Italian culture has been close to my heart from a young age. Both sides of my family are Italian, and six of my eight great-grandparents emigrated from Italy to the United States through Ellis Island in the 1920s.
My family has passed down hints of our Italian culture including pasta and sauce recipes and a love for traditional Italian music. That’s why, when I first toured Pepperdine during my sophomore year of high school, the Florence sign outside of the International Programs office immediately caught my attention.
After COVID postponed my IP journey my sophomore year, I was ecstatic to hear of my acceptance to the 2023 summer program. Along with my eagerness to explore the country of my roots, I also felt nervous about traveling abroad because it was my first time leaving North America. Yet, when my friends and family asked me prior to my departure what I was most excited for, I continually said, “the food,” and I was definitely not disappointed.
My time abroad was more than a fun summer vacation; it was truly a learning experience where I gained confidence and independence. Almost every weekend, I explored someplace new, and I managed to see four countries and 13 cities in my time there.
The highlight of my entire trip was my weekend in Nice, France and Monte-Carlo, Monaco. The beach had the clearest water I had ever seen, and I had the privilege to try some of the best croissants and cheese in the world. What stands out to me most is how kind and full of life the people there were. A parade through Old Town Nice and parties along the Promenade des Anglais far into the night exemplified this exuberant spirit.
I took a significant step out of my comfort zone when I solo-traveled to Venice and Bologna. This trip allowed me to find myself and take in all the beauty around me without distraction. It also taught me how to enjoy being alone, and it prompted me to interact with locals and fellow tourists. I even met and exchanged numbers with a girl my age from Florida on a food tour.
In addition to the trips I got to take, I will never forget the people in the program whom I became close with through incredible shared excursions and daily life in the villa. My peers in the Florence program became my family away from home, and I continually looked forward to lunches in the Mesa, worship nights, spontaneous gelato runs to Medici’s and dancing at the Piazzale Michelangelo.
I also have to give shout-outs to our wonderful program director Elizabeth Whatley — or, “Queen Elizabeth” — our faculty in residence, Dr. Felicity Vabulas, and my Italian professor, Valentina Nocentini. They made the Villa such a cozy and loving atmosphere and became like parents to us in our time away from home.
Florence program director Whatley’s love for the country radiates from her. She planned terrific field trips for our group from the day we arrived, including a gelato tour around the city, a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano, a four-course meal at her private home and a final dinner overlooking the Duomo.
I am so thankful Pepperdine has an abundance of abroad opportunities, and I hope to discover another location next summer. May and June were a whirlwind and showed me how vast our world is. You could say I’ve caught the travel bug. Despite the uniqueness of every location I visited in my time abroad, my biggest takeaway was Italians’ love for life and carefree joy, and I’ve carried this attitude home with me.
“Grazie,” Florence, for the summer of a lifetime. I hope to go again, as the city of the Renaissance will always have a piece of my heart.
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