Friday, July 24, 2015

Nick and Pirlo in Florence!

Buongiorno, Ciao!

My name is Nick and I am a rising senior majoring in history with minors in classical studies and political science. I am updating There Be Dragons from Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in Firenze, Italia! This post is dedicated to my girlfriend MaryKate, who you will hear from as well, her dragon Farfy, and my very own dragon Pirlo!

Farfy taking a picture with the Ponte Vecchio

If you have never been abroad, I would highly suggest taking every opportunity you get to do so. This is my second time abroad, having spent five weeks in London last summer, and I am learning new things here that I didn’t learn there while also benefiting from the experience I gained living in a foreign country previously. On top of that, there is a language barrier to overcome in Italy that I didn’t have in London, which is a whole different experience in its own right.

So let’s start things off! First things first… it is hot. Under the Tuscan sun feels a bit more like on the surface of the sun. I don’t think it has gotten below 98 the entire time we have been here. To top it all off, there isn’t really air conditioning. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed sitting in front of a fan the way I have here. They keep telling us that it should cool off soon… it is never going to happen. On the bright side though, it becomes a bit more bearable when the sun goes down, which works out well because it means that Florence has a pretty lively nightlife, whether you are walking around to see the sites at night or just catching dinner at a Trattoria with friends. (Speaking of which, the food here is absolutely incredible) Don’t let the heat deter you though… this is an absolutely fantastic place to study abroad.

The Duomo at sunset

Classes are going really well. I am taking two courses here in Florence; one is called Palaces of Florence (which is pretty cool considering I can literally see one palace from my seat in class) and the other is called Wines of Italy. In Palaces of Florence I get to learn all about the architecture and history surrounding the 5 billion (exaggeration) palaces in the city, and learn about the families who built and inhabited them. All I am saying is, the Medici and Borgia make House of Cards look tame. In all seriousness though, it is an awesome opportunity to take this class because we also get to take “field trips” every single day where we go and visit the actual palaces, and even get to see parts of the palaces that most people don’t.

The Ponte Vecchio

 In Wines of Italy I get to learn about the wines… of Italy. In all honesty though, it is probably one of the most fun classes I have ever taken, and not just because I get to drink wine in it. Lol. We get to taste 4 different wines each day (in small amounts) and learn all about the region each wine comes from, the process of winemaking, the various nuances of each wine, and figure out which wines we like best. I feel incredibly sophisticated knowing that I can now take a wine and give a full analysis concerning its visual qualities, being color, viscosity, and fluidity amongst other things, olfactory qualities, being the intensity and persistence of the smell and what the wine actually smells like, and gustative qualities, being the intensity and persistence of the taste and what the wine tastes like in relation to its visual and olfactory qualities. Going beyond this, our professor Giovanni takes us out after class to meet his friends at various Enotecas (wine shops) around Florence and taste wines there as well. It is a really cool experience.

We are going into our last week here though, and now it is time to start reflecting on experiences and preparing to return to the US (reverse culture shock is real). I have had the opportunity to visit Vienna, Austria and Rome, to walk around Florence, and literally see history every single day. On top of that, I am spending a week in Paris to continue my summer in Europe for just a little longer (and to actually use the French I studied for 2 years at UNCG), and on the way back I get to spend one more day in my beloved London.

MaryKate and I in front of the Pantheon while visiting Rome

This truly is a once in a lifetime experience, although I hope I get to come back and visit here some day. For current students and incoming freshmen… study abroad is not easy, it has its ups and its downs, and you will come back to the US a little different than how you left it. You will have a new perspective on things, and you will have experienced things that a lot of the people you talk to won’t understand. But there is beauty in that, and encouragement, because you will be better off for it. As for me, I can tell you right now; I wouldn’t change a thing about this incredible experience, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life. One of the best things the Honors College does is require its students to study abroad. The value of this experience can never be underestimated. So for everyone who hasn’t gone abroad yet, get excited, because you are about to have the adventure of a lifetime.

Ciao, Grazie, and See you all in August!

Nick Grant
Lorenzo de Medici Institute
Florence, Italy

Monday, July 20, 2015

Madelynn in Florence!

This update is dedicated to my dragon Afro Puff who at the last minute had to stay home due to her sore throat after she decided to have a fire breathing contest with her friends the night before we left. I still love you and miss you and you better stay out of my closet!

Ciao from Florence, Italy;
My name is Madelynn and I am a rising senior in the Acting program with a minor in American Sign Language at UNCG. For my study abroad experience I chose the Lorenzo de Medici Institute located in the beautiful historical city of Florence. 

Boat ride on the Arno River in Florence, Italy

On July 1st I waved Arrivederci to my mom and home state of Virginia and began my 14 hour journey across the ocean to Europe. With gummi bears and Lays potato chips in hand, earbuds at the ready for defense against screaming toddlers and a long cardigan for the chilly plane ride I conquered my first international flight with ease. While in route to Italy I dreamed about the Italian streets filled with men with roses, children skipping singing catchy tunes and cheese, so much cheese. As my plane descended over the lush green Tuscan landscape, I stared at the stunning view confined to the small airplane window. The tapestry of vibrant landscape was to be my home for the next 30 days, and an uncontrollable smile crept onto my lips. But upon landing the excitement dancing in my eyes became fear, the wonder on my cheeks withered and I realized I was not Charlie this was not the Chocolate Factory and my Delta Airline boarding pass was not some golden ticket: this was real life. After navigating three airports, lost and damaged luggage, no cell phone service, bustling Italian alleys filled with mopeds and speeding taxis and a severe language barrier, I arrived at my apartment with swollen feet, a shirt drenched in sweat, and a lump in my throat. Unable to even unlock my door I pressed my moist forehead against the wood and sobbed. Was this how this month was going to go? Where was the magic? Where was the romance? And more importantly Where was the pizza?!

Caprese pizza at the Central Market in Florence, Italy

After wiping my tear stained cheeks and a well deserved nap, I met my roommates who I immediately befriended. We became the fantastic four as we conquered the tourist sites by day and shared stories of of lives in America at night. 

 The Fantastic Four in The Duke’s Palace Venice, Italy
l-r: Alex (Iowa State University), Me, Sarah (Iowa State University)
Front: Maya (UNCG)
Friendship on a private boat in Venice, Italy
The first weekend we ventured to the picturesque beach town of Cinque Terre spending a day lounging on the rock beach with the cerulean blue Mediterranean Sea kissed our toes. 

On top of the world in Cinque Terre, Italy

Feeling sassy in Cinque Terre, Italy
Our nights were spent laughing over endless bowls of spaghetti and house wine. My earlier tears became a distant memory as I danced the night away on the Duomo steps and munched on fresh croissants with espresso. 

Before I knew it the random collection of letters became familiar street signs, ciao and grazie trickled from my tongue, and I felt at home. Classes began and my days were no longer filled with Instagram selfies and fresh pizza. I am taking two courses, one in oil painting taught by a restoration painting master and the other the “Quarters of Florence” which combines history lectures with daily field trips exploring the rich history of Florence. I now can paint sculptures and renaissance style portraits all while telling you the about Florence from its founding in 59 B.C. to present day.

Ponte Vecchio at sunset in Florence, Italy

Santa Croce Church in Florence, Italy

The Duke's Palace in Venice, Italy
Now that I have lived here for a little over two weeks and it is the eve of my 21st birthday I am in a  time of reflection of my experience. I can say that I learned so much about myself and my abilities. Never before did I think that I could handle such adversity on my own, from broken phones to broken Italian crumbling out my lips, I have survived and will continue to. For those traveling abroad I wish you the best of luck and my advice is simple—breathe and stay positive. Being overwhelmed is inevitable but staying overwhelmed is a choice. Though my experience has been far from perfect, it is my own and unique just like me and something I will never forget. And every morning when I brush my teeth, comb my hair and look out onto the world below as the sounds of horse driven carriages galloping on cobble stone, street performers tuning their instruments and ecstatic tourists fill the air mixing with the aroma of fresh breads and ripened fruit, I am reminded how blessed I am to be a part of this world even for a little while.

With Love,

Madelynn Poulson
Lorenzo di Medici Institute
Florence, Italy