Every semester we like to spotlight exceptional students and our SRISA scholarship recipients. This semester, Mari Marks, was awarded a SRISA merit scholarship. Read on to learn more about this St. Paul native who studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and is studying abroad in Florence.
– Why did you choose to study abroad?
I grew up in a large suburb in St. Paul, Minnesota. There was always something to do: swim at the lake, go to the mall, wander through the state fair. As I got older I wanted something different. I felt I’d outgrown the suburbs, and wanted to go somewhere with new opportunities. When the time came to choose a college, I chose Milwaukee Wisconsin, a city 5 hours away from home, a place where I knew no one. Last semester as I finished my junior year and left a job I held for 2 years, I again felt the urge for a new experience. It’s been my dream to study abroad in Italy since high school. I’m looking for a life changing experience, and where better to start than here?
– What is it about Italy that inspired you to want to study abroad here?
My parents traveled to Italy a few years ago, and brought back pictures of beauty I’d never seen before. Stories of new people, memories of delicious food. I decided I had to experience all of this for myself. As I pursued my education as an artist, I began taking art history classes in school. I learned about the Renaissance, the Romans, artists including Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and monuments like the Colosseum and Il Duomo. The more I learned about Italy, its culture and rich heritage, the stronger my dream of studying abroad here became.
– Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?
The point of studying abroad in a new place to is to experience what it’s like to live as others do. If you’re not willing to fully throw yourself into the culture and everything it includes, you are missing out on the majority of what you could be getting out of the trip. I also don’t want to feel and be viewed as a tourist who is just passing through, who will snap a photo so I can say I’ve been here, and then leave. I want the locals to know I appreciate their culture in Florence, so much that I am working hard to be a part of it, learning the language, enjoying the food, following the customs. By fully immersing myself into everyday Italian life, I can get a new perspective on life.
– What academic goals do you have while here?
In school I always hold myself to a high academic standard. I expect myself to get good grades, to push myself to do my best, and to challenge myself when possible. This all still applies while I am in Florence. Being in my senior year of college, I also hope to prepare myself for the “real world” as an artist. Last semester at my home college, my teacher began asking me questions about the artist I want to be outside of school, how will I function without assignments, how will I continue to stay motivated. I was worried that when coming to Florence, I wouldn’t have time to focus on these important questions, and would be sidetracking my education. I was happily surprised on the first day of painting class at SRISA, when my teacher Andrew brought up the same topics. I was also ecstatic that I was allowed and encouraged to continue working with ideas that inspire and excite me to make work.
– Even though you arrived recently, what has been your highlight thus far?
When you are surrounded by people who share your drive and passion, you are in an amazing place where the unforgettable things take place. This is what I felt on orientation day at SRISA. Therefore, the highlight of my semester thus far was, and will continue to be, the people here. First of all, the staff is incredible. Just the fact that many of them are born Americans, but chose to stay in Italy and join SRISA, says a lot. They were all passionate and excited; ready to share everything they know with you. Even though half of us were jet lagged and desperately needed sleep, they fueled us into a frenzy. My fellow students are also incredible human beings. Just like me, they want to see, do, learn, eat, everything we can while here. They all recognize the unique opportunity we have by being in Italy, and are prepared to grab it. Together with these people my time here in Florence will never be dull.