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Off-Campus Study & Exchanges - Skidmore College

OCSE Student Blogger Feature: Josephine Wong on the Syracuse in Florence program

“…studying art history here is so incredibly fascinating because every piece of artwork or architecture that we learn about in class, we see in person. When I can see the work firsthand, I can connect to it, which makes it a lot easier to remember facts about it.”


It’s been so fun to keep up with our student bloggers this semester–what an interesting time to be studying off-campus! With the changing global political climate, it has been so valuable to read about Skidmore students’ experiences outside of our “Skidmore bubble.”

Josephine Wong is a studio art Major, and her beautiful blog certainly reflects her creativity. She crafts beautiful blog posts with colorful pictures, lively videos, and engaging stories. This feature highlights Josephine’s feelings about her homestay, stereotypes abroad, and the end of the semester.

  1. Is your program related to your focus of study? If so, in what ways? How is it shaping the way you interact with your studies? What inspired you to go on this program?

My program, Syracuse in Florence, is a general program that has all kinds of classes, but the classes I’m taking are related to my major. I’m taking an art history class and two studio art classes. Every time someone asks me how Florence is, I can’t stop babbling on about how amazing my art history class is. I always thought of art history as a really boring subject and just pictured myself falling asleep over a textbook, but studying art history here is so incredibly fascinating because every piece of artwork or architecture that we learn about in class, we see in person. When I can see the work firsthand, I can connect to it, which makes it a lot easier to remember facts about it. Once a week we have a site visit, which means we meet up at a palace or museum or church or square to study whatever we’ve been learning. Sometimes we take class trips on the weekends to surrounding cities to view artworks. It’s the most practical and probably the only way I’ll ever be able to study art history effectively.

I actually chose this program because of the homestay program. Having been to Italy with my high school friends, I knew I’d enjoy studying abroad here and really wanted to be immersed in the culture, so when Hannah came back from her semester at Syracuse in Florence it didn’t take much convincing when she told me how much she loved it.

  1. How has your homestay experience been so far? Is your host mom still teaching your Italian words at meals? Can you speak a little bit about your homestay/family life in Florence?

My homestay experience has been pretty nice. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a whole family, with kids and was definitely hoping for a dog. I have a single host mother who’s pretty quiet and reserved, but she’s extremely kind and is a wonderful cook. At first I was disappointed, but she’s slowly opened up and I feel much closer to her now. Our lives aren’t as involved as I thought it would be, I only see her at dinner time, but it’s also pretty nice to be able to do my own thing. She does mix in Italian when she speaks to us, but she mainly speaks in English because she’s completely fluent and comfortable in it, she even speaks French and Russian! I also have a roommate which was kind of unexpected. Our house is beautiful, probably because my host mother is a graphic designer and we have a gorgeous garden.

Everyone on my program has varying experiences and it’s interesting hearing about other families. Some make me grateful for how nice my host mother is, while my one friend makes me a little jealous every time she speaks about her’s, she has two little boys in her family, a dog and is extremely close to her host mom as they often spend time together.

  1. Have you experienced any homesickness? How have you dealt with that?

I haven’t experienced any homesickness, perhaps because I’ve been so busy. I go from 9 to 4 every day without lunch breaks because one of the art studios I go to is a 30 minute walk away from the main campus. On weekends, if I’m not doing homework, I’m on a school trip or exploring Florence.

  1. As a person of color and an American college student living abroad, have you encountered any stereotypes? How have you dealt with them?

If I’m walking alone at night, guys standing on the streets occasionally call out “Hello” in Chinese, I just ignore them and aside from that I actually have not encountered any stereotypes. I have had a few waiters ask if I voted for Trump once they find out I study in the U.S. Unfortunately, Italians are known for being pretty racist. My friend from Hamilton College has a classmate who is studying here on another program, as a black male he’s been called ugly names in Italian which he understands as he’s fluent in the language. He has also told us about his black female friends who have been treated extremely rudely and a few had cars drive onto the pavements towards them. It’s terrifying to think of a world still so close-minded that people are put in physical and psychological harm, especially when we’re on study abroad programs, with the goal of appreciating differences and diversity.

  1. It sounds like you’ve had such an amazing semester so far—it’s crazy that the semester is nearing an end. How are you feeling about coming back? Anything you’re specifically looking forward to/will miss most about Florence?

I have definitely had such an amazing semester, I cannot believe I’m going to leave soon and a part of me wishes college was 5 years so I could stay longer. I miss my friends so it will be nice to see everyone again, but aside from loving Florence so much, the thought of being a senior is also rather frightening. I’ll definitely miss the food in Florence, I’ll miss eating pastries and gelato every day, the amazing chocolate and truffle festivals, the most amazing tiramisu, gnocchi with walnut sauce, white truffle oil…I could go on. I’ll miss sitting by the Ponte Vecchio in the sun or wandering the streets and finding little artisan shops. I’ll miss walking by the Duomo at night, when all the tourists are gone and just thinking “Wow, how can such an stunning piece of architecture from the 13th century just be standing there in public, for me to appreciate every day?”, I’m pretty sure if this was New York it would have been vandalized ages ago.

Follow Josephine’s blog here.


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