Preparing to Study Aboard during a Global Pandemic: Florence, Italy

Hello everyone! Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Francheska Martinez, and I am a student at the University of South Florida. I will be a second-year student, majoring in Psychology and double minoring in Applied Behavioral Analysis and Africana Studies. I will be studying aboard in the USF in Florence Psychology/Social Sciences program during Summer B 2021.

This past year has been unusual and difficult for everyone due to the pandemic, changing the way we viewed normalcy in our lives. We had to adjust and adapt to a new “normal” as we went from learning in a classroom to learning and seeing our professors through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. As a first-year college student in 2020, I missed many of those traditional freshman college experiences and had to make the most of what I could living on campus with all the restrictions in place. While I felt isolated and lonely at first, but by attending virtual events, I was able to find my place in the USF community through student orgs. One goal I hoped to achieve while at USF was to study aboard, which lead be to apply for the USF in Florence program.

I was not sure if I would be able to register for the USF in Florence study aboard program due to travel restrictions in Italy and around the world, but I once I found out the program was taking places, I excitedly filled out the application. Even though I was accepted into the program, there was still some uncertainty as to whether the trip would actually take place due to the zone that Italy was currently in, so I anxiously waited to see what would happen.

Thankfully, Covid regulations continued to be lifted in Italy and it was definite that I was able to go, but my anxiety remained as we had to wait for the director to inform about how we could enter Italy properly and not be turned away or stuck quarantining for two weeks once we landed in Italy. It was a very stressful experience figuring out flights at the designated airports, trains rides from the airport to the Florence University of the Arts, and scheduling covid tests before departure. I am very grateful for the help my director provided, and for my peers who were a lifesaver. Even though we never in person, the other students in the program and I were able to communicate through a GroupMe and we helped each other through this stressful time and I can see how bonds have already started to grow. I am glad to know I was and am not alone in the struggle of traveling during a global pandemic.

While it was a rough ride to get here and it is still not over, I am excited to see what lies ahead and finally landing in the beautiful country of Italia. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I am very blessed to be able to experience it. It has always been a dream of mine to visit Italy since I was younger as the culture is so rich and I can imagine the history come to life as I walk the ancient streets of Italy. Italians value close-knit families and hugging and kissing family members and close friends which are similar traditions to my Hispanic background so I am excited to see how I will be embraced by the Italian people. I chose to participate in the Psychology/Social Behavioral Sciences section as I am majoring in Psychology, so this trip will allow me to complete courses that are requirements for my major and while learning about the difference in the mental health field in Europe compared to the U.S. I am also minoring in Applied Behavior Analysis and Africana Studies. Minoring in Africana Studies has allowed me to understand my African heritage as I am Puerto Rican as well as understand the struggles and injustices black people have faced in the U.S. and the world, including the lack of ready access to mental health services.

My main passion is helping people in my community that face struggles with their mental health, and my ultimate goal is to become a clinical psychologist, specializing in minority populations as mental health is heavily stigmatized in culturally diverse populations. I believe the USF in Florence study abroad trip will allow me to diversify my surroundings and gain a world view which will benefit me and how I am able to connect with a diverse clientele as I will be able to better understand perspectives from different cultures, not just my own.

I would like to express my graditude for my donors for funding the Global Explorer Travel Award and the Latino Passport Award. I am beyond grateful to receive these awards as it will decrease the financial burden it will place on my family and I as I continue to further my education and build a better future for myself and my family. As a first generation student, I am setting the expectations for my family and I hope that one day I will serve as a role model to show that it is possible to earn an education. By awarding me the Global Explorer Travel Award and Latino Passport Award Scholarship, I am one step closer to achieving that goal.  I am appreciative of your generosity and your commitment to supporting students like myself.

Until next time,

Francheska Martinez

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