My program, the Florence Study Abroad Program through IU, is different than most in the fact that the program includes excursions in addition to classes. Most Fridays, my group treks to a charter bus, packed lunch in hand, and disembarks to a smaller Tuscan town where we spend the day exploring and visiting historical landmarks.
Our excursion days usually begin early (early for a college student, that is), leaving the hotel by 8 A.M., traveling deep into the Tuscan countryside via a two-hour bus ride, and then launching out by mid-morning. The sites we usually visit are Renaissance style churches that feature frescoes, statues, and structures of importance. My professor does an excellent job of explaining the significance of these artifacts while also keeping a group of 32 American college students engaged. Around lunchtime, my professor gives us a couple hours of free time to eat, explore the city at our own pace, or visit museums. We’re given the freedom to experience the cities on our own, a freedom that I didn’t quite expect on this trip. After our short break, we often visit several other sites before heading back to the bus. The beautiful thing about these excursions is that we finish the day with an exquisite Italian dinner.
The classic Italian dinner is nothing like typical American fare. Dinners here span several hours and courses as opposed to the minutes it takes to eat a meal from Chipotle. Dinner begins with bread and wine and is followed with a course of meats and cheeses and then several pasta courses of various types and sauces. A meat course follows and is trailed by a dessert course. The food is always delicious and leaves me feeling overwhelmingly full. The dinners are often the highlight of the day, a time where we can eat, drink, and relax in good company and reflect on the experience.
Over the past few weeks, my group has traveled to Siena, San Gimignano, and Assisi. Of those three places, Assisi has been my favorite. The city is nestled into a hill, a stark sandstone against the green of the mountains. It is breathtaking to see the city from high above.
Each place we visit becomes my new favorite, and there are more excursions to come. Our future excursion destinations are Brolio, Vallombrosa, and Bologna. Who is to know what my favorite excursion will be when all is said and done?
Excursion days are especially enjoyable – days that aren’t just class after class, but a day where being immersed in a different culture is the reason for being there. It’s a unique experience that I’m very thankful for because we visit towns that, otherwise, I’d unlikely see. My program is distinctive, and I’m happy to be a part of it.