A Semester in Italy – In With Both the Old and the New – by Sara Desrocher. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

A Semester in Italy – In With Both the Old and the New – by Sara Desrocher. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports


This past week has been full of adventures, my family was able to join me in traveling around Italy during my week long break. We visited Cinque Terre, which is a chain of 5 cities built into the hills bordering the sea. The cities are close enough to hike between, otherwise there is a convenient train that runs straight through the hills and takes about 5 minutes to each stop. We ended up spending two days traveling through and visiting each town to explore a bit. Each town had a different feel but they were all pretty similar. I was traveling with my parents, older brother, aunt and uncle. We really enjoyed seeing the towns down on the water and navigating through the small alleyways and steps… so many steps! It was amazing the see how the buildings were built right into the side of the hills above the water. I was interested by the farming up on the hills, the only reason that the towns exist is because the people of the area made the decision to farm these hills. The farmers are very resourceful with the growing patches and use of machinery to bring the crops down to the town from the top of the hills.


Our next stop during the trip was Rome. I enjoyed Rome more than I thought that I would, based on how touristy the area is. One thing that I noticed around the city was that the buildings looked different from the other big cities that I have visited in Italy. The shops and buildings were white and looked like marble, just what you would expect Rome to be like. I was fully aware of the ruins that I would see in the city but I was not expecting the mix of old and new within the city. At one point we were just wandering through the streets, turned a corner and found the Pantheon, a former Roman temple that is now a church. I enjoyed seeing this mix, it is amazing how the city is built right around these ancient structures.


We spent an entire day going around the big draws of the city. First we visited the Roman Forum, which is essentially the remains of the ancient city center. We listened to a podcast tour that lead us around the Forum, explaining what each structure was. It was interesting to walk through the town and imagine what it was like in the past. Strolling past the palaces and into the piazza, seeing the Temple of Caesar marking the area where Julius Caesar was burned and buried. After the Forum, we went to the Colosseum and followed another podcast tour talking about the different uses for the Colosseum. After that, we went to the Vatican City. This is a city-state within Rome that houses the Pope, along with the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. It was amazing to see the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because it is the original painting by Michelangelo, one of his most famous pieces and widely recognized paintings.

About our special correspondent Sara Desrocher: I am a junior at St. Scholastica majoring in Computer Science with a concentration of Software Engineering. I am staying in a small town about 25 minutes outside of Florence, Italy with a HECUA program. My current studies are focused on Agriculture and Sustainability, which is very interesting to learn about in Europe. I chose this program because Italy has always been a place that I wanted to visit, mainly due to the fact that my great-grandfather came here from southern Italy. This is my first time in Europe and it has been quite the experience so far. I am excited for even more experiences as I gain a better understanding of the community!

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

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19 responses to “A Semester in Italy – In With Both the Old and the New – by Sara Desrocher. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Nicholas Gangi

      This is such a nice piece about the mixture of Rome. With it winding from a modern city into a historic landmark and how the current city is integrated with flares of both. Also with the tone of Rome and the style of grandeur you portrayed kinda just brought it together. Thank you for sharing you experience through such a historic city.

  1. Sarah Grace

    Fantastic description of the area! I had no Idea that podcast tours were a thing, ingenious! What type of technology do the farmers use to transport the crops, how different is modern technology compared to the equipment used when the towns were created? Were you surprised by how small the painting on the Sistine Chapel appeared? Did you notice there being a noise issue within the Chapel?

  2. Sofia Pineda

    I think it is very beautiful when you visit a foreign nation, or even yours, and can learn so much about its history simply by the architecture. It is very interesting to see how the old and the ‘modern’ look next to each other and how each one says a different story. I personally believe that embracing your nation’s history is very important and whenever we have an opportunity to do so we should take it.

  3. Michaela Campbell

    I’m sure it was a wonderful experience to share moments of traveling abroad with your family, and I hope they enjoyed being in another country as much as you do! When you mentioned your visit to Cinque Terre in the beginning of the article, and how farmers decided to make their living on top of the hills, I am curious as to how they get their crops, and goods down these hills, and the types of machinery that do so. Rome is definitely on my bucket list for places to travel, and it is always good to hear that there are so many historical places that outsiders are allowed to continue to visit. So much history is packed into these areas, and cities, so I hope that you were able to enjoy these landmarks, as well as the stories they once told!

  4. Abigail DeLisle

    The way you describe the new and old, modern and ancient architecture and culture makes me want to visit Rome! I think it is really awesome that the current people have made it a point to make do with the space they have in order to reside in and with the ruins of their predecessors. I wonder what it would be like to live in a place where one of the oldest civilizations stood, many of those people your ancestors. I think tracing your roots geographically can be very powerful when though of this way.

  5. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing Sara! Wow it seems like in a short time of a week you and your family really had a lot going on. It is always interesting to learn about these cities that have such a vast history behind them and then see how they try to modernize while still keeping the old. I agree with you that it is very interesting how the people of Cinque Terre farm and how their houses are built. Do people just refer to them as Cinque Terre or do most people refer to each city by their individual names? Do they have individual names? Great Article!

  6. Diana Mena

    That is amazing that you get to travel with your family and get to educate yourself as well! I went to Italy as well, and something I would say every time I went somewhere was that I needed to have my mom here because pictures don’t do it justice. Just like you mentioned, the buildings and architecture is just breath taking.. that was defiantly one of my favorite things. I think noticing the differences between cities is so important! We live in a society where tourism is a big factor and sometimes takes away from the culture of the country. One thing I aim for is to go to cities that people don’t usually go to when I travel so I can get the full experience. I know you mentioned that you saw many differences within the buildings and what not, did you see any differences with the people?
    Nice article!

  7. Ellery Bruns

    I have always loved going to towns where there are a mix ruins and new structures. I love to experience the history that surrounds those types of areas. History is fascinating. I almost feel as though I am looking trough a telescope back into the past, and then conversely into the future; this is one of my favorite feelings. I am a little jealous that you were able to see the Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; that painting is spectacular, and I have only viewed it on my computer screen. I enjoyed your descriptions of things as well! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Mary Tran

    It’s really neat to hear that your family joined you on your adventure studying abroad! It’s very interesting how during your visit to Cinque Terre, that the buildings were built right into the side of the hills above the water. Do you know why the buildings were built like that? It’s fascinating to read that there’s farming up on the hills. I’m curious to see if the town had any complications with farming on the hills? What sort of machinery is used to bring the crops down to the town from the top of the hills? What crops are being used for farming? It’s very interesting how there are podcast tours that lead you all around the Roman Forum. I love reading about your adventure in Italy! Thank you for sharing, Sara!

  9. What a fabulous description of a beautiful city. I did a whirlwind tour of a few countries in Europe a few years ago. One of the places that I made it to was Rome. Despite the touristy nature and reputation that the city has, I was amazed at it’s history that practically engulfed me. However, I only spent 48 hours there. It must be an incredible experience to be able to read, learn, and listen to its history as you walk its streets.

  10. McKenna Holman

    How exciting that your parents got to visit your on your travels! How was a podcast tour vs an actual tour with a guide? What was your favorite part about your travels? I think being able to visit a city where at every turn you’ll see something different is breathtaking and holds so much history. It really is amazing that you got to see Michelangelo’s painting in person! I can imagine pictures just don’t do it justice.

  11. Andrew Bailey

    Sara, I really enjoyed your article and I would love to visit Vatican city. I am Catholic myself, and Vatican city has such a rich history. It is so interesting to read about the history of these cities that you talked about, and it really puts into perspective how some of the strongest civilizations in the world have risen than fallen. It is also really awesome that your family was able to travel with you, such a great experience to share with others–especially your loved ones. I also find it amazing that most of the buildings that the Romans built are still standing. It truly shows how advanced their technology and architecture was.

  12. Hannah Schaaf

    Nice post! The photos that you’ve included are so beautiful! It must have been nice to have your family come visit you and then travel through those towns and then to Rome with you! I’ve always loved traveling with my family and being able to experience new things with them. It must have been incredible to see Vatican City. I would be in awe if I got to see Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel! What was your favorite part about Rome? Safe travels!

  13. Christopher Killian

    Sounds like an amazing trip especially being able to travel around Italy with your family. It sounds like you got to see a lot of interesting sites on your trip. One place I would love to visit would be rome to see the Colosseum. Which town did you like seeing the most in Cinque Terre? Do you plan on traveling to other places soon?

  14. Sheila Iteghete

    It is always fun to travel with family and Italy is such a beautiful place that I would love to visit when the right time comes, which at this point I am so unsure. This just relates to our class right now in terms of how they are making tools based on the need which in this case would be to be able to move their crops to where it is needed from the hills they farm. Temples in the past were also used to hold a city so I am not surprised Rome is still in that structure. It would be great to experience how it affected their community as per if it brought them together better than those without the temple in the center. The painting on the building I would imagine was very practical and logically placed.

  15. Shelby Olson

    It was really interesting to hear about the various cities from your perspective. You mentioned how there was a mix of old and new buildings within Rome, did it appear that the older buildings were being preserved and reconstructed at all? Also, your description of the city reminds me of my recent travels to Cusco, Peru. The city was rebuilt in the same spot of the Incan city by the Spanish conquistadors. Unlike in Rome, in many cases Spanish colonial style buildings were built directly on top of the ruins instead of around them. I learned that not only was a this a physical conquest of the city and people, but it was also very mental considering the Spanish built many of their own churches directly on top of the ruins of the very important Incan temples. I find it fascinating to learn about the history of various cities and make connections between their similarities. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  16. Sarah Bowman

    I immediately clicked on your article after seeing the striking picture of architecture on the ceiling. I have always wanted to travel to Italy. My sister has been there twice but unfortunately I have never had the opportunity. I can’t imagine how breath taking the structure and layout of cities are. The photos were fantastic. I am currently reading “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” by Tignor et al. and have learned a lot about migration, the foundations of these ancient civilizations, and most recently the beginning of universal religions (2018). Knowing how most successful agriculture is by water sources it was interesting to read about the farming taking place on the hills. It never ceases to amaze me how farmers were able to engineer irrigation systems in these ancient times. I guess I should not be surprised that they were resourceful and invented machinery to best transport their crops down from the hills. I just finished reading about the “fall of Rome” and the rise of the Catholic Church. As Tignor et al. explained Christianity offered belonging and unity to western Europeans, Romans, and non-Romans (p.287, 2018). It is not surprising that the Catholic Church rose with such a tremendous following. I am still amazed at how these ancient religions are still widely practiced today and have been throughout history. I feel it would be amazing to see former Roman temples turned into churches, the Vatican, or all the other historical buildings such as the Colosseum. I hope some day I can travel to Italy and see such sights. It sounds like you had a very successful trip!

    Sarah Bowman

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