“Florence is so much more than its tourist attractions, it’s a place rich in life and history. This is the Florence I came for and the one I wish to capture in my shared work and in my mind.”
Our student bloggers have been writing some great posts this semester! It’s been really enjoyable to read about all of the fun activities and travels that the bloggers have done while abroad so far.
Mary Brimmer is one of our OCSE bloggers, and she is currently studying abroad in Florence with Syracuse University. She is interested in becoming a documentary filmmaker and visual sociologist. Mary’s blog definitely shows her documentary and sociological abilities. Her posts offer deep reflection on her time abroad and are extremely thoughtful!
- What class year are you? What is your major/minor?
My name is Mary Brimmer. I’m a junior at Skidmore College and am in the Class of 2019. My major is Sociology and my minor is Media and Film Studies, with my interests lying within the realm of documentary film and photography.
- 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?
I knew for several years that I wanted to study abroad in Italy, but when it came down to deciding between Syracuse University’s program in Florence or SACI Florence, I had a difficult time. On the one hand, attending SACI’s program would have given me the ability to completely delve into my passion for photography and reside in an apartment with other student artists. However, SU Florence’s program is a liberal arts program where the student can live with a host family and take classes related to their interests as well as Italian culture. Never having left the U.S. prior to studying abroad, I decided Syracuse’s program was a better option. Living with a host family and taking courses in photography as well as Italian language, art history and Italian cinema, I have been able to use my major and minor to study the differences and similarities in Italian and American culture and what it means to be simultaneously a part of both. However, this is only seems to be the surface of how my studies at Skidmore have influenced my time in Italy. I feel that if you are truly passionate about something, your interest in it permeates into your perspective, impacting the way you view and participate in everyday life. My studies in Sociology, Documentary and Media and Film Studies have made me conscious of what I bring to the spaces and places I am traveling through and to as well as how the actions and interactions of myself and others impact the space and our experience of it. All the while, I have been documenting my time abroad through my photography and blog, preserving my memories and thoughts while seeking the best way to share them with others. I have found myself, time and time again, feeling as though I am without a doubt on the path towards my aspirations. SU Florence’s program has renewed in me the senses of curiosity and empowerment that are so essential to education and enlightenment.
- What is the living situation on your program? (Home-stay, apartment, dorm-style, etc.) How has that impacted your semester and your interactions with the host culture?
I remember being very hesitant about living in a home-stay, unaware about who exactly I’d be living with until I arrived in Florence. I imagined all sorts of scenarios, young or elderly couples, single parents, large families or even just one man or a woman. I thought of the pets and children they may have, the lives they led and what their habits and traditions were. Would they be strict or easy-going? Would they speak English or Italian? How about what kind of food they made? Everything felt so up in the air, but I knew how influential living in a home-stay would be on my interactions with Italian culture. Soon enough the time came to meet my host family and they have been so kind and loving since, referring to me as their second daughter. I live in apartment not too far from SU Florence’s campus with Lorenzo, Tiziana and their daughter, Chiara. Of the three, my host mom, Tiziana, does not speak any English, but since most of my time is spent with her, I strive to learn more Italian at a faster rate. At times the language barrier has made it challenging to understand culture differences, but with time, effort and the help of the SU Florence classes and staff, I have gained a clearer understanding of Italian culture and my participation in it. I look forward to two more months of buongiornos, buonanottes and dinner table conversations, hoping to one day return again to the city I now call my second home.
- Have you experienced any homesickness? How have you dealt with that?
When we step outside the comforts of everyday life, we dive into a world of uncertainties and doubt. We pack our bags full of all we’ve ever known, our past successes and failures, our memories, images of the the people, things and places we love most. Though we go in open-minded, certainly we have some expectations and preconceived notions, even some based on stereotypes. When these ideas are not met and when adjusting to a new culture becomes a tad more challenging than imagined, homesickness comes on strong and it clings. The times I have felt the most homesick in Italy are the times when I have felt most alone, when it was initially difficult to make friends, when I found it difficult to balance travel and schoolwork and when the cultural differences were too hard to understand. I missed my family, friends, my car and my pets, of course, fall days spent on Skidmore’s campus or at Uncommon Grounds, but also things like bagels, mindless American reality shows, French vanilla coffee and Goldfish crackers. Never in my life did I think I’d miss these ordinary things. I’d spent my whole life with them around, why in the world did I crave them so badly? Because they were gone. In these moments of homesickness, I told myself that I could spend my days pining over the things I missed or I could find comfort and build a home in Italy. I could begin to savor every detail of Italy and enjoy what I did have access to. So I have begun to take the long way home, to take advantage of the newness around me. I began running, something I had enjoyed so much at home, and started expanding my travels outward to familiarize myself with Florence. After dreaming for so long, I am living in Italy and although I think often of life in Saratoga and of the occasions and experiences I am missing, I am filled with gratitude knowing that they await me and that I have Italy, even just for here and now.
- How is blogging for Skidmore OCSE going so far? Does it play a role in how you interact with the city?
Blogging for Skidmore OCSE has helped me find a balance between preserving my memories, documenting my travels and living them. It’s given me the opportunity to stop, breathe and reflect on the fast-paced days and how quickly Italy has changed me. Sometimes I find it challenging to filter through the many new emotions and thoughts associated with studying abroad and to put them into words. I want to share with friends, family and other students what it’s like to be here rather than what it looks like. So many people travel to a place just to say that they have been to it, but very little actually get to know a place and see themselves as a part of a new culture, to travel rather than tour. Florence is so much more than its tourist attractions, it’s a place rich in life and history. This is the Florence I came for and the one I wish to capture in my shared work and in my mind.
You can checkout Mary’s blog here