And The Rest Is History: Three Social Work Undergraduates Experience the Italian Renaissance

During the summer of 2017, three social work students studied abroad in Florence, Italy. Undergraduates Joseph McNeill, Laura Tatlock, and Mary Lindsay West studied at Lorenzo de’ Medici for their Summer I term. Though the trip did not have a social work focus, these students were able to apply their social work knowledge to this trip for a truly interdisciplinary experience.

Laura Tatlock, rising social work senior said of the experience “The social work classes I have taken so far at State have taught me that people come from all different backgrounds. It is important to not let differences in culture or customs take away from how you see the world or others. Studying abroad in Florence helped improve my level of cultural competency, and allowed me to get outside of my comfort zone”.

The students stayed in apartments located spread throughout Florence which provided them with insight into the everyday live of resident Florentines. One of the most memorable landmarks during their trip was the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo, and was passed regularly as students carried out their daily routines. All participants of the program were required to enroll in the Italian Renaissance class offered through NC State. The class, taught by professor Lisa Kaborycha, focused on the Italian Renaissance, was a highlight of the trip for McNeill who said “the history class was really awesome because some of the things we were talking in the class actually happened in the city around us. We could actually go out and see the sites where these major events happened”. 

The students also had the opportunity to enroll in a second class at Lorenzo de’ Medici. McNeill and Tatlock both enrolled in an Italian regional cooking class, and West decided to take a jewelry making class. Classes were Monday through Thursday and lasted approximately two and a half hours. “I’m really glad that I got to take a cooking class in Florence. Joseph was my partner and we got to cook a bunch of really interesting and tasty things. Our teacher was a chef who had been teaching cooking classes for awhile and had a lot of experience. One of the most unusual dishes we made was octopus salad. My favorite dish we made was either the tiramisu or the ravioli. I’ve never made my own pasta before, and it’s neat that I got to do it for the first time in Italy where it’s so fresh and authentic,” Tatlock said.

Throughout the week the faculty members from NC State who were in Florence gave different tours of museums and historic sites to the students. The Uffizi Gallery, Boboli Gardens, and the Bargello were some of the sites toured.

There were different weekend excursions planned during the five weeks abroad. The group traveled to Lucca, Pisa, Siena, Vesuvius, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Venice, and San Gimignano. The group toured many classic tourist sites including Mount Vesuvius, the Rialto Bridge, and Leaning Tower of Pisa. The last weekend was considered a free weekend where students could go to whatever destination they wanted to or explore more in Florence. McNeill, Tatlock, and West went to Cinque Terre for the weekend.

When asked what his favorite experience was, McNeill replied “One of my most memorable moments from my trip was seeing the Sistine Chapel while touring the Vatican. I have always heard and learned about it growing up. Not to mention that it was painted by Michelangelo…the painter, not the Ninja Turtle… It was absolutely beautiful. Getting to see such a masterpiece in person is something that I will never forget”.

The five weeks spent abroad was a time of new growth, but they were not exempt to challenges.

“One challenge I faced when studying abroad was being without my family and friends. The only thing scarier than being in a country half way around the world was being there with people that I barely knew. Going over there I had a few friends, but for the most part I didn’t know anyone else. But I quickly made friends and had such an amazing time. Another challenge I had while in Italy was giving myself time to finish my homework. This was a challenge because why would I want to sit inside my apartment and write a paper on the history of the Medici family when I could go out, explore the city, and see where the Medici family actually lived. There was so much to do and so much to see that it seemed overwhelming at time. But with all of the challenges it was so worth it to see parts of history that I had only ever seen pictures of or read about in books,” McNeill said.

“As far as self-knowledge gained from this experience, I learned how much I hate being out of my comfort zone, but also how capable I am to rising to a challenge. Studying abroad is such an empowering experience. I also learned that I tend to get anxious in the face of uncertainty but, for me, this does nothing but making the situation more difficult. The best thing for me to do is take a breath, trust in my abilities and resources, and keep a steady mind instead of letting it get the best of me,” West said.  

There was a farewell dinner on the last night of the program which brought the group together one last time. When the trip came to an end, each student was able to walk away with a new perspective and with many memories from the past month abroad. Some of the students even have advice for those who are considering studying abroad while they are at NC State:

“My best advice that I could give someone considering study abroad is to just do it. I was super nervous before I finally decided on study abroad. I was nervous about being away from home for five weeks and I was nervous about flying (I hate flying). But the time flies once you get over there, and the flights aren’t as bad as I thought they would be. I have no regrets about study abroad and wish that I could do it again. You wont regret it either, I’m sure of it!” McNeill said.

“My advice to someone considering studying abroad would be to do your research as far as the logistics of studying abroad and different programs, but eventually just to take the leap of faith and commit to it. For most people there is at least a little fear about doing something so out of their comfort zone but wherever you go, it will be an experience you won’t regret,” West said.

As these three students progress in their undergraduate careers, they will surely not forget a remarkable summer.

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