My time studying abroad was a life-changing experience for sure. During my time, I lived in the city center of Florence, Italy, and I was able to travel to different places like Rome, Venice, Pietrasanta, and Cinque Terre. Since my major is art history, it made perfect sense for me to study in a place like Florence due to its rich artistic history and significance. Almost every day, I was able to visit centuries-old churches, sculptures, architecture, artwork, etc. Part of it was a bit overwhelming, but I am so thankful that I was able to experience these things in person and attain a greater understanding and appreciation of some of the most famous artistic sites that I had only ever seen in photographs.
The AIFS Education Center was an easily accessible, safe, and comforting environment with a staff that was always kind and helpful. It was really nice to be in an unfamiliar, foreign place but with a group of people who really seemed to understand and care about each individual. The two classes I took while abroad were a Museums of Florence course and a Street Photography course. To say it simply, I will remember my professors for the rest of my life; both of them were very insightful, knowledgeable, and very fun to be around. I feel that I have learned and experienced so many new things that I can implement into my photographic practice and my art history education.
The social experience I had in Italy was something I was not expecting at all. Italy is a country that has one of the highest rates of tourism in the world. I did not realize this going into it, so it was a surprise when almost everyone spoke perfect English and I saw people from all over the world. The vast majority of people I met were very nice, and I felt like I was able to learn a lot about Italian culture. I stayed in Rome for one night and had an Airbnb with a local family that lived outside of the city center, and they were an absolute highlight during my entire trip. It was a mother (who didn’t speak English) and a son (who spoke little English) and they picked me up from the train station, gave me a great tour of my accommodation space, and treated me as a family friend. That same night, I was able to spend time at a local bar and experience a relaxed nightlife outside of the touristy areas. Being able to meet people in a local community like this was a lovely change from my busy days in the city.
After my study abroad visit, I was able to come home and see my hometown of Chattanooga as a much more beautiful place than before. Living in and visiting these worldly-renowned, beautiful cities had me looking up and around at every building, balcony, and alleyway in awe. It was so amazing that I almost got used to it. This was never how I viewed my own city, but after coming back home, I had found a new appreciation for the place that I have lived in my whole life.
If I had any advice for potential study abroad students, I would say to go into it with an open mind. You will have very high highs and low lows, but all of it together will result in an unforgettable experience (in the best way possible). I would also say, regulate your expectations and do not be afraid to be uncomfortable or unsure about traveling abroad; reluctance is normal and you should embrace it to overcome it.
Koleby Gilbert (BA Art History) spent the Summer 2023 semester studying abroad in Florence, Italy through AIFS. Koleby had the following to say about studying abroad, “Travel abroad with an open mind; the highs will be high and the lows will be low, but all of it together will result in an unforgettable experience (in the best way possible). Do not be afraid to be uncomfortable while abroad. Reluctance is normal and you must embrace it to overcome it.”
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