European Union Policy Studies

An American Abroad

Studying in Florence amidst a global pandemic

Santa Croce

 By Morgan Raymond

In Florence, it is hardly a surprise to respond “America,'' when an inquisitive Italian asks, “Where are you from?” Now, however, we are met with a puzzled look, followed by, “What? But, how?” The coronavirus pandemic has flipped our worlds upside down, and left a lot of things looking different, including the ability to travel internationally.

Students in the EUPS 2020-2021 cohort are among the few Americans able to travel to Europe this fall. I can say for certain, we were all shocked to receive the email from Dr. Blake in July giving us the go-ahead to purchase our plane tickets to Florence leaving August 31st. In July, coronavirus in the United States was showing no end, and the idea of traveling abroad seemed out of the realm of possibilities. Italy, in particular, was one of the first countries under the coronavirus spotlight. Fortunately, Italy was able to bring coronavirus cases down substantially, allowing the EUPS cohort the ability to travel safely to Italy.

Traveling internationally in a pandemic was exhausting. We moved cautiously through deserted airports, sanitized our hands constantly, and wore masks for the entirety of the journey. On the bright side though, due to airline COVID regulations, almost everyone had a row of seats to themselves providing extra room to stretch out on the long flight.

American tourists are still restricted from travelling to the European Union, but the Italian government is allowing students to travel with a valid student visa, self-declaration forms and a mandatory quarantine upon arrival. 14 days of quarantine is not the most fun way to start a year living in a brand new city, especially if you have a single apartment like, Liam, the only male student in this year’s cohort. It was worth it though, as we are now free to live and travel as we please, of course with some restrictions.

The EUPS program is the only JMU program to be operating internationally this fall. Over the summer JMU made the decision to suspend their undergraduate programs abroad for the fall term, meaning there are no Semester in Florence (SIF) students sharing the building. 

It’s important to note that American students play an important role in the economy of Italian cities, especially Florence. Italy has over 150 American university programs, over 40 of them in Florence, and JMU is one of the few with students in the city this fall. While signing up for a gym membership, the owner explained that last fall he had over 250 American students as members of the gym and this fall there are two; my roommate and myself.

While the lack of undergraduate students is one noticeable difference, there are a number of other changes since I last studied at the Palazzo. For example, body temperatures are taken upon entering the building, plexiglass screens and face masks separate students from professors, assigned desks in the Brunelleschi room ensure physical distancing, and windows are opened hourly to circulate the air. The staff in Florence have taken every measure to ensure students and professors remain safe and healthy throughout the year while following Italian regulations and university policies. 

From my first-hand observations, Florentines are properly, and respectfully following the health guidelines laid out by the Italian government. Masks are worn in every shop, we stand six feet apart at grocery stores, restaurants provide extra tables for outside dining, and hand sanitizer is available everywhere. 

After living in Florence for a semester as an undergraduate student, it feels much quieter this fall. Of course, Florence is not quite the same without the bustle of tourists, especially for those who have experienced it during peak season. As students move throughout the city, the crowds outside the Duomo are smaller, the Ponte Vecchio isn’t bursting at the seam, and the line outside Gusta Pizza is slim to none. Regardless, the city still has the same charm that wins you over time and time again.

Travel restrictions to certain areas throughout the European Union are still in place and the situation changes on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The academic visit to Brussels that was scheduled for this fall, was put on hold until the spring semester for safe measure. In the meantime, we have found the fun in quiet weekends in Florence, in lieu of busy travel weekends to new countries. We are glad to see that the coronavirus hasn't changed the spectacular views from Piazzale Michelangelo, the color of the sky reflecting off the Arno, or the exquisite bowl of pasta we can get from local osterias. We are all eager to see how the year unfolds, but are hopeful that it will be amazing.

Morgan Raymond is a member of the 2020-2021 EUPS cohort. She graduated from JMU in 2020 with a major in International Affairs and minors in Economics and Modern European Studies. Morgan participated in the fall 2018 Semester in Florence program as well.

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Published: Saturday, October 10, 2020

Last Updated: Saturday, October 10, 2020

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