Hello and goodbye to my faithful blog readers (as this marks my final blog entry).
Other than a bit of claustrophobia as I sit on this 9 hour flight home, it is hard to pin-point my exact feeling at this exact moment, having spent 4 months in Rome studying and a month traveling. My stay in London was absolutely fantastic. More than simply traveling to a new city, it was the chance to take seriously my interest in surgery and continue to develop a friendship with the family that hosted me. While London is a beautiful city and there is plenty to see for free, such as the National Gallery and the British Museum which I would both strongly recommend, the highlight for me was the “theater.” Now I’m sure those of you who know me somewhat well are already moderately confused as I’ve never been a theatrical critic; however, among the many differences between America and England, such as driving on the left side of the road, “theater” is the word used to speak of surgery and the hospital operating room. During my shadowing I got to see peripheral nerve orthopedic theaters. I won’t go into the gritty details, but I will say that I was scrubbed and readily able to see the entirety of many surgeries which were explained to me mid-procedure.
Lastly, while visiting a new city is great, it is trumped by the richness of visiting a friend. Without a doubt it was this aspect of friendship which kept me excited as I traveled from city to city in this month away from my family and my girlfriend.
Now, a few bullets of what I’ve learned this semester for students who are thinking of traveling abroad:
• If you are interested, start planning early. Without early planning my biochemistry and Catholic Studies double major would have been impossible.
• Don’t rule out the possibility of study abroad because you are in a serious relationship. This was a serious question also for me and my girlfriend, who studied abroad in Paris this entire school year. No doubt it isn’t easy, but now 10 months later, she isn’t going to be the first one I get to hug arriving in the airport!
• While there are lots of great places to see during a study abroad, don’t underestimate the value of really exploring the city where you will be staying.
• Don’t forget about distant relatives or friends that you would like to see. Even if the location wouldn’t be your first choice you might be surprised what a nice substitute a home cooked family dinner and some good conversation can be for “another museum.”
Now I am back in St Paul and am struck by the beauty of the city, its tranquility and the chance to run and bike, and that somehow my city seemed to manage without me present. Even my chemistry research has made progress while I was away! It is true that there is a lot of catching up to do, but I’m definitely not at a disadvantage having been gone a semester. After a little catch-up the only difference will be that I will be left with the memories, experiences, and education that only a semester abroad could provide. Let me close, then, by thanking the Catholic Studies Department, my Rome professors, and my fellow Bernardians, for this wonderful semester in Rome, Italy!
Dear readers (now including former Bernardians of spring 2008),
As promised, I wanted to share a little bit of my travels after my time at Bernardi in Rome. Immediately after finals, even while the group was still in the airplane, I began my plans for a study break in the Tuscan region. So with a little planning on my part, and a lot of generosity on the parts of others, I found myself for 4 days in a small apartment in the city of Castagneto Carducci which was just a short walk from the ocean. I have to say, the pace of the trip was quite slow and focused more on leisurely reading on the beach than it did of sight-seeing, but I did get to tour the vineyard of Michele Satta who makes some of the regions finest Bolgheri wines.
Tuscany has some of the beautiful countryside I have ever seen in my life, with a sunset where the green rolling hills and the pinks in the sky crash together and fall over the horizon of the Mediterranean in a way which no doubt inspired the poetry of Carducci. The Tuscan region is full of small cities which are off the beaten track which was a nice break from the tourist hubbub of Rome. The break had appeared long enough on the calendar, but in reality passed all too quickly.
Finishing my time in Rome, I attended the American Academy of Fertility Care Professionals (AAFCP), a Catholic medical conference focusing on novel fertility treatments and surgeries which are in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church and the encyclical Humanae Vitae, material I had studied in my Catholic Studies courses that very semester. For me, the conference was a breath of fresh air, both because it provided concrete procedures in medicine grounded in Church teaching and because the conference stimulated the synopsizes containing my previous biochemistry studies which had gone dormant. The conference helped me realize how much of love the sciences, but also, how valuable this semester has been by providing an education which will shape both the way in which I will do medical school and the way I hope to practice medicine. (*Future Rome student tip: If you are interested in double majoring with Catholic studies, start planning early, especially if your other major is not going have many overlapping classes, as is the case is most sciences).
Goodbye everyone and stay tuned for my next, and probably final, post from London, England where I will be shadowing a surgeon for a few days and hopefully seeing a little bit of London. Ciao, ciao.
Sadly this blog marks the end of my time here at the Bernardi Campus, however, like several of the other students from this Rome semester, I am going to be spending some extra time traveling Europe and invite you to continue following my posts. Regarding our last days together I should really start by talking about finals, since it is what consumed everyone’s last days. As a biochemistry and Catholic Studies double major my science friends assured me that this semester would be a breeze without science courses and labs. Quite to the contrary, I have been pleasantly surprised by the rigor and depth of material which I have learned during the semester, which became apparent as I began studying for my oral exams. The format for such oral exams seemed to be universal and consisted of teachers giving you a sheet of paper with the topics which had been discussed during the semester and asking you to be prepared to speak about any such topic. The task, I must admit, was quite daunting, but by no means impossible and during the exams the teachers were helpful in aiding you to demonstrate your grasp of the material through questions.
Finishing out last exams on Wednesday afternoon and the group flight home leaving Friday morning at 3:30 a.m., our final hours together were short, but sweet. Personally, and I would venture to say for the entire group, our final night together was yet another confirmation of how we have grown as a community. Briefly, the evening consisted of dinner out, 35 carbonara at Ciacio e Pepe (yes it’s that good), singing together at Piazza del Popolo, and a final Mass at 2 a.m. Regarding the Mass, I can’t help but chuckle because only at the Bernardi Campus would it be so appropriate to finish out time together with the Mass, even at 2 in the morning!
Singing together was really a beautiful way to stay together, singing songs mostly in English, a few in Italian, ranging from current hits, praise and worship, and of course American Pie in it’s entirety. Goodbyes of course are never easy, especially with those students who weren’t from St Thomas who I won’t bump into walking between north and south campus. And we all had to say goodbye to Bernardi.
Looking back on my time and experiences, this has been a semester full of growth through challenges both academically and spiritually. What strikes me most about this semester, and the Catholic studies Rome program specifically, was how it was not a pause or break from my studies, not even in my pursuit of a medical career. Instead, what I’ve learned here, through encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor or my Fundamental Moral Theology class taught by the Papal theologian, will be an integral part of my understanding of medicine and the human person. This semester has brilliantly integrated a study abroad, focusing those elements such as theology and art history which only Rome could offer, with my course of study in biochemistry. Furthermore, it has truly been a unique opportunity to live within a community of faith in the pursuit of truth and I can’t wait to continue to realize the discoveries which I have made during this time abroad, and to share my experience with family and friends. Closing my time here at Bernardi I’d like to open up my email, available through the Catholic Studies Department, to any future Bernardi students. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions regarding Rome. God bless tutti!
Here goes a bit of an overdue update, as a result of the busyness of these last weeks. I do realize that not being updated because there has been so much going on sounds ironic. After all, isn’t that the main reason for reading my posts? I can assure you, however, that the majority of my time has been spent in the safe haven of the Gregorian Library studying and writing papers for finals. (*Future Rome student tip: Ask about getting a Gregorian library card. It is a new option as of last year and the library is great for studying and equipped with wireless for your research projects.) The good news is that even locked in the library most of the day, due to the long walking commutes and the bright sun of Rome, I’m still going to return home with more sun than the average Minnesotan in early June!
OK, how about a little life outside of the library now? At our last community night dinner we had the privilege of hosting US Ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon. If you don’t know exactly what this position entails don’t worry, neither did most of us here at Bernardi, and as the Ambassador herself said, neither did she when she accepted the position, though I’m inclined to think she was just being polite in regards to our own ignorance. In brief, her job is one of diplomacy between the Vatican State and the US Government. Her main point which stuck with me was what an exceptional time this year has been for relations between the US President and the Pope, and how Bush so graciously welcomed the Pope for the first time outside of the White House. I don’t know what the response has been in the States regarding the Pope’s recent visit, but I can tell you that in Europe, and especially in Rome, those interactions speak highly of US politics and do not go unnoticed.
Lastly, I’d like to close with a story of what started as a rosary and turned into a sing-along, all in St. Peter’s Square! The evening was organized by Fr. Corola. It began with a picnic dinner (father is quite fond of picnics) while we waited together to maintain our prime seats for the Popes candlelight rosary that evening. The rosary was beautiful and I am always struck by how strong the Pope’s presence is. I just can’t help but be moved every time he raises his hands to salute us. His presence is not one of youth and beauty, but one of true strength and joy, and every time I see him, a little bit of that joy comes through as a smile on my face. After the rosary, we kept our candles burning and out came the guitar. I don’t know whether it was because we looked like a bunch of hippies singing songs in St. Peter’s Square, or whether it was the real sense of joy in the notes which we sang, but regardless, we managed to attract a faithful audience of about 50 people and a couple extra voices too. For me, that night was a real verification of how much we have grown together as a group and a community, because we stayed together that evening in a way which wouldn’t have been possible at the beginning of the semester. Singing at St. Peter’s was definitely a gift and a great memory of my semester here in Rome.
“Happy lay-man’s week!” the words echoed not only through the halls of the Bernardi residence, but had somehow found their way to our university, the Angelicum, were priests, nuns, and other religious would all acknowledge us on this very special time of “lay-man’s week.” It is true that with 14 girls, 9 seminarians, and only 7 non-seminarian guys, we do represent the minority, the lay-men, as it were. Previous years there has not been an official lay-men group, so how did it happen that this semester we ended up with not only a group, but an entire week in our honor? Well, the group was easy enough. It was formed when both the women and seminarians would be gone for their weekly formation. We were the only ones left. We were the lay-men. As lonesome as this might sound, it quickly turned into a highlight of every week, and thus was born our tradition of frequenting the local restraint, Ciacco e Peppe, which serves the best carbonara in all of Rome!
Our week long celebration began with our Bernardi Chaplin, Fr. Carola, offering to take us on a one-day pilgrimage to Subiaco were St Benedict, with the foundation of his monastery, began modern day monastic life. Subiaco, with its river, valleys, and tree-covered mountains, is absolutely beautiful! The day consisted of a 45-minute hike up one of the mountains to St. Benedict’s monastery, where it sits, apart from the city and on top of mountain like a fortress looking out for miles at open rolling hills. The monastery was actually built around the cave were Benedict lived and prayed for several years of his life. After paying our visits, we continued with another 30-minute hike to a second vantage point were we unloaded the meat, cheese and wine and ate a picnic lunch which finished with an hour of napping under the warm sun (and to think that I used to oppose naps as a kid)! With the special attention we had received we joked that this was our special week, but when Fr. Corola started our weekly community Mass by welcoming everyone into the celebration of lay-man’s week, it was official.
In closing, you don’t have to be a lay-man to visit the Subbiaco, or to eat the best carbonara in all of Rome. In fact, I would recommend both to everyone. If, however, you are a lay-man and looking at doing a semester here in Rome I would encourage you to gather together as guys and make a trip or pilgrimage together. For us, this week was a chance not only to grow closer, but also to enter more into the community already present here. So a happy lay-man’s week (and Mother’s Day) to everyone reading my posts.
Needless to say, after prepping for our art history mid-term we were all ready for a break when the weekend finally rolled around. Maybe it was the beautiful weather, or the cold blood of Minnesotans, but a group of seven of us made it out to the Ostia beach, and yes, we swam! This was our first of what is now two beach trips, but I still can’t believe it was possible to swim in mid-April when the lakes back home are still frozen (I say possible because while there were a few other people who ventured out into the cold water it looked like most the locals were content to just lay on the sand). Two important things I learned between the two trips were: one, no one wants to go to the beach during the earlier part of the season and two, everyone want to go as the weather gets hot! Our first time was great because the cooler weather, while keeping the locals away and the beaches free, was ideal for a pick-up game of soccer on the sand, and if you’ve never played in the sand before I can assure you that it doesn’t take much to work up enough of a sweat for the cold water to look pretty pleasant. For our second trip it was already getting pretty warm for beach soccer and based off of the masses of new people, it had also become impossible. Therefore, we were plenty content to just play some cards and make it to the water, this time alongside some of the bravest locals, whenever the sun became too intense.
I am really struck by how much Rome has to offer, from history, art,culture, and even those slightly more trivial (but to the college student such as myself often equally as important) experiences such as a day playing at the beach. Best of all, it is economical. At a one euro dollar each way and just a couple more for a picnic lunch, even with the exchange rate at an all time high of 1.64, it works out to be a ten American dollar day! I sure hope it works out for us to make it to the beach again. At the same time, with only a month left, it will no doubt become a bit of a juggling act to maintain full time student status with a demanding work load and pretend to be vacationing at the beach all the time. What about doing homework at the beach you might ask? Maybe. For now I really am just thankful to be able to enjoy all the opportunities as they come, taking them all one at a time. Such an attitude helps keep one open to new and exciting experiences and in Rome it seems there is always something left to surprise you.
Classes are officially in full swing and we just finished our art history mid-term. As a biochemist I can’t say that the class is my favorite subject matter, but I can say that getting the chance to study the history and art of the city you are living in greatly enhances your appreciation of the whole city. Also, I got a second peek at the Villa Borghese Museum and was even more impressed by the Bernini sculptures the second time around. Bernini’s genius was that he could capture a fleeting moment permanently in a marble medium. This very idea seems contradictory. The solidity of marble and the fleeting facial expression which portrays the person’s character, or in the case of The Rape of Proserpina, the instant of her being pulled down. According to the laws of physics I know that Proserpina (who carved in marble must weigh a ton!) is, in fact, being held up in the air by Pluto, and yet in the instant that I am looking at the statue, it is as if he has just emerged from the underworld, clasp her, and is tensing every muscle in order to pull her down. The marble physically is holding her up, but in every other regard, is straining to pull her down. Incredible.
If you don’t particularly like sculpture there are six Caravaggio master pieces within the museum and a whole second level devoted to other great paintings. As for me, the Villa Borghese Museum definitely goes down as a must see and my favorite museum.
It’s been a little over a week since my last update, but with two full weeks of Easter break, the richness of Easter in Rome, and all of Europe to explore, it is nearly impossible to keep that “free” time free. Easter in Rome really is a beautiful celebration and it seems as though the secret is out. The streets, the shops, the churches, and every gelateria on every corner were packed with people spanning all languages and all ages. In the midst of the chaos, however, it was also possible for me to enter into this Easter season in a beautiful and new way.
In order to avoid the torrents of rain and long hours waiting in line for Holy Thursday mass at the Vatican, I snuck off into a relatively small church (compared to St Peter’s anyway) called Trinita dei Monti, just on top of the Spanish Steps. The Mass was so beautiful and the weather in the days that followed so persistently rainy that I ended up sharing the entire Triduum with the French brothers and sisters who run the parish. The Mass was done in French, Italian, and Latin so if you find yourself in Rome and are looking for an English Mass this is not the place. Also, if you are looking for a quick Mass so that you can quickly get on to the next site, this isn’t the right place either. Our Easter Vigil was definitely a full four hours, even longer than the Vatican Vigil. If, however, you are looking for a beautifully reverent mass celebrated in four part choral so stunning that you can’t help but let your spirit be carried off with the song, then this church is a must. And, if it’s any encouragement, the ordinary Sunday masses are only an hour and a half. I wish I could better explain what was so unique, whether it was participating in rich music, not understanding what could have been a boring French homily, or maybe sharing in the Easter celebration with my family for the first time away from home, but it will definitely go down as one of my most remembered times during this study abroad experience.
Also worth noting about my break are my travels to Paris where I met my parents and with whom I then proceeded to travel to Florence, Siena, and finally back to Rome. I could write tons about how great it was to share the week that followed with my family, but I’ll try to highlight only those pieces which, though slightly less profound, are readily understood, such as free dinners and the chance to go into the museums that I have only walked by in order to save money. Yes, I know it sounds shallow, but what a great gift to finally get to see some of the worlds most famous museums, my favorite being the Villa Borghese Museum.
Every museum has certain strengths. The strength of the Villa Borghese Museum for me was found in the masterpiece sculptures of Bernini, a famous sculptor and architect of the 17th century whose hand is seen throughout all of Rome. Seeing stone come alive through the hand of a young man my age seems an impossible feat and yet there it is in front of you. Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina sculpture is an incredible example of such life being brought to the inanimate nature of marble. Unfortunately, other then being struck by the incredible workmanship, there is little I can tell you about the history or thought behind The Rape of Proserpina. I can’t wait until next Wednesday to revisit the museum with our art history professor! For now look up a picture, enjoy, and start studying up in case you get the chance to see the sculptures some day as well.
Benvenuto a Roma! This marks the first official posts to my blog; however, I have been in Rome already over a month. I was jogging my memory trying to figure out where to start and I realized really just how much I’ve had the opportunity to do, including some of the most interesting and unique classes I’ve ever taken, day trips to Norcia, Sienna and Ravenna, and living in one of the most historical and fascinating cities in the world—ROME! I suppose a natural starting point would be to introduce myself. I’m a junior at St. Thomas double-majoring in biochemistry and Catholic studies and hoping to pursue a career in medicine. Yes, I know, Catholic studies and biochemistry doesn’t sound like your typical double major combination, but through reading some of these future posts the ways in which these two majors complement each other will become clearer. Now about Rome…
The people of Rome say that it never rains here and we were pretty much inclined to believe them being gifted with two solid weeks of sunshine as soon as we arrived! Coming from Minnesota and sub-zero temperatures you can only imagine how excited we all were to be walking by the Spanish steps, the Coliseum, and the Trevi Fountain wearing only a light jacket. The first free day we had to explore Rome was a whirlwind of walking from site to site and church to church. We left the Bernardi student house after lunch, and, still jet lagged, managed to squeeze what should be at least a week long ordeal into an afternoon. What an incredible introduction to Rome and what a blur to look back on. I don’t know that I can remember any specific details of that day except for realizing we managed to walk by one particular church at least a dozen times. They also say that all roads lead to Rome, but once in the city of Rome it takes either an incredible sense of direction, or a lot of trial and error to navigate the small winding roads. I fit into the trial and error category.
While I have so many interesting experiences many of them are each going to need an entry dedicated solely to themselves, so let me finish quickly by telling you a little bit about the Bernardi student house where the 30 of us are living, as well as some of the quirkier aspects. I must say Bernardi has greatly exceeded my expectations. My room is twice the size of my freshman Brady Hall dorm room with 13 foot ceilings, crown molding, and two huge double panel windows, one of which opens up toward the Fiume (river) Trevere. We share one bathroom between every two people which miraculously clean themselves every morning (thanks to the very friendly cleaning ladies), but which despite being immaculately clean always have a “unique” smell. What a beautiful gift it has been so far to be living with a group of students studying in different fields, but desiring to take seriously their faith, to find myself in Bernardi with its very own chapel and lets not forget…forever clean bathrooms!
Stay tuned for another update. I think I’ll pick an individual experience and dive into it in a little more detail.