Lasting Lessons- Erin Hicks, Maggie Mahfood, and Rebekah Provines

We are all sitting around our respective tables tonight, finishing up last minute packing, and getting ready for our four AM flight to Texas. It has been an incredible month in one of the most beautiful places on earth and we are undeniably grateful for the ability to have had this experience. We have been fortunate enough to have spent this month with three terrific faculty members who have invested their time, a precious and limited resource, into our lives, and we are better people for having learned from them. It is with very mixed emotions that we begin our journey home. The past thirty days have taught us:

  1. How to truly appreciate art.
  2. What it means to be outside of our “comfort zone.”
  3. To slow down.
  4. How to make the small moments count.
  5. How to embrace adventure.
  6. What it means to communicate effectively.
  7. To respect cultural values different than our own.11418270_10153010524286229_1436893778_n
  8. How to navigate public transportation.
  9. How to take initiative in planning independent trips.
  10. What a true Italian meal tastes like.
  11. What good coffee means. Quality over quantity.
  12. The great things that we are capable of.
  13. How to disconnect from technology.
  14. How to connect with the people around us.
  15. That home can be a feeling, not just a physical dwelling.
  16. How to value people’s individual outlook on every aspect of life.
  17. How to get along with a diverse group of individuals.
  18. How to live on a budget.
  19. How to pursue happiness.
  20. What it feels like to be truly content.
  21. How to deal with European washing machines.
  22. What it means to make friends.
  23. About the overwhelming beauty of nature.
  24. How to marvel at the history and beauty of mankind.
  25. The value of trust and loyalty within the Italian culture.
  26. How to love people genuinely.
  27. How to accept and cope with the things we cannot change.
  28. How to endure a nine hour flight.
  29. That travel sparks an untamable curiosity.
  30. What wanderlust feels like.


This list is by no means comprehensive, as it is impossible to quantify all that we have learned here. Every single one of us has had a unique experience during our time abroad. There are lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom. This world is big and begs to be explored, and GATE has given us the opportunity to learn and experience something absolutely life changing. We are forever grateful to those who made this experience possible and look forward to carrying its lessons with us for the rest of our lives.

The View- Maggie Mahfood

It is hard to believe that in less than 48 hours we will be back in Texas. We have each had very unique experiences and been taught lessons that we will continue to learn from and reflect on for the rest of our lives. Before I left home someone said to me, “You are going to have an experience that many will only dream of.” This has been undeniably true. Last night we all gathered to have a final dinner together before we leave this place we have grown to love. We each took turns reflecting on the lessons we have learned and sharing memories with each other. It was so hard to specifically define the best moment of this incredible adventure, but after giving it some thought, I knew which experience had been the most impactful for me. Halfway through our trip, we left Florence to spend three days in Rome. On our second day we had the entire morning to ourselves. At this point in the trip, exhaustion was setting in, emotions were high, and morale was low at 6:30 in the morning. However, five of us managed to drag ourselves out of our blissfully air conditioned hotel room and trek to St. Peter’s in Vatican City

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Early morning breakfast before heading to St. Peter’s.

We were determined to be some of the first people in line to climb to the top of the cupola on St. Peter’s Basilica. The temptation to complain was high as we climbed 300 steps and had only made it halfway to the top. We completed our climb within a strenuous half hour. Upon stepping out of the stairwell, my breath was taken away and I felt tears of awe fill my eyes; the climb was more than worth it. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, and pictures cannot do the view any justice.

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An attempt at capturing our view.

Regardless of a person’s religious affiliation or background, the sweeping magnitude of Vatican City is inspiring. It was at the very top of St. Peter’s that I remembered someone telling us that people never asked “How much?” or “How long?” when building the beautiful, historical places of worship that we have seen throughout Italy. The construction of the beautiful churches took resources that, at the time, were scarce and many, many years to complete. It was in that moment that I was amazed at man’s ability to pour out energy into something greater than himself. On top of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, I determined that I would never again ask “How much?” or “How long?” when it came to being a part of something bigger than myself, something special. That bigger thing is different for all of us. If I have learned anything on this trip, it is that people are to be loved and cared about, even when it’s not convenient. Life is to be lived to the fullest, even when we are exhausted. Joy is to be sought after every day and risks are to be taken. We can never hold back and never ask “How much?” or “How long?” when trying to make our world a more beautiful and loving place.

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Post climb | Full of joy

Wheeling My Way Downtown- Jessica Warren

Living with a handicapped parent for most of my life means that I have adapted to look for certain features whenever I visit a new place. I automatically look for ramps at entrances, I always notice whether or not aisles are wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, and I always look to see if counters are low enough for a person in a wheelchair to reach. I’m often disappointed at home in the United States when I find that a business has not taken into consideration that some people will need to be able to access it from a wheelchair, but here in Italy I have noticed that handicap accessibility is a bit more scarce than at home. Florence is absolutely gorgeous, but unfortunately, not everyone is able to visit some of the beautiful places this city has to offer.

Most museums that we have visited here in Florence and in Rome have taken measures to make their facilities accessible to the handicapped, including equipment such as ramps, elevators, and stair lifts. However, older buildings such as the medieval and renaissance era churches are still inaccessible to people with physical disabilities. The fact that many structures in Italy have not been updated to include handicap accessibility is no surprise. When every inch of a building was designed by a famous renaissance architect, the question of augmenting the structure to add an elevator or other practical (but not so beautiful) element is a difficult one to answer. On the one hand, preserving the antique beauty of Florentine structures is incredibly important from an artistic as well as a historical standpoint. But on the other, not adding wheelchair accessibility to these structures keeps many people from being able to experience them.

one of the six flights of stairs to my apartment in Florence with no elevator or lift

Centuries-old Florentine churches are not the only structures that are difficult to access for the handicapped. Shops and restaurants in the city often have at least one step at the doorway, and sometimes have sales floors or dining rooms that are situated on multiple levels separated by steps. In addition to this, doorways and aisles in stores and restaurants are often much too narrow for a wheelchair to pass through safely. Though handicap accessibility is by no means universal in the United States, more legislation and regulation of businesses means that most apartment buildings will have at least one handicap accessible unit, and doorways of shops are required to be at least wide enough for a standard wheelchair to pass through. Here in Italy, my apartment building and most of the others I have been in have no unit on the ground floor and no elevator.  Shops and restaurants in Florence and several in Rome require you to walk down a flight of stairs immediately after stepping through the doorway. These stores and restaurants are full of beautiful and unique items and food, but it is unfortunate that part of the population cannot even get through the doorway. Aside from the actual structures in Florence, the streets of the city are complicated to maneuver for a person who uses a wheelchair. This problem is not necessarily unique to Florence; many cities have uneven or cobblestoned streets. In Florence, though, most of the city has sidewalks for pedestrians, but they are too narrow in most places for two people to stand side by side, and definitely too narrow for most wheelchairs.

The opportunity to live and study in Florence has been incredible and I am extremely grateful that I have been able to do this. Our group has seen so many beautiful sites, rich with history and culture. Florence is a breathtaking city, and I am hopeful that a solution can be found that both meets the needs of handicapped people who wish to explore this city, and preserves the history, culture, and beauty of the city.


People and Perspectives- Rebekah Provines

Now that the end of the trip is in sight, I have had time to think back on what I have experienced. I could rattle off all the fun places we, as a group, have been, and all the memories that go with the journey. However, Italy has given me more than just that crazy time we climbed seventy five flights of stairs for the view or the times we ate at our favorite restaurant down the street more than four times in a week. Italy has given me a different perspective on life. It is not just the slow pace of day-to-day life or the great food, but it is the people.


The Italian people have a very innocent way of life and by innocent I mean trusting. I can order a café and a pastry, walk outside, eat it, and they trust that I will pay for it when I finish. In the States, you pay before you receive due to the lack of trust. The people are also very kind as long as you attempt to speak Italian. They will laugh at you in a loving way but then help you find whatever it is that you need. Once you talk to a local for a couple minutes you feel a connection with them that is pure and genuine. I have befriended a lady named Clarissa at the local food market. I love to buy produce from her because she teaches me Italian as I teach her English. She doesn’t speak any English and my Italian is very poor. However, together we have created a friendship.


Another way Italy has changed the way I look at life is through the enriching history. I have seen all the pictures of the Colosseum and the Forum in texts and online, but whenever you have two professors with a never ending wealth of knowledge about ancient Italian history the experience reaches a whole new level. Instead of looking at a rock sticking strait out of the ground, I am learning that it is a Doric column that was once part of the temple of Hera (a Greek goddess). It is simply amazing to look out over an ancient civilization and walk exactly where its citizens did. Italy has been an amazing experience and I know that all the lessons I have learned will help me in my future travels and throughout my life.

Florence: The Original Fashion Capital – Alayna Sims

When you think of fashion, everyone loves to shout out Paris, New York, or even Milan. In all of my years studying fashion, from designing to modeling, those were the names that were written about the most. So, you could imagine my surprise when I was informed that the fashion industry actually has roots planted here in Florence. While we sat in one of the lectures given by Enrica Guidato here at Santa Reparata, I was exposed to so much about the Italian influence of the fashion industry, that it is impossible for me to believe anything else. My favorite part of the lecture was finding out that Coco Chanel was apart of the invention of capri pants! This lecture had taught me to view the industry that I loved more globally rather than locally. I took over two pages of notes, and I feel that this lecture sparked my curiosity to study fashion with more of a global focus now.

Another event that blew my mind was getting to see the costume gallery at the Pitti Palace. Getting to see how fashion has evolved throughout history had made me feel as if I was actually in those time periods!

I thought I had loved fashion before, but being in Florence has given me so much inspiration, that I can’t wait to get back to the states to sketch and design so many new looks! What’s even better than the haute couture is how fashionable the Florentine public is.

Everywhere I turned there was some woman dressed in Miu Miu or some man with a Valentino 3-piece suit with a Louis Vuitton duffel bag. It’s as if all of these people can get designer clothing at dollar store prices! By just people watching, I learned that the Italian people take pride in their appearance just as much as they do…well everything else! You can tell that the Florentines know where they live, and they strut down the streets of Florence with purpose and style, as if the town is their runway. If there is anything I learned about being in Florence, it is that the people wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear them.