Interview: Hannah and Meg from Florence for Free

Hannah and Meg, who each spent a year and a half studying abroad in Florence, run one of the city’s best blogs. It’s called Florence for Free, and was built out of their need to explore the city on a student budget. Their fun and informative blog won one of the CAPA Top Blog Awards for 2014, so we decided to dig a bit deeper and find out more about their love of Florence, some of their best discoveries in the city and how they dealt with the American stereotypes they encountered on their adventures. Images throughout the interview are by photographer Matt Freire who was with Hannah and Meg in Florence.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourselves, where you’re from, where you live now and about your connection to Florence.
FLORENCE FOR FREE: One of the many reasons the two of us became such fast friends is our hometown pride. With Meg’s Buffalo, New York, roots and Hannah’s upbringing in Kansas City, we both found ourselves bonding over bragging about our under-rated origins. Although we “technically” have to pledge allegiance to our respective hometowns, we both embarked on our torrid love affairs with Italy as undergrads – Meg studying in Parma and Hannah in Rome. We couldn’t seem to shake this romance and found ourselves, and each other, back in Italy while attending graduate school at Syracuse University’s Florence Art History Graduate Program. We lived, studied, worked in and explored Florence for a year and a half. With limited student budgets, we had no choice but to discover “Florence for free”. Since leaving Florence, Hannah has migrated back to Kansas City and Meg is currently living in Baltimore.

CW: You run the popular website, Florence for Free, which won one of the CAPA Top Blog Awards 2014. Who is your main audience? What are some of the features of the site?
FFF: Our original mission was to inspire students studying abroad. Therefore, initially our following was largely this student demographic as intended. However, as time passed, we have been excited to find more and more diverse travelers jumping on the sustainable, budget-friendly travel bandwagon!

Florence for Free offers a variety of features for visitors and residents of Florence including: an up-to-date calendar of free events, walks, features on Florentine traditions and festivals, and our favorite free places to pass an afternoon. Although we both have a big ol’ soft spot for the art history of Florence, we keep our posts diverse, covering topics from festivals to sports to food. We also gladly take suggestions for topics that our readers are interested in learning more about.

CW: Choose three blog posts you enjoyed researching and writing and tell us why they were so much fun to put together.
1. How to Crash a Tuscan WeddingIn September of 2013, one of our best pals and classmates in Florence married her Italian beau. Everything about the wedding, from the dinner at the family’s Renaissance castle the night before, to the ceremony set to a Tuscan sunset, was heartbreakingly beautiful. The cake was iced by the attendance of all of our best buds. We couldn’t help but share this magical experience with our readers and we obviously had a great time doing it.

2. The Free Art WalkOne of our most exciting collaborations this past year was with artist Patrik Lundell, who shares our passion for art and free things! We decided to market a Free Art Walk in which Patrik left original works of his own art around the city which could be found by solving the riddles written by yours truly, posted on FFF.  Witty riddles, free art, and a scavenger hunt taking our readers to our favorite places in Florence? Of course we loved writing this one!

3. Upcoming EventsEvery month, Meg creates a post featuring the month’s upcoming free events. We hope that with these monthly posts we can save our readers from ever experiencing the sinking regret of missing a free evening at the Uffizi, a concert at Palazzo Strozzi, or a period-dress parade. We love tipping off tourists, students and even residents about these freebies and live vicariously through them if we can’t be there ourselves!

CW: What are your three most popular posts? Pull a quote from each to share.
FFF: As we probably could have guessed (because let’s be honest, we’re suckers for trashy pop culture too), our top two most visited posts are Walking Tour: The Jersey Shore in Florence and Walking Tour: Dan Brown’s Inferno. Coming in just behind these blockbusters is Florence’s Best Markets by Neighborhood, adding a hint of class to our most popular list! Here are some of our favorite snippets from each:

  1. Walking Tour: The Jersey ShoreLove them or hate them (or maybe just love to hate them), these over-tanned juice heads fist pumped their way into America’s culture, and, much to the chagrin of the Italians, Florence’s as well.
  2. Walking Tour: Dan Brown’s Inferno: We’d be lying if we said we hadn’t heard a few professors moan at the sound of the author’s name (tying Da Vinci to a conspiracy theory will do that) – but haters gonna hate, y’all. The truth is, these girls love anything art history + mystery, even if the facts are a bit hazy.
  3. Florence’s Best Markets by NeighborhoodWe understand that shopping fundamentally flies in the face of our Florence for Free mantra, but you’d miss a major part of Italian culture if you didn’t explore the country’s many open-air markets! Brimming with charming antiques, fresh fruits, and homemade soaps, each bazaar is a feast for the senses.

CW: Our students love to find the hidden gems in their host cities. What is your favourite Florence discovery off of the tourist trail and what’s special about it?
FFF: The cemetery at San Miniato al Monte is, hands down, these girls’ happy place. How creepy are we, right? The Basilica of San Miniato sits so high above the city that few tourists’ gluts can stand the extra ascent up from the already elevated Piazzale Michelangelo. The tourists who do stick it out to the top will certainly stop for a photo shoot to capture the world’s most perfect panorama. As there are no closing hours on the view we always put that on hold and jet to the cemetery entrance to the left of the Basilica. And voilà, we’ve done it! We have claimed a little piece of Florence entirely for ourselves (well, along with the souls who decided to make San Miniato their forever home). Stroll amongst rows of mausoleums fashioned like miniature cathedrals. Photograph the emotionally charged statuary. If you have time, find Carlo Collodi’s (the author of Pinocchio) headstone. Most importantly, breathe. In a city that impels you to not miss out on a single work of art, vespa ride, or strada, it’s important to take a moment to pause, and simply take it all in – good, bad or otherwise.

CW:  Give us your best recommendations on where to eat and drink in Florence.
FFF: Well this sure taps into our favorite pastime! The list could go on forever, but here are a few of a personal favorite digs in Florence:

  1. Gusta Pizza. Ok, yes. Gusta Pizza is a favorite of gli student Americani so it may not “feel” so authentic anymore. But, where there’s smoke there’s fire. If a place is this popular, they probably have something good going on. And in this case, there literally is fire as well. The Gusta wood fire oven bakes up the most mouth-watering pizzas, sure to haunt your taste buds long after you leave Florence.
  2. Grocery stores. Yes, as generic as it may seem, the supermarkets of Florence have crafted some of our most memorable sandwiches and for a price that’s just as easy to swallow!
  3. Edi House. Edi House, located in Piazza Savonarola is completely off the beaten path. Located near our school and library, it wasn’t long until we were regulars. The versatility of the restaurant made Edi House perfect for every occasion, whether we were snatching some pizzas for the library or wanted an authentic sit-down Florentine meal. Edi House is a family-owned, neighborhood restaurant that embodies simple, pure Italian cooking. For these girls, Edi House feels like home.
  4. Rossi’s. Ok, we have to admit we feel a little guilty about spilling the beans on the place we so affectionately (and mysteriously?) call Secret Bar, but if you’re reading this we figure you’re probably special enough to be let in on the secret. During the day, and throughout the winter months this joint appears to be a simple rolled up kiosk in the piazza. One magical warm night in April each year the kiosk opens up, the local youth swarm, and Rossi, from Colombia, serves up solo-cup sized cocktails, aperitivo, and traditional Latino music until the wee hours of the morning. It’s the best surprise ever.
  5. Negroni. Located in the quaint San Niccolò neighborhood of the Oltrarno, Negroni is largely a bar for locals as well. The bar is famous for the well-known drink, negroni, but also offers our personal favorite aperitivo in Florence.

Most importantly, remember to find places to make your own. With our strapped budgets you certainly wouldn’t have found the two of us dabbling in Florence’s finest cuisine every week. Our best advice is to find your favorite spots and make them your spots. You’ll be quick to realize that eating in Italy is about much more than the food.

CW:  Tell us the story of a memorable interaction you had with a local Florentine. Why did it stand out for you?
FFF:  We met Ezio, our Art Restoration professor, on day two of our Italian adventure. Something about his disheveled gray locks, handlebar mustache, round belly, and refusal to speak a word of English tapped right into these doe-eyed gals’ hearts. As Ezio encouraged us to get elbow deep in plaster and paint, he divulged tales of his romantic past and even sang Italian classics in his rich tenor voice. Ezio officially agreed to be our adopted Italian nonno. In the grandfather role, Ezio rose to the occasion of navigating his naïve students through lessons in Italian culture, history, and traditions. Ezio taught us how to get by, learn and fall in love in Florence.

CW:  Being American students abroad, did you encounter any stereotypes during your time in Florence? What were they and how did you avoid falling into them?
FFF:  ABSOLUTELY. With a comfortable population around half a million (not too big and not too small), low crime, rich history, and excessive art, we can scarcely be surprised that thousands of Americans flood Florence every year to pursue their studies. With the “once-in-a-lifetime” attitude, nonexistent drinking age and naturally loud voices of Americans, we unfortunately have left a less than satisfactory taste in the mouth of many Florentines.

Almost daily we encountered a disgruntled nonna, dismissive store clerk, or an over-eager ragazzo who made some pretty quick assumptions based on our accents, style or otherwise. And honestly, we can’t really blame them for this. Americans are diluting their rich culture and heritage everyday. And that is why it is important for us to be respectful of that, and prove the stereotypes wrong. One of our favorite ways to do that was by insisting upon speaking Italian. Even if all you can muster is a greeting, Italians will appreciate that you are making an effort. Florentines can be very standoffish and protective of their culture, but once you break down the barriers, we are sure that you will find, just as we did, they are the nicest people you will ever meet. The important part is meeting them halfway. Remember, we are the guests.

CW:  What are your top three favourite free experiences in Florence?
1. Scoppio del Carro. The Scoppio del Carro occurs every year at Easter Sunday Mass at the Duomo. We’ll just say this: it involves a flaming wooden dove flying down the nave of the cathedral and an exploding cart of fireworks. It is absolutely bizarre and an “only in Italy” experience. It is a tradition that runs deep in Florentine history. It represents part of what makes this city so special – traditions that aren’t even flinching in the face of changing times. Read all about the excitement on FFF.

2. Notte Bianca. The White Night is an all night party celebrating the arts in Florence. It takes place every April. Museums, shops and restaurants stay open until sunrise and concerts and DJ sets bring the parties to the streets. Free art exhibits are displayed throughout town and museum entry is free. No Florentine misses out on this all-night party celebrating their arts and culture and you shouldn’t either!

3. Night walks. Some of our very best laughs, talks about life, and discoveries happened under the glow of the statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi at night, under the illuminated Duomo, or walking across the rolled up Ponte Vecchio. Florence can get crazy during the day with eager tourists, zipping vespas, and aggressive pigeons. But lucky for us, Florence has an early bedtime and we don’t. At night, the city is yours for the taking. There is absolutely nothing better than grabbing a friend and seeing the city under moonlight.

CW:  Say you are a study abroad student and it’s your first free day to explore the city on your own. Design an itinerary for your day.
FFF: First things first – get acquainted with the city! The faster you get your bearings, the more confident you’ll be spending your semester jet-setting around the city to must-see sights.

  • 10:00 AM – Santa Maria Novella Train Station. Get to know it and get to know it well. Although we want Florence to be your first love, we hope you get your chance to zip around the country this semester and the SMN train station will be your hub. Here you can also find a city busses, the SITA regional bus station and a McDonalds (don’t judge; that’ll come in handy around week 4).
  • 10:15 AM – Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Welcome to the city center. We are certain that if you are taking any, your art history courses will hit you over the head with this place several times. So take an unadulterated look at the Renaissance masterpiece before it becomes homework!
  • 10:30 AM – Via Tornabuoni. Out of the south side of the Piazza take Via del’ Sole to Via Tornabuoni – Florence’s runway. Ferragamo, Cavalli, Gucci. It won’t take you long to realize that some of Italy’s biggest fashion houses were born right here in Florence. While you might not be able to afford any of the goods on display, you can pop into Caffè Giacosa and feel like part of the jet-set set, at least for the length of one pasta and cappuccino.
  • 11:00 AM – Ponte Santa Trinita. This ponte is where to snag the picture perfect view of the famous Ponte Vecchio to your left.
  • 11:15 AM – Santo Spirito. We like to call the Basilica of Santo Spirito the Alamo due to its unfinished southwest style façade. A bit shocking at first, the simple façade actually makes quite a lovely backdrop for this neighborhood piazza. Piazza Santo Spirito hosts Florence’s most noteable markets every month that you certainly won’t want to miss. It is also known as Florence’s hipster hangout, so if that’s your cup of tea, this is the place for you.
  • Noon – Pizza from Gusta at Palazzo Pitti. We couldn’t possibly expect you to just stroll past the deliciousness piping out of Gusta Pizza as you exit the piazza. We suggest caving to temptation, ordering a couple of pies to go and heading east towards Palazzo Pitti. Pop a squat on the sprawling bricked front yard of the Medici and enjoy the best pizza of your life while indulging in your first people watching session.
  • 1:00 PM – Ponte Vecchio. Head south to the iconic Ponte Vecchio and take window shopping to a new level as you peek at the gold, silver and diamonds shining through the display cases of the jewelry stores that line the bridge.
  • 1:30 PM – Oltrarno. Instead of crossing the bridge, head back towards Palazzo Pitti and spend a while exploring the Oltrarno, a quieter, less touristy side of the Arno. Head east toward our favorite neighborhood, San Niccolo’. On your way note the artisan shops and workshops for which the quaint Oltrarno is known.
  • 2:00 PM – Piazzale Michelangelo. Cruise north out of the city gate and up up up to Piazzale Michelangelo. Your gluts might be a bit ticked, but let them know that THE postcard view of Florence awaits you at the top. Use this bird’s eye view of the city to really get your bearings on your new home.
  • 2:45 PM – Ponte alla Grazia. Head back down to the Arno and cross the Ponte alla Grazie (one bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio). Here you’ll find more photo worthy views of the Ponte Vecchio. Finally cross to the north side of the river to the Santa Croce neighborhood.
  • 3:15 PM – Santa Croce. Smell that? It’s leather! Santa Croce is the leather making district of the city and has the shops to prove it! Piazza Santa Croce is lined with such shops and some restaurants, and it also hosts some of Florence’s biggest events such as Calcio Storico in the summer and the Christmas market in December. The Basilica, resting place to Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, isn’t too shabby either.
  • 3:45 PM – Piazza della Signoria. A stroll west will take you to the politically charged heart of the city – Piazza della Signoria to see The Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi. We are not even sure where to begin with this one. Simply let your eyes wander. You are sure to be back here countless times. 
  • 4:45 PM – Gelato. It’s probably gelato time. As you head north on Via Calzaiuoli pop into Perche’ No for some authentic, delicious gelato! Dark chocolate (fondente) and strawberry (fragola) is a personal kryptonite.
  • 5:00 PM – Piazza della Repubblica. Cut west over to Piazza della Repubblica to see a relatively “new” and posh piazza in town. As the former forum of the Ancient Roman town as well as the birthplace of the Futurism movement, you can count on this piazza as having at least a few stories to tell.
  • 6:00 PM – Piazza del Duomo. And for the grand finale, cut back north to Piazza del Duomo. Here it is – the dome of Brunelleschi, the defining ornament of the city. Piazza del Duomo is not only teeming with history, culture and art, but also a great way to orient yourself if you ever get lost. There is practically no spot in the city from which you cannot see the Dome. If you can make it back here, you’re home free.

Tip: Don’t bite off more than you can chew with sightseeing. You can do all the planning in the world, but we think you’ll quickly find out that Florence has a plan for you too.

Thanks Hannah and Meg!

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10 Architecture Sites to See When You Study Abroad in Florence

Architecture can reveal key stories about a city’s past or hold a vision of its future. Some of the most architecturally interesting structures are obvious, but other times they are easy to miss. Today, we take a journey through Florence, one of CAPA’s global cities, to check out some of the architecture you should be sure to see when you study abroad.

1. TORRE DELLA PAGLIAZZA. (architect unknown, 6th-7th centuries) This Byzantine tower is located in the historic center, in the small Piazza Santa Elisabetta, and its original structure is singled out by many as the oldest surviving building in Florence. Constructed on the foundations of earlier Roman buildings, the tower served as a women’s prison from as early as 1285 and takes its name from the straw mats used as bedding by the unfortunate detainees. The tower was later incorporated into the enlargement of surrounding residential buildings, and in 1983-1988 was revealed once again following a restoration led by Italo Gamberini. Today, the tower is part of the four-star Hotel Brunelleschi (a considerable upgrade from previous epochs!) and can be reached by a short walk from the Piazza della Repubblica.

Photo: Torre Della Pagliazza by Pablo Charlon

2. PALAZZO GALLI TASSI. (architect unknown, 14th-17th centuries) Home to the CAPA Florence Center and located in the Via de’ Pandolfini, the Palazzo Galli Tassi was built in the 16th century by the Valori family via the consolidation of earlier buildings and was purchased by the Galli Tassi family in 1623. The foundations and ground floor date back to the 14th century while the sixteenth-century windows facing the street on the ground floor were directly inspired by Michelangelo’s finestre inginocchiate for the ex-loggia of Palazzo Medici. The interior courtyard preserves some of the features of the original palace including the medieval octagonal pillars and is contrasted by two lateral staircases designed by Gaspare Maria Paoletti in 1763. The interior spaces still showcase many inset paintings and frescoes dating back to the years following the transfer of ownership to the Galli Tassi and were executed by Giovanni di San Giovanni, Ottavio Vannini and Baldassare Franceschini, better known as Il Volterrano.

Photo: Palazzo galli tassi by sailko

3. LOGGIA DEL PESCE. (Giorgio Vasari, 1567) The Loggia del Pesce is a freestanding loggia located off the Piazza dei Ciompi and is one of the few vestiges of the Mercato Vecchio (Old Market) that was demolished in the 19th century to create the modern Piazza della Repubblica. It was commissioned from court architect Giorgio Vasari by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici to house the fish market which was displaced by the construction of the Vasari Corridor near the Ponte Vecchio. During the urban renovation of Florence following the unification of Italy (1885-1895), the loggia was dismantled and most of its decoration went to the museum of San Marco. It was rebuilt in the Piazza Ciompi only in 1956, re-using most of the original materials. It is formed by nine wide arcades supported by piers and columns. On each side are eight medallions depicting fishing activities and the sea, which remind passersby of its original function.

Photo: Loggia del Pesce by Marco Bartolini

4. ARCISPEDALE DI SANTA MARIA NUOVA. (Bernardo Buontalenti and Giulio Parigi, 1606–1663) Far more enjoyable to visit as an architectural enthusiast than as a patient, Florence’s downtown emergency room is the oldest hospital still active in Florence. It was founded in 1288 by Folco Portinari, the father of Dante’s beloved Beatrice. Folco was persuaded to this endeavor by Monna Tessa, the family housekeeper, whose remains are buried under the headstone still visible in the hospital’s ex chiostro delle ossa (former cloister of the Bones). During the Renaissance, the hospital enjoyed remarkable economic prosperity and in 1419 hosted the visit of Pope Martin V. Alterations were made in the late 16th century including decorative programs by important artists: Giambologna made of stucco decorations for the men’s ward; Alessandro Allori frescoed the chapel of the men’s ward; Bernardo Buontalenti frescoed the walls and the ceiling of the women’s ward with works now detached and stored in the pinacoteca of the Hospital of the Innocents. Buontalenti also designed the large porch which still is the main entrance, though he never lived to see its completion. It was in fact executed by Giulio Parigi (1611) and finally completed only in 1960.

Photo: Arcispedale Di Santa Maria Nuova by sailko

5. KAFFEEHAUS. (Zanobi del Rosso, 1774-1776) Tucked into one of the northern slopes of the Boboli Gardens, the Kaffeehaus is a pavilion, built in 1776 by Zanobi del Rosso for Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, who went there accompanied by members of his court to enjoy the exotic and recently introduced beverage of coffee while overlooking Florence’s cityscape. Today the Kaffeehaus offers visitors to the Gardens a place to escape the heat, and includes a salon decorated by Giuseppe del Moro, Giuliano Traballesi and Pasquale Micheli, all of whom created an illusionistic landscape with statues and fountains covered by a trompe-l’oeil pergola filled with birds and flowers. Visitors will also find within the Kaffeehaus’ walls four marble sculptures from the second half of the 16th century: Apollo with Capricorn sculpted by Domenico Poggini in 1559; Valerio Cioli’s two sculptures from 1561-1564 representing Morgante riding a turtle and another of Nano Barbino; and Bacchus with a Satyr created by Vincenzo de’ Rossi after 1656.

Photo: Kaffeehaus by Albert

6. MERCATO CENTRALE. (Giuseppe Mengoni, 1870-1874) With the destruction of the Mercato Vecchio to make way for the Piazza della Repubblica, Florence planned to construct three new modern covered markets for the city’s residents, including the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo, the Sant’Ambrogio market, and the unrealized market for the San Frediano district. The market’s main edifice was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the architect of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, and integrated the most modern of building materials (steel, vast expanses of glass, cast iron) with an appearance that complements the surrounding buildings and square. The market consists of a classical loggia of 10 arches on each side, and a superimposed mezzanine. The inauguration of the market took place in 1874 with the International Exhibition of Agriculture and remains an essential meat and produce market for residents and tourists alike.

Photo: Mercato Centrale by Aldo Cavini Benedetti

7. VILLINO BROGGI-CARACENI. (Giovanni Michelazzi, 1910-1911) The Villino Broggi-Caraceni is an Art Nouveau style residence located in Florence in Via Scipione Ammirato, and one of several examples of this style in the city’s peripheral neighborhoods that developed in the early 20th century. The building was built between 1910 and 1911 by architect Giovanni Michelazzi, in collaboration with Galileo Chini who completed the pictorial and ceramic decorations including green majolica garlands that are considered highly original and unique. Constructed for Enrico Broggi and later acquired by Domenico Caraceni, the Villino is considered, along with the house-gallery Vichi on the Borgo Ognissanti, the most accomplished work of Michelazzi.

Photo: Villino Broggi-Caraceni by Aldo Cavini Benedetti

8. STAZIONE SANTA MARIA NOVELLA. (Giovanni Michelucci, 1933) Florence’s central rail station was constructed between 1932 and 1934 based on designs by a group of architects known as the Gruppo Toscano led by Giovanni Michelucci. In plan, the arrangement of the station’s platforms resembles the fascio littorio, the ancient Roman symbol re-appropriated by Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. The building is one of the key works of Italian modernism, strongly influenced by the Viennese architecture of Loos and Hoffman, but it is the building’s originality, continued functionality and adherence to site that make it an outstanding example of interbellum civic architecture. The competition to design the station was controversial but the approval by Mussolini of the Gruppo Toscano project was hailed as an official acceptance of modernity in Italy.

Photo: Stazione Santa Maria Novella by clare_and_ben

9. ARCHIVIO DI STATO DI FIRENZE. (Italo Gamberini, 1975-1989) Following the disastrous flood of November 4, 1966, and the damage incurred by State Archive deposits then stored at the Uffizi and elsewhere, this post-flood (and flood-proof) repository preserves documents from as early as the year 726 to the 20th century, allowing scholarship to continue on what is arguably one of the world’s most studied cities. After identifying a suitable area in Piazza Beccaria, on the circle of boulevards designed in the 19th century by the architect Giuseppe Poggi, the new building was designed by Italo Gamberini and officially opened on February 4, 1989. Although its external appearance is considered by many to be bleak and foreboding, the ASF now offers state of the art storage and consultation facilities for over 75 kilometers of documents, including government records, correspondences, manuscripts, charters, drawings, charts and geographical maps; all political, social, cultural and artistic treasures of Florence.

Photo: Archivio Di Stato Di Firenze by Stefano Follesa

10. TEATRO DELL’OPERA DI FIRENZE. (Paolo Desideri, 2011) Located on the Viale Fratelli Rosselli, between Porta al Prato and the Cascine, the massive new opera house was designed by Paolo Desideri of ABDR Architetti Associati after years of deliberating the need to provide Florence, and its renowned opera festival Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with a modern venue. After having received a 150 million Euro grant for the 150th anniversary of the Italian Republic in 2011, the Opera House was able to have its inauguration in honor of that celebration in December of that year in the main auditorium. While local mismanagement of funds and the global economic crisis have caused significant delays to the completion of the grounds, once concluded, the building complex will house three concert halls, including the rooftop amphitheater, allowing for three simultaneous performances in separate theaters for collective audiences of up to 4,800 people.

Photo: Teatro Dell’Opera Di Firenze by Pierina Mariani

Do you have a favorite piece of architecture in your own city or abroad? Tell us about it in a comment! 

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Study Abroad and a New Perspective

Anna Gale is CAPA’s Official Blogger for Spring 2014, sharing her story in weekly CAPA World posts. A University of Colorado at Boulder student, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

In this second to last post from Anna, she reflects on her semester in Florence and considers the ways in which her experience will change the way she approaches life back home.

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This semester abroad has given me more than I could have ever asked for – the opportunity to meet an amazing group of people I would have never known if not for CAPA, incomprehensibly wonderful food at every corner, a deeper understanding of the Italian way of life, and a new outlook on the world.

Traveling from country to country and experiencing contrasting cultures each week gives you a priceless outlook. It’s tough to find such a thing when you are continuously going about your routine of classes, homework, social life, eat, sleep, repeat. By taking myself out of my American college student routine, I’ve gained perspective on so many things…religion, politics, food, travel, history, art, how we’re all connected, and where our differences come from. But it’s also given me a new perspective on America as well.

Photo: Florence departures by Monica Arellano-Ongpin

This semester has given me the desire to explore more of what America has to offer. So many locals that I’ve been lucky to meet throughout my time abroad have brought up different amazing things about America that I just may never have noticed before. The feeling of being unknowledgeable about your own country is mildly embarrassing to say the least. America has so much beauty to it that I need to better understand and explore. I think now of all of the places I still haven’t been, and think a little road trip may be in order.

I have to say going back to school will be a whole different thing. My schedule is set and I will walk back to the campus I know all to well, in a city I know all too well. The fact that I won’t have the ability to jump on a plane come Thursday evening and experience the food, culture and architecture of a neighboring country makes me prematurely nostalgic. And though I do know I will be back soon enough to this magical country I have to say goodbye for now – very, very unwilling so.

Anna’s journey continues next week… stay tuned! 

Interested in becoming CAPA’s Official Blogger for Summer 2014? Fill out an application.

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An Unexpected Discovery from the Road by CAPA IRM Greg Lewis

Words by Greg Lewis, an Institutional Relations Manager for CAPA International Education

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I am continually amazed at what our great country has to offer and I always look forward to spring travel.

I made an early March voyage to the grand old state of Texas and enjoyed pleasant visits to several historical partner institutions.

My first visit was to Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas. SMU has been a wonderful CAPA partner and currently collaborates with CAPA on two custom, Summer London, faculty-led programs. One program is a 6 week Communications model including part-time internships and the other program is a 5 week Arts model focused on performance art. SMU also sends a cohort of students on our Summer CAPA Sydney Global Cities Program. We are delighted with our Southern Methodist University partnership and always enjoy welcoming these wonderful students to London and Sydney each summer.

Photo: Campus at SMU by Elliott Plack

My unexpected discovery from the road happened when SMU gave me complimentary tickets to visit the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is housed within the George W. Bush Presidential Center located on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas. The George W. Bush Presidential Center was opened to the public on May 1, 2013. I was impressed to learn the library housed over 70 million pages of textual records and sat on an expansive 23 acres.

Photo: SMU interns enjoying afternoon tea in London

Another unexpected discovery occurred when the SMU Study Abroad staff took me to lunch at the George W. Bush Presidential restaurant called Café 43. The food was delicious and the tour was informative.

Politics aside, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is another prime example of what makes the United State of America such a wonderful country. We are dedicated to the Democratic process and honoring our United States Presidents in this fashion further demonstrates our strength of character as a nation.

Thanks Greg!

PS – Have you seen our interview with Greg yet?

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Connecting Global Cities: Cities of Political Power

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education

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Those who read the March post on “What Makes a Global City?”, will know that political influence is an important factor in defining a global city. Most obviously this is found in cities which are also the nation’s political capital – like London, Paris and Tokyo – but the city does not have to be the national seat of power to wield this influence. Shanghai has been designated by Beijing as “The City of Experiment” and many new policies are trialed there. The Shanghai Municipal Government has much political power, influencing international investment. In terms of economic ranking of countries, although the US is the largest, the State of California on its own is tied with the Russian Federation and Italy as the 10th largest economy and may climb to 8th this year. Obviously political decisions on the west coast can have a far reaching impact.

Photo: The Diet Building, Tokyo by Adam Indikt

There is another reason some global cities have extensive political influence and that is because they are home to regional or global headquarters of major international organizations. Paris boasts the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Headquarters of the World Bank and IMF. 

Photo: European Commission Building in Brussels by R/DV/RS

Brussels is a very good example of a global city with political influence. Of course the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has long been based there. When the then named Common Market (now much expanded as the EU) was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, Belgium was far from the largest founding member, but Brussels was chosen to house the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. It is clearly politically sensible not to choose one of the larger members as the central base. This also helps a smaller capital punch above its weight. An even better example is another, much smaller founding member – Luxembourg, which is a pretty compact place and fun to visit. It is home to the EU’s European Court of Justice, European Investment Bank, Court of Auditors and Secretariat of the European Parliament. That’s impressive!

Photo: European Court of Justice in Luxembourg by Gwenael Piaser

The US is the world’s largest economy and its capital Washington DC is clearly a global city that strongly influences international affairs. It has the resources to maintain a strong military for certain kinds of “international engagement”. Of course any country which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, UK and US) is going to wield international political influence and that is where Beijing, Moscow and London all come into play. China’s later coming to the “international party” means that, although it may be destined to be the world’s largest economy, it is not home to any major international organizations. That might change in Asia’s century with regional co-operation arrangements. In 2010, the ASEAN China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) was established and it was announced that Beijing would host the administrative headquarters.

Photo: The White House by Justin Brown

Let’s see how CAPA’s eight global city destinations stack up as cities of political power.


Known as China’s “City of Political Power”, it is hard not to feel this while walking across Beijing‘s Tiananmen Square and gazing at the impressive Great Hall of the People. China’s economy is slowly evolving into one where market forces are rising to the top, but only to the extent the national government allows. Thus, there is still a major role for the state controlled sector and particularly for international investment decisions, both what is allowed into China and where, overseas, China invests its sovereign wealth funds. Beijing is very ready to invest in other developing countries including many on the continent of Africa and can certainly wield political influence through this activity. More generally, President Obama recognizes that the relationship between Washington and Beijing is the most important of the 21st century. I think that sums it up nicely.

Photo: CAPA’s Colin Speakman in front of the Great Hall of the People


A political capital, Buenos Aires has a famous Pink Palace to rival the White House as a location for official engagements (though it is not the domestic residence of the Argentine President). Argentina is an important member the South American trade grouping, Mercosur, which has 1991 origins. It’s a common market and common trade policy, a less elaborate version of the EU. This trade bloc developed from initial cooperation between Argentina and Brazil, and had five member countries to start, recently expanding to six. However, arguably Brazil is seen as the most important member right now – Brazil is in the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and is hosting the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Both Argentina and Brazil are members of the G20 group of leading nations and that gives Buenos Aires an ongoing platform for a voice in international affairs. Last August, Argentina took the rotating seat at the UN Security Council and temporary Presidency of that Council. President Cristina Fernandez used that time for important political speeches while Buenos Aires was in the spotlight.

Photo: Pink Palace by Matt Hintsa


Dublin is again the political capital here and Ireland is a country that for many years has enhanced its influence through membership of the EU and the Eurozone. Small can be beautiful and Dublin and Ireland generally benefited from regional redistribution of funds within the EU. They received support for attracting investment and with, initially, lower labor costs and generally lower operating costs, Dublin attracted much foreign investment by multi-national companies. When I share with study abroad students the top 20 major countries in a 30-year economic growth league (China is top!), they find that Ireland is the only Western economy on that list. So Dublin must be doing something right. However, since the 2008 Western economic crisis and the subsequent Eurozone crisis, Dublin has had a difficult period. There are now signs of resurgence.

Photo: Parliament, Dublin by Marcella


Florence is our exemplar of a city of historic political and cultural importance, almost second to none. Its role at the heart of the Renaissance ensured that. Today, Firenze is a wonderful place to live and enjoy fine cuisine, incredible art, enlightening museums, and impressive architecture with the Duomo at the forefront. However, we have to go back in time for significant political influence from this city. Yes, there was a time that Florence was the political capital of Italy. Florence was and is the capital of the Tuscany region and, when that region was brought into a reunified Italy in 1865, the country’s capital was moved there, but only until 1870. It had a huge impact on the population of Florence which rapidly expanded and it helped set the tone for Florence as the city it is today. Historically, the Medici family of Florence wielded great political influence and that family also supplied two Popes. So, this is a place where you can really feel the history of political power.

 Photo: Medici Floor at Palazzo Vecchio by judy h


Istanbul is another CAPA global city destination that is not the capital city of its country. Ankara has been the political capital of Turkey since 1923, and is situated firmly inland on the Asian side. Yet, Istanbul represents the much smaller part of Turkey that is on the continent of Europe, and opens the possibility, long under negotiation, that Turkey might join the EU. If so, it is highly likely that the country’s offices of the EU would be based in Istanbul. Historically ,Istanbul has been the site of political leadership as the former Byzantium and Constantinople and the capital of three empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. So we can certainly feel a sense of historical political power here. More recently, Istanbul was designated by the EU Council as the European Capital of Culture for 2010.

Photo: Ottoman tombs in Istanbul by BrotherMagneto


In London, we have a political capital of undoubted influence. The British Parliament is regarded as “the Mother of Parliaments” and has influenced political structures around the world. We can go back to the days of the British Empire and then the British Commonwealth for some insight. The UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and is one of those countries that can lend military support to UN backed international intervention (though not on a scale its forces once could). When the dreadful 9/11 attack on the US occurred, it was Britain’s then Prime Minister Tony Blair who immediately lent shoulder-to-shoulder support. Britain is a very good example of a pluralistic, multi-party system, currently led by a coalition government. It is an historic source of great political thinkers and writers. Walk past the Houses of Parliament for a sense of history but also of a political influence that is at least still striving to be current. It is also arguable that the British Monarchy, through the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II, has provided stable international connections with other long-serving heads of state.

Photo: Houses of Parliament, London by Pedro Szekely


China’s second city, though actually more populated than Beijing, wields strong political influence as the de facto economic capital. It is designated as the “City of Experiment” in the development and implementation of government economic policy changes. The Shanghai government recently published new guidelines for the reform of State Owned Enterprizes under its control which are likely to be models for the rest of the country. A model for new world developments since the 1990 announcement of a Special Economic Zone – Pudong New Area – the international community is looking keenly at how the first China Pilot Free Trade Zone set in part of Shanghai (September 2013) will impact the policies on the further opening up of China to market forces. It’s a mover and shaker if ever there was one!

Photo: Shanghai free trade zone by toesoxluver


Like a few others on this list, Sydney is not the political capital of Australia. That honor falls to Canberra, a much smaller city, the 8th largest in Australia and one not considered a global city. Canberra has similarities with Washington DC in that it was created and designated so as not to give too much power to either of its rivals, Melbourne and Sydney. However, Sydney is Australia!s largest city and a picture poster for Australia. It clearly wields quite a bit of political power as do most global cities. It is a leading city in the Asia-Pacific Region and developing ever closer ties with China. To finish on a connecting note, of course Australia in addition to its Parliament also has a Monarchy where Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is represented by a Governor-General. This is largely symbolic and it may change as the British Monarchy changes. It’s one to watch for the future.

Photo: Government building, Sydney by Roz Vincent

Do you live in a city you feels has far reaching political influence? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Reflecting on a Study Abroad Semester in Sydney

Words by Sydney Sachs, a University of Pittsburgh student who is studying abroad in Sydney with CAPA International Education during Spring semester 2014.

A few of her favorite Sydney experiences? Being able to travel all over Australia, to the Gold coast and Melbourne as well as Bali and New Zealand; attending the Future Music Festival; being welcomed to Australia by celebrating Australia Day; having the opportunity to attend the world famous Mardi Gras; surfing all of the different beaches; visiting the main tourist attractions and skydiving over the north coast.

As it’s almost time to head back to the States, she takes a moment to reflect.

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Sydney as a study abroad destination was rather intriguing to me. Although one of the main reasons I personally came to Sydney was because of my name, I was also interested due to the weather, laid back culture and different attractions. I knew from the start I wanted to study abroad somewhere warm, where I could get away from winter and not have to worry about the cold. Sydney offered just that. Arriving in late January during the peak of summer, I was ready to take on the many beaches Sydney had to offer. From Bondi to Manly, the beaches were just as I pictured. With surfers, soft sand, and lots of tan people, I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the city had in store.

As I continued to explore, finding Sydney’s most famous attractions like the Opera House and Harbor Bridge made me feel my choice was right. These different attractions make Sydney’s laid back city a place that has something to offer at any time of day. I never found myself looking for something to do and rarely spent time sitting in my apartment. It was important to me to be immersed in the culture to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day activities of a typical Australian.

Photo: View of Sydney from the Harbour Bridge by Adriano Rotolo

Luckily, this program provided the opportunity to undertake an internship. Although my internship was not exactly what I originally wanted, I was still able to learn about the differences between the Australian work culture and the American work culture. This is where I noticed the extreme difference in how laid-back Australia is. In my internship, I rarely had strict deadlines and was able to work at my own pace. The laid back work culture was nice at times but I sometimes found myself looking for more.

Another main reason I choose Sydney was due to the fact that they speak English. Learning a new language can be challenging, so for me being able to communicate wherever I was for three months was crucial. Being that I wanted to learn the most about the city as possible, having the ability to fully communicate was beneficial. Although there are some slang words and Australian English terms, it was rather easy to get my point across and understand the natives.

Photo: Footprints in Sydney by Byron Walker

One minor disadvantage to studying abroad in Sydney is that it is an expensive city. At first I was shocked by some of the price differences compared to what I was used to, but it has helped me become better at budgeting my money and spending only on what I need. Living in a city as expensive as Sydney has definitely taught me the importance of a dollar and to no throw away money as if it is nothing.

Overall, my experience in Sydney is one I will never forget. I still remember the day I arrived as if it was yesterday. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in some activities I never though I’d had the chance to do like going to Bali, and skydiving on the coast to surfing the famous Bondi beach. Leaving this wonderful city is going to be extremely hard and I am already excited to come back as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Thanks Sydney!

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Thousand Word Thursdays: A Dramatic Dublin Sky

Each Thursday we will post a photo worth a thousand words from one of CAPA International Education’s global cities and let the image speak for itself. 

Clouds over Dublin
Photo: The River Liffey, Dublin after a storm by Collin Key

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Running the London Marathon and A Cadbury’s Creme Egg McFlurry

Words by Kieran Kinahan, a CAPA International Education Institutional Relations Manager. If you’ve been following Kieran’s on the blog, you’ll be pleased to hear he has just completed his goal of running the London Marathon and surpassed his funding goal for CAPA internship partner CLIC Sargent. He reports below.

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After several months of training in bleak and horrendous winter conditions, what do I have to show for it now that the marathon is over?


London, a city not known for its endless days of cloudless skies, defied all odds and delivered the goods on marathon Sunday. So much so, that I and thousands of others ended the race a different color than when we started. Oh, the irony of it all.

Other than the over-exposure to UV rays and the intense, prolonged physical stress that my body had to endure during the race (and now bears the consequences of), it was a good day. The temperature only peaked at 60°, so conditions were comfortable and beautiful. The atmosphere was carnival-like and the crowd support was phenomenal every step of the way. I finished in 4:08:22, which I’m reasonably happy with. I was on target for a 4 hour finish for much of the race, but the crowded course and the inevitable post 20-mile fade (my legs lost their fluency in the language of running at around mile 21) meant that I slowed somewhat in the latter stages. Still, I’m not complaining. My goal was to finish and I did exactly that. Low expectations = the secret to happiness in life. 

So far, I have raised just over £2,000 ($3,345) for my chosen charity and one of CAPA’s long-standing internship partners, CLIC Sargent ( Every day, 10 children or young people in the UK hear the distressing news that they have cancer. Needless to say, this is a frightening experience for those affected and the implications of treatment pose an immense challenge for the whole family. CLIC Sargent do an incredible job of providing clinical, practical, emotional and financial support to help young cancer victims and their families. It truly was a great honor to run for them and support the fantastic work that they do.

I am so grateful to all the kind-hearted and generous people who contributed towards my fundraising campaign (you know who you are). Thanks to your tremendous support, I not only reached but surpassed my target.

In many respects, the fundraising was a marathon in itself; a long hard slog with plenty of crowd support. Like anyone else with a circle of friends, a busy life and a Facebook account, I know all too well that we are constantly surrounded by people trying to do noble things, raise money for good causes and somehow ‘make a difference’. All of these endeavors vie for our attention and it can be overwhelming at times. Who should I support? How does one person’s charitable effort compare towards another? Do I know this person well enough to donate money? Ultimately my campaign, although important and meaningful was no better or more special than anyone else’s, so I am appreciative of anyone who could find the time to get behind me and show their support.

If you would still like to make a contribution (especially now that I have run the marathon and have the red nose and limp to prove it), it’s not too late! CLIC Sargent will be accepting donations until July and you can donate in a fast, simple and secure way through my online fundraising page at

Finally, a big thank you to my wonderful colleagues at CAPA for their constant support and to the CAPA World Blog for allowing me to highlight my endeavor.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try and replenish some of the 3,581 calories that I burnt during the race with a Cadbury’s Creme Egg McFlurry. I believe that’s an effective marathon recovery technique.

Thanks Kieran!

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5 Annoying Habits of Tube Passengers in London

Ashley Moon is CAPA’s Official Vlogger for Spring 2014, sharing her story in weekly CAPA World videos. A Howard Payne University student, she is studying abroad in London this semester.

In this week’s video, Ashley shows that she’s truly settled into London life by picking up on some of the annoying behaviors of people riding the tube – a few habits that tourists rarely notice, but Londoners always do. It’s one thing she’ll be happy to leave behind as her semester abroad draws to a close.

Ashley’s journey continues next week… stay tuned! 

If you’re interested in becoming CAPA’s Official Vlogger for Summer 2014, fill in an application before April 24.

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CAPA Study Abroad Alum Interview: Rob Clarkson

During Spring semester 2013, Rob Clarkson embarked on a journey that would open his eyes to the wider world and provide him with many memorable interactions and experiences. He studied abroad with CAPA International Education in Sydney during his junior year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he also  completed an internship with a professional team in the National Rugby League. Below, Rob talks about how his internship will impact his future career, tells the story of an encounter with a certified scuba diver and describes the very specific taste of kangaroo.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
ROBERT CLARKSON: My name is Rob Clarkson. I’m a senior Marketing and Communications Major from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I love exploring, meeting new people, and experiencing the unfamiliar. Last spring, during my junior year, I studied abroad on the CAPA program in Sydney, Australia. It was an experience I am very grateful for, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study abroad.

When I’m not working, I love practicing guitar, playing tennis, hanging out with some good friends and taking photos. Making videos has become a hobby of mine and I take pride in creating great visuals for everyone to enjoy. My goal after graduation is to combine work and travel, to continue discovering new things and to keep educating myself further.

CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you. 
RC: I took a weekend trip to Cairns the week before the program was going to end. The intention of the trip was to go scuba diving for the first time in my life, on the Great Barrier Reef. Other than that activity, I really didn’t have any plans. So when my flight landed just around 9am, I decided I would explore the town a little bit and check into my hostel. When I opened the door to my room, I was greeted immediately by one of my roommates – Tobi. He walked up to me, reached out, shook my hand, and introduced himself as well as everyone else who was staying in the room. It turns out they were all German which was really cool, and after some conversation, he invited me to go rock climbing with him this same day.

I didn’t have anything to do, so I gladly accepted. What better way to begin my Cairns adventure? Another roommate of ours, Florian, joined Tobi and I as we embarked to go rock climbing. On our walk to the rock climbing place, we ran into this old couple that had a giant goose for a pet, and we all stopped to start talking to them and admire how big their pet goose was. It turned out, through our conversation, they owned a boat, and have led Reef tours in the past. The guy was a certified scuba diver with over 5,000 scuba dives to his name, and he and his wife were looking for a crew. Unbelievably, they offered us a job – to be their crew members for a week, maybe more, live on the boat, eat only what we catch, and the guy would teach us how to dive and take us to all of the best spots on the reef.

I didn’t take this offer. You may be thinking I’m crazy, and you’re right. But the timing just couldn’t have worked. I still needed to go to school, complete my internship, and I didn’t want to miss out being with everyone on the last week on the program. Whenever I think about this interaction, I always wonder, what if? If it wasn’t for the internship, the schoolwork, and my obligation to the program, I would have done it. I really would have. Part of me wonders if it was worth it to miss and if I made the right decision – after all I did have a flight back to the States I didn’t want to miss if this boat trip lasted more than a week. Imagine having to explain that to my parents. Tobi checked out of our hostel the next day and left with them.

What I learned from this interaction, and from that day, is that people are inherently nice, and you never know what a day will bring. The couple gave me their card and told me if I was ever in the area again to let them know. This is an offer I intend to take next time around.

CW: Which MyEducation event was most memorable for you and why? How did your participation in this event change your understanding of the city?
RC: The MyEducation event that was most memorable for me was TropFest. TropFest is the largest short-film festival in the world, and as someone who loves making movies and watching films, I was extremely excited to hear that TropFest was a MyEducation event. The timing just worked out perfectly; it was the last year the event was going to be held in February, and I chose to go abroad in the Spring, thus being able to attend.

What made the event most memorable for me was the excitement. It was a communal event and nearly a hundred thousand people turned out all for the love of creating and sharing art. My friends and I just found a spot among the masses and laid down on some blankets to enjoy the atmosphere, eat some snacks, and watch some good films. If the event changed anything about my opinion of the city, its that Sydney is an immense community, and its diversity is only out shined by the support everyone has for each other.

CW: When you think of your host city, what first comes to mind when you hear the following:
Sight: The Opera House
Sound: The Ocean
Smell: Fresh potato wedges (with sour cream and sweet chili sauce)
Taste: Kangaroo. It’s a very sweet, very lean meat, distinctive from other meats I’ve tried.
Texture: The broad-leaved paperbark tree. The bark is extremely soft, and instantly identifiable.

CW: What were your first impressions of your host city? How did these change over the course of the semester?
RC: Upon arriving in Sydney, it just felt different. I got a sense of the culture very early on and my impressions of the city developed along with my fascination for it. Cars were driven on the opposite side of the road, McDonald’s and Burger King each had different names (Macca’s and Hungry Jacks respectively), there was a greater emphasis on using coins and not bills, sports betting was legal and encouraged, and everything was very, very expensive. My impressions didn’t change too much over the course of my time abroad, and I still describe the city the same way.

CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
RC: I can’t begin to describe everything that I learned about myself during my time abroad. My abroad experience has taught me that I can do anything that I put my mind to. It has helped me gain invaluable cultural awareness and experience, and the knowledge that I can successfully live on my own. I am more freely able to step out of my comfort zone, and be the person I want to be. I’ve seen the positive changes in my personality, well-being and mentality as a result.

If I’ve learned anything about the world around me, it’s that the world is a massive landscape that is begging to be explored. Don’t be afraid to meet new people, as everyone is inherently nice and is willing to help you out. Furthermore, you and only you determine your day – so how will you spend it?

CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad, your duties and accomplishments. How will this experience help you in your future career?
RC: My internship abroad was with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, a professional Rugby team in the National Rugby League. I worked in the Membership Department, and my responsibilities consisted of managing the entire clientele database, selling individual and season ticket packages, as well as being the primary contact for all customer inquiries. I felt very privileged to be given the latter responsibility, as they trusted me to perform this enormous task.

The internship experience undoubtedly has helped me in my career. For one, it confirmed to me what I do and what I don’t want to do with my career, and for that I’m grateful for the path I’ve taken since then. Secondly, I absolutely love how I can say I have international work experience – it definitely sets me apart from others in the workforce. I learned an immense amount about the role culture plays in the work environment, how the employees, and the business as a whole, conduct themselves, and how to effectively run a business of my own.

CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
RC: The biggest challenge I faced when adapting to the Australian culture was just the freedom and independence I had. It was up to me to learn and figure out how to immerse myself in the culture. The most rewarding moment to me in this regard was on the very first night in Sydney. One of my roommates, whom I just met that day, and I, decided to walk the hour back to our apartment from our location in the center of the city. It was a liberating feeling knowing that after only a day, we were able to navigate ourselves home through the city.

CW: Describe an area of the city that surprised you and tell us what it was about it that you didn’t expect. How did this change your perceptions of the city as a whole?
RC: North Sydney is probably the area that surprised me the most. One aspect of this part of the city that is very noticeable is that there are no trash cans. Trash cans were banned in North Sydney in the 80’s and contrary to what one may think, the place is absolutely spotless. The mayor at the time, Ted Mack, believed citizens would find other methods to get rid of litter if trash cans weren’t present, and he was right. When I was first told this, I was surprised, but I fell in love with the idea. This fact made me realize the city was very environmentally friendly and proactive with sustainability efforts. Sydney, and especially North Sydney, is the cleanest city I’ve ever been to in my life.

CW: How do you imagine that your experience abroad will change the way you approach your environment now that you are back home? How do you think it will change the way you approach your studies?
RC: My experience abroad has changed the way I view my environment at home simply because the broad perspective I’ve gained through my travels has allowed me to view my surroundings differently. I’m no longer just “home”, but I’m in the United States, and I feel excited and privileged to have the opportunity to both be where I am currently and to visit new places around me. What I’ve come to realize, is that everywhere I go is a different stop on my journey, no matter how close or how far away from home I am.

My approach to educating myself, not just my studies, has changed. The opportunity to learn is limitless and I won’t hold myself to just what is taught in the classroom. I find myself more eager to take on challenges and more focused in my studies. Among my new interests is learning a new language and I hope to begin learning one soon.

Thanks Rob!

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