As I promised, I’m going to continue on this idea of “home.” But this is also about my Thanksgiving travels.

A few weeks ago, I did another full week of traveling with two new friends I made at OUA.  We took an overnight train to Vienna, Austria, where we saw some wonderful museums, shopped at the twinkle-light Christmas markets, befriended a nomadic Kiwi, miraculously found a can of root beer (!) to go with our schnitzel, and realized my years-long dream of seeing the band MUSE live in concert. (I could make at least one full blog post about that concert, but it seems kind of irrelevant to the study abroad experience, so we’ll leave it with the commentary that I almost don’t like to listen to their recorded music anymore because it was so much better live.)

One of the highlights of my year–hearing Matthew Bellamy shout out “How are you feeling tonight, VIENNA?”


After a few nights in Vienna, we headed up to Prague.  We exchanged our Euros for Czech Krona (1000 krona = $50. It was dangerously like having a pocketful of Monopoly money) and found our beautiful (and apparently eco-friendly?) hostel. 
Everyone has always told me that Prague is “like a fairy tale” … and they weren’t lying.  The whole city was magical, from the river to the “dancing building” to the castle and—my favorite—the astronomical clock in Old Town Square.








It was in the UK that I realized my confusion with the whole “home” thing.  In discussions with the other OUA students we had met up with in London, I found myself using “home” in three ways.

  1. (Sitting around the English pub that was the first floor of our hostel drinking Strongbow cider)  “It’s too bad I won’t be able to drink this for another two years when we go home.” (Here meaning the states.  I’m 19, and totally not a lawbreaker, if you need some context there).
  2. (Inside the National Gallery looking at some uber famous super amazing paintings) I don’t want to spend all day here because there are other things I want to make sure we see in London before we fly home tomorrow.  (Home here meaning Arezzo).
  3. (Taking pictures of Big Ben and Westminster) We can head home and check out that Christmas market by the London Eye on the way. (Home here meaning…..wait, a HOSTEL?

Let’s break from this list thing. Did I really call a HOSTEL “home?”


You bet I did.

We only stayed anywhere a maximum of two nights.

We never had a room with less than eight people in it.

We kept our bags in locked lockers and had to pull out a slip of paper to remember the combination to get in the front door.

But it was home.

Just for a few days…it was home.


That’s completely crazy, isn’t it?



Disclaimer: This window has nothing to do with this post. I just really love it.

Despite my best efforts, the thing most on my mind lately has been this concept—home.

I say “despite my best efforts” because the last thing I want to be doing in my final ten days in Italy is thinking about leaving it. But in my studies and in my travels I keep coming back to this idea—home. I consider and I wonder (like the over-analytic freak that I am)…what is home? What does that mean to me anymore? I call myself a global student; I call the world my classroom. But am I a global citizen? Is the whole world also my home? I can’t seem to escape the question.

It doesn’t help that I have six songs on my iPod all dealing with “home” (three of which are literally titled “Home.” I don’t have any other repeats that dramatic—maybe this concept has been more important to me in the past than I knew?).


To share these thoughts with you (and of course give some updates on my time in Italy as it comes to a close) I am going to make a series of blog posts, starting now and ending when I fly back to the States, about this idea of home. And I’m going to share some of these songs. Hope you enjoy!


**Gabrielle Aplin- Home** – this is my most recently-dicsovered (and favorite) “Home” song that I have.  My friend Ashley shared it with me a few weeks ago, and it’s quickly become the theme song of my semester.


We learned in Immigration Class that the Italians in the days of their mass emigration (1800s, mostly) had a sort of catch phrase with which they consoled themselves – tutto il mondo e’ un paese. Or “all the world is a home town.” Through the generations they had learned that they could bring their culture with them wherever they went and be happy anywhere in the world.

Before I had ever heard this phrase, I made a similar comment.

This summer, my best friend and I backpacked around Europe for a week before our semesters started. We traveled through Edinburgh, Sheffield, London, and Luxembourg, and by the end I decided that the lesson I learned (and I pull this from a travel journal, I’m not just conveniently making this up) was “With good friends, good coffee, and the good Lord, you can feel at home anywhere.”

(Edinburgh especially felt like home becuse we found my new favorite coffee shop ever)

Guess I was already more Italian than I thought.


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A week or so ago, I made the quick comment on Facebook that “it’s impossible to be upset about being so overwhelmingly busy when all the things competing for my time are so amazingly awesome.”  I didn’t go into details at the time—because I was just too busy.  But now, as I have hit a rare relaxed weekend, I would like to elaborate.


Here is what the past few weeks looked like for me:


One of these days, I’ll get the Facebook/selfie picture-taking thing down.

Wednesday, October 17th – Finish up midterms

As I believe I have mentioned before, we actually take classes here.  And while I personally adore all the classes—and the fact that there are about 15 students in each one, that the professors are so passionate about what they’re teaching, and that we’re actually learning about things in context of the place where we’re living—midterms are never fun.


Friday, October 19th – Monday, October 29th –Parents Visit!

Yes! My parents got to come visit me in Italy! It was something I never thought would actually happen.  My parents, who hardly ever travel, took off work for 11 days to come halfway across the world to see me.  I took a 4-hour train to meet them in Venice, and over the course of the 4-day weekend we explored Venice, Riomaggiore, and Pisa.  I left them in Florence on Monday night when I had to head back to Arezzo for classes.  Our Art History class was in Florence on Wednesday, so I met up with them at the Academia Museum (where our class was learning about Michelangelo’s David).  They came back to Arezzo for a tour of the town, our school, my apartment, etc. (and they later declared it their favorite city in Italy), and by Friday, when I was done with classes for the week, we were heading to Rome for the last four days of their trip. Daughter, Student, Tour Guide, Immigrant

As the middle child in our family, it’s been rare for me to ever have one-on-one time with my parents.  Add to this that I truly feel in my element while I’m traveling, and this week was really something special. It would even have been completely stress-free…if life could have stopped in the mean time.



Tuesday, October 23rd

My Tuesday classes run from 9am to 4:30pm.

In a break between classes, a few of us went to a coffee shop to meet some local college students who are about to graduate with “American Studies” majors and need conversation partners to help them with their final film projects. …My academic tracks at OU are International Studies and Broadcasting and Electronic Media, so this was absolutely an opportunity I couldn’t turn down! (not to mention that I’ve been dying to hang out with local students!)

After classes, our Student Advisory Council had “training” for our biggest event of the year—a Halloween “Fright Fest” for local children.

After that, I went all around town with a woman from OU’s College of International Studies who was visiting OUA to work on some amazing publicity materials for the program here.  Again, a fantastic combination of International Studies and Broadcasting/Electronic Media that is exactly up my alley.  I was fortunate enough to be recommended to work with her, and we spent the evening walking around town getting pictures and videos of Arezzo for an upcoming coffee-table book and iBook.

Then I got home in time to read up on Michaelangelo’s statue of David, which we were to see the next day.

It was one of the most overwhelmingly awesome, custom-made-for-Shelby, miraculous kind of days…could I seriously complain that I was tired as I collapsed into bed? Absolutely not!


Saturday, October 27th

While sitting on the hotel bed after a very long day in Rome (and anyone who has been to Rome knows that any day in the city is a long one—it’s just so overwhelming! Again, in an awesome way.  Can you seriously complain that St. Peter’s Basilica is simply too magnificent or the Colosseum too historical?) I remembered that my enrollment time slot had opened up…and I was still somewhat indecisive about what classes to take.  I’m looking at trying to do another semester abroad before I graduate, and depending on if I want to go to South Korea or Romania or on an OU Journey summer program etc., everything changes. But seriously, could I complain that there were too many exciting options to choose from? Of course not.  But it was still a bit stressful.


Tuesday, October 30th

My parents caught their 6am flight!

After another 9am-4:30pm day of classes (wait, has it seriously been a week since the last crazy Tuesday already?), some of us from the Advisory Council ran over to one of the apartments and began turning it into a haunted house for the next day’s festivities.

At 5:30, a group of us went up the street to the Children’s Library to do a Halloween story time and monster-balloon craft with a handful of local elementary school kids….or we thought we were going to have only a handful.  …The library was overrun. We prepared fifty balloons for the craft and didn’t have enough for all the kids until we made some more.

…More than fifty kids to listen to us read “Go Away, Big Green Monster” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” and to sing “the head bone’s connected to the neck bone…” ?! It was OVERWHELMING…and AMAZING.  What a cool show of what awesome community support we have here in Arezzo!  I suppose we should have taken it as foreshadowing of what was to happen at the Fright Fest the next day…

And from there it was back to OUA for a festive, good old American pumpkin carving!

The logo for a Canadian travel show I adore! …only one person understood the reference, so I’m planning a watch-party. 🙂


Wednesday, October 31st

Florence for class again!  This was one of the most overwhelmingly awesome “classroom” experiences of my life—as we got our lecture on the architecture of the Florence Cathedral from the special-admission-only balcony on top of it.  400+ stairs to the top of the duomo, a baptistery from the 11th century, and a Medici-commissioned church later, and we were on the 3:00 train home. 

As soon as we got off the train, we dashed to our respective apartments to grab costumes and a bite to eat, and then we headed over to OUA for the party.
OU does nothing halfway, so we had plenty of things to occupy the six-and-a-half trillion children (and their parents) who showed up for the duration of the party—thank goodness!  Mummy races and face-painting, coloring and cookie decorating and, of course, the haunted house were all smash hits.


Dirt ‘n’ Worms…cider…such lucky kids. 🙂


And now for the self-analytical part of this blog (you can’t escape it with me!)

I have found myself caught in a dichotomy here. 

On the one hand, I want so badly to make the most of this experience, so I have been volunteering myself for any and every opportunity that arises.

On the other hand, I want just as badly to get a chance to live the Italian lifestyle…which with its slower pace and emphasis on “tranquillati” (relax yourself), doesn’t mesh well with day calendars packed and color-coordinated.


Regardless, I have now had five much-needed days of alternating hibernation and study time, and only just found the energy to write this very long, drawn-out blog post.  But I re-iterate: I am not complaining about any of the things on this list.  How could I?  Everything that has happened in the past few weeks has been something so far beyond good.  I have been overwhelmed, but overwhelmingly happy.


My solution: discover the cure for the necessity of sleep.


A dopo



We finally found someone to get a picture of the three of us!



Oh yeah, can’t forget this thing…

One thing I learned about Italy – Until you can no longer physically jam the doors closed, it’s acceptable to squeeze more people onto the bus…at least in Rome, and at least when the Blue Line of the metro is down.


One thing I learned about myself – I’m not incapable of speaking Italian…I’m just a chicken.  When placed with people who know no Italian at all, I gladly rose to the occasion and managed to have a ton of conversations in Italian.  I’m sure I don’t sounds like a poet, but as far as I could tell I didn’t mortally offend anyone, and we always got where we needed to be.


Best thing I ate – It’s a toss-up.  It is either 1. The three-course dinner of pear risotto, roasted potatoes, and lemon chicken that my parents and I had at a local trattoria or 2. The BBQ Burger with caramelized onions and bacon that I had at the Hard Rock in Rome (hey…after 2 months away from the states, I’m allowed to enjoy a nice burger and free drink refills).


Italian Word of the Week: “Spaventoso” – meaning “scary” or “frightening.”  I.e. Are you sure it’s a good idea to come in?  This haunted house is molto spaventoso.


Travel Quote of the Day

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes



Okay, I realize I hit it kind of hard in that last post.  I promise this one is much less self-analytical and grandiose.  It is, in fact, just a simple recounting of my day.  It’s not even very detailed because I wrote it on a train.  So just in case you were wondering, here is what a Wednesday in my life looks like…


I was almost late for class today

but I broke into a run through the cobblestone streets and across the piazzas full of Italians confused by my rush, so I made it to class before the bells started ringing……and by “bells” I mean church bells from the bell tower at the top of the hill, and by “class” I mean the train station.  Today we were going to Florence again.

We crowded onto the train and sat back to watch the bright green hills and blue sky of Tuscany pass by for the next hour.  I pulled out a notebook and my degree sheets to try yet again to pick my classes for next semester.

Just another day.

It was “business as usual” when we got off the train–a 15 minute break to use restrooms and get cappuccinos and fresh croissants from a pastry shop near the piazza where we would later meet up.

Fifteen minutes never feels like enough when running on Italian Time, as we have all come to refer to the pace of life here, but eventually class has to start–which today meant going into the Santa Maria Novella, a 576-year-old church that saw the beginning and end of the Black Plague, in front of whose doors hordes of worshippers once whipped themselves in hopes of gaining favor of God, the church featured at the beginning of Boccacio’s Decameron…. Today, it saw a line of students and tourists.

Light shone in on us through huge stained glass windows as we listened to and took notes on Kirk’s lecture, while viewing in context a piece we all expect to be on our midterm next week.  We had walked through the cemetery courtyard outside, through the “valley of death,” and seen it straight ahead of us–a Holy Trinity, signifying life after death–in the way the artist intended (plus or minus the sounds of some people working on restoring another nearby hundreds-of-years-old fresco).  We complained when the lesson was over–we wanted to stay longer.

However, our next stop was certainly worth cutting short our time at SMN.  The “Uffizzi Gallery” is a name anyone who has taken an art history class is somewhat familiar with–only today, about 20 of us became quite personally familiar with it.  The building itself is incredible, and was once the location of the offices for the Medici Dukes.  Today, it is packed with famous art.  From incredible work to incredible work we made our way through the gallery, and I kept having to remind myself to take notes on Kirk’s lecture–the setup is one I’m used to from touring exhibits on vacation, not from an upper division humanities course.  It wasn’t until we had seen Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (yep, wasn’t expecting it, couldn’t believe I was seeing it.  Oh right, take notes…) that we took a break to get something to drink and to look out at the famous Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and the countryside on the outskirts of the city.  And after that, we powered through a Michelangelo piece and a controversial Venus from an artist in Venice.  And then we had two hours to explore Florence. 

It’s a pretty recognizable piece.

The city is full of things to do, but since our feet were tired and we know we’ll be back at least twice more for class, a couple friends and I decided to pass our time with a classic Italian “slow lunch.”  For 12 euro, we each enjoyed a pasta dish, a main dish (mine was grilled Italian sausage), and a side of roasted potatoes, as well as a glass of wine, great service, and a cup of gelato (which, for those people whose lives have tragically not been graced with gelato, is like ice cream…but better).  Everything was homemade–no microwaves, no preservatives–and locally produced, and it came out course after course after course for a good hour and a half. (Note to self: I need to write down my glass of chianti in the wine diary I’m required to keep this week for another class).  

  And now I’m on the train home, 15 minutes out from Arezzo, watching my exhausted classmates, who have finally all found available seats, fall in and out of sleep as I write and the hills and five-hundred-year-old villas pass outside the open windows.  As I finish this entry, I’ve started making a to-do list for tonight.  I need to type this journal entry into a blog post, I need to study for my Immigration in Italy midterm, and I need to pack my suitcase so I’ll be ready to catch my flight to Seville tomorrow after class.

Yep.  Just another day in the life of a student abroad….

The setup for the wine tasting we attended the other day. It’s a little odd that I’ll be 19 when I get home, and still unable to drink for 2 years. it’s such a no-big-deal thing here.


One thing I learned about Italy
Trains are “deletable.”  …It is really important to always book in advance…and be flexible since nothing ever seems to arrive on time.

One thing I learned about myself
I’m still not over my claustrophobia…as glamorous as train travel can sound, when you end up standing in the aisles sharing air with too many people, it’s not all fun and games.  So I’m going to keep working on that fear.

Best thing I ate
Lane and I won a “Buddies” cooking competition with our amazing “Nutella Ravioli” — shortbread pastries filed with hazelnut/chocolate creme and coated in cinnamon sugar, with strawberries–so let’s go with that.

Italian word of the Week
“Sperare” meaning “to hope”

…I just think it’s a good word. 🙂

Travel Quote of the Day

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” -Robert Louis Stevenson


Will write again shortly,


I’ve already noticed on this trip–I’ve had a lot of photos of sunsets, but just as many sunrises.

The day before yesterday, our Student Activities Council (of which I am Vice President) put on a 1990’s-themed dinner/movie night.  This event, if I recall correctly, was originally inspired by the…eclectic music taste of shops and restaurants around Arezzo (one night, we legitimately heard Bye, Bye, Bye; I’m Like a Bird; and I’ll Stand by You back to back to back), and ended up including a scrumptious 1990’s-themed dinner, a sing-along of The Goofy Movie, and a viewing of the classic and often-forgotten Disney Channel Original movie Brink! 

When the chicken nuggets were all ready, we shuffled through the food line, bobbing our side ponytails to the Spice Girls, scooping mac and cheese and PBJ sandwiches onto our plates.  Between bites of grilled cheese, someone commented that the night seemed less representative of the decade, and more like re-living our childhood….

Well duh, I argued.  It made sense, since we all are definite 90’s kids.

Photo credit Kaydee Dyer

So the night mmm’bopped on, but of course–being me–I couldn’t really get this thought out of my head. And by “this thought” I mean

**Am I seriously already old enough to be feeling the need to “relive my childhood?” **

I mean, last I checked, my childhood had not yet ended (though the premiere of the last Harry Potter movie felt like it at the time).  But now, standing in a kitchen 5,000 miles away from my old playground, in a place where my wifi connection only sometimes allows me to talk to my parents (Hi, Dad!) there was no denying even to myself—I’m not a kid anymore.  Even if I never technically “grew up” (at 5’2” most of the middle-schoolers I tutor are taller than me), I definitely became a grown-up somewhere along the line.

Okay, I’m nineteen years old, so this really isn’t news to anyone.  But I’ve claimed to “feel like I’m thirty” since I was about fourteen, and never had a clue what I was talking about.  I was petrified when I turned eighteen, because it was no longer acceptable to be the “kid who acts like an adult.”  I was suddenly legally an adult, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

I had been conscious of this concept of “adulthood” for a while, but only the other night did I finally feel it, and even more than that, I finally feel happy about it.

I started thinking back to the past month here, and all that I have seen and done…

Before I even arrived in Italy, I backpacked through Scotland, England, and Luxembourg with only my best friend (and I made this

snazzy video about it).  We navigated train systems and flight delays, language barriers and hostel rooming issues without any parents or teachers holding our hands.  Once I arrived in Italy, alone, I started using a language other than the one I had grown up with. I moved into my first apartment.  Then, a few weeks in, a couple friends and I decided on a Thursday to go out of town that weekend.  We booked everything, made the four-hour journey, and then spent two days of total freedom in Cinque Terre—choosing where we ate, who we talked to, how far out we wanted to swim…. By day two, we hiked nine kilometers up and down a monstrous hill and through some scenic vineyards from one town to the next.

I still can’t tell for sure where the water ends and the sky starts.

By the time we got home, nothing seemed impossible anymore.

In the past few weeks, I have started innumerable lists of road trips and vacations I want to make once I get back to the states; in the meantime, I’ve booked a trip to Spain and planned a trip that involves an overnight train to Vienna to see my favorite band over Thanksgiving break; I’ve accepted that I’m just on the tip of the iceberg of things I can do in my lifetime. I can really do these things.  In the past month, I have passed out of the realm of “when I grow up, it’s my dream to…” and into something far more exciting. I am grown up now.  And I have started watching in amazement as those dreams I used to talk about have started coming true.


Forgive me for the overly-sentimental self-analysis! Now onto the corny stuff!


One thing I learned about Italy – We are stuck in a Dr-Who-eque time warp.  Music from the 1990s, festivals from the 1600s, and spaceship motorcycle cars of the future.  When am I??

One thing I learned about myself – See the 600-word composition above. Also, I love hyperlinks; this is a new discovery.

Best thing I ate – No competition.  Craig’s masterful macaroni and cheese, which he amazingly managed to create senza cheddar, as this country apparently laughs at such mainstream formaggio.

Italian Word of the Week: Well, technically it hasn’t been a full week since my last post, but what the heck?  Today’s word of the week is “cervicalgia,” meaning “neck pain.”  One of my roommates was using this word repeatedly, and I was quite baffled until I had the sense to pull up Google translate.

And finally,

Travel Quote of the Day
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

“Follow your feet,”
(name the movie for brownie points!)


As promised in my last entry, I’m going to do a bit of catch up and move forward at the same time…as best I can.

I know I’ve thrown around the enticing word “joust” at least once.  And yes, I have been literal this whole time—Arezzo is host to a bi-annual jousting festival, which has historical roots as far back as the days of Dante.  (see picture below)

See Prof. Houston! I have been paying attention in class!

The town is divided into 4 competing neighborhoods or “quarters” who all submit 2 horsemen to ride against a mannequin with a target.  There is a points system, and a golden lance trophy that everyone makes a huge deal of.  I have never seen such community togetherness as in the entire week of parties, parades, and banquets leading up to this tournament.  Here is my album from the event, if you’re anxious for the flashy pictures and exciting stuff…and now for the boring (except I don’t find them boring at all) details!

Jousts pretty much went out of style after the 1600s, but in the 1930s when the Fascists were trying to get Italy all excited about being a united country, they went around arranging a bunch of events to unite the community under the banner of their rich history.  One of these projects in Arezzo was to re-instate the joust.  So, one thing I have learned since coming here…

Italy has a lot of shady history

I’ve always known that Italy was one of the Axis powers, however…I don’t think I had ever really processed the way that World War II affected individual communities here.  You think about WWII and what are the topics that come to mind?  Germany? Nazis? Jewish holocaust?  Maybe Japan and the A-Bomb?  Italy gets forgotten, but in the past few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed to think about these little things, like the joust being a fascist installation, or half of the city being newer than the rest because it was bombed to the ground seventy something years ago.

We watched the extremely poignant movie La Vita e Bella, which partially takes place in Arezzo, and this fact finally—and painfully—hit home.

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Did the semester really start almost a month ago? Inconceivable!

I’m ashamed to admit I have been so overwhelmed by how much catching up I need to do that I have continued in my procrastination and only put myself more behind. For a while, I might make it a habit to touch on one current thing that’s going on and another that passed by un-blogged in the past twenty-nine days.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s try this again.

Hello there, Tuscany.

Well hello there, Tuscany!

Ciao a tutti!

My name is Shelby Stillwell; I’m a sophomore currently studying in Italy with the OU in Arezzo program. I am a history nerd and bookworm, a writer and a former theatre kid (though it never really leaves your system). I love stories and adventure, and am on a mission to make my own story one big adventure.

I am currently double-majoring in International Studies and Broadcasting and Electronic Media. After college, I am hoping to go into either International Education (Study Abroad councilor? Educational tour guide? World history teacher?) or Travel Media (Travel Channel? National Geographic? Lonely Planet’s digital media branch?) or some kind of creative combination of the both, which I have yet to imagine. Clearly I don’t have it all exactly figured out yet, but I’m only a sophomore, and I’m working on it. If I have any revelations about it throughout the semester, I’m sure you’ll get to read all about it.

I’m going to leave you at this for now, and if you have managed to get all the way through this introduction I applaud you! I promise it will all pick up from here. I still have to retrospectively tell you about Joust Week, a weekend trip to Cinque Terre, and generally what it’s like to be living in Tuscany (Oh my goodness, am I seriously living in Tuscany??) plus all the adventures to come.

But for now, I have to get back to my homework–yes, studying actually is a part of Studying Abroad, oddly enough.

“Live long and prosper!”
Shelby Stillwell

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