Buonasera from Florence! As expected, this last month been quite a whirlwind of excitement
The first leg of this adventure was a two-day stopover in London, where I met other students that would be studying in Florence. We were provided with a bus tour of the major tourist centers of the city including Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, the London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Free time was plentiful and we spent it exploring other aspects of London. My personal highlights were Abbey Road from the Beatles’ album cover, Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ in King’s Cross Station, visiting Pax Lodge, which is a Girl Scout World Center, the Tate Modern Museum of Art, and the National Gallery.
The next stop was a five-day orientation in Rome, a city that has been on my bucket list for a long time! Orientation sessions in the mornings focused on helpful information to get us through the study abroad experience: learning basic Italian words, discussions on safety and emergency protocol, housing, how to grocery shop, school rules, homework expectations, how to get a cell phone, and much more. In the afternoons we took guided walking tours around ancient Rome, visiting sites such as the ancient gates of Rome, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Fori Imperiali, the Pantheon and the Colosseum, to name a few. We dedicated one afternoon to Vatican City, touring the museums, St. Peter’s Basilica and, of course, the Sistine Chapel. It was incredible to stand under that beautiful ceiling, standing where countless people have stood in awe at the wonderful works of Michelangelo. I cried!
Too soon, we made our way to Florence, my home for the next three months. The apartment is amazing. Nine girls share the apartment, which includes five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a laundry room with a washer but no dryer, a living room, a dining area, a functional kitchen, and two fridges, but no oven! It came fully furnished, including bedding and kitchenware. Our “Italian grandma” landlord, as we call her, provided hair dryers and straighteners, and even umbrellas! How sweet.
Classes began a few days later, and after two weeks I can honestly say I love them! I am enrolled in Basic Elementary Italian, Italian Food and Cultures, Drawing II, and Painting I, with an independent study course of Introduction to Italian Art.
The Italian language class has been exactly as one would expect: learning basic pleasantries (“Hi,” “How are you?” “Where are you from?”), numbers, classroom items, and more. Italian Food and Cultures… let’s just say it is definitely not a cooking class! We focus on four different regions of Italy, the different crops, methods of cultivation, and how they cook their food. The end goal is to understand how different Italian foods create different cultures within the various regions. While it is basically a history class, we take several field trips to markets, factories and farms to learn the processes firsthand.
My favorite classes by far are drawing and painting. Our professor has chosen projects that are specific to Italy and Italian art so anything we create looks like we created it in Italy. In drawing we recreated Michelangelo’s sculpture Aurora and are currently working on an abstract composition compiling different aspects of Brunelleschi’s architectural marvels from the Florence area. Every Wednesday we have a nude model come in to learn how to draw the human figure in a variety of poses, lighting and media. Our first project in painting was an abstract composition as well as basic practice on how to mix paints into secondary and tertiary colors. We were only given white, black, yellow, blue and red paints, although using black is frowned upon. Our second painting that we just began is a pointillism style Tuscan landscape. I cannot wait to see how my projects turn out, and what our next projects are going to be!
As for life outside of schoolwork, Florence has an amazing night life and plenty of museums, galleries, and restaurants to explore. My university supplies meal vouchers for breakfasts and dinners, so I have my fill of delicious Italian pastas. Yum! So far, I have only made it to the Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, The David. Pictures do not do the ginormous beauty justice. The hallway leading up to it is comprised of the Slaves, unfinished sculptures depicting human forms breaking out of the unsculpted, pure marble rock, as if breaking free from the stone. At the end is The David — shiny, tall and full of detail. It truly is breathtaking.
This past Sunday, my school provided a day bus trip to Viareggio, a city on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, to celebrate the traditional Carnevale. It was like Halloween and Mardi Gras had an Italian baby! Children and adults alike were dressed in costumes. Mardi Gras masks were on sale everywhere in the parade area, and thanks to the bartering skills I picked up in China, I was able to buy a mask for five Euros instead of 10. The parade itself was too fun. Streamers, silly string and confetti flew everywhere as everyone laughed and smiled. The floats, all made of papier mache, were incredible. Some stood four stories tall with moveable parts. Each float had a specific theme to make the audience think while taking in the beautiful artwork of the floats. Some focused on political powers, some on environmental issues, and some were just fun.
Classes are held Monday through Thursday, with Friday reserved for class field trips. School field trips will include travel to Siena, Pisa and Venice. I
f there is no class trip, we get a three-day weekend, which provides the opportunity to travel. A local tour company provides weekend trips geared toward study abroad students. This weekend, I will travel to Prague, Czech Republic. My weekends are filling up fast, and I am excited to be able to see more of the world while I am stationed abroad.
The next month will consist of homework, midterms and travel. My first stop is Prague, and my first paper is due in a month. The days are busy, but I am excited to see what my time here will teach me.
Katie Albert is a Waterloo High School graduate, resident of Waterloo, and full time student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville majoring in psychology with a minor in studio art. This is the second of a six-part series of stories describing her study abroad experience in Florence, Italy.