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How Study Abroad with ECC has Changed My Life—for the better.

I took part in the 2004 Italy Study Abroad program. It was a month long program with the first two weeks in Florence and since we were in Florence for an extended period of time we were assigned to apartments rather than dorms or hotels. All of us got bus passes so we could hop on and off busses without regard to cost.

For week one of our stay in Florence, we had mornings free except for Tuesday. On Tuesday, bright and early, we met on the steps of Duomo (the famous Cathedral of Florence with Brunelleschi's dome that ushered in Renaissance Architecture in the 15th century), for a walking tour of Florence. Some were late because we were still struggling with the bus system. I had it easy because the majority of my five roommates were veterans of prior visits to Tuscany, specifically to Florence, and I had built in guides.

As you may detect, I'm into architecture. I had walked by San Lorenzo on Monday on my way to the shopping stalls with one of my apartment mates. (Oh, the shopping stalls - but I won't go there). San Lorenzo's facade is not finished and being quite the unseasoned tourist, I thought it was an example of a very primitive church! On the walking tour I was somewhat astounded to find out this was it. This is San Lorenzo that I had heard so much about in my studies at EDD. This is the famous Medici parish church! Our tour guide took us around to one side of San Lorenzo and Blam! we are walking into the serene and beautiful Brunelleschi designed cloister. We walked up some stairs and we were at the door to the Laurentian Library. I also remembered that name from the History of Architecture course I took at ECC: Michelangelo's stairs. We didn't go inside but learned that we could tour the basilica and the library on our own.

So, now, I had plans for the next available free time and on Wednesday visited the basilica and Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo. It's breathtakingly beautiful. On Thursday, the target was the Laurentian Library and I was in for an unexpected surprise. After buying my entrance ticket, I walked up the stairs and there was a healthy looking yellow cat causing some commotion. It seems he wanted to visit the Laurentian as much as anyone, wanted or not, and nothing spurs on a cat like an opportunity to be contrary. The door attendant was trying to prevent the cat's access, but when distracted by my arrival, the cat gained entrance. Through the door, I caught a  glimpse of Michelangelo's famous stairs and was thinking it would be almost a sacrilege to walk on something created by him. The yellow cat had no such reservations. He scampered up those stairs like nobody's business. In fact, I saw the attendant, Salim, a few days later at the Duomo and the Director of the Laurentian Library caught sight of the yellow cat in the Library and was not at all happy about it. The yellow cat survived one of his nine lives but would be well advised to lay low when the Director is around; advise I'm sure he will ignore.

From the picture in our History of Architecture text, I wondered what all the hoop-la was over these stairs. The stairs are in the reception area (Ricetto, in Italian). The space measures about 35 square and is quite filled up with the immense stairs. The whole area, the walls and the stairs are sculptural and create a personality out of the space. But, one can't get this effect from looking at a couple of pictures. After being there it is much more meaningful and interesting to read what the author has to say about the Ricetto. I treasure the time I spent at San Lorenzo.

This is one sampling of my experiences in Italy. Does this experience change my life for the better? I surely think so. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to see and experience so many places and things that I had studied or heard about and so many others that were entirely new to me, and all this with a diverse and immensely interesting group of people. There is nothing like being there!

The courses and tours were structured so that we learned about Italy and its architecture from an historical perspective as well as learning about ourselves and how we inter-relate with each other within the context of our culture or a foreign culture. The personalities and backgrounds of our professors and the tour guides insured a good share of fun and conviviality throughout the program as they shared their expertise with us. I think we all came home with a heightened curiosity about Italian history and its artists and architects. I know I would get a great deal out of repeating a program such as this; it was that rich. Conversely, I would feel quite confident venturing to Italy on my own now that I have had this experience. Either way, I hope I am fortunate enough to return to Italy.

- Elizabeth

Study Abroad: Think it, Do it, Dig it!

In the fall semester of 1999 I was a 20 year old student at El Camino College wandering the campus aimlessly. I would go to my boring algebra class, talk to a few young ladies, and go home, that was my "college life".

One day when on my way home after being "shot down" by one of those young ladies, I seen a bright pink flyer saying, "Study Abroad in Italy" with Rosemary Swade. I ripped the flyer off the wall and put it in my pocket. That day changed my life.

As a result of that day, I smashed my piggy bank open and chose to tag along with Ms. Swade and 20 other students to live and study in Florence, Italy. Just imagine waking up one day and your whole world has flipped upside down: strange toilets, new friends, breath taking scenery, different foods, and Italian women (well lets just say I got shot down a couple of times) but that's besides the point. The point is that I was the happiest that I had ever been in my life, I was on a natural high and living life to the fullest. Everyday was new and exciting. Living in a different country opened my mind to a new world that didn't physically exist before taking that trip. I found lifetime friends while traveling through Europe but most importantly, I found myself.

That was roughly 5 years ago and those days are over, but like they say, "it ain't over until it's over". I finished my studies and graduated, joined the American work force, and today I am no longer living in Italy, nor am I living in the United States of America. I packed my bags 4 months ago to follow my dream of teaching in China.

In the fall semester of 2004 I am a 25 year old English teacher in China wandering the rice patties and busy streets cautiously.

- Peter

Thunk it, Did it, Dug it!


In the summer of 2004 I went on a study abroad program to Italy for four amazing, unforgettable weeks. During those weeks I studied interpersonal relationships and the history of architecture while embarking on the most life enhancing experience I've had to date.

Going to Italy gave me a better understanding of who I am as an individual, who I want to become, and made me think about my aspirations from the vantage point of a much more culturally experienced person. Seeing all the amazing things Italy had to offer gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of the cultural origins from which our country's art, architecture and general structure stem.

From standing at the foot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa with my neck stretched back and mouth open wide with awe to standing atop the edge of a cliff gazing down the Amalfi Coast wondering how so much beauty could be encompassed so picturesquely right before me, I couldn't help but be moved. Though I live in a beautiful place, being in Italy seemingly detached from the world that is mine at home gave me a greater appreciation for nature and the lovely simplicity of life. I took this knowledge back to the states with me and whenever I get overwhelmed or surrounded by negativity, I stop and remember the great plains of Tuscany and look to see all the beauty that is around me both in nature and within people, and things begin to settle down.

Another thing that studying abroad put into perspective for me is how cultures vary and the things we should be thankful for and think about. I love how in Italy you could basically walk everywhere or take a bus; it makes the endless freeways and tireless traffic seem ridiculous. Everything in the states is a car ride away and most things are just not convenient to walk to. The way our society was created makes it no wonder we are a fast-food nation and just a drive-through away from our next destination. I came to appreciate how different societies function and there is an advantage for every disadvantage or negativity we see in our own culture and society. I learned to not lose sight of this, and while there are many things about American everyday life that I may disagree with, there are many small, seemingly taken for granted things that are definitely overlooked in our everyday lives, such as, air conditioning and healthcare.

One of the most amazing things was the architecture. I stood in front of those monuments to God for hours in awe of the time and dedication that went into each square inch of those buildings. The preservation of both ruins and intact sites amazed me and the fact that these structures were possible so many years ago amazed me more than anything. The great heights of the buildings and their overwhelming nature overtook me each time I set foot inside or gazed my eyes skyward at the magnificent facades. The time, energy, and intricacy that was put into these doesn't seem to exist as much today and it made me think of the changing times and the great dedication people of ancient times showed for things. Their whole lives were dedicated to making these monuments of God bigger, better and more glorious than the last. It made me appreciate architecture more and look deep into my heart to try to see what my dedications are and should be. I was able to feel the passion of the church builders just by looking at their work and it made me search and realize some of my own passions and desires and re-assess where my dedication should be. This was a wonderful experience and journey through self-realization that led me to be a better person more in touch with myself!

Out of everything, the most interesting and life changing thing that the study abroad experience gave me was a chance to evaluate myself as an individual completely away from my normal surroundings. I got to live out a dream of roaming the streets of Florence, Rome, and Venice with nothing but my own mind and spirit to guide me. I really got to know myself as well as study my relationships with others while living out a fantasy. I discovered some of my life ambitions and passions during this wonderful time. Going abroad definitely gave me a new perspective and outlook on the world that would not have been possible any other way. I felt different upon returning, like a more whole person; I had discovered part of myself that had been hidden. My eyes remained wide open throughout the experience and I was ready and willing to accept new things. Everyday my feet took me somewhere new and with these steps many new doors were opened within me.

- Kim

 Last Published 3/30/15