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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Ransom

The Ricci Experience - Interview with Ben Mielke

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Interview conducted by Morgan Ransom featuring Ben Mielke

If you ask any JFRC student about Ben Mielke, two words will instantly come to their mind: ‘Molto Bene!’, a common phrase you’ll hear Ben cheer around campus and in the ancient streets of Rome.

On a rainy evening in the JFRC library, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ben to chat about how Rome has been so far, his hopes for next semester, and what being a Ricci scholar during COVID-19 entails.

How have you enjoyed the JFRC so far?

I love the JFRC, all my professors so far... I just love to get to see everyone in person. I love that it's a little bit smaller of a campus. So, you can know every single person's name. I just loved the whole aspect of feeling a community. Then everyone is here to travel and wants to explore somewhere else that isn’t Chicago.

Have you traveled anywhere yet?

My first week I went to Lago de Como. Now that was really fun. I went with a couple of friends and we had to go boating on the lake and all that kind of stuff. And then the next weekend, we went to Switzerland with my friend. When we went, we got lost, actually. We thought it was a good idea that once the sun set, we would walk down. But then, it was downhill for eight miles in the dark and pitch black, because we were in the middle of nowhere. Like, there's no lights anywhere. We walked around 25 miles that day. My knee hurt for a while after that.

I remember that, and then you went on the Monte Mario hike, right?

Yeah, yeah. That’s another thing. Everyone just goes out on their own adventures, even with professors. Sometimes it’s nice to just go on your own little adventure. Everyone has recommendations to go too.

How would you describe your day to day life and Rome? Do you find yourself exploring more in the city?

The one thing I found, pre-pandemic, I walked maybe two miles a day. Now I walk almost six to seven miles a day. Usually, what I like to do is just walk around the area, whether it's walking all the way to the Vatican and back. Daily life in Rome includes a lot of walks, I always enjoy them. Also, I've been going to the library, exploring the cafes all the time. Also, just trying out new food.

I’m a little sick of pasta and pizza… I could really go for some Chipotle. There’s food that’s not pasta and pizza here, but it’s not the same, there’s not much consistency. Here, food’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. In the United States, even with the pasta restaurants, it’s consistent.

What has the adjustment been like for you? You spent a year in college during COVID-19, and that instead of going back to Chicago, and trying to ease your way back into normal life, you decided to go to an in-person campus, in a different country for a whole year. How has that been for you?

Well Morgan, I have a saying in life, where I never put my toe in the shallow end, I just cannon-ball into the deep end. Right? (Laughs)

But yeah, so I usually do that. (Laughs) It's like… I’m always one to explore, I guess. I do that in Chicago a lot too, because I'm not from Chicago.

You’re from Minnesota, right?

Yeah, from Minnesota. Oh yeah, for sure. (Laughs) I’m just getting to explore the balance of life. That's the only thing I would have to say. I just wanted to explore balancing being a Ricci Scholar, hanging out with friends. All this kind of stuff has been a little difficult, it's slow, but it's nice that we’re here for a year because we are used to it and just classes in person. I’m a person that enjoyed having recordings of classes. And now, it’s just like getting used to in-person tests again. Now I’m trying to memorize things again, not that I didn’t before, but it’s different.

Just the stress of being in class… You get that anxiety in college and then just like that, everything goes out of your head. Yeah, it's just overwhelming. Having one and a half semesters under my belt in-person isn’t much. It was really interesting to come back in person after that. That’s been the adjustment so far.

So, you’re a Ricci Scholar?


Can you explain what that is, and what you’re researching?

Essentially, you do cross cultural research on the East and the West. So, the Ricci scholar program focuses on Italy and Vietnam, essentially, it's based off a priest from Italy and went to China, and compared the two.

So, I'm looking into the fiscal differences and fiscal policies and the two areas (Rome and Vietnam), and how small businesses were affected due to COVID. And how they kind of had different physical policies and how they were affected by each other. I had to interview small business owners.

I've been getting a lot of help from professors to get some small businesses to talk to. It's a lot. It's very abstract. You do your own schedule. You do everything. You just have to, somehow, at the end of this rainbow, create a 20 page paper of research. It's whatever you want to do. All of us are a little stressed out about it.

How does your research relate to any other passions that you have that don't necessarily relate to academia, or to your career aspirations?

I've always wanted to do something with startups and small businesses. I find it interesting to see how the little person gets affected in this whole situation because big corporations always, always end up fine. I wanted to get into the small businesses, how there's something forgotten. I would always listen to podcasts at home during COVID, how small businesses are straight up failing and that sometimes people's whole life savings are just... gone. That got really interesting to me. I also want to go into consulting. So, I also could figure out something to do with consulting, to help small businesses with this knowledge. You know, that kind of stuff. I'm really excited to get that under my belt. So, I can understand.

It's also just understanding the entire economy. I had to do underlying research on the EU, look at books on the EU economy, just the economy. It's really about understanding emerging markets in Vietnam, Italy in the late, the United States, and it's really interesting to compare everything to learning about everything. It's amazing just to get to be in a class that gives you time to literally learn about what you are interested in.

Since you're writing a 20 page paper, and you're also studying abroad, how are you able to balance those two things?

(Laughs) Great question. I've been trying to figure that out myself. There's a reason I have not traveled last couple weekends, and that's just because I've been reading. I saw Doctor Waller walking out of the library. And he’s like, “What are you up to?” and I said, like, “Reading a book for Ricci again.” And he said “Again? On a Saturday night?” Yeah, so it really never ends. I’m always going down rabbit holes of articles that I'm reading. All of us try to balance, and try to meet more often so that we can all work on it together. Because, during COVID, you kind of felt where you were just alone. When you're in person, classes you can be like, “Do you know this?” and you feel like we're all on the same page. But in COVID and you're just always stressed about being behind but yeah, reality, everyone is behind, they get in this.

It's nice to have people that are with you to know that you're not alone, or being behind enough.


Yeah, it’s really nice.

Follow Ben Mielke on Instagram @travelingmilkman

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