Interview with Jess Mitchell

First, where did you GO?
I studied in Florence, Italy for the fall semester.

Why did you choose that location?
It wasn’t until a week before applications were due that I stumbled across the Florence program. What drew me to it was, first, the structure and amount of class offerings. Florence University of the Arts (FUA) had a whole catalogue so you could predict what you could take, which helped me because I needed to fulfil requirements while abroad. Second, FUA’s program in Florence offered some amazing opportunities that fit my majors and interests- things like journalism and writing courses, an internship program, photography classes, and built-in trips across Italy. Plus, it’s Italy! The food, the history, the arts, and the natural beauty all enticed me as I did more research. And when it was time to turn in applications a week later, I knew I was headed to Florence.

What is your strongest memory from your time abroad? It can be a good memory or a horrible one, just one that you will never forget.
My strongest memory was when I was hiking the Cinque Terre trails. I distantly remember a point where I stopped on the path and looked out at the Mediterranean Sea. I stood on a cliff that had a drop hundreds of feet below to the ocean with only a wooden fence holding me back. What I most remember about that memory was the stillness and the vastness of the sea. It made me ache inside because, in a way, it felt lonely, but also exciting. It was a feeling I had felt so many times while abroad, that lonely yet exciting feeling when you’re about to step into something unknown by yourself. When I felt that coming from the Mediterranean Sea of all things, I felt a connection to it, and eventually that encounter became the subject of a travel piece I wrote that’s featured in Flagship, “Lonely Blue.”

What is one thing that surprised you about your GO location?
I did not expect the closeness. From pictures online, you see Florence mainly from an aerial view so that you can see the Duomo, the other churches, the river, the mountains. It seems spread-out and majestic. When you’re living in the heart of the city, the feeling is very different. The buildings aren’t high, but the streets are narrow, and when you live in the historic center, there are always lots of people. I didn’t expect to have to adjust myself so much to living in that city. The noise of bells ringing every hour, the throngs of tourists and business people, and the at-times claustrophobic streets were a challenge. But after that initial surprise, I became more used to it.

What is one thing you wish someone had told you before you left for your trip?
The mosquitoes are a pest! I had read that Florence had lots of them because of the amount of water running through that city, especially near the Arno River, but that still didn’t prepare me. When we first arrived, it was 95 degrees, and there was no air conditioner in our apartment. We kept windows open at night to try and ventilate the house, but that meant we also got some unwelcomed neighbors, too. In the mornings, part of my routine was counting how many bites I got during the night- and where I got them! The mosquitoes were part of the experience, but it was something I wish I had prepared more for.

What is one thing that you wish other people knew about your GO location that they probably don’t know?
My program director, Olivia, told us on one of our first days to not forget Florence in the midst of our traveling. I think that’s so true. Even though Florence is a smaller city, not many people realize how much it offers besides The David and the Duomo. There’s so much more beyond the historic center. I don’t think people know that there’s such an extensive culture to Florence. You don’t have to travel far to find things to do on the weekends or the evenings. You have the ability to visit museums and see “the big stuff,” but you can also step beyond that and explore civilian life in the outskirts and into the country. And because it’s a smaller city, you don’t always need to take a bus. Sometimes it’s easier to just walk!

Is there anything that you wish you had done while abroad but didn’t get around to because of time, money, etc?
The big thing I missed doing was climbing the Duomo. I was so busy I never got a chance to do it. Besides that, I wish that I would’ve had the time to be a part of Italian Family Club or Chat Pal while at FUA. Both these programs give you the opportunity to learn Italian and meet new people from Florence, either in a family or friend-to-friend setting. I never got involved in that, and I wish I had.

What is one thing that you wish you hadn’t done while abroad?
I wish I hadn’t stayed so confined to the historic center of Florence. It was where I took classes and worked at my internship, but I didn’t realize until much later into the semester that there’s so much to explore outside of that. I think the historic center is wonderful, but sometimes it doesn’t offer you the full experience of Italian life because it is catered to outside visitors. I ended up navigating around there most of my days, mainly because I didn’t know where else to go. But I’m sure if I would’ve talked with some more people, I could’ve easily branched out beyond that area and explored more of the city.

What is your favorite souvenir from your trip?
My favorite souvenir is a gray pea coat from my bosses at my internship. Franz and Ilse Moser was a couple from Austria that have lived in Florence for a long time. They work at St. Mark’s Opera Company and put on opera performances and aria concerts with the help of local opera singers and musicians. Everyone in that company is so talented, and I was privileged to intern there in the patron services- and even be in one of the performances! Franz and Ilse were my bosses, but they were also like my adopted parents while in Florence. They always made sure I was taken care of. One time I asked Ilse if she knew any stores where I could buy a nice coat, and instead Ilse gave me one as a gift. It fit perfectly! The coat is not only a reminder of my time abroad, but it’s also a reminder of a couple who were so kind to me and whom I’ll never forget.

Last, do you want to go back?
Absolutely. I never thought much about Italy until I stumbled across FUA’s program. But as I learned and immersed myself, I grew to love the history, the culture, and the people. I also found what I didn’t like about it. But it was all part of the experience. I would love to return to Florence to keep exploring it and to connect with the friends that I made there. If nothing else, I also still need to climb the Duomo.


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