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Students Visit Secretaries of Juliet in Italy

Story by Alisa Hartman '15

As tourist season begins this spring in Verona, Italy, a group of local women are preparing to answer an influx of mail from strangers. These women, the volunteers of the Juliet Club, personally respond to every "Letter to Juliet" mailed and hand-delivered to the hometown of Shakespeare's literary lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Otterbein students, who were enrolled in a travel course to Italy, had the opportunity to meet these women in January.

The women, who volunteer as the Secretaries of Juliet, receive letters from not only woman, but men of all ages from all over the world. Otterbein students got a chance to talk to the Secretaries and hear about the careful work that they do every day. The Secretaries take this work very seriously, reading and responding back to each letter - giving positive feedback, sharing pains and love life advice. The authors of the letters often reveal personal stories to the Secretaries of Juliet, stories they may never have told to their closet friends or family.

The students learned how the Secretaries answer the letters without judgment, with care and with empathy. After they answer the letters, the Secretaries then log and archive each letter - a very large task for the ladies to complete.

After the students learned about the Secretaries' process, they were then able to pick a letter and write a response. They even took their own turn to write a letter to Juliet.

“I was so excited to get my letter back that I didn't even open it for 15 minutes, because I was too busy jumping around with excitement to read it," said student Abby Forshey. "That's when I realized the advice wasn't the only thing of importance, but just the fact that they cared enough to respond and someone listened to me was enough.”

Some of the students wrote pages and pages, trusting the Secretaries with their personal stories.

“I think the experience was extremely relevant to the course as it was a unique way to show the students the power of love, across time, across cultures and languages and other barriers," said Otterbein psychology professor Mia Lewis. "I would certainly want to visit again next year if possible.”