Office of Global Affairs

April 21, 2015

Sharing her passion for global study

OMA&D adviser and Rome Program alumna Annabel Cholico relives her study abroad experience through the eyes of her students.

Annabel Cholico, OMAD alumna, stands near Drumheller Fountain.

Her passion for global discovery ignited by the OMA&D Rome Program, alumna Annabel Cholico now inspires UW students to study abroad.Indra Ekmanis


The first time Annabel Cholico, ’08, stepped off of a plane, she felt like she was in an Italian movie. It was 2007, and Annabel, a junior Law, Societies & Justice major, was on her way to the UW Rome Center for a 10-day trip that would change her outlook on learning and life.

“I remember as we were driving down the cobblestone roads [from the airport] I would turn back just to see the road behind me. Everything about it fascinated me,” she says. “Rome I had only seen and heard of in the movies, in books, it wasn’t something that I thought that I would be able to experience. It just felt like I was a character in books that I had read.”

A first-generation Latina student from Yakima, WA, Annabel is an alumna of the Rome Academic Enrichment Program sponsored by the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D). Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the program began as a partnership between the Department of Classics, UW Rome Center and OMA&D. James Clauss, professor of classics, initiated the program in 1995.

“Because the UW had the Rome Center, I saw an opportunity to introduce OMA&D students directly to Rome itself,” Clauss says. “There arose a greater sense of curiosity and a realization that there was so much more to learn about the world around us.”

Having a UW home base in Rome’s  Campo di Fiori was very meaningful to Annabel’s experience. “The Rome Center and the place where students live has a bigger impact on them because they’re placed in this plaza where they can see life happening before them.”

Over the past two decades, more than 200 UW students have participated in the OMA&D Rome program. Ten days spent in Rome over spring break gives the students an opportunity to live through Roman history, visiting historical sites and engaging in stimulating discussion with experts and fellow students. “Every day was very structured, but enjoyable,” Annabel says. “When you’re abroad, it’s not a burden to wake up and go learn.”

For Annabel,the time spent together with her OMA&D Rome cohort was “a very diverse and rich experience for all of us. We all looked and sounded different,” she says. “It was great to learn about each others’ cultures while you’re in a place that isn’t really attached to any of us.” The relationships she formed are lasting; Annabel is still in close contact with several members of her cohort, some now as far flung as Dubai. “Its great to see us now, years later, and see what that experience abroad did for us,” she says.

The OMA&D Rome program engages students who otherwise might not have a leading-edge experience abroad without financial burden. Before her junior year, Annabel had not even dreamed of studying beyond the bounds of campus. “I had never thought about study abroad because I couldn’t afford it,” she says. “I was on scholarships and grants and I wasn’t willing to take a loan to go abroad because I really didn’t know what it meant and what the experience would be like, or if it was worth it.”

But once in Rome, Annabel’s drive to discover was ignited. Within six months of returning to Seattle, she was on her way to explore not only another country, but another continent. “I went to Rome in March, and by August, I was applying to an exploration seminar [in South Africa],” she says. “[The Rome Program] definitely opened the door of curiosity, wanting to learn more outside the box. That’s what it does for our students.”

Annabel was nominated to participate in the program in 2007 by her OMA&D adviser, Raul Anaya. Today, she sits two doors down from him, counseling her own students. Annabel earned her master’s in education policy from UW. When an academic counseling position at OMA&D opened she was thrilled. “I am in the perfect place because I’m a product of this office, I’m a product of all the programs I experienced, like Experience Rome,” she says.

Now Annabel counsels students who are embarking on their own trips to Rome, including a student who just returned. “We talked about what her learning experience would be like, what would spark within her. I told her, ‘You’re going to come back and you’re probably going to feel like you were in a movie,’  Annabel says. “She came back and she said, ‘Annabel, it was everything you said it was going to be! It was just amazing!’ I love it when I see the student experience it for the first time.”

The OMA&D Rome program helps students discover what drives them. “Had I not taken that experience as a student, I don’t know how long it would have taken me,” Annabel  says. “Its something great to see my students experiencing that now. I can’t imagine not having that program.”

Annabel’s Husky Experience  has come full circle. “I am a mirror of the students that I work with now, under-represented, first-generation, low-income,” she says. “When I see students from the same background, they may be timid or a little afraid of taking the study abroad route. But when they do they come back [they have] that same look in their face I remember I must have had, where its like, ‘This is the real world!’ The University and this program supported me in experiencing that.”

— Indra Ekmanis, Office of Global Affairs