By Ellis Ross
A group of 52 students from the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi recently traveled to Italy for an immersive learning experience that provided rich exposure to Italian culture and cuisine, while affording myriad opportunities to capture their experiences in written and visual formats.
The group explored Italy from May 11 to June 6.
The majority of the trip was centered in Florence, with excursions to Sorrento and Rome, the last leg of the journey. Leading the tour were professors Jason Cain, Mark Dolan, Ronnie Morgan, and Chris Sparks – all of whom teach courses in integrated marketing communications and journalism.
The students enjoyed many cultural experiences, while writing in-depth features, gathering documentary photos, exploring international brands and exploring relevant topics in media studies.
With Florence being the birthplace of the Renaissance, there was history to be found everywhere, from town piazzas adorned with statues, to buildings and cobblestone streets that have remained in place for centuries.
Shared here are some student observations. We hope you enjoy.
Photographers and writers sharing their work with HottyToddy.com are Sally Anderson, Ellie Boos, Tatum Chenen, Jack Clements, Catherine Cline, Cameron Cooley, Ellie Ducharme, Ava Ferree, Addie Flasck, Olivia Flax, Claire Hendry, Kenzi Howton, Will Johnson, Hillary Kaniecki, Bella Kraft, Lexie Kratky, Lauren Lucas, Ali Mattox, Grace Mitchell, Sarah Moore, Olivia Morgan, Kaylee Plowman, Olivia Ray, Emily Reib, Ellis Ross, Laurie Sanford, Rhiannon Schaeffer, Hannah Skinner, Maggie Sligh, Ryan Strickland, and Emily Sutermeister.
I looked in the mirror. And I didn’t know who I saw anymore. I started to ask myself, “What are you doing with your life?” and “Who are you trying to be?” These questions swirled in my head, for weeks on end and I had let them consume every little bit of me. The idea of studying in Italy, and the idea of being gone for an entire month, wasn’t even at the front of my mind. It seemed like a faraway concept.
But before I could even process it. I was standing in security, waving goodbye to my mom, and even though I go to school out-of-state, I felt a tug at my heart watching her from the other side of the glass windows.
The funny thing about airports is you can really be whoever you want to be. I walked through the airport I’ve strolled through time and time again, but this time I felt a sense of power, almost as if I was being “called” to do something. There’s something about the electric energy, and the hustle, and bustle of the atmosphere that make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger. I was surrounded by hundreds of faces I had never seen, all going to different destinations. I had never really seen it like this before until then.
I looked around at all the people, flying out of my hometown airport and thought about all the places they could be going, and why. Maybe they’re going away for a week, or abroad, or maybe they’re going back to their own homes. Despite all the differences between me and other passengers, we all have one place and one thing in common for that same moment. I’ve been on planes hundreds of times, and out of the country a handful of times, but it just felt so different. I felt like I was truly going to change.
Florence, Italy. A place filled with so much rich history and beautiful things. I began to think as I strolled through the airport, how someone like me could fit in somewhere so incredible, and so significant. It seemed almost unreal (and also like I was somewhat unworthy of being there).
I tried to get excited. But I couldn’t really process it. It may sound dramatic, but I really felt like I had gone through hell the past semester. I have never been a depressed or anxious person. But I had found myself feeling both of those things. Sitting in the airport, my skin crawled as I thought about being so far from home after I had already felt like I was a world away from home while in Oxford.
I just had to force myself to feel grateful as I departed the United States and ate my prepackaged pasta while flying over the Atlantic Ocean.
The flight seemed like a lifetime. And I desperately tred to refrain from asking the couple next to me to stand up so that I could go yo use the bathroom. “When will I ever get there?” I thought to myself, and felt that certain ping of ungratefulness. I tried to think about all the people who would love to be doing what I’m doing, and that my hesitance due to my own circumstances was something I needed to face on this trip, as well as myself.
As we glided through the sky and as I looked out the window and saw the lush green hills, major estates, and a golden sun. I felt a certain high and a rush that made me forget about the things that got me down as we landed in breathtaking Florence, Italy.
I’ve gotta be honest. I felt like going through the Venice canals was a little bit of a letdown.
It smells, the gondolier doesn’t actually sing to you, and on every corner there’s a swarm of tourists trying to take a photo down the canal. I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed.
But of course, we need the quintessential gondola picture in Venice.
Our less than enthused gondolier started our journey navigating through the tight canals of Venice, along with numerous other tourists taking the same pictures we were. I tried desperately to soak up the moment, but only felt 20 euros poorer, and that it was really just an Instagram photo opp.
Shifting around in the boat, allowing each person to get their “iconic” solo shot, I just felt empty.
It’s on so many people’s bucket list to sit in a gondola in Venice, and there I was just feeling…meh. When it was finally my turn for my solo shot, I felt the need to decline and just stay put in my seat.
I realized I was getting sick of pretending to be an Instagram influencer and sick of thinking people needed to see my every last move.
We get caught up in the lives we’ve made online. They’re not real. And they’re not really us. We have perfectly posted all of our best angles, and best moments that don’t show us at our worst.
I’ve been the girl that posts on Instagram and aggressively refreshes every 10 minutes to see who has liked, or who has commented, giving me the attention I crave. I’ve been the girl to text my friends and say “Comment on my pic,” which is just super embarrassing.
I’m not usually one to be ungrateful, and I try to not complain, so it deeply bothers me how little I enjoyed the gondola ride because I know that there are so many people in this world that would have killed to experience what I did, even if it smelled, even if it was hot, and even if the gondolier seemed like he would much rather be doing something other than that.
This ignited something in me as I left Venice behind. Sitting on the train, I thought about how much I’ve changed in the past few years. I found myself complaining more and more about things I would’ve killed to do when I was younger. I thought to myself, “Really Annie? You’re on a gondola, in Venice, on a random day in May, and you’re complaining because it wasn’t perfect? Or exactly like you thought it would be?”
I realized that this was a result of social media. We as a generation have spent hours and hours scrolling and looking at people with picture perfect lives. But that’s the thing, it’s only picture perfect, because nothing can be as perfect as one can portray in a little square online.
I sat and thought about this a lot more when I returned to my shoebox apartment in Florence. What coul I do to change this? Even if it’s just a change in MY life? I stared at the screen of my phone where Snapchat, Instagram, and Tik Tok sat in a perfect row, almost as if they were mocking me. The next moment. I did the unthinkable…
I held my finger down on each app and deleted all three off of my homepage.
To be honest, I felt empty without the apps for a few days. I would aimlessly scroll through weird apps on my phone just out of muscle memory. I also felt completely out of touch with the world, outside of my own. (I started looking up the NEWS on Safari and what a concept! Such better information than random videos on Tik Tok!).
Maybe it’s a temporary choice, or maybe it’s one I may bring home for a while. I found myself walking the streets of Florence sometimes reaching for my phone to scroll into the abyss as I walked alone to class. But I enjoyed myself much more when I actually looked around, and watched people who call Florence home, do their daily things. I loved walking past familiar faces that I had seen on my walks to class, because my face wasn’t shoved in my phone screen.
When I got on the plane, and came to Italy I was self-conscious, and not myself. I felt like I had lost my sparkle, and the person I once knew and loved was gone. I can confidently say now that I have changed, and I restored my relationship with my inner self. I stepped away from the habit of social media and pretending to be someone I’m not. I really think that if it were not for that moment in Venice, I wouldn’t have experienced Italy with a peace of mind. While I may have captured more likes on my Instagram, I would have felt a lot more empty after the trip was over.