Last week was Travel Week 2 here at DIS, which means I got to go on a five day trip to Rome with my class! DIS incorporates a week of travel to another European city into all of the core courses they offer. My core course is Cultural Diversity and Integration, which examines different approaches to diversity and integration across various countries, focusing mainly on Denmark, Sweden, and Italy. During the short travel break week back in September, my class went on a short study tour to Sweden to learn more about Swedish policies on immigration. You can read all about that week here! But for our long study tour we spent a week in Rome analyzing the Italian approach to the current refugee crisis, and how Italy handles immigration and integration.
We left Copenhagen super early in the morning for our flight to Rome. Most people slept the whole way and the plane was pretty empty so I had a whole row to myself!
After landing, we went straight to the hotel and dropped our bags before walking to our first meal in Rome. On the walk we passed a ton of old archaeological buildings and gorgeous churches, and I was amazed at simply being in such an old city with so much history. We had a wonderful lunch of Italian food (kicking off a week of pasta and gelato), and then we had some free time to wander around Piazza Navona. I used this time to get my first gelato (read about all my amazing gelato in Rome).
Afterwards, we had a walking tour of Rome which actually taught me a lot about the history and layout of the city. We had an awesome guide who took us to so many different neighborhoods, pointing out various buildings and structures from ancient Rome, as well as giving us some more current recommendations on the best food in the city. After an early morning and three hours of walking, we all crashed super early that night after another delicious dinner of pasta.
Monday morning, everyone met downstairs for the hotel breakfast before heading off for a tour of the Vatican! We spent the entire morning there since there was so much to see within the Vatican City. It was crazy packed with tourists and visitors, but so worth it to see all the beautiful art and architecture.
During our lunch break I had an amazing bowl of spaghetti carbonara, a speciality of Rome made with egg, cheese, and pancetta. I went into a major food coma afterwards, but managed to walk it off before our afternoon academic visit. We met with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental organization which works to provide advice and services to both governments and immigrants. The IOM explained how they work to educate and inform the public, as well as migrants, on accurate information about the refugee crisis and the process of migrating to another country. This is especially important because there is a lot of false information that exists on these topics, and people need to know real facts and the realities of the migratory process to Europe.
In our free time between the academic visit and dinner, a couple friends and I decided to go to the Trevi Fountain, and of course get gelato on the way. After our pre-dinner snack, we met the rest of the class for our real dinner. Have I mentioned that each meal DIS provides is a three course experience? Somehow after all that food, I still managed to get more gelato after. When in Rome, am I right?
We had a cooking class on Tuesday! It was a major highlight of the week; we made a four course lunch, including fresh pasta and homemade tiramisu. We learned lots about Italian cooking from chef Andrea, and then got to eat all the amazing food we spent hours preparing.
After we finished up with the cooking class we headed to our next academic visit with the UNHCR, or the UN Refugee Agency. We learned a ton of statistics about the refugee crisis which really put a lot of the information we had been learning and discussing into perspective. Following the UNHCR we visited with a member of the community of Sant’Egidio at a beautiful basilica in Trastevere, which turned out to be one of the oldest churches in Rome. The community of Sant’Egidio works to provide services to people in need throughout the city, and there are numerous other communities of Sant’Egidio all over the world. After our discussion on the work of Sant’Egidio, we had the opportunity to attend a prayer service in the basilica which was a really interesting and beautiful experience.
One of the assignments for my core course was to plan a group visit to an organization in Rome dealing with cultural diversity and integration. We had a lot of free time for these visits on Wednesday, and so three other classmates and I arranged to meet with the Baobab Experience, a network of volunteers offering various forms of support to refugees, from psychological help to clothing to cultural and leisure activities. During our visit to their camp, we got to talk with one of the volunteers as well as meet some of the refugees with the Baobab Experience. This visit really allowed us to better understand what the process of migration looks like on a more personal level beyond what we had discussed and learned in classes throughout the semester.
After we left the Baobab Experience we had a lot of the day left to explore Rome on our own, so a few of us went to the Colosseum! I was in absolute amazement at how old the structure was, and also how well preserved it was. As a side note, I took Latin in high school and spent a lot of time learning about ancient Rome, so this visit really felt like a culmination of years spent in high school Latin class learning about everything that went down in the Colosseum. So cool.
In the later afternoon we reconvened with everyone in a neighborhood of Rome called Ostiense. DIS treated us to some gelato (which turned out to be the best on the whole trip) before a walking tour of street art throughout the neighborhood. By observing the graffiti and art throughout the area we analyzed the meanings the artists were trying to convey through their work and how it related to diversity in Rome. The sunset was insane that night and it was awesome to walk around, gelato-in-hand, looking at funky street art against a beautiful sunset.
Once the sun went down, we headed over to the Gay Center, where we discussed Italian attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community. Since Italy is more or less still connected to the Catholic church, the whole country is not the most progressive when it comes to gay rights. It was really interesting to meet with the current volunteers in the Gay Center and hear about their own experiences, as well as how they work to help the LGBTQ+ community both in Rome and throughout Italy. The visit was once again followed by a three course dinner and, you guessed it, gelato.
Thursday morning, we visited the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, which is a drop-in center for refugees in Rome. Over the course of the visit we learned about the services they provide their guests with, got a tour of the facilities, and met some of the guests using the center. The Joel Nafuma Center receives a large amount of funding from private donations, and they were having a Halloween fundraiser dinner later that night to bring in members of the community to raise money and awareness for the center. We got to help out with the fundraiser, and so later that day we all helped to set up and assist with the dinner! We decorated the room and cleaned up afterwards, which meant we also got to stay for the super delicious dinner they prepared! It was a really fun time and a great way to spend our last night in Rome together.
The group flight back to Copenhagen was Friday morning. If you were traveling independently for the weekend, you were allowed to leave anytime Friday as long as you let our professor know you wouldn’t be returning with the class. I traveled to northern Italy for the weekend, other people flew to different countries, and some also went home.
Overall, I learned so much over the whole week, from the history of Rome to a deeper understanding of the refugee crisis to the best places to get gelato in the city. It was a week packed with activities and definitely exhausting by the end, but in the best way possible 🙂