Study abroad beyond the classroom

By Ashley Day, former API Florence student

If there’s one thing I learned studying abroad, it’s that travel is all about recommendations. I applied to API on a single recommendation and chose Florence on another—a combination that culminated into what is still my most memorable travel experience, and one that would impact the rest of my life. The direction and recommendations from my API staff defined the program and inspired me to become a source of such recommendations by pursuing travel writing as the more practical alternative to never coming home.

Our group at an API-hosted dinner against Ponte Vecchio. Our staff brought hats to celebrate one student’s birthday.

When my college only offered one abroad destination, I looked to a friend and fellow student who’d chosen API Florence to travel alongside her boyfriend with his university. The concept of a group from all over the country with different schools and backgrounds seemed perfectly aligned with an international trip: fostering diversity, discovering different cultures, and meeting new people not necessarily like yourself. But what stood out for this couple was API’s pre-planned weekend trips.

API vineyard excursion

As fun and liberating as free travel was, these excursions with transportation, tours, and destinations taken care of were such a relief. Besides not having to scramble to find flights or decipher train schedules, agree on a destination with friends, or scour cheap hostels upon arrivals, the API getaways were captivating, educational, and a blast with the whole group. These are one of the program’s best perks entirely because of the guides—both entertaining on the busses and providing insight in the towns. Their expertise enhanced tours, steered us towards the right restaurants, and carried weight back in Florence where we knew we could ask anything.

My roommates and I at St. Peter’s Basilica on our first excursion to Rome. We’re equipped for what was a spectacular guided tour.

Locals and professors turned out to be equally inspiring sources. Living dispersed around the city in apartments forced us to interact with our neighbors and opened up lasting friendships with Florentines who jumped at opportunities to share what they loved about their home. Likewise our professors were full of stories and pointers, and we ate up every word with all their experience and knowledge. Whether a secret bakery, hole-in-the-wall family restaurant, or popular piazza, locals open doors to hidden treasures tourists will never stumble upon—an asset every travel writer can appreciate.

My return nostalgia and restless urge to repeat the process around the world simplified narrowing journalism down to a particular field and steered me to right where I am now: traveling, writing, and convincing others to do the same. I’ve aspired to portray the role API filled in my study abroad story through stories of my own and will never forget how it played out.

My History of the Mafia class with our amazing professor, Sandra.

Ashley Day grew up in Orlando, Florida, and divided her college experience between Nashville, Florence, and New York City, where she now works as a travel writer. She’s contributed to Hungry? City Guides, Everyday Health, and On Holiday magazine while managing road trip content at Rand McNally. Studying abroad in Florence inspired Ashley to try anything native to a destination, love food and wine, and study the Italian language upon return. She blogs about life in the city and her travels at www.ashleynday.com.

Ashley has also contributed to the Go!Overseas website with features on “A Day in the Life about API Florence” and the “Florence City Guide” (the first two blue tabs at: http://www.gooverseas.com/study-abroad/florence-italy

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