“Being in a new city is all at once exhilarating and terrifying. You’d think that you’d get the hang of it after the first city — after the first time you lose your group while walking around some piazza or turning a corner and suddenly you’re at the river when you could have sworn it was way over there. Well, you’d be wrong. Letting yourself get lost is all a part of the abroad experience, as much as studying and classes are.”
So begins Lake Forest College student Aneesa Ahmed’s reflection on finding the key to experiencing a city during a semester she spent exploring two remarkable European cities — London and Florence.
In London, Aneesa Ahmed found an “unspoken reassurance that if we can get to the Tube, we can get anywhere.”
Ahmed was one of 35 students who contributed photos and short essays to the ACM London & Florence Program’s Gallery of Student Images and Writing during the spring 2014 semester. The project was created as a way for students to share their observations about the two cities and their experiences living and studying abroad.
The online gallery was co-created by program participant Alex Koszewski, from Lawrence University, and Beloit College English professor Chuck Lewis, who served as the program’s spring 2014 Affiliated Scholar in Florence. Each student was asked to upload a photo from each city and compose a brief essay to connect them.
Students on the London & Florence: Arts in Context program split the spring semester between those two historic cultural capitals. The interdisciplinary program focuses on the cities’ incredible resources in the visual arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture as well as the literary arts of theatre and literature. They learn to “read” the cities through almost daily field trips and visits to museums and churches, monuments and public spaces, and many varied theatrical performances.
Hugh Watanabe (Lake Forest) wrote about festivities in the two cities.
“In both cities, I’ve felt absolutely dwarfed by the immensity of not only the structures but the massive history they entail,” Oscar Hallas (Knox College) wrote on his Gallery page.
Public spaces outdoors were the subject for Alex Koszewski’s entry. “I explored Florence and London with a childlike fascination and quickly realized that I could spend hours listening to the Italian musicians on the street or people watching in English parks,” she wrote. “These two photos bring to mind my wonderment at the smells and sounds of Italian streets, and the remarkable quiet and solitude of an English park.”
Elizabeth Mescher (Lake Forest College) was captivated by the British Museum, which she visited repeatedly during her time in London. “I entered the museum, found the Rosetta Stone and immediately started crying (not kidding),” she reported. “The foundation of my studies was sitting right in front of me. All I have ever wanted to be was an archaeologist and one of the most important finds was just inches away from me behind glass. I wandered around the museum for hours.”
As important as the cities’ immense contributions to Western artistic tradition are in the program’s curriculum, students are also very much rooted in the present as residents of these exciting urban environments. In Florence, they study Italian language and have home stays in local households, while in London they navigate the daily routines of shopping, commuting, and living in apartments.
“Florence was exhilarating and magical and different and I had never seen anything like it in real life,” wrote Heather Carr (Lawrence University). “London was like that, too, but London was a re-entry into ‘realer life.’ It was about being a grown-up, getting my groceries, subsisting on oatmeal, doing my own thing.”
“Playing for an Italian men’s league soccer team is an experience I will never forget,” according to Trevor Houghton (Colorado College), and it turned out to be a great avenue for immersing himself in the culture and language of Florence.
Kristin Anderson, from Luther College, remarked on the reverence she found in both Florence and London for cafe culture, with its “unique local fare” and encouragement for customers to “slow down and stay awhile.”
Food — specifically English tea and scones in London and gelato and cappuccino in Florence — was on the mind of Alessandra Estella (Colorado College) as well, as she considered the idea of authenticity in relation to a country’s cuisine.
“[M]y Italian host mother has exposed me to authentic Italian cuisine,” she noted, “and while I’d like to say that I’ve tasted food on par with what I have for dinner every night, I can’t. Perhaps it is the ingredients, or the experienced way she prepares the food, but all this trip has proven so far is that food will always taste better (to me) from the original location.”
Browse through all the students’ photos and essays at the London-Florence Gallery.