Why did you choose this program? I chose the Florence Summer Program because it had a course (watercolouring) that I knew I wanted to take, and another (Renaissance art history) that I wasn't quite sure about; ultimately I loved both classes and I'm glad I chose the program that pushed my comfort zone. I had also been to Florence before and knew that I loved the city. I definitely wanted to spend more time there. Finally, the aspect of the program that sealed the deal was that the Florence program had program-wide outings each Friday. It was so nice to travel outside of Florence with the entire group. The outings were lovely bonding experiences and allowed me to travel more sans the stress of planning it all myself.
Describe your favorite class abroad. I took a class that combined watercolouring and drawing that I absolutely loved and still think about constantly. Although my program was only 6 weeks long, I feel like I grew faster as an artist than in any other class I'd taken previously. The class also only had 8 people, so I made strong friendships with my classmates and connected with the professor and AIs. We traveled throughout Florence and painted some of the most prominent landmarks. After staring at a statue or building for 4 hours, you definitely walk away with a different form of appreciation!
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? My program essentially rented out the floor of a hotel (the Hotel Villani) and stayed there the entire time. We were the only guests there and we received exemplary service from the hotel owner, Erminio. Each morning, he served croissants and coffee, and at night there was a massive dinner. Everyone had a roommate; I lived with one other roommate, Jackie, but most people were in a triple room. When you walked outside of the hotel, you could take a right turn and within 2 minutes, you were at Florence's most prominent attraction, Il Duomo. The hotel was cozy and sometimes cramped, but it felt like a home.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? Travel elsewhere if you can! On the weekends, we took short trips to other areas in Italy, and on one weekend, we flew to Barcelona. The train systems and airfare in Europe are fairly easy to navigate and can be affordable. I felt like I got so much more because I traveled on the weekends. Also, go on walks. Sit in cafes and just soak it up. Most of all, spend some time alone. My program was very insular and if I wanted to, I could have always been with a friend or companion. Occasionally, though, I liked to just go walk by myself and revel in the incessant onslaught of sensations that is Florence.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? Once, for a painting trip, we took a winding bus up to a city outside Florence that perches high on a hill. We got up there and it instantly started raining -- we had to take cover in a small archaeological museum and used the hand dryers in the bathroom to dry our hair. It was the perfect combination of misery and elation.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock. I experienced reverse culture shock far more strongly that culture shock -- I feel like I assimilated to Florence fairly seamlessly. When I got home, however, I was repulsed by the toxicity of American food, the crush of cars EVERYWHERE, and the dullness of my small town compared to the bustle of Florence. I worked over the summer, which was a welcome distraction from the reverse culture shock. Still, though, even though it's been three months since my program ended, I find myself perturbed by some vestige of reverse culture shock; I'll think to myself, "Well in Florence, we would have done it this way..." Sometimes, I even get frustrated with people who haven't traveled abroad. I have experiences, skills, and knowledge they don't have and it can be a divide difficult to bridge.
What do you know now that you didn’t know before you went abroad? I now understand that other countries and cultures live just as vividly as I experience my life in the United States. I was able to interact with some of Florence's youth while abroad, and just like American teenagers, they have their own jokes, slang, and sense of style. I had never thought of Italy's culture, or even European culture, in great detail. I now know that their culture is every bit as nuanced as our's. On the more applicable, practical side, I am also now very confident with navigating public transportation and with asking for help from strangers. After travelling through Italy, I know how to utilize the trains, buses, and other traveler resources.
What do you wish someone had told you before you left? Pack less!!! I actually was told this, but I foolishly ignored the advice. I packed clothing that I never even wore, and what's more, I bought more clothes while abroad. This meant that on the return trip home, I paid $100 for an over-the-weight-limit suitcase.
What fact about your host country do you think people would be surprised to learn? I was in Italy, and even though I didn't take any Italian classes, there were a couple Italian phrases that I learned. I was most surprised to learn that the nut pistachio, which Americans pronounce pis-tash-i-o, is actually pronounced pis-tack-i-o!
How did you find scholarships for study abroad? I had a meeting with an adviser from Education Abroad and she referred me to the most viable scholarships for my program.
Would you recommend other students pursue any specific scholarship opportunities? The OVPDEMA scholarship was a massive help and I would encourage eligible students to concentrate a lot of their energy on this scholarship. Also, the HIEP scholarship offers a lot specific scholarships, like for people in internships or students studying art. A single application to the HIEP makes the applicant eligible for a lot of aid, so I would recommend students focus on this one also.