Meet Anne, a study abroad alumna who spent her Spring 2013 semester in Florence with CAPA International Education. In her interview, she tells us about her most rewarding moment, what surprised her most about Florence and how a Bill Bryson quote makes a lot of sense after her experience in Italy.
CAPA World: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Anne Jacobs: My name is Anne Jacobs, I grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and I attend SUNY New Paltz. I’m a Media Management major. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy with CAPA International Education this past Spring 2013.
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad and why specifically Florence?
AJ: I’ve been taking Italian language classes since I was 12, so I knew I wanted to come to Italy to improve my conversation. I visited Italy once before when I was a junior in high school and out of all the places I saw (Venice, Rome, Florence, Pisa), Florence was by far my favorite.
CW: Tell us about your first impressions of Florence and any that changed by the time you went home. What surprised you most about your host country?
AJ: I was surprised by how relaxed the lifestyle is there. It wasn’t something I could have picked up on from my two week visit. The attitude is so different from New York, where everything moves so fast and I’m used to such a strict schedule. Spending an hour getting coffee in the morning before school was so far from how I behave at home. An impression I had of Florence was that it felt so big when I first got there, but now I feel like I know it inside and out.
CW: What was your favorite way to spend your free time in Florence.
AJ: My favorite way to spend my free time in Florence was sitting outside next to my favorite little hole in the wall restaurant in a little piazza and watching the people walk by while enjoying whatever fresh pasta the owner decided to make that day. I also loved laying around in the Boboli Gardens or the Cascine Park.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
AJ: The biggest challenge I had was getting comfortable using my Italian. I was surprisingly nervous and uncomfortable, and because so many Italians speak English, it was easy to not use it at all. I had to tell waiters and acquaintances to start speaking to me, and that’s how I got better.
My most rewarding moment was when someone on the street asked me for directions and I was not only able to answer, but I could answer in Italian.
CW: Did you have a chance to interact with the local community? If so, tell us about one interaction that stood out for you.
AJ: I did have a few opportunities to interact with the community. Close to the end of my Florence experience, I volunteered at the Avon Marathon held in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella that was raising money for victims of domestic abuse. It was fun and interesting to meet the locals volunteering with us, and the fact that I was giving back to the Florence community made me feel very good.
CW: Talk a bit about CAPA academics. What were your favorite classes and why? Did you participate in any MyEducation events?
AJ: My favorite class was my Photojournalism class. Jacopo, our teacher, brought us around to the parts of Florence we never would have seen; an abandoned asylum, the outskirts, an old train station, the farthest part of the Cascine Park. I got to see Florence and learn to document it in a way I never could have otherwise.
I participated in several MyEducation events. One of my favorites was the “Secret Rooms of the Palazzo Vecchio” tour. We were taken around the passageways and hidden studiolos of the old Medici palace, and learned so much about how fascinating the family was, which really sparked my interest in learning about the Medici for the rest of my trip. I also quite enjoyed the Fiorentina soccer game, because I got to see such a passion from Florentines that you can’t really see walking down the streets.
CW: What have you been up to since you returned to the US? Do you feel that your experience with CAPA will contribute to your success in starting your career?
AJ: I haven’t been back for a long time, but my experience has really pushed me to go outside my comfort zone and learn a completely new lifestyle. It will help me in my career because of the confidence and new views on life it has given me.
CW: What advice would you offer other students currently on a study abroad program or considering one?
AJ: There shouldn’t be a question in your mind. Anything I was worried about before coming like missing home, or culture shock, seems completely trivial now. This trip was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I hope that everyone can be able to do something like it.
CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and those around you?
AJ: Study abroad taught me a lot. There’s the obvious - I learned how to avoid the men selling umbrellas in the street, where the best panini in Florence is, and how to haggle down prices. But there was a lot I learned about myself, too.
The day I left, a friend of mine sent me this quote. "To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." - Bill Bryson
What I think it means is that learning an entire culture completely is how we re-familiarize ourselves about the way we live. After seeing so many different people and places around the world I feel like I have a different way of analyzing problems, interpreting people, and being educated.