Now that I’m back in the states, I finally have access to my computer and I’ve had time to process the many notes I made throughout my trips and condense them into blog posts.

I can honestly say that studying abroad has been one of the best experiences of my life. I know that everyone says that, but I am now a firm believer that a change of pace (and location) changes everything.

My journey began with the PLC Italy trip. I arrived at the Kansas City airport at 5am, and my flight left at 6:05 (not gonna lie, they called my name to the gate–I was cutting it pretty close.) At any rate, I took a short flight to Dallas, where I met my friend Michael, who was on the same flight as me to Rome. As we waited in the airport, more students from our group began to arrive. It was an odd concept for me to grasp seeing everyone in a non-school context, and especially not in Norman. We boarded the flight around 12:30 and set off for our adventure.

The flight was relatively non-interesting. I watched movies, read my book for class (SPQR by Mary Beard), and talked to friends sitting around me. We arrived in Rome after 9 short hours and I got off the plane and tried to take it all in. I was in Rome–THE Rome I’ve read about and seen in movies for as long as I can remember. The pinnacle of a successful society which defined many modern structures, from architecture and music to government and warfare. Rome.

We sat in the airport for a while, and then my group left for Arezzo. It was a two hour bus ride, but I slept the whole way. We arrived at Arezzo, unloaded our items at the monastery, and took a tour of the monastery and the small city which would be our host for a week. I had my first Italian gelato and real Italian pizza, and I knew that this would be one of the best weeks of my life.

The next day, we had orientation at the annex (OU’s other classroom building in Arezzo). We learned all about navigating Arezzo, very basic Italian, and the structure of the week’s activities. After that, we visited a basilica in Arezzo, which had breathtaking frescoes. We had the rest of the afternoon free, and I went with some friends to the edge of the city and sat on the medieval walls enjoying the view. For dinner, we ate with our family groups, small groups of ten which were led by a faculty member. My faculty member was our professor for the class, Dr. Watson. He was absolutely incredible, and as I talked to him at dinner about my interests in anthropology and archaeology, he informed me that there was an OU professor who did Roman digs in Italy–a future opportunity to come back!

On Wednesday, we had our first actual class lecture. We arrived at the annex and Dr. Watson began teaching us the history of Rome, even from its mythological origins. I learned a lot more than I gained from the book, which was really cool. After class, we had a tour at the Arezzo amphitheater and archaeology museum. The amphitheater was a small colosseum, and I could only imagine just how large The Colosseum(TM) would really be. The archaeology museum was also amazing; it included a ton of Etruscan art (Arezzo, or Aretium, was first an Etruscan town).

Chillin at the archaeological museum

In the late afternoon, we had our vineyard tour! We walked towards the outskirts of Arezzo, to a beautiful vineyard on the side of a hill. We got to learn about how the vines grew, how the wine was made, and at the end of the tour, we had a wine tasting and some bruschetta. It was an absolutely incredible place, and it was Italy as I had imagined it. We had another family dinner after the winery, got gelato as a group, and headed back to the monastery for the night.

Frolicking in a Tuscan vineyard

The next morning, we had another class lecture with Dr. Watson, where we explored the beginning of the empire further. After class, we had another archaeological tour, this one at the Pionta. This site was an old Roman church that had been taken apart so that the stones could be used in the construction of other buildings. There was another, newer church on the site, and we were able to go down into the crypt of this church, where I got to see real human bones. After the visit, we went to lunch at the crepe place and had the afternoon free (I took a nap). We had another family dinner, this time at a super fancy outdoor restaurant, and then a large part of our group went to the bar that was under the annex for a wild time.

On Friday, we had our last class in Arezzo, in which Dr. Watson talked about the expansion and success of the empire and its eventual demise. We took an afternoon trip out of town to Rondine, a site where people come from different countries that are in conflict with one another to work and learn together. It was interesting, for sure, but it didn’t seem like the people that were there enjoyed it all that much. For dinner, me and a group of friends headed to a very quaint little restaurant in Arezzo. I had some incredibly good gnocchi. We finished out the night watching a movie and headed to bed kind of early.

The next day, we didn’t have class in the morning, but instead took a group trip to the flea market. It was a really cool experience, but I didn’t see anything I really wanted to spend money on–except cherries. I bought an entire bag of fresh cherries, and they were some of the freshest, best-tasting cherries I had ever eaten.

Some neat flowers at the flea market

We got a light lunch afterwards (crepes) and I headed back to the monastery to prepare for our pasta making session. Pasta making was super fun; we got to make everything from gnocchi to ravioli, starting with only an egg and some flour. Our pastas even turned out to be quite edible. Later that night, it was karaoke night at this bar called My Way, so a bunch of us ended up singing random songs with some OU basketball players who also happened to be studying in Arezzo. It was a good farewell to the lovely city.

Our last day in Arezzo wasn’t really in Arezzo; we had a free day, which meant that we could go practically anywhere we wanted within the time frame. I went with a group that first visited Pisa (Galileo’s birthplace!!), and then Viareggio, a cute little beach town on the western coast of Italy. In Pisa, we walked around for a bit, had breakfast, and visited the leaning tower, of course.

The leaning tower!!

We caught our next train to Viareggio, where we got to chill on the beach near the mountains. It was an absolutely incredible view. We got a late lunch at a seaside cafe, and then headed back on the train to Arezzo.

Beach day at Viareggio

For dinner, we had a cute little picnic in the courtyard of the monastery, and took some final pics before heading to bed and preparing to leave for Florence the next morning.

My first week of international travel was better than i could have ever imagined. I learned more about the Romans, about people, and about myself, than I had in a really long time.