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My Semester in Florence

A life-changing, life-affirming adventure
By Angel America Elza ('10)

Angel America Elza ('10) participated in JMU's Semester in Florence study abroad program in Fall 2009

Angel America Elza ('10)

Angel America Elza ('10), a studio art major, participated in JMU's Semester in Florence study abroad program during the Fall 2009 Semester. In addition to sharing her photographs, Angel kept a blog during her Semester Abroad experience.

Surreal. There is no better definition of the word than leaving the United States for the first time in your entire life and moving to the most beautiful country in the world for three months.

After flying for countless hours, trying my hardest to prepare for the drastic time change, I stepped off of the plane into a place that I had only read about. I was greeted with a friendly smile (a smile that would soon become common and comforting) from Claire — the JMU Florence Program's own personal angel and assistant to the director. She seemed nice enough at the time as she tossed me into a cab and said God-only-knows-what in Italian to the cab driver, sending me on my way to my new home.

Speeding in and out of traffic, dodging motorinos, the young Italian cab driver yakked on her cell phone in Italian faster than I can talk in English. I couldn't help but notice my new surroundings — the billboards in Italian, the women all in heels, the men … can be inappropriate. All I could think was, "This is something out of a movie!" But it wasn't. This was it. This was the beginning of my study abroad experience. This surreal, fit-for-a-movie-screen, crazy cab ride was my first experience in Italy. It was weird.

JMU's Semester in Florence study abroad program

The Semester in Florence, like other JMU Semester Abroad programs, offers participants the opportunity to spend approximately three months living and studying in a foreign country. Classes are generally taught in English.

It only got better from there; after that chaos the only way had to be up…up nine flights of stairs to my new flat. I grew up in a small town so I wasn't really sure how buzzers worked when you wanted someone in an apartment building to let you inside. I found the name of my housemother on the panel. Trapman. I buzzed and buzzed until I heard a British accent — yes, a British accent in Italy — squawking from the speaker, "Stop ringing the buzzah! Just push the door!!" Lorraine Trapman rushed down the nine flights of stairs that would prevent me from gaining any weight while in Italy and greeted me with a hug! A comforting, friendly hug. It took basically no time at all for the other girls and I to start calling her Mama Lo. Italy is like throwing on your favorite old pair of sweatpants (which are illegal in Italy) — so comfortable, so quickly. From jet-lagged to my new home in less than 60 minutes.

The stories I just told may seem a bit odd, but they are a part of my journey in Italia, my first impression of a country I have fallen madly in love with. For the next three months I lived with an incurable, sensational passion for learning who I was and what Italy would encourage me to become. I don't want to tell too much; I want you to see that in my photographs. This was a life-changing adventure, an adventure that will inspire me to embrace chances and share experiences. It showed me how to be the change I wish to see in my life, at our school, and in our world.

I only hope you can sense my love, my memories, and my passion through these photographs. It was amazing. Enjoy.