Where in the World is Miami Wednesday: Italy

Paige holds the reins and stands next to a horse

Paige sits in a canal boat with buildings and canal in background

Name: Paige Wagner

Year: Junior

Majors: Bioengineering and Kinesiology

Education Abroad Program: SAI Full Curriculum in Florence

In this week's Where in the World is Miami Wednesday, we meet Paige Wagner, a junior bioengineering and kinesiology major who studied abroad in Italy during the spring of 2021. At Miami, Paige is president of the Hammocking Club. She loves the great outdoors, and to lead and create valuable experiences, especially for new students at Miami.

What did you study in your program?

Paige makes a pizza

My majors are bioengineering and kinesiology, but in Florence, I studied the arts. The classes I took were Wine Culture of Italy, Food and Wine Pairing, Health and Fitness in the Mediterranean, and Foundation Painting. I also took Mass and Energy Balances online thru Miami for my bioengineering major. These classes allowed me to study the arts, and I was in tune with the true heredity of the region. We also did fun excursions, such as a tour of Tuscany and horseback riding through olive groves.

Why did you choose your study abroad program?

I have always dreamed of visiting Italy, and SAI, my program, made it very easy to do so. The cost was minimal since SAI is connected to Miami, so my academic scholarships transferred to the program. I'm not a very artsy person, but this seemed like the perfect place to connect with my creative side.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your experience?

For my program, I had to receive two negative COVID tests before getting to the airport, one at the airport, and another once I arrived. Italy was always classified under different "zones" while we were there: Red, which meant full quarantine (only leaving your home to get groceries or absolutely essential purposes); orange (quarantine, but restaurants are open for takeaway, all retail, museums, and attractions still closed); yellow (mostly open, social distancing and mask measures still in place, travel restrictions between different regions of Italy); and green (open). During my study abroad experience, we cycled through each of these colors except green!

I was thankfully able to still travel around Italy, but was not allowed to leave the country except to return home. All classes were allowed to remain in person, with multiple safety measures in place. Two of my housemates were exposed to COVID, and were sent offsite for two weeks to fully isolate.

Paige and friends in Florence
Paige at the Coliseum
Paige on steps with city visible in background
Paige poses with a hand along the Tower of Pisa

What were the coolest places you visited on your program?

Here is a list of everywhere that I visited: Pisa, Lucca, the Amalfi Coast (Positano), Venice, Salerno, Pompeii, Naples, Livorno, Siena, Bologna, Rome, Vatican City, Cinque Terre (Manarola and Monterosso), and of course, Florence!

My favorite place was probably Venice because of how unique our experience was. We could see the history of the city without the normal crowds, and took a tour of one of the glass making factories in Murano. On this tour, our guide told us about the brutality of ancient Venice: the level of the canals would often rise, seeping into the lower stories of buildings. Traders who brought illegal imports were locked in basements and drowned to death alongside the rats and filth. The first banking check was also invented a minute walk away from our residence!

We took a beautiful gondola tour and saw Doge's Castle before relaxing on the beautiful Lido beach. Transportation in Venice is entirely by gondola, water taxi, water bus, or on foot. We bought a 24 hour ticket for the water bus and just hung out in there for about an hour and a half. The food was excellent, but I am ashamed to admit that my first stop was the KFC in the train station.

We relaxed by the canals, and at night, the city was a ghost town. Because of COVID, the curfew was 10PM, but even at 8PM, it seemed that my friends and I were the only people left in the city. Our voices echoed against the close together buildings, and the only sounds came from the crashing of the water on the sides of the canals.

One downside of Venice was that since it wasn't drawing its normal crowds, the mosquitoes, whose population never dwindled, targeted us. After our first night, I counted 34 mosquito bites on my right arm and back!

What was your favorite part of your program?

My favorite part of the program was probably our ability to travel within Italy (only when allowed!) Before arriving in Italy, I had never left the country and had only been to the beach once. I had never been on a train or a boat. All of these new experiences culminated in an absolutely life-changing journey. I was so thrilled to learn the culture and history of such an important place.

Some of the cultural differences were very surprising at first—men are very direct, and staring isn't rude. People often spend an average of three hours in a restaurant, and you have to pay for small amenities like public bathrooms and water.

How has the study abroad experience changed you?

I believe that this experience has made me a more well-rounded person. I was able to learn new communication skills, and got in touch with my creative side. I was thrown into an entirely different culture where I couldn't speak a word of the language, but managed to adapt and learn more quickly than I ever thought I could.

Where in the World is Miami Wednesday is a news article series that features Miami students studying abroad/away and international students. Catch us next week as we continue to travel around the world to feature the amazing opportunities that Miami students are taking and the experiences our alumni have had since graduating!

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