Eat, study and love in Florence

"Bring as much peanut butter as you can, travel until you’re broke and always enjoy yourself, don’t be worried about what could go wrong just have fun and make memories.” 

This is the wise advice Mason Wilfert would like to give to anyone who is thinking of studying abroad. Wilfert is a junior business major who just returned from a semester in Florence, Italy.

 Studying abroad is an experience that comes with high recommendations from anyone who has gone. Even though it seems scary and often can be, with the high risk comes high reward.

 “I definitely experienced culture shock, when you go to a country where English isn’t the first language, it can be difficult to just go about daily life at times. One main thing that was different was the Italian’s obsession with food and wine. Everything they did during the day was in preparation for their next meal. Also walking everywhere you needed to go was different. By the end of the trip I was averaging eight miles a day just going through daily life,” said Wilfert. 

Of course, once adjusted there was so much to love about the city. 

“It’s a city with a small town feel, it really begins to feel like home by the end. The history in the city is amazing from the art at the Uffizi to the Duomo, to looking over the entire city at Piazza Michelangelo. Florence is in my opinion the best city in Europe,” said Wilfert.

 Not only did he get to immerse himself in the culture of Florence, but he also got in some serious traveling. 

He visited almost all of the Tuscan villages, Montalcino, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Siena, Cinque Terre and others. 

Outside of Italy he went to Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Barcelona, Amsterdam and London. “All of the different cities and different countries had their own special qualities,” said Wilfert. There are so many wonderful places out there, and it is important to go out find them.

As a parent and sending your child abroad can be scary. However, Wilfert is no stranger to Europe. When it came time to decide where to go.

“We were not hesitant about sending him abroad. We had lived in England for three years when he was younger and travelled extensively throughout Europe so we always encouraged him to go anywhere at anytime he had the opportunity to,” Rick Wilfert, Mason’s father, said. 

 One of the best parts of an adventure like studying abroad is the people one meets along the way. 

Most of the friends that Wilfert made were also a part of the program and were all going through the same culture shock and experiences he was going through. 

This kind of bond brings people together in a unique way. He now has friends from all over the United States that he can visit.

 “I also had the amazing opportunity of meeting my girlfriend who was studying in Florence as well,” said Wilfert.

Wilfert’s girlfriend, Erina Alkema, is from Colorado, but goes to school in Boston. She was hoping to meet interesting people from all over the world on her journey. 

“I met Mason in Vienna and we realized we lived less than 10 minutes from each other in Florence. I flew out to visit him when we arrived back home and that’s when we decided Florence didn’t have to be the end. I guess it just goes to show no matter what you expect to happen, life can still surprise you. I’m so lucky I met such amazing people abroad,” said Alkema.

 When studying abroad, people often forget that there is actual school involved. Wilfert took advantage of being at a school that offers such a wide variety of classes. 

“I took a marketing course with a project that helped a small Italian company improve and expand themselves, a course on Renaissance art where we went to museums in Florence to get hands on learning with the paintings, a course on Italian food and its history where my teacher took us to the hidden gems of food in Florence and my favorite, a course on Tuscany and its wines with the second half of every class being a wine tasting,” Wilfert said. 

The experience and flow of the school is also very different from that in the states. “It was a much more relaxed experience with very little at homework and most of the grades were based on tests. All of my classes had hands on experiences whether it was going to a museum, tasting wine, cooking food, or working with local businesses,” said Wilfert.

 In order to make the most of his experience, Wilfert tried not to spend much time in his dorm. 

“I travelled as many weekends as I could before I ran out of money. I went to all of the museums I wanted to go to and saw some of the most amazing art pieces in the world. The food was one of the best parts of being in Italy so I tried to get to all of the restaurants I could to taste as many different foods as possible,” said Wilfert. “The nightlife in Florence was great because it could be any time of night, any day of the week and people would be out having a good time.”

 Being away from friends and family for four months can be hard, but the experience is something that can be cherished forever. Coming back home often comes with another round of culture shock. 

“He missed the pace, lifestyle- the culture of Italy. He will filter life through this great experience for the rest of his life,” said Rick Wilfert.

 “At the end of it I was ready to come home and be back in the United States, but now that I’ve been back for a month and a half I’d really like to be back in Florence,” said Wilfert. 

The time spent and the memories made can be kept alive through his stories.