Exploring the Boot with Grace: Studying while abroad



The Great Synagogue of Florence in Florence, Italy. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

By Grace McGinness, Columnist

A little while ago, my medieval literature professor decided to dedicate some of our class time to looking at historic medieval buildings scattered around Florence’s city center. While walking amongst the centuries-old houses and city walls towering above the city’s streets, our professor, a native Italian, made sure to point out her favorite shops to me and my classmates.

Some students become so excited over their study abroad experience and all the extra bonuses that come with it like new food, new experiences and new friends that they forget their main obligation — studying.  A good chunk of one’s time abroad is spent in a classroom with professors, assignments and grades, just like back in the States. While studying is an integral part of any study abroad program, it can fall to the wayside as even brochures and advertisements brush over the required classes and homework.

As I boarded the plane to Florence, the only thing I knew about my courses were their names and general subjects. I had enrolled in an oil painting class, a creative writing class, a medieval literature class, a cross-cultural psychology class and an intermediate Italian class.

Before I left, I found the information given to students on this important part of the program was scarce. I wasn’t sure if I’d be taking classes with Italian or American students, who would be teaching them or how I would be graded.

While I found myself worrying what I had gotten myself into, I wasn’t worried enough to chase someone down and beat the answers out of them. I assured myself that I was in good hands, and it turns out, I was.

My courses — predominantly taken by American students — are taught by local Italian professors at CAPA’s learning facility in the historic center of Florence. The teachers really are no different than those in the United States. Some are pushovers, some rule with an iron fist and others land somewhere in the middle.

But as an added bonus to studying abroad or maybe just studying in Italy, each of my professors jumps to offer advice on where to eat, shop and travel. Florence is their city and they take great pride in being Florentines. They want to help us experience the city the way they do as citizens.

Between the easy subjects and the relaxed professors, so far the classes are great. I like them enough that about once a week while in lecture, I get so distracted about how happy I am just to be here I realize I’m not paying attention to the actual class! But I’m thinking about the class conceptually so it counts.

None of my classes are dropping any self-realization truth bombs so far, but I genuinely enjoy the material I’m learning. I find my professors energetic and engaging, making my coursework feel relatively easy. I look forward to psychology lectures about cultural values throughout Italy and take pleasure in experimenting with colors and shapes in my painting class, trying my hand at painting sights new to my eyes.

Before anyone accuses me of lollygagging, using this semester to vacation and sightsee,  I should explain the academic benefits of completing Pitt in Florence. The grades I earn transfer into Pitt credit hours, and will be reflected in my GPA.

My writing, literature and psychology classes satisfy the elective requirements for my two majors. Oil painting satisfies Pitt’s creative expression general education requirement. The Italian course I’m taking enriches my social and cultural interactions.

Plus going abroad satisfies the three global awareness or international general education requirements, making this semester extremely productive.

I also get to go on adventures while fulfilling gen eds. What a concept.

All this being said, midterms are next week. Check back with me after and we’ll see if I’ve changed my mind.