Paige Wright - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I knew I wanted to get out of America and see something new. Little did I know, seeing something old was better than seeing something new. Italy was the birthplace of my great grandmother, so I wanted to go and eat pasta and pizza and maybe see what familial ties I could find. I didn't know anything about my ancestors, so I didn't really know where to look; I just wanted to go and try something, and man, did I choose right!

The pizza, the pasta, the gelato, the coffee, I could go on all day about the food, but more so, I found what I wanted and a whole lot more: a new perspective. When I saw the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Florence Cathedral in the center of the city, I knew I was never going to go home and live my life as I had before. That cathedral with its great big dome and marble facade made me tear up; I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Finally climbing to the top of the cupola, seeing the entire city of Florence laid out before me, I had that new perspective and it was incredible.

Why did you choose CEA?

I was encouraged by my Italian major adviser to go on this program because this program was her baby (she made this program by partnering with CEA to make a customized UC Davis Quarter Abroad curriculum fit in the CEA normal curriculum). My adviser also teaches Italian cinema courses as well as literature and culture courses, and being a double major in Italian language and film studies, I thought that was a good start.

After going to a few info sessions and seeing all of my options, I knew Florence was the city for me. So many cities in Italy have a lot to offer, but I wanted to see the cultural heart of Italy, I wanted to see the art and hear the street music, and live in the middle of all that Italy's great legends have given. I could walk down the street and see famous statues every twenty feet. I could cross the Ponte Vecchio every day, and I did. I could go to the National Central Library in Florence and see the largest collection of Italian books in the world. And, I could go to the restoration lab with my culture class and see the books still being restored after the Arno flood in 1966 destroyed so many of them. This program was exactly what I wanted, a new culture, and with that came a new perspective.

What was your favorite part about Florence?

My favorite part about my location was my walk to school. I walked past the Palazzo Vecchio every single day and looked up at the tower. I saw the windows that the Medici family used to look out of some centuries ago. I walked through the Piazza Signoria, where the Loggia dei Lanzi housed replicas of Italy's most famous statues. I passed booths selling leather bags and silk scarves and Florentine Carnival masks. I circled the antique carousel of the Picci Family in the Piazza della Repubblica before entering my school for my classes. My walk through the heart of Florence was the most breathtaking journey, and I took it every day for months.

Selfie near Cinque Terre, Italy

The roomies! We explored Cinque Terre together.

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

My program emphasized immersion in the culture. We had internships out in the city, working with companies and people in the community and practicing our language even more. The teachers encouraged us to write our essays in Italian to get even more practice with the language and writing it.

We also had the incredible opportunity to do a language exchange, where we met students from the University of Florence who were studying English. We each had a partner and would meet with our partner several times throughout the semester to practice Italian and English (for the U of F students). My partner, Maride, spoke Italian, Sardo (the language of Sardegna, where she was from), English, and Spanish, and was also studying Arabic! She was so great, and I loved meeting with her to get coffee and talk about our families and what we did for fun. This experience immersed us all even more in the everyday culture of Italy and was a great way to make new friends!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The CEA staff is incredible! When our Wifi went down in our apartment it was a Friday and they couldn't get anyone out to fix it until the following Monday, but the staff opened the school for us on Saturday so we could get Wifi and finish our homework! The staff was so friendly and helpful, I never really felt homesick because they were always there for me. They answered any questions and gave great advice for things like the best places to eat and the closest shops to buy towels. I know that I made great friends with all of the staff, and I keep in touch with them all even now, months after I've returned home!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have traveled around Italy more, because I only saw the major cities and would’ve loved to have seen more of the provincial side of the nation. I didn't even visit the next city over, Prato! I wish I had spent more time seeing the small village-type towns Italy is known for instead of visiting Rome twice, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but wish I could change. The small towns around Tuscany are just as beautiful as the great city of Florence, and I should have taken time to explore the local area more.

Describe a day in your life as an international student in Florence.

I'd wake up at 8:30 a.m. every day and take a little time to brew a nice espresso in my apartment before I got ready for the day. My roommate and I would leave the apartment around 10 a.m. to get to the school around 10:15 a.m., walking through the Piazza della Signoria and all along the main shopping center of the city. We chatted with friends before class, catching up on the previous night's homework or Netflix binge.

We had our language class first, with the coolest Roman ever. Our language professor was incredible, and she tried to take us out onto the streets of Florence as often as possible, even to just stop by a chocolate shop so we could get out and hear the language. After discussing Italian literature, contemporary problems, or relevant news in Italian society, we would go to lunch at a close pizzeria or paninoteca for pizza or sandwiches (respectively).

After our classic Italian meal, we would go back to school for either a contemporary Italian culture lecture or a film viewing, during which we enjoyed Italian films from the last 15 years. Following those classes, we would head home or maybe to an internship, depending on the day of the week. We'd end up back at home to cook pasta or soup together for dinner and talk about the next weekend's plans.

Inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Inside the Colosseum - I felt like a part of history!

What is something you enjoyed doing outside of the classroom?

I had the opportunity to do an internship in my program, though at first I couldn't find one that really fit with my interests. However, my gender studies professor spoke with the internship adviser about perhaps getting some help at a bookshop she volunteered for. When I heard about this place, Libreria delle Donne, I couldn't believe how perfect it was for me. The bookshop was literally called the Bookshop of Women, and it sold books written by and for women, books about the history and current state of feminism, and essentially anything having to do with women in Italian society.

I was an event coordinator, and worked with the shop owner to welcome authors from all over Italy to present their books to the Florentine community with lectures, readings, and signings at the bookshop. I listened to lectures on women teachers in Italy, psychiatry, lesbian relationships in the early 20th century, French artists, and photography as a form of feminist protests in the 1970s. The authors were incredible women who wrote and told the stories of more incredible women, and I learned about the strength women carry inside them despite the efforts to silence them throughout history. The internship was an amazing, eye-opening experience.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I lived in an apartment and my best friend was my roommate. The best part about it was the closeness we experienced with all of our roommates; being in a new country, most of us for the first time, really made a special bond between all four of us that lived together. Roomies in Italy means friends for life. We get coffee at least once a week if we don't run into each other often enough now at our home university!

At the top of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy

My sister likes to climb towers, like the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio we're standing on here!

Now that you're home, how has your time in Italy impacted your life?

My program has changed how I see the world. I have so much more respect for everything I see. I feel like I am much more understanding and can connect with people so much easier. I feel closer to the people I returned to, and my sister and I spend much more time together. I love to take time to relax, maybe read a book or just spend a little quiet time enjoying some tea on the front porch.

My experience gave me an appreciation for the little things as well as the big things most people see. I feel more at peace with myself and the world, maybe because I finally feel like I found a good way to live, the way the Italians do.