired with the difficulty of spending every second of every day with the same people can create difficult situations. We got annoyed with each other— but that’s just a part of the human experience. The beauty of it is that every time there was conflict, we got an opportunity to learn about each other and try to see things from a different perspective.
With everything I’ve learned during my time here in Florence, the lesson I value most is how to deal with challenging situations in a way that honors God.
-Meredith, HUF Student