The Best Memories: A year filled with new friends, off the beaten path travel, and the experience of a lifetime

By: Jillian McCarthy, FFE, 2016-17

 This was a tumultuous freshman year filled with many ups downs, and lots of new experiences that have forced me to grow up and become a better person. If you asked me a year ago where I would be today, I would definitely not have said Florence, where I am studying, eating, traveling, and enjoying a new way of life.

I feel like I did the best thing I could have done for myself last year when I submitted my deposit to Marist College- I took a chance. I did not know where I would be living, who my roommates would be, or much about what life would be like, yet it turned out to be more than I could have ever dreamed of. I learned to cook, live with others, and to be a part of a cohesive group. This was my first time away from home for more than two weeks. I lived for nine months by myself in a foreign country, and I am infinitely proud of how far I have come. I am especially thankful for the support of my parents and the friends I have made along the way. As of now, I have two weeks left to soak in the last bit of Tuscan sunshine, enjoy the best cappuccini in the world, and walk the streets of my second home. Below, you can find recaps of some of my favorite memories from this year and learn a bit about what it is like to be an FFE student. Cin Cin!


  1. Spontaneous daytrips (Hello Cinque Terre!)

One of the best aspects of living in Europe is the convenience of traveling to other countries. It is easy to plan trips knowing the flight is short and cheap (thank you Ryanair)! My friends and I took advantage of the railways this year and frequently would book spontaneous Saturday trips to Cinque Terre, Rome, Siena, and other Tuscan cities. We would pack a small bag with snacks, money, and a sweater to head out and explore another gem of Italy. Some of these daytrips are my favorite memories from this year thanks to the low stress of planning, the quality of time we had together, long lunches, and beautiful weather. If you are coming to Italy, it’s a must to take advantage of Italy’s rails and beautiful country (and sea) side towns.


  1. Christmas in the Ukraine

We have a long winter break, and I enjoyed mine by traveling, taking a class – and more traveling. This winter I was fortunate enough to travel to the Ukraine with fellow FFE, Sasha, for a unique adventure. I stayed with her family in Kiev. Her twin sisters were the best tour guides. We spent our time going to the Christmas markets, shopping, and hiding from the cold in the new, trendy cafés that have recently popped up all over the city. The people were very hospitable, despite the long months of miserable weather. It was amazing to see their underground transportation system that takes about three escalators to get to – the subway cars they use today are still leftover from Soviet times! It was an incredible journey that was not initially on my bucket list, but after the amazing experiences I had with my friend and her family, I would love to go back (next time maybe during warmer weather).


  1. Girls’ trips!

This year, I have been more than fortunate enough to have family and friends visit me in Florence or to travel around Europe together. These adventures would not have been possible without the love and support I get from home. My mom came to visit during our winter break for a two week excursion to Prague, Budapest, and Berlin. My friends joined along on the trip, and we wandered snowy castles of Prague, enjoyed thermal baths in Budapest, shopped in Berlin, met new people everywhere, and learned to navigate different transportation systems. These adventures were made more special for me by having my mom there to travel with me.


  1. In between class cappucini and bagels…

 One of the best parts about the small size of Florence is not only being able to walk from school to class and home in under ten minutes, but also the ability to see your friends unexpectedly on the street or in a café between classes. I love ordering my bagel in between classes and seeing my friends trickle through the door and excitedly ask me about my day. Think about the last time you unexpectedly ran into a friend. With a world that is so technology driven, it’s nice to be able to see your friends without having to set a specific time and date. I’ll never forget sharing croissants and morning coffees over philosophy readings and assignments. Never change Firenze, never change…

  1. Holiday Parties

As a Marist Italy student worker, part of the job is planning fun events and parties for the FFE students throughout the year. Most of our parties are held in the San Gallo common room or in the office. Everyone comes for the food, friends, and fond memories. We have hosted Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s, and Luau parties for the students. For the Christmas party everyone came down in their holiday pajamas or outrageous costumes to decorate ornaments, watch a movie, and enjoy lots of food. For the Luau we overloaded on decorations and another student worker, Tahiti, cooked homemade Hawaiian dishes for our special event. We have created a strong feeling of family by hosting these events.

  1. Have to include another memory of my favorite trip, EVER

I can’t finish my final blog of the year without recording my favorite trip I took over the past nine months. In January, during one of the weekends when I was taking a class, I went to Kiruna, Sweden with my cousin and two of her close European friends. If you have never heard of Kiruna, it’s probably because it is in the Artic Circle and doesn’t scream tourist attraction. Nevertheless, it was like being in a snowglobe, and completely unreal. I met up with my cousin at the Zurich airport before we took another flight to Sweden (and then another). That’s right, I took six flights in three days. Completely worth it. We went snowmobiling, explored the expertly crafted ice hotel rooms, and experienced a crazy Finnish style spa experience (not to mention the amazing ice bar as well). It was freezing, and there was no one around except for the few guests and staff of the hotel, who were from small local tribes and spoke special dialects. The trees around us were dusted with the perfect amount of snow that resembled something out of a nativity scene, and we would hear the howls of the sled dogs early in the morning. I must also mention that there was only three hours of sunlight each day. Yup, it felt like I passed through a time machine. We had to wear heavy parka suits over snowpants and a jacket to keep warm, but it was well worth it. On our snowmobile journey we stopped at a hut in the middle of the forest to have special coffee, homemade biscuits, and muffins (I had too many to count). We listened to local fables and learned about our guide’s insane survival skills (he was apparently featured on television).

IMG_2878It has been quite an amazing and illuminating year for me. I am extremely sad it’s over, but I know it is just one adventure out of many that I will have. If you are a new FFE student, in bocca al lupo, and I hope you take every opportunity this experience will throw at you! If you are a former FFE student (like me now), can we go back? Ciao tutti!




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