Actually Studying when Studying Abroad

Nov 9, 2016 8:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler Sides is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A psychology major, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester through the custom program at Norco College.

In this week's post, Kayla shares her experience of academics in Florence and how the city itself has become a welcome extension of the classroom. 


I honestly did not understand why a lot of students who have been abroad rarely mentioned school work when reflecting on their experience. Now, after being in their shoes, it makes sense. Living in a different country and having the ability to explore 24/7 tends to guide students more towards activities other than homework. Let's face it: give a young adult the choice between doing schoolwork and trying out different foods in front of a famous monument. Not so tough, huh?

Take note: I said this all makes sense. Now, I'm not saying that I don't pay attention in school here nor am I saying that I neglect my studies. The reason why is that my program and classes with CAPA made all of Florence my classroom. Let me explain...

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I'm currently taking two classes (I just finished an 8-week online class): "Art Appreciation/Art History" and "Italian". We meet just a few hours a week in the CAPA Florence building, right down the street from the Duomo. My art professor combined "Art Appreciation", where you learn about the fundamentals and different forms of art, and "Art History", a course where you learn about the development and progression of art and the movements that emerged during different historical periods. This way, she would be able to teach us about the art historical background of our city and how to identify and interpret everything in it. If you didn't guess it already... we're learning about the Renaissance!!! (Yes, that required three exclamation points.) What better classroom to learn about the most revolutionary art movement in than the place where it all started? We learn about the characteristics, the major players and geniuses, and the some of most famous works of art created during this period. 

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Since this class gives us not only knowledge about Florence's history but also the ability to see art from different perspectives, we get to put it all to the test every single day. Yeah, we can study from a textbook and go over the mechanics of a piece of architecture or the components of a painting. But why look at pixelated copies on a piece of paper when masterpieces are standing right outside your door? Our assignments include museum and church visits, where we can see the works of Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and more face-to-face. We have the chance to see the details of every brush stroke on a canvas, every chiseled carving in a piece of marble. We've even taken a class trip to Siena and San Gimignano to look at the medieval architecture and the paintings and sculptures inside them.

Every day, my classmates and I now find ourselves unconsciously noticing and identifying the characteristics of the buildings, paintings, and sculptures around us. Being able to say what time period a certain building is from or confidently stating which piece belongs to which artist solely by the composition is pretty satisfying!  From pondering about Brunelleschi's mystery of a process when building the Duomo to freaking out about the fact that Michelangelo carved Bacchus out of marble when he was only about 15-years-old - we've learned to appreciate everything about art.

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I am also taking an introductory "Italian" course. I think you can all tell how important this class is. I can't imagine taking this course back home in California. I mean, I don't doubt that I would've learned something if I had taken Italian at home, but would I have learned as much? Probably not. I'm in Italy. People speak Italian.

This class teaches me the fundamentals and basic rules of the Italian language. So far, we've gone over nouns, verbs, adjectives, sentence structure, and basic questions/responses in everyday conversation. So, as you could probably tell, this isn't a class which we submerge ourselves in for a few hours then forget about until the next meeting. We are constantly practicing what we learn in class, whether we intend to or not. When I learn something new, I immediately put it to practice after class, attempting to make longer and longer conversations with people. When I go out to eat, I make it a point to order and ask questions only in Italian. I also can't remember the last time I said the words "hello," "bye," "thank you," "how are you," and "good morning" in English. When I have homework for that class, I like to have my Italian friends help me out at times. They teach me the normal or typical ways to say certain words or phrases and they can put things in ways that are easier for me to understand. So, with this class as well, I'm not only learning from a piece of paper and a set of notes.

Long story short: School doesn't feel like school to me while I'm studying abroad. I don't loathe going to class nor do I have anything to complain about. It's not a stack of papers that impede on my time or chance to have fun abroad. The classes that I'm taking help me appreciate everything and everyone around me so much more. They allow me to experience the city and its culture on a deeper level.

Thanks Kayla!

Kayla's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned. 

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Topics: Official Bloggers and Vloggers, Florence, Italy, Academics Abroad