Ironically, the “About Me” section of every social networking site I’ve ever joined has always gone blank, mainly because the people I talk to already know who I am. In any case, this should be an adventure. A simple introduction then: Hello, world. My name is Nikki and it’s lovely to meet you. I just recently turned 20 and I study English Literature at Arizona State University. My passion is writing, fiction and poetry both, and one day a book of mine will be on the New York Times Best Seller list. I enjoy traveling to new places, eating good food, and shopping, and my taste in music run from big-band jazz to Japanese rock.
Sounds generic, doesn’t it? That’s why I hate these “About Me” sections. One can never include the entirety of a person on a single page.
In any case, I’m hoping that my sense of self, my personage and spirit (so to speak), will come across as postings become more regular. A conversation between myself and the world, if you will (whoever you are). A very long conversation, mind, but those are always the best. We’ll learn plenty, I’m sure, you and I.
That being said, one of the first questions on your mind, no doubt, is why I’m even here. Why Florence, Italy? Does the sweet scent of baked tomatoes and hot olive oil really hold that much sway over my decision to study here? Or is it perhaps the closeness to Milan, one of the capitals of the fashion industry? Maybe the reputation of Italian men and ladies was too good to pass up. Really, though. Arizona State offers over 200 different programs for study abroad students on six continents. What drew me to Italy?
For one, money. I wish my family were part of the affluent, upper-class that can afford to send their kids to the Ivy Leagues and beyond without denting the bank account, but sadly we’re not, otherwise Mom would be living the film “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Hence, that 200-program list shortens up a bit when considering finances. Scholarships only do so much after all, but luckily there were quite a few programs left within our price range. Florence fell into the slot of being the most cost-effective program, both tuition and living expenses-wise. Nevertheless, I’ll be keeping an eye on the exchange rate from Dollars to Euros.
Secondly, food. Alright, while it doesn’t take precedence over historical value, people, and academic promises of the program, how could I pass up the opportunity to eat delicious Italian food every day for the next year? Just think of it. Pasta, pizza, bistecca, minestrone, mozzarella, proscuitto . . . I’m drooling on my keyboard just thinking about it. I’ll own up to the fact that I’ll probably be cooking a lot of my meals for myself, and in typical college-kid fashion, that means lots of sandwichs and frozen food, but in my heart-of-hearts, I can see myself pulling a home-made lasagna out of the oven one day. Not-so-privately I pray that there’s a little old Italian lady next door in my apartment complex that will take pity on the underfed American student.
Thirdly, academics. I hate to brag, but I’m fairly ahead in terms of credits toward graduation. If I wanted to really strap down for the next year, I could be part of the graduating class of 2012 as opposed to 2013. I have six more required classes to take before I’m officially done with my major and 17 elective credits to get rid of as well. Three of these required classes I’ll be taking while studying in Florence, and when classes like “Ancient Rome: Civilization and Legacy” and “The Art of Buon Fresco” are offered as electives, I know for sure that those measly 17 credits will go like dry bush in a wild fire. Florence is a very good choice for me, academically speaking.
The reasons go on and on. The cultural benefits of studying in Florence can’t even be listed due to the length of the list, and living as a young person in Italy conjures up as many awesome realities as it does imaginings. Given the legal age limit for anything is 18, doors are open here that are still closed to me in the United States. That’s not to say that I’ll be going off the deep end, like so many American kids have established as the “norm” for study abroad students, but I look forward to responsibly enjoying the new liberties.
However, given my status as a willing subject of the academic system, there’s also a higher purpose to my studying abroad. Granted, this higher purpose really only came about solidly two years after the conception of studying abroad. Upon arriving at Barrett the Honors College on ASU campus and making friends with a few of the older students, I learned of the ultimate horror of college: the Thesis.
The Thesis lives up to its capitalization. I’m surprised more horror stories haven’t been told about it. The long sleepless nights, the endless piles of research, the demeaning directors . . . it’s the stuff of nightmares for a little freshman. And to think, I’d have to put a year of my life, AT LEAST, into this blackhole of despair? I had to if I wanted to graduate with an Honors Degree from Barrett. To say I trudged around with dread for at least an hour would be accurate, if a little melodramatic. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, more like a supernova that blasts away the darkness.
The Thesis really isn’t that terrifying when explained by the right people. Barrett’s Thesis requirements are fairly loose, as one can choose either a research paper (and I use the term “paper” to describe a 50-80 page manuscript) or a creative project. The technicalities may vary, but everything boils down to the basic: pick a topic, prove that it means something to your director, prove that it means something to your panel, pray. I might sound dismissive now, but I’m sure that’s only because I’m still two years away from that inevitable meltdown of doubt and terror that precedes a thesis defense. In any case, the creative project I settled on is currently being read by you.
Yes, that’s right. Via Firenze is my argued creative project, my Thesis.
How’d that happen? To be honest, I’d been sitting in the Barrett advising office, waiting to see my honors advisor about my then-thesis topic of writing a book. I remember going over the Thesis requirements on the website, excited, having just received my acceptance email from Palazzo Rucellai, and wondering how I would ever find the time to write a book while living in Italy for the next year. After all, novel-ing isn’t a short-term endeavor by any means. I can still feel the heat from the proverbial light bulb shining over my head at that moment. Writing has always been my first and best skill, and while writing a fictional account of a protagonist is exciting, so is detailing one’s own experience for the world to read. Why shouldn’t I write a blog about my life? I’ve got as much to say as anyone else. Plus, I’m sure someone wants to know about Italy. Someone.
I walked into that office, pitched the idea, and walked out with approval. Mission accomplished. All that was left was to find a Thesis director before leaving the country. Uh . . . well. Quite obviously, I found my director (otherwise all of this wouldn’t be here), but at the time I’d only four weeks left of class, including finals, and a limited amount of professors to choose from. I’d gotten on well with many of my teachers, but Thesis directors are different. A few witty conversations can’t bridge the gap between friendly prof and well-meaning-dictator-of-the-ultimate-college-project. Eventually I ended up in the office of my Human Event professor, Ted Humphrey, and I thank whatever god is out there every day that I made that decision. We signed the papers and now, two months later, I’m finally getting started.
Long story short: for my Thesis project, I’m working on a blog about my experiences while living and studying in Florence, Italy. There’s all the pertinent information, but weren’t those long paragraphs interesting? See, I know we’re going to have a good relationship, you and I. Long conversation. You learn something. Usually.