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Spotlight: Exploring historic Tuscany with study abroad

Olivia Townsend `26 and Oliver Walters-Clift `27 used their Caldwell Fellows Experiential Learning Grants to support their participation in the University Honors Program’s Florence summer study abroad program. The experience focused on Tuscany's history and cultural studies and was led by Dr. Holly Hurlburt, Associate Dean and Executive Director of Academic Enrichment Programs.

Florence, Italy was the site several Fellows chose for study abroad this summer.

Two Fellows, Olivia Townsend and Oliver Walters-Clift, embarked on an unforgettable journey through the University Honors Program Florence summer study abroad this summer. They each immersed themselves in Florence, Italy’s rich history and vibrant culture. Both took classes and explored the historic city, each gaining unique insights and experiences that will shape their futures.

The month-long program immersed them in history classes while allowing the opportunity to explore the essence of the Renaissance city. Oliver reveled in the freedom to explore near and far, tailoring his experiences to his interests. Olivia had the chance to extend her journey beyond Florence as she traveled to other European countries with Caldwell Fellows, who were studying abroad in other locations this summer. What follows are key insights from their experience, abbreviated from interviews with them.

Gaining Independence and Global Understanding

For Oliver, the summer in Italy was a lesson in independence. Navigating daily life in a foreign country and overcoming language barriers taught him patience and flexibility. 

I learned valuable independence skills. Living on my own meant figuring out everything from travel plans to buying groceries completely on my own. These skills are useful anywhere, but being able to navigate daily life in a foreign country through a language barrier was truly an exercise in patience and flexibility that I will use throughout my life. – Oliver

Olivia echoed these sentiments, emphasizing how the experience allowed her to discover new facets of herself and the world. As a history major, she cherished learning about the Italian Renaissance in the very place it occurred.

Oliver on the water in Venice.
Olivia near the water.

Practicing Servant Leadership

Both Fellows found opportunities to apply servant leadership skills during their time abroad. Oliver prioritized ensuring everyone’s voices were heard when making plans, fostering a cohesive group experience. Olivia found that studying abroad enhanced her perspective.

I believe that extraordinary leadership relies on a foundation of collaboration and communication. Studying abroad provided a gateway to bettering these skills in a cultural sense.  – Olivia

Left to right: Juan Lopez Flores, Max Nicely, and Olivia Townsend.
Oliver touching the mountains.

Challenging Preconceived Notions

When asked about how the experience challenged them, both had interesting answers. Oliver’s biggest revelation was that the unknown is not always difficult to understand. He expected to struggle with Italian culture but instead found support and encouragement from locals. Olivia was amazed by the depth of history in Florence, discovering new places, paintings, and museums daily, each town in Italy offering a unique experience.

Lessons Learned: Embracing the New and Unplanned

Oliver’s most valuable lesson was to try everything. He rarely regretted new experiences, whether trying different restaurants or joining spontaneous weekend plans. Olivia learned the beauty of going with the flow. Wandering without a strict plan led her to hidden treasures in Florence, away from the usual tourist spots.

It is challenging but valuable to learn that being open to change and the unknown can benefit your experience as it did mine. – Olivia

Olivia enjoying gelato.
Oliver in Pompeii.

Rewarding Aspects: Independence and Friendship

Oliver found the most rewarding aspect was the bond formed with his cohort, sharing the highs and lows of a month abroad. Olivia valued the confidence gained in her independence, becoming comfortable with self-sufficiency in a new country.

 I found myself becoming confident and comfortable in my independence while increasing my self-sufficiency. Also, having access to gelato daily was incredibly rewarding. – Olivia

Advice for Future Travelers

Oliver and Olivia both encourage other Fellows to embrace similar experiences. Oliver advises trying everything, even if it seems daunting. Difficult experiences often lead to valuable lessons and lasting bonds. Olivia urges others to study abroad if given the opportunity, highlighting the personal, cultural, and academic growth it offers.

Each year, Caldwell Fellows are granted access to additional funding that supports experiential learning opportunities like study abroad, independent research, unpaid internships, service projects, and personal development opportunities. These funds are made possible by the generosity of donors and friends of the Caldwell Fellows Program. We are immensely grateful for all the opportunities and possibilities these funds provide.

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