Carpe diem — seize the day. One of my many purchases over the course of the 12 days I spent abroad was a €4 t-shirt from Rome that reads, “carpe diem.” For those who aren’t literature buffs like myself, the origin of carpe diem comes from the Roman poet, Horace. I think it’s important to note that the entire line of the poem translates to: “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.” Horace full-heartedly believed in acting in the present, rather than trusting in a future that may not come. Overall, I think this message was the mantra for the entirety of my 12-day journey.

I remember calling my mom at 3 a.m. one week before finals, telling her that I no longer wanted to study abroad over the winter intersession. I was coming out of a hard semester and after months of stress and anxiety, I just wanted to go home and be with my family. She encouraged me to attend the information session for the program, in hopes that it might change my mind. Since my mother (like all moms) has a high track record of being right, I decided to listen.

“Not many people are able to say that they are beginning 2018 in Florence, Italy. Just think about that for a minute,” said Art History Professor Philip Eliasoph, PhD, during the information session for the AH 130 program. He was right. Whether it was these words of encouragement or the pictures of pasta he projected onto the screen that pushed me to continue with the program is still to be determined, but one thing I am certain about is that I have no regrets. Over the course of 12 days, I saw Florence, Rome, Venice, Pisa, Siena, Lucca and Borano. There was no time for rest, but there was also no time wasted. Carpe diem.

I woke up at 6 a.m. on the morning of the flight to Italy, which wasn’t even scheduled to take off until 5:50 p.m. After enduring a long 12 hours before the flight, plus another 12 hours of flight time, I was exhausted by the time we actually landed in Florence. I remember thinking that I was almost at the 48-hour mark without sleep, when I found out we were going to be eating a welcome dinner at a restaurant called Pennello’s. Why is this significant? This restaurant was once the home of the Italian poet, Dante. But wait, that’s not all. This was also the restaurant where famous artists such as  Michelangelo would eat. I remember sitting in my seat, looking to my friend next to me and saying, “what are the odds that Michelangelo sat right here?” Even today, I still like to convince myself that Michelangelo and I shared the same chair (because after all, who would change the furniture after only 5,000 years).

That first night was just the beginning of my awestruck moments. As a long-time art enthusiast who has studied the work of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli throughout both my high school and college careers, I had about 20 “pinch me” moments each day. After going from years of looking at 5 inch rectangles of famous works to seeing their actual 6 ft. x 10 ft. dimensions, I was floored at seeing the different brush strokes of Botticelli, the detail of Leonardo da Vinci and, of course, the flawlessness of Michelangelo.

Before I took off for my Italian experience, I was reminded by many people to “live it up and get the full abroad experience.” To this I say, to each his own. I think it’s important to note that not everyone’s “abroad experience” has to be centered around alcohol, bars and clubbing. Mine wasn’t. Sure, I had some of the best wine I have ever had with each meal, but all in all, I can’t say that drinking until 3 or 4 a.m. was really appealing to me, especially when each day I was about to see a new artwork that I have been gawking over for two decades. After talking to Program Assistant Lorenzo, he explained that bars and clubs aren’t really an “Italian” thing. Florence uses these different bars as attractions for college students and this was quite noticeable as most of the people at the bars were from the U.S. Because of this, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the “Italian culture” that I traveled 5,000 miles to see. Instead, I found that enjoying my “abroad experience” was engaging in the artwork in front of me, seeing all of the different people on the streets, eating lots and lots of gnocchi and tiramisu, testing every gelato place in town and spending money on a nice glass of wine at dinner, rather than on cheap alcohol I can get in the U.S. at anytime.

I think a major factor that made this experience so uniquely amazing is the fact that it was led by Dr. Eliasoph, who not only radiated his love for Italy, but combined his passion for art, learning and humor into each day. If anyone ever has the opportunity to travel with Dr. E, take it. He will have more passion and knowledge than any tour guide you could stumble across. On our first night in Florence, he pointed out a carving on one of the brick walls of the Palazzo Vecchio. The carving resembled a face, which was pretty cool in and of itself. Dr. E then continued to explain that as a young boy, Michelangelo carved that face into the wall of the building for fun. Thousands of people probably walk past that carving each day without realizing how truly remarkable it is and from that point on, I knew I was going to continue to be mind-blown by what Dr. E had floating in his head.

Besides demonstrating his vast knowledge and “kid in a candy store” energy every time we walked into a museum, Dr. E provided the 18 students on the program advice to last a lifetime. He explained that Fairfield University students are very content with remaining inside their comfort zones. As Fairfield students, who pride ourselves on Magis, doing more and being our best self, why do we feel the need to stay where we are, see the same people every day and do the same things over and over again each weekend? There’s an entire world out there waiting to be explored and opportunities waiting to be grasped. Carpe diem, Stags — seize the day.

When I flew out to Florence, I was skeptical, nervous and part of me wanted to stay home. Now, with a fire set under me, I’m ready to, “fan the flame and make it grow.” My goals seem that much more within reach, all because I decided to take an art history class. If there’s one thing you take away from a class with Dr. E, it’s not only learning that art really matters, but it’s also learning WHY art really matters. The best way to see this in action is by going to the city where art soared, perspective was created, color was developed, gestures began emerging, and stories were being shared. In Florence, it’s not just about seeing a painting on a wall, it’s about seeing a painting and reading into the story behind it: who commissioned it, who painted it and why did they make these choices. Florence is flooded with art in museums, in churches, in courtyards, on the side of buildings … essentially the city itself is a walking museum  and it’s in this city that my aspirations grew and I started to rediscover myself.

When it was time to pack up before flying back home, I was left with a lot of emotions: sadness to leave this city of inspiration, excited to see my family and give my niece a big hug and determined to take the next semester by the horns. No longer did I have skepticism, no longer was I nervous. Florence is like a parallel universe where anything can happen. During our last time seeing Lorenzo, he explained that Italians use the phrase “arrivederci” when leaving someone or something, as it means “see you later,” not “goodbye.” So, this is where I’ll leave you. Arrivederci, Firenze, arrivederci.

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