TCU in Florence: The Heart of My Study Abroad Experience

Today’s post comes from Texas Christian University student Brooke Barlock, who spent her time in Florence volunteering at a local elementary school.

The primary goal I set for my study abroad experience was to make Florence feel like a home. I didn’t want to be a tourist, looking at the city through the lens of a camera. I wanted to assimilate, participate in Florentine life as if I was a local. Fortunately, ACCENT gave me every opportunity to do just that.

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California Baptist University Architecture Students Explore Florence

This week’s post features architecture students from California Baptist University as they explore a variety of architectural sites throughout Italy.

This Spring, students from California Baptist University are studying architecture in Florence and Rome. For the Florence portion of the program, they started off with a visit to the Certosa, a monastery located on the summit of Monte Acuto – also called “Holy Mountain”- a cone-shaped hill situated near the village of Galluzzo, a town south of Florence. Continue reading

An Excerpt from Insights: Designing Change in Florence

Florence_-_Graffiti_-_DanteThe Insights newsletter highlights innovative programs with ACCENT. Today’s excerpt comes from our November 2016 edition. For more Insights, visit our newsletter at:

Over the years, countless groups of US undergrads have flocked to Florence to study Art and Art History – and what better place to do it? Loyola Marymount University Design professor Saeri Cho Dobson chose a different approach, however. Against Florence’s rich cultural patrimony and in the shadows of Renaissance masters, Dobson challenged students to view the impact of contemporary art and design through a social justice lens. In Florence, a city defined by its artistic past, students from Los Angeles looked toward the future.

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Taste – An Excerpt from La Repubblica

Emma Zamec, a University of Minnesota student interning abroad in Florence, recently contributed to a segment in the Italian magazine La Repubblica. Emma’s article, which focuses on the Taste Food Fair, highlights the many delicious and intriguing exhibits on display. Although the Taste Food Fair has come and gone, we are pleased to share Emma’s contribution.IBSNXL_Taste12_008-0x600_FDFBNX

Emma is interning at Magenta, an English-language publisher located in downtown Florence.

Although this is changing, it is known that women continue to reign in the kitchen at home while male chefs dominate the scene at top-starred restaurants. The Taste Food Fair, however, brings the visitor to the source, back to the farm where traditionally, both sexes work to create the ingredients of the cuisine for which Italy is so renowned.

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From Words to Pictures : Capturing Memories Abroad

Today’s post comes from University of Minnesota student Alex Lucke, who, when words were not enough to describe her time in Florence, recorded her stay through a series of photographs. We are happy to share her reflections below as she prepares to leave the city she has called home for three months.img_0679

Before I left for Italy, I wanted to make sure I wrote about the whole experience. I set up my blog, spent too much time deciding on a template, and conjured up the most Italian scenarios I could write about.

At the beginning of my time in Florence, it was easy. I didn’t know anyone in the program and used writing as an outlet, a reminder of something from home. All the pasta was fresh, the wine was cheaper than water, and every street I walked on was a new, cobblestoned adventure.

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Overcoming the Distance

Today’s post comes from University of Minnesota student Alexandra Savre, who spent her fall 2016 semester in Florence. After a month back home, Alexandra reminisces about her time abroad and promises to return someday.DSCN2386

“Never walk alone,” “always hold your purse shut,” “this experience will change your life,” “please be safe,” “you’ll come back a new person”.

Ever since I brought up the idea that I wanted to take my studies abroad, these words became redundant. The nerves, the excitement, the unknown were exhilarating, and the fact that I would be studying in the capital of Tuscany didn’t seem real. That I was heading overseas with a passport in my hand and a spirit of adventure in my heart was all I knew, but it all felt so vague. As I was entering the line to the security gate at the Minneapolis airport, tears flooding my face, saying goodbye to the people I love most, the reality of leaving home became real.

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ACCENT Florence: Lessons Learned from Culture Shock

This week’s post comes from our ACCENT Florence Study Center, where our staff there discuss their first encounter with culture shock, and the ways they have managed to turn that confusion and disorientation into a useful tool in their personal and professional lives.

It is often said that study abroad is an unforgettable experience.  Yet sometimes these unforgettable moments may be a bit embarrassing. But eventually, over time, you’ll be able to share and laugh about them. These moments of panic or chaos are part of the whole experience, learning moments where cultural differences and adventures in problem solving are encountered.  A part of growing as humans and travelers, these “embarrassing” or “awkward” experiences add to the wisdom acquired in study abroad. The ACCENT Florence team would like to share some of these special moments with you from their study abroad experiences.

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The Florence Bucket List: Seizing the Moment in Italia!

This week’s post comes from University of California student Brittany Ryley, whose Fall semester in Florence, Italy is quickly coming to a close. Regardless, Brittany is determined to enjoy every single second of her time in Florence. Here is what she had to say about how she makes the most of her time abroad.

I had been anticipating my return to Florence for years after my first visit to this colorful city, and was more than ready to embark on a new adventure. I wasn’t sure what to expect about living in Italy or the realities of immersing myself in Italian culture. What I knew for sure was that I would be surrounded by some of the world’s richest art and history for the best four months of my college career.

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98 Steps

Today’s post comes to us from ACCENT San Francisco’s new Programs Assistant, Samantha Proteau. Sam participated in an 11-month exchange program in Paris, living, studying, and working for nearly a year among native Parisians. In her first post for the ACCENT Blog, Sam tells us about how overcoming stress and shyness allowed img_0633her to achieve a whole new sense of independence and personal growth.

In a very last minute decision, I extended my college experience to participate in an exchange program in Paris.  I was hesitant in the beginning, eager as I was to transition into the professional world; but then I remembered how remarkable my first study abroad experience in Florence, Italy had been and became certain that another study abroad trip would meet such great expectations.  How different could this new experience be? Continue reading

Celebrating ACCENT’s 25th Anniversary!

October 31st, 2016 marked ACCENT’s 25th birthday! To celebrate, our Study Centers in Europe have been throwing parties in appreciation of 25 years of successful cooperation with schools, students, and our partners abroad. ACCENT Paris’ Lily Mac Mahon describes the festivities that took place at our Paris Study Center.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of ACCENT, and all 5 Study Centers — spread across 4 different countries — have been celebrating! The team and students in Florence got to enjoy some delicious ACCENT-themed cookies and here in Paris, we tucked into a classic French fraisier (strawberry cream cake) and a chocolate layer cake! screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-14-09-44 Before the celebrations began, Ray Vernon, the Executive Director, gave a wonderful speech about the history of ACCENT, from when it started as a small company with only a few programs in Paris and Florence, to its current status as a successful study abroad program provider for schools across America. In a world where learning foreign languages is becoming perceived as seemingly inessential, and people are experiencing fear and uncertainty, Ray explained why it is so important for students to “take back the message that it’s still a fantastic experience and that study abroad is still very special!”screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-14-04-48The celebrations were a great way for our students to get to know the staff and ask them questions about their experiences at ACCENT. When Adrien (our academic liaison in Paris), who started as an intern and has been with ACCENT Paris for over 12 years, was asked to describe the best thing about working at ACCENT, he said: “Having contact with students keeps you young inside; and as a French person, it’s really nice to see the students making Paris their home after only a few months, learning how to adapt to another culture, some actually become quite French themselves!”

During the last 25 years, ACCENT has helped 50,000 students (over 10,000 in Paris alone) facilitate their study abroad experiences and has partnered with over 100 universities on  2,450 programs. In the words of Ray, the ACCENT team would like to “thank all the students from the bottom of our hearts for coming this semester.” This semester, and semesters moving forward, ACCENT is thrilled to continue to support and encourage students in their intellectual pursuits, personal growth and cultural understanding.

~Lily Mac Mahon, ACCENT Paris

Click through our gallery to see how other ACCENT Study Centers have been celebrating our 25th anniversary!



ACCENT Florence: Learning About Italian Culture Through Food

This week’s post comes to us from the ACCENT Florence Study Center, where Programs Coordinator Lilia Lamas tells us about the culinary adventures our Florence students are embarking on, and what Italy’s incomparable cuisine can teach us about Italian language and culture.

Some of the most talked about and photographed things while studying abroad in Italy are students’ wonderful culinary adventures. What did you have for your first Italian dinner? What gelato flavors have you tried? What pastries are your favorite? How do you prefer your caffé? What pasta dishes do you like best? Have you had the bistecca?

Italian cuisine is well-known around the world, but living in Italy, cuisine becomes an intense multi-sensory experience of divine things like mozzarella di buffala (fresh mozzarella), freshly made pasta, and delicious pastries with your cappuccino in the morning. While studying abroad in Florence, students not only have the opportunity to experience Italian cuisine independently, but also by learning new recipes and techniques through class visits and activities.

cucina_18 One of these is a Pizza Making Class with the Bianco brothers of Pizzeria O’Scugnizzo in Florence. O’Scugnizzo is a certified authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in the heart of Florence’s oltrarno quarter, just a few steps from Piazza del Carmine. The Bianco brothers are fourth generation Neapolitan pizzaiuoli and teach the traditional way dsc_0874of making pizza. Francesco Bianco explains, “We use a sourdough (lievito madre) that has been in our family for generations, and let the dough rise for 24 hours.” Each student shapes the dough (as Francesco says, “you must gently massage it”), and then adds each topping with care. The pizza is then baked in a 400-degree Celsius brick oven for a few minutes and eccola! The pizza is ready!

Another culinary adventure students embark upon in Florence is the cooking class at Apicius (a local Culinary Education school). With an integrated approach to cooking, both in practice and in language, this activity engages students’ stomachs and their minds. Students prepare a 3-course “pranzo” lunch that includes a pasta dish made from cucina_7scratch, a second entrée, and a dessert. Before the lesson, students learn culinary vocabulary to help them while they cook.

This Fall, one of the professors of the UC Mediterranean Food program, Prof. Sergio Rufini, enthusiastically encouraged his students to try traditional Florentine dishes that have very interesting histories, ingredients and seasonality.

So dear readers, when in Italy (and, in particular, in Florence) please try at least one of these dishes: la ribollita, papa al pomodoro, peposo, lampredotto, trippa alla fiorentina, and bistecca alla fiorentina to name a few. For those with a sweet tooth, here are a few traditional Tuscan sweets: pan con l’uva, schiacciata alla fiorentina, and cenci for carnevale.

tuscan-dishes2For those of you who would like to try some of these delights at home, here are recipes for pappa al pomodoro and pan con l’uva.

~Lilia Lamas, ACCENT Florence

Custom semester programs with ACCENT reflect the unique identity and learning objectives of the US university while reaching into the deep network of local resources at the ACCENT Study Center. Get in touch to design a semester for your institution at


Florence Favs…!

The Torrigiani Gardens in Florence span nearly 17 acres and contain an impressive array of flowering plants and artistic marvels. The Gardens reached their height in popularity during the 19th century, when Marquis Pietro Torrigiani began to acquire adjoining properties, expanding the size of the garden and decorating it in the English Romantic style.

Perhaps the most impressive structure in the gardens is the astronomy tower. Rising up beyond the treetops, this tower, deliberately designed in the then-popular neo-Gothic style, contained a vast library and a fantastic collection of scientific instruments.   800px-Giardino_torrigiani,_torretta_13 wikimediacommons

Today, the Gardens are the chosen site of a number of special events. ACCENT Florence Study Center Director Michelangelo D’Elia discusses why the Torrigiani Gardens are one of his Florence Favs in this Live Like A Local post!


The Torrigiani Gardens are the largest privately owned gardens within the city walls. I like it for the history, the events and fashion shows held there, and the cultural value of the area.JPX0030torrigianisite

The Torrigiani Gardens have many different kinds of plants and trees so I find it really charming from a historical point of view; and I appreciate the way they set up events and organize fashion shows, using the space in a more modern way. Conveniently, it’s on my side of the River, so I always try to go when there is an event there. The Torrigiani Gardens are only open for special events, so it helps to be on the mailing list. Some of the events are open to the public so even if you don’t get the email, you can still go. It’s a nice part of Florence.

800px-Giardino_torrigiani,_edificio_04 wikimediacommons~ Michelangelo D’Elia, ACCENT Florence

An Excerpt from Insights: An Italian Take on Crime & Deviance

Addiopizzo1The Insights newsletter highlights innovative programs with ACCENT. This excerpt comes from our May 2016 edition. For more Insights, visit our newsletter at:

Professor Marco Bracci’s Sociology of Crime course is prompting University of Minnesota students in Florence to study the relationship between crime, culture, and media, focusing on the mafia and some high-profile criminal cases in central Italy, such as the Amanda Knox trial.

The course deals with the most relevant sociological theories on crime as a particular form of deviance, aiming to apply different theoretical perspectives to the study of the relationship between crime and culture in contemporary societies. It is designed to take full advantage of the students’ experience abroad and focuses on Florentine and Italian contexts.

In April, Bracci’s students departed for a Sicily study tour. While there, they met with representatives of Addiopizzo, an NGO fighting the tradition of businesses paying a pizzo or bribe to the local mafia boss simply to be allowed to remain open for trade. The group met with Addiopizzo representative Francesco Fiumara, a lawyer and activist who explained the challenges the organization faces in Sicily, and the organization’s aims which include education, racket prevention, and solidarity. Addiopizzo provides legal support to those brave enough to denounce the extortion, and helps them cope with the consequences, which range from menacing behavior to an escalation of threats and violence.


“I found all of this extremely interesting. It was a very different look at the Mafia and who they actually are…we are used to the movies, like the Godfather,” one student reflected. “Prior to our trip to Taormina, I was already aware of the Mafia, but only in a general capacity. I may have known that different mafia groups impact the economy in their towns, but I did not know the specifics on how exactly they accomplished this.”

Back in Florence, the course continued with a look at the representation of crime in the Italian popular music culture, as well as the violence in and around sport that continues to plague Italian soccer stadiums and beyond.

For more information on how ACCENT students learn about local efforts to combat Mafia influence, see our ACCENT Blog post, “A Visit to ARCI with UC’s ‘History and Culture of Food’ Class.”

A Second Chance

Upon returning from an overseas adventure, the question often comes up in conversation, “Would you do it all over again?” The question is usually answered with a resounding “YES!” The ACCENT San Francisco Center unanimously agrees that, given the chance to repeat our study abroad programs, we’d do it all again in a heartbeat. In this week’s blog post, each member of the team confesses what they’d do differently, or do again, if presented with the chance to return to the city where they studied abroad.

Ashley P. Spinelli, Program Development Manager, writes:
If I were back on my study abroad program right now, I would first eat an enormous bowl of tagliatelle al ragu from my favorite student restaurant in Bologna, Osteria dell’Orsa. After satisfying that craving, I would summon the courage to seek out more creative extracurriculars such as art, music, dance, or yoga early on in my study abroad experience.

I studied abroad on a full-immersion program in Bologna, Italy for an academic year, and although I had the academic preparation necessary for my coursework, I longed for an Italian-speaking community outside of the classroom that was not centered around my Italian roommates or American/Erasmus friends. It took me nearly a full year to work up the courage to seek out creative extracurriculars in Italian that my peers weren’t participating in.

I found I particularly missed the dance classes I had enjoyed as a student at the University of Minnesota. I spent months researching options and agonizing over whether I could think fast enough in Italian (I could), or if I would embarrass myself when I did not understand movement metaphors in another language (I would, but I’d also learn some tremendous vocabulary in the process) before I finally worked up the courage to sign up for a West African dance class. Inevitably, as the only non-native Italian speaker, I was not the star of the class. However, as a non-verbal form of communication, the dance class gave me the freedom to express myself with my Italian-speaking peers more freely. Combined with the opportunity to practice my language skills during class in a low-stress setting, this provided the perfect opportunity to make Italian friends with similar interests, stretch my vocabulary, and learn more about the the West African diaspora in Italy. Unfortunately, it was nearly the end of the program by the time I found this space. Having worked in the field, I’m now able to reflect on this experience and see the personal and academic learning opportunities that I could’ve experienced, had I pursued my interests earlier. At the time, I let my nerves get the best of me for most of the year, despite feeling desperate to expand outside of my community, do something creative, and get some exercise!Ashley2

Allison Keith, Director of U.S. Operations, says:
What would I want if I was back on my study abroad program? I need think no further. For me, the very best part of my study abroad experience was living with my homestay family in Tours, France. I have always adored children, and being able to live with a single mother and her two young girls was absolutely wonderful. I have to give credit to Melanie and Sylvie, as they were really the best teachers of French! The amazing inhibitions of the young, who will tell you exactly what you are saying wrong and then easily tell you how to say it correctly! Granted, it was French at a certain level, but it allowed me to build a foundation and also confidence in speaking. I adored my six months living with the Bertrand family and would not want to change that for the world!AKhomestay

Chelsey Little, Contract Manager/Social Media Manager, writes:
If I were lucky enough to be back on my study abroad program in Florence with Stanford University right now, I would: 1) Avoid that walkway/bridge that just collapsed due to a sink hole because it’s right by where the Stanford center in Florence is now, and is the same route I took every day to get to school from the Santa Croce neighborhood—yikes! 2) Enjoy un caffé and the scene at Le Murate / Café Letteraio, a place I did not know about when I was abroad, but would have loved to frequent. 3) Learn how to cook from my Italian host mom. This never came up as an opportunity for me when I was abroad, probably because I never thought to ask, but as an adult, I love to make all sorts of Italian dishes (linguini, paperdelle, tagliatelle, gnocchi, pizza, risotto, tutti fatto a mano!) and it would have been amazing to have picked up a few pointers from a pro. 4) Plan a trip to a nearby hot springs. I’ve only recently (in the past few years) developed a fondness for hot springs, and I might not have been quite brave enough to venture out to one when I was in college, but at this point in my life, I’ve got the bug and I want to bask in any sulfuric body of water I can find. Sounds to me like I need to make a trip back to Italy ASAP!Chelsey overlooking Florence

Tanyshia Stevens, Programs Assistant, says:
If I were back in Paris, the very first thing I would do is hunt down a döner kebab! It’s been four years since I studied abroad and I still crave them, almost daily. It’s the perfect meal—delicious slow roasted meat sandwiched between perfectly toasted bread, with a large helping of frites (or french fries, as we call them). For less than €5, it’s the perfect grab-and-go meal.

I would then take a walk through Paris and find a nice park or bench so I could sit and enjoy the sun. During my time abroad, I was always very hesitant to get out and explore by myself. Now that I have some experience traveling, if I could go back to Paris now, I’d do a lot more exploring alone.Tanyshia

Anna Tapfer, Programs Coordinator, says:
If I was back on my study abroad program, I’d be spending more time out and about in Munich, taking the train to surrounding Bavarian towns (eating tons of pretzels and döner kebab along the way), and taking advantage of low-cost flights to see other countries. I did a good amount of traveling during a generous two-and-a-half-month semester break, but would try to spend more time going to countries and cities I had never been to before, even cities within Germany.Anna[2]

Sara Assadi-Nik, Assistant Programs Coordinator, writes:
If I was back in Paris on my study abroad program, I would make more of an effort to travel outside of the city. I was so enamored with Paris itself that I only took a few short trips outside of the city. Certainly exotic locations like Morocco, Croatia, and Hungary beckon. Knowing now that the opportunities to travel to these locations only become more troublesome in post-collegiate life, I would have taken advantage of the fact that I was in close proximity to such fascinating parts of the world.

Additionally, I would make an effort to spend more time in the city’s older neighborhoods, particularly in the little-known corners of the city. Between our campus in the 16th arrondisement, my apartment in the 19th, and a close friend’s apartment in the 4th, neighborhood haunts were quickly established, favorite locales visited time and time again, and aside from a rainy adventure to the Belleville neighborhood to eat my first bowl of authentic Vietnamese Pho, I can’t remember many times I ventured into arrondisements like the 10th, 12th, 13th, and 20th. Certainly I missed much of “authentic” Paris and eschewed many stunning locales because of metro rides that were seemingly too long to bear. Of particular interest to me now would be the flea markets like Marché aux Puces de Paris/St.-Ouen and Puces de Vanves, located in neighborhoods further afield than I would have ventured at the time.

Jani McEuen, Programs Coordinator, says:
If I was back on my study abroad program, I would make more of an effort to interact with local Londoners. Almost everything I did while in London was with my fellow University of California students, or entirely on my own, and I feel that I really missed out on something valuable by not making connections with any locals. I made friends on my study abroad program…with other Californians. I experienced London culture…as a solo foreign observer. It’s not always an easy task for an introverted gal to strike up random conversations with strangers, but if I was back there now, I would try harder. And I encourage every student who is currently studying abroad to strike up those conversations; ask someone in that restaurant what they ordered, ask someone in that pub which football team they’re cheering for, ask someone in that museum what they think of that painting, ask someone in that park what they love about the city in which they live. It’s thrilling to experience a new place and to see it through your own eyes, but one of the greatest gifts that study abroad can give is the ability to see the world through someone else’s.Jani Solitary

Megan Neureuter, Associate Director of U.S. Operations, writes:
If I was back on my study abroad program, I’d like to say that I wouldn’t do anything more or less than I did before. This is the case, for the most part, until I get to language. What I’d do differently today is choose to be daring—I would use the language I was learning and try it out everywhere I went. It’s my nature to be cautious and to avoid putting myself out there more than necessary, but I realize as I have become older that there can be downsides to that; at times, breaking out of our nature is more rewarding than any other accomplishment. Today, I would walk into the Parisian stores and stumble with my rudimentary French, but use it anyway. I would try to have actual conversations with my host family, rather than simple hellos and goodbyes. I would make mistakes and probably laugh a lot—it would be hard but it would be worth it and my confidence would skyrocket—and that’s what learning a language (and even a new culture) is all about. It’s about immersing yourself and learning that, although the world is big and scary, making that small attempt at being a part of something different can be so satisfying. In the end though, my Parisian experience was extraordinary and honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Hindsight is easy and today I can see that I’m different now from who I was then; maybe I’ve become more daring or maybe I’m just able to identify my idiosyncrasies better—I’m not sure. But I do know, without a doubt, that if I was there today, I’d walk into a bakery and say, “Une baguette demi s’il vous plaît!” and savor it, relishing the fact that I’m in a city as special and wondrous as Paris.

Jessica Knittle, Contract and Administrative Assistant, writes:
Although I eagerly anticipate someday returning to the cobblestone streets of Galway’s bustling Eyre Square—to walk through the campus, past Irish storefronts, over the River Corrib, and around the beautiful green cathedral—given the chance to repeat my study abroad program, I’d first stop at the megalithic Lough Crew passage tombs. Only now do I understand what an amazing opportunity I’d been given, to have a glimpse of Ireland’s extensive history during my study abroad trip.

Many of the excursions we went on required short hikes, often ascending upward, to arrive at our destinations. The reward was always worth the effort. At the summit of the passage tombs, the giant mound of grass and small boulders provides a breathtaking view of County Meath—a fantastic spectacle of green, interrupted only by grazing sheep and miles of short stone fences. Sporadic boulders dot the clover-covered hill in random areas, marking ancient grave-sites. If I were back in Ireland, I would tattoo more scenes like this onto my memory. The Irish landscape is unlike anything else; the shades of green brighter and more awe-inspiring than any photograph.

During the autumn and spring equinoxes, light shines into the passage of the Lough Crew tomb, illuminating Neolithic symbols on the stone walls inside. Perhaps what inspires me to return is a longing to better understand the people who carved them. Did these people lay in the blanket of clovers as I did, appreciating the rare sight of a blue sky above them? What did they believe of these equinoxes, deemed significant by their alignment with the tomb’s entryway? If I had the chance to return to Ireland, I’d listen better; I’d look for more answers. After 5,000 years, the meaning of the symbols carved into the stone is still unclear…the history in the hills beckons me back.Jessica Lough Crew chair~ACCENT San Franscisco