Florence BridgeMackenzie Aiken wanted to go to Florence, Italy since the age of 15 after studying the Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. After realizing that her minor, honors in interdisciplinary studies required her to study abroad she finally got the opportunity to fulfill one of her lifetime goals.

There were reservations and her concern was financial, “Because Italy is fairly expensive I was skeptical to go, but after going there I can firmly say that it was worth it. I’m a firm believer that one should spend money on experiences, not things. And, the cobblestones that line the streets are those same ones that the greats walked on. Now that’s an experience,” she adds.

Aiken provides advice to other students, “Immerse yourself, breathe in your surroundings, learn from everyone you meet, and LOOK. There’s so much you can get out of life, out of a new place, just by watching and seeing. And, Italy has such otherworldliness. The “Old World” has such a different feel than the U.S. It feels like history.”

Italy is historically connected to so many of us, and that isn’t lost on Aiken. “There are many of us who are of Italian descent, but we don’t really know what it means to be Italian beyond stereotypes: it’s always good to break a stereotypical mindset. Tuscany isn’t just renaissance beauty, it’s a city just like San Diego or Chicago, but we attribute a special kind of (and well deserved) aura to it – I would challenge people to break their perceptions of Florence and travel there, see what it’s really like and experience the city,” she adds.

Another aspect that many U.S. students gain from overseas studies is that they don’t take things for granted as much, Aiken adds, “Today I really appreciate elevators, ice cubes, and air conditioning since they are all rare in Italy. However, I do feel like we don’t engage with each other here in the U.S. as much as I noticed in Italy. I once sat in a restaurant for three hours, and that’s considered normal. One is supposed to simply sit and talk with another, or group of friends, for hours.”

Aiken also says that she gained an even more open mind and many of her perceptions were changed. “I believe my international experience will make me attractive to employers because I thrust myself into a new place where I didn’t know the language or the culture really, and I maneuvered it fairly well. I think that’s transferable to other new situations,” she says.