November Means ‘Crunch Time’ in Spokane, Travel in Firenze
By Kaitlyn Warter
Class of 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: Following are links to slideshows of Florence, 2008 and Opening Tour 2008. Enjoy!
While all of us Gonzaga students are in the midst of “crunch time,” completing projects and assignments before the Thanksgiving Holiday, Gonzaga-in-Florence (GIF) students are preparing for their first major holiday away from home, with many students attending the GIF-planned trip to Bosnia and Croatia. I am back on campus in Spokane, but can easily recall being in Florence last year at this time. Though each student will have his or her own individual experiences with GIF, I would like to share some of my own.
As a Florence alumna, I remember worrying about my Thanksgiving plans. Since not enough students signed up for the school-planned trip, we had two extra days to travel or, for some, blissfully do nothing. Obviously it would be impossible to catch a football game or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but would there be turkey and stuffing? Pumpkin pie?
These trivial questions crossed my mind as I made my weekend plans. Fortunately, I wound up staying at a friend’s Italian villa for the holiday weekend. I even got my turkey, and the incredible Italian food and great company more than made up for the lack of pumpkin pie.
As a strong advocate of Florence program, I have kept in touch with several students who are in Florence not only to hear about their experiences overseas, but to relive my own memories from one of the most unforgettable years of my life. Last year, a concern many students expressed while studying abroad was the lack of communication between our school in Florence and Gonzaga’s main Spokane campus, what we liked to call “GIS.” I hope to help bridge the communication gap, and keep everyone up-to-date with life in Florence – as I struggle through my coursework at this challenging time.
GIF students started this year abroad with a 10-day opening tour to the cities of Berlin, Germany, Krakow, Poland and Prague, Czech Republic. Serving as an orientation to the Florence program, students quickly learned the fundamentals of being savvy tourists, while learning some valuable lessons in travel:
Don’t pack more than you can carry;
Flip-flops are not good walking shoes; and
It is very important to be on time.
Map of Italy
If you are late, for example, the tour bus may leave without you, forcing you to find your way around a foreign city with people who, in general, speak English minimally at best; I learned this the hard way.
The location for opening tour is typically chosen for its historical significance and educational value to students. This year, students have had the opportunity to visit several significant historical museums, parks, churches, and memorials, including: the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, Krakow’s renowned Jagiellonian University, and the Prague Castle, in addition to several Jewish Holocaust memorial exhibits. One of the most meaningful tours for students while in Poland was a visit to Auschwitz, one of the largest death camps for Jews during the Holocaust.
The Auschwitz tour touched many students and put the historical context of Nazi Germany into perspective. For many students, seeing the death camp in person was a profound experience.
“After touring the camps, I was extremely emotional and without words,” Maher said. “It’s one thing learning about the mass killings of the Jews during the Holocaust in school, but it is nothing in comparison to actually being inside the gas chambers and seeing the barbed wire fences that encompassed thousands of prisoners.”
Culture Shock/ Lifestyle Adjustments
Adjusting to the European lifestyle is different for each person. Students who have traveled around Europe before are usually more familiar with European customs than others. While I quickly learned to appreciate the leisurely and care-free lifestyle of the Italians, I also realized how much I value the customs of our own country.
“Adjusting to the Italian lifestyle has been fairly easy so far. Not being from the city, the fast-paced environment of Firenze can be a little bewildering at first, but I am learning to enjoy the change of the city,” says Gonzaga junior Miles Miller. “There is so much to do in Florence; it will take this whole year to get the full breadth of this city’s charm.”
As students became immersed in the Italian lifestyle, they recognized some major differences between European and American customs. Gonzaga junior Laura Maher describes her recent experience walking down the streets of Firenze:
“The vehicle is KING here. If you are a pedestrian -- watch out! There are crosswalks all over the streets of Florence but if you walk in them you still have to watch your back and look both ways several times to make sure no crazy buses, fast Vespas (mopeds) or angry cars charge your way. Also, the sidewalks are extremely narrow in Florence. You have to practically dodge the people around you to get around them, and almost everyone in front of you is walking at what I like to call a ‘glacial’ pace,” Maher said. “I attribute this to the fact that they are on what we like to call ‘Italian time’ a.k.a. no rush, very leisurely, without any cares in mind. We Americans may have something to learn from the natives of Italia, because they seem to be way more easygoing, even if they are ‘fashionably late’ -- to EVERYTHING!”
Though there are significant differences in the lifestyle of Europeans and Americans, students quickly learn to appreciate the Italian way of life. “I have had little difficulty adjusting to the Italian lifestyle. There are certainly cultural differences, but it has hardly been a culture shock -- especially since the Italian culture is so rich and enjoyable,” said Kora Kilpatrick, a Gonzaga junior. “Food, cappuccinos, wine, art, the scenery -- all fantastic! Florence is filled with American students, so the people are familiar with us. Being able to speak Italian, even if only conversationally, has been so rewarding to me.”
In Florence students are housed in pensiones (Italian for “small hotel”). One of the things I miss most about my experience abroad is spending so much time with my peers in my pensione. Though students are able to choose their roommates, pensiones are randomly assigned, and this is where you meet new people. You eat meals together, study together, attend class together, and travel together, quickly establishing a close-knit community.
Everyone experiences similar ups and downs whether you are homesick or trying to plan a weekend trip, and you learn to bond and grow communally.
“Pensiones are a great way to strengthen the bond of the Gonzaga-in-Florence students. We all have a common experience in the pensione, and we’re able to bounce our travel ideas off of each other to create trips that we’ll really enjoy,” said Gonzaga junior Miles Miller.
Along with opening tour, Gonzaga provides students with several opportunities to travel on weekend trips. The first four weekend trips offered through the program give students the chance to explore more of their Italian “home base” with visits to the Island of Elba, Cinque Terre (my all-time favorite), Sorrento, and Southern Tuscany.
A majority of students attend the first few Gonzaga-planned trips to help them become more knowledgeable travelers before making their own weekend travel plans. Gonzaga junior, Kora Kilpatrick expresses her gratitude for the program:
“The Gonzaga trips are well-organized and affordable. Student Life provides us with several different options for our spare time, whether we want to go on hike, or a guided tour of the city. The travel can be hectic and exhausting, but always worth it and a total blast,” Kilpatrick said. “I love the novelty of it all . . . school four days a week and then packing up your backpack and heading off to travel for the weekend and see the world! It’s such an experience! Gonzaga does an excellent job and I could not praise this program enough for all that the opportunities provided to us.”
Gonzaga Alumni & FORZA
Due in part to the decline in the U.S. economy, GIF has experienced an unfortunate decrease in applicants the past few years. Fortunately, GIF alumni continue to be forceful supporters of this unique program, and have created an advocacy group to help increase awareness and enrollment for GIF.
Last year, GIF students established FORZA (Italian for strength, power and force), a student-run branch of the Study Abroad office made up of GIF alumni. FORZA reaches out to others and provides student-based information to encourage others to consider studying abroad in Florence.
“Through our stories and passion we connect with students and support them by providing marketing, consultancy, and advocacy,” said FORZA President Megan Crowley.
FORZA serves as an important link to bridge the communication gap between Gonzaga students abroad and in Spokane. This group also helps prospective study abroad students gain valuable first-hand insight about GIF prior to deciding whether to apply for the program.
For more information about the Gonzaga-in-Florence program or other study abroad programs offered through Gonzaga visit Gonzaga’s study abroad Web site.
As the late great Gonzaga-in-Florence supporter Father Tony Lehmann, S.J., always said: “To be continued.”
Tune in again next month for additional updates from Firenze. Ciao for now!
Florence students, keep your great stories, anecdotes and tales of travel adventure coming to me.
P.S. Visit this page in a day or two and we'll have a link here to two slideshows of the sights and scenes from Florence this year. These photos were taken by current GIF students and by your fearless tour guide, mi. Here's the link to the first slideshow: Florence, 2008 and here's the link to the second slideshow, Opening Tour 2008. Enjoy!