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   Date: 1/15/09

JYA Journal—A Year in Florence

An occasional series from students spending the year in Florence, Italy.

Going Places You Never Imagined

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 hola”.   

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 false anticipations.   

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.


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