A dream job doesn’t always have to be perfect: What I’ve learned as an OPC in Rome.

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Sunset on the Tiber River on our way to dinner in Trastevere.

I learned when I was still nearly a teenager that dream jobs aren’t all they are cut out to be when I landed a much sought-after role as a directing assistant to the directors of the Lion King, the stage musical, in Los Angeles.  When I started the job, my memories of walking through Times Square in New York and dreaming about seeing and working on all the Broadway plays were still fresh.  It only took three months of an exhausting and somewhat mind-numbing round-the-clock work schedule in Los Angeles preparing for the opening of the Lion King to teach me that there’s always a complement to our dreams: reality.

Fast forward (quite) a few years to just two weeks ago, when I started another dream job joining a team of OPCs who provide on-site program coordination for CISabroad‘s Faculty Led Programs around the world.  I was brought on due to my expertise in Italy, and I was offered my first week-long program in Rome, which just ended a week and a half ago.  And I’m still trying to catch up on sleep.

Me and my partner in crime and fellow CISabroad OPC Jamie, as we wait for the students and faculty to arrive at the airport.

Ha!  Actually, I’m exaggerating.  Slightly.  When you think about how exhausting it is to be a tourist – being outside on your feet everyday no matter what the weather is like, taking in a million new details and always having to be on your toes because you’re so far from home – and multiply that exhaustion by the amount of people you are responsible for as an on-site coordinator making sure every detail goes as planned for their experience abroad, the math is clear as the exhaustion multiplies very quickly.

But in the end, life is all about balance, right?  When I am in a challenging situation, I’ve learned to ask myself: ‘Does the experience and the work outweigh the exhaustion?’   And in this case, the answer is an overwhelming ‘yes.’

This job has given me the opportunity to see the cities that I have visited so often in the past in a whole new light through the perspectives and the knowledge that the students and faculty bring with them to these cities, from something as simple as a student’s comment about how she is surprised at the grand scale of all of the buildings in Rome, to visiting places that I would never have even known existed, let alone gone on my own, thanks to the expertise of the professors and the CISabroad staff that design the travel abroad programs.

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Students and faculty crossing the street on a tour of the churches in the center of Rome.

This work is only going to enrich the resources and the stories I get to share with you on Gracefully Global blog, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your feedback on my new job. 🙂

In just a few days I’m heading to Florence to prepare for a program that will be visiting Florence, Ferrara, and Ravenna!  I love these cities and I can’t wait to see what the students think of them.  And I’m already saving up some extra sleep hours so I’ll be doubly prepared. 😉

Since I’ll be on the road for the next week and a half, I won’t have many updates for you.  But in the meantime, here are a few highlights and favorite discoveries from our last program in Rome that maybe you can enjoy for yourself someday:

Baths of Caracalla near Appia Antica

Students seem dwarfed in size by trees at the Baths of Caracalla during our day trip to the Appia Antica area.

Appia Antica: Via Appia is a historic Roman road that connects Rome with Brindisi in the south, and when I say historic, that’s an understatement.  There is so much history to explore in this area outside Rome along the historic Appian Way that it could easily take you all day, including the Catacombs of San Domitilla, the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, the Palace of Maxentius, and a bit of a drive away, the Baths of Caracalla (my personal favorite).  The downside to this neighborhood is that it is best reached by car, but there are buses that can take you there.  It is worth the investment in a day trip, especially if you like nature, as there is also a great park nearby that is beautiful on a nice day.

Capitoline Museum view to the Forum

Students looking out onto the Forum through the beautiful arcades along the side of the Capitoline Museum.

The Capitoline Museums: I very much enjoyed this group of archaeological and art museums on Capitoline Hill in Rome for reasons other than the artifacts – on one side of the museums (which are all connected but a bit confusing to navigate across) the view of the Forum is amazing, and on the other side of the museums there’s an affordable cafe with a gorgeous terrace where you can sit and enjoy the view of the city.  This is a destination for a beautiful, relaxing day – it is never crowded, and you can sit far above the crowds and enjoy the best views of both historical and contemporary Rome.  It is also right next to the Victor Emmanuel Monument (note that there is paid admission to go to the top of the monument), so if you want an even more dramatic view of Rome you can head up the monument after you’ve enjoyed lunch at the cafe.

Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis looking wonderful as ever during the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The Papal Audience: On Wednesday mornings, if Pope Francis is in town, he gives an informal service in St. Peter’s Square which is a free, ticketed event, open to anyone who would like to attend.  I had no idea what to expect of this experience, and it far outweighed my expectations.  It was such a positive experience seeing so many families excitedly waiting to see the Pope and to sense his wonderful spirit as he greeted pilgrims and audiences, and finally to enjoy the peacefulness and spirituality of hearing him speak.

Papal audience members

Excited audiences anticipating the Pope’s arrival.

The Pope usually starts greeting audiences around 10am, then speaking around 10:30.  There are introductions of groups in attendance in all different languages beginning at 9am.  We arrived at 8:45 and we easily found a seat.  You have to go through security, and tickets are free but required.  We had a difficult time requesting tickets when we went directly to the Vatican, and then we got a tip – if you are American, contact the North American College, which is the U.S. Bishops seminary in Rome at this email address. When we finally contacted them, they were very gracious and helpful and coordinated our tickets right away, and even gave us an orientation in their office so we would know what to expect from the experience.  They were truly wonderful, which added to the experience as a whole as being positive in every way.  Please note that we attended the papal audience during the early spring.  Summer hours and logistics will be different due to demand.

The Prati neighborhood: We all stayed in the Prati neighborhood in Rome.  As a tourist on my own accord, I never would have thought to stay here.  But it was truly a delight.  Not only is it well-positioned to reach many of the must-see destinations in Rome like the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo, it is pretty and “orderly” and has very few tourists and many chic bars and restaurants, making dinner after a long day on our feet an easy choice.

Here are our dining favorites in Prati:

For breakfast we loved Vero Cafe (Via Marcantonio Colonna, 30, which is not far from Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Cavour) because of its organic, healthy, and delicious traditional Italian breakfast offerings as well as more hearty American-style bagel breakfast sandwiches.  They have a wonderful staff, and also offer to-go cups for coffee and tea, which are a true rarity in Italy.

For lunch, don’t miss the opportunity to try the neighborhood star, Il Gianfornaio (.  They actually have several locations in Rome, so check out their website linked above.  They are a bakery, making delicious pizzas and desserts, but are also pros at buffets in general and offer a weekend brunch buffet and a nightly aperitivo buffet.  It is a popular, hectic place better for a quick lunch or dessert and coffee, but whatever you end up getting will probably be quite tasty.

Tea and ricotta tart at Il Gianfornaio.

Tea and ricotta tart at Il Gianfornaio.

For dinner there was nothing better than the warm, modern basement of Zi Gaetana and a huge, traditional, thin-crust pizza followed by one of their incredible desserts.  We also really liked 3Quarti for its traditional menu mixed with some fun surprises and its comfortable, pretty interior (although it is small so a reservation is suggested, otherwise be prepared to wait a bit).

Zi Gaetana dessert

Jamie and I were both exhausted yet determined to make it through dessert because it isn’t every day we can get a dessert like the ones they have at Zi Gaetana.

30 responses to “A dream job doesn’t always have to be perfect: What I’ve learned as an OPC in Rome.

  1. Sounds incredibly exciting! I studied abroad years ago in college and it was such an amazing experience. There is something magical too to be around people of that age.

    • Yes, you’re totally right!! They are a lot of fun, full of optimism, and adults. Oddly enough I never studied abroad in high school or undergrad…I think I’m making up for lost time. 🙂 Did you?

  2. Sounds like an exciting and rewarding (albeit exhausting) job. The one thing I found so hard about Italy is narrowing down the choices, as there is more to see and do than hours in the day. I’m envious of you eating all that glorious Italian food! 😉 When I was last there for 10 days, I came back 10# heavier – oomph! (It was so worth it though- lol!)
    Can’t wait to hear what you have for us on the next leg!

    • Ah that’s amazing! A pound a day!! :)) I should challenge myself to that…although that’s harder to accomplish being a vegetarian. To be honest, as much as I appreciate the quality of the food, believe it or not pizza and pasta does get old after a while. 😀 But the fantastic wines never get old…:))

  3. Peg, just read your Rome blog and shared it with Jeanette who leads a group in Spain this May. Very interesting especially the area around the Forum. Had lunch with Jeanettte and some faculty and staff at d’Poly. love, Dad

    On Wed, Mar 16, 2016 at 9:42 AM, Gracefully Global Blog wrote:

    > Gracefully Global posted: ” I learned when I was still nearly a teenager > that dream jobs aren’t all they are cut out to be when I landed a much > sought-after role as a directing assistant to the directors of the Lion > King, the stage musical, in Los Angeles. When I started the jo” >

  4. Congratulations on your posting in Rome! You’re very fortunate … mostly because you know how fortunate you are, and because you’re clearly making the most of it. Thank you so much for sharing your initial “insider” glimpses of the city with us. I very much look forward to many more!

    • I appreciate your wise input! Yes, this time around I’m really trying to live day by day, as the older I get the more I realize how quickly time passes. I hope the tips are helpful in some way and you can take advantage on a trip of your own! 🙂

  5. What a fantastic opportunity! I do understand that there are two sides to it, as it’s very stressful to be the one in charge of the details/safety/enjoyment of so many others. But you also get the opportunity to see the Italy you love through the eyes of first-time visitors. It’s like a parent introducing their child to the wonders of the world for the first time, and that’s a beautiful thing for everyone! Enjoy, and can’t wait to hear about your Florence visit!

    • Thank you Stacy! Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, totally! And also like a parent, there are certain things I can’t control ha! 😉 Arrived in Florence this morning and all is well. We leave for Ferrara on Monday and I’m especially interested to hear what they all think of Ferrara. I’ll keep you posted…:)) And I hung out with Rachel tonight. We had a lot of fun – thank you for that connection!!

  6. I want to thank both you and Jamie for such an amazing trip. If it weren’t for the work that both of you did, we might not have had the experience we had. I am so grateful for the chance to go on this amazing trip and can’t wait to travel a lot more in the future!!!!

    If I didn’t get into graduate school, I was going to apply to be an OPC, but thankfully I don’t have to do that now. I’m trying to convince a friend of mine to apply to be one though since she has traveled A LOT and has a lot of experience on this type of work. Maybe if I don’t get into a PhD program later I’ll apply for this type of work. 🙂

    • Sounds like a plan Mark! So sorry to just be replying – just finished another program so now I’m playing catchup. I’m really thrilled for you with getting into grad school. You seem to have a great idea about where you want to go with your future and how you want to get there. Not everyone does, so that’s impressive!

  7. That’s like winning a lottery to me. 🙂 You gonna be so rich after all the exhaustion…. so rich of experience, human connections, deeper understanding and great memories.

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