All Roads Lead to… Florence

Italy is one of those places that often graces the covers of travel magazines with its picturesque beaches and unique architecture. However, Italy is more than a place to visit and relax. The University offers many study abroad programs all over the country, from large cities such as Rome to smaller ones like Siena.

I took part in a program in Florence during May term, 2009. My story is quite typical of a student studying abroad—learning the language, exploring the culture, and devouring the cuisine in a whirlwind tour that ended all too soon. The program was well planned out and intellectually exhilarating. Though the trip was short, missing a semester of sciences classes at the U was not feasible for my schedule at that time. May term in Florence was the perfect choice for me. However, this is not the only way to go abroad and enjoy the same experiences that I enjoyed.

While in Florence, I met Danny, one of the student advisors at the CAPA International Education program, who had a very different path that led him to Florence. He decided to go to Italy after graduating with a Bachelors degree focusing on Rome and Antiquity. An encounter with a disappointingly unresponsive program in Rome led him to Florence. Although four semesters of Italian at the U of M taught him a few basics, he says the patience of acquaintances with common interests helped him really learn the language.

“My interests and hobbies here in America, no matter how small, eccentric or insignificant, were like a meeting ground wherever there were hopes of exchange of ideas or points of view,” he said.

In just two years, Danny commenced and defended his Masters thesis in Italian with both the University of Florence and Middlebury College.

As far as employment went, Danny commented on the constraints placed on those looking for work in Italy. He feels that “things like mobility and opportunity are taken for granted” here in the United States. He toiled through a slew odd jobs that eventually led him to CAPA.

Through all these accomplishments, there was still time for Danny to enjoy the rich Italian culture that surrounded him. He recounts one experience when a scooter trip with his roommate led him to a small house on a beach. There he met a father and his sons spending several weeks curing tuna fish with herbs and olive oil. The father let him try some of the delicious tuna, which Danny now describes as “by far one of the most incredible things my mouth had ever experienced. It was here that I got an early lesson in slow food, that sometimes great things can take hours and even weeks to get just right.”

No matter what type of experience one is seeking, structured and short, or long and adventurous, a trip to Italy is sure to be gratifying. Though our experiences were different, Danny and I both agree that there is one piece of advice everyone travelling to Italy should hear: enjoy it. It should be quite simple in such a stunning country.

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