Student Spotlight: Scott Bembenek, Study Abroad Spring 2015

For someone who’d taken Spanish classes from kindergarten all the way through the first semester of college, Italy may seem a strange choice for a semester abroad. The initial plan was Spain, after all. But after spending a couple of hours browsing the study abroad opportunities available, something just seemed right about Italy, and as soon as I pulled up the John Cabot information page, I knew I’d found the perfect place for me.

It was nerve-wracking, leaving Wisconsin and heading for a place where I knew no one and had exactly one semester’s worth of experience in the local language. Fortunately enough, when I arrived at John Cabot University, I found a tight-knit and welcoming community eager for new faces. Among them I found people who, to this day, are some of my closest friends – whether they are fellow Wisconsinites, or live on the other side of the U.S.

Thinking back on those first few days in Rome, I remember being awestruck by the beauty of the city and the way its thousands of years of history – from the early days of the Republic and the Empire, through the Renaissance and all the way to the present day – flow through the streets and hang on to the architecture. Each alleyway and every landmark is a museum-worthy piece of art. Getting lost, while without doubt a bit unnerving, was always a new opportunity for discovery. All of these qualities were only magnified in the yellow glow of moonlight after the sun had set.


trastevere, Rome, studying abroad in Rome, John Cabot University, JCU students

It would be remiss, of course, not to mention the Romans themselves, with a unique passion and approach to life not seen elsewhere (if anyone dares to question that passion, simply direct them to a match at the Stadio Olimpico, still among my best memories of the city).

Then there is John Cabot University, a truly amazing community along the banks of the Tiber. In my classes in literature, philosophy, and political science, I met people and gained exposure to new ideas I simply could not have found elsewhere. The professors (all excellent) always pushed me a step further, asking that extra question.

It wasn’t just the coursework, though. John Cabot allowed me to have incredible experiences around the city and around Italy. Best among them, perhaps, was the Italy Reads program, which gave me the eye-opening chance to go to local high schools and get to know a bit more about life in la città eterna. I learned that kids in Italy weren’t quite so different from the ones back home, and that they were just as eager to learn about Wisconsin and the United States as I was to learn more about Italy. We talked about A Farewell to Arms (the chosen Italy Reads discussion book that semester) but also about how each nation’s government works and, of course, what our favorite sports are, what kind of music we listen to, and just about every other topic imaginable.

It’s impossible to truly capture such an immense experience in just a few hundred words, but anyone who’s studied at JCU or even just been to the city could tell you that the experience is absolutely worth undertaking. When I watched the sun rise over the city from the Gianicolo Hill the day I left Rome, I was sad to be saying goodbye, but also so thankful to have had this experience. Thankful for those who made it possible (the same ones waiting for me at Mitchell International Airport back home!); thankful for the professors, friends, and even complete strangers who made every day a new opportunity; and most of all thankful that my journey had led me, as all roads eventually do, to Rome.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in his work Italian Journey (a book I studied in one of my classes at JCU), “Yes, I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life… Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome.” He was exactly right. Only in Rome can you truly understand what exactly it has to offer to those willing to learn. For anyone considering it, I couldn’t recommend it more. It will be one of the best decisions you make.

Visiting student Scott at the Colosseum

Scott Bembenek
Study Abroad Spring 2015
Majors: Strategic Communications and English Literature
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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