Note: Macy Allen is a 2016 Honors Study Abroad Scholarship recipient. She recently returned from study in Sansepolcro.
At first it looks like a kingdom frozen in time. Well, it is a kingdom—a kingdom left behind from long ago with a wall keeping the history and aged stone buildings in and the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century out. Anghiari sits on a hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside as an old king would sit on his throne overseeing his subjects. Inside the walls of the town, it is a stone labyrinth that anyone who isn’t a local would get lost in. The roads, which are more like crooked, narrow pathways, climb and dip, wind and turn up the hillside. Around every corner there is something to explore, whether it’s the first church of Anghiari or the local art museum. As you walk along the stone faces of the buildings it’s hard to remember that these semi-ancient doors and windows are the entryways of someone’s home. It is quiet all around except in the town’s main piazza. There, people gather to watch football and drink coffee while children play in the square. Shops and florists and grocers and cafes line the piazza walls, welcoming anyone who passes by their door. The whole atmosphere of this tiny medieval city is the closest thing to a fairy tale in the twenty-first century.
I walk past the busy piazza, stopping to smell the budding flowers bursting with bright reds, pinks, and purples. I run my hand over the stone walls, feeling the wear of centuries over its smooth, cool face. The pathways get steeper and narrower as you climb to the top of the hillside. I pass the Chiesa Santa Maria della Grazie, its broad face looking over Anghiari with a welcoming presence. Its tower holds the four bells that ring in the hours of each passing day, standing tall against the pale blue sky.
Toward the back of the hill past the church is a little café that sits on the wall. It is hidden from the main piazza and the only noise that reaches the patio is the occasional bellow of the bells. I take a seat in an iron chair that has been warming in the sun all day. The warmth of the chair radiates from the black cross-hatching of the seat and back, my skin absorbing it like the sun’s rays. I’ve lost the group and I’ve found stillness. The countryside is made up of patches of olive green and gold quilting over the ground, stitches of cypress trees holding the squares of orchards and fields together. I pull out my journal and begin to sketch, wanting to capture every square inch of this beautiful valley on a five-by-eight-inch piece of paper. It is impossible to represent the beauty of this place on a piece of notebook paper, even if I had all day to try. Instead, I close my little black notebook and sit, letting the peacefulness of this timeless place surround me.
Note: Starr S. is one of four 2016 Honors Study Abroad Scholarship recipients who is currently studying in Europe.
This week, I walked into a linens store in Sansepolcro to purchase souvenirs for my mother and my aunt. The store had many different tea-towels, hand towels, and scented bags. I fell in love with a hand towel-sized linen hanging on the back wall of the store.
The store owner was a middle-aged woman. Her daughter was sitting beside her, writing in a workbook. I tried to ask in Italian if I could have three of the towels I saw on the wall, but I could tell that my skills in Italian were terrible. The owner gave a look of confusion. I then asked if she spoke English and she said yes. After I was able to request the towels, she asked me if I was from the college and if the towels were a gift. I told her yes and looked down at her daughter.
Her daughter seemed to be really frustrated. The mother looked at me and told me her daughter was working on her English homework. I asked the little girl in Italian what her name was and how old she was. She was a little girl named Catarina, nine years old. I sat beside her and asked if I could help. I felt attached in some way to this little girl because as I am struggling to learn Italian, she is struggling to learn English. For her homework, she was learning how to say numbers and colors in English. Fortunately, I knew how to say numbers and colors in Italian and we were able to communicate using this knowledge. It was a mixture of two completely different cultures, but it worked so well, and I made a friend.
As we had finished up and her mother wrapped my towels, Catarina gave me a hug. Her mother put a small scented lavender bag that she hand-sewn in the bag with the towels. She told me it was a gift and that she could not wait to see me again. She told me that if I needed anything, she would come. I left the little store crying. Here I was in Italy, with not a clue in the world about this culture, but I was offered friendship and was accepted into the culture. I was accepted simply for tutoring a young girl about my own culture.
This story tells me that I care about culture and family. It shows that I value other cultures as my own, and that I am happy when I am helping someone else. This has made me so secure in my career goals because I wish to help people in whatever way I can, which is exactly what the purpose of a doctor is.
Note: Starr S. is one of four 2016 Honors Study Abroad Scholarship recipients who is currently studying in Europe.
The park at the top of the hill in Arezzo has been by far the best view of the Tuscan countryside that I have seen. The park lies behind a grand cathedral that looks like it was made by God himself. Inside the cathedral, an organ plays softly as if to lull you to sleep.
Upon arriving at the park, I noticed immediately the couples and lovers walking with their children or their pets. There were even some elderly couples strolling around the park and pointing at different places off the side of the mountain, as though they were remembering them from their youth.
I wish to be like them one day. I wish to stroll around the Italian countryside with my husband or my children and point out the many places I have been here. I wish to tell them about the Arezzo cathedral with its ceilings painted in gold and its gargoyles that are so life-like, they almost talk to you. I wish to show them the pictures of me standing on top of the mountain in the park in Arezzo with the entire Tuscan countryside behind me. I wish to tell them about the elderly couple sitting on the bench in the Arezzo park, remembering their youth as I am remembering mine.
On this mountain, there seems to be nothing I cannot see, nothing I cannot do, nothing I cannot be. I traveled with a group, and as we all stared out at the sunny Tuscan view we all had the same thought: How can I explain this when I get to Raleigh, and can a picture do this justice? After seeing Tuscany from one side to the other, it is almost a lie to call Raleigh “home” anymore. Italy is our new home, and it is nothing short of breathtaking.
Inside the cathedral, the organ sang to us and told us the story of the many people who lived and worshiped in this place. I could not only hear the organ, but could feel the emotions it was portraying: beauty, sadness, grief, love, and humility. The organ played humbly as if to let me enter the cathedral and experience its story for myself. Inside, the cathedral was eerily cool and empty and there were no sounds other than the organ and the soft footsteps of a few people walking around. Outside, in the open and joyous space of the park, an entirely different tune was played. It was not a tune of sadness, but one of family, hope and future. It was the happy tune of children playing, familiar faces meeting, and lovers laughing. The contrast was remarkable, but in both scenarios, I felt welcome and comfortable.
The same applies to study abroad. I feel comfortable in the United States, where I know the culture and the people, but I also feel at home in Italy because the people are welcoming and happy. They are a non-judgmental people just like the cathedral and the park of Arezzo.
Note: Annie Morin is one of four 2016 Honors Study Abroad Scholarship recipients. All are currently studying in Europe.
Traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina, where nothing is within walking distance, to Spain, has been quite an adjustment for my feet, but I wouldn’t want it any other way!
I am one of the happy recipients of the new Honors College Study Abroad Scholarship and I am “striding” to do everything I can during my time here in Europe, and that includes traveling as Europeans do. It is not uncommon not to own a car, and it is more common to use public transport than it is to get into a car.
A student learns more about her surroundings on foot. She observes more of culture, sees things close-up, and can take her time moving on to the next thing. By walking, I empower myself to do what I want to do in Europe.
I also empower myself to get lost: one day, a friend and I decided to go to Monte de Gozo, a small hill just outside the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to see the famous cathedral as the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago do for the first time. We successfully made our way to the top after an hour or so of walking and taking in the sights and sounds of Santiago. When it was time to go back, we decided to take a different route, which ended up going through a small town and underneath a highway. It wasn’t the day we expected and our feet ached after, but it has been one of my favorite days here in Spain!
To future Honors study abroad students: go at your own pace and immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible! The best experiences you have will be completely unexpected, but your favorite stories to tell when you get home! ¡Buen viaje!
Editor’s note: Allison is one of four 2016 Honors study abroad scholarship recipients. All are spending a month or more in Europe this summer.
Buongiorno from Italy!
I am beginning my fourth and final week in Italy and can’t believe my time here is almost over. Over the past several weeks, I have seen and done more than I ever imagined I would. I have been to the cities of Sansepolcro, Anghiari, Arezzo, Assisi, Perugia, Florence, Sorrento, Venice, and will soon be headed to Rome!
I am amazed at how much I have been able to pack into my time abroad. One thing that I was very surprised about when arriving in Italy is how much I would appreciate living in a smaller town. Sansepolcro is a wonderful, small community where owners close down their stores for lunch, and everyone walks the streets late at night to chat and catch up with their neighbors. Coming into study abroad, I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to do in this smaller town, but I soon realized after traveling away from Sansepolcro how lucky I am not to be living in a large metropolis.
About a week after arriving in Italy, all twenty-five of us living in the Meredith Palazzo made a day trip to Florence. I fell in love with Florence, but after spending only a few hours there I realized how thankful I am to be living in a small and truly Italian town. While I was exploring Florence, I felt like I met and spoke to more Americans than Italians. A lot of other schools send their students to large cities such as Florence to study abroad, but personally I feel like I am getting a much better sense of the Italian culture by being surrounded by an authentic Italian community.
One thing that I have learned about Italian culture while studying abroad is that life is a constant fashion show. Rarely have I seen an Italian who is not well dressed. Everywhere from the grocery store to the gelato shop, women show off their high heels and men sport their button downs. I remember the very first day I arrived in Sansepolcro, I had just gotten off the nine-hour flight and had not yet changed out of my comfortable clothes (which included a Meredith t-shirt and running shoes). Never before have I received so many strange looks in one night! From day one I learned never to be seen in casual or exercise clothing in public.
I am very sad that my time in Italy is coming to an end. I have met so many new people and have quickly become close friends with many girls from Meredith whom I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet. Hopefully one day I will be able to come back to Italy and the beautiful town of Sansepolcro, which I have had the honor of calling home these past few weeks.
-Allison Benedict ‘19
As Scholars’ Weekend has come and gone and the school year is starting to wind down, I recently asked Honors students to share some advice that they would like to give to the rising Honors Class of 2020. Below are their wonderful responses:
Alexan Bailey (2019)
Don’t be afraid to speak with older members of the Honors Program. They’ve been where you are, are always willing to answer questions, and they’re great friends to have!
Annie Morin (2018)
The Honors Program is a program that can help you hone your unique strengths and passions, but you can’t do that without a lot of hard work. Make sure you pursue opportunities and your individuality and stay open to new experiences! The Meredith College Honors Program will be able to work with you and alongside you to help you reach your goals, no matter how far out of your grasp they seem.
Macy Allen (2017)
Don’t be afraid to try new things because you fear failure.
Bailey Benge (2016)
Jump right in! Don’t be afraid or wait for your friends to do it with you-if you find something that sounds interesting to you or that you are passionate about, try it out! Don’t be intimidated that you are a freshman!
Katie O’Dell (2017)
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Go on the Honors meet-up in the beginning of the year to make friends in Honors. Go on the Honors trip because it’s totally worth it.
Cassidy Cloer (2018)
Get to know people in the Honors Program, faculty and students. The Honors Program is full of people with great knowledge on a wide variety of subjects. You may need some of that knowledge at some point, but even if you don’t, it’s fascinating to hear people talk about their passions.
Ellen Cleary (2018)
Be proactive about Honors advising and don’t be afraid to take Honors Colloquium sophomore year!
Emily Chilton (2018)
Finding balance is hard but a good thing to do. It’s tempting for a lot of Honors students to either focus too much on work or let a little loose when they start college, and neither are good. Keep your work ethic and high standards you’ve always had, but allow yourself to chill out occasionally.
Arielle Boland (2017)
Don’t forget to get involved on with things on campus! Find a way to make an impact. If you do, you’re sure to have met lifelong friends and have a great four years here so you won’t want to leave when you graduate.
Kayla Hansen (2019)
Go on the Honors trip! I think it is especially important to go on the Honors trip your freshman year because it helps you become closer with some people you may not know as well. As a freshman I didn’t know many people but I just remember having so much fun with all the girls on the trip! I made new friends and got closer with some girls I already knew. It also helped me get to know some of the upperclassmen as well and experience the unity Meredith has to offer!
Katie Murphy (2018)
Be prepared to give every opportunity your all. Your faculty, staff, and student leaders are passionate and dedicated, and they will do all that they can to challenge and engage you. So be open to every opportunity and experience. You will gain so many new academic, career and character skills that will help you here at Meredith and beyond, but you will only get out of the Honors college what you put into it.
Thank you to everyone who contributed. My personal words of advice are to embrace every single opportunity that the Honors program provides: Jump right into the deep end, get involved, and consequently be surprised by all that you can do. Please comment if you have anything you’d like to share!