Emily Zelter - 2012 Program Participant

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I have always dreamed of studying abroad, particularly in Europe. I chose Florence for several reasons. I wanted a metropolitan area, with all the hustle and bustle of a larger city. I also chose Florence because of the rich art and culture. Going to Florence allowed me to take in the beautiful art and architecture of the 18th Century. For some reason, I have always had a fascination with the Renaissance.

Woman wearing a masquerade mask in Venice, Italy
It’s not Venice without a masquerade mask and some gondolas.

As someone who has only been to Europe once before, I wanted to explore a completely new place and truly immerse myself in the culture. The only other time I had been to Europe, I was five years old and thus went with my parents. I wanted to set out on another new endeavor that would strengthen my sense of independence even further. Before leaving for Italy, fulfilled my school’s foreign language requirement with Italian. While in Florence I was able to practice my Italian on a daily basis by just being surrounded by the language and immersed in the culture. By the time I left Florence in May, I was almost fluent in the language.

Rainy day in Florence, Italy
Even rainy days in Florence can’t tarnish this beautiful city.

Why did you choose Athena Study Abroad’s Florence program?

When doing research into the different study abroad programs, I had many options. I chose the Athena Florence program because my home institution has a very strong relationship with the program. Many of my peers had gone abroad through Athena in the past and raved about their experiences. Another reason I chose Athena was because they had the most course options that satisfied my major requirements, making it easy to stay on track with my academics while experiencing the semester of a lifetime.

What makes the Athena Florence program you participated in so interesting?

The Athena Florence program appealed to me during my time abroad because of the people I met and the opportunities I had through school. While studying at LdM, I had the opportunity to volunteer within the community. My experience was amazing. I volunteered at a local high school just outside the city. I served as conversation partner to help students learn conversational English. This particular experience allowed me to interact with kids who wanted to learn a language, much like I did, but this time I was the teacher. This experience also gave me a taste as to what it’s like to live an Italian lifestyle and what their schooling is like.

What is the best thing about the Athena Florence program that future participants need to know?

The best thing about the Athena Florence program that future participants need to know: everyone at Athena, as well as at the school in Italy, are the most helpful people ever! They all want to make sure you have the experience of a lifetime. As for the city of Florence itself, it has a metropolitan, but small city feel to it at the same time. The best part of Florence is that one can walk everywhere!

What’s one thing you would have done differently?

If I could live through my experience again, I would have gone for an entire year instead of one semester. Four months is not enough!

Tourists in Italy
Italy brings me happiness.

Now that you’re home, how has study abroad impacted your life?

Just a little bit of background on myself; I have Cerebral Palsy and use a walker to walk. When I was younger I needed a lot more assistance than I do now. When I was applying to colleges, my parents urged me to stay close to home, because they thought mobility would be a big issue for me. However, I was defiant. I was not going to let my mobility stop me from achieving my goals. Here I am today, back from a semester abroad that I will never forget.

Before I left for Italy, my self-esteem was low, and I felt like I needed to take on a new challenge that would rebuild my self-confidence. In Florence I did just that. I walked up more stairs that I would have ever imagined, I climbed all 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, and I built countless friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I know I have changed my way of thinking and my values in life because of this experience.