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  • A Proper Holiday

    I went on a proper holiday. After 3 months in Rome, juggling school work, classes, and part time work, I was able to take a true spring break holiday. Starting with a day trip to London, having coffee with a mentor with a view of Big Ben, then leisurely walking the neighborhood across the river. In a matter of a few hours I was able to see Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, enjoy fish and chips, see Royals attend a Commonwealth Day event, and witness the combination of protests and paparazzi that surround such events. I hopped on a sleeper train, and woke up the next morning in Edinburgh, Scotland. From the train station, I hopped on a bus and met my mom at the airport. We checked into our flat for the week and settled in to relax before all the adventures began. Over the course of the week we went on an Outlander tour to visit sites used in filming the series, took a train to the highlands and saw the Jacobite bridge filmed in Harry Potter, toured Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle, walked the Royal Mile, explored the street used as inspiration for diagon alley, and walked along Hadrian's Wall (the northern border of the Roman Empire). This all sounds lovely right? It absolutely was, but misses the struggles as well. Heavy bags that I wore and walked about a mile between different train and bus platforms, hills and stairs galore, trying to find a bank ATM for cash, having to wait several hours to check into the flat due to arriving in town early and a late check in time. Were those struggles a pain? YES!! Would I go to Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland again? Absolutely YES!! The landscape was unbelievably gorgeous! The castles unique and interesting. And the people were some of the nicest people I've encountered in my travels so far. Like, genuinely nice, friendly, helpful, passionate, and hilarious!! I haven't laughed so hard in a while, and you all know I love to laugh. After 3 months in Rome, hearing how proud Scots are that they were never conquered by the Romans was a fun counterpoint to the strength of Ancient Rome. Oh, and if anyone ever mistakenly thought Scots like the Brits, let me assure you, they love to not love the Brits!! 3 months, 4 countries, 5 castles, umpteen bridges, baths, and basilicas later, and my thirst for exploration has only grown. One massive discovery I made is how fascinating it is to embark on slow travel. Picking a base to explore from that allows for days of walking the city, and then day or multi-day trips is not a revolutionary discovery, but was transformational for me in how I want to travel going forward. There are so many lessons I learned through observation and exploration, and I will keep this blog going to share them. For now, I am eternally grateful for this extended time in Europe exploring, discovering, and finishing a time of study with a fun and proper holiday. Cheers, Autumn

  • Week 10: Community

    How do people live best? In community. Whether small or large, quiet or loud, and whatever variety it looks like, people are built for community. As my program closes in Rome, I am keenly aware of the community that has been built among our cohort. We started as strangers and became friends and colleagues. Through shared experiences like field trips to Pompeii, Naples, and the Colosseum; apartments; reading materials and classes, we came to see each other across multiple areas of life. Together we navigated a foreign country with different customs, language, food, and transportation. We read about and heard from guest speakers discussing gut wrenching stories. We created group projects and shared them as a class. We laughed, we cried, we ate, and we ate some more. We tried new things and discovered new things we enjoyed, and others we didn't. I am changed. I am grateful. I am honored. This experience has unlocked something inside me that felt hidden away, and so am eager to discover this side even more. Today during class we ended our time by going through an experience of greeting each person, sharing a moment of thanks for being on this journey in Rome together, and a little personal comment. It was done in a circle to keep things flowing, and it was such a touching experience. I was able to share with each of my classmates what they meant to me and how I valued their experience and insight within the program. And they shared with me their thanks and anecdotes. Several expressed their gratitude for my contribution to discussions, or that I am an inspiration to them. I was humbled by the experience and hearing so many kind words. And I was moved in sharing with each one individually. Building community is a skill. It is not one I've historically done well. This experience in Rome has shown me tools that I can bring with me to learn how to intentionally create community whenever I am. I think this is one of my biggest takeaways from the program outside to class material. Community is intentional, learnable, and essential. Thank you to Carey and Diem for leading the way and bringing us along for this amazing journey.

  • Week 9: Phantoms of the Past

    Haiti. Cambodia. Palestine. Gullah. Legacy. Song. Memory. Resilience. In one line, this looks like a random collection of places and concepts. Through the lens of intergenerational trauma, these words represent families and individuals – how they navigate the horrors of the past, history currently in the making, and build resilience for the future. Interwoven are stories that connect. People connected to place. Place connected to event. Event connected to memory. Memory connected to all. All with the potential to be disconnected and create phantoms that hide in the shadows. Shadows that lurk in the dark, looking for a way to connect people to the place, event, and memory. Learning how long-lost memories of traumatic events altar people on a cellular level and create intergenerational trauma reminds of my own family, layered with the Harry Potter series and his quest to learn the truth of his family. Breadcrumbs trails were left through the story that revealed piece by piece what happened to his parents, who he was, his connection to Hogwarts, and the multitude of elements seen throughout the books and movies. I find story such a powerful way to bring difficult concepts into framed tangibility that can be watched, thought about, discussed, and wrestled with. Understanding intergenerational trauma, epigenetics, phantom trauma, repressed memories, or remnants of suppressed history are difficult to engage with at a surface level. Story removes the potentially inapproachable language of academia and philosophy and brings these concepts into the everyday. People can watch a movie like Harry Potter easier than asking an estranged relative what trauma they experienced that left lasting impressions on future generations. They can read a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison, or Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner, and see how slavery and the Khmer Rouge impacted families and countries and how that plays out within individuals. And through the act of watching or reading a story, they can catch glimpses of their own story unfolding. This week prompted me to purchase a book and workbook to dig deeper into some of my own trauma, to look for ways to connect better with my children, and to break the cycle. In the light, shadows lose their power. By shining light into the recesses, I can be part of a new story, filled with resilience, joy, and love.

  • Week 8: Multiculturism & Social Experiments

    Writing feels a little more bohemian and poetic when nestled in the corner of a hookah bar on cushions and low chairs from the middle east, with a tray of delicious hummus, muhamara, mutable, naan, and mint tea. It’s hard to believe I’m still in Rome. A little piece of my writers heart leaps with joy at the experience. This week was heavy with schoolwork in preparation for upcoming final projects for our program. I started with an interview with the organization where I have been volunteering, to learn more about the larger work happening there and in the community. The more I read and learn about this unique ground-up social project, the more impressed I am. I keep thinking about how there is really nothing like this in the US, at least that I am aware of. We had a lengthy conversation, and I look forward to putting together my assessment paper and sharing more in detail. What I can share for now is that this social project exemplifies the adage that “looks can be deceiving.” What started as an unoccupied building and an action group focused on unhoused and vulnerable people in the city is now a space where 400 people live (representing 26 countries), collaborate, hold meetings, welcome people to co-work, and more. The space feels so multicultural, so Roman, and so fundamentally human. A sample of activities taking place within the building and neighborhood school: Italian language classes for adults A theatre that holds classes, hosts touring theatre companies, and performs homegrown productions Women make dinners to earn money and share culture with the community A workshop is housed within the building where interested residents can learn woodworking skills. Furniture is made in the shop and featured within the building Events for youth and community to exchange culture and connection Of course, this space is not without its share of struggles. Utilities were cut off in the past, creating unsafe and unsanitary living conditions. In an amazing story, their power was restored with the authority and blessing a powerful world known Roman resident. That really deserves its own storytelling post. Over the years, many people and city/business officials have attempted to evict the residents. Several rounds of discussions and demonstrations have happened over the years to prevent this from happening. Current discussions include the city purchasing the property and handing it over to the main organizations involved in services within the building. The mayor of Rome recognizes the value of the social fabric that has been woven over this past decade. Even with this support and understanding, there are multiple factors at play that will impact whether this comes to fruition. The story of human connection, collective power, social collaboration, and activism meet in a unique way within this occupied building. I have never seen anything like it and am in awe of the multitude of ways ideals are worked out through practical and intentional efforts.

  • Week 7: Lessons from a Ludoteca

    Ludoteca’s are after school programs in Italy, and students are grouped by age – preschoolers, young elementary, and older. In my field placement, I have been volunteering in a preschool aged class. Normally I use rudimentary language to help with puzzles, read a book (I can read and pronounce Italian even if I don’t understand it all), assist with paint or coloring, etc. This week was a different experience. My placement is Monday afternoons, and this past weekend was the big Carnival celebrations everywhere in Italy. In a Catholic country, all Catholic holidays are celebrated, and each region has their own traditions and ways of celebrating. I went to Venice on Saturday to experience Carnival, and then to Bologna on Sunday and saw families with young children celebrating in the Piazza Maggiore and heard that Rome had celebrations as well. If you know what school or childcare is like after Halloween, then you know the tired emotions the kids were feeling and expressing in the Ludoteca. At snack time they devoured their pastry and juice, asking for more. In the classroom, there was extra whininess heard. Some children at that age naturally are still learning impulse control, how to ask to share or use a toy, and use their body more than their words to try get what they want. It was in these moments that I was the most frustrated with my lack of language skills. Here I was, in the middle of preschoolers, with the ability to ask them about colors, and where to put a puzzle piece, and talk about food toys. What I needed was the ability to redirect when a child was getting frustrated because he wanted to play with something that another student had, when his actions showed that he needed a little coaching and guidance. What I needed was the ability to ask another student what he was trying to do when it looked like he was trying to destroy the block wall others had built. I would have been able to discover that he wanted to add an archway to go through rather than destroy. I could have compared his building ideas to the ancient architects who built the Colosseum or aqueducts. Instead, I felt useless and helpless. At one point, I was the only adult in the classroom – the one who can’t seem to remember a lick of Italian in the moment. In that moment I was faced with myself and had a realization. I am educated, have worked with preschoolers, and have raised children. I understand how to guide young children when they are frustrated and either need space to calm down or redirection to lessen their intense emotions and give them a way to release their energy. I can read the room when 15 students are over stimulated and exhausted from an exciting celebration weekend and need to play large motor skill games outside to release energy rather than fine motor skill activities of drawing. Yet, I don’t have the Italian language skills to communicate that in real time in a meaningful way. That was when the thought hit me – this is how highly educated and skilled immigrants and refugees end up in low communication or low entry jobs when they arrive in a new country. You don’t need to have language fluency to do custodial or similar work. I also see even easier how people can be easily taken advantage of. When language skills are minimal, comprehending legal, medical, housing, and employment contracts become exponentially more difficult. In Rome I have the general benefit for basic interactions that a fair enough amount of people can speak some level of English and we can have a “broken” English and Italian mixed conversation. Both sides may not be able to have a full and interesting conversation, but it is sufficient to make it through the transaction. In the US, there is such a resistance and underlying anger towards people who speak other languages, that it makes absolute sense why people seek out others who are from similar backgrounds for living or work connections. Towards the end of the evening, the students were drawing what they had dressed up as for Carnival and asking the teacher and assistants for help showing what they had been. I walked over to the table and saw a Palestine flag. I asked the teacher, who speaks some English, about the flag. She shared with me the student who asked for it and mentioned they also asked for a drawing of Israel. When she asked the student about that request, they answered “for peace.” My heart melted a little. Amidst all the fun and celebration of Carnival, these students who live in a community of refugees and immigrants, are also absorbing what is happening in the world and want peace. Who knew that a Monday afternoon surrounded by 3-5 year olds I would receive such sweet lessons from a ludoteca.

  • In Hope of a Glorious Find

    Pick a destination and then enjoy the journey of discovery along the way. That is my favorite way to explore Rome on foot. Today I chose MACRO, a modern art museum in Rome with a café and free Wi-Fi. Necessary requirements when studies are required but I want to explore the city and don’t want to stay inside the apartment. On the way today I walked past a caffè with fun table arrangements of old Mokka pots and cappuccino cups to hold sugar. I thought about how fun it would be to find old Mokka pots to use for similar reasons in an antique store. Then, within 5 minutes I discovered an antique store - Antichità Italiane. Serendipity! Of course, I had to explore and see if there might be a Mokka pot. No luck, but I did happen upon the most glorious find! An antique Venetian mask from the 1920’s, made for theatre rather than Carnival, complete with the stamp of originality. I was stunned and had only the slightest hesitation if I should get it or not. This find brought full circle several life moments. Growing up, I would endlessly marvel at the map that hung at my grandparents’ home. A map that tracked my grandpa’s flights working around the world for various airlines. Surrounding the map were masks representing different countries he had traveled to. Some as simply flights with extended stays, and others, locations he had been based at and traveled through regularly. I have begun my own collection of masks from travels, including a couple from Haiti. While in Venice this past weekend, I was on the hunt for a mask to add to the collection and found a couple that spoke to me. But this one…this all-gold antique mask…it hits something different. Walking out of the shop, mask in hand, I felt my Grandpa Lamb smiling on me, encouraging me in my journeys around the world. And that – that feeling – was the glorious find!

  • Week 6: Travel or Migrate?

    This week is end-capped on the train. Monday to Napoli, Friday to Venezia. The middle filled with Roma. If you don’t know by now, I adore travel. It scratches an inch deep in my soul. I think it is the legacy of my grandparents who started life humbly and found ways to see the shores and lands across the globe. Growing up I would spend time at my paternal grandma’s house listening to stories of her beginning life in Iowa, how her and my grandpa moved around the country for his work, all while he was living in Saudi Arabia and flying for the royal family. In the past he flew for royal families in Iran (before the fall in the 1970’s), Dubai (before it was built into the metropolis it is today), and Saudi. In between he flew in Greece, South Africa, and other countries that I don’t remember. What always struck me was how he saw himself as the son of a farmer until his final days. In the summers I would stay at my maternal grandparents in SoCal, near San Diego. There we would start our vacation with “special dessert” (usually a brownie and ice cream at Bob’s Big Boy, which cracks me up now, but it was the company that made it special). I would love listening to stories he shared about traveling throughout the US and the world and how he started as a medic in the Navy and ended up in leadership at the hospital. He met my grandma when he was on tour in VietNam, and they would share those experiences of falling in love, getting married in VietNam and then bringing her to the US barely before it became difficult to do so. In fact, they had to remarry once on US soil because their marriage wasn’t recognized. The dates are a little fuzzy in my mind, but it was in the early ‘70’s range that he was stationed there. Both of my grandparents moved throughout their lives, bringing their family along as jobs required them. If they had been born in foreign countries and moved to the US for work, they would be considered economic immigrants. Movement for opportunity is a tale as old as humanity. From nomadic tribes and communities that follow herds to individuals and families that uproot in hopes of opportunities in new lands far away, humans move. They travel, they explore, and sometimes they do that in the most extreme of situations that risk their lives. Geopolitical, environmental, economic, and other disaster situations are some of the contributing factors that lead people towards the decision to attempt freedom in another country. This week we looked at the common routes that people take, dangers involved, and some of the challenges once they’ve arrived in a new location. We read “The Fourth Time, We Drowned,” and the stories about a young man who attempted multiple times to cross the Mediterranean and escape Sierra Leone and then Libya, a journalist who joined a rescue ship to share that perspective, and watched the film, “The Swimmers” which documents the story of two young women in Syria who crossed the Mediterranean in attempts to escape the war and bring their family to Europe. In addition to reading first-hand accounts that reveal the vulnerability and difficulties that people experience while fleeing, we looked at political and legal issues that directly impact what happens when people reach the borders and shores of a new country and seek asylum or refuge. So often, ideologies, long rooted biases, and political posturing impact how receptive countries are to accepting refugees as well as what and how services are offered to those arrive. Common perception among the public often includes comments that refugees are a drain, they only go to wealthy countries in search of handouts or that they increase crime rates upon arrival. All research on these comments paints a different picture. A few stats to shed light on the situation: Currently there are approximately 110 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. Internally Displaced People (IDP) number 62.5 million people, and on average, they are displaced for 10 years. Refugees number 36.4 million people, and on average, they are displaced for 20 years. Asylum seekers number 6.1 million people. 75% of refugees are hosted by in low-income countries, most in the global south. Governments in the global north (which includes the United States and Europe) make policies that put a cap on the maximum number of refugees they will accept each year. The below image shows visually what this cap looks like. Take into consideration the worldwide number of 110 million forcibly displaced people when you look at the cap of how many are allowed to enter the US. Notes: * Refers to the first three months of FY 2024 (October 1, 2023 - December 31, 2023). The data tool tracks refugee resettlement numbers and annual ceilings set since the resettlement program was enacted with the Refugee Act of 1980. It includes Amerasian immigrants except in FY 1980 to 1988. Refugee arrival data from the State Department's Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) differ slightly from the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics due to a different data collection approach. Because the numbers of admitted refugees for FY 2013-2016 are nearly the same as the refugee admission ceiling (70,000 in FY 2014-2015, and 85,000 in FY 2016), the line representing refugee admissions might not be fully visible on the chart. Actual admissions for those years were: 69,987 in FY 2014, 69,933 in FY 2015, and 84,995 in FY 2016. For FY 2019, the number of admitted refugees matched the annual ceiling, both at 30,000. The original ceiling set for FY 2021 was 15,000, the lowest level on record, but was increased to 62,500 on May 3, 2021. Fiscal year covers data from October 1 through September 30. Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis of WRAPS data from the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Available at What I find telling in the chart is where the dips are. Think about what happened in the early 2000’s and in 2016 that would cause a president to reduce the cap for number of refugees admitted to our country and you’ll see how politically charged humanitarian aid is. In Napoli, we were given a nitty gritty tour led by a gentlemen native to the city who shared a unique perspective to the northern and southern ideological clashes that directly impact trade, funding, and resources. Afterwards we met with the leaders of an organization based in the heart of the neighborhood serving refugees and asylum seekers. The cooperative is called Dedalus and they are active in providing a wealth of resources, connections, and activities. Even in a country with technically closed borders and its challenges as a southern European country receiving a vast majority of refugees, this organization is a bright light. They are known positively in the community. You can read about their services on their website. So, while I enjoy a train ride through the countryside of Italy, I think of so many who have been forced to flee their home, their family, and everything they know. They journey for months and often years, in an attempt to escape persecution and disaster, often with just the clothes on their back. In every country they risk being abused, tortured, killed, or returned to their original country. All the while, clinging to hope that there will be mercy on the other side, a job, a place to stay, and the ability to rebuild their life. My grandparents left their hometown in attempts to provide for and better the lives of their families. With US citizenship they were able to make that a reality. Had they been born in another country, their stories would have had a different outcome. I’m grateful for the legacy they left, and wish to extend opportunities and assistance to others in perilous situations.

  • Week 5: Anxious Bravery

    How is it already week 5 of my study abroad program, and the beginning of February? I knew the time would go faster than I had hoped, but this week seems to emphasize the reality with an exclamation point. It’s the messy middle of the project stage – I don’t feel like I’ve done enough, there are a limited number of weekends left to explore the country, and preparation for final projects is beginning for each of my classes. There is a lot to do over the remaining 6 weeks in Italy. This past week I read stories that shared two different refugee experiences and their journey from hometown to camps and attempts at freedom through asylum in a foreign country. I enjoyed a surprisingly elevated dinner right at the end of my street that would rival five-star restaurants in the states (and for half the cost). I went to a jazz club walking distance from my apartment and listened to a great jazz guitarist from New York, as he played with amazing Italian jazz players. I toured the Ostia Antica, the ancient city that was the original port of Rome. I danced with my class in an outdoor Roman theatre. I juggled work responsibilities. I battled anxiety and massive inferiority complex. I went to my field placement in an after-school (Ludoteca) program with 3–5-year-olds and read stories, helped put together puzzles, and supervised painting, all with very limited Italian. I met refugees practicing for a play that shares one individual refugee’s story. I laughed. I cried. And this all happened in Rome. Each week encompasses the full range (or nearly full) range of human emotions and is difficult to sum up. Isn’t that life, though? Joy and sorrow, and everything in between. And the really fun discovery (one that I already knew, but has surfaced again) is that no matter where you go in the world, you can’t run away from yourself. So, if you are driven, you’ll be driven anywhere in the world. If you struggle with self-esteem issues, you’ll struggle with them anywhere in the world. If you make friends easily or struggle to connect, that will follow you no matter where you go. That is not all to say that these things are inherently problematic. They are simply reality. Traveling in and of itself doesn’t solve an internal problem just because you traveled. That requires intention, effort, and daily decisions. For me, I struggle with anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and connecting with others on a long-term basis. This leaves me very guarded. None of this has changed simply by spending extended time in Italy. One thing I have told my kids numerous times is that I am not going to let fear stop me from having the adventure. If anything, my life is a testament to the fact that you can show up fearful, with knees knocking, and still have amazing experiences. Case in point: I had the opportunity to connect with a film director who works with refugees and is the one who leads the group I mentioned above that is practicing a show telling a refugee story. We had a date, time, and location to meet, and I was familiar with the area becuase I've been there before. What I didn't know what the specific room to meet. I missed the first bus because I second guessed myself if I was remembering the correct connection. This put me behind schedule. When I arrived at the building, I messaged my connection, but my phone wouldn’t connect to service. Unsure of whether I was in the correct spot or not, I walked to the second spot I had met her before, thinking she might be there (this was a ¼ mile walk). I arrived at the front of the building, and there were two people at the front to greet people as they entered. Neither spoke English, and one was speaking a language other than Italian. I said the name of who I was looking for, yet they didn’t know where she was. I waited for a moment and thought one was trying to reach her. She was not. I started to question whether I should just go back home, having completely missed the time and location of where I was supposed to meet, and I had no cell service to use translation assistance, or call/text my connection. Finally, I pushed past my insecurity and asked again if they could call her. The gentleman did, and I got her on phone! She told me where she was, so I walked back to the original meeting point, now with a location inside the building. Upon arrival, I now had to find the theater! First door – music is coming from the inside, and I open it up and peek inside. A woman looks at me, dancing while walking towards me and tells me NO! She didn’t even ask what I was there for, and I didn’t see who I was looking for. I went to the second door (which is where the after-school program I volunteer at is located). There is one of the workers I know, so I ask her for assistance. She confirms that the first door I went to is the theater. I tell her what happened, and she calls my connection. I go out the second door, peek over to the first door, and there she is, my connection – the film director – waving me to join the group. Not wanting to be any more of a disturbance, I take a seat and watch what is happening, observing the practice in place. Multiple languages are spoken, and through their gestures, actions, and periodic words of recognition, I gather a bit of the portion of the story they are working on. At the end I was asked to share a briefly why I am in Rome, why I was there, and was told that next week when I come, sitting in the chair is not allowed – they expect participation. So, this woman who navigates this world in a mixture of anxiety and brave adventure, overcame a serious sequence of self-doubt that had me concerned how intense my body reactions would become. And not only did I get to experience this brief practice, but I was also asked to participate next week. I’ll share about that next week, so you can watch ridiculous anxiety be brave and uncomfortable again! All of these experiences – anxiety, uncertainty, lack of language skills, not understanding systems – these were felt on a small scale by me this week but serve as a continual reminder that these same feelings and realities are part of the fabric of the refugee experience worldwide. Without the safety net of being able to travel back to the country of origin and familiarity. If, after reading today’s post, you feel in any way that you can’t take action to make a difference in some small capacity or take steps to learn more about challenges that you don’t understand, then I don’t think you read it right. Anxious people can do brave things. Limited language skills can still fumble their way through the world. Uncertainty can be overcome. All it takes is five seconds of bravery and a decision to not let your fears stand in the way of doing something new or difficult.

  • Week 4: Memory

    Tears are a controversial topic in my head, yet they fell frequently this week. We are four weeks into our time in Italy, and this week’s readings and lectures covered refugee camps, trauma, and mental health. Through conversations, the power and need for storytelling was shared by our professors. How it is so important for refugees to share their stories, no matter how difficult they are to tell, or to hear. There is power in reclaiming a bit of life and release from the overwhelming pain carried within the body through sharing an individual story. One of the readings that stood out this week is from the book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” by Besser van der Kolk. I brought the book with me from home, as it was one of the first ones I read when first beginning personal trauma work. It provides a great foundational understanding of trauma, traumatic memory, body memory, and ways to release. Since originally reading this book, I’ve read several others, which help to deepen and round out understanding, although I am by no means an expert on the topic. In our section, we read about traumatic memory, and how the mind is so powerful in protecting itself from pain that it will repress events that have happened. Sometimes this can happen for years. Then a trigger of some sort happens, and memories come back, but not always in a way that is coherent or linear, or even a full picture of the event or events that happened. This can be extremely startling when experienced in the moment, and depending on the intensity of the memory, can completely disrupt normal life. This section reiterated the importance of sharing stories and letting the body release the trauma that has been stored in the body and mind. I have been fascinated by and been researching how storytelling is so important in healing from trauma. Last year I wrote a research paper on the topic, from a gut instinct that this is an important topic to study, and that there is validity in my thoughts on the subject. Yet, it is one that is sometimes difficult to engage in. It’s not like asking someone to share their trauma is a casual conversation over cocktails. Imagine grabbing a drink, an aperitive here in Rome, and asking your friend, “so, how does your body feel the pain of trauma?” or “what sort of traumatic flashbacks do you experience when you are triggered?” Yet, the ability to share and release trauma is so critical to moving forward in life, to beginning to heal. I have never lived in a refugee camp. I have never been a POW or held in a cell. Stories told by those who have are immensely difficult to hear. My mind has the ability to amplify pain I have experienced while listening to another person share their experience and empathize with them. At the very least, I can offer a listening ear, an open space for another to share their story. Nobody wants to remember trauma. In that regard society is no different from the victims themselves. We all want to live in a world that is safe, ageable, and predictable, and victims remind us that this is not always the case. In order to understand trauma, we have to overcome our relluctance to confront that reality and cultivate the courage to listen to the testimonies of survivors. The Body Keeps the Score, pp. 196-197 At the end of the day, this work isn’t about me, though I am willingly choosing to move in this direction with studies. This has been a progression over the past decade, from the first time I heard the story of a woman who was attempting to rebuild her life through creating jewelry and I shared her story to women in the United States. Later through traveling to Haiti and meeting metal workers and clay and jewelry makers, and parents and children whose desire was to provide for their family, buy land, and build a house. Their stories wove their way into my heart and my soul, and no matter where I go in the world, I am reminded of the men and women and children there who are beautiful and funny, and caring, and so many so utterly traumatized from decades (centuries really) of generational trauma. Yet, everyone I met there doesn’t want to be known for their collective or individual trauma, they want to be known for who they are as a person, as a mother, as a father, as a student. As I write today, my dear friend who I worked with for several years, is on her way to Haiti, to continue the amazing work of a school for infants through 6th grade, that is trying their best to financially stay afloat while providing upper class education to children from families of lower financial class. Each and every student and parent have a story – complicated, joyful, challenging, and amazing all wrapped up in one bundle that deserves to be told to the world. My brief social media posts have covered the joy of a delicious cup of coffee, or a cool door. To me, these are ways to stay grounded. Life is incredibly difficult at times, and the cruelty and unfairness across the globe, especially amongst those who live in the global south and have brown skin. If I sit in my feelings for too long, I will become a puddle and retreat into a hole. So, I believe that it is important to have personal practices that ground me and allow me to come back to a place where I can engage in the work of learning, writing, conversing, and becoming a change agent. Those practices of savoring a delicious cup of coffee, noticing and marveling at interesting doors, walking through the city to explore all the nooks and crannies, they are vital to my mental health. They have been part of my process all along, from rebuilding my life after trauma, to moving forward in working with others who have suffered trauma.

  • Week 3: Balance

    Balance. Is it ever truly a realistic goal or achievement? What does it mean to live a balanced life? Especially when engaging in emotionally charged conversation around humanitarian work and the causes of migration. And when paired with living in a city filled with layers of history over millennia, I don’t believe it is feasible to expect balance. One day while walking towards a green space, I came across a building and had to take a closer look. The function is etched above the door - elementary school for boys. And it is named after Christopher Columbus. To the left of the doors is a sculpture of the representation of the founding of Rome - Romulus and Remus being fed by the she-wolf that rescued them from death. Apparently this is an abandoned building, as evidenced by the vast array of graffiti - with phrases such as k*ll N*zis, Antifa Zone, and more. I believe this one image sums up the layers of history, function, and meaning brought to the contemporary. People across time have used this space to share changing messages with the community. So, I will embrace the imbalance of engaging with works that bring up deep feelings that range from horror to joy, sadness to contentedness. And knowing that I am not doing this deep dive alone is even more powerful. Together, with 20 others, we are discussing torture, climate change, migration, refugees, health, nation states and their responsibility, potential for change and the forces that resist. I am the oldest student in this group, old enough to be the parent of the students in my cohort. At times I feel awkward with this age gap and wonder how I’m perceived, and other times I am grateful to have a lifetime of living in the world and bringing observations and experiences to the conversation. And I readily welcome the insight that the diversity of our group brings to the conversation as well. Age is not really a factor when sharing how we’ve all navigated the world, whether born and raised in the United States, South America, Western or Central Europe, the Middle East, or Asia, every person has a unique perspective to share that brings a wholeness to our conversations while we wrestle with difficult topics. This week we read about torture, climate migration, natural disasters, and starvation. We read stories that took place in Haiti, Cambodia, New Orleans, and beyond. We evaluated organizations that are supposed to facilitate peace and bring aid and their true effectiveness. And we visited ancient ruins filled with layers of history where people from all classes and backgrounds mixed and mingled for hundreds of years. In my field placement, I was transported to a time when my children were young and I was teaching in a preschool, as I assisted in an after school preschool class. They colored, put together puzzles, drew, told stories, and painted. It was every bit of chaos and laughter you can imagine. And they taught me new words and welcomed me to the space. It was a pocket of joy amid tough material to digest. Perhaps that is the true balance. Remembering and choosing to find pockets of joy and laughter, even when many areas of life are filled with stories that could cause one to retreat within and escape from the world. When I feel that my tiny insignificant contribution won’t make an ounce of difference in a cause that spans the globe without an end in sight, I look to the little one who is reading a book or asking me to help put on a princess dress or needing help washing hands after painting. It is not insignificant to extend kindness and graciousness to the one next to me. I will never know all the stories of those I encounter every day. Yet I can choose kindness. I can choose to engage in the hard stories and hear their words. I can choose to honor their lives by continuing to pursue this field in daily, incremental ways.

  • Week 2 Reflection

    This week encompassed a wide range of human emotions. From joy and excitement, to accomplishment, to sadness and grief.  From coffee to the Pantheon and course work, there was a little bit of everything mixed together. One fun highlight included daily stops at the café and the entire experience in Italian. Even with my limited knowledge of Italian, being able to order different types of coffees, croissants, and pastries, and pay using Italian and not relying on the staff to switch to English feels like a major accomplishment. I am not able to hold a conversation yet outside of the ordering and paying, but that’s ok. And can I just tell you, the café bar culture of Rome is fantastico!! It is nothing like US coffee culture. Seattle is a coffee town, with its own distinct coffee culture. And Rome is a café town, with its own distinct coffee culture. I think I’ll make a separate post all about coffee to showcase different types, how to order and enjoy, etc. In our “colonization, assimilation, and slavery in ancient and medieval Rome” course, we began discussing various monuments around the city. Rather than just looking at them as tourists, we learned about their origins, layers of functions and purposes over the centuries and millennia and began to shift our framework of viewing these built structures. Questions such as who built this, why was it originally built, why was it chosen to remain while others were torn down, and what function does it serve today? These are multi-layered questions, and the answers reflect the millennia that encompass their existence. One such structure we visited this week is the Pantheon. Originally built by Agrippa between 25 and 27 BC, this structure was dedicated to all the gods and served as a space of worship. At the time, it was believed that when powerful rulers died, they became like a god, so structures built would be dedicated to these rulers. Agrippa didn’t want to be worshipped as a god, which is why the structure is called the Pantheon and was dedicated to all the gods. Over the centuries some elements were removed to build other structures around the city, showing shifting priorities and influences of power. With the rise of the Catholic church beginning in the 300’s, many pagan structures were destroyed, and their materials used for other buildings. Surprisingly the Pantheon was not destroyed, though materials were taken for other structures. I found it interesting that now the structure is an active church with images of Mary and Christ that are worshipped, and no longer a pagan structure. Inside the building was spectacular. It was the first of its kind with the domed ceiling, and its engineering influence can be seen around the world, from the roofs of Duomos throughout Europe, the White House in the US, and many more buildings. Ancient Romans were students of astronomy and numerology, and this knowledge can be seen throughout the building, from the hole in the ceiling that allows light in which shines through the front entrance on the anniversary of the founding of Rome, to the measurements of the ceiling and floors. Layers upon layers of numerical significance are found in the building. Books upon books of information can be read to dig further into this one ancient structure in Rome. Course work this week was as important as learning how to approach monuments, but more difficult to wrestle with. We are starting our refugee and forced migration studies by looking at disasters that create situations where people must flee their home. There is simply nothing easy about reading and watching footage of civil war, political revolution, religious revolution, and genocide. Statistics are staggering at the sheer number of disasters that have occurred around the world over the past century alone. When faced with the large numbers, I find myself numbing slightly to the magnitude of displacement and need for assistance around the world. But numbing does nothing to have any impact on the problem. So, I am attempting to find the story in the numbers. Because the numbers are people, with families, loved ones, and stories unique in their own way. Even when themes emerge such as the type of disaster that people fled from – war, revolution, or genocide – everyone has their own experience within the disaster. It is these stories that I am interested in learning and sharing (as appropriate, and with proper permissions). Over the next months I will share more of the stories and materials we are learning and will give appropriate trigger warnings so you can choose which posts to read or not read. It is important when engaging with difficult topics and stories to know how to care for your mental and emotional health and engage as you are able. Until next time, Ciao!

  • Week 1: Seattle to Rome

    Excitement bookended this first week. Travel, exhaustion, and marvel filled the middle. Seattle condo to Rome apartment involved: 12 hours of flights (plus a layover in Frankfurt that was surprisingly way less efficient than I was expecting for Germany) car service to the hotel (I highly recommend paying the higher price for a taxi or car service after a long flight with luggage - your tired body and mind will appreciate getting to the hotel easily) Hotel stay - a darling small room was perfect to start catching up on sleep from being awake most of the previous 36 hours Delicious and simple meal around the corner from the hotel Taxi to the UW Rome Center (my classroom while in Rome) - again helpful with the luggage Housing change due to student shifting last minute. Taxi to the apartment Tour the apartment and unpack to make this space feel like home for the next 2 1/2 months In between, many walks through the cobblestone streets have occurred, taking in all the sights and sounds of the city. In Seattle I always love the peek-a-boo of Mt. Rainier as I drive and walk around. In Rome, the windy streets play peek-a-boo with ancient buildings. Around every corner are structures that span construction over the past 2 millenia - from Castel Sant'Angelo, to the Vatican, to Roman walls built to protect against the Barbers, to shops in building that look like 21st century construction. Shops, restaurants, and cafes fille every tiny opening along the street and are a true feast for the eyes. It is difficult to not stop constantly and stare at everything. But I do pause along the route to and from school, take photos, marvel at the enormous doors, variety of architectural styles, tiny vehicles, and absorb all that I can.

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