Alumni Spotlight: Jessie Fontana-Maisel


Give us a little intro!

Hi people! I'm Jessie, a junior at Occidental College in LA. I'm an Art History major, Classical Studies minor. I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area and I love travel, dance, comedy, teaching, and museum studies.

Why did you pick this program?

I picked IES Rome because it was in a city I was familiar with, but wanted to get to know more. I also wanted to practice my skills in the Italian language and be in one of the centers of the world to study Art History. Finally, the internship program that IES Rome helps students get involved with was really appealing to me, since I wanted to have international work experience.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

I wish I had known how to organize my travel better (both financially and in terms of my schedule). I found myself wanting to be in Rome to explore the city many weekends, but then realized I was missing out on some weekend trips to other cities I had never been to. I could planned this out a bit more.

Additionally, I wish I had known that the ISC (Italian Student Companion) program was more like having an RA living with you, rather than a friend. Our ISC was 24 and more of an RA than a mentor. This really changed the environment in our apartment in a way I hadn't anticipated.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

I gained SO much independence while abroad. Going to classes and getting to field studies was certainly a challenge, but the real test came with my internship. I was the only intern working at a nonprofit art gallery and I was given more responsibility than I had at any of the other internships I've done in the US. Being responsible for the gallery, speaking to people in another language, and coordinating projects on my own all contributed to a great sense of independence that I welcome having since come home.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

I say: DO IT! It really helps if your program has specialized classes in your major or subject of interest. IES Rome has countless art history classes and field studies to churches, monuments, and museums which were all perfect for my nerdy art historical self.

However, some people on my program were marketing, econ, or science majors, and often found the nitty gritty history to be boring. Go to a program / city where you will be studying what you love!

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

I think FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) was a big factor. With the abundance of social media, students abroad see what they are missing out on back at school on a regular basis. I'm very involved with the community at my college in the US, so it was hard to tear myself away from that. However, my best advice is to get busy and involved in your new city/setting/life as much as possible!

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

One day I was leaving my apartment to go to my internship, and after a couple blocks, the bus driver pulled over and told us (in Italian) that we all needed to get off the bus. Unsure why, I simply walked another 6 minutes to a different bus stop. The sign at the stop that told us when the next buses were coming was BROKEN.

This indicated to me that I would need to WALK to my internship (about 35 minutes away). I started walking the bus route when I realized that all of the main streets I needed to take to get to my internship were closed off by police due to a city-wide transportation protest/strike (classic Rome).

I called my boss and told her I would be late to my internship, and began to wander (semi-lost) along side streets of the city. At one point I started to get worried that I really couldn't find my way, until I walked into a piazza and realized I was at the Pantheon and knew how to get to work right away.

This was a really incredible experience. Rome is the kind of city where you run into a historical monument that centers you, no matter how lost you've become.

What made this experience unique and special?

"My favorite thing about IES Rome was the amount of field studies incorporated into our daily classes. At least 3 times a week, our professors would take us to a site in Rome for a two hour class on what we were seeing.

I saw museums, monuments, archeological sites, and even villas all during class time. Seeing the typical sites in Rome with the aid of the professor really pushed us from being tourists to becoming locals.

We understood what we were learning about because we were seeing it firsthand, since Rome is so well preserved. The professors taught with so much enthusiasm and passion for their subjects that classes were enjoyable to students who were only taking them for general education requirements."

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

See the above question about my favorite story (wandering around LA or San Francisco you definitely do NOT run into monuments from the 2nd century BC).

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Get busy. I waited for too long to start signing up for IES sponsored events like cooking classes, trips, or soccer games. The more you do, the more your host city will start to feel like home. PLUS, you have to get pasta at Pasta Imperiale on Via dei Coronari - literally 4 minute walk behind school. They have a card where you can buy 10 pastas and get one free, if you become a frequent customer like myself.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

"My internship allowed me to work in an Italian work environment. I realized what cultural differences Americans and Italians have, and I came to respect these differences as aspects about ourselves that make us all unique.

Some stereotypes held true, and others proved themselves to be misperceived judgments. The more you interact with the Italians (no matter how bad your language skills are), the more intellectual your perceptions of the culture will be.

My aspirations to work in the Art Historical field in the future were furthered by our field studies to incredible museums, churches, villas, and monuments. Additionally, the enthusiasm expressed by my professors about the subjects they taught made me realize that I may want to teach Art History in the future."

Where do I eat in Rome?

Ready for this? You're going to gain some weight in Rome, and your only form of working out will be walking everywhere. BUT THAT'S OK!! Here are some amazing places to eat.

Near school: Pasta Imperiale, Pizza del Teatro, Gelateria del Teatro, Cafe Nero, LikeEat Panini Shop, Forno (on Via di Panico). Around Rome: Dar Poeta Pizza (in Trastevere), Porta di Ripetta (near Piazza del Popolo), Cacio e Pepe (in Trastevere), and many others!