This summer, the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program reached a significant milestone when the 50th class arrived in Ariccia.
In the summer of 2002, five students traveled to the city of Ariccia to study as part of a pilot program to offer students an opportunity to be immersed in Italian culture for an entire semester. The College of Human Sciences’ support of the program has solidified JSB as Auburn’s only permanent overseas campus, where more than twenty students per semester live in the Chigi Palace and learn immersive lessons about art, history, culture and how to view the world with a globally-trained eye.
As the 50th group began their journey, the value of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was evident.
For Emily Christensen, an elementary education sophomore whose two sisters participated before her, the JSB experience was transformative. The day she arrived in Ariccia is one she’ll never forget.
“My heart was beating out of my chest as I awkwardly broke the ice on the bus ride from the airport. As we approached our summer home at the Chigi Palace, I remember being in complete awe of the simplicity, the quaintness and the undeniable beauty of the town and all the people who live there,” Emily said. “In that very moment, I realized that my summer was going to be nothing short of perfect.”
Nine years before Emily arrived in Ariccia, her sister Hallie was the first in the family to study abroad on the program. Emily saw how the program helped Hallie realize her intellect, gain confidence and develop leadership skills. Six years after that, she said her other sister Ansley had an equally significant experience. Her social, fun-loving sister forged important friendships with the locals and other participants of the program that broadened her perspective on the world around her.
Emily had been moved by her sisters’ experiences so strongly that she knew she had to participate as well. She said the JSB program changed their family for the better, and she can only imagine the other 900 lives across 50 classes that were touched by the experience.
Among the extensive lessons on the program, Emily and her classmates painted frescos with an artist who restored a sculpture by Michelangelo, dinner and a special wine tasting in the heart of Italy, connected with local high school students and were “adopted” by local families, toured the Ninfa Gardens, observed a Memorial Day ceremony at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, hiked Mt. Vesuvius and the ancient ruins of Pompeii and got a behind-the-scenes look into a hand-weaving studio that has been owned by the same family for generations.
“Every day in Ariccia was a brand new adventure full of new knowledge, experiences and unpredictable growth,” Emily said. “Getting the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in a different culture is nothing short of a great privilege. A future student would also benefit from knowing that they are going to leave Italy three months later a changed person. They will know more about beauty, history, friendship, study, learning and themselves because of what they learn as a JSB participant.”
Throughout the history of the program, the Antonini family has helped inspire, teach and welcome students to Ariccia. The late Marco Antonini was an essential part of securing a partnership between the city and the College of Human Sciences. After he passed earlier this year, former participants and faculty alike shared their fond memories of him and how his influence made Ariccia feel like their home away from home.
His son Maurizio Antonini is the program’s resident director. His family worked with the last prince of the Chigi family to keep the spirit of the palace, Palazzo Chigi, alive. Dormitory rooms were placed in the palace so that the participating students are able to live in a historical and cultural landmark, with plans for expansion approaching as demand for the program grows.
Maurizio is still in touch with some of the first students of the program, who tell him the program was life-changing.
“The students don’t want to leave, and when they return home, many of them keep in touch,” Maurizio said. “The program gives them a bit of a cultural foundation, which is something you take along with you for the rest of your life, no matter what you’re going to be doing. No matter what your job is, you can get the basis of the culture of the western European world. And when they go back, they understand so much more about the world.”
The Auburn Family in Ariccia also includes Mary Lou Gray and Rosella de Venuto, who share inspiring, emotional and modern tales of what it’s like to live in Italy. Cinzia Bracalente and Roberta Londi, known as the “big sister and favorite aunt” of the program, are also present to ensure the JSB students are able to settle into their new home with comfort and ease.
In addition to the dedicated local leadership of the program, Lacey Armstrong serves as the JSB Director for Auburn. She said JSB is an experience unlike any other for developing important life skills.
“Year after year, students walk away from JSB more independent, confident and globally aware. They are better prepared for challenging careers where problem-solving and leadership skills are not only helpful, but essential,” Lacey said. “JSB students are immersed in the Italian culture by living in the small town of Ariccia, Italy. Away from the hustle and bustle of a city like Florence that is overrun with American students, expats and tourists, our students have a real home to settle into and a community that emphatically welcomes them.”
Ariccia is especially near to Lacey’s heart, and she knows the value of the program intimately. Long before she led the program, she was a participant.
“Hearing from graduates how JSB has impacted their personal and professional lives, changed the trajectory of their life choices, and having experienced it firsthand, I have every confidence that there are few opportunities in young adulthood that are such a good investment in personal and professional development,” Lacey said. “There is nothing like seeing the look in a student’s eyes when they have a big ‘aha’ moment, or the first time they round a corner to discover an ancient monument. Most of all, though, it is so motivating and exciting to watch students develop into confident young leaders.”
For more information on JSB Auburn Abroad in Italy, visit the Office of Global Education.