Easter in Italy

This morning breakfast wasn’t until 9:30, and service (for those that wanted to go to church) wasn’t until 11:30 so everyone was able to have a relaxing Easter morning.

The morning was amazing. I don’t think most of the team expected anything special but we woke up to treats outside our doors before me even made it downstairs. At breakfast, there was a new kind of juice, pears and kiwis, chocolate kinder eggs wrapped up at everyone’s table, and even special little cakes. The cakes were citrus infused with sugar on top and reminded me of American coffee cake, but sweeter and with much more flavor. There were also new guests that joined us for breakfast, and although they didn’t speak English I think watching a group of teenagers put together little toy cars from chocolate eggs and laughing with each other entertained them language barrier or not.

It was by far the most fun breakfast our group has had. Everyone was laughing with each other until the cat fight.

The convent has a cat named Jerry who is very sweet, but there is also a stray cat who looks similar to Jerry who is very mean and tries to get in the convent. That morning the two cats were getting into a fight outside and all of us eating breakfast burst outside to protect and cheer on Jerry. He got scooped up pretty fast and neither of the cats were seriously hurt but it was fun to watch all of us rally behind Jerry.

After this, some members of our group made a connection between the stray cat tricking them into believing he was Jerry and then turning out to be mean with some of the pictures painted in the chapel of Orvieto. They know call the stray cat, the Antichrist (he isn’t really that mean don’t worry).

After breakfast the group split in half. Some went to service at the chapel in Spoleto and others got in another nap or started on packing early.

Service was beautiful. The bishop came out, and there were beautiful singers, and nice smelling incense. There were also many people who brought their dogs into service, and lots of little kids. After church the whole group got together again to go to lunch one last time.

Some of our group thought it was the best lunch they had had there yet. Then we all went back to the convent and changed to do some last minute shopping if we still needed to, or to just explore the town. Some of us said goodbye to our favorite shop keepers with heavy hearts, and got the last gelato or pizza of the trip.

Then we all took some time to pack up our stuff and the only person who was seriously behind when they came around to check was me. Mr. Wight bought a scale that checks bag weight so that was being passed around a lot to make sure we all stayed under 50.

Then we went to our last dinner. Everyone was excited about pasta with a white cheese sauce because we were told that fetichini Alfredo isn’t actually Italian, just American. And although this is still true, this pasta was pretty close and we were all really excited.

Then we went back to the hotel for one last team Italy meeting in the convent. Most of our moods were crushed to learn we would be meeting downstairs at 4:30 AM to make it to our flight. Most of us tried to go to bed but it was a rough night of sleep for everyone.

Happy Easter,

Team Italy

Quote of the day: “No wonder these are illegal” -Mr. Strati after watching Gabe go at his kinder egg with a knife at the table to get the toy car out as fast as possible.

Siena and Florence

2/29/18 and 2/30/18

Siena and Florence used to be known for their competition. Once, they were so against each other that when Florence built a bigger church than Siena, Siena made plans to double the size of theirs. In retaliation, it is rumored that Florence deliberately spread the black plague to Siena. Over these two days team Italy got to compare these famous rivals for ourselves.

Day 1, Siena 

Breakfast was at 8:30 this morning to give an extra hour of recovery to everyone that was sick. Thankfully everyone has made a near full recovery and only one student stayed back from Siena. Then we got on the bus and although most of us fell asleep during the long ride, if you were lucky enough to stay awake the view of the mountains and Italian countryside outside of the bus windows was positively breath-taking.

Since our tour guide, Andrea, was sick today, we were lucky to have his sister Ariana step in and show us around Siena. Our first stop was the Duomo (church) which was incredible. What made this church unique was the vast amounts of black and white: you could see the colors of Siena not only chasing each other up the pillars, but also in beautiful images on the floor. After the breathtaking church, we were able to learn more about the amazing history of Siena.

Siena has always competed with Florence, but interestingly enough, Siena also competes with itself. There are 17 different neighborhoods that all compete with each other within Siena. Each neighborhood has a lot of pride, and that pride also comes with individual mascots, flags, and beautiful statues or fountains. My personal favorite was the turtle, but I know the unicorn, horse and snail neighborhoods were big hits with the team.

We also learned that on a larger scale, Siena stopped competing with Florence so heavily after the black death wiped out half of their population. This is why they never finished constructing a larger church, but the one they have now is beyond incredible already.

Despite all the death, today the city is alive and bursting with people bustling in and out of shops. With everything from spices to high-end fashion, Siena was a marvel to see. All the different neighborhoods and winding streets provided something for everyone.  Becky Young bought some beautiful flags, the Coulsons purchased an elegant tablecloth runner, Wills bought himself a very Italian button down shirt (which he immediately changed into), and most of the team invested in some killer gelato.  e discovered lots of new flavors like melon and blue vanilla. Maddie Rahe discovered that after today her favorite gelato flavor is mint.

To end our beautiful day of sight seeing, we all went back to dinner at the Clitunno and the different shopping groups intermingled to talk about their adventures.

Day 2, Florence

Breakfast this morning was at 7:30. Everyone is nearly fully recovered and we were all pleased to discover an Italian off-brand Nutella to put on our bread. Then we all headed on the bus for the long drive to Florence.

As usual the view of the mountains was breathtaking, but to get through the 3 hour drive we stopped at a gas station to get some coffee and paninis. The team is still not over how amazing gas station food here is.

When we made it to Florence, Andrea was back to being the best tour guide ever (we all legitimately adore him)! He happily grabbed the mic on the bus and told us about Dante and all the artists the ninja turtles are named after. He talked about the Medici family, their roles in Florence, and showed us where to stop the bus to get a great picture of the city.

Then we saw the Duomo (church) before we split up into our usual shopping groups to go explore Florence. The city was incredible, and so were the sales. Becky found another amazing flag that Andrea loved, Ellie found herself a gorgeous Italian blouse,  Lance and Joe bought fancy socks, Jin found Italian fingernail clippers for her grandmother and bought 4, and Mrs. James found a pantsuit that she is positively in love with. The highlight of the day was definitely watching Tommy bargain down the price on his beautiful Italian leather jacket.

For lunch in both Florence and Sienna, we were packed sandwiches from Spoleto, fruit and bottled water. None the less, multiple groups stopped to grab some fantastic Florence cuisine because the food here is so good it’s hard to only eat 3 times. Groups also saw David and other incredible artwork. There were also lots of pictures taken by the river, which is the second largest in Italy and has multiple beautiful bridges running across it.

We left Florence with our hearts full, but our wallets slightly empty. It rained a bit on the way to dinner, which was a reminder of how lucky we have been with the weather here. Tonight was the first time it has rained all trip.

Ultimately, although some of us preferred Siena, and some of us adored Florence, both cities had incredible things to offer.

Bouna Sera,

Team Italy

Quote of the day: “Don’t touch the leather!” -Tommy Green speaking to the rain about his new jacket 

Stomach Bugs are no Fun


Plans can change quickly. Team Italy was reminded of this at all hours of the morning by the sounds of puke. We have lost  more than half of our team to a stomach bug. This morning all the teachers, (Mr. Wight, Mrs. Eaton, Mr. Strati), our tour guide Andrea, and 7 students were sick.  Obviously, we pushed back our plans to go to Siena until tomorrow.

Some that were not sick got up early to help out the nuns with some more yard work around the convent. Then, the 9 students that were not sick at the time went to lunch  with Mr. and Mrs. Coulson. Lunch was incredible, and some of the students thought it might be the best one we have had yet. As a reward for surviving Mr. Couslon generously bought gelato for everyone that was interested. Unfortunately after this, another student felt sick so then we were down to 8.

When we got back to the convent 2 students that had been sick came down because they were feeling much better and helped us complete some more yard work in the convent. After we were done, one of the nuns came out with orange juice for us, and then Mr. Coulson treated those that were interested out to pizza. While we were out, we purchased some crackers, and Gatorade for the people that were sick and also some more postcards for our families. After this we lost 2 more kids to fevers, but they haven’t thrown up, and the stomach bug continued to cause us to drop like flies. We are down to 5 completely healthy students.

Now we have some downtime at the convent. For those of us that aren’t sick, taking care of those who are sick, or are working to prevent being sick ourselves, this is very much a time of reflection. Here is what some of the students have to say about how Italy has already changed their lives.

Maddie Rahe

“I definitely think I have a new perspective on life. Traveling to Assisi and seeing St. Francis Basilica was an incredible and humbling experience. It was also an emotional experience form any. Sitting inside the church and realizing that you may never be able to sit there again in your life invoked remarkable responses. ”

Gabe Henderson

“Italy, as a whole, has impacted me in more ways than I can count. From helping out elderly nuns with yard work, to simply walking down the streets of Spoleto, everything I have experienced on this trip will change the way I think, learn, and live. The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Italy was how different the people are. The people in Italy live like it’s their last day on earth, they make the most of every single day. I have yet to find one person who does not greet me as I am walking by, smile as I am ordering gelato, or wave as I pass on the bus. One person in particular was walking down the street when we crossed paths. I had recently bought an Italian style hat which I have fallen in love with and have not taken off since I bought it. He stopped me and told me he loved my hat, laughing as he told me so. We got a picture together and we parted ways, little did he know he had just made my entire day. Even though getting up early is tough, the people of Spoleto have made it easy to seize the day and be in a great mood. Even in the face of hard work, they still keep their spirits up. While we were helping the nuns with yard work around the convent, they kept smiles on their faces. One nun’s smiling through the work was contagious, and I smiled through the work too. That night I laid in bed thinking about why I never worked that way. Why is it that whenever I work I do it as if it’s a chore. I vowed that day to change the way I did work and conquer everything with a smile on my face. The people of Italy have changed the way I work and live, which will open my eyes to learn in new ways.”

Tomorrow we will travel to Siena.

Stay healthy,

Team Italy

Quote of the day: “I would rather be dead than sick” – Gabe Henderson completely serious, and happily doing yard work

P.S. Be glad we can’t upload pictures today


Astounding Assisi

This morning breakfast was at 7:45 AM.

At the convent, hot water runs out really fast.  After today, we learned that if we don’t want to freeze, we cannot all take a shower at the same time. Eventually, we all made it downstairs for breakfast, some of us just a little more cold and wet than others.

Then we drove to Alberghiero which is a high school in Spoleto. In Italy, high schools work differently than in the US. They have 5 years of high school, and only the first two years are general studies. After that, school becomes more specialized so if you wanted to be a cook, you would go to a different high school than if you wanted to become a musician.

Alberghiero is one of a few high schools in Spoleto, and it specializes in the industries of tourism, hotel management, bar tending, and everything that goes into running a restaurant, including waitressing and cooking. They gave us a wonderful welcome and a brief tour of their school. Other than a few more kitchens, it didn’t feel any different than a regular high school until I went to the bathroom. They did not have a separate bathroom for boys and girls, but rest assured, I did make a complete fool of myself before I figured this out.

After that adventure, we met some Italian cooking students and worked with them for two and a half hours to make our lunch. While rolling out the dough that would soon become pasta, some of the girls on our team came to the conclusion that Nicolaus (the student doing the rolling) was really cute. While they were discussing this in English, and whether to try to compliment him in Italian, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had just had a very nice conversation with Nicolaus, in English. He could absolutely understand the whole exchange.

While team Italy learned how to make Italian pasta and cook lamb, we also made new friends. By the time lunch was finished, there were double-cheek kisses, friendly ciaos, and even a few instagrams follows. As American teenagers, we were surprised how much we had in common with the Italian students. Alberto had a fast and furious quote embroidered on his sleeve; Veronica listens to Cardi B; and multiple girls had dreams of visiting Miami and LA. They told us that their school often had tourists from Russia and Europe, but that so far, we were the friendliest with them. After we said our goodbyes in the kitchen, we were served the food as if we were in a professional restaurant. We were waited on as they served us the appetizer, two full plates, and an incredible Spoleto-specific dessert. After a fantastic meal, we said goodbye to Alberghiero with heavy hearts and boarded the bus to Assisi.

Assisi is filled with beautiful shops and incredible religious buildings. We witnessed the fortification Rocca maggiore, the Romanesque church San Ruffino, the Roman temple of Minerva (now a Christian church), Santa Chiara, and the Basilica of Saint Francis which is filled with beautiful frescoes. Every single one of us appreciated the beauty, and some members of the team even became emotional at the crypt of Saint Francis. In the end, we left Assisi with many newly-purchased crosses and dried tears. It was a beautiful experience for all of us.

We left Assisi as the sun was setting, and the view was absolutely breathtaking. No photo could capture it, but trust us we tried. After dinner, team Italy went to bed. Some of our hearts are a little more open, our spiritual or religious interests and questions a little more abundant, and our lives forever changed after experiencing the truly astounding Assisi.

With Love,

Team Italy


Quote of the day: “If one day the speed kills me do not cry because I was smiling” –On the sleeve of an Italian students chef coat (originally from Paul Walker)

Adventures in Spoleto


Last night was daylight savings in Spoleto so we lost an hour of sleep. Since Culver prepares us well, everyone still got down to breakfast right on time…except for my roommate and I because I set my alarm an hour late accidentally.

Luckily, Mr. Strati came to wake us up and we hustled downstairs for breakfast at 9:30. For breakfast, the nuns had fresh bread with an assortment of jams (peach, apricot, cherry, etc.) packaged cookies and biscuits, delicious blood oranges, apples, and (the team favorite) Nutella. To drink, we could choose from  tea, coffee, and pear or orange juice. Thankfully it’s all self-serve, which means we can choose to have a little bit (or a lot) of everything.

At 10:15 AM, Andrea met with us to give us some brief insights on Italian culture. The most important thing we learned was how to say thank you, and how to order gelato came in at a close second. We also learned how to ask how much something costs, where the bathroom is, general directions, how to ask someone their name and how old they are, how to say we don’t speak Italian, and how to say excuse me.

After 10 minutes we were all completely fluent in Italian and ready to make our debut, so we headed into Spoleto. During our walking tour we saw, and learned about, the Roman Amphitheater, the Roman Arch, and even an aqueduct which functions as a bridge between two beautiful towers. As we walked around the countryside, there were breath taking views around every corner and fascinating history to match. We learned about ancient politics, modern valley communities,  and epic battles featuring pouring boiling oil on your enemies and  then setting them on fire! Then we walked back down to the Hotel Clitunno to have lunch. Obviously, all of the food here is fantastic, but the first plate at lunch was a pasta dish that will be hard to forget (it was in a spiced white meat sauce).

After lunch we were given the afternoon ‘off’ so the students and chaperones split into small groups to explore Spoleto on their own. There were 3 groups.


Maddie, Makena Coulson, Mrs. James, Katy, Gabe, Tommy, and Mr. and Mrs. Coulson all went shopping together. They all got to know each other a little better, and some of their highlights included Maddie and Makena finding beautiful matching tops, Tommy finding the perfect red Italian sweater, and finding a shop with the best free wifi! They also had some wonderful gelato (all of team Italy buys gelato from the same shop in Spoleto because it is undeniably the best and the staff is wonderful and patient) and they cannot wait to go back and try the pizza across the way.

Juliana, Lance, Wills, Jack, Joe, and Madison loved the beautiful view from the walking tour and decided to go back and explore. After walking the same path again (but slowly to really appreciate it), they found a gorgeous path that went down into the hills. They took lots of beautiful photos. Then they walked into the market square and bought themselves some of the famous gelato. Lance and Joe ordered entirely in Italian, and it was beautiful. We were all (and are still) very impressed. Then they ordered some sliced pizza across the street and, unsurprisingly, they said it was incredible. They also did some shopping at the market, but they didn’t buy very much because they want to save their money for the markets in Florence. None the less, Madison fell in love with a hand bag that is beautiful, and she can’t wait to take it home.

Becky, Ellie, Jin, Roger, Molly, and Mr. Wight went straight to the market square. We also stopped to grab some gelato, and post cards to send home. Outside of the gelato store we ran into some amiable local Italians that spoke decent English and got into a lovely conversation with them. It started about spring break, and ended with their views on Donald Trump: all in all, it was an unforgettable experience. Then we they found what was definitely our favorite store. It looked like a tiny cave built into the wall of an alley,  more than an actual store building. It was beautiful and was run by a very nice older gentleman who was selling jewelry and scarves. He was our favorite because he let us bargain down prices, and made us feel like we had known him for years. Then Jin and Mr Wight went back to take a nap and Ellie, Becky, Molly, and Mr. Strati went to visit inside the church, and take Mr. Strati to our favorite store to meet our new friend. Mrs. Eaton held down the fort at the convent, in case anyone wanted to rest or come back early.

We all made it back by 6 and had a brief meeting about tomorrow as well as a silent journaling period to reflect on the trip so far. Then we had some time to freshen up before dinner at the hotel at 8 PM. All an all, it was a fantastic day of adventures and getting to know each other a little better.

Our wifi is tricky to work with, and spotty here at the convent. We have lots of beautiful pictures picked out to share, and we will upload those as soon as we find a network that can handle it. Thank you so much for your patience!

Buona Sera,

Team Italy


Quote of the day : “There are a lot of things this country is not good at: getting construction done on time, fighting in wars, but they are not messing around with the food!” -An old Italian man



When in Rome

We landed in Rome at 7:10 AM, and team Italy boarded the bus to Ostia Antica. During the reign of Augustus in Ancient Rome, Ostia was one of the greatest cities. While walking through history, we marveled at the looming statues, elegant detail, exquisite stone work, massive structures like the awe- inspiring theater, and also the angry pigeons, stray cats, and daisies.

After sunbathing in a little piece of ancient history, Katy James broke the silence and finally asked the question we had all been dying to know the answer to,

“When are we going to eat?”

Our tour guide Andrea introduced us to merenda, the Italian word for a small snack between breakfast and lunch. When we found out that having merenda meant stopping at gas station, we were slightly disappointed until we realized that gas stations in Italy are not comparable to gas stations in America. Soon Team Italy’s stomachs were filling up with warm shots of espresso, mouthwatering cups of cappuccino, warm panini (HERE), tantalizing sodas, and chocolate muffins. Amidst all this Italian, we still managed to discover that Italian Gatorade is just a little bit sweeter, and Italian Pringles are just a little less salty.

When we got on the bus again, most people tried to catch up on the sleep they didn’t get on the plane, only to wake up to the site of The Vatican. St. Peter’s Basilica blew us away, and it is no surprise that Italy had lots of armed guards protecting this national treasure.

We got off the bus at the Imperial Fora. We had a quick team meeting about how to not buy things from panhandlers. As we made our way into the Fora, Mr. Wight and Mr. Strati helped us piece together what the images on the Arch of Constantine represented, and the best angle to take pictures of the Roman Colosseum. The most impressive part of the the Imperial Fora was probably the Altare della Patria. Although I can’t speak for the rest of the team, it was absolutely the most incredible thing I have ever seen.  As we walked down the steps and passed by the eternal flame, Andrea pointed across the street to the very balcony where Mussolini addressed the public. The entirety of the Imperial Fora was covered with carvings of gods, and goddesses, lions, and eagles, incredible weapons, and unbelievable accounts of battle. We were in awe. It was hard to feel anything but humble amazement looking at the history and culture all around us.

The streets were filled with artists and performers enchanting the crowds. Despite the tremendous amount of people bustling in the streets, Andrea told us the Forra was “nearly empty.” We found ourselves surrounded by beautiful paintings of all styles, and artists painting even more as we walked by. There were water colors, spray paint, stencils, and colored pencils, not only recreating the architectural wonders all around us, but illustrating new creations of their own. Bubbles danced down the street and the children were not the only ones playing in them. Flutes, cellos, guitars, and instruments I had never seen before and played music around every corner. For many of us just hearing the Italian language being spoken all around us was a kind of music in itself. It was magical.

Team Italy said goodbye to Rome the same way we entered it, awestruck, grateful, and hungry! On the way to the convent in Spoleto, we stopped to grab another bite to eat at an auto grill.  There was an abundance of panini  and great pasta before most of the team took a long nap on the way into Spoleto. Most of us fell asleep to gorgeous view of the hills of Italy.

When we arrived at the convent, we were all given roommates, keys, and an opportunity to settle in before dinner. Many of us said hello to one of the convent cats, Jerry, before freshening up and heading to the hotel Clitunno where we will eat dinner every night.

The food was incredible, and the dessert was unlike anything I have ever seen. The red and yellow cake and custard mix was both bitter and sweet, and even the pickiest of eaters seemed to love it! Then we headed back to get a goodnight sleep before breakfast.

Buona sera,

Team Italy

Quote of the day : “Imagine how many togas have walked up these stairs” -Tommy Green

Pictures coming soon…

Traveling With Team Italy


By 9:30 Culver time everyone is wide awake, despite having been on the bus since 6:45 this morning. Many are wishing Madison Stevens a junior from Harbor dorm a happy birthday. Happy 17th Madison!

There are 16 students on team Italy, 2 freshman (Jack Chittim, Becky Young), 10 sophomores (Joe Chandler, Roger Chenn, Makenna Coulson, Gabe Henderson, Katie James, Juliana Jorgensen, Lance Kilbourne, Molly McGrane, Hyun Jin Oh, Maddie Rahe), 2 juniors (Madison Stevens, Ellie Tice), and 2 seniors (Wills Hetzel, and Tommy Green), and we are traveling with faculty Mr. Strati, Mrs. Eaton, and Mr. Wight, and with parents Mrs. James, and Mr. and Mrs. Coulson.

The bus ride started off with the handing out of mini Italy journals and a hearty boxed breakfast promptly followed by Mr. Strati’s first dad joke of the trip, “A man walks into a bar…

And says OW!” *he then gently hit his head into a bar for emphasis

We arrived at O’Hare airport around 9:00, and we all safely made it through TSA by 9:40. Most of the team stopped to grab a bite, and started to get to know each other while waiting to board. In a sharp turn of events our plane experienced some mechanical difficulties and we switched gaits to anxiously await the arrival of our new plane from Portland Oregon.

There was some speculation about whether we would make it into New Jersey  in time for our next flight, but we got there right on time! After boarding onto our flight for Rome the plane served dinner around 8, and (although it wasn’t admitted) I think some of us missed the dining hall.

It is now 9 PM our time (2 AM in Rome) and we have just under 3,000 miles left to go. We are due to land just after 7 in the morning and have a full day ahead of us, so sleeping on the plane is a must! Currently, the copious amounts of Melatonin currently coursing through the veins of team Italy is enough to knock out a herd of elephants.

See you in Rome, and buona notte,

Team Italy

Quote of the day “Roads are just sidewalks for cars” -Jack Chittim