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JYA 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.         

Where I’m Supposed to Be

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 books.

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 Italy.
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 get? 
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 next. 

I really think this is the place I am supposed to be.


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