Alumni Spotlight: Rachael Taft


Growing up in the Midwest, Rachael couldn't wait to get out and see the world. She's studied abroad in Italy and Thailand, interned abroad in Sydney, worked abroad in Australia and Fiji, and traveled to 30+ countries, including backpacking solo across South America. In addition to working in international exchange, Rachael obsesses over all things her blog Girl, Unmapped.

Rachael Taft was raised in Ohio, graduated from the University of South Carolina, and is currently residing in Florida, where she works as a writer. Her first (but not last!) study abroad experience was at Lorenzo de'Medici in Florence, Italy, with API in spring 2007. She loves writing, photography, traveling and taking part in constructive endeavors around the world.

Why did you decide to study in Florence, Italy with API? What made it unique and special?

Rachael: I chose API because it was affiliated with my study abroad office and it seemed to include a lot of things (like trips, etc.) in the program, which I thought would make it better and more worth the money. The housing with the program was unexpectedly nice. Some of the trips and meals included were a nice bonus thing to have -- splurges I might not otherwise have indulged in.

How did you study abroad experience affect your future? Any specific examples?

Rachael: Perhaps when I interviewed for a marketing job in Australia and my interviewer (soon-to-be-boss) saw that I had studied and knew some Italian, so we had a brief conversation in Italian (as his wife was Italian). I don't know if that helped me get the job or not, but I'm sure it didn't hurt and at least made me memorable. I also was able to discuss my experience and use it as an example in another interview I had at a later date that helped me build a connection with my interviewer.


I was able to take some really interesting classes, but I admit that I wouldn't necessarily call them a highlight. I did enjoy my Italian class a lot though. It was a nice challenge, with a professor that would speak only Italian to us.

Mostly the highlight was traveling. I saw so much of Italy, traveling on a lot of the weekends. And while I visited the "must-see" spots like Rome, Venice, Naples, etc., I especially enjoyed the more off-the-beaten-path spots. Sicily was incredible. My roommate has extended family that still lives in Italy, so we got to stay with her great uncle (who spoke no English!) in a really rural, authentic area in southern Italy, which was amazing. That was probably the biggest highlight for me, because it was full on immersion (culturally and linguistically), and we got to get to know the ins and outs of a small town. We met practically everyone in town -- her uncle owned an ambulance company and knew everyone -- from the town butcher to the twin brothers who owned a chocolate shop, and gave us each a huge chocolate Easter egg!


On a typical morning I would get up, eat breakfast (or stop by a cafe for a pastry) and walk to class. In between classes I sometimes grabbed lunch at a cafe and sat in a square or something in downtown Florence to eat. Other times I went home to snack and catch up some reading or homework before heading back to class.


Evenings really varied. Sometimes after class I would just wander the streets of Florence and try to discover new places. Usually my roommate and I would make dinner at home and maybe have some wine. Some nights we stayed in and did homework or watched a movie. Some nights we went out to the bars or clubs in the city, or sometimes we hung out with friends that lived nearby.