St Francis may be a small college, but it can take you far — literally. Many students are unaware that the school has a study abroad program. In May, while everyone broke for the summer to summer jobs and vacations, I was packing for my month long trip to Florence, Italy.

This process for me started back in Febuary with a trip to Dr. Greene’s office. A simple application to International Studies Abroad was the first step.

With the guidance of Dr. Greene and Dr. Wingate, I was soon on my way to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport on June 14.

Studying abroad was truly a life-changing experience for me. After living at home for 21 years, I was now embarking on an adventure — to live in an non-English speaking country 3,000 miles away completely alone.

But with the help of the ISA Florence staff my worries were set at ease and I shortly became a resident rather than a tourist.

I was placed with a wonderful host family in the Florence suburbs where I was able to get a real feel for local life.

I ate amazing meals cooked by my host parents and was shown around town by my host sister and host brother.

Also included in the program were weekend excursions around northern Italy. We spent our time in Rome in a small town outside the city center, Trastevere.

I visited the Vatican, the Sistene Chapel, the Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi and the Colosseum. A perfect weekend getaway from the summer heat in Florence was to Verona and Lake Garda.

In Verona we went to the Duomo, Casa di Giulietta, Piazza delle Erbe e Piazza dei Signori and Piazza Bra.

That night I got a wonderful opportunity to see an opera, Madame Butterfly, in the Arena di Verona, which dates back to AD 30.

A morning boat ride around Lake Garda dotted with ancient Roman Villas and an afternoon swim in Sirmione was an ideal trip for summer explorers.

Day trips with tour groups were also available to students and tourists with tour groups. I visited the beautiful seas-side town of Cinque Terre, only a short train ride away from Florence.

We spent the day hiking through the infamous five towns and then relaxed on the turquoise-blue water beaches.

Of course I could not visit Italy without visiting Venice where I went on a short Gondola ride and a saw a glass blowing demonstration at the Merano glass factory.

Pisa was an afternoon day trip only about an hour train ride from Florence where we relaxed on the lawn and then took pictures holding up the leaning tower.

As much as there was to do outside Florence, there was just as much to do inside.

The ISA office was located right in the heart of the city center. The staff was always readily available for any concerns we had or just to talk to about our day.

We went on a group picnic to the Boboli gardens across the river, did a walking tour of Florence, a hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo and went to the Uffizi gallery.

The beautiful town of Fiesole overlooking all of Florence was only a 20 minute bus ride. A wine tasting provided by a local sandwich shop owner gave me the best meal I had there.

However, Florence was not just fun and games. I took a Renaissance Architecture class at Florence University of the Arts.

My class included lecture of course and daily field trips to many churches and palazzos.

Everyday activities for me included walking over Ponte Vecchio, passing through the Uffizi gallery and a stroll through the Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore in the Piazza del Duomo right past Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise.

Not many people can say they have days like that.

Studying abroad, as wonderful as it was, was challenging to get through but it was something I wanted to do in my life and I have no regrets.

Of course I cried and got home sick but the friends I made there were some of the greatest people I’ve ever met and that I still keep in touch with.

We kept each other afloat for the month that we were there together.

So as an alumni to International Studies Abroad Summer 2010 class of Florence, Italy, I strongly advise taking advantage of this program that St Francis offers.

It will take you to far places.

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