It’s hard to believe that a little less than a week ago I was home in Florida because it already feels like I’ve been in Florence for weeks! I cannot believe how beautiful, surreal, and different this place is. Sometimes when I’m walking down the street, something will strike me as being so impossibly beautiful and I’ll just get a wave of chills. A majestic building, the sound of a street musician playing a haunting melody that echoes throughout the crowded plaza, the aroma that hits you when you walk past a bakery…there is never a shortage of things in Florence that will ignite  your senses and make you feel truly alive.

View from the Arno river.

View from the Arno river.

The Duomo cathedral  is just a five minute walk from my apartment.

The Duomo cathedral is just a five minute walk from my apartment.

This week, I moved into my apartment, started my classes, and tried to navigate my way around the somewhat confusing city. I admit that I got lost a few times, but it didn’t make me too scared or panicked. Despite all the strangers here, there is a sense of security as well. The biggest challenge has definitely been getting enough sleep. My school days are packed and the coffee here is a lot weaker than it is in the states, so I’ve been having caffeine withdrawals. Being in a foreign place and adjusting to the time difference has been a little difficult but I’m sure I will get used to it soon enough.

I naturally had to have pizza as soon as I arrived.

I naturally had to have pizza as soon as I arrived.

Late-night gelato runs

Late-night gelato runs

My apartment is absolutely surreal. It’s in a really old, charming building on the top floor. Just around the corner is the Piazza della Signoria. From my apartment window, I can see the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, a massive palace dating back to 1299. The bell from this tower rings every hour and wakes me up for my early school mornings.

The view from my bedroom window.

The view from my bedroom window.

Looking down from my balcony...

Looking down from my balcony…

There is so much more I want to share, but I’ll save it for another blog. Until next week, Ciao!


Hi everyone!

It has indeed been a while since I had posted any updates since before I left for Japan. But since we are on a schedule and have been fighting for both sleep and wifi, I haven’t had the time to write. Fortunately I got to borrow a computer tonight, even only for a short time so I can post a few updates and pictures of my trip. Firstly, my friend and I were traveling through Canada to Tokyo. However, our flight was delayed by about an hour and a half which made a huge difference in us catching our connecting flight from Tokyo to Fukuoka. Long story short, we missed our flight to Fukuoka because of the delay and ended up buying another ticket that same night. The airport staff however was most helpful and friendly and they helped us catch our last minute flight 2 minutes before the shuttle left for the plane. We cut it really close, but made it half an hour later in Fukuoka and caught up with our group.

So far we spent time in Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Beppu and Hiroshima. Beppu was fun and full of hot springs where I tried it out for the very first time. Nudity and shyness aside , it was a great and relaxing experience. My skin looks and feel so much better and honestly I wish I could do it everyday.

Today we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and learned  about the true horrors that occurred after the bomb. It is a bit of an eye opening and painful experience but seeing the pleas for peace and unity gives me a lot of hope and I am glad that I had the opportunity to visit and to further understand what Japan has gone through in its history. If you  ever visit  Japan inthe future, I highly suggest  you see the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum.

Today we went to Miyajima which is a small island next to Hiroshima. We took a ferry to go across and when we came closer to the Tori gates I could hardly believe it. These same gates were the ones I always see in pictures and I had always wanted to see them in person, I just didn’t think that day would be today. The island was also populated by a good number of deer that seemed to want ro eat just about anything. So far, just paper and leaves. But my friend had her map stolen and eaten by one of them and if you have food on you they will follow you.

Usually the famous Miyajima Tori Gate is surrounded by high tide, but this time that wasn’t the case so we got to go up close and actually touch it. I noticed that coins were all around the ground and in the crevices of the structure. I’m not sure why they were  there but I suspect they are wishes made by the people who put them there. Later that day we went up the nature trail on the mointain where there was a small river and a couple shrines. The feel of the whole island was amazing and I hope I will be able to return soon.

I’ll updates soon as I get the time and wifi of course. There are more adventures to come! ;) If you ever get the chance to see Japan, please  visit Miyajima and Hiroshima, it really is worth it :D

An old bank in Hiroshima  that was destroyed by the atomic bomb

An old bank in Hiroshima that was destroyed by the atomic bomb

A beautiful poster representing he world's desire for peace and freedom from nuclear weapons.

A beautiful poster representing the world’s desire for peace and freedom from nuclear weapons.

Sight of the Miyajima gates from our ferry!

View of the Miyajima gates from our ferry.

A Miyajima deer that just  ate my friend's map, lol. :D

A Miyajima deer that just ate my friend’s map, lol. :D

Miyajima gates

Miyajima gates


Coins found on the gates

Coins found on the gates


Coins left in the small niches of the the gates.

Coins left in the small niches of the the gates.





So far, I have been having a good time in Qingdao, although upon arriving I have been extremely busy. The time change has also taken some getting used to, it is 12 hours ahead of Florida, but I think I have finally managed to adjust.

Classes have not officially started, but we have been busy preparing for our internship–mine will probably have something to do with music. Hopefully we will start these next week, if all goes well. I met my roommate, Han Ping, who is a freshman at Qingdao University. After helping her settle into our hotel room, the two of us have been spending quite a bit of time together. On Saturday, we went to meet my friend Oliver from the visually impaired school. He is currently studying English and will be applying to universities in America. After that, we went to the Qingdao Munincipal Museum to study gguqin, a seven stringed zither and one of the most ancient Chinese instruments.

Last night I sadly found out that I will not be able to study the guqin this summer due to time constraints: we have classes on Saturdays, which is also when the guqin class meets.


I am finally getting a chance to catch up with this blog! My friend and I landed in Madrid on Wednesday, and we stayed at a hostel until today (Saturday) when we met up with our group. The first day we got here was pretty rough. We arrived at the Madrid airport at 10:00 AM and had a lot of difficulty getting wifi in order to get directions to the Way Hostel where we were staying. Lugging our huge bags up and down the metro and clearly looking like tourists was pretty embarrassing. Anyways, once we finally found the hostel, we showered and explored the city. It was tiring, and we were both hungry and slightly cranky so it was a relief when we finally came home to sleep.

The next day was amazing. We went on a day trip to Toledo, which is absolutely stunning. Every nook and cranny was a beautiful sight to see. I ate a bocadillo con jamon (it had delicious and had fresh Iberian ham) and my friend ate a veggie wrap (she is vegetarian). We stumbled upon some amazing places like a nearby university and a gourmet market near the Plaza Zocodovo. The food here is fresh, delicious, and surprisingly cheap. I bought a huge sandwich that lasted for lunch and dinner for 3 euros, and the gourmet dessert and coffee was only 4 euros.

When we arrived back to our hostel, we met our roommate who ended up becoming a really great friend. We all explored the city together, and I honestly fell in love with Madrid and Spain. We ended the night at a beautiful outdoor café next to the Parque Retiro.

On Friday, we stayed in Madrid and took a metro to a district on the outskirts of the city. Then we walked throughout the city. At Tribunal, we stumbled upon an outdoor pottery sale where vendors were selling handcrafted artwork and pottery pieces. Then we walked to Principe Pio, where we stumbled upon (we were very lucky to walk to the right places by accident) an absolutely stunning park. There were beautiful bridges and cafes lining the park. It was the perfect place to run, and I instantly regretted not brining my running shoes on my trip. There was a stretch of pavement about 3-5 miles that was dotted with runners and bikers. It was such an incredible experience to sit on the bridge and watch families, children, couples, and tourists wander the streets. We were planning to head towards the metro when we met a lady that told us to keep walking ahead because there was a huge festival happening (lucky again!!). On May 15, Spaniards celebrate San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid. Somehow we had managed to walk from Tribunal all the way to the Parque San Isidro. There were tens of thousands of people. Some were dressed in the traditional costume, and almost all had the red flower of Madrid in their hair (of course we bought some too!). The streets were lined with vendors selling delicious food—from paella to raquella—and the atmosphere was electric. Thousands of people sat in the shade on the hill sides and listened to music, watched street artists, and enjoyed drinking and eating. The San Isidro festival was easily one of the best experiences of my life. We had the opportunity to witness the beautiful Spanish culture and traditions. Later that night we hung out with more friends from our hostel and went to Parque Retiro to watch the fireworks. Then we walked to a nearby bar to order food. We headed home around 2:00 AM so that we would have time to pack.


This morning we had breakfast with our new friends at a beautiful restaurant next to the hostel. The other days we enjoyed churros offered by the hostel. At the café, I ordered a croissant with chocolate and a coffee. It was one of the best meals I have had. It was sad saying good-bye to our new friends, but I hope to one day see them again. We then packed up our bags and headed to the metro to meet the group. We actually missed the train, but we got on a bus instead. Everyone seems very nice and friendly, and I am so excited to get to know everyone better. I am really looking forward to my Spanish class. I love the language so much, and coming to Spain made me realize how much I want to learn it fluently. I hope to have time to blog more frequently when the days aren’t as hectic. Anyways, that’s all for now. I’ve been missing my friends and family but Madrid easily feels like a second home. I’ll post pictures soon!







This was written on 05/12/15, but I just received wifi in order to post it.


Hi, I am on a plane flying from Miami to Madrid. It is 6:10 AM in Madrid time and 12:10 AM in Florida time. It has been really difficult to sleep on the plane because we boarded early at night (6:30 PM) and I usually do not sleep until much later. I slept for about 2 hours but my contacts + tiny cramped space = horrible sleep. We should be landing in about 3 hours so I am hoping the time goes by quickly. Here are some random tips I just thought of:

  • If you ever need to eat something at the Miami airport, go to La Cartera, a Cuban restaurant. I squirmed at spending $13 for chicken, moro rice (has beans and pork), and French fries, but the portion size was HUGE and lasted me lunch, dinner, and breakfast! Plus the food is delicious and much better than the other fast food options available.
  • Make sure you go to Financial Aid to discuss Study Abroad a long time in advance! Just because there is aid posted to your Oasis account does not mean you will actually receive that aid. There are typically many contracts and budget sheets to fill out. Also, be aware that if you receive other scholarships, your aid can be reduced!
  • Roll your clothes! I rolled all of my clothes, which saved A LOT of space. In fact, my entire wardrobe fit in my carry on!
  • Bring a book to read. I assumed that all airports would have working wifi, but the Miami airport had bad reception. Thankfully, I brought along Rick Steves Spain, so I had something to keep me busy. Also, to my surprise, American Airlines did not provide a TV for each seat on my international flight so I had a lot of free time.
  • Charge your phone + laptop at the Tampa airport. The TPA is one of the best in terms of customer service and cleanliness. They have work stations and sockets within the terminals. I could not find a single working outlet at the MIA airport terminals!

So there is my random list of tips. I figured I would write a post while I have down time since it might be awhile until I get another chance. I do wish I brought an interesting fiction book to read. Everyone else on the plane is sleeping, and I am so bored. I think I might read my Learning and Memory textbook…

Adios para ahora,




The day has finally come. As I sit here in Tampa International Airport I can’t help but day dream about the adventures that are ahead of me.  My name is Molly Latimer, I am now a Senior at USF (WOW time really flies). I am majoring in mass communications with a focus in public relations. I chose the Florence study abroad program because I felt that it was a great location for someone like me- someone who has never traveled out of the country before.

The main goal I wish to accomplish by studying abroad is to become more cultured in all aspects of the word. I have always had the dream of going abroad and visiting all of the interesting and beautiful sights the world has to offer, and this past year I decided I was going to make this dream a reality, no matter what.

365 days of saving up every penny that came my way, here I am. In one hour I will be on my way to Florence, Italy. The smile on my face is unreal.


Until next time,

Ciao America

On the left: The Google Street View of where I'll be staying in Florence.

On the left: The Google Street View of where I’ll be staying in Florence.

After months of anticipation, it’s finally time for me to get on the plane and begin my study abroad experience in Florence, Italy.

So much planning has gone into this trip and I’m so excited to get started!

Before talking about Italy, though, I want you to tell you a little bit about myself! My name’s Zach Lowie, I’m a Mass Communications major with a concentration in Telecommunications. I’m about to enter my Senior year at USF and getting the opportunity to study Italian language and culture while living within the country is a remarkable chance I may never have again. Being abroad in this program will also help expand my worldview, making me more well-equipped for the globally diverse society we live in.

Florence is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world and I am so thrilled I’ll be able to call it home. I have traveled out of the country before, but not for longer than two weeks at a time. This trip will allow me to immerse myself in a society that I have only read about before. I have had many friends and family members wish me luck, which only makes me more exhilarated with each gesture.

My bags are packed, my initial check-in is finished, and I’m ready to start this grand adventure!

Hello everyone,

My name is Joseph McElroy and I am participating in the USF in Russia summer 2015 program. I am an undergraduate student working on degrees in Russian and Music, with a minor in Linguistics. I’ve just completed my third year of college but have two more left because of my double major.

I chose this program (and Russian degree) because it is my goal to become fluent in the language. I plan to go into linguistics for graduate school. Because this is my first time studying abroad, I am looking forward to being surprised, finding unexpected things, and gaining new experiences. The program will last for about 30 days (from May 11th to June 10th), and as you can see I’m already in Russia right now. The weather is fantastic; so much nicer than Florida’s excessive heat and humidity.

We will be travelling to Moscow and St. Petersburg, spending the majority of our time at Moscow State University (МГУ). My language classes are Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 1:00, and on Wednesday I have a singing class from 2:30 to 4:00, designed to teach pronunciation and cultural stories and history through music (which ties in really well with my music degree). The architecture of the building is amazing, and was built during the time of Stalin.

My flight took me from Tampa to Washington D.C. to Brussels to Moscow. For my first transatlantic flight, the jet lag wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be. My dorm room has a great view out to the front of the building; a security guard just let a truck in through the entrance gate, and the clouds are a greyish-purple colour. Now it is time for breakfast.

До свидания!

If it didn’t seem real to me when I booked my flight, took my passport picture and picked out luggage, it’s definitely hitting me now. In just five days I’ll be flying off to Florence, Italy to study for 6 weeks!

My name is Bianca Montenegro and I’m a mass communications major at USF. I just recently became a senior (!) and all throughout my college experience I’ve wanted to study abroad. The spark was seriously ignited in me last year when I attended a Florence information session. So, I spent my junior year finding ways to make studying abroad a reality for me!

I’ve wanted to go to Italy since I saw The Lizzie McGuire Movie as a little girl, as silly as that seems. I love the language, architecture, history, and of course the food. Also, my first name is Italian and I’ve always sort of wished I had Italian heritage. I’m so excited to study at the Florence University of the Arts where I’ll be taking both a mass communications course and an Italian culture course. I see this trip as an opportunity for me to break out of my comfort zone and gain independence and confidence. I’ve never traveled alone before so I’m excited and nervous at the same time.

My family is very happy for me, but they’re also a little anxious about me travelling off to a foreign country on my own. My grandparents gave me a beautiful, heartfelt gift when I said goodbye to them yesterday-a necklace of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. I’m going to wear it on me everyday while I’m abroad and I hope it will bring me safe and happy travels. I’ve also picked up a book on the Italian culture and I’ve been listening to an audio book of the language (although I’ll be lucky if I pick up the basic phrases).

I’m looking forward to the amazing memories I’m sure to make during my semester abroad and I can’t wait to share them all with you here on this blog! Till next week…..

Necklace my grandparents gave me to keep me safe and sound while abroad.

Necklace my grandparents gave me to keep me safe and sound while abroad.

My name is Lindsey O’Brien, and I am currently a Masters student in the Foreign Language Education program through the College of Education.  This summer, I will travel to Qingdao, China through the USF Tier II Chinese Learning in the Culture study abroad program.  I am currently a second year student of Chinese at USF. Last summer, I went to Qingdao through USF’s Tier I program, and I am excited to return to study and engage in an internship. I selected USF’s Tier II program due to its good reputation, my previous experiences with the Chinese program, and the myriad of opportunities that it will offer for me to interact with Chinese people and use the Chinese that I am learning.

Tonight I embark on my long journey to China, beginning with a flight from Tampa to Houston, from where I will fly to Beijing, and ultimately Qingdao. Although I am sad to leave my mother on Mother’s Day, the packing and preparations have been exhausting, and the flights will be equally grueling, I know that I will be happy to arrive in China. I am looking forward to returning to Qingdao, a coastal city in northern China, and to seeing all the friends I made last year as well as making new ones.

This year I will be studying Chinese language at Ocean University of China and engaging in an internship twice a week in addition to partaking in community service activities. Through a contact I made last year at Qingdao University, I will also study a traditional Chinese musical instrument, the guqin.

I am looking forward to keeping everyone posted on my travels and journeys through this blog.