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Meet Katie Cusack

Program and Location:

Summer, Italy: History and Italian Studies in Florence (Lorenzo de’ Medici); Florence, Italy


Communication, Public Relations

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Though I was born in Germany, I moved back to the states by the age of three. Once old enough to watch countless home videos of my family’s time venturing across Europe, I was immediately drawn towards its magic and diversity. It amazes me how all the countries are so close in distance, yet are so distinct with remarkable histories, languages, traditions, and lifestyles. I also live by the notion that if you have done or learned something new, it has been a wonderful day. Knowing each day abroad would grant multiple new adventures, and fulfill my desire for complexity, was one more reason I could not say no to this opportunity! With so many resources that would otherwise not be available to me, college seemed like the perfect time to start my journey.

What did you learn about yourself?

At the start of my trip, I was nervous about navigating a new country, so I always followed the group. After a few weeks, I began venturing on my own. I would lounge at a beach longer than others, go to a different museum or sip coffee with a pen, chocolate croissant and cheap notebook as company. This truly unveiled my independence for I discovered that, even when completely out of my comfort zone, I am not only capable of being on my own, but I enjoy it as well. Now, I have more confidence than ever before that I can tackle other unfamiliar situations in the future.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

Every weekend the whole program explored new cities in Italy. Venice, Capri, Lucca, Pisa, Naples and Pompeii were just a few of the many. One morning we would be climbing to the top of Mount Vesuvius, the other riding in a gondola along the “floating city,” and there were multiple times when we’d take a dip into the Mediterranean Sea. Each place was unforgettable, and I am fortunate to have experienced the highlights of each without the stress of planning. The program also incorporated extra field trips in Florence throughout each week. Some of my favorites were to the Uffizi and the Boboli Gardens (where I returned to often to journal and admire nature’s beauty).

What advice do you have to future study abroad students?

Be spontaneous, and take advantage of classes and opportunities that you will never have the chance to experience again! They make some of the best memories. One day during fashion week, someone announced there was a free runway show about to start in the middle of the street. Fireworks were happening that night on the water as well. I stayed up a little later than usual to work on my paper that was due the following morning, but it was well worth attending each event. Look into the school’s resources as well, especially any free excursions. You will meet people from all over the world who are also studying abroad and do/see things you would have otherwise never known about!

Would you do it again?

Without a doubt. I plan to go to Barcelona for a whole semester in the spring of 2021!

How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at NC State? Did you take any field trips or do anything outside of the traditional classroom?

If there were a Pairing Food and Wine course at NC State, we would probably learn about flavor complementation from slideshows and readings instead of preparing our own food and carrying out professional tastings. The latter is the Italian way of learning, referred to as Reggio Emilia. It is based on experimentation instead of lecturing. Every day in class, I prepared a traditional Italian dish and tried at least two different types of wines, walking away as a certified Wine Spectator Connoisseur. Who else can say that? During the third week of class, we also visited a famous winery on the outskirts of Florence. Strolling through the vineyard’s endless fields, touring the underground cellars and tasting their most renowned wines felt like a dream. Ultimately, drinking wine and cooking has deep cultural roots in Italy. I loved learning about and being a part of such a timeless tradition. In regards to my History of the Italian Renaissance class, on day one, while gathered at the top of a church with a perfect view of the Duomo, we read an ancient piece on the beauty of Florence. Other field trips included the many palaces of the Medici family and the plethora of sculptures, art and architecture that make up the city. In my regular history courses, I have only heard about the past. In Florence, I was immersed in it.

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

As a first-generation college student, I used to think traveling for a whole month was not feasible. Some people told me my dreams were unrealistic. They said seeing the world took too much time and too many resources that I could not afford to lose. Boy were they dead wrong. Oddly enough, this identity actually enhanced my experience. After leaping over the boulders few believed I could conquer, I was filled with a greater sense of appreciation. I was also born with multiple life-threatening medical conditions, including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). One symptom of EDS is severe joint pain. While packing, I failed to recognize my shoes had to be extra supportive to combat all the walking. The only decent ones that I brought were a pair of ugly neon sneakers and Burks (which got so worn-down that I had thrown them away by the end of the trip). To say my joints suffered would be an understatement. If you have similar issues, proper shoes will make all the difference! Next time I go abroad, I will bring at least two good pairs – one for hiking circumstances, and one that will still go well with my outfits 😉

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?

For those with disabilities, bring three times the amount of medication you anticipate needing and split it into three separate sets. This way, you can store one set in your suitcase, one in your carry on and one in another purse or bag. The last thing you want is to lose any of it! For first-generation college students, know this is possible, especially if you do your research in advance. What scholarships are available, what do different programs offer and how do you plan on achieving this goal? Investigate these things and more. Have essays reviewed at the tutorial center, speak to the study abroad and financial aid offices, and reach out to your program leader as soon as you receive an acceptance letter. Remember, you are not the first nor the only person with concerns. You’ll soon find that people are more than eager to help 🙂

Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?

I never hesitated to text or call a program leader or our Italian liaison. For example, one evening my apartment’s toilet would not stop flushing. A program leader ditched eating gelato just to fix the problem! The staff and teachers at Lorenzo de’ Medici were helpful as well. They guided us through school policies, free excursions and provided an inside scoop on the best things to do (and eat) in the area!