Category Archives: Student Voices

Student Voice


Ricky Marte:

Since I arrived in Assisi, I’ve really felt at home here. I got here about a week and half ago, and have  fallen in love with this place.

On one of my first nights here, I was hanging around at a little restaurant or bar, and I was wearing my Gordon baseball shirt with my name on the back. As I walked through, I heard a stranger say “Marte!” I turned to see that I didn’t know the person. We introduced ourselves and before I knew it I was sitting at his table surrounded by like 10 Assisiani, who were asking me all sorts of questions. “What was my name,” he asked. “Ricky,” I said. He didn’t believe that that was my real name, so after some heckling I finally told them my real name. Now, they call me Richard. Thankfully the man’s wife was raised in New York and they spoke English. The rest of the people there didn’t. So it was a struggle to understand everyone, even with a translator.

However, by the end of the night, they had made me feel at home. I had integrated so much, that one of the men offered to teach me how to smoke a cigar with cognac! I don’t  smoke, but it was more about a ritual of friendship than smoking the cigar.  It demonstrated that they accepted me into their niche, and — at least for one night– I was one of their own.

Anna DeCristofaro:

Since my last update during week one, much of my experience here in Assisi, Italy has grown and allowed me to view this town in a much more appreciative light. If I remember correctly, my thoughts for my first post were centered on the beauty of Assisi. Of course the beauty of Assisi has not changed one bit in its visual appeal, except that it has only grown increasingly more amazing each day to me, especially when I awake each morning and am still greeted by the most stunning landscape I have ever seen. However, there has been one aspect of my Italy experience that has allowed me to view this small pilgrimage town differently.

After spending a day in both Orvieto and Rome, I have been able to discover aspects I enjoy about each unique and gorgeous place. But ultimately I have realized that nothing compares to Assisi. Orvieto shares similarity with Assisi with its beauty–but because we had less than twenty-four hours there it was difficult to grasp the comfort and homey feel for which I was searching. The ruins, monuments, and structures of Rome were definitely among the most incredible works of art I have had the privilege of seeing. But overall, the city was too big for me. All I could think about was how badly I couldn’t wait to head back to the comfort and safety of Assisi. I feel blessed to be here in Assisi and although I miss my family immensely, I constantly remind myself that I am experiencing an opportunity of a lifetime that I will always remember.

Tyler Gagnon: “Misadventures of ‘The Cord’ “

Working as an international journalist requires one to be prepared. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way. Preparing a group video was my major project for this seminar and the biggest part of my grade. In  order to capture the video footage of trip I needed a specific cord to download my footage to the computer.  I brought the wrong cord and did not have the one I needed. Not being prepared in advance resulted in unexpected and unpleasant consequences.

My first attempt to secure a new cord seemed as if it would be easy. I was going to visit Rome for the weekend and thought I would stop at the Apple store there and pick one up. I had an address for a store there,  but when I got to the address, no Apple store was in sight. This in turn led to a sequence of very costly events in my attempt to find another store and then return to Assisi in time for the next day’s class.

I went all over the Rome taking taxis, trains, and buses trying to find a computer store. I knew an Apple store would have what I needed, so I narrowed my search to that, not even considering that any store dealing in electronics would carry the same cord. I was unsuccessful, and finally heard of a mall that many people confirmed had an Apple store. Still convinced the cord could only be purchased at Apple, I was catching the train to get to the above-mentioned mall, and I was unceremoniously pick-pocketed, leaving my friend Suzanne and I stranded in Rome with no money or phone, and not enough knowledge of the Italian language to communicate with the people and not knowing how we would get back to Assisi to rejoin our group.

After a frenzied effort of phone calling and international money wiring from home, we eventually made it back to Assisi–still with no cord.  That’s when I learned that the same cord for which I had searched frantically in Rome, for which I was robbed not only of my money but also Suz’s (I had her money in my pocket), and for which I nearly forfeited my grade and credit for this class, was ready and available not 5 minutes outside of Assisi.  By the grace of God two people accomplished what I could not on my own. With the help our teacher Wendy and her friend Valentina they saved the day and my grade! Valentina not only went to a computer store and got me the cord I needed, she also drove it to my doorstep of where we are staying and hand delivered it. Then she wouldn’t let me pay her! I have so much gratitude for the grace of both Wendy and the charity of Valentina. Without them I would have never been able to do the video I was assigned.  If I had been prepared for my task to begin with I would have eliminated the costly expense, trauma, and stress that running around Rome and all that went with it, meant for so many.

Claire Kinnen: “Cafe Culture”

Italy has a strong café culture and as food and drink is a universal language it is perhaps the easiest to participate in. On some level we all speak pizza, coffee and gelato.

No matter where one goes there is always a café to dash into for a treat.

In Assisi’s reasonably sized main piazza there are several cafés and bars each with small tables and umbrellas scattered out front. Even the narrow streets have their own cafes with charming chalkboard signs that sit on the tiny stone sidewalks.

Italians only drink coffee in the morning but as Assisi is an international crossing point, there are few raised eyebrows when Americans, who can take a caffeine fix at any time of day, order a cappuccino in the afternoon.
There is nothing more enjoyable then journaling outside in the morning sun while sipping a cappuccino and nibbling on a croissant.

Lunch is a large affair with the choice of either pasta or pizza or both. Caprese pizza is an impressive show of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. But with sausage, mushroom, ham and several types of cheeses as well as other fresh in the mix, it’s hard to choose.

After an afternoon nap, the only thing left to crave is something sweet. There are several candy stores and groceries in Assisi where will quickly realize that chocolate with hazelnuts is practically a national obsession. However the safest bet is a short stop into a café for gelato. Chocolate is almost always the perfect blend of bitter and sweet but with other flavors like coconut, strawberry and, of course, Nutella.

In the evening when hunger hits again, a short search will provide one with a glass of wine or beer is perfectly and a toasted panini.

Although it is evident that Italy is clearly a joy for the taste buds, cafes are also lovely because they are intensely social. With their conversational atmosphere and simple approach, cafes set the scene for chats between friends, discussions, interviews and are the perfect place to stop no matter what time of day.

Annie Battles:

Living Slowly

As the train leaving Rome raced through the Italian countryside, I thought about our whirlwind weekend trip. Train rides are good times for reflection.

Rome was an experience – we stayed in the city less than 24 hours, running around frantically as we attempted to squeeze several days worth of sightseeing in. Funny, I thought on the train, that I would remember Rome as a crowded and industrial tourist attraction. I’ll remember how the hostel we stayed in boasted paper-thin walls and traffic roaring by at all hours of the night. I know I’ll remember sore feet. But there are other mental souvenirs as well – the savory cacio e pepe spaghetti we ate our first night, the majesty of the ruined Roman Forum set against thunderhead clouds, and the Pantheon lit up at night. I’m not knocking Rome. I am still in awe over standing mere feet away from such ancient and tangible marks that history has left. As we headed back to Assisi, however, I realized that rushing through a city is not the kind of traveling I prefer. I would rather feel Italy than industry.

The next day, Sunday, dawned as a sharp contrast to our packed Saturday. After finally making it back to C.E.F.I.D. safely the night before (let’s thank God and the Perugia taxi system), our group slept in late and woke up to the first day of summer weather in Assisi. I was able to send out the postcards that had been written since last week. The girls in our group enjoyed pranzo out in the piazza, ordering our typical cappuccinos and gelato. Later, Claire and I walked down to Massimo Cruciano’s local art studio. This was truly a blessing of the day, and a reflection of what I love most about our trip (and traveling as a whole). Massimo was interviewed earlier for a local story by one of our team members, and was beyond pleased to see more of us back in his studio. He spent an hour poring over his book with us and sharing about his travels through Asia as a young photographer. His book is a compilation of photos from this journey, the story of India and Kabul in the 60s, all captured through the lens of film photography. I found myself more than a little inspired by his work and beautiful images, which are made all the more special by the fact that they differ from the modern instant gratification of digital photography. As a whole, Sunday was filled with good conversation, art, perfect weather, and rest. A welcome break after the previous day.

I suppose what my weekend reflection led me to discover is that I crave the more personal side of travel – meeting the people, hearing their stories, and learning from the lives and work of others. Yet hindsight has a funny way of putting a rosy tint on things, and perhaps I will remember Rome more fondly than I think. Whether or not the post-trip rosy glow surfaces, it seems to me that – from my limited experience – the best action is to savor it all. The same can be said for both invigorating travel as well as our daily life, which may seem paradoxically weighty and mundane. And so, in our final few days here, I have planned to live each minute slowly and gratefully.

Ashley Moulton:

In our lecture yesterday, we talked about how every story is inevitably about people.  Even events as abstract as a tornado or movie premier always come back to people.  This seminar in Italy has been an incredible experience, and our group chemistry has dramatically enhanced every aspect of the trip.  From conducting my first interview to eating gelato at the local cafés, from seeing the ancient manuscripts at the biblioteca to spending the evening strolling by the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon in Rome, these experiences would not hold nearly the same amount of depth without the people who made them worthwhile.

Interviewing a local Italian merchant named Fabrizio was incredibly fun.  He was animated, lively, and passionate about his work and about Italian food.  Wendy’s friend Valentina helped translate the interview for us, and was incredibly kind and good-natured.  Following the interview, Fabrizio prepared a beautiful assortment of Italian delicacies on a plate for us to sample.  Valentina, Anna, and I enjoyed trying these gourmet foods and appreciated Fabrizio’s friendly and happy demeanor as he took a picture with us after the interview.

Over the weekend, eight members of our group went to Rome and stayed at Ciao Bella Hostel.  After arriving at the hostel, we decided to stroll over to the Trevi Fountain.  We had heard the fountain was beautiful at night, and we were not disappointed.  Together, we threw our coins into the Trevi and made a wish.  After taking several pictures, we decided to head towards the Pantheon.  The Pantheon was huge, and seeing the massive doors and pillars was amazing.  This was one of my favorite parts of Rome.  We spent awhile at the Pantheon before returning to the Hostel.

Through all of my experiences here, I definitely feel like it helps to have such a close team.  While all of the sights we have seen are definitely remarkable, it is the stories of people and relationships that attract audiences and that are cherished forever.  I have really enjoyed getting to know Wendy, Jon, and the other IJSA students who have greatly deepened my experience in Italy.  I hope to make the best of these last couple days and cannot wait to hike up to the hermitage on Thursday!

Amanda Thompson:

Today I stood in the tomb of Saint Francis. I am still deciding what to make of the experience.

Though the lower basilica was dim and cave-like, it didn’t feel like the home of dead people. It felt like a museum. Maybe it was the little blue earbud I was wearing, through which our tour guide whispered the history and artistry of the basilica. Maybe it was the milling tourists disregarding the “silenzio” signs or the glass cases protecting Francis’ tunic and written blessing to Brother Leo from the degenerative gazes of a thousand tourists and pilgrims a day.

Or perhaps it was the rampant Romanesque arches, the portraits painted on the walls and the detailing of every minute protrusion, nook and cranny. I am continually floored by the artistry of everything I find in this country. People in medieval times seem to have agonized over beauty and intricacy in a manner that has been lost today. Is the tempo of progressive society to blame? Especially in America, I fear we love efficiency too well. We build a structure only to tear it down when it has outlived its usefulness. There is no room for this kind of beauty. It takes time and patience, two commodities money can’t buy.

Saint Francis himself was encased in a stone sarcophagus in a little crypt below the lower basilica. He was positioned beneath where the altar stands on the main level. The altar was actually built to help protect his remains from followers who may have wanted to keep pieces of their leader as relics and from neighbors in Perugia who would have stolen the body. Four of Francis’ closest friends are buried in the crypt with him, and other important players in the order are buried elsewhere in the church.

Frankly, I think Francis would look at the Gothic arches of the upper basilica with a pained expression on his face, offended that such a grand structure had been erected to honor humble little him. Yet perhaps he would also see what I saw – that the basilica is no longer just for or about Saint Francis of Assisi. Its history far exceeds the story of Francis and his followers. It holds stories of artists, of benefactors, and of Franciscan friars through the ages. History continues to be made inside these walls as religious seekers meet for liturgy and raise their voices not to Francis, but to God.

Suz Hoofnagle:

Greetings once more from beautiful and finally sunny Assisi! This has been quite the first week. We’ve seen, done, and taken photos of so much; it’s kind of overwhelming, this weekend away in Rome especially! A dreary yet delightful Friday was spent touring the sights of Orvieto, and learning about Professor John Skillen’s Gordon Program. Post tour, most of the group hopped on a Rome bound train. If I had the ability to see the forthcoming events of the weekend, I can honestly say I’m not sure if I would board the train to Rome, or divert myself back to Assisi, where I am privileged to call home for the remainder of the week. I bother to mention these mixed feelings because of a specific course of events that have left me with a lot to think about.

Tyler and I spent all of Saturday, and half of Sunday touring all of Rome and seeking out the adventures it offered. For better for worse, we saw the beauty of Rome, as well as the corrosive nature of mankind, that resides in all Metropolitans. Too bad for us, our run in with the worst of Rome has made this traveler less enchanted with the city and happy to be back safe, sound and writing in Assisi. Before I divulge in the bad, allow me to give praise where it is due. We enjoyed all the sights expected of a visit to Rome. The Coliseum, the Palisades, the Pantheon, the Senate, Trevi fountain, and Spanish steps were architectural wonders to behold and explore.  Lovely candlelit dinners for two, painted watercolor souvenirs, and gaining the pleasure of meeting and adopting a surrogate Italian grandmother, Nona Electra lent delightful ambiance to the ancient city-center.

Despite the fun, and wondrous weekend Rome provided, as young and relatively inexperienced travelers, we were bamboozled and robbed by the hands of con artists.

While walking through Rome yesterday afternoon, God touched my heart and taught me a gentle lesson about money and possessions. We were robbed of our money, but in comparison to the beggars on the street, we were still so rich. It hit me, and it hit me hard, that these beggars wear scraps of dirty clothes; they sit in the sun all day, and humbled by throwing themselves at the feet and mercy of others. Tyler and I had to do the same thing but in a far less serious way, knowing that we were okay and safe, and this ordeal would be over soon. We had with us a 300 dollar suitcase, filled with another 300 dollars worth of clothes. Tyler and I both had 100 dollar back packs, again filled with more expensive and valuable items. We were not destitute, yet someone took away our immediate source of money and our world crashed for a few hours. I had to put myself in the tattered shoes of the beggar, and I didn’t like it because I was uncomfortable. I don’t know really how to process all of this, I just think perhaps as St. Francis threw himself into the arms of the leper, perhaps I can devote more of my time to helping God’s less fortunate children, and work to loosen the grip that material things have over me.

Dan Awad:

Palimpsest is…

A palimpsest, according to Merriam-Webster, is ‘something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface’. Bruce Herman, a professor in the Gordon Orvieto program, introduced this concept to our group during our brief tour around the city. He explained that all around the city were vestiges of culture upon culture, society upon society, the layers of history stacked on top of one another. The past was seldom absent. It was to be built on, manipulated, but not wholly erased.

As a graduating senior, I walk away from the remnants of life-changing years. Life, as with history, does not always turn out as planned. There is confusion, much damage, much joy, and inevitably adapting changes within the infrastructure. Seen in this light, it is very encouraging to find that many of the primitive bricks in Orvieto, still strong, make well as foundations to those new bricks of today. I can only hope that the last four years, with experiences both positive and negative, reflect the same model. That I can stand on the stronger aspects of decisions and dilemmas and filter out the weak, leaving only that which will ultimately be of benefit to both myself and others. In the end, it seems we are all palimpsests, whom, through choices and intentionality, shape the outcome of who we become.

Elise D’Adamo:

The past few days have been packed with excitement and adventure. We got to visit the other Gordon students who are studying in Orvieto. It was interesting to see another part of Italy, especially a part that we could be somewhat familiar with.

After Orvieto, a few of us ventured into the great city of Rome and tackled the immense amount of sightseeing. In less than 24 hours we gazed upon the Fountain of Trevi, the Pantheon, the Vatican, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum. By the end, we were all so exhausted, but extremely proud for such a successful span of time.

Getting to see all of those monuments was eye-opening for me and I had a sudden appreciation for history that I had never had before. Here are these breath-taking treasures that have stood their ground for great lengths of time. It was beautiful to see history so close. The details show the care and precision of our previous cultures.

This trip has been such an experience and an exciting new adventure. I have learned a great deal in only a few days and I still have more. I am thrilled to see what will happen from here on out.

Stevie Bittner:

It’s midday here in Assisi and once again I’m taking in the beauty of my surroundings. As I’m called to reflect on the last week, I fear that I can’t do justice to the expanse of knowledge I’ve gained and the number of challenges we’ve faced. We’ve traveled from Assisi to Orvieto to Rome, and back to Assisi. We’ve seen the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and the Vatican. We’ve walked up to the Umbrian hills, and eaten countless slices of pizza. We’ve socialized with Italians, written articles, discussed assignments, and conducted interviews. We’ve lived as Protestants in a largely Catholic town, recognizing our similarities and differences while upholding Christ’s love as the basis for our faith.

As we’ve gotten to know one another over the week, I’ve answered the question a dozen times: what do you want to do with your life? Each time I answer the same way – I want to work in the media in some capacity, largely with writing, and possibly as a publicist or a producer. What I fail to mention is that I honestly don’t know where I will be in ten years, but I do know that I’ll be in the palm of God’s hand.

With this in mind over the challenges of the last week, I’m proud to say that we’ve learned as a group just exactly what that means. Right now, we’re all in the palm of God’s hand. We’re here in Assisi with the mission of international journalism for a reason. Maybe we won’t all become journalists, but we will learn, we will grow, and we will be responsive to the work that we are called to do. Whether we’re navigating through a foreign city, taking pranzo at a local restaurant, or writing an article of international significance, having a healthy dependence on the Almighty God is imperative.

As Brother Silvestro, our gracious host in Assisi, led us through the Biblioteca last Tuesday, I was struck by his example of relationship with God. He stood outside a door and had me try to open it, then said, “You can’t, because you don’t have the key.” The key for us is Jesus, who laid down his life for our sins. Once inside the room, Brother Silvestro demonstrated how easy it was for us to exit. We don’t need the key to go out.

I pray that, in coming away from Assisi, we look to our reason for being here, and never step out the door of God’s grace. Whether I’m in the United States or in beautiful Italy, in joy or in hardship, I know that I am exactly where I am called to be – in the palm of God’s hand, the relationship through His grace.


Thoughts from up and coming journalists on the road in Assisi:

Ricky Marte:

After being in Assisi, there are a great number of things that I have noticed. The first is that Italian is not Spanish. Before I came here, all I heard was that since I’m fluent in Spanish I’d understand Italian.  Well they were wrong. Except for a few words, I don’t understand or speak a lick of Italian. And it’s frustrating. Trying to talk to Italian people in Spanish doesn’t work well either. I’ve found myself using a mix of the limited Italian, English, Spanish, and hand gestures. That has worked ok. So far.

The next thing I’ve learned is that loyalty is very important to the Italian people here in Assisi. Every time I’ve gone somewhere more than once, I’ve found that the people remember you. When they remember you, they give you discounts and charge you less. As I’ve continued to visit the same places, I’ve found that the price gets cheaper every time I go. That shows me the importance of loyalty, which is really awesome to me.

I also learned that the best things in Assisi are hidden. The best wine, the best food, and the best drinks are your reward only when you have to really look for them.

Claire Kinnen:

I am in Assisi, Italy. It is expectedly beautiful but slightly surreal. I feel as if I have not fully landed. The high medieval walls taunt me and provide me with a metaphor for all that I do not understand. Despite the small size of Assisi and several distinct landmarks, I feel slightly lost.

I have studied Spanish since the age of fifteen and feel comfortable speaking in my second tongue so my first instinct here is to begin speaking Spanish. Whenever I go to a Spanish-speaking country, I begin to walk down a path I began to pave a long time ago. My language ability is like a compass. It may not get me to the exact location but always points me in the right direction. My minimal Italian makes me feel so limited. I have to rely much more so on tone and intonation, facial expressions and gestures. My ear listens for cognates and I attempt to speak but I am forced to face the reality that I need a translator or, even better, Italian lessons.

Our instructor, Wendy Murray, often says, “This is real journalism” whenever we confront a difficulty or unexpected change. Part of becoming a good journalist is not only learning how to adapt to such experiences but also in anticipating them. Whether one is working in one’s home country or traveling internationally, one is always challenged when communicating and working with people of different languages and cultures. So although I would be much more at ease if I were fluent in Italian, I know that if I were I would not be learning how to push forward and forge a new path. Just like the old Roman road that was uncovered in Assisi not long ago, I am uncovering what its like to feel out a new and foreign context as a journalist and this makes me both grateful and excited.

Tyler Gagnon:

This morning I woke up early and grabbed a cappuccino with Suzanne. It was such a great way to start the day in the quietness of the morning. As we sat out on the patio of a small café overlooking the hills of Assisi I felt invigorated for the day that lay ahead. We had a major interview this morning so starting off early helped me feel ready for the intense event.

After our interview we went out for my favorite meal of the trip thus far. We had these exquisite stuffed shells with ham inside. The taste was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Even though we attend the same restaurant for pranzo every afternoon we all get excited everyday because each meal they make for us seems to get progressively better!

Also, we have this theater professor from London named Tony who we keep running into along the way. We met Tony our first night in Assisi and it seems we run into at least once a day. This happened last night as well as this morning. Wendy’s son Jon even took him on a hike. Along with Tony we have also become friendly with a few people from the area. Specifically the waiter at Sensei who gives us many discounts each evening when we attend. This trip has blown away any expectation I had and each day is better than the last. The group chemistry couldn’t be any better and we are all becoming good friends and better journalists!

Amanda Thompson:

There is something pleasantly surreal about living in a city that is centuries older than our entire country.

Passing under stone archways, I wonder how they are still standing and what it was like for Saint Clare to pass under those same arches in the 1200s. Climbing the hill to the castle called La Rocca, I wonder how many battles were fought on these ancient slopes and for what. I wonder how this rich culture and civilization could be so deeply rooted in these mountains for thousands of years without tarnishing the green of the valley. I wonder how an ancient religious order still draws practicing friars in the 21st century.

Here in this place, free from cell phones and wireless Internet and the general hubbub of the States, where the gardens encroach on the city, where you can wash down gelato with a glass of wine, where the locals need their afternoon siesta, here where history is in the very mortar of the walls and where learning is not a chore but a privilege – here I can breathe.

Anna DeCristofaro:

From the very first moment when I stepped off the cooling jets of the plane onto European ground, I was flabbergasted. It was everything I had ever hoped it to be, but this place still somehow managed to exceed my visual expectations by surpassing my minuscule thoughts of what this magical place would look like. It contains some of the most beautiful green and healthy grass I have ever had the privilege of laying my eyes on. The landscape is covered in picturesque vineyards and carefully sculpted villas, followed by a backdrop of cascading mountains, that one only wishes they could reach out and touch. I have continuously woken up each and every morning, to feel myself grow more and more impressed by this stunning landscape that seems almost too beautiful to be real. Assisi Italy is, the amazing city of which I speak.

Since day one, the beginning of my Assisi experience has been extremely memorable and has continually left a lasting impression in my mind. We as a group, of eleven college students have had the incredible privilege of meeting friars, bishops, and shop owners. The bishops we have met, have even been so kind to lead our group around the most beautiful library I have ever seen, while allowing us to view manuscript documents as ancient as one thousand years old. Besides the local tours, the enchanting city of Assisi continues to uphold its excitement with several different activities one can partake in each day. From the upbeat nightlife, to the beautiful clothing shops, or the incredibly delicious local food stores, there has been an exciting adventure around every corner for me. I cannot wait to see what the rest of my Assisi Italy trip has in store for me.

Ashley Mouton:

Assisi is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  The view of the countryside is spectacular with its rolling hills, bright green landscapes, and dark blue mountains in the background.  When we first arrived, the stone archway leading into the town of Assisi prepared me for the beautiful buildings and runes inside.  The intricate designs of the stones for each archway and building are like nothing I have ever seen in the States.  The entire town is a fortress, surrounded by walls and built on a hill overlooking the Italian countryside and ready to defend against any attack.

Assisi is a town where history has come alive for me.  A town where construction on an alleyway can lead to the discovery of an ancient Roman road.  A town where a library, or biblioteca as the Italians call it, can house manuscripts from the thirteenth century including prayer books and books of the Bible handwritten by scribes.  A town where valuable manuscripts that once led to the attack of Napoleon contributes to the fortress mentality that locals maintain to this day.  A town where every view is beautiful, where faith and religiosity encounter daily life, and where God is present in every moment.

Having the opportunity to write in this town has been incredible.  I have enjoyed sitting in the piazza, watching the bustle of tourists and locals alike as they go about their daily business.  I have seen people leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee and meandering into the many shops and gelato stands.  I am looking forward to interviewing a local merchant named Fabrizzio about the pros and cons of living and working here in Assisi and to becoming more accustomed to the Italian culture and way of life!

Annie Battles:

On Being Sojourners

Assisi is a place of sojourn, of pilgrimage. Our group is only one of many that travel to this hill town in order to feel the other-worldly charm and tranquility emanating from the cobblestone streets and verdant hills. This trip has been a sweet gift so far. Yes, we are working, but our work is fascinating – learning the Italian culture and then engaging in reflection through writing and dialogue. We walk everywhere on hilly paths and the burning in our legs feels good, especially after a huge pranzo (the midday meal). We take pictures. We interview locals. And every new street we turn onto, there is sunlight and beauty, hanging clothes and windowsill flowerpots, gelaterias and olive trees. It’s not hard to see why this is a place of pilgrimage and worship. I feel like each time we eat, or stop to marvel at the architecture, or breathe in the gentle wind, we are engaging in acts of wonder.

With all this being said, one might assume this experience could feel far removed from reality. I’ll admit we have passed more than a few comments among our group about the difficulty of understanding that we are finally here. As friars and nuns stroll by on the street, or I catch a glance of St. Francis’ majestic Basilica looming over stucco rooftops, it is easy to assign the town to a picture book rather than an actual place with residents and a longitude/latitude. Yet we have certainly tasted “reality” here as well. Speaking with locals and feeling the frustration of a language barrier reminds me of the impossibility of expecting residents to understand my language, when I myself am the visitor.  More importantly, our group has grounded one another. Anne Lamott writes, “What fills us is real, sweet, dopey, funny life.” We have certainly shared our moments of this sort of life here, ranging from laughing in cafes late at night to discussing the challenges of writing with integrity and trust in this context. As we prepare for individual interviews with locals and spending more time stretching ourselves as writers, I look forward to many more of these moments.

Check out my Flickr account if you are interested in seeing more Assisi pictures!

Dan Awad:

I did not sleep all night. Sitting next to the bathroom in the back row possesses two major inconveniences. Firstly, people are constantly walking in and out, each time emitting a violent light and bitter smell. Secondly, the seats, of course, do not incline through the back wall behind you. Upon arrival, the Roman airport showed gave no appeal. Apart from the Italian advertisements plastered on the walls, I could have mistaken my destination for Miami. Thankfully, the bus ride became my salvation. Rolling hills and greenery, ancient architecture and delightful scents, awakening my senses to an experience not yet approached. Assisi itself represented the culmination of my sights. A city on a hill, the Italian Jerusalem some might say. Here lied the apotheosis of culture, beauty, history, Italy. And here I stay for two weeks.

Such was the conglomeration of my thoughts during the travels of yesterday. Today I am rested, on a full stomach, and have tasted a small part of the sights, foods, and culture this city has to offer. Needless to say, I’m happy. Very, very happy. In fact, there is an Arabic expression, a prayer actually, that I spend only in times like these: noushkarak ya Raab, noushkarak: Thank you, O Lord, thank you.

Elise D’Adamo:

I am blown away by this place. Everywhere I look is a new photo, a new view, a new beauty. Assisi is gorgeous and so rich in culture and history. Today we got to see some of the ancient texts from the time of Francis. It was incredible to be face to face with books so valuable and historic.
Yesterday alone I took 250 pictures… I will certainly be getting plenty of use out of my camera! Every turn brings a new picture and it is hard trying to get it all photographed. But I will certainly try!
Assisi is a treasure and I am so blessed to be here. It’s only been two days and I already know that I will come back. Everything here amazes me and I can’t wait for the rest of the trip!

Suz Hoofnagle:

I’m here! When I first applied for the IJSA months ago, it felt like the day we’d arrive in Italy would never come. But now, we are here and already two days into the trip! From the minute our wheels left the runway, to the bus stop at Assisi, our travel has been flawless. I can’t help but know God has his hand on this trip and is guiding us by the minute. So far I’ve tasted pizza, gelato, pasta, cappuccino and of course a bit of vino.

Yesterday was a fun day of getting acclimated to Assisi and resting from our travels. Today however, we hit the ground running so to speak. Following an Italian style continental breakfast, (mmm… Nutella,) and a quick lecture from Wendy, we had a specially guided tour of the Biblioteca Sacro Convento and the monastery attached.

My local story assignment was to interview Brother Carlo Bottero, head librarian at the library. Unfortunatley, things didn’t go as planned, but we went with the flow anyways. How very Italian of us! Brother Carlo was MIA, but his wonderfully kind and helpful assistant was there. He showed us amazing ancient texts from Saint Francis’s order. Between his broken English and Wendy’s translations, we received a pretty awesome tutorial about the ancient books housed by the Biblioteca and their relevance to History. Stay tuned to read the article I put together based on today’s day trip!

Stevie Bittner:

It’s our second day in Italy, and I have already fallen in love with this beautiful country. Assisi has an energy unlike anything I’ve ever known – the comfort of neighbors, the view from the hillside, and the antiquity of the surroundings are intoxicating. I can’t help but feel at home in a place that once seemed dead to my reality.

Yesterday, after a whirlwind of travel (by plane, bus, car, and tram), we arrived in what will be our home for the next two weeks. Our accommodations are more than generous – large windows, single rooms, and a central location. Already, we’ve sipped wine and cappuccino in local cafés, familiarized ourselves with the Piazza del Comune, and visited notable landmarks of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

Today, we had the rare opportunity of viewing ancient manuscripts of Roman law, Biblical texts, and other handwritten works, some dating back over one thousand years. It was incredible to watch as our professor translated the Italian description of these manuscripts. Following this, the class was taken to an underground chapel and ornate terrace in the Biblioteca Sacro Convento. Being the prepared journalists that we are, we photographed, videotaped, and recorded each of these encounters.

After our pranzo (lunch) at a delicious family-owned restaurant nearby, I worked on a class assignment of written observation on a brick pathway off one of Assisi’s many narrow roads. Having a little extra time before our deadline, I took a solitary walk to Rocca Maggiore. The view from this castle above the town may be the most spectacular view I’ve yet experienced.

Already, I’ve learned a great deal about navigating this Italian-speaking town, acting as a journalist, and finding the story. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the rest of our Italian journey!

On the Ground and Ready to Work (Not)

The first IJSA team has arrived and is (as I write) meandering the streets of Assisi getting to know the small hill town that they will call home for the next few weeks. They are tired. But they are also pumped. Today, they are recovering from their travels and enjoying the beauty of an Umbrian evening stroll. Tomorrow, Tuesday, the real work begins  with interviews and video takes and general nuts-and-bolts journalism. (They got their first lesson in international journalism when they had to haul their bags from the bus stop to the guest house.) The sun came out today for the first time in weeks.

The International Journalism Seminar Assisi is one week away. The students are beginning to dream of pasta and cappuccino. They are also preparing to undertake interviews, local stories (Assisi) and some international ones (the Amanda Knox case). Below they lend their thoughts as the days draw near:

Tyler Gagnon:

As our trip to Italy draws near I have begun to evaluate what this trip might entail. I am excited to become immersed in a different culture for two weeks, not only just being in Italy but also interviewing people from the local area of Assisi. Expectations are difficult for any journalist on assignment and trying to predict how a trip will go or what the story they might get will be is a hard task. I hope to gain experience in the interviewing process and learning what it takes to get the story  I am seeking. I also hope to increase my comfort level with the unknown.  As the day draws closer and my work load decreases I get more excited about our trip to Assisi.  I hope any expectations we may bring will be blown away by this incredible trip!

Elise D’Adamo:

I am very excited about this trip to Assisi. Not only am I going to be covering an incredibly huge case [the Amanda Knox / Meredith Kercher story], but I will also be visiting Italy, where my family is from. This is such an amazing opportunity and I am truly blessed to be a part of this.

I think what I am most excited about it getting into a journalistic mindset and being fully emerged in my writing. I want to come back to the United States with a new eye for the world and a different perspective. This trip will certainly give me that chance to see the world in a new light. Two weeks of intense journalism on a well-known case is such an experience and I still cannot believe it is happening.

Italy is a place I have always wanted to go to, and now I get to go with a purpose.

Amanda Thompson:

I have a great love and respect for other cultures and I can’t wait to learn about Italy from the inside. Through this seminar, I hope to learn how to bridge cultural gaps to foster important communication, whether those gaps be language, religion, political views or otherwise. The people we will meet will be such a wealth of knowledge and perspectives. I can’t wait to wear their glasses, seeing the world in new ways and scratching the surface of their culture. I am eager to learn how they are different from us, but more eager to learn how they are the same.

It is a huge blessing to have this opportunity to learn both sides of a controversial story like the Knox/Kercher case from people who have been closely involved throughout. It’s so hard to report with balance and without bias. I think this is a great chance to learn how to do that by engaging as many different parties as we can while in Italy.

Suz Hoofnagle:

My anticipation of this trip grows as the day until our departure approaches. I am most looking forward to the work we will be doing related to the Amanda Knox case. My interest in Ms. Knox and her story has been peaked ever since I first read about her last year. We are so privileged to have gained access to her family.

Through this class I hope to gain a better understanding not only of what it means to be a jounalist, but a journalist in an international context. Overcoming the challenges that the language barrier is something I look forward to tackling. I hope to immerse myself in and engage with the culture and traditions in Assisi, even though the trip will be a short one. I plan on making the most of every minute.

Anna De Cristofaro:

What I am looking forward to about this experience is the fact that I am going to be thrown into the life of a journalist in the real world. I have never studied journalism and I am so excited to have this amazing opportunity to study its components and have the chance to interview the local people of beautiful Italy. It is going to be quite an experience for me.

My goals and expectations for this journey are to challenge myself by stepping out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to experience the sometimes rocky but rewarding process a journalist experiences with an open heart and mind. I expect to not let myself down when I experience trial and error, but to push forward and learn from any mistakes I may make along the way.

As we begin to count down the days to our Italy trip, I am extremely excited to have this amazing opportunity, but I am also nervous because I have never travelled without my family.

Stephanie (“Stevie”) Bittner:

From what I know of journalism, it requires a good deal of flexibility and willingness to try new things. Whether it means reporting from a dangerous area, traveling on short notice, or writing on a difficult subject, journalism stretches its writer beyond comfort zones. Flexibility not being my strong suit, I look forward to taking a course that requires me to literally travel out of my comfort zone and experience life as a journalist free of the constraints of my daily life. Though challenges are not always comfortable, they are always life-altering if faced with perseverance. In the course of the International Journalism Seminar, I am excited to take on challenges with purpose, passion and awareness of my unique surroundings.

Of course, I have needed to set some clear goals for the experience, so as to make the most of my time in Italy. My goals as a journalist in this course are to grow both academically and artistically while expanding my worldview and writing through the perspectives of the Italian people. I hope to come back from Italy with a greater sense of how to find a story and become part of the story while living in its backdrop.

My personal goals for this course are to develop greater flexibility and international savvy. Additionally, I hope to gain a better understanding of the Italian people and the Italian language.

As we begin to count down the days, I am anticipating the course load, doing research, and learning a bit of the Italian language. My only apprehension is of managing life in a city of Italian speakers when I know so little of the language. However, my excitement in becoming a better journalist and traveling to this new, beautiful place far outweighs the fear!

Ricky Marte:

When I was first informed about the possibility of making a trip to Italy to study  journalism, I was elated. I knew right away that this was an opportunity that I absolutely had to take advantage of. I am very excited about the opportunity to study about the Amanda Knox case from the Italian point of view. Also, I am excited about the opportunity to leave my comfort zone. I don’t speak any Italian, so it will be a bit of a struggle to understand and relate to the Italians in Assisi and surrounding areas. This however doesn’t deter my excitement or enthusiasm about what I’ll be learning there.

While I’m there, I expect that I will learn much more about the international scope of journalism. I hope to learn a little bit from Prof. Murray about how to act and behave as a journalist, and overall how to get the story.

As for how I’m feeling now counting down the days, I can admit that I’m a little bit nervous. It isn’t a bad kind of nervousness, as much as it is a eager kind of nervousness. Bring it on.

Ashley Moulton:

Stories are everywhere.  Local events tell stories about a specific culture or place.  National stories describe events such as presidential elections, stock market changes, and major catastrophes.  International affairs speak volumes about the political, economic, and social world.  Having never taken a journalism course or experienced the ambiance of Italy, I am looking forward to embracing a new cultural experience and having the opportunity to document some of the stories I see and experience.  From the story of a merchant living and working in Assisi to the story of the new developments in the Amanda Knox case, I hope to learn how to balance a mixture of equally important stories.  I plan to delve into the journalistic world, further developing my writing skills and learning more about how to “get the story.”  As the day of departure draws nearer, I am filled with both excitement and uncertainty.  This is the start of a new adventure where everything will be completely novel to me – taking a course in a foreign country, the journalistic style of writing, the Italian language and the process of using a translator in interviews, the cultural differences to the United States, and the experience of living and writing in the city of Assisi.

Claire Kinnen:

As the days approaching my December graduation came closer and I realized that I was not so certain I wanted to pursue sociology or Spanish as a career.  At the time I was reading Nine Parts of Desire by journalist, Geraldine Brooks. Her ability to give her readers the context to understand the complexity and diversity of the different situations of Middle Eastern women inspired me. She did exactly what I had thought I initially wanted to do as a sociologist and Spanish-speaker; she communicated well. The idea of being a journalist has not left my head since. I am looking forward to exploring my new interest and learning more about journalism in Assisi, Italy.

I think the fast pace of the course will be both challenging and exciting. I love to write but often mull over essays and papers for as long as possible. So I am anticipating the stretch of writing with fast-approaching deadline. I am at ease in Spanish-speaking environments so learning how to work with a translator in a place where I don’t speak the language will be a beneficial skill for me to obtain. I expect to come away with a clearer idea of what the field of journalism is all about and what journalism as a career might look like for me.

I feel ready and anxious to leave, but also increasingly nervous. Before the trip I will be participating in Gordon’s graduation ceremonies, which means saying goodbye to people who have come to mean more to me than I could have expected. As the trip date approaches my mental list of things to do and people to see becomes longer. I do not know if I will feel prepared no matter how many times I run through my list.  My time at Gordon is ending and the future feels closer than ever before. However, it is my experience that the most intimidating of situations can often warrant the most growth. So whether it be graduating or going to study a new discipline I mostly feel grateful I have something ahead of me.

Annie Battles:

I am thrilled to be participating in an adventure in which three of my passions combine – writing, exploring new cultures, and interacting with people. As people of faith we are called to be citizen sojourners and to hold a worldview that extends beyond ourselves. Part of this, I believe, means harnessing individual passions and blending them with an outlook that surpasses one of our original “homeland.” I am grateful for the opportunity to do so by learning from and interacting with both the city of Assisi and its citizens. As Anais Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and once in retrospection.” Tangibly, I hope our work in Assisi teaches me more about the art of international journalism and crafting fluid and engaging pieces. Inspired by Anais Nin, I also look forward to gaining more of an understanding of the art of reflection, especially through writing.

With less than two weeks left until we touch down in Rome, I am attempting to look beyond the craziness of finals and finishing up the school year, and see this adventure beyond.  Besides a growing anticipation, I also feel exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to write and learn in a foreign context, especially one as lovely and captivating as Italy.

Daniel Awad:

There is certainly an art to writing, especially when focused to the styles in journalism. That being said, I am most anticipating the effect Italy – in its culture, people, and classes – will have on my style of writing and worldview. I have no direct experience within the field of journalism, nor have I been taught its major emphases. I see this time as an opportunity to take hold of what I learn, in an effort to both get my feet wet within the subject of journalism as well as grow stronger as an overall writer. I look most forward to becoming part of the setting as I write about it, drawing my thoughts as not only an outsider looking in but also as one who has embraced the culture within. At this point, I do not know what to expect from these approaching weeks, nor do I come with heavy expectations. What I do know is that I will walk out of the airplane, stepping onto Italian ground, with unabashed excitement and an elated smile.