Journal—Notes From Abroad
Cheri Hardy ’09 traveled
to Florence, Italy, in September to spend her academic
year with Smith’s Junior
Year Abroad program. She recently wrote about her
initial experiences for The Gate.
By Cheri Hardy
When I arrived,
I remember, I was incredulous. Was I really in another country? Although
I spent two years in Smith’s
Italian department, repeatedly hearing the phrase “when
you're in Italy,” it's surreal to be in a place filled
with so much history I'd only ever heard about or seen in
I'm a poor kid from a
small town in Arkansas—most
people with my background don't go anywhere. Even though
I had traveled the United States for most of my teenage
years, it took about two months to really comprehend the
distance to come here, and to adjust to the way of life in
Smith's Italian department is extremely good at teaching
students what to expect when abroad, how the Italian culture
has developed, and how to make oneself a part of it. However, there are a number
of things no one thinks to explain, like how to fill up a
bike tire with air, how to convert shoe sizes, or how to
find the Italian equivalent to Robitussin. No, it wasn't
hard to ask around and find these things out, but eventually
things like that add up, and I found myself terribly frustrated
several times for the first month or so.
It was the first instance
in my life in which I was truly homesick, even though I
had gone to camp since age 9 and lived away at school
for the last two years. It was all so strange to me—the
frustrations, the language difficulties, the homesickness,
getting lost all the time at first, and adjusting to living
with a mom again—that all I wanted
was to go home. I'm glad they don't let you.
Now, at the end of my first
semester in Italy, I have been able to look around and really
appreciate what I have here. Even though the Florence program
is Smith-run, my academic load is much lighter than it was
at Smith. I now have more time to explore, travel, and even
enjoy class again.
I am taking an art history
class focusing on the Renaissance, and after learning about
something, we get to go and actually see it. Our studio
art class is conducted as if we were apprentices during
the Renaissance, so we've been drawing from art found
all over Florence, and soon we'll be doing frescoes and
tempera paintings with gold leafing. I am living in the
city of the Medici, Michelangelo was raised ten minutes from
my house, the Smith “campus” is on the street
of Renaissance artists' former studios, and I'm treated to
a home-cooked Italian dinner every single night.
How lucky could a girl
Until fairly recently, I had been telling myself I would
have been fine with returning to Smith for the spring semester.
Now I can't imagine not coming back to Italy after winter
break. I just started a few weeks ago with my volunteer work
at a villa for refugees, where I help out with the kids.
My signora, my housemates, and I have really only just bonded.
Sure, it can be hard sometimes:
23 Smithies around one another almost exclusively for the
nine-month program can be a little wearing. Missing everything
I got used to doing at Smith is rough. Being away from family
and friends for holidays is sad, even though our director
organized a lovely Thanksgiving for us.
However, I really believe
that regardless of any difficulty, going abroad is a priceless
part of my college experience. I am humbled and exalted
by it almost every day, and can't wait to see what happens
I really think this is the place I am supposed to be.