Why The Beauty of Studying Abroad is the Unknown

Oct 9, 2017 11:30:00 AM / by Julie Ritz

A CAPA Alumni Interview: Colby Cannon

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Meet Colby Cannon, a Marketing major at the University of Colorado- Boulder, who studied abroad in Florence in the spring of 2017. Below, he talks about why he chose Florence as his study abroad destination, how his CAPA community abroad felt like home, and how to balance wanderlust with academics.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
COLBY CANNON: Hello! My name is Colby Cannon and I studied abroad spring semester of my junior year in Florence, Italy. I am originally from the Bay Area, California but I go to school at CU Boulder in Colorado. I am currently studying Marketing in the Business School and I’m going into my senior year this upcoming fall. Some of my hobbies include water polo, basketball (go Warriors), hanging out and playing beer die with friends, music, and movies.

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CW: What made you originally want to choose to study in Florence, Italy? Why were you originally drawn to it opposed to other study abroad locations?
CC: I was originally interested in studying abroad in Florence because of my parent’s infatuation with Italy. I had never been to Italy, but I had been to Germany, France, and Portugal before and loved Europe. I loved Germany the most, specifically Berlin since I visited with the Business school for a week at end of my freshman year. I was convinced I was going to study there, but the combination of wanting to try somewhere new, and class availability led me to choose Florence. My parents had been to Florence before on a recent European vacation and raved about it. I said to myself “well I love Italian food, I’ve heard Italy is beautiful, and it’s in a central location in Europe so why not?” I had also taken three years of Italian in high school, so that was another reason choosing Florence was relatively easy for me. Granted, my Italian was sub-par at best, it was still nice to have some familiarity with the language when first adjusting to life in Florence. I eventually convinced my best friend from CU, Max Lilien, to join me for the three-month escapade and boy did we enjoy it.

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CW: Did you find that there was a sense of community at CAPA? Was it easy to make friends on your program? Tell us about some of the relationships you built while in Italy that you won't soon forget.
 CAPA provided the perfect environment for making the most out of my time abroad. Walking into the school everyday and seeing not only the amazing frescos and statues that are in the main stairway and rooms, but to be greeted by the smiling Valentina Fatichenti who is in charge of organizing student events (shout out Valentina, you are the best and are sorely missed by all!) made it a joy to show up to class. All of the staff members are extremely kind and truly want you to have an amazing abroad experience. In particular, Guido Reverdito, who was my Italian film class professor, was one of the best teachers there and was just another excellent example of an extremely amiable, funny, and intelligent individual who I had the pleasure of getting to know. The environment CAPA created was conducive to fostering friendships with people from across the U.S. I met some amazing students from Indiana, Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, as well as other fellow CU students that I had not met before. CAPA was instrumental in providing an eclectic community of friendly faces that would turn out to be some of the best people I met abroad.

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CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
 The biggest challenge for me when I was adapting to life in Florence was understanding the city as a whole and its layout, adapting to the Italian way of life (i.e. how they eat, how they dress, language barriers) and trying not to stick out like a basic American. I overcame these challenges by being completely open to the new experience and by learning as much as I could about Italian culture. It was hard at first, as with all new experiences, but after about a month into the program I really felt at home in Florence. My most rewarding moment was either showing my parents around Florence like a native Florentine, or volunteering at the local elementary school. Being able to work with foreign kids was so much fun and being able to call a foreign city your home is truly something special.

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CW: Did you feel prepared for the cultural differences that you found in Florence? What were some of these that stood out for you? What can future students do in advance to help minimize culture shock?
 I felt reasonably prepared for the cultural differences in Italy since I studied the language in high school, but the beauty of studying abroad is to be unprepared. Florence is a great city for those who only speak English because many Italians speak both Italian and English. Some of the most apparent cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy are found in the way they dress and their living habits (i.e. eating, working, leisure time). They view appearance as a way of social class ranking, so going out at night in shorts and a t-shirt is a no-go. As far as their living habits, Italians love to eat and drink at a leisurely pace, much slower than Americans. They also view eating as a communal event: a time where friends and family convene to share cordial conversation on the day’s events. This is very different from the fast-food nature of America and also contributes to a lack of customer service since waiters never want to interrupt a group’s meal. These cultural differences took some time to get used to but I actually grew to appreciate these differences.

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CW: Talk about your favorite local foods. What have you tried that you have never tried back home? Have you found a favorite place to shop for food? Have you tried to make any local recipes?
 I have never eaten as well as when I lived in Florence. Italians know food. Food in Italy is third only to family and religion. Hell, you could say food is a part of their religion. Food is so integral to their daily life that it is completely normal for an Italian to stop by the local market everyday on their way back from work. Freshness is the key to their cooking habits, since most everything they cook comes from local farms and the regulations on where their food is sourced are much stricter than the U.S. Everything from meats to cheeses to oils to wine; it’s all fresh, organic, and made with zero preservatives. Drastically different from America. Even the gelato is amazing and actually healthier for you than any ice cream made in America. It’s honestly crazy how much better I felt eating food in Europe versus America and I probably had a worse diet. I loved every bit of Italian cooking, my favorite dishes were the classics: spaghetti, gnocchi, and lasagna. I also fell in love with paninis due to the vast amount of panini shops in Florence. Al Antico Venaio is by far the greatest panini I have ever had. I highly recommend the L’inferno. Living in Florence made me appreciate fresh food, ingredients, and the value of taking a little extra time during lunch or dinner to have a great meal. I will say I found it weird that Italians didn’t really eat breakfast. The most you would get would be a cappuccino with some type of pastry.

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CW: Did you travel outside of your host city? Where did you go? How did your new environment compare with your host city environment? What new challenges did you encounter while outside of your host city and how did you overcome them?
CC: Traveling was a major part of my study abroad experience and it was my favorite part as well. Florence is in a fairly central location in Italy as well as in Europe, so traveling both inside the country and out was a breeze. The first month, I was able to go to Venice, Rome, and Pisa all on weekend trips. Rome was my favorite spot in Italy besides Siena, which I was able to go to later on via a CAPA field trip. We took trains to all of these cities in Italy so traveling was very easy. We booked Air BNB’s as well as hostels to find cheap places to stay. For my spring break trip, I traveled with friends to Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, and Barcelona in a week’s time. That was by far the most fun/hectic week of my life. For how fast we blew through those cities, we handled ourselves very well in terms of knowing which train/bus we had to take and figured out directions from strangers. That is one thing you learn very fast in foreign countries: how to ask for directions in the native language. I was also able to go to Dublin, Ireland for St. Paddy’s day and visit my best friend from high school which was an incredible time. At the end of our program, Max and I went to Copenhagen, Denmark for a couple to days to link up with my friend Nico in our fraternity. Of all the places I visited, Copenhagen and Amsterdam were by far my favorite cities. The combination of extremely nice people, beautiful architecture, and great food made them the absolute coolest places I have ever been. Finally, we finished our abroad experience in Munich, Germany which was another favorite of mine. I would say the biggest challenges we encountered while traveling would be the language barriers and the unfamiliarity of the city layouts. Since we didn’t have too much time in each city, we kind of winged it, not knowing exactly where to go. This made it fun but also really difficult in cities like Paris that are huge; you definitely need to know where you are going.

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CW: How did you fund your time abroad (eg – scholarships, loans, extra hours at work, some other way)?
 I had some leftover money from my previous job that helped me fund my abroad experience but it was mostly funded by my loving parents. Without them my abroad experience would not have been possible so I owe them more than they may ever know. I will say that choosing to go abroad instead of study at CU in the spring actually saved my parents a good amount of money in tuition. I also saved money for my parents by choosing to study in Italy because the Italian economy is in pretty poor shape so food was cheap.

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CW: Beyond the wanderlust, what transferrable skills did you take away from your time abroad that will help you in your future career?
 Choosing to study abroad was the best choice I ever made in my college career. So many people choose to stay within their college for four years, never leaving the “bubble” of their college town. Not to say this is all bad, but I believe for many this causes their viewpoints on political/social issues to be biased and non-empathetic. They miss out on the amazing opportunity of not only traveling to a different country, but actually living in a different culture and being engrossed by outside views and opinions on a daily basis. I honestly think I grew more as a person within those three months abroad than I did during my three years at CU altogether. Living in a different country, you deal with so many unfamiliar situations on a daily basis and become comfortable being uncomfortable, which I believe is crucial in becoming a well-rounded, open-minded member of society. Without experiencing these new, different, and sometimes challenging circumstances you can never truly grow as a person. So when people tell me “hey I don’t need to leave the U.S., this country is great!” I always respond with “yes, of course it is, but the only way you can truly appreciate its greatness is to leave it and experience something new!” After studying abroad I can honestly say I am much more confident in my ability to travel, meet new people, and face uncertainty head-on without letting fear hold me back.

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CW: Is there anything you wish you would have done while you were studying abroad that you didn’t manage to fit in? Is there anything you did that you didn't expect to do but particularly enjoyed?
 There are only a couple things I didn’t do abroad that I wish I did. First of course was traveling to certain countries. I did not make it to Prague, Croatia, England, and Hungary, all of which I’ve heard are amazing spots to visit. I would stress to new study abroad students to travel as much as they can. There will be plenty of time to enjoy your host city, use the weekends wisely. I also really wish I checked out the water polo team in Florence. Never got around to it but I’m dead-set on returning and hopping in the pool with the team. I did not expect to fall in love with the city of Florence, or even Italy for that matter, but that is the unexpected nature of study-abroad. Jumping head first into the unknown, full of optimism and vitality. Creating life-long friendships, gaining appreciation for your native U.S. roots while widening your cultural/political/social/human perspective. This is what studying abroad is all about.

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Thanks, Colby!

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Florence Interviews