Margo Borders - 2014 Program Participant

Wine tasting at a vineyard in Umbria, Italy

Our first experience tasting wine in the vineyards of Umbria - Salute!

What inspired you to apply for a study abroad program?

Going into college, I always had the idea in my head that I would study abroad somewhere. I have loved traveling my whole life, and before going abroad, I had traveled to four continents. I also had moved across the country for college, not knowing a single soul before I arrived. Because I had such a wonderful experience trying something new and making myself vulnerable in an unfamiliar place, I knew I had to do it again. I love experiencing new places, trying new foods, and speaking new languages, and there was nothing I wanted more than to try this for an entire semester in the most picturesque country on the planet.

Why did you choose Loyola University in Rome?

My home institution helped me narrow down my options, but I knew from the start that I wanted to be in Rome. I found Loyola Chicago's Rome Center because it is a Jesuit, Catholic school, just like my university. What drew me was the opportunity to be in a small, tight knit community in a thoroughly Italian neighborhood of Rome. As a theology major, I wanted to be able to take a variety of classes, including a few that could count towards my major and my university core courses. With no classes on Fridays and several extended breaks, I was excited about the opportunity for travel. Lastly, I was interested in the trips that JFRC organizes, including a weekend orientation trip with the entire class where you travel to small, authentic Italian towns, as well as the larger study trips that JFRC offers throughout the semester to places like Greece, Turkey, Tuscany, and Poland.

What was your favorite thing about Rome?

I fell in love with Roma. As a theology major, I was captivated by Vatican City and the never-ending supply of centuries old churches to stop into in my explorations around the city. Located only a twenty minute bus ride away from St. Peter's Basilica, I could easily spend time growing in my faith and studying the subject matter that I love. I loved the Italian pace of life, and fell quickly into it as the semester went on. I came to love the way they spent four hours at dinner, eating slowly, and enjoying each other's company. The food was incredible, and there was always something new to try around every corner.

My most favorite part about Rome was the time I spent every week babysitting for an Italian family in my neighborhood. I had so much fun with the four and eight year old girls, and while they taught me Italian and I taught them English, we also learned so much about each other's culture.

Italy will always have a place in my heart, and while I didn't make it everywhere, I now have an excuse to go back and explore more of what it has to offer.

Piazza Navona at night, Rome, Italy

Exploring Piazza Navona after a nice dinner in the heart of Rome

What makes the Loyola University’s JFRC program different from other study abroad programs?

The number one thing JFRC did extremely well was provide a sense of community, something you don't get in every abroad program. I came not knowing a single person, but left knowing every single person in the program by name, and with a very tight knit group of friends from all across the country. In fact, I have already visited several of them back in the United States.

One major component of the community is calcio (soccer) every Wednesday night. Everyone signs up to be on a calcio team, and they play each other every week on a soccer field in the neighborhood and have a championship at the end of the semester. I'm personally not into sports so I went and watched every week, but pretty much the whole campus is involved somehow. They even have t-shirts and a weekly calcio newsletter!

JFRC also puts on a lot of different programs throughout the semester, like going to a Papal Audience together, going to Mass in the Vatican Grottoes, or even going to an AS Roma soccer game together. There is no shortage of events to participate in with your classmates, including a Halloween costume party, Italian Thanksgiving dinner, a campus-wide auction for a charity, and an end of the semester talent show and banquet. Living together in one main building, jetting off together to foreign countries, eating, and studying together for four months creates a closer knit community than you could ever imagine.

How supportive was the local JFRC staff throughout your time in Rome?

The JFRC staff was incredible. There are six Student Life Assistants, recent college graduates who help you in your transition, which could be everything from telling you how to take the bus, taking you to the health clinic, or making sure everyone respects quiet hours in the dorms. They are so nice and helpful, and I got to know them much better than I ever thought I would. They also organize the study trips, so I got to know several of them very well during my time traveling. There are also staff members and faculty that help with academics, finances, medical issues, and more general issues that may come up when studying and traveling abroad.

Is there anything you wish you could change about your experience abroad?

I loved studying abroad and wouldn't change my experience for the world. However, if I had to do something differently, I would have stayed more weekends at home in Rome. I did travel a lot during my semester, traveling both to cities in Italy, as well as visiting friends and trying out new cultures in countries across Europe, from Turkey to Ireland. Rome is a huge city, though, and you never feel like you can experience the whole thing. I would have loved more time to revel in the culture, walk down random streets, and sit in every piazza while enjoying a delicious cappuccino. The wonderful thing about Rome is that you will never get bored. There is always more to do, more wine to drink, and more culture to experience.

Visiting the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

A group of us exploring the Sultan Ahmed Mosque on a school sponsored study trip to Istanbul, Turkey

What was a typical day like for you as a JFRC student?

On a typical day at JFRC, I would get up and quickly get dressed so my roommate and I could grab breakfast before our class in the city. We would walk to the bus stop, grabbing a quick cappuccino and cornetto at the bar near campus. After taking the bus into the city, we would meet our class to study art in a church or museum in the heart of Rome.

After class, several of us would get lunch in the city, grabbing a quick panino to eat on the steps of the Pantheon or venturing into the Jewish ghetto for the most delicious slice of ricotta cake you've ever tasted. We would head back to campus for an afternoon philosophy class, followed by an Italian lesson, which probably included singing a song or two and conversing with our classmates about where we traveled last weekend.

In the evening, I would walk about ten minutes to babysit in the neighborhood, where I picked two little girls up from school and walked them back to their home to play with them for a few hours. I would then run to catch the bus, making it back to campus just in time to enjoy a dinner of pasta, salad, and a side of buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes with my classmates. If I had homework, I would finish it in the on-campus library that night, or we would find something to do in the neighborhood. This was often walking to our favorite gelato shop for a late night snack, sitting at a local bar for a nice glass of red wine, or even sometimes taking the bus into the heart of the city to experience Rome at night.

What is one of your most memorable moments from your time in Rome?

One weekend in the middle of the semester, my friends and I decided to take a study break and enjoy the beautiful weather in Rome. We ventured out with little knowledge of where we were going, but ended up on the Appian Way, a historic road leading into Rome that has ancient ruins and catacombs beside the road for miles and miles. We rented bicycles and road along the rocky path, stopping to look at the ruins and admire the gorgeous Roman landscape. Little adventures like these are what made my semester in Rome unforgettable. I was face to face with thousands of years of history in a massive city that never ceased to surprise me. I learned the most from the most spontaneous adventures, from searching across the city for the best tiramisu, to attempting to give directions in Italian to confused tourists who thought you were a local.

Nothing in Rome was normal or expected, and I loved every minute of it.

What is the JFRC campus like? What about your housing arrangements?

The JFRC campus in Rome is located in the Balduina/Monte Mario neighborhood, which is about 20 minutes northwest of the Vatican. The campus itself is beautiful, and even attaches to an olive grove. Everything is located essentially in one building. The top three floors are dorm rooms, the ground level is classrooms, offices, a chapel, the bookstore, and the banking office. The bottom two floors include the cafeteria, the library, and a cafe and gym.

Everything is very conveniently located, and it is especially nice to live in proximity to your classmates and even a few professors, so you get to know them really well. You also get lunch and dinner included in your room and board cost, which is authentic Italian food. It's pretty much a choice of two pastas, as well as chicken/fish and vegetables, with salad, fruit, and usually cheeses. You will probably end up eating out once in a while to experience the great food in Rome, but it's nice to be able to save time and money not having to cook for yourself.

Overall, I loved that campus is a little separated from the heart of Rome because it is in a calm, thoroughly Italian neighborhood where we could experience true Italian life without the noise or distraction of other tourists. That being said, if we wanted more excitement, Rome was only a short bus ride away.

St. Peters Basilica at night, Rome, Italy

St. Peter's Basilica - my favorite place in all of Rome!

How has studying abroad changed your life?

I have changed in incredible ways because of my abroad experience. I was thrown out of my comfort zone on so many occasions, and struggling on my own to overcome difficulties has made me a stronger and more independent person. I am so much more confident in myself now, after stepping off of planes in unfamiliar countries where I didn't even know the currency, not to mention how to get to my hostel.

In one of my most challenging moments, I ended my semester by taking a trip by myself to a small town in central Italy. I took a small bus and spoke only Italian the entire day, finding my way around the city and reflecting on what my abroad experience meant to me. Back at home, I have such a strong yearning to travel now that my horizons have been broadened. My entire perspective on the world has changed, and it has made me so grateful for my experiences. I know that there is so much more to experience, and I jump on the chance to take any kind of adventure now, no matter how small.