Lorenzo has been working with study abroad students at CAPA International Education for over a decade, showing them around his home city of Florence, Italy. He has taken the time in his interview below to tell us about a few of his favorite hidden places in this global city, where to find the best steak and about one of his most highly recommended MyEducation events in which student hike through the hills of Florence.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about your work with CAPA. How long have you lived in Florence?
LORENZO CICCARELLI: It seems just yesterday the first time I learned about CAPA and decided to work for this organisation. It was in 2000 that, leaving the hospitality industry, I begun to take my first step into the exiting and never boring world of study abroad. While I was a student, I completed exchange program in Grenoble, France, and a few years later I spent a summer in Bath, England,at a language school. Not really realizing nor giving it any further significance, I was also embarking in a long study abroad experience. After my school years in Florence, I moved to Switzerland where I studied Hotel Management. The study lane I took really opened several doors and gave me the possibility to work and travel in many other countries in the world and to meet the most diverse, interesting and fascinating people.
When I first started at CAPA, we were a relative small study centre with a few US programs a year; this was only a bit more than a decade ago, but things were so much different then: mobile phones where just mobile phones, low cost air fare were just at the beginning of their boom and flying was still more expensive than travelling by train. Our fax machine was the only way to send or receive documents without using the regular mail service. Wi-fi was unknown and impossible to think of and today all our housing, classrooms and common spaces in the city are running at high speed with it...
With all of these changes, my role at CAPA changed too. Since 2007, I have been the Resident Director of the CAPA Florence center and together with a crew of six great staff members and another 15 instructors, we provide a unique learning abroad experience and inspire students to embrace and explore complex political, cultural and social landscapes within urban environments. We are here to support and challenge our students to become global citizens of the world.
The CAPA Florence center is located in the very heart of the city of Florence, only a few steps away from its most important museums, churches and historical landmarks. The location makes it possible for all our classes to exit the actual school building and use the city as a classroom with its infinite possibilities.
Photo: A view over Florence by Kari
CW: Why is study abroad important?
LC: Study abroad programs have been around for years and they have always been very popular. Who would not like to spend a semester studying in another country? In the last decade, a lot of students have been attracted by these programs and one of the main reasons is that, in the competitive working world we live in, studying in another country can have a huge impact on a student's career as it provides many skills that employers are looking for. Studying abroad is about improving your education and will expose you to different ways of doing things. This will open your eyes and allow you to realize that most things can be done in different ways, giving you a completely different perspective. Students have to adapt to new situations. The more adaptable you are, the easier it will be to handle multiple situations or changes; this will make you a valuable employee in the future.
Last but not least, study abroad exposes you to different cultures and languages, which encourages you to be open to differences and be more tolerant; globalization has made the world smaller and more connected so the chance you will be exposed to other cultures and languages in your career is very likely to happen. Studying abroad really helps to break down some of your own stereotypes about other countries and people.
CW: Where do CAPA students live? What is the area like and some of the most interesting places nearby?
LC: CAPA students live in the four main historical neighborhoods of Florence and, as if attracted by a magnet, they can't resist the very central area of town, the Duomo. No doubt it is a beautiful site; however it is not here where you should venture if you want to avoid crowds of tourists. Cross the river and go in the Oltrarno district. A lovely and exciting place to discover and get lost, it is a neighborhood where people still dedicate their time to ancient crafts. You will see one artisan workshop next to another. Once considered a poor area of town, the Oltrarno (literally "the other side of the Arno River") is today an open air museum where you can discover very interesting streets, alleys, workshops and squares. Venture into one of the many restaurants or bars and you will be surprised how fast you will find yourself chatting to some interesting people. In the same area, be sure to visit the Square of Santo Spirito - probably my favourite square of Florence, with its bohemian atmosphere, an open market in the morning hours, kids playing after school and a lively vibe after dinner.
Photo: In the workshop of Simone Fiordelisi, an Oltrarno artisan who practices the art of mosaico fiorentino by Context Travel
CW: Tell us about the food in Florence What are the specialties in your area? If you were going out with friends, which restaurant would you choose and why?
LC: The beauty of food is that it is so variable during the seasons. We are lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and nearby we have the Chianti, a marvelous hillside area where the beauty comes to peak in the Fall. This is the season that goes from the grape harvest to olive picking, when the fields, woods and vineyards turns yellow, red and brown and temperatures are still pleasant, allowing us to spend some nice time outdoors. This is the time when exiting the city walls of Florence and visit the Chianti is so incredibly charming. You can stop and talk to the farmers about the quality of the harvest and the "becoming" of the new wine.
Enjoy a good lunch in one of the many country restaurants you will encounter and eat a nice seasonal first course of "tagliatelle ai funghi porcini" noodles with sauce of fresh Porcini mushrooms; It is now that I will be looking for one of my favorite dishes... a nice "Bistecca alla Fiorentina", a rare cooked Porterhouse steak, 1 3/4 inches thick, with white beans covered in an abundance of freshly pressed olive oil. All this - it comes without even asking - accompanied by a nice bottle of red Chianti wine. Probably, I will have already has enough, but I still might be tempted by a homemade "schiacciata con l'uva" - a very simple flat cake with red grapes in it.
However a good meal can never be so good if you cannot share it together with other people, friends and family. Alone, it will just taste half as good.
CW: Where’s your favorite place to shop for food?
LC: I have always liked to get lost in markets, where local producers, farmers and artisans display their treasures. It is always an experience and a pleasure I do not want to miss when travelling in other cities and even more in other countries. In Florence, one of my favorites is the Market of Sant' Ambrogio. It is here I go if I need a special meat cut or some fresh vegetable or fruits. I like to exchange information with the vendors about their products and I do not get tired of hearing them praising their own products... and what they say is often true. I like to close my eyes and breathe deeply so as to inhale all of the different nuances of what is displayed.
Photo: Market of Sant' Ambrogio by Flip Florence
CW: As Resident Director for CAPA International Education’s Florence program, how can students best prepare for their semester abroad?
LC: I do not want to go over the bureaucracy on how to prepare and what kind of documents you will need to study and travel abroad; I'd rather give a simple, personal suggestion. When it comes to deciding on your destination, no matter what, follow your desire. Find all the resources you can and do some research about the location in which you want to live this unforgettable experience. Read about the geography, the history and the political situation of the place you will be living an important part of your life in. Buy a blank exercise book and start to fill it in regularly with words of the new language you are going to hear every day...
CW: Where’s your favorite hidden gem in Florence and what is special about it?
LC: Walking up the hill of Piazzale Michelangelo along the "short cut" called Rampe, you reach a spot from where you can admire the entire city. It is a unique hidden point between trees and bushes. Being so close to one of the most visited places in town, it is completely hidden and almost no one knows about it, so you can really meditate and let your imagination flow in front of such a view.
My hidden gem will probably stay hidden, but there are so many other spots that you can make your own secluded little hidden corner...your secret corner.
CW: CAPA is well known for its MyEducation activities that take students beyond classroom learning and into the city to explore. What is one of your favorite MyEducation events in Florence?
LC: Indeed, we manage to have three to four MyEducation events every week. These activities can be in the form of a lecture, a visit to a museum, a volunteering activity or an activity in a natural environment. Whatever you choose to participate in, it will be an enrichment of your study abroad experience. Each member of the CAPA Florence staff takes the lead for one or more MyEducation events. The "Hike on the Hills of Florence" is the activity I lead. I grew up in that area and did that hike myself since I could barely walk. It is probably also one of the oldest and most popular activities we run at CAPA. We usually run it after the first few weeks of the program and it gives students the opportunity to view the city from another perspective and walk in a very nice setting of trees, fields and historical sites, without ever losing sight of Florence. After a three hour walk/hike, we end in one of the best pizzerias of Florence for a succulent pizza.
Video: CAPA students hiking the hills of Fiesole by alumna Johanna Palmieri