Journal—A Year in Florence
An occasional series from
students spending the year in Florence, Italy.
By Tina Jackson ’09
Tina Jackson ’09 (on left) poses with a friend in Florence.
When I was a high school sophomore, I read a copy of NewSmith given
to me by a Smith alumna. Already having known since age 9
that I wanted to attend Smith, I devoured the newsletter
in an instant. One article that caught my attention was a
column with a picture of three JYA Smithies in Florence,
Italy. Only weeks before reading the article, I had traveled
to Italy and fell head over heels in love with the country.
I was curious about these Smith students in the photo and
wondered who they were and how they got to study abroad.
It seemed so impossible and far away—I couldn’t
imagine studying abroad for an entire school year. I was
only hoping that A) Smith would accept me, and B) I would
be brave enough to go cross-country for college.
That was six years ago.
Smith did accept me (on December 14, 2004) and I joyously—without fears or doubts—boarded
a plane to Florence on September 14, 2008. I can’t
quite remember why I chose to study Italian my first year
at Smith. I didn’t intend to study a foreign language.
What I have found since signing up for Italian 110 in fall
2005 is that I am a part of one of Smith’s most superb
departments, full of dedicated, creative and inspiring professors.
If it weren’t for those passionate professors, who
encouraged us babbling beginners to continue with the language,
I would not be here in Florence living la bella vita.
When I first arrived in
Florence, I sat in my host family’s
living room, prim and proper, not sure what to expect or
just how “at home” I should feel. My Italian
had grown rusty over the summer and I was nervous to speak.
Every brain cell was firing just to understand what was being
said. But I quickly adjusted and became comfortable. Being
in a host family has become one of my biggest learning tools
and it is such a comfort to come home each night to a lovely
family who is eager to share their culture with me.
View from a Florence bridge.
My extensive exploring
of the city has led me to discover my own Florence—the well-known multitudes of Renaissance
artwork and less famous gems. Lori at La Carreria Gelateria
knows I want a small pistachio and yogurt Nutella cone when
I walk through the door. I know a night out with my Italian
friends will always start on the steps of the Santa Croce
at 22:45. And my host family keeps the cupboards stocked
with peanut butter just for me. Bread sits on the table cloth,
extra virgin olive oil tastes incredible on everything, don’t
try to get away with riding the bus without a ticket, University
classes start 15 minutes late, transportation strikes happen
about twice a month, and Coca Cola is pronounced “hoha
We JYA students were told
upon arrival that we were experiencing the “honeymoon phase,” that it would wear off
in weeks and reality would hit, that we were living abroad
for a year and there would be challenges and struggles. I
believe that attitude is everything, and in order to stay
on a yearlong honeymoon, which I intend to do, you have to
make the trip your own and learn to be flexible. That means
shedding expectations and “American” habits.
What I want to take away from this year is a profound understanding
of this beautiful language and complex culture and the knowledge
that I didn’t miss a moment of it while living with
A grand tradition at Smith is passing something on. Maybe
an aspiring Smithie will come across this article one day
after school, before volleyball practice, and six years from
now find herself doing things and going places she never
imagined she would.
After almost four years,
I have found, that’s what
Smith is all about.