Study Abroad Florence: Finding a Second Family with a Host Mother

From taking trips to places like northern Italy and seeing the Dolomites to decorating a Christmas tree with her host’s family, Brittney Loper ’21 had a study abroad experience that many students aspire to have. 

Loper, a senior dual major in marketing management and television, radio and film, spent last fall in Florence, Italy. She and another Whitman student, Adena Rochelson ’21, lived with a local woman and took classes at the Villa Rossa, part of Syracuse University’s Florence campus.

A typical day abroad, Loper explains, consisted of waking up and having breakfast with her host before going to classes. She and Rochelson would then walk to the Villa Rossa and sit in the open terrace area to study before classes started.

Loper took four classes while abroad: an Italian language and culture course, a class on comedy in Italy, an economics class and a sustainability in European urbanism class. Taking these courses was interesting, she explains, as they were different from her other classes at Whitman. 

“I was taking a class in comedy in Italy, and focusing on the literature aspect of that,” she shares. “We would read plays by Italian authors, and that was really enjoyable because I love comedy, so it was fun to see that in Italy’s historical side.” 

Classes usually lasted from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. At this point, Loper would often go into the main city center with friends, maybe grab a bite to eat and do homework. Dinner, she says, wouldn’t be until about 8 p.m., when they would return home and eat with their host. 

Loper and Rochelson were roommates in a homestay, instead of living in apartments. Their host, or “host nonna,” as Loper says they sometimes called her, was an older woman named Giovanna who was part of what made their experience so special. 

“Our host mom was incredible, we talk about her all the time,” Loper explains. “She was just the sweetest woman ever. She really welcomed us into her family, her grandkids and daughter would come around a lot and we would all do stuff together, like decorating their Christmas tree with them.”

Being able to have those experiences, she shares, was one of the best parts of being abroad. Loper says, “It was a really good experience, I’m really glad I went with the host family aspect of abroad because I think it’s such a unique way to get to see the city and really feel like you’re living it.”

Loper also spent time during her abroad semester to visit various other places in Europe. She spent time in countries including France, Greece, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as other cities in Italy. One of her most memorable trips, she says, is when she and a few friends went to northern Italy to see the Dolomites, a famous mountain range. 

“We actually rented a car and just drove around the area,” Loper explains. When they got to the mountains, she shares, “It was mind-blowing, and something that I had always wanted to go see. We were like kids in a candy shop, we just ran around this mountain, through the fog.” 

The group had rented an Airbnb, and Loper recalls the group going back there after their day exploring and making dinner together. “It was a really nice trip,” she says. “It was just a good road trip with my friends and the whole experience just felt like ‘wow, we’re here, we’re doing these things that we always wanted to do.’ And I was doing it with my best friends I had made throughout college, so it just felt like one of those really surreal moments.” 

Though these extra trips were wonderful, Loper shares that there were some less-than-perfect moments, like when her group missed their train connection in Milan and had to figure out an alternative plan.

It was times like this, she says, that also encompass the study abroad experience. “Something that you learn is that you have to be really adaptable and flexible,” she explains. “I think coming back now, that’s been helpful is that when something goes wrong, then I can just be like ‘well, it’s okay, we’ll figure something out. We’ll get through it, just think clearly and don’t freak out.’”

Suzann Loper, Brittney’s mother, says that she is very grateful that her daughter was able to have such an amazing experience.  “I think Brittney came back from this wonderful experience with a true love of international travel and adventures,” she explains. “I was very impressed by her confidence to make the travel arrangements, planning what they would do and doing it all on a dime or should I say, euro. She embraced this journey full-heartedly and got so much out of it, she saw and did things most people only dream about.” 

Learn more about other Whitman student’s study abroad experiences.

Mallory Carlson
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