Sitting in the living room of my house in Dallas (America!), I have a little bit of time to reflect back on the time I spent abroad. It’s been a good semester. I’ve done a lot. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve eaten a lot. I’ve walked a lot. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve studied a lot. (Just kidding about that last one.)

Okay, so what have a learned? Have I accomplished my goals?

Pray. Every day. Check. This semester has had an incredible impact on my spiritual life. There is something about being at the center of the Catholic faith, visiting the sites of a multitude of saints, and witnessing the election and inauguration of a new pope that is inspiring and motivational to pray. Probably the most amazing thing about the Catholic faith is that no matter where you are, what language is spoken, you can step inside a church and say hi to Jesus, physically present in the Eucharist. And He is the same everywhere.


Maria and I atop Brunelleschi’s dome of the Florence Cathedral.

Keep up with this blog. Okay, maybe not a complete success. I was doing pretty well for a while, but definitely slacked off in the last month or so. My apologies. Not to make excuses or anything, but there was a lot going on.

Develop an existing friendship. Huge check. Maria Buckner, you are such an inspiring and amazing individual. I am blessed to consider you one of my best friends, and I will miss you dearly.

Make a new friend. Another big check. This one goes out to my other roommate, Marie. I am so glad we were able to go from hardly knowing each other to become good friends. I will certainly miss you (and your songs and dance moves) very much. Here’s to a very cheeky room.

Develop impeccable European style. Please refer to my photos.

-Try a native dish of every country I visit. Yep. I must say I was the most impressed by France; they worthily take pride in the quality of their food. The duck was pretty delicious, and I ate more than my fair share of crepes.

Learn a new dance move. I don’t know that I will have occasion to use it, but I did indeed learn some Greek group dances.

Stay on budget. Yes! Thank goodness…

Stay out of jail. A very definite check.


Thaddeus and I in front of the Eiffel Tower on the third long weekend.

And a few other things I learned along the way.

-There’s always more room in the Cotral bus.

-A SITA bus can fill up.

-Pope’s can resign.

-Don’t drink the tap water on the ferry.

-French people are actually very nice.

-Easy Jet > Ryan Air

-If you arrive to a destination after dark, get a taxi to your hotel.

-Keep your travel groups on the smaller side.

-Make sure you do not put yourself in charge of planning everything for a trip.

-Don’t expect to be able to follow a detailed travel itinerary.

-Charades will take you a long way.

-Study enough to keep up your grades, but don’t forget: you are in Rome. It’s okay if you don’t have your best semester and instead get to see some of the greatest sights in the world.

Marie and I at the beach of Santa Marinella

Marie and I at the beach of Santa Marinella

-You can just walk across the street in Italy; the drivers will stop for you (it’s actually quite empowering).

-Do not attempt Italian pedestrian styles in France.

-There’s no place like home.

There are certainly many more things I could eventually think of. Those are some more specific things, but I also learned quite a bit about life, generally. As a person who usually likes to a have a plan – for the present and the future – it was a little difficult at first to not get stressed out by the last minute planning that takes place when you travel to a different country on a long weekend. Soon though, I learned that it is okay not to have every detail worked out. If one thing fails, find another solution. There really is not enough time to plan for the future perfectly and to enjoy the present. At the same time though, one has to plan a little bit and not just float through life without any goals. There is a median that must be found.

Each day I discover different ways that this semester has changed me and helped me grow. I can’t wait to continue to discover how my experiences have shaped me and to carry with me all that I have learned. Most important of anything that I have learned: don’t forget through everything you are not really in control. God knows what’s up. He will take care of you if you just let Him.


Ten Day

We only had seven days of class during the month of March. After our Greece trip, we had four days of studies, then our Spring Break, more commonly referred to as “Ten Day.”


An idea of the crowdedness of St. Peter’s Square at the papal events.

Usually for Ten Day, campus is closed, forcing students to embark on their own (hopefully they already have during the semester) and take care of themselves (even some who have already accomplished the first purpose seem to struggle with this one). This semester, thanks to all the papal events, the staff allowed those who wished to take them up on the offer to remain on campus in order to be a part of everything. Though not everyone was actually on campus the whole time, there were about fourteen of us who spent most of Ten Day in Rome.

The papal stuff – the main reason I stayed in Rome – was not a disappointment. Papa Francesco’s first Angelus was packed. Once again, we stood out with our American flag, and tourists flocked to someone who could definitely speak their language, while news reporters scheduling interviews for after the prayer. Papa Francesco is simply the cutest old man. He approaches the world in joyful humility, opening the Angelus and other addresses with “Buon giorno!” The Installation Mass was crowded, as was Palm Sunday. I’m getting used to the drill: wake up before five in the morning, get on a bus (or walk if you’re already in Rome), book it to St. Peter’s, push to the front of the line, use your elbows – you know, all that good, friendly brotherly love to get you in the correct mindset right before a papal Mass. But honestly, when it comes down to it, the hassle is worth it. The Masses are wonderful, just like our pope.


Climbing Monte Cassino

But of course there was not a Papal Mass every day of the break, so I got to do some traveling around Italy. On the very first day, we climbed Monte Cassino. When I say “climbed,” I don’t mean “took the road up to the top of the mountain” or “walked up a footpath.” No. I mean we literally climbed up the side of the mountain. That was a ton of fun, even though unfortunately we didn’t reach the top until ten minutes before the abbey closed. (It’s about the journey, not the destination, right?) Despite our short amount of time we got to stay in the actual monastery, we were able to visit the main church and pray at the tombs of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica (Max – you got some more personal shout-outs to St. Benedict). It was quite an enjoyable afternoon.

Tivoli proved to be one of the most beautiful spots in Italy that I’ve been so far. It is a small, friendly town, well-situated in the mountains, with expansive ancient estates. Hiking through the wild valleys and walking through the well-groomed gardens provided contrasting forms of appreciating its splendor. The weather was nice, the churches were nice, the wine was nice. Overall – a lovely day.

I also ventured to Nettuno, Siena, and into Rome several times. From what I hear, the weather in Italy far surpassed what other classmates experienced in Northern Europe and the UK. Between the pope, the lovely day trips, and the sunshine, staying in Italy was an excellent decision.

Heroes, Gyros, and Euros

On the first of March, all 105 students, the staff, and some of the professors piled into busses for a six hour trip to the port of Bari, where, after a quick stop to the Basilica of St. Nick, we got onto a ferry for an overnight journey to Greece.


Skipping down the field of Olympia

The first city we visited was Olympia. It was much smaller than I expected, but had lots of great little shops and pretty hills all around. At the hotel that evening, a few Greeks performed some traditional dancing, and even taught us how to join in to a group dance. (Maybe that can count for my goal of learning a new dance move in another country.) When we awoke the following morning, everyone headed to the archeological site – where the first Olympic games were held. We held a few races, and rather than take it seriously, I skipped across the field with a few of my friends. I’m pretty sure that was actually more difficult than just jogging or even running, but it was a lot of fun.

Our next stop was Nafplion, a charming little seaside town with an enormous fortress overlooking it from an adjacent mountain. A lot of people went swimming in the Aegean Sea (Crazies. It was freezing). I opted to put my feet in the water and watch the sunset. So peacefully picturesque. I also ate my first truly Greek gyro there, which was possibly one of the most delicious things I’ve consumed this semester.


The sunset at Nafplion

Our visit to the theater of Epidaurus on Monday revealed the architectural impressiveness of the ancient Greeks, specifically of Polycleitus the Younger. Even sitting at the top of the enormous theater I could hear my classmates acting out the Bacchae in the orchestra. That same day we stopped at Mycenae – the location of Agamemnon’s palace. Both the scenery and weather was beautiful, and I would have been happy to spend much more time at that location.

Athens was cool to visit, and the Acropolis and the Areopagus were pretty amazing to see and walk around, but the city overall was not my favorite. It was more or less just another city, and not a very nice one at that. I did purchase some flowey pants at a market (Are they pants? Is it a skirt? You don’t know!) – that may have been the highlight of my time there. Aside from the archeological sites of course.

Delphi was next, and it was the tiniest town we visited, consisting of just three main parallel streets. Despite its size, the town had a pretty great discoteca, where most of the class spent a good amount of time over the two evenings. Like Mycenae, Delphi was situated in lovely surroundings – the mountains looked spectacular when the mist settled in the valleys. Unfortunately when we visited the Temple of Apollo and the Athenian and Siphnian Treasuries, it was cold and wet – not a perfect day for being outside.


The cliffs of Meteora

We also spent some time at Thessalonica. There is not much that is notable from there – it’s just another city, and not as nice as Athens.

We finished the trip at Meteora, where there is a whole series of monasteries built into towering cliffs, with the intention of being inaccessible. Obviously it is now possible to visit some of them, and the view from the cliffs was amazing.

The trip overall gave me a good appreciation for the ancient and modern Greeks, but I can also say without hesitation that I was so glad to get back to the relative normalcy and routine of Rome. Which is saying a lot, since Rome is by no means normal or routine.

Habemus Papam!

Habemus Papam! We have a pope!


The square was a sea of umbrellas, and the rain came down hard. Somehow we managed to wiggle our way near the front, while we waited in anticipation for the signal of the smoke. Quite honestly, most of us on campus did not expect it to be anything but black. Not even everyone went into Rome to see it. When the smoke began to pour out of the chimney, it appeared as this grey-ish color. The crowd cheered to see the smoke, though we were all still unsure of the color. Some hesitantly began to cheer for a new pope. The hesitation became confidence with the peals of the bells. The square exploded. The rain stopped. People were jumping around, screaming, chanting, hugging. Within seconds, every person had pushed forward as far as they could (I was probably about fifty feet from the front barrier). The square was packed full within a minute. A person would not have been able to get out, even if they had wanted to. The excitement was overwhelming. 

As we waited, various people began chants like “Viva il papa!” or “Habemus Papam!” My friend Bradley suggested that we begin a chorus of Salve Regina. We did, and a huge number of people from every language joined in. (Apparently it could be heard on TV.) An amazing testament to the unity of the church.


At last Papa Francesco stepped out onto the balcony, and once again, the crowd erupted. When he asked for the blessing of the crowd, everyone was silent. Truly, everyone. You could hear the cameras click from the roofs of buildings at the back of the square. You could hear a car a few miles away honk. We can’t even get 105 students to be silent when the RA’s are calling roll at meetings. The complete silence was one of the most incredible moments I have ever experienced in my life. I got goosebumps. A million people, standing unified in prayer and support of our new pontiff. Beautiful.

The excitement continued long after our new leader turned in for the night. We stayed in the square for some time. Almost everyone in the group got interviews. Tons of people wanted pictures with our American flag. The night was amazing. 

Looking back even one day later, I can hardly believe I got to be a part of that. It was absolutely the greatest day of the semester so far; it was possibly the greatest day of my life.


Having written this, I feel it necessary to say that this does no justice to what it was to truly be there. I don’t know if anything could.


What does one do in Brussels, you ask? Eat. Eat a lot. Belgium is famous for all the things mentioned in the title, and each merits its own description.

IMG_2130Beer – A professor told one of my fellow travelers he would have to be stupid to visit Europe and not go to Brussels to try the beer. So we did, and it did not disappoint. The Trappist beers were easily the best as a type, and I must say that I enjoyed the dark much more than the blonde beers. My favorite of any of the beers was a coffee stout. What I most certainly did NOT like were the fruity beers; they tasted more like artificial juice or syrup. Aside from those fruity sissy drinks, everything was delicious.

Chocolate – here is my weak spot. I love chocolate. Yeah, okay, I’m a girl. Apparently all girls love chocolate. Whatever. I love chocolate. Belgian chocolate is world famous, and for good reason. There were chocolate shops spotted throughout the city like fast food restaurants in America. It was so easy to just stop into a chocolatier and buy one piece for like 35-70 euro cents. One store we ventured into was not quite so welcoming. We dubbed it “The Apple Store of Chocolate,” due to its very simplistic decoration and exorbitant prices. One box of 16 chocolates was 70 euro! But this was far out of the norm. For the most part, cheapness and deliciousness were joined in a beautiful harmony.

IMG_2118Waffles – these were waffles of insane greatness (though still not as good as my mom’s Waffles of Insane Greatness).  They were made with some kind of syrup inside, so they needed no toppings to complete them. There were waffle windows along many of the streets, but for some reason, most did not open until 10 or 11. That just meant we didn’t wake up until then either. It worked out.

French fries – I was told by a not necessarily reliable (nor necessarily unreliable) source that waffles were invented in France, and french fries were invented in Belgium, and Brussels is famous for both. Maybe I just did not go to the right places, but they did not seem like anything extra-special. They were pretty much just like french fries in the states. But we enjoyed them, and ate possibly more than our fair share.

IMG_2141Eating was not the only thing we did, even if it did make up the majority of the trip. We also visited a large structure called the Atomium that was a mix between architecture and sculpture, built for the 1958 World Fair. We got to climb through the structure, learning about its history and the history of Belgium. My favorite museum was the Comic Strip Center, which had an exhibition on Tintin and Hergé. The souvenirs were super cool, but super expensive. I was sorely tempted by the Tintin tin, but restrained myself, since in addition to its price, I would have had to pay an addition 50 euro Ryan Air extra baggage fee.

The weekend was incredibly fun and quite relaxing. I ate too much and spent too much, but looking back, it was totally worth it. Let’s raise a glass of Trappist beer and make a toast to beerchocolatewafflesfrenchfries.

Remember You Are Dust…

As he does every Sunday, the pope led the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on February 10th, 2013. I was there. The following day, he announced his resignation.

As something that has not occurred in 500 years, this has naturally sparked a huge amount of discussion not merely in the Catholic community, but in the world. Certain UD students even made it onto national television, declaring the support for the pope from all of us in America – a sentiment I would like to echo. Resigning for medical reasons, Pope Benedict XVI shows great humility and respect for the office. There comes a point when an individual no longer is able to fulfill every obligation. Although perhaps the public does not know or understand all his reasons for this action and however heartbreaking the event is, we, like Pope Benedict, must trust in the will of God. Besides, he’s the pope. I’m pretty sure he’s prayed a lot about this decision.

With the historic event taking place, Rome seems to have woken up from a sleep it did not even know it was in. Waiting in line for the Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Peter’s, the last public mass of Pope Benedict XVI, was overwhelming. A large number of UD students (myself included), stood in line for several hours before security even opened, then several more inside the church, only a few rows back from the altar. As we languished in the sun (just kidding, we could not have asked for a more beautiful day) in the line that wrapped around the square and out onto a street and out of sight, I reflected on what an amazing opportunity it was for us to be, not just at that historic Mass, but in Rome at all, especially during this time.

When security finally opened, the crowd crushed in. I could have lifted my feet off the ground and still made it through the gates upright. People were yelling angrily; photographers snapped away; things seemed more than a little lacking in prayerfulness. Inside the basilica, despite a crowd eager to witness history and photographers eager to witness their photograph on the cover of a newspaper, Mass was still Mass. And it was a glorious Mass. The Church stood unified in the Eucharist under the Pope, setting out on that journey of mortification and preparation that is Lent. As Christians prepare for Communion with God in Easter, embarking upon the road with the words, “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”, (spoken in Italian of course), the pope himself sets out on a journey of preparation toward his final communion with God in Heaven.

Let us all take inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI, emulating his humility and willingness to accept the will of God.


Props to whichever photographer got this picture. It was not me.

On the Beautiful Blue Danube

We chose Budapest because it was cheap. On the second day of orientation, our director advised us to book our flights for our long travel weekends as soon as possible. What ensued was a backed-up internet, shifting interest in where to go, and general panic. At one point, my friend and I were throwing a pen at a map to see where we should go. (Unfortunately, the flights to Krakow were terribly expensive.)


Part of the group in front of the Danube, at the top of Castle Hill.

So, after some hours of stressful searching, we chose Budapest, with very little reason except its affordability. And I am so glad we did. It was incredibly interesting to see the mix of eastern and western culture and to listen to the totally unfamiliar language. Italian, Spanish, and all the Romance languages have cognates with English, but Hungarian is something totally different. Everyone spoke very softly, making what looks in writing to be a harsh language to sound very gentle and quite lovely. One evening we were able to attend Mass at St. Matthias’ Church, said in Hungarian, which was an amazing testament to the unity of the Catholic Church. Despite the language “barrier”, we were able to follow along perfectly (well, except during the homily), share the sign of peace, and receive the Eucharist just as we would at a Mass in English. The Catholic Church is truly a catholic church.

Possibly the coolest (or rather warmest) thing we did was visit the baths. They were naturally heated outdoor thermal baths. Because of the way the city sits on a fault line, the water is around 38 degrees Celsius all year round. When we were there, it happened to be snowing. We got to relax in marvelously soothing warm water while being snowed upon.


One of the bridges over the Danube, beautifully lit up on a crisp night.

Mostly out of cowardice, we almost entirely avoided the public transport systems, choosing instead to walk at least ten miles each day, allowing for us to see more of the city. There were several bridges connecting the two sides, Buda and Pest, across the Danube, and we traversed nearly all of them.

Visiting another country was a great experience, but I must confess that I missed Italy while I was away. Flying in on the return flight, I was able to locate the Colosseum and the Forum as familiar landmarks. Rome sweet home.