Lena Wilson, a Junior Marketing major, took part in the AIFS: Richmond in Florence program during her sophomore year at Miami. Read all about her experience below!
What was your favorite experience during your time abroad?
Traveling the world with my best friends, meeting new people who do not attend Miami and building long-lasting relationships with them, eating the best food in the entire world, learning a new language, having very questionable hostel stays with random room mates and learning about myself more than I ever thought I would.
My most memorable train ride was the one from Rome (where we had our orientation) to Florence. I was so excited I could not stop smiling. Everyone on the train was sleeping because we had to wake up so early for our departure and I found myself starting and finishing my entire book on Florence and Tuscany while simultaneously looking out the window at the beauty that was surrounding me. I got chills when we finally arrived in the city. I had looked at pictures of the Duomo so many times but seeing it in real life was breathtaking.
Lena Wilson in Florence, Italy!
Once we arrived and got settled in, I loved everything about Italy. I loved how the whole country’s economy did not run on big business or chain restaurants and stores, but instead focused on local, family-owned restaurants and stores that had hand-made, high quality leather goods for low prices. Their appreciation for the world around them and their own happiness and love of their culture made me happier and gave me motivation to bring this mindset back to America.
What classes did you enroll in? Which was your favorite and why?
I enrolled in Women in Italian Society, Italian Food and Culture, Elementary Italian Language, and Magic and Mysticism in Medieval and Renaissance Italy. I took these classes in order to fulfill my thematic sequence. My favorite classes were the Italian language course as well as Women in Italian Society.
Italian language was one of my favorites because I loved being able to learn the language from a native in the country that I was immersed in. The way language is taught abroad is very different from the teaching style here and in my opinion, much more beneficial. Our professor taught the class in Italian and this helped me learn way more than I would have had it been taught in English. I loved Women in Italian Society because I had a strong connection with the teacher and learned about how different the history as well as the modern era of women is in Italian culture as opposed to the American culture.
What were some of the biggest cultural differences you encountered? How did you overcome them?
The biggest cultural differences that I encountered varied from country to country. These differences ranged from simple things like not being able to touch the produce in a grocery store without gloves all the way to being in Morocco where women barely walked the streets and men were taken aback by seeing American women not covered head to toe in a burka. Overcoming these differences was something I embraced.
“I think, to me, it was just fascinating to be able to learn how values change throughout each culture and how respecting these values as a non-native is very important to the society.”
Another thing in Italy that my friends and I were not used to was the fact that being noisy in apartments and in stairwells of apartments after about 10PM could involve a court appearance. This was hard to get used to because my roommates and I stayed up pretty late most nights, but just being immersed in the culture helps you to figure out what is acceptable and what is not.
What was the most important thing you learned from studying abroad?
I don’t think there’s just one thing I could choose that describes what I learned studying abroad. The experience as a whole was so life-changing and made my heart so much fuller than before I went. One main thing I learned about myself is how much I love travelling, learning new languages, and meeting new, diverse groups of people.
Lena Wilson in Italy!
Studying abroad made me realize that one of my long-term goals for my future is to be able to live and work abroad for a period of my life. In addition to this, just simply learning how independent I could be for the first time on my own immersed into an unknown world is something that helped me grow, both personally and intellectually.
Is there any advice you have for people who study in your location in the future?
Honestly, Florence is the most amazing place in the world. I have about twenty restaurants and gelato places to recommend that you will never believe are actually real because the taste of the food is so indescribable. Watch the sunset a Piazzale Michelangelo and eat cheese from the grocery store Conads, climb the Duomo, hang out on the Ponte Vecchio, go to the leather markets and bargain with the merchants, visit Boboli Gardens, see the famous artwork, explore the outskirts of Tuscany as well as other parts of Italy such as Cinque Terre. The list goes on and on.
There are so many different parts of Italy that you can visit with the train for very little money that are just amazing. As far as Florence itself, just explore everything there is to see in the city. It is full of so much life and beauty and art that no matter where you set foot, you will always be surrounded by a feeling of fulfillment.
What about advice for younger students who are looking to study abroad?
Do not be afraid of missing out. I studied abroad my sophomore year, which at Miami, is not the norm. Most people go their junior year instead. I think no matter when you go, it is important to plan on what you want to get out of your experience before you sign up for a program.
Going for a semester is certainly very different from going for just a summer or J-term. It is not a semester-long vacation, although it may seem like it based on everyone’s photos. It comes with pros and cons and I think these are all part of the experience. The good times are what I remember from abroad, but the bad times are what shaped who I am and what made the good times even more meaningful.