NORTH CANTON  Walsh University nursing student and Manchester High School graduate Rachel Caster recently returned from a nine-week student exchange program in Italy, and the experience was eye opening. During the course of the trip, she not only got to see and experience the history and culture of Italy, but Caster also had the opportunity to visit Germany, Greece, and Switzerland. Prior to this, her only experience traveling outside of the U.S. had been a short trip to the Dominican Republic, so the extended time in Europe left an indelible impression on her.

"This is a program that Walsh offers to students so that they can study abroad," said Caster. "Walsh has its own campus near Rome with staff and facilities. Unfortunately, nursing majors are not normally able to participate in the program due to their tight schedule with clinics, course work and labs. The last time nursing students took part in this program was three years ago. We were fortunate in that we were able to get all of our course work out of the way the first half of the semester and were able to spend the last half in Italy doing the course work for the program over there."

Fifteen nursing students and two advisers made the trip, meeting two additional faculty members from the Walsh facility in Italy. Normally, they would ride the train into Rome from their dorm on the campus, which took about 40 minutes. Though for one week, they stayed with an Italian family to experience what life was like for the typical family in Italy. Weekends were basically free and Caster used this time to visit Greece, Switzerland and Germany, in addition to traveling in Italy.

The actual class involved two separate components. The first involved a text book that dealt with the history of medicine. The second involved studying historical sites in Italy and making presentations on them. The students visited many sites and explored their history. One such area was the early catacombs where the first Christians buried their dead in secret to avoid persecution from the Roman authorities. Of course, no trip to Italy would be complete without seeing the Pope, and Rachel and her group were blessed with seeing him twice. In addition, they were able to visit the Vatican and climb to the top of St. Peter's Dome where they got a beautiful view of the city.

"For me this view was a spiritual moment, "Caster said. "It was so breathtaking."

In addition, they were also able to get reservations to visit the tomb of St. Peter. This was a special treat as only 100 people a day are allowed into the sacred tomb. They also got to see inside the tomb, revered as one of the most significant sites for Catholics, as St. Peter was considered the founder of the Catholic church.

Living in Italy for the nine weeks exposed Caster and her fellow students to all sorts of aspects of Italian life and she developed some definite impressions from the experience.

"The Italian people are very giving," she said. "There are examples of their kindness and generosity all around. They are constantly giving to the poor, homeless and beggars. I was so impressed with this. And there are organizations to help the illegal immigrants with health care so that they don't have to be afraid of being deported.

One thing that left a lasting impression was the food.

"They really know how to do pasta," Caster said. "But they don't serve it with meat sauce, just marinara and cheese. One of my favorite things was carbonara, which is a pasta dish with whipped eggs, cheese, bacon and black pepper. I really liked this. I also found their pizza interesting. It was wood fired and the thin crust type, and you had to eat the whole thing. No boxing the leftovers up to take with you!

Another thing she noticed was how the people pay attention to world events.

"They really focus on what is going on around them in the world, much more so that in America. They just don't focus on what is going on just around them," Caster said. "And they dress much more stylish, not as casual as we do in America. They really take pride in how they look and how well their clothes fit. I really liked how they dressed."

The trip was an eye-opening experience for Caster.

"I had only really been outside of America once, and that was only for a short period of time," she said. "This trip exposed me to all sorts of tings. I saw the kindness of the Italian people, along with the poverty and the refugees. I became much more aware of world events and politics. This left a lasting impression and now I care more about a lot of things than I did before the trip.

Of course, it was wonderful to come back home after all that time and see my family who I missed a lot. And to do things like take a long, hot shower. In Italy, they conserve the water so you get wet, then turn off the water and lather up, before turning it back on. to rinse off. But you get cold before it comes back on. It was so nice to be able to take a long shower and not worry about that."

And her grandfather, John Meches, who she living with while going to Walsh, can testify to that.

"Now that Rachel is back you can look at our water bill and tell when she came back," he said with a smile.