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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Kristine Donnelly
Summer 2001

I spent my summer in Europe thanks to the International Experience Grant that I received from the Honors College. With this grant, I was able to take part in Indiana University's summer program in Florence, Italy. I spent six weeks in Florence, studying renaissance art and art history. After this, I traveled across Europe for three weeks and experienced the many beautiful countries and cultures that exist on this continent.

As a BFA painting and art history major, studying renaissance art in Florence, the place of it's birth, was literally a moving experience. To see works that I thought only existed in books and also to live in the same city that housed the masters, was amazing. I took a drawing class as well in Florence. This proved to be a challenging and beneficial class. Drawing street scenes, landscapes, figures, or anything for that matter, is always a challenge. However to do this in a city where there are masterpieces lining churches and museums all around you, made the action a bit more challenging. It was a wonderful and astounding resource to be able to refer to a Michelangelo sculpture or a Botticelli painting. The museums in Florence proved to be my most favorite pastime and the greatest tool for any artist. The Uffizi and Pitti Palace house some of the most famous and also not so famous (but just as wonderful) works.

Living in Florence for six weeks was such a wonderful learning experience. Each day was an adventure. By buying food and asking for directions, I slowly learned enough Italian to get by. Sadly, I found that like many places in Europe, Florence has also become Americanized. English was just as prevalent as Italian. Honestly, it was convenient to know that my waiter would be able to converse with me in English. Yet, at the same time, I felt a little guilty in knowing that through tourism, Italy has lost a small part of its culture and history.

After my stay in Florence, I had the chance to see more of Europe. I went to Salzburg, Prague, Lucerne, the Italian and French Riviera, and Paris. Three weeks of trains, hostels, new places and people proved to be an exciting and tiring time! I saw the Alps, the Mediterranean, the historic neighborhoods of Prague, and then Paris. Each day I woke up with excitement, ready to go and explore the new place we were in. And each night I fell asleep, and dreamt of what tomorrow would bring. It was a beautiful and simple three weeks. My only job was just to experience and see all that I could of a place. And I did.

I think the most valuable part about studying abroad and traveling through Europe is everything that you take away from it. Souvenirs are great, but I would trade them all back in for one more stroll along the Seine in Paris or one more walk through the Uffizi in Florence. The greatest things that I took away from this experience was an open mind. To go to another country where your beliefs, standards, and manners are no longer the norm is a very overwhelming and sometimes frustrating experience. Yet, it is so important to put yourself in these situations where you can learn and observe how a culture exists outside of the "American Way." It was very interesting to observe the actions and priorities of native Italians and compare these to the stereotypes that we have given to them. In summary, this summer was a humbling experience for me. I was the minority; I knew nothing of how things worked. And in turn, I learned so much.

Traveling throughout Europe was of course also a time to learn and observe. As I hoped from train to train and country to country, I felt this simultaneous sense of empowerment and vulnerability. I was twenty years old and in Europe, seeing what I wanted to see and going where I wanted to go. At times, like when I stepped off of the train in a new place, I felt so invincible and felt sure that I could do anything and go anywhere. Yet also, at these specific times, I also felt extremely vulnerable. There I was in this foreign place, with everything I owned and needed on my back. It was the precarious balance of the two that made this summer so wonderful.

I also walked away for Europe with a newfound sense of simplicity. I traveled for nine weeks with few material things: two pairs of pants, a skirt, two shirts, and sandals. I can remember unpacking in Florence and wondering how I would survive with few possessions. But I soon realized that the thrill and excitement of a new place swiftly makes up for the fact that you've been wearing the same jeans for a week. It was wonderful.

In summary, my summer in Europe was unarguably the most life-changing and adventurous time of my life.