by Author Alexandra Buenaventura

As I traveled worldwide with my family since I was a child, I believed that my college experience would not be complete without incorporating some study abroad. During my sophomore year, I researched several programs in many different countries to find which would best suit my needs.   Finally, I decided that the city in which I would most like to spend a semester was Florence, Italy; however; as my college did not have a program in Florence, I had to enroll for that study through a different university.   Fortunately, other students from my college also chose this program, so we were able to matriculate with few problems.

Having visited Florence when I was 16, upon arriving in Italy at a later date as a college student, I realized that I had made the right choice.   Florence was all that I had remembered and hoped that it would be, and, even though I had only taken one Italian class, I found that I had very little trouble navigating the city.   Florentines are known for their hospitality and positive outlook on life, making them generally friendly and helpful to natives and foreigners alike.

The classes held promise, and the ones I most enjoyed were classes in Renaissance art history, Italian, and Italian cooking and wine pairing.   The advantage of studying Renaissance art history in Florence is that students could observe more of that art in its original location, as the artists intended.   I especially enjoyed seeing the art of Botticelli, DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Cellini, and the architecture of Brunelleschi.

Although I had studied Italian in the United States and the instruction in Florence was in English, it was advantageous to study Italian in Italy from native speakers and to apply that knowledge daily, both in class and in the community.

In addition, the benefit of studying Florentine cooking with local instructors was that the ingredients were fresher, and the recipes were authentic.   It was pleasurable to eat the cuisine that students produced under expert guidance, and enjoyable to taste the regional wines not available for export.

The only difficulty I encountered in studying abroad was to overcome the unfortunate impression left by some inconsiderate American travelers who failed to appreciate the beauty of the city, the historic culture, and the hospitality of the Florentines.   I found that this impression could be overcome very easily through communication, mutual understanding, and appreciation of each other's respective cultures.

The university I attended in Florence helped facilitate this mutual understanding and respect through several programs both inside and outside the classroom. While classes themselves differed from those at my small liberal arts college in that they were lecture style rather than round table discussions, the level of community integration present helped me to feel more at home.   Programs as simple as trips to the local "mercato" or market where native Florentines shopped for vegetables, meats, and cheeses helped students understand the culture and foster relationships within the community.   Other programs included volunteer work with Italian children, wine tasting, and short internships in museums, businesses, and tourist operations. Through these programs, students built relationships in the community that helped to counterbalance the negative impact that other, more ethnocentric American students had created.

Fortunately for me, through time previously spent abroad and through classes at my college, I was able to see beyond the differences between my culture and that which I encountered, such as Americans generally being more familiar with information technology.   I found instead a common bond with Florentines, for instance, our appreciation of Renaissance art, that I will keep with me all my life.


Alexandra Buenaventura is a senior at Loyola College in Maryland majoring in Sociology with a minor in Gender Studies. She can be reached via email at


© 2007 Hilda Coyne All rights reserved