Tuesday, June 6, 2017

To Italy and Back Again

I've been home from Italy for a week now, and I've been working on this blog post for just as long. There is so much I want to say, but the words have been elusive. A simple chronology of our adventures just wouldn't do it justice. Instead, I want to try to capture the Italy I saw through 17 sets of young eyes.

After a very uneventful flight and a smooth trip and settling in to Sansepolcro, we made our first outing to the historical archives of the town itself. A ridiculously kind librarian took ancient books off the shelves and thumbed through the history dating back to around the eleventh century. She traced the ancestors of Piero della Francesca, the discoverer of perspective and an amazing fresco artist, and Poco, the founder of double-entry bookkeeping and a geometry scholar, two of Sansepolcro's most famous residents. When she pulled Poco's Suma with some of his original proofs in his own hand my math people lit up:

 And I got it. This is the magic of study abroad. I love to travel, and I'm smitten with Italy and her culture, but watching my students find joy, to fall in love, to make connections...there aren't words.

Very quickly, we became a part of each other's daily lives. Later that afternoon, Jennifer and my doorbell rang, and a couple students asked if we could point them in the direction of the river. We had a couple of things to finish, so we invited them to wait in our living room and then we would walk with them. They asked to get the rest of the group, and that's when we learned we could fit 11 girls in our living room. We walked down to the river, and I will never forget this group skipping stones and teaching those who couldn't do it how:
 We also visited schools, and seeing them through their eyes was so interesting. The middle school teacher wanted a group picture, and I will be forever glad we have this:
I saw completely different things than they did, but they were so thoughtful. It's interesting what they want to bring back to their own classrooms. Even more interesting is their renewed sense of gratitude for American schools and systems.

For many of our students, this trip abroad was a major step out of their comfort zones, and we were there to support and watch and learn:
 These girls are so brave. They faced fears and tried new things and put one foot in front of the other. And by the end, they didn't need us.

And this lady:
 Well...in so many ways we are one brain in two bodies. We handled so much without ever really even having to discuss it. And yet, we complemented each other so well. I don't do heights, but she took groups up mountains for amazing views. I don't mind paperwork, and when the best laid plans started to crumble, I don't mind making up a new one on the fly--even in the Vatican. I'm still having a little withdrawal. I got awfully used to just turning around and running things by her.

And I also got used to this view out our bedroom window:
 The gelato shop across the street was a favorite place for the girls, and I loved hearing them laugh and waving out our window.

Florence was the first big city we ventured into, and it was quite the adventure. Jennifer lead, and I brought up the end. Bless their hearts. These teachers want to go everywhere in a single file line:
 How appropriate, though, that the Piti Palace had a special exhibit:
 These women are so powerful, and I have no doubt they will move mountains. We certainly climbed one:
 And took in the views of the city:
 From Florence, many of the girls ventured out for a travel weekend. A small group decided to enjoy Sansepolcro with us, and we had a real adventure the next day in Perugia. It all started with this train:
 Which was followed by a bus, then a train, then a bus. It was totally worth it, though, to take an escalator through Roman walls:
 Jennifer and I had planned the perfect walking tour. And then we realized the map was not to scale and we walked right past the first four things we wanted to see. And so we modeled being in the moment. We also seized the opportunity to take our very own non-onyx picture with a view of the valley:
 With everyone safely back from their travels, we spent Monday afternoon in an olive grove:

 It was a family farm, and the matriarch did a lovely job explaining EVOO and the very real struggles of family farms. She also taught us to bake bread and pizza:
 And we laughed.

If nothing else, I hope these girls always remember this feeling of community--and not just with each other. Sansepolcro embraced us with open arms, and we embraced them:
 And each other:
 And our families back home--a candle for Grandma Stover in St. Francis's church in Anghiari:
 We ended our trip in Rome with a tour of the Vatican:
 And we all had our Lizzy McGuire moment at Trevi Fountain:
 And a group of us went to the Colloseum:
 If nothing else, Rome taught us that we are such a young country, and modern society isn't any smarter than our ancient civilizations.

After all of the hustle and bustle, we drove to Ostia:
 And for the first time I had my toes in the Mediterranean:
 And I learned I loved shell fish:
 We all found new things we loved, and things that were just "different." I was so proud of the way these girls truly embraced every experience as a teacher. Our last dinner:
 We all shared favorite moments, and we all cried. And we laughed. And I marveled that I had the privilege of being a part of it all:
The sun set on our time in Italy, but I truly believe we all grew. I couldn't have asked for a better group to travel with, and I'm a little afraid that no group can ever hope to compare. Ciao, Italy...

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