Madison Baumgartner

Major: Apparel, Merchandising, and Design
Class: Junior
Timeframe: Spring 2022

Overall Experience

My overall experience was nothing short of amazing. I had the opportunity to stay in the beautiful city of Florence, Italy, and travel all over Europe for three months. It was nerve-wracking at first because I had never been outside of the United States, but everyone in Italy made me feel so welcome, and I made lifelong friends from this experience. I would spend my weekdays in Florence getting coffee from our favorite coffee shop John Borno Cafe, getting paninis from Panini Toscani, and going to class at Lorenzo de Medici Institute. I took Apparel, Merchandising, and Design classes, and we would spend most classes walking around Florence to view/analyze luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, etc., which was a dream come true! I also had the opportunity to take Wine Tasting and go on field trips to beautiful vineyards. The weekends I would spend in different places such as Paris, London, Lake Como, Barcelona, Croatia, and Greece. My eyes were opened to new cultures, experiences, and beauty, and I would recommend everyone to take the opportunity to study abroad; you will not regret it!

Learning experience

The most valuable learning experience for me was definitely traveling and having patience. My friends and I did a lot of traveling throughout our experience, and we ran into many problems, from being late for flights, booking the wrong Airbnb, and getting stuck in train stations, you name it, and we most likely experienced it. I learned how to be patient because Europe runs differently than the United States, and there are language barriers, so I developed a sense of understanding I didn't have before studying abroad. Most Americans are always in a rush because that's how we are in the United States, always trying to get where we want to go as fast as possible, and Europeans don't have quite the same mindset, so being immersed in that environment for three months taught me a lot.

Memorable experience

There are so many memorable experiences to choose from, but I think the most memorable experience for me was a particular walk I went on during my last week of studying abroad. I bought a pastry from one of my favorite coffee shops, and I went on a sunset walk through the streets of Florence while listening to my favorite songs. As it was my last week in Florence, I spent this time reflecting on my experience and taking in as much of Florence as possible before leaving. I wrote a journal entry on 5/2/2022 that reads: "right now I'm sitting at Piazza Santa Croce eating a pastry after my wine tasting class; it's 8:15 pm, and I leave Florence in less than 2 weeks. I'm listening to Leader of the Landslide by The Lumineers and watching the sunset over the buildings of Florence. I feel at peace sitting here on this bench alone in Italy. I don't want to leave, but I'm trying to think positively and take in my thoughts and feelings as I sit here in happiness. I will always remember this moment."

What did you not expect?

Something that surprised me the most was probably the lifestyle in Europe. Everything seemed so calm all the time, and everyone was so welcoming everywhere we went. For example, every week, we would go to Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio to get meat and cheese from the same vendor, Stephano. He would let us try all the different meats and cheeses. Everyone seemed so happy about their jobs and genuinely enjoyed serving us. This part of my experience will change my approach to my life and profession because it taught me not to take life too seriously and find something I will genuinely enjoy doing because it is important to put your happiness over any job; you only get one life, and it is important to spend it doing what you love.

What advice would you give?

My advice to anyone who wants to study abroad would be to do it! I cannot stress enough how amazing it was; although it can be intimidating, the positives immensely outweigh the negatives. Also, treat every day like it is your last day when you're there, and do not waste a minute! This experience goes by so fast, and it will be the best experience of your life, so don't blink.

How has this experience impacted your life?

Everyone returns from studying abroad saying, "it changed my life!" and I am one of those people because it really changed my outlook on life and taught me so many lessons. As soon as I stepped off the tram into the city of Florence, I was speechless. The amount of Italian culture and beauty is overwhelming but in the best way. I tend to romanticize things, and boy, did I romanticize every aspect of Italy. The education I received was amazing as they focused on immersing you in the content instead of spending hours lecturing; I would spend my class days in different spots of Florence, seeing visual merchandising up close or going to different vineyards outside of Florence to see how wine is made. It taught me so much about myself and how ahead Europe is, especially in the fashion industry. As for long-term career goals, I would love to go back and spend some time there if the opportunity presents itself. This experience makes you appreciate the little things in life, as well as how important it is to stop and smell the roses from time to time.

How did you learn about this experience?

I first learned about this international opportunity through older members of my sorority who had the opportunity to go, but unfortunately, their experience was cut short due to COVID-19. I was intrigued by their stories and social media posts, so I looked into the program myself and decided I needed to do this for my education and myself.

International Connections