Florence, Italy Semester

By: Leann Schneider

I’ve filled up an entire journal while studying abroad – a task I’ve been trying to achieve since the days when journal entries still started “dear diary” – and yet, I can’t seem to come up with enough words to fill two to three pages on what this experience has taught me. Maybe the words won’t come because once this essay is over and sent into cyberspace that means the semester is really over, and that is simply unacceptable. Maybe the words won’t come because the experiences, lessons, moments are too monumental to describe. Maybe when the words come, they sound trite and contrived, and these don’t do it justice. Yet, I suppose I have to try. Learning gained from my experience, as a student of Kent State University’s Florence program is not synonymous with the academic program itself. Though excellent, the most important lessons learned came not from within the confines of Palazzo dei Cerchi, but rather from the friends I made and even, surprisingly, from within myself.

While being fascinated with the world of the ancient Romans and renaissance Florentines at school, my extracurricular time was devoted to a different kind of discovery. Whether it be from trying my hand at cooking something I’d never tried for dinner, to spending time with someone I didn’t know, to traveling to a totally unknown destination, a most dramatic lesson learned was to make being out of my comfort zone my new comfort zone. I made it my mantra to try to exploit every possible opportunity and to find adventure everywhere. So what if I accidentally ended up on a train to Bologna at 3 in the morning without my passport or a ticket, with only five Euros to spare? I made a great friend, and that was certainly worth one sleepless night. I was robbed while shopping in the H&M in Florence. Well, I now know how it feels after long months of homesickness to see the stars and stripes of the American embassy rising up out of the haze of the Arno on my way for a new passport. We were trying to find Castiglione del Lago, we found Cortona instead. We walked to the top of the mountain and from there I saw the most memorable sunset I’ve ever seen, with colors so beautiful I thought about it every night before I fell asleep just to ensure it would be etched in my brain forever. Moments like these are what defined my time abroad.

Every time I chose to experience the different, I was rewarded with a better knowledge of my capacity for resiliency, adaptation, adventure; essentially I was rewarded with a better knowledge of myself. I learned that for me, home truly is where the heart is. I realized I have an intense interest in eastern European history, specifically, and the former East Bloc has moved itself to the top of my list of “to visit next” places. I knew no one when I went to Florence in January, I will go home with a motley crew of architects, journalists, communicators, and business students as friends. Ergo, I taught myself how to be friends with everyone, choosing enemies wisely. I learned that as lonely as it seemed, there would always be someone there to make me laugh, if I let them. Personal growth is an understatement – or just an inaccurate statement – for what I feel changed over the last four months, but again, there really aren’t words.

Academically, I gained a plethora of knowledge from thoroughly brilliant professors. I respected them all, idolized one, was in awe of another, and wished the third would quit taking himself so seriously. I’ve seen hundreds of priceless works of art in person, walked the same streets as Julius Caesar, admired the architecture of centuries of development: this is more than any student could ever ask for. Culturally the most unexpected lesson learned was that of how thoroughly western Europeans and Americans differ. For better or for worse, though we’re of the same background, an ocean is not the least of the boundaries, which distinguishes our purple mountain majesties from their rolling terracotta hills.

January 8, 2012 through May 4, 2012 was a time when so much happened, such subtle shifts took place in the fabric of my life, it really might have never happened at all. I won’t be sure until I’m back on American soil, with my American car and American cheese wondering how the shower is so perfect in pressure and temperature that I will look back and think, yes, I was there, I did those things. What I have now are memories, friendships, and photographs. I vow to never loose the passion for life, which studying abroad has re-instilled within me. So it goes, a two-to-three page essay on the learning experience that was study abroad KSU Florence, 2012 for one of its students. It’s probably stereotypical, possibly sentimental, potentially just what was needed, that’s my story.

Travel Tips: Florence, Italy

Many Honors students will be heading off to Florence this fall.  Whether your an architecture major, fashion major, CCI major, or any other student, we have some great tips from formers students who have studied in Florence!

  • Make a list of places you want to see and things you want to do and do it!  You never know if you will have the chance to do these things again, so make them happen your first time around.
  • Learn as much of the Italian language as possible.  Even though many people in Florence speak English, being able to speak Italian is respectable and a great way to immerse yourself in the culture.
  • Take the Art History course.  Italian art gives you great insight into Italian culture and history.
  • Explore Italy.  There’s a lot to see and do.
  • Take all the opportunities that come at you.  The school provides field trips and events.  You are only there for four months: Make the most of it.
  • Research places you plan to travel.  Find the top attractions and the hidden treasures.
  • Be yourself.  Get out of your comfort zone and try new things though.
  • Take pictures of everything.  Write about your experience.  Blog.  You don’t want to forget this.
  • Take clothes for all kinds of weather.  Florence has many different climates.
  • Make sure you have rainboots or waterproof shoes.  It rains a lot.
  • There are plenty of grocery stores in Florence.  Ask around.
  • Leave room to bring things home when you pack.
  • Most people are friendly and willing to help.
  • Budget your money.  Know how much you have and are willing to spend.
  • You can typically find cheap flights in Europe.

A Summer in Italy

My time spent in Italy this summer was quite possibly the most exhausting, draining and thrilling experience I have ever had in my life. Cramming years worth of knowledge on art and Italian culture into only five weeks kept us all on our toes and gave us little time to rest. Personally, I would not of had it any other way. Rather than sitting back at some resort or going to only the most well known, touristy places; I was able to experience the most authentic parts of Italian culture and to see famous, but obscure paintings, sculptures and buildings. Not only was I able to have fun and enjoy each and every day of my trip, but also I was able to learn things from each tiny experience.

When I first signed on for the 2010 Art and Culture in Italy trip, I was vaguely familiar with art, having studied it briefly beforehand. Now, at the end of the trip, I am certainly no expert, but I can now tell you with certainty the difference between a Baroque and Renaissance painting, find the clues that would inform a viewer that the building they are standing in was designed but Filippo Brunelleschi, and discuss the difference in they way two different artists depict the Biblical David.  Professor Gustav Medicus was lively, knowledgeable and passionate about what he was telling us, which made the learning experience all the more enjoyable and helped to peak an interest in art that had barely been there before.

Professor Kristin Stasiowski, who took over the culture part of our studies, had enthusiasm equal to, if not greater than Professor Medicus’. She related extremely well with the group and, since she was an American living in Italy for several years, she knew how to create connections between Italy and the United States that made it easy for us to understand. Professor Stasiowski educated us with historical facts, Italian legends and other stories that captivated our attentions and filled us with the same passionate enthusiasm that she had. The most thrilling and excited Italian tradition that she introduced us to was the Siena Palio – a medieval tradition that is still alive with fire today in the Sienese people.

Even without Professor Stasiowski to help us, we picked up on Italian culture through our everyday experiences that ranged from shopping for souvenirs, to buying coffee, to getting dinner for that night. The Italian people were very friendly and helpful as we dived into a culture and language that was far different from our own. The owner of the café near the Kent State University building was the one who taught me how to correctly ask for my coffee to go, and the waiter at one of our favorite restaurants explained the difference between saying “grazie” and “grazia” (“grazie” meaning “thank you” and “grazia” meaning “grace”). The relaxed atmosphere was contagious and we were soon having meals that lasted for hours without anyone one caring to notice the time.

The trip ended all too soon and yet just soon enough, our quick dive into the Italian world left us all exhausted and absolutely breathless from the beauty and the wonder we saw there. An experience by far worth having, I will never forget my five week summer trip to Italy and what it taught me.

By Kristen Milius

My Semester in Florence

   

While in Florence, I got to spend my weeks in class sketching in front of the first Renaissance building or walking through the Uffizi during my art history class studying works of art by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and countless other masters that have made a lasting impact on the world of art.  Having the chance to spend the whole semester in Florence, Italy really gave me the opportunity to explore and understand the city and culture. When I first arrived in Florence, I was blown away by the rich and historical scenery. Around every corner, there was another important architectural building or piece of art. On my walk to school every day, I would pass one of the main markets, the church of San Lorenzo, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistery of Florence.

After I moved in, I found that everyday life was a little harder to adjust to than I expected. I have never lived in a city, and living in a city for the first time in a country where I was not very familiar with the language was a big adjustment from what I had known. Although everyday things like going to the grocery store or the pharmacy were a little tricky at first, after a week or so I started getting used to how things worked. Through this, my comfort zone really expanded and I found new situations much easier and more exciting. Every day in Florence was an adventure.

Just in class, we would go through places throughout the city. In art history we went into countless museums and got to hear our class lecture and take notes on the art work that was right before us. I was able to look and walk around Michelangelo’s David while I was in class, and I had the opportunity to go and see the David multiple times in and out of class. In my drawing class, we also went around the city and would spend our class time sitting in front of important architecture like the Church of Santa Croce or Palazzo Vecchio. I was able to learn how to draw objects in perspective by drawing important historical architecture.  With the museum pass I was given through the school, I had free access to the main museums and was able to see these amazing works and places within Florence again and again. Having the chance to study in a place like Florence was having the chance to live in what you were studying instead of reading and looking at pictures of things in a textbook.  

 From Florence, I had the freedom to travel from city to city in Italy as well as from country to country.   Through the architecture program field trips, I was able to go to Rome, Siena, Venice, Verona, Vicenza, and Milan. On other weekends when we had free time, I was able to visit France, Germany, Austria, Spain, England, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Each place I travelled to has a different character and style. As an architecture student I think seeing all the buildings and styles of cities like Milan, Paris and Budapest will aid me tremendously in my future studies of design. What may even be more important than seeing the architecture of different major cities of Europe is the understanding of how the culture enables certain spaces and areas to be successful. If one would take the same piazza that is the most popular space in Genoa and place that same piazza in Cleveland, Ohio, the space would probably be empty, but if one can understand each culture then the idea of the Italian piazza can be taken and transformed into something that can be applied to American culture.

This past semester that I spent abroad was an amazing experience in which I got to live in one of the most culturally rich cities in the world and I also got to visit places that I have read about all my life.  I know that the lessons I learned about different cultures and the things that I have seen will make me a better person and a better designer.  As Professor Sabini said at our last meeting, the most important outcome of this program is “becoming a citizen of the world” and not just of the United States.

A Semester in Florence

It’s hard to believe that something as simple as jumping a puddle could change your life forever. My semester abroad in Florence did just this. My overseas experience completely changed the way I view the world around me: culture, architecture, my career, my future, my existence. I feel truly blessed to have been able to have the chance to spend a semester in Europe.

I truly hope that the professors and staff at our Kent State Florence program know what an asset they are to our study abroad program. They are so helpful and genuinely love what they do.  In their classes, the professors not only taught us the subject matter they were instructing but also so much about Italian culture. We learned basic customs, traditions, and celebrations which are part of Italian society. Every question we had was answered: where to eat, where to travel, what to see, what not to miss, where to shop, how to order, how to prepare new foods, what local events are taking place, how/where to buy tickets, anything we needed to know was only a question away.

I think for the most part that I acclimated well to living abroad. The only somewhat difficult part was communicating. Studying for a semester in a place where you don’t know the language can be very challenging. Figuring out how to get from place to place, discovering what you’re about to order at a restaurant, and general inquiries for information prove difficult when you are unable to read or comprehend a conversation in a foreign language. Although most Europeans speak English as a second language, most everyone you try to converse with attempts to teach you their native language and will even help you to learn what you are trying to say before they move to a conversation in English. This proved to be very helpful in learning to communicate and also developed many relationships with the locals. By the end of the first couple weeks I was able to learn the essential phrases to travel, shop, and order food, as well as thank the generous soul who had to suffer through my broken Italian.

Italian culture I found quite amazing. It is so rich in history and art, two of my favorite things. Everywhere I went I was in awe of the artwork, the architecture, and the history. The Italians take great pride in their heritage and make great efforts to preserve for future generations to be able to enjoy the great pieces of the past. Everything is so well kempt. Everything from the gardens, to the museums, to the statuary is kept orderly, well-groomed, and made accessible to experience. I don’t think I took a single picture that came out poorly due to lighting, arrangement, or looked grungy, dirty, or in disrepair. The daily life of Italy I also found pleasantly intriguing. It is quite nice that shops close down for a break in the middle of the day, close up early in the evening so that shop employees can have dinner with their families, and are closed on Sundays. Everything moves at a slower pace. It’s as if everyone is getting the most out of life without rushing through it. I believe that Europe has successfully implemented a network of public transportation with trains, low cost air travel, and city buses and trolleys. It was a nice change to walk everywhere and be in walking distance of everywhere I needed to go.

The food was probably my favorite part about going to Italy. It wasn’t until this semester that I found my love of seafood, and now I can’t get enough of it. I loved not having to eat processed foods and being able to shop at the fresh markets for fruits, vegetables, and meats. There was nothing that I ate that I didn’t love. The desserts were beyond amazing. The best thing was getting pastries fresh out of the oven when the bakeries started their orders for the day in the wee hours of the morning. Then there’s pasta: I never knew that there were so many different types of pasta or sauces. I came to be quite the fan of gelato, kebabs, and nutella. These were the main staples of my diet for the last few weeks of the semester and I really wish that there was a similar substitute for kebabs because they were a delicious Mediterranean snack.

Being in Europe opened my eyes to a new way of looking at architecture. European architecture is about grandeur, longevity, and monumentality. Each structure is organized to serve a purpose but to be fully functioning in its setting. Depending on the location, structures were design either to blend with existing structures or to stand alone, to make a statement. This really changed my mind about what I want to design as an architect. Before going to Europe I had wanted to design residential structures, but now I look forward to designing large public structures to be enjoyed by a community, a nation, the world. I hope to someday create one of the masterpieces I discovered in my travels.

Although I was studying in Florence, I did travel to other places in Italy and throughout Europe. I went to several festivals and many national landmarks. The festivals I attended include Springfest in Munich Germany, Carnivale (Orange Festival) in Ivrea Italy, and Notte Bianca in Florence Italy. I visited concentration camps in Poland, the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, the Pompeii ruins, the Italian coast in Cinque Terre, the Leaning Tower in Pisa, the glass island of Murano  and every major piece of architecture and tourist attraction in London, Barcelona, Torino, Siena, Florence, Munich, Venice, Verona, Vecenza, Urbino, Rome, Napoli, Milan, and Ivrea. Each of these places holds a very special place in my heart and memory. They are places filled with amazing adventures, memories created with some of the greatest people in the world whom I fondly call my friends, friends who have actually become more like family. I think that this relationship with the people I traveled with and the memories that we made may be one of the greatest treasures I discovered while away.

By: Ashleigh Rough