Brooke spent Spring semester in Florence, studying abroad with CAPA International Education and interning with Euroadventures. Below, she shares the thoughts that were going through her mind when she was on the plane to Italy and then on her way back to the States. She talks about volunteering to teach English at a local school in Florence, her favorite restaurants in the city and a side trip to another CAPA city - Istanbul.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
BROOKE SCANLON: I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during Spring semester 2014. I am a senior at Indiana University majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with minors in Psychology and Gender Studies. I enjoy playing sports, swimming, snowboarding, attending concerts and reading. I am incredibly excited to spend Christmas break snowboarding in Breckenridge, Colorado, with Indiana University Ski Club!
CW: What were your thoughts when you were sitting on the plane to your host city? And what about the plane ride home?
BS: When I was sitting on the plane traveling to Florence, I was both incredibly anxious and excited. I was excited about meeting new people, making life-long friendships, living in a different culture, and traveling within and outside of Italy. Of course, I was also incredibly excited about enjoying Italian food and vino! I was worried about living in a country that does not speak my native language. I was afraid I would not be able to communicate with locals, especially when I got lost, as I have a very poor sense of direction. I was also worried about what I would eat when traveling to other countries as I am the pickiest eater out there.
On the plane ride back home, I was incredibly excited to be reunited with my friends and family. I was nervous that my friends and family had changed while I was gone as I had grown so much as a person over the semester. Now, I am worried that I will never return to Europe again and this saddens me because I had the best time of my life studying abroad. But, I am sure I will return to Europe someday!
CW: While you were studying abroad in Florence you were able to volunteer to teach English to school children. What was this experience like? What did you learn from it? How was the classroom different from in the US?
BS: I volunteered to teach English to fourth-grade Italian students at San Giuseppe School. It was one of my favorite experiences while studying abroad. I helped the English teacher execute her lesson plan. I spent a lot of time reading English stories in front of the class. I was incredibly nervous when I started, but pushed through my anxiety and ended up loving the experience and adorable Italian children. I speak very fast and am told I have an accent, which made it hard for some of the students to understand me at first. Consequently, I tried to speak slowly and tone my Midwestern accent down!
I also talked to them about the United States and our customs. I drew them a map of the United States. Unsurprisingly, they did not know Indiana is a state; but, they knew a few major U.S. cities.
My favorite part of teaching English was speaking to students individually. I enjoyed showing them pictures of my family and my house. My house was covered in snow and they could not believe how much snow we get in northern Indiana! I love soccer and enjoyed talking to the students about something they are so passionate about.
The students were incredibly well-behaved and knew more English than I expected. They seem to have more freedom at school as they are allowed to eat snacks and lunch in the classroom or hallway, play soccer in the hallway, and use the restroom without asking permission during breaks. I learned that they have a much shorter school day than American students.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Florence"? What was special about them?
BS: The places I carved out as “My Florence” were Piazza Michelangelo and the Santo Spirito neighborhood. When my family came and visited me, we spent a lot of time at Piazza Michelangelo, drinking wine, listening to musicians, and enjoying the beautiful panoramic view of Florence. While I had been to Piazza Michelangelo before my family arrived, it became a special place to me because I was able to share my favorite place in Florence with my family. I really enjoy the Santo Spirito neighborhood because it is not touristy. I enjoyed having relaxing dinners at Osteria Santo Spirito, eating Gusta Pizza on the steps of Santo Spirito while talking to locals, and perusing stores. I liked going to Santo Spirito to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
CW: To what extent did you know Italian before you studied abroad in Florence? Did you find the language aspect of your experience to be a challenge? How did you cope with the barrier it may have presented?
BS: Prior to arriving in Florence, I had taken one semester of Italian in college. The language aspect of my experience was a challenge, but I did everything I could to overcome the language barrier. I spoke Italian with locals every chance I got because I wanted to learn more about their language and culture. When I got nervous speaking Italian, I would switch back to English, which makes it difficult to learn a language. While it can be nerve-wracking, speak Italian every chance you have because learning the language is the only way to truly live in another culture.
CW: Did you feel safe and welcome while you were in Florence? Did you know anyone else on the program before you arrived? Was there a sense of community around CAPA?
BS: I honestly felt safe and welcome in Florence. I have walked home at night by myself and felt fine. I believe Florence is a safe city, but we should always be aware of our surroundings and take necessary precautions. I did not know anyone in the program before I arrived, but I felt there was a great sense of community in the CAPA program. I became friends with students from many different schools. Some of my closest friends in the program also attend Indiana University, so it was nice to talk about our beloved school and college town.
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?
BS: An area of the city that surprised me was the Giardino della Rose and the Boboli Gardens. Living in the city center, I sometimes forgot there is beautiful greenery in Florence. I did not expect the Boboli Gardens to be so large and serene. I enjoyed going to the Rose Garden and Boboli Gardens to study, read a good book, and relax.
CW: Besides volunteering, how else did you interact with locals while you were in Florence. What sort of opportunities did your internship with EuroAdventures give you that you may not have had otherwise?
BS: I had an incredible experience working with Euroadventures as a marketing intern in Florence. I heard about the campus representative position on Facebook and applied for the position. My job was to get other study abroad students to book weekend and spring break trips with Euroadventures by promoting the company on social media and through conversations with other study abroad students. I absolutely loved my internship and the Euroadventures staff. I was offered so many amazing opportunities to interact with staff members and locals when we went to local bars and restaurants in the city. I was able to go on four weekend trips with them and had the best of times! Having an internship with Euroadventures was one of the best decisions I made when studying abroad.
CW: You had an opportunity to visit Istanbul, another CAPA city, while you were abroad. How did it compare to Florence?
BS: I traveled to Istanbul in April with three other friends. Of all of the weekend trips I went on, I had the most fun in Istanbul. It is unlike any other place I have ever been. Istanbul is massive; it is the most populous city in Europe and spans over two continents. To my surprise, many Turks spoke incredibly good English and many of them enjoyed practicing English with us.
I was worried about eating Turkish food because I have never had it before and am an incredibly picky eater. But, the food was absolutely incredible! I ate a lot of chicken and calamari while I was there. I cannot wait to get my hands on some good baklava in the States. The culture is very different from that of Italy, so we dressed more conservative than usual, but Istanbul is more modern than I anticipated. We veiled at the Blue Mosque and it was such an incredible experience as I have never been to a mosque before. We went to the Grand Bazaar twice and it was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. I highly recommend traveling to Istanbul as it was one of my favorite places. I hope to return some day.
CW: Italy is known for its food. Where were the three best places you’ve enjoyed a meal? What was memorable about them?
BS: Italy is famous for its amazing food and it exceeded my already high expectations.
My favorite restaurant in Florence is Il Teatro, which is extremely close to the CAPA center. I heard great things about Il Teatro and when my mom and brother came to visit me during my brother’s Spring break, we had dinner at Il Teatro. They have the best bread, pasta, and raspberry cheesecake I have ever had. We ended up having dinner at Il Teatro three times while they were visiting. After my family left Florence, I frequently went to Il Teatro. I am glad I was able to find my favorite restaurant in Florence with my family and experience it with them. Every time I went to Il Teatro, I was reminded on my family and the amazing time I had with them when they visited.
My family and I spent a weekend in Riomaggiore, a village in Cinque Terre. We had amazing food there, particularly the seafood. We had a great time in Riomaggiore and the food experience was something to be remembered.
ZaZa is also one of my favorite restaurants in Florence. I went there on my last night in Florence with my friend, who was kind enough to let me stay in her apartment for a few days after the program ended. I capped off my incredible semester abroad by sharing a delicious meal with a great friend.