Special Introductions to Florence

Sarah Genovese is a Foreign Affairs major, who went to Florence, Italy in Spring 2017 during her third year.

I can’t believe what a whirr the first 11 days in Florence have been. It feels as though I have been here for 10 minutes, but also for 3 years. I am beginning to have a sense that I am in “my neighborhood” as I approach my apartment at the end of long walks. I am getting lost slightly less often, though I have never been particularly good at directions (and still get lost in my hometown). I have faced a few obstacles: the hot water in our apartment shut off one day; my debit card is scratched and a new one is (hopefully) on its way. “Our apartment.” I share an apartment with 8 girls: 4 from UVA and 4 from Penn State. Everyone is very nice and very compatible—it turns out that college age girls with an interest in travelling Europe for four months have a lot in common.

Our first weekend here was full of school orientations, and less formal means of orienting ourselves in Florence. My personal favorite part of the first few days was going to an aperitivo, a cheap “pre-dinner snack,” buffet-style and served with a drink. It was a cultural experience, very revealing of the slow-paced, food-oriented Italian lifestyle. It was also a lot of fun to do with my apartment-mates. It’s been a continuous, conscious effort to avoid the “study abroad bars” and “American diners” that study abroad students here tend to frequent, and make sure that I’m doing culturally engaging things with my study abroad friends.

This weekend, two of my apartment-mates went to Berlin, and three of us went to Siena. Siena was a beautiful town—we went to the Siena Duomo, a medieval art museum, and Il Campo, the city square. We had lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, L’Osteria on Via Rossi, and I had Siena’s traditional pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is a Siena staple as well. Engaging with Italy via food has definitely been one of my preferred modes.

Sunday of this weekend, I went to a church service at the nearest cathedral which, like all of the churches in Florence, is amazingly beautiful. I am a confirmed Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a while. The contrast between the strange language and the childhood memories gave me a mix of emotions that was hard to sort out, but which draws me to go again. However, my plans for many long weekend trips may disrupt this desire. Indeed, the hardest part of study abroad so far has been trying to establish a balance between all of the things I want to do in Florence and Italy, and the things I want to do in wider Europe. I look forward to figuring it out!

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Bonjour or Hola?

Alexis Ferebee attended the UVA in Lyon Program in Spring 2017 as a 3rd year majoring in Media Studies and Foreign Affairs.

At our universities in France, we get two different breaks, or “vacances.” The first one is a week long and happens in February, and the second is also a week and is in April. I just recently got back from my first vacation. A friend and I went to Barcelona, Valencia, and Lisbon. Spain is easily of my favorite countries that I have visited, I almost with I studied abroad there. Luckily, I speak some Spanish (due to the 3 semesters of it that I took at UVA) so communication was not too hard there, but Portugal was a whole other story. Before arriving there, I thought that I would watch some YouTube videos and learn at least the basics of the language before spending three whole days there.

After watching the same video 3 times, I was taught how to say: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I would like, you’re welcome, excuse me, I don’t speak Portuguese, do you speak English? etc. Over the course of those few days, I used a few of the words, but honestly I didn’t really need them. As can be expected in most larger European cities, most everybody spoke English very well. There were a few times when I had to either communicate in French or Spanish, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. The ideal way to travel around Europe is to know a few languages and just hope that the people you meet can speak at least one of them.

I am so lucky that in this experience I not only get to better my French skills, but my Spanish ones as well. I also get to explore other languages and at least learn their basics. Whether it is trying to order food in a terrible Portuguese accent, or miming what I am attempting to say, all that matters is that I tried!

Leaving what you know behind to see in a different light

Yangyou Fang is a 2nd year Spanish and Computer Science Double Major studying abroad on the Jefferson Global Seminars summer program at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Below is her first arrival reflection and pictures from a 2011 experience in Hong Kong.

June 10, 2014

“Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different  light, and from a crooked angle.”
– Pico Iyer

I arrived at Hong Kong international airport, with my baggage and a prepared heart.  The hot and the humid welcomed me, as always during in the summer, as it was three  years ago. I was here three years ago to take the SAT exam (Hong Kong was the closest  place that the Chinese students can take SAT), also in June, in the same weather. I remembered reviewing vocabulary in MTR, walking down the street, rushing to the test center, worrying and nervous about my future, about whether I could get into a college in the United States.

Now, three years later, I am here again, as an exchange student from UVA, ready to explore the same city with different perspective, and with different state of mind. The city of Hong Kong never fails to fascinate people – those who live here, travelers, and workers, etc.- with its unique beauty: the ocean, the harbor, the history, the food, the opportunities and the unknown. Although Hong Kong is officially a part of China (called a Special Administrative District), it remained almost unchanged as when it was a British colony. As a student from Mainland China, going to Hong Kong may not seem like a big challenge. However, during my several trips to Hong Kong before, I found it necessary to embrace the cultural shocks I might encounter in Hong Kong, “seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light”.

I hope that-

  • I would be able to experience and get used to a Hong Kong University.
  • I would be able to learn some Cantonese.
  • I would be able to make new friends.
  • I would be able to appreciate the cultural differences and the excitement this experience will bring.

Now, with all my expectations and preparations, I am ready, to start the adventure.

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Avenue of the Stars (2011)

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Victoria Harbour (2011)