Where Marshall can take you: Study Abroad in Florence


Heather Barker

Barker outside of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

I had always wanted to study abroad but did not know when or where I would do it. I finally made the leap into the unknown during fall semester of my junior year. I saw an email from my dean recruiting students to go on a trip to Florence, Italy in the summer with the College of Arts and Media.

On May 6, I, along with two professors and 13 other students, met at Yeager Airport in Charleston to fly to Florence. About half the group had flown before but few had been out of the country. It was an 8 ½-hour flight from Atlanta, Georgia, but when we finally arrived in Paris, France for our connecting flight, we were met with flight cancelations due to an employee strike. We were given the option to fly to Turin, Italy, but only after a 12-hour layover in Paris.

Although 12 hours may seem long, it provided us the opportunity to exit the airport and explore the city a little. We took the subway to the Eiffel Tower and spent a few hours walking around and eating in a city we would not have had the opportunity to be in if the layover had not have happened.

Heather Barker
Barker in Paris, France during her unexpected layover.

When we arrived in Florence, we were taken to our apartments to meet with our landlords and then given freedom for the evening. I shared the apartment with four other girls who I became close with over the month we were there. By the time the month was over, we could still barely make it around the city without looking at our maps or getting slightly lost, but we could at least orient ourselves with the major landmarks and make it back to the apartment from there.

On the weekends, we were given the opportunity to do whatever, which meant we took a lot of day trips, including to Rome, Arezzo and Pisa. We also took class trips to Siena, San Gimignano, Pompeii and Fiesole. In all these places, we experienced the rich art and culture Italy has to offer while also tasting some of the most delicious food, especially the gelato.

My favorite part of Italy was an unexpected one: Paestum. I had never heard of the city, but our professors had said it had beautiful ruins and it was close to a beach. I never expected the ruins would be so grand and intact, but Paestum was home to three large Greek turned Roman temples. The hotel we stayed at offered bikes to loan out, which we took advantage of to explore the town and ride to the beach that was less than a mile away. It was an overcast day, but it was still perfect weather to walk on the beach, and we met two random beach dogs that became instant friends.

Cost was a major deciding factor for studying abroad. I had some money saved, but not nearly enough to cover all the costs. Thankfully, finding financial assistance was not that difficult. I received scholarships from the College of Arts and Media and the Study Abroad Office, the Honors College covered the cost of my plane ticket, and I also received funding from the Federal Pell Grant. In the end, I only had to cover a small portion of the tuition and my spending money. Studying abroad can be a financially feasible option for most as long as the effort is put in to find the assistance.

Airplane rides, lots of walking, beach trips, Roman ruins, endless memories and the occasional mishap, that is what Marshall can offer beyond the classroom. It just takes the courage to say ‘yes’ and the motivation to prepare to experience the world through Marshall.

Heather Barker can be contacted at [email protected]