Flexibility: Being flexible. Something that I personally have never been very good at. I like everything to be planned, meaning I like to do lists, planners, and watches. Being in Italy, with 40 other people taught me how to be flexible. Our first problem happened before we even got to Arezzo. Our original site for the service project was the train station, but a week before we left, the location changed to the hospital. Upon our arrival to the hospital I nearly had a panic att like. Everything the creativity committee had planned was nearly out the window, yes the concepts were the same, but where were we going to put everything? Were we going to get it done? It turns out, we would do a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. But that was just the beginning, I quickly learned that people were not joking when they said that Italians run in their own schedule. From having to ask for your check at a restaurant, and even then sometimes not getting it, to being late to important to events, Italians really do run on there own sense of time. This experience also taught me to be more flexible with my fellow students. We all come from so many different backgrounds, and we all have different skills, but if we work together and recognize those skills we can get a lot done. I believe that being a flexible leader is important. Having the knowledge that not everything is going to go as planned, and being able to react positively, is a huge deal. Things happen, and the sooner you realize it, and fix what you can the better. I learned on this trip what it truly means to go with the flow.
June 29th: WE ARE IN ROMA!!! WOW. Today we walked all over Rome. We are staying near the Vatican (casual), and we walked all the way to the Coliseum, for a grand total of 9 miles. Let’s just say we took a cab back!! Rome is literally full of history, from the fountain of the four rivers, to the Trevi fountain, to the Forum, this city is overflowing with history. Walking through the city and hearing Professor Duclaux explain how life in ancient Rome makes you feel as if you are a citizen of ancient Rome, in your own toga. Walking is a great way to see an entire city that you would not see if you just took a bus everywhere. We saw where Caesar was supposedly killed, where ancient Romans shaped the future, and where innocent animals were killed for sport all in one day. I am so overwhelmed by the history of this place. To hear of what happened in these places, and to learn of the culture then and now is something that I would never get sick of.
Probably my favorite part of this city is the Trevi fountain. I love that so many people come here to find love, or to know that they will be back in Rome again. The fountain represents hope, and happiness, and I love that. To be here and to be experiencing this joy with my friends makes the day that much more happy to me. The memories that I have made in this city will be with me the rest of my life, and that makes up for my level of tired. I do not know if I have ever been this tired, but when will I be in Rome again? I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings!! Tomorrow is my last full day in Italy, and in Europe! WHAT?! This has been such a crazy journey and I do not want it to end!!
June 23rd: Today we all hopped on a bus and went on an adventure! SInce we are done with our community service project we now get to go out and learn more about the artwork and community of Italy! Today we went to Assisi and we got to see where St. Francis once walked. Casual. I was honestly kind of discouraged to find out that we were going to see multiple churches, becau se I have been going into churches since late May and they are starting to run together. But wow this city and its churches blew my mind! To have the oopurtunity to not only walk through these beautiful churches but to also hear about why they exist from Professor Duclaux is so amazing. To learn about the frescos, the cathedral and the life of St. Francis blew my mind. Prof. Duclaux describes the history in a way that you can picture St. Francis walking the streets of Assisi building a wonderful chapel with his bare hands, that we saw by the way. This isn’t just another church, no church is just another church. Imagine all that has gone on in these structures, the lives that have been changed, the history that has been made. Wow, just wow.
After a few more lectures we went on a lunch break and split off to various locations to eat! My friends and I made a quick stop to get some wonderful cannoli’s and wow were they good. This free time just led to more relationships being made closer, and for that I could not be more grateful. I know I have said it plenty of times, but these people around me are changing my life, along with many others. They rock. Everyday I wonder how I will continue through fatigue, but then I walk down stairs to the lobby and see there faces and my energy level is instantly 100%. After surviving the Assisi heat and drinking some pretty good sink water I could not have been more excited to make it back to Arezzo!
A quick nap, and change of clothes later we were off to the monastery for a fantastic OUA cookout! This one was with all of the students and staff at OUA, it was great to just mingle and eat some home food, especially watermelon. After a quick flash mob to One Dance we made the treck back down the hill to our hotel, where a lot of blogging needed to happen! As the blogging and conversation continued, I once again realized how blessed that I am to be on this trip, in this wonderful city, with all of these beautiful people.
June 27th: Today is the day, the day that the monastery officially opens, the day the ribbon gets cut, and the day that so many people have been waiting for, and I am just lucky enough to be a part of it. When Dean Grillot asked me to speak I had no idea what I would say, or what they expected from me, I did not even know what I expected from myself. As I wrote my speech it did not even set in that I was going to be a part of just a little bit of OU history, this day at the monastery is going to be remembered forever. The monastery project was started nearly 7 years ago, and was just finished this year. There were countless setbacks, and so many details that are just right. So much work went into making that monastery what it is, most of which I do not even know, but yet I was still asked to speak a word of gratitude. The second I walked into the courtyard and heard the string quartet, and saw the stage, the chairs, and the people, it finally set in that I was a part of something so much bigger than myself. People came from all over the United States to Arezzo, just for this ceremony. When the wonderful Kari Dawkins told me that I would be sitting on the stage by Kirk Duclaux, and Dean Grillot, I nearly had a heart attack. This was actually happening, I was actually talking, in front of all of these people, I was speaking. As soon as Dean Grillot introduced me all I remember that little voice in my head saying “you got this”, and as I looked out into the audience and saw all of my PCS friends, I knew that I in fact did get it. After hearing Lucho, the mayor of Arezzo, Professor Duclaux, and President Boren speak, the importance of the world heightened. Studying abroad can teach a person so much about the world, the country, the people around them, and most of all it can teach them about themselves. Speaking at the ceremony taught me so much about myself, and it was so rewarding for me to be able to thank so many people in person. Being grateful to the people who helped get the Monastery finished, and OUA started truly effected change in my life and in many others. So to be able to thank them on behalf of the OU student body is something that I will always be grateful for. After all of the talks, and thank you’s the ribbon was cut, and the monastery was officially open!! After the ceremony Libby, Emilee and I went to go get some gelato, and then we hung out on the terrace of the hotel. I have some wonderful memories from that terrace and every time I go up there and see the view I am reminded to stop and smell the roses. Today has been one of the best days of my life, hands down.
June 25th: Navigating the Italy trains while knowing no Italian? Challenge excepted. It has always been a dream of mine to see the leaning tower of Pisa, so why not go on your free day to the place of your dreams? When the day started my friend Libby and I slept in a bit and headed to the Arezzo train station and headed on our journey. In my quick time in Europe I had been on many trains, but none without a sponsor or adult. Was I nervous? Yes. But did we get there? YES. On the train ride Libby helped me write my speech that I will be giving at the opening ceremony for the Monastery at OUA, and we just reflected on our time so far in Arezzo. Once we got to Pisa we hopped on a bus that took us right to Cathedral Square where the Leaning Tower, the Cemetery, the Duomo, and multiple museums are located. This was the perfect place to go for multiple reasons, it was not too far away, it all is centrally located, and it is AWESOME. I had no idea that there was so much to see in that small area. We went into the cemetery, the Duomo, and the baptistery. The Duomo was one of the prettiest structures that I have ever seen. It truly overwhelmed me, almost every Cathedral that I had been in had some kind of touristy gift shop, or information desk that took away from the sacred feel of the space. Walking through he duomo I felt as if I was in a whole other world, deep within my own thoughts. The next stop was the cemetery. This was a beautiful space, but it definitely had an eerie feeling. With the grave stones on the ground, and the large statues commemorating the lives of many people, Libby and I spent little time here. The next stop was the Baptistery, that is still used for baptisms!! The most overwhelming part of this building was the climb to the top. Once to the top there were multiple windows so that you could see the Duomo, and the Leaning Tower. It was here that I realized how awesome our world is. There are little unknown gems that are all over the world. The only reason Libby and I went to Pisa, was the Leaning Tower, but we quickly discovered that Pisa had so much to offer that goes unknown to others. It astounds me to think about all of the world that I have not seen, or even heard of. After more train rides, and more talks about the world around us with new friends on the train, Libby and I arrived safely back to out hotel in Arezzo. WE DID IT. We traveled in Italy by ourselves, talk about feeling on top of the world.
June 21st: Since we finished our project at the hospital this morning we went to a local park to just clean it up a little bit! We did not know what we got ourselves into! Our jobs were to clean vines off of rock walls, clean a pond area, and to pick up trash. There was a lot of vines.. A LOT. We were scheduled to be at the sight from 11-4. But we finished at 12:30! Seriously these people are some of the hardest working people that I have ever met. We had time to even go into a Cathedral that was built in the 800’s. These buildings overwhelm me. There is history EVERYWHERE. The house I grew up in was built in 1910, and I thought that was really old. Some of these plac s were built before Christ. Can you imagine if the walls could talk? The stories they would tell? I love thinking about who all has been through the doors, and the lives that have been changed in these churches.
After some food, and showers my roommate and best friend made the journey to the OUA monastery to do laundry! While the laundry was being eased we sat on the terrace and watched the sunset as we blogged, talked, and watched movies. One mini photoshop later I now have multiple ways to remember these happy moments. I know that I keep saying this, but these people are freaking awesome. They have done so much for the community of Arezzo, and for ourselves. I am happy to wake up early to see my friends, and I am so glad that this trip has brought us so much closer. Thanks Italia, I truly thank you.
June 20th: Here we go again! We started again at 9, in two different groups. One writing postcards, and the other FINISHING our Hospital paintings!! On the terrace of the hotel we took time to write postcards and thank you notes to the people that made it possible to be here. This was so important for me because it is easy for me to get caught up in the beauty of the moment, and not realize what it took for me to get here. So many people poured into me, mentored me, and supported me in so many ways. PCS taught me the importance of thanking people, people’s help and guidance is so underapreciated. I have always just been thankful to myself, I haven’t ever expressed it to the people that I am actually thankful for. This experience is already changed me, and we are halfway done.
After another lunch break, half of the group (the best group ever) went to a local vineyard. After a longish walk we arrived at one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Multiple pictures, and a you later we had a wine tasting! We tasted the 3 wines that the vineyard makes and it was glorious. The most glorious part was being around my new best friends. I know I keep saying this, but these people are so fantastically amazing, I cannot believe that I am actually here. After some great conversation, we split into families. I was blessed enough to be apart of the Grillot family. We went to dinner and just talked. I learned facts about my fellow students that I did not know, and that I probably wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for that dinner. This trip is jampacked and it is great to have allowed time to just hang out and talk. These people continue to amaze me, and I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings!
June 19th: Reflect. An action that I have never been very good at. When I am asked to reflect I just end up ranting about something random like dogs or something. But this morning, we walked to one of the prettiest parks I have ever seen, and we reflected. We discussed our year in PCS, and how it changed us. This program gave me the ability to believe in myself, and it gave me some of my best friends along the way. Back at the hospital, the groups tirelessly worked to almost get our masterpiece finished. Tomorrow now all we have to do is detail work. Again, I can not be more proud of the project. In Italy the concept of community service is almost nonexistent. A few people have asked if we are getting paid for our work, when actually we are paying to be here. It blows my mind that people do not think about community service here, when it seems to be so prevalent at home.
Once we were done at the Hospital (we are almost done!!) we had the afternoon/evening off! I spent the evening with John, Emilee, Caroline, Caitlyn, and THE Kari Dawkins. We went and got crepes…many then pizza. While talking we got onto the subject of the Pride of Oklahoma. They all asked me questions, and Imooced it. I loved sharing my experience in the Pride with them. It meant so much to me that the staff of this trip and Emilee were so curious about my experiences in the other organizations that I am apart of. I felt so loved and wanted in that moment, in that moment I was surrounded by people who I extremely look up too, and those moments were some of the best I have had in a long time. More conversations were had, as I continued to grow closer with these lovely people that surround me. As I carried my loads of laundry all over Arezzo with the intent to actually do it, but 3 hours later I realized that I was making way to many memories with the people that I was with to actually do it. Friends became best friends, and moments became memory. Even as I lugged 2 bags of laundry through the city.
June 18th: Today we woke up, broke up into groups and went on our separate adventures. Seeing the separate teams last night made me feel a little uneasy. It worried me because I did not want to miss out on any memories that the others groups would have. I understood why we needed to be seperated but I did not fully see what could happen in groups till today. 3 groups were doing 3 activities, rotating every 2 hours. One group painting at the hospital, one doing a scavenger hunt around Arezzo, and the last group at the market. 9 miles later I can say that I have made so many memories with people that I had barely talked to in Norman. It is sad to say that we had to across an ocean for conversation to take place, but is way to easy to get caught up in the college life. As the day went on friendships continued to grow, and binds got stronger. The service project looks fantastic, and I could not be more proud of the PCS team, and I cannot wait to see what comes of this trip. After a quick dinner/ change break, we went as a group to the joust. Yes you read it right, we went to a JOUST! John and Caroline had said that it was really cool and intense, like OU/saxet. But honestly I did not believe them. Until yesterday. There flags thrown across the track, fast horses, and fierce competition. A few crazy, adrenaline filled moments later we made the trek back to Cremi (the best gelato in the world). It’s intense moments like the ones at the joust that teach you who people really are. It’s where we see people true colors, that we don’t even know. In the heat of the moment, what do you act like? This joust was just reiterated the fact that this group of 40 students are a team, and we will stick together no matter who you are or what colors are on your scarf.
When I thought of Italy I immediately pictured grapes, the Roman ruins, and pizza. Little did I know that a small town in Italy would have so much charm, and culture. Just walking around and hearing Proffesor Duclaux talking about how the oldest part of town was destroyed due to bombings from the Allies, blew my mind. That is not taught in our history classes, and to see some ruins and how they rebuilt there destructed city was awe inspiring. Learning about the community itself is more interesting than I ever thought it could be. Walking around I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti, and honestly it made me worried. That maybe we were in the “bad part of town”, but no, it’s just the Italian way of expressing what you feel. In the states graffiti signifies the bad, and represents the rougher part of the city. But here, it is just there expression. PCS is an organization that lives to serve the community. And to be educated about this community while we serve it on multiple ways is what makes this program incredible. Today we saw where we will be serving and it was more than slightly over whelming. We are not painting where we planned for, and we added another project! We will now be painting part of a hallway in the Children’s Hospital here in Arezzo, and we will be cleaning up and archeological dig site! When we first arrived at our hallway, I was full with hope, and terror. Having 44 people in a small hallway, in a hospital , with no AC is not what you would call a calming experience. But we quickly came up with a todo list (I love those) and we got started. A few paint marks later our hallway is perfectly white and we are ready to trace our pieces on the walls! I hope that this project can bring joy to people who need it most. I hope that people will see him w much we love and apreciate there city. After our short time at the service project we went to heaven. Literally. The lovely Duclaux family had us over to there home and they fed us some of the best food that I have ever eaten. That family provided us a space to make memories, I have never laughed so hard in my life. The people on this trip amaze me everyday with what they can accomplish in such a short of time, and to be able to just have fun and play games made the stress today worth it. These people are so inspiring and I cannot wait to make more ridiculous memories with them.