Finding Fashion and Freedom in Florence

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Growing up, Emily Larson dreamed of traveling to Italy. The food. The fashion. The history and architecture. A chance to visit a place connected to her heritage, and important to her family.

She never thought a business university would be the key to making her dream come true.

“Study abroad was not on my radar when I was searching for colleges, but when I learned about Bentley’s study abroad programs it really got me excited about the possibility,” says Larson. “I don’t think I would have studied abroad if I went to some of the other colleges I applied to. I considered it at Bentley because I knew they really encourage it and make the process as easy as possible.”

Indeed, study abroad is an integral part of the Bentley experience, with more than 80 programs offered in 25 countries, ranging from intensive one-week trips to semester- or year-long immersions. Once she was accepted to a program in Florence, Larson worked with Bentley’s Cronin Office of International Education to iron out the details of her European adventure.

Bentley offered safety tips and resources,” she says, “and our Florence adviser obtained our Italian visas so we didn’t have to go to the consulate ourselves.”

Former study abroad students also proved to be an invaluable resource.

“Study abroad peer advisers hosted an informal pizza party for us to talk openly about our questions and concerns,” says Larson. “It was so helpful to hear about what to pack, traveling tips and all the small details from students who had recently been in the same shoes.”

AN IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE

Once she arrived, however, Larson threw herself into Florence. The experience of immersing herself in the city was helped by her Italian language teacher, who grew up there, and the interactive nature of many of her courses.

“It was a very small class, just four of us, and we met every day of the week, so we developed a close relationship with our teacher, Irene,” says Larson. “She taught us the language, but she also taught us about Florentine culture and what life is like for a real Italian family. I think she was kind of a motherly figure for our class.

“Many of the classes I took were very integrated with Florence and Italy as a whole. In particular, I had a class about the Renaissance history of Florence, and we spent almost every class strolling around the city visiting buildings and churches that have been important in Italian history for thousands of years.”

View of Florence from class field trip to San Miniato al Monte church.

Bentley’s program integrated Larson’s Marketing major, too, allowing her to explore a passion for fashion.

“Education in Florence, and the school I attended, emphasizes art-related courses, including fashion and merchandising,” she says. “I was able to take a Fashion Marketing class that contributes to my major, and my professor was an Italian woman who has years of experience working in international fashion for Target, TJX and other Italian brands.”

With Bentley friends in Munich, Germany.

When she wasn’t studying, Larson was enjoying the city during the week and exploring the rest of the country, and Europe, on the weekends.

A ‘TYPE A’ LEARNS TO LET GO

The experience gave her a new perspective on her education, and of herself.

“After studying abroad I find myself considering the international perspectives of things, especially business, more than ever before,” she says. “Being exposed to how products and business differed in places in Europe made me consider how American companies penetrate international markets.”

And finally visiting Italy not only checked off one big item on her bucket list. It also showed an admitted “Type A” personality how to let go and trust her instincts.

“So many situations arose that I had to handle on my own and, in many cases, no amount of planning and controlling could have changed that,” says Larson. “It was freeing to take the train to a place for a day and just enjoy it. One of my favorite memories from abroad is when I went to a small Tuscan town called Lucca. My friend and I rode bikes around the city walls and just enjoyed the sunny day.

“The idea of living in another country with people I didn’t know, and having to fend for myself often in a different language was a lot, but I adapted faster than I expected,” she adds. “Most of all, I grew as I gained confidence in myself and my ability to live independently — and to thrive.”

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