Alumni Spotlight: Leah Shaknitz


Give us an intro!

Hi everyone! This is Leah and she’s from Pennsylvania, but currently attends college at Arizona State University!

Her major is Communication, and her minors are Special Event Management and Tourism Management. She enjoy’s window shopping, eating anything sweet, browsing Pinterest for some DIY ideas, and hibernating in the summer (it’s 105+ in Arizona).

Why did you pick this program?

Leah: I picked ISA Florence because I had been to Italy before and I loved everything about the culture. I picked Florence specifically because I found it less busy than Rome. Italy is magnificent and has wonderful history to explore and even better food to eat.

I knew Florence was the place I wanted to spend my four months both living and exploring. Florence University of the Arts was a perfect fit for me and the classes offered really peaked my interests.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Leah: The most important thing I learned abroad is to get out of my comfort zone. That may sound obvious, but a lot of the time I really had to force myself out of my comfort zone and become independent in multiple areas of life.

I walked everywhere, which means I needed to learn to use a map and ask for directions! I am terrible at other languages, but I really needed to force myself to try speaking Italian to the locals and to keep trying when I failed.

I also learned to be by myself, whether that meant eating alone at cafes, going to museums or shopping at the markets. Going abroad I didn’t know anyone and that can feel like your starting over.

This was my opportunity to meet new and amazing people! While traveling to other countries I learned to take different public transportations, read transit lines, and I explored unknown cities.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

Leah: UGH. There are so many stories I would love to share, but my favorite story is when I went paragliding in the Swiss Alps. Switzerland was one of my favorite countries to visit, and I knew immediately I wanted to have an experience I would never forget (besides living in Florence for four months).

Since skydiving was WAY to expensive I went with the next best thing: Paragliding. If you are not familiar with what exactly Paragliding is, it involves taking a cable car up a huge mountain (side note: I thought this was the worst part) and than hiking for about 10-15 minutes.

You are than attached to a harness and your guide, and finally you run off that mountain into the air. This experience was thrilling, and unbelievable. You’re in the air for about 20 minutes and the guide does crazy tricks (only if you feel comfortable though). What a view to see, those Swiss Alps are spectacular and I will never forget this experience. GO OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE –its wonderful.

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

Leah: If you decide to do the ISA Florence Program, my biggest piece of advice is to take advantage of everything the program has. There are tons of classes to choose from, so choose what interests YOU! Also get to know the staff, they are wonderful people and extremely helpful. Take advantage of the weekend and day trips that are included, and the museum card you are provided with.

Finally, have FUN while on the program; take advantage of every single day you are in Florence. If you plan to travel to different countries every weekend than explore Florence during the weekdays, and take the time to actually see Italy (it is where you are studying after all!!!!).

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

Leah: I have always been interested in traveling, but this study abroad experience opened my eyes even more to how wonderful and unique other cultures are. I met a lot of people from not only other countries, but also other states within the US and this helps build connections all over the world.

I realized how much I appreciate what I have in the U.S, but realized even more how much traveling shaped me into a better person. This trip helped me realize I want to do something in the future with my minor of Tourism more than my major Communication. I would love to pursue a job that includes travel or working in the Tourism Industry.

Most importantly I realized how much I still have left to see in the world and I am excited for my future. I saw a quote while scrolling through pinterest that describes everything perfect. “ We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open” - Jawaharlal Nehru

What are the top 5 restaurants, museums/sites, and cities to visit in Florence

Leah: Places to eat:

  • Gusta Pizza (PIZZA, HEART SHAPED, what could be better?)
  • Pino’s (Best sandwich’s YUM)
  • Ganzo (This is the Florence University of the Arts restaurant where the students at Apicius cooking school produce the most AMAZING food)
  • GROM gelato or Vivaldi (YES to gelato always)
  • “Bread Place” (Okay so I forget the name, but there was a cute little bread place it is located down the street from Vivaldi Gelato!)

Places to visit:

  • Uffizi Gallery
  • Galleria dell’Accademia (The David)
  • Pitti Palace