July 14, 2017
By Katherine Harvath
NOTRE DAME, Ind . -- Irish golfers Isabella DiLisio, Kari Bellville, Emma Albrecht and Maddie Rose Hamilton all took their clubs across the pond to immerse themselves in a new culture for a summer semester abroad.
DiLisio was part of a group of 39 Notre Dame students who studied in Rome, Italy this summer. Bellville was one of 16 Notre Dame students who made the trek to South Africa while Albrecht and Hamilton accounted for two of the 13 students who headed to ancient Corinth, Greece. Bellville noted that seven of the 16 students on her trip were athletes.
"We all got along very well," Bellville said. "Some of the athletes stuck together right in the beginning, but by the end of the trip there wasn’t a person I didn’t know on a personal level."
DiLisio returned home to the States June 28 after traveling to Rome, Italy, where she took classes in theology and Roman history while exploring famous monuments and cities.
The program, which lasted just over a month, immersed students in the Italian culture and allowed them to visit some of the most historic cities, landmarks and statues in the world, including Pompeii, Naples, Herculaneum and the Centro Astalli in Rome (the Jesuit Refugee Service) as well as many others.
"We had class Monday through Thursday," DiLisio said. "All of our history classes were outside the classroom. We went to the Roman Forum, the Vatican and churches around Rome."
Throughout the semester, students learned about the city’s history through its architecture, monuments, museums and the political, economic and social struggles immigrants face when leaving their home country.
"We talked a lot about the monuments," DiLisio said. "It was cool because we were actually at the monuments while we learned about them."
The opportunity to visit the monuments and historic landmarks while studying them offered students a more in-depth understanding of the architecture and the history behind them.
"It’s amazing how everything is still there," she said. "You can see enough that you know what it would have looked like 2,000 years ago."
Through their theology course, students had the chance to speak with an Afghan refugee, who fled Afghanistan when he was being forced to join ISIS and the Taliban. He walked the entire way from Afghanistan to Rome in search of safety.
"It was really interesting to hear a first-hand account of someone who went through that," DiLisio said.
While abroad, DiLisio and her classmates traveled to the Vatican multiple times, indulging in new experiences each visit.
They had hoped to attend mass during their time in Vatican City but got lost on the way and missed the service. They did, however, get to see Pope Francis give a homily on one of their visits.
"We went back another time and got tickets to the Papal Audience," she said. "He came down into St. Peter’s Square in his popemobile."
During the Papal visit, the Pope typically rides through the square, where a condensed mass with prayers, blessings and a homily can be heard in the background. This condensed version of mass, DiLisio added, was presented in six or seven different languages.
"We got there pretty early, which allowed us to get seats along the edge near where he would drive by," DiLisio said. "When he came by us, I was probably about five feet from him."
Outside the classroom, DiLisio and one of her roommates went on weekend excursions to various cities in Italy, including Florence, Capri and Tripoli.
Students were housed in apartment-style housing, with approximately seven per unit. Although a rather far walk from classes, the apartments were located just outside the heart of the city in Trastevere, located across the Tiber River.
"We were a pretty close walk to the center of Trastevere where there were a ton of restaurants and fun things to do," DiLisio said.
One thing DiLisio liked most about the location was that it was away from a lot of the tourist destinations, so the students were able to experience more of the local, authentic Roman culture.
A business analytics major from Hatfield, Pennsylvania, DiLisio gained a greater perspective of the world.
"Getting out of America and seeing how another culture lives, it’s completely different from life here," DiLisio said.
Bellville, a senior from Granger, Indiana, traveled to various cities and places throughout South Africa during the three-week program. She stayed primarily in Cape Town during her time abroad; however, pre-planned excursions included trips through the Garden Route and to Kruger National Park, where students enjoyed a three-day safari, visited an elephant park and explored different caves and parks.
Bellville took a course, titled, "Negative Attitudes, A Cultural, Historical, and Social Psychological Analysis of Racism in South Africa." The course focused on the stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination in "a culture shaped by a long history of institutionalized racism." Through the course, the students also gained a better understanding of the role that sports played in the transition from the apartheid government to the current democratic model.
"We mainly talked about the South African apartheid that happened," Bellville said. "Similar to our civil rights movement here in the United States, we compared and contrasted what happened in South Africa versus in the U.S."
The course also laid emphasis on judgement, entitlement and self-efficacy relating to education and one’s upbringing in the United States compared to elsewhere.
Bellville arrived in Johannesburg to begin her trip and spent a few days exploring the city, touring the Apartheid Museum and visiting Soweto before heading to Cape Town for the majority of the program. Throughout her trip, she stayed in a variety of different housing arrangements, including a hotel in Johannesburg, condos in Cape Town, log cabins along the Garden Route and thatch huts in Kruger National Park.
On the first day in Johannesburg, the students went to the slums of the city and gained a better perspective of life in South Africa and the discrepancy between social classes. By being thrown into the social, racial and economic disparity of Johannesburg, Bellville and her classmates were able to see first-hand the effects of the apartheid.
Before arriving in the slums, the group drove through a neighborhood consisting of million dollar homes. Bellville noted the people of the slums were some of the friendliest she had ever met. They all greeted her with warm hellos and smiles.
"At the bottom of this neighborhood, you look to the left and you see the slums," she said. "So on the left side, slums. On the right, million dollar houses. It was shocking. We went into the slums and the walls were cardboard, no beds, people just lying on the ground, sewage running between two homes. There was approximately one faucet for every 400 residents."
After leaving Johannesburg and spending a few days in Cape Town, the group started their drive back up to the northern part of the country, called the Garden Route Tour. Over the course of nearly a week, the group explored caves, went to different animal farms and spent time on the coast, staying on the beach for a night.
The group then spent three days in Kruger National Park, exploring approximately a fourth of the park in total. They went on multiple safari rides where they saw a variety of animals, including elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and cheetahs.
"One night we saw a lion walking around the road," Bellville said. "He actually came up really close to us before going into the brush. We were about to leave and he let out this huge roar. It was terrifying but amazing at the same time."
The class was split up into two vans, going to different areas in order to draw less attention. During one of the safari excursions, Bellville’s group found themselves surrounded by elephants, with mothers caring for their calves and the males standing guard.
"My group actually got charged at by an elephant," she added. "There were probably about 40 elephants around us, and this giant male came out of the brush, looked at us, and started charging towards us. I’ve never seen a car go so fast in reverse in my life, it was crazy. All of us were so scared."
Bellville had heard about the South African trip through teammates who had gone previously or were originally from South Africa. Speaking with them helped prepare her for what to expect while abroad. However, nothing could have fully prepared her for the memories she was going to make.
"My expectations were blown out of the water," she said. "There was never a day when I was bored. Every day got better and better."
The excitement of doing something new every day left Bellville wondering about what was to come in the following days. She credits her time in South Africa with allowing her to find out more about herself as a person.
"Through my experiences, I found out little hints of me came out a little bit more," she said.
Albrecht and Hamilton both spent part of their summer in Greece, getting a taste of the art, architecture and history of ancient Greece. Through the program, they explored ancient ruins and hiked along old geological features of the city. They also visited various museums and famous sites.
"Our class was primarily an archaeological class," Albrecht said. "We spent a lot of time on ancient sites. We got to visit cities such as Olympia and Athens, where we saw the Parthenon and went to Delphi."
The three-week program, which ended on June 8, allowed students to discover and analyze ancient Greek culture while being immersed in present day life in Greece. The girls stayed in a hotel in the village of ancient Corinth during their time abroad.
"Everyday was a major excursion," Hamilton said. "There was a ton of history at each and every place. Each day brought something new."
They traveled to places such as Messene, where they focused on landscape and how the ruins of ancient Greece fit into the landscape.
"We studied lots of temples and ruins that the ancient Greeks built," Hamilton added.
"I was expecting to hike along trails," Albrecht said. "There were no trails. We were on our hands and knees climbing up rock faces. I think we hiked 10 miles one day."
"Uphill," Hamilton added. "It was so steep; we were slipping, practically downhill skiing through the rubble."
Both girls agreed that one of the hardest parts of the trip was the language barrier, making it difficult to communicate with the locals.
"The language barrier was probably the most challenging part of the entire trip," Hamilton said. "We stayed in a very small village with a lot of people who didn’t speak very much English, making it hard to get your point across sometimes. I couldn’t even read the signs."
Luckily for the students in Greece, their professor has been making the trip annually with Notre Dame students for about 30 years and was accustomed to the culture and language. He was able to help them through their struggles.
Each of the athletes agreed their most memorable moments were when they were able to spend time with each other and bond with people whom they may not have met if it were not for the trips. All four athletes thoroughly enjoyed their experiences and hope to travel abroad again.
"It was really cool how everyone was experiencing these new things together," Albrecht said. "It made it more enjoyable."
They all appreciate the University’s unique choice of overseas options while studying abroad, noting that the places they went are not typical tourist destinations. Therefore, they may never get a chance to go back.
"The way that I experienced the trip will be completely impossible to recreate," Bellville said. "It would be nice to go back and visit, but the expectations that I have will never be fulfilled again."
Katherine Harvath is in the midst of a summer internship with the Athletics Communications branch of Fighting Irish Media. Harvath is a student at Bowling Green State University where she is studying sport management.