By Paul Botello
Studying abroad during the summer is unique because you will experience many of the same places and sites as someone who spent an entire semester there, only it will be crammed into one month. During the month that I spent studying in Italy, I learned that there are only so many things you can plan for, yet so little time you can waste doing things, like planning. It quickly became clear that the key to a memorable summer semester abroad is embracing the unexpected. While you should plan to see a few must-see sites, many of my most memorable experiences I had in Italy were things that I never thought I’d do, nor were they things that I planned.
I studied abroad in Perugia, Italy in a faculty-led program through Clemson University over the month of July 2012. While abroad we took two marketing classes: one with Clemson professor, Dr. Tom Baker, teaching sports marketing, and one with UNC Wilmington professor, Dr. Tracy Meyer, teaching retail management.
FLORENCE: Florence was by far my favorite Italian city. The city is clean and small enough to get around by foot, though the maze-like, cobblestone streets will leave you wondering how you’ll ever find your way back to where you came from. My only recommendation is to plan on seeing Michelangelo’s David, which is as magnificent as it is massive.
We chose to try to see as much as possible by walking around the city; I soon regretted wearing boat shoes instead of sneakers. Soon after that, I felt the blisters forming on my feet, but alas, we kept walking. We walked through the leather market, grazing through leather bags, soft scarves, and cheap ties. We tasted dense and creamy gelato from the parlors on seemingly every street. We window-shopped past stores offering some of the finest fashion that the world has to offer. And lastly, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio (directly translated at “old bridge”), while drinking beers that we bought from small, side street cafes.
We kept walking until we ended up on the outskirts of the city, and with sore feet and sweaty shirts sticking to our backs, many complained that we were now walking uphill. Yet, for whatever reason, we continued toward the top of the hill, and by some stroke of luck (or genius), we ended up at the Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the entire city of Florence. The entire city of Florence looked tiny next to the hills it was settled between. This was one of the most unexpected, staggering views I’ve ever seen.
LAKE COMO: On a whim, myself and the eighteen other Clemson students in the program boarded a train heading to Lake Como. We eventually ended up on a ferry; I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we would see on the lake. On the water, we could see the Italian and Swiss Alps that lined the shores. Following the mountains from their skyscraping peaks directly into the water, the entire scene was simply otherworldly.
VENICE: To be honest, I can’t tell you much of anything about the tourist scene of Venice, but I can tell you a great place to get a drink: Harry’s. It was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bars (and if anybody knew bars it was Hemingway), but you have to wear pants to get inside. But really, don’t forget your pants.
We didn’t have a conventional trip to Venice outside of the gondola rides (which is a must). Instead of touring the sights, a few of us enjoyed staying cool with a few drinks and people watching while others went shopping, making for a great day.
The night wouldn’t go as smoothly, however. As we arrived for our train out of Venice we became aware that all trains were canceled due to a strike (a weekly occurrence in Italy). After the initial chaos settled, we found a train scheduled to leave about three hours later, so we quickly booked those tickets. With no place to go, all eighteen of us sat on the steps of the Venice train station, drinking bottles of wine and limoncello. We told jokes and stories; we bought flickering lights from street vendors, launching them into the sky and catching them as they fell back down to Earth. We did this for hours as boats floated by, taking in the beauty of Venice at night. As we finally departed on our hot, overcrowded train, my dearest memories of Venice stayed on those steps of the train station.
Just remember, when you study abroad over the summer, time is scarce. It is important not to waste time deciding what to do or where to go. The most important part is making an effort to do anything, so long as you’re doing something. There will be moments when you sit down on the train completely exhausted, having forgotten where this particular train is taking you, but never will you forget the things you’ve seen or the places you’ve been.