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Italy Study Abroad: Students Have Arrived!

We have arrived – the NC State Wolfpack has descended upon Florence. To make sure everyone knew that, we shouted it from the top of hills looking down upon the city.

Our students arrived to Florence by train, planes, and bus. They are all settled and getting adjusted, not only to a six hour time difference, but also to a whole new culture. There are many students in Florence doing a study abroad from institutions all over the world. Lorenzo de’ Medici or LdM as it is called, is our host Italian institution. We are very fortunate to have two amazing partners with LdM who coordinate our logistics. The husband and wife team, Luca and Milva Casaglia, treat our students like their own kids. It takes a village with 47 students and my job is to be Ken Johnson’s able assistant….we will see how that goes.

Since the students have been here we have eaten dinner in the Borghese Palace. That is right, a real palace that is owned by the Borghese family, who now uses it for event space. The Borghese Family is quite well known here in Italy.  We also jumped right in, or more appropriately, climbed right up the 465 stairs to the top of the Duomo that is part of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Thankfully the climb resulted in an amazing early morning view of the entire city of Florence. Wolfpack in the Florence house!


The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is among the oldest churches in the world. It has been rebuilt at least once and not long ago, at least compared to how old the church is, excavation occurred and parts of the original church were uncovered. This is now called the crypt and can be toured. It is just so hard to wrap your head around regarding the history. It is easy living in the United States to forget the rest of the world existed long before us.

One of the treasures uncovered during the excavation was a beautiful mosaic of a peacock on the floor of the original church. The entire floor was made up of geometric polychrome patterns, with exception of the peacock itself. The attribution of the work is to African craftsman, not unusual for the 5th century in Florence as it had close commercial and cultural ties to North Africa (information taken from Cathedral crypt tour guide).


Well, so much history and so much to absorb. Our students, along with Ken and myself, are soaking up the cultural and historical immersion. This weekend we headed to Siena, Luca, and Pisa. I cannot wait to see that leaning tower and to ride bike on a wall….who knew!

Ciao for now.


Justine Hollingshead, Chief of Staff in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, is on location in Italy for a University Scholars Study Abroad trip. Her blog posts will appear from time to time between her architectural, historical, and gelato experiences.