[Sara Denney was our student worker until she graduated May 2017.
She attended HUF fall 2014 and these are her thoughts.]
When I first embarked upon my semester-long adventure in the hills of Tuscany, I had no idea that almost three years later the memories would still daily tarry in my mind. Yes, working in the International Programs office and sharing about our programs every day keeps my HUF memories fresh, but Florence has a way of rooting itself deeply in the hearts and minds of those who have called it home.
The semester I called Florence my home was one of the most challenging and rewarding semesters of my college career. I spent lots time this past spring semester as graduation approached reminiscing about the most influential semesters of college. A semester away shapes students more than you would initially expect.
The biggest lesson I learned during my semester overseas didn’t reveal itself to me until I arrived back in the states. I had slowly developed a deep love and appreciation for cultures that expanded my southern Missouri worldview. Being immersed in a foreign culture opens your mind so slowly that you don’t even notice the change until you’ve left the experience. A semester abroad organically teaches you about the common humanity of all people. No matter what language we speak or clothing we wear, we all have stories, struggles and triumphs that form the common basis for who we all are. We can learn about culture in the classroom starting on our first day of kindergarten but we will never understand it until we dive head first into someone else’s normal.
One of my favorite memories at HUF was towards the end of the semester when two touristy Americans stopped my friend and me in downtown Florence. They spoke to us slowly and loudly, clearly thinking we were locals, asking for directions to the train station. The tourists’ faces displayed their surprise when we answered calmly in the English language with our American accents. My friend and I were ecstatic because this was evidence that we had learned how to blend in and become one with the Italian culture.
Spending a semester absorbing new experiences and cultures is beneficial no matter where you go and each place will leave its mark on you in its own way. But I can’t help that think Florence might leave its mark a little deeper. The sight of the city lights dancing on the Arno, or the smell of fresh pizza, or the taste of a refreshing cup of gelato or the sound of a boisterous “bonjourno” seem to stick with all who call Florence home, even if it was only for a semester.
As I prepare for the next adventure in my life as a college graduate, I am extra thankful for these moments and experiences that have stretched, grown and prepared me for this step. I am also thankful for the opportunity to share these lessons with other students and helping make their trip possible through my work in the International Programs Office. I eagerly await the day that I return to my Florence home, but until then I will reread my travel journal, print more pictures and enjoy watching new students make Florence their home too.
For more information about studying abroad visit out website: www.harding.edu/international