Holly McHenry ’18
My name is Holly McHenry and I am going to be a senior at Lake Forest College this fall! I am a Sociology and Anthropology major and Communications minor, and am currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy.
When given the option to study abroad, I knew that I definitely couldn’t pass on the opportunity. I was born in the United Kingdom and spent a fair amount of my life on the other side of the pond, so I was excited by the possibility to spend more time in Europe. However, because I am involved in so many activities on campus including Student Ambassadors and Forester Guides, I made the personal decision to stay in Lake Forest during the school semesters in order to fully commit to my leadership positions. Lucky for me, that did not mean the opportunity to go abroad was lost! I was able to find a four-week American Institute For Foreign Study program that aligned perfectly with my interests and schedule. Lake Forest College offers over 200 study abroad programs, so there were plenty of programs for me to choose from!
My first week kicked-off with a two-day excursion in Rome (twenty miles in two days!) I saw many sites and attractions including the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and the Vatican. Just when I thought the city couldn’t get any more beautiful, I would turn a corner or walk into a church and be blown away all over again. Even though our group had guides to show us around the city, we were encouraged to explore by ourselves – an opportunity for some much desired wanderlust. Nighttime included a restaurant of our choosing full of delicious food, and of course, followed by a much-anticipated gelato run.
After two, long and busy days in Rome, I finally headed back to Florence. I am staying in a stunning apartment with nine other girls right above a grocery store and next to a beautiful river that runs through the city. One of my favorite parts of the program are the optional activities for students to sign up for EVERYDAY! So far I’m scheduled to take a gelato tour, participate in a wine tasting and cooking class, visit museums, and attend opera and classical music concerts. My schedule is already jam packed and it’s only just the beginning!
I’ve been in Florence for about two weeks and boy has it been a whirl wind! From attending classes, to field and weekend trips galore, I am loving every second of living in Italy.
I am taking two classes during my program: History of Italian Fashion and Italian Food and Culture. For this week’s fashion class, my professor took us to a leather factory where we saw how customized purses and wallets are made. We were offered a 10% student discount and the opportunity to have our initials engraved on any product FOR FREE! Definitely was a nice perk.
For my food and culture class, my professor took us to a beautiful food market where he bought us delicious canolis! Needless to say, life in Florence is pretty good.
Like I mentioned last week, the AIFS Richmond program provides students with many activities to sign up for. This week I participated in a pizza making class. My fellow classmates and I went to a restaurant and made our own pizzas (and enjoyed the finished product.) Later in the week, we visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Not only am I visiting world-renowned tourist attractions and participating in fun activities, but I am also learning a lot about the Italian culture and lifestyle – especially compared to America’s. In regards to their culinary style, I was surprised to notice that spaghetti and meatballs is actually not an Italian specialty. Italians also do not eat their pasta with bread nor do they cut their spaghetti. I guess my favorite Italian restaurants aren’t as authentic as I thought!
This weekend I am looking forward to visiting Salzburg, Austria. This will be my first solo-trip, but I’ve heard that traveling alone is actually a really great growth-experience. Can’t wait for the weeks to come!
Greetings again from Florence!
This week I headed off to Salzburg, Austria for a 3-day weekend (well, attempted to.) My boyfriend had studied there for a whole semester and hasn’t stop raving about it since he came home a year ago. I was so excited to see the home of The Sound of Music and roam the city all by myself!
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. A few days before my trip, I got an email from the bus company telling me that the bus pick-up location had changed from a 10-minute walk from my apartment, to a twenty-minute drive. I arrived at the location at 10:30p.m., forty-five minute before I was supposed to leave. The train station was completely shut down and there wasn’t a soul in sight. I did a lap around the building and couldn’t find a bus anywhere. Soon enough, I started panicking and tried to get my phone to work so I could call the AIFS emergency line. Of course, my phone wasn’t working and I had no Wi-Fi. I eventually ran into some locals that spoke a little bit of English and they graciously helped me get a taxi home.
It was a scary experience. I had no idea where I was and had no way of contacting anyone. But the lesson here is A) if you are going anywhere alone, makes sure you have a backup plan ALWAYs and B) don’t be afraid to ask locals for help. They will almost always be more than willing to help you out. Overall, slightly terrifying but still a good learning experience!
So because I didn’t get to go on my trip, I had the whole weekend and apartment to myself. Sure, I was disappointed but hey, I was still in Florence so it could have been worse! Being alone for 3 days may sound lonely, but honestly it was great to have a little bit of Holly-time, especially since I live with 9 other eighteen to twenty-one year old women. I finished 2 of my twelve-page papers that I had been pushing off, and still had time to explore the city. On Sunday, I walked out of my apartment and simply wandered. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, but just naturally followed various paths through the city, learning the streets and letting myself get lost in Florence’s history and beauty. I found a ton of cute little shops along my journey that I never would have found if I had followed the beaten path. I even picked-up a few gifts for family and friends back home.
I can’t believe that I am already half way done with the program. I would love to be able to spend more time here to not only explore more of Florence and Italy, but all of Europe. I guess that’ll have to wait till next time, but in the meantime I’m taking in every second that I have in this beautiful city!
This past weekend our group took a trip to Sienna and Brolio Castle where we walked around the town and participated in a wine tasting. The castle was absolutely stunning and gave us a beautiful view of the Italian countryside. Sienna was an adorable little town with a lot of history and the cutest little shops.
The second day was one of my favorite days of the entire trip. We went to Cinque Terre, a beautiful costal town with colorful buildings and beaches. I spent most of the day sitting on the beach with some gelato just looking around and taking it all in. If you ever go to Italy, Cinque Terre is a MUST-visit!
I’ll be honest and say living in Florence for a month was not easy, especially during the hot summer months. Most of the apartments in Florence do not have air conditioning, even having a fan in my room didn’t get the job done. Water was very hard to come across and when I finally found it, it would cost an arm and a leg! Bathrooms weren’t easy to find either and you often have to pay to use them. Living in an apartment with nine other girls was also an adjustment, especially since I have lived in a single room at Lake Forest since my sophomore year. Walking everywhere and being constantly surrounded by hundreds of people can be claustrophobic. But I wouldn’t have changed any of that. (Do you think we should take any of these sentences out? May come across as stuck up?)
My experience has made me semi-nostalgic for home and aware of all the things I take for granted. While of course I am excited to travel back to the US and to see my family, friends, and boyfriend, it’s bittersweet. This city is so beautiful - I’ll miss the ease of taking a seat and absorbing the scenery for hours. Going back to the hustle and bustle of Chicago is going to take some readjustment!
I have always thought that if you have the opportunity to go abroad you absolutely must take it. When else in your life are you going to be able to so easily immerse yourself in another culture? It takes some bravery to do a study abroad program, but I promise you that it will pay off in one way or the other. I am thankful for my experience and Lake Forest College’s wonderful Center for Off Campus Programs that worked closely with me to make these four weeks possible! As they say in Italy, “addio!”