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From New Jersey to Italy and Back Again  

Italy StudentsThe participants in the Catholic Studies Spring 2022 study abroad experience, Foundations of Christian Culture – Italy, returned from their travels a month ago and have settled in to successfully complete the semester. However, their time with them in Italy is still very much with them.

Having returned to New Jersey on March 14, the students have had time to reflect on their experience in Italy, and the verdict is uniformly that the trip was a perspective-shifting, life-changing experience.

The group spent several weeks preparing for the trip, meeting to engage with readings about the significance of the sites they would visit. Since returning, they have convened for discussions about what they saw and experienced in Italy and how these sites and events make ongoing contributions to Christian life throughout the world.

During the trip, the students, led by Ines Murzaku, Ph.D., Director of the Catholic Studies Program, explored Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome. They witnessed ancient history at archaeological sites, enjoyed regional Italian cuisine, stood in awe of the architectural and artistic skills of Medieval Italian artists and craftspeople, and worshipped with the Universal Church before some of the Church's most venerated relics and through receiving a blessing from Pope Francis during the Angelus.

"While I have seen the sites we visited in Italy many times through my work and study there, I found this year's trip especially exciting," said Dr. Murzaku. "Watching our students take in the beauty and history of these areas of Italy for the first time made the experience new again for me, too. Traveling in the post-COVID world presented its own challenges, but overcoming these challenges made the experience all the more rewarding. While it's still 11 months away, I'm already eager for our next study abroad experience in Italy next spring!"

For the Spring 2023 semester, Catholic Studies is planning another study abroad trip: Italy in the Footsteps of the Saints.

Having taken several weeks to digest their experiences in Italy, some of the students shared their reflections.

"My favorite part of the trip was going to the Valley of Temples in Agrigento. That was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my entire life. Walking along the valley while the sun sets and highlights the beauty of the temples and the scenery below was such an amazing experience that I could never have gotten if I had only looked at a picture of it in a textbook. Inside the classroom, I would gaze over a couple of facts, maybe write a paper about information that would go one ear and out the other, and not be able to fully grasp the significance of this amazing place. Also, being there, walking around, and seeing everything made me want to learn more and pay more attention to the details and facts. Traveling abroad allowed me to fall in love with a place and develop a passion for learning about it, and it provided me with an experience that I will never forget." – Kaila Engle, '25, Diplomacy & International Relations major

"My favorite place on the trip was the Monreale Cathedral. I was blown away by the mosaics and the depictions of Biblical passages on every inch of the cathedral. It was the most beautiful church I have seen in my life." – Jasmine De Leon, '24, Diplomacy & International Relations major/Catholic Studies, Asian Studies, and Journalism minor

"Exploring the traditional cuisine, language, and way of life allowed my placement of being a Black woman in America to shift to a Black woman abroad. I was raised around the same people and concepts; however, traveling allowed me to first-handedly digest different philosophies that inevitably intertwined. I was shocked by the fact that historically, Italy lacked significant Black diversity, although there were few accounts of Indo-Euro and Afro-Euro people residing there. Nonetheless, there were aspects of Blackness embedded into the culture (for example, couscous originates from Africa). If I could say one thing to a student considering taking a Catholic Studies study abroad course in Italy in a future semester, I'd say: Put yourself in the shoes of the native people of the country you are visiting, push yourself to understand their diet, and push yourself to try it and learn it according to their culture." – Micayla Asamoa-Afriyie, '24, Political Science major

"The final day of the trip concluded with the farewell dinner, which was very emotional. This has been the most amazing experience of my life, and I wish I was better at articulating how much everyone on this trip, especially Dr. Murzaku, means to me." – Isabella Buccino, '23, Nursing major
"Having gotten so close to Dr. Murzaku and the whole group, the farewell dinner was definitely hard—so much so that I couldn't hold back the tears! This trip will always have a very special place in my heart. I will always remember it and the special people I met." – Alyssa Papalia, '23, Nursing major

"Writing from the airport about to board the flight back to Newark, I began to think back on everything we experienced on this trip. I was never a particularly religious person. I grew up in the Catholic Church and I'm currently on my seventh year of Catholic education, but my faith always felt like simply going through the motions because it was what was socially expected of me. I never felt like my heart was in it, and I never had a deeper understanding. This journey, however, enabled me to begin to explore and understand the rich Catholic cultural tradition in a way few ever get to experience by truly going to the sources and learning at my own pace through exploration and cultural exposure. It made me feel so much more deeply connected to my faith because for the first time in my life, I felt like my spiritual enrichment was truly in my own hands." – Ryan McMullin, '25. Diplomacy, International Relations, & Law major

"As I sat in the airport on the way home and reflected on the trip, I got very emotional. I did not want to leave. Every day I learned so much and got to see some of the most amazing sites that the world has to offer. Many of the sites brought me closer to my religion and opened my eyes to the history of Catholicism. The cultural experiences were lovely as well. We truly got to experience what life is like in Italy now, and were taught a lot about what it was like in ancient times. I hope to go back to Italy and continue to see all that the country has to offer. I came back a more educated, more religious, and more enlightened person. Thank you, Professor!" – Angela Noyes, '24, Psychology major

"During my study abroad in Italy, I was able to explore and experience the foundations and history of Christianity in real time. All the knowledge I previously had was instantly brought to life. This opportunity provided me with a totally different way of learning, which not only affected my mind but also my personal relationship with God. Seeing the holy places and learning from our professor allowed me to immersively comprehend the true essence and treasure of Christian thought, which can be hard to understand in an in-class setting. I am truly grateful for this unforgettable academic and spiritual journey!" – Maria Smutelovicova, '23, Diplomacy & International Relations and Modern Languages major/Catholic Studies minor

"Without traveling, you won't be able to understand fully just how important the history of Christian culture is to the locals, and the Catholic religion. Yes, one can see the beautiful architecture and read the history online, but physically going to Italy allowed my classmates and me to hear the local stories and beliefs, and the way that so many lives are harbored around their belief here. There truly is a difference between seeing it on a screen and witnessing it in person." – Farrell Dawson, '25, Finance major

For further information about the upcoming Spring 2023 Catholic Studies Italy in the Footsteps of the Saints study abroad course, please contact Gloria Aroneo at or (973) 275-2808.

Categories: Arts and Culture

For more information, please contact:

  • Gloria Aroneo
  • (973) 275-2808