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June 27, 2013

Lilly Keyes: Studying Abroad in Italy

June 27, 2013

Lilly Keyes is a senior majoring in journalism and a social media intern for Communications and Brand Strategy. This summer she is participating in a study abroad course in Italy and has been chronicling her experiences for the university’s Facebook page


MSU students in Italy

I have always dreamed of visiting Italy, and this summer, I finally find myself here. I'm studying Italian language and history in Florence for six weeks with 14 fellow Spartans. Here I am (back row, in white) with my classmates in la Piazza de Vecchio. Who knew that studying isn't so hard when you're surrounded by what you're learning every day? It's awesome to hear my host family, including my adorable 2-year-old Italian brother Brando, speaking the language fluently and trying to pick up on what they're discussing. (Even if it's usually what Brando's trying to put in his mouth at the moment.)


Il Porcellino statue in Florence

The city of Florence might not have a 9'7" tall bronze Spartan within its limits, but they do have a large boar fountain named Il Porcellino, which means "piglet" in Italian. According to legend, if you put a coin in his mouth, let go, and it falls into the grates below, you'll have good luck. I know that I'm pretty lucky to have grown up around Sparty my whole life and, now, I get to spend some time in Il Porcellino's city.


View out classroom at la Sculola Toscana in Florence

This is the view out of my classroom window at la Scuola Toscana in Florence! To reach the classroom, we have to walk up 96 steps (we counted). After a pasta lunch and a quick gelato run afterward, those 96 steps seem like 96 million. Trust me. 

Because we're high up, we get a view of the gorgeous old building next to us, and the green hills in the distance. During breaks in class, we like to look down onto the street and practice our Italian with the people walking by.


Students in class at Orsanmichele cathedral

Here, my classmates are pictured listening intently to one of our professors as they sit in one of Florence's many ancient cathedrals. In the Orsanmichele cathedral, we learned strategies to figure out when a sculpture was made. Every Wednesday, our class has "excursion days," which have taken us out of the classroom and all over the city. In Florence, we are surrounded by history in every way—from the places we pass on our walk to school each morning to the museums we go to as a class.



One of my favorite parts about Rome is the presence of ruins throughout the city. I love when old buildings and new ones are mixed within a city (or campus, just like a certain one that I'm partial to in East Lansing). Rome takes this concept to another level with its ruins, throwing ancient history in the middle of all the roads and Segway tours. I only got to visit Rome for a day on my study abroad trip, but in that day, I saw the Vatican, Colosseum and Trevi Fountain. I also ran into a Spartan alumnus! Now I can officially say I've yelled "Go Green!" across the world.


Lilly with Spartan flag at Colosseum

One of the most memorable things to happen to me during my study abroad experience thus far was when my group ran into a fellow Spartan on the streets of Rome. The bond we immediately had because of our green and white roots was comforting, and I loved hearing about her experience on campus. (She graduated in the School of Packaging's first class at MSU!) I saw firsthand that the Spartan Nation extends thousands of miles outside East Lansing's city limits.


Lilly and her la mia sorellina

Recently, la mia sorellina (my little sister) Anastasia turned six! Naturally, she had a princess-themed party complete with tiaras (pirate hats for the boys), cake and a pink piñata. The birthday party was exactly like one you'd expect in America, only the cake tasted better. I know, it's hard to believe! Getting to know my host family has been one of my favorite parts of my study abroad experience. I'm not only learning the Italian language from them, I bond with them and hear their experiences every night over pasta. The automatic in to the princess party wasn't so bad, either.


Lilly in food safety suit

No, I wasn't trying to make a fashion statement when this photo was taken. As a part of the Italian study abroad experience, our professor scheduled a trip to Modena, a town known for its parmigiano reggiano cheese. There, we toured a cheese factory. It was really interesting to see the process from start to finish and then test the product at the end of it all. One of my favorite parts about my trip so far is that it has taken me off the beaten path. I've had the opportunity to see places that aren't in the travel guide, which makes for some of the most interesting—and fashionable—experiences.


Bike with flowers

On my walk to school in Florence, I pass two flower shops, a park, a convent, and one of the largest cathedrals in the city. Florence is so interesting because there are so many old buildings and monuments alongside the shops and cafes. There are Renaissance statues all over the city, and it seems like almost every building or monument has an interesting story to go along with it.


Lilly with Spartan flag at Leaning Tower of Pisa

A trip to Italy just isn't complete without seeing the Leaning Tower! Before we knew it, we found ourselves in Pisa, attempting to hold up the landmark like millions of tourists have done before us. Before I left for my study abroad trip, I made a "bucket list" of things I wanted to make sure I did before I left, and this was one of them. As my final week approaches, it's crazy to look back at all of the places I've been in six weeks.