Teacher travels remarkable city of Florence, Italy as a student

Italian teacher, Mrs. Switzer, provides a glimpse of what it is like to study abroad


Jocelynn Acevedo, News Editor

Mrs. Switzer was twenty years old when she lived out of the country for the first time to study abroad in Florence, Italy. Being Italian and growing up in an Italian household, it was a given that she’d explore the country one day. Her attachment to it is one she will never let go of and always long to go back to. Switzer was very pleased with the experience and recommends that other students should accept the opportunity to travel to and learn in another country. Filled with delicious food, good wine, and iconic art, she reminisces on the humble people and country of Italy.

Switzer attended the University of Rhode Island when the possibility of studying abroad in Italy came up. This program was sponsored by the University of Connecticut and it included mostly students from there. The 25 undergraduates were potential Italian majors or had studied at least one semester of the language.

Overwhelming is the only word to describe taking in the lifestyle and cultural differences of another country. “After the initial shock and homesickness wore off,” she knew that it was going to be a worthwhile trip. The scholars resided around the city of Florence in apartments where each suite occupied four students. Out of three of her roommates, one of them spoke the language fluently.FullSizeRender-8

“I showed up with my jeans and sneakers and maybe one or two nice pieces and I constantly felt under dressed. Even at school, Italians dress up more than we do.” Everywhere she looked there was a woman in a dress running errands and men too wore three-piece suits doing everyday activities like teaching. Her literature professor Signor Balducci was guilty of this. While on a class trip to Naples, his wife wore an attire that included high heels to hike the city of Anacapri.

A dissimilarity between Americans and Italians is the way they feast. You may have heard the stereotype that Italians love their food and Mrs. Switzer contends that this is true, but it’s more meaningful than just eating. It’s no game when it comes to a meal for Italians. The significance lies in their ability to take their time to enjoy their food with friends and family members. They use this hour to talk to one another and savor the food and wine. “We Americans eat while we drive, eat while we watch tv, [and] eat while we do our work. Italians sit and eat,” expressed Switzer. This part of their everyday life highlights the Italian culture of food bringing people together.

Switzer describes the people of Italy  as “quietly elegant.”  Through her experience she found that Italians mask their pride and are not boastful when it comes to material things or, say, fancy homes. When they wear their dressy clothes with expensive bags, they do not show it off like they were something special because of it. Along with that she recalled, “many of the homes I visited were palatial by our standards, but the owners didn’t brag.” She was taken back by this difference compared to what she notices in America.

The typical American college is made up of several big buildings with many classrooms and lecture halls, Mrs. Switzer experienced the opposite of this when it came to her schooling. “The classes were held in what amounted to a small apartment; there was a foyer to hang our coats, a bathroom, a large office that doubled as a small classroom, and a larger classroom,” she shared. The 25 students in the program were taught and learned together. They attended classes such as literature and art history, regarding Italy of course; and an Italian language class. All of them were on different levels of the language like beginner, intermediate, and advanced, where Switzer belonged.

Taking classes in Florence meant exploring the city for a hands-on approach. For literature, the class read and analyzed an English translation of La Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri. They would take mini trips to thFullSizeRender-7e places in which were talked about in the book. In art history, the students learned about art during the Renaissance and would go to museums to see the actual works. Even though learning through experience was fun and all she explains the work she had to do too, “we had research papers and lots of short essays analyzing passages from our texts and very intense exams where we would each get one piece of art and have to explain all of the imagery and religious symbolism in the piece. All in all, it was 12 credits.”

It does not take a young adult who loves to undertake new challenges and is comfortable to venture out on their own to study abroad. If yo
u are someone like Mrs. Switzer, with a distaste for change, she says that one should still try traveling to another country especially for higher education, “there’s very little risk when you go with a college program…even if you don’t speak the language of the country you want to visit, there’s no better way to learn than by immersing yourself in the culture.” She stressed that one day it may be too late to go out and explore the world when you are tied down with a job or kids; do it now while you are “young and free of responsibility.”