Alumni Spotlight: Jessica Vass

Jessica lives in Atlanta and goes to Georgia State University. She is studying Photography and hopes to pursue a creative field after graduation.

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Why did you choose this program?

I studied abroad in Florence, Italy at Florence University of the Arts with SAI.

I choose SAI because they offered classes in art. I am an art major and wanted to make sure that the classes I took would count toward upper-level courses in my major. What better place to study art than in the birthplace of the Renaissance?

Also, SAI was one of the cheaper options as far as third-party study abroad options go. While it was less money than other options, it was still expensive. That being said, they offered so many scholarships. I was awarded a $5,000 scholarship which covered most of the program costs. In return, I had to work in the study abroad office 5 hours a week which was a really great experience and something I can put on my resume.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

SAI was very helpful. They send you SO much information before you go on your trip and it's all SUPER accurate. Make sure to read what they send you.

They dealt with most of the logistics like when to arrive, getting you to your apartment the first day, helping you get acclimated to the city, arranging your class schedule, assisting with transfer credits after the program ends, and they even planned some day and weekend trips for us that were included in our program fees.

My university, Georgia State University, was not helpful at all. It is a big school and they focus more on university programs as opposed to third-party program providers so I was very much alone in the application and scholarship processes.

You usually have to get all sorts of paperwork signed and approved to study abroad for transfer credits and financial aid. You have to be on top of that paperwork, and make sure to keep copies. Because my school lost my paperwork!

Also, you have to book your own flights, but SAI tells you when to arrive and the dates you can leave.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Spend time in the city that you are studying! Don't spend every weekend traveling.

When I arrived in Florence I was shocked to learn that my peers had been planning trips long before the semester began. I felt like I was rushed to schedule trips to other countries so I did. I booked several trips that took me to Croatia, Morocco, and small cities within Italy.

But there was a moment when I realized that I had not taken the time to learn about Florence and that leaving the city every weekend was extremely exhausting.

If I had continued to travel I would not have become a local, I would not have ventured off the beaten path, nor would I have experienced all that the city has to offer.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I took a total of 4 classes. Art History, Film Photography, Digital Photography, and Drawing. Each met once a week and I had them spread out for a total of 3 days. So Monday - Wednesday I had classes. Then I had off Thursday - Sunday. I spent most Thursdays doing homework and classwork, and either traveled on the weekends or explored Florence.

Florence is small for the most part. Everything is in walking distance. There is no public transportation except a bus, but it's rarely used unless you're trying to leave the city.

I lived very close to school, where I worked, and to the grocery store. So I usually grabbed a cappuccino on my way to class, walked home to make lunch, swung by the grocery store to buy dinner ingredients after my last class, and I may have finished the evening with a yoga class at a studio in town.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was that I would not like my roommates. I had never lived with anyone other than my family before going to Florence to study abroad.

I was worried they would be messy and our personalities wouldn't mesh well; however, my roommate that I was paired is now my best friend. We have visited each other several times since the trip ended and even met up in Florence a year after our study abroad.

SAI tries to pair students with people they think will live well together and if there are issues they are helpful about resolving issues and accommodating the students.

There were a few roommate problems in our apartment, but it was a good lesson on living with other people.

Is there anything you regret?

Yes! Not learning the language! Almost everyone in Florence spoke English so I never needed to learn the language. I never even tried because English was so readily available.

When I came home one of the most common questions I have been asked is "can you speak Italian now?" The answer is no! I spent an entire semester in Italy and all I can say is hello, good morning, and can I have a cappuccino. I regret not trying. Attempt the learn the language wherever you go.