Bragging Rights

Last Monday we had a really casual day of school. We woke up, had some breakfast, and simply went to class… Except class was in Geneva, Switzerland and it happened to take place at the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. To say that it was amazing is an understatement. If you’re wondering how exactly I ended up at 20 years old, in a sound proof room, at the organization that regulates trade across the world so am I, so I’ll start from the beginning.

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Looking serious at the WTO (or at least trying to look serious)

After learning about the WTO at the beginning of the semester in class, a student simply asked if we were capable of visiting it while we were in Europe. A few weeks ago classes ended about twenty minutes early for a quick meeting. All 50 of the FM students grouped ourselves into a classroom to hear Kaplan ask, “So who would be interested in a trip to Geneva to visit the World Trade Organization?” The room sat in pause for a moment as we took in the question before everyone as a group said the obvious answer: we’re more than interested. Fast forward to this past Sunday morning at 6:15 AM and you’ll see a group of students, in their most fashionable form of PJs, waiting for a bus to take us to Geneva. As we all boarded the bus, people immediately put in their headphones, draped blankets over their laps, and pushed pillows behind their heads to sleep for the beginning of the eight hour bus ride. We arrived in Geneva around 3 pm, checked into a hostel, and had the night free to browse the Christmas markets and freeze our butts off as we explored yet another beautiful European city. After some amazing cheese fondue split with friends, I returned to the hostel and fell into an exhausted slumber that lasted till we woke up to attend our oh so casual Monday classes.

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A peek of the WTO conference room

The world trade organization was just ten minutes down the street from our hostel. It drizzled on us as we walked in, all wearing our best business attire. We handed over our passports in exchange for a badge and after going through security we were led to a conference room. Complete with tan padded, soundproof walls, three long tables with mics and comfy, swivel desk chairs at each spot, and a booth where translators would normally sit, I felt about as official as I could get. After about five minutes of us taking photos and feeling too cool for out own good, in walked a woman who works at the WTO. She gave us an amazing presentation of how the WTO works, how meetings usually go down, and how decisions are made. She told us that a consensus vote for the WTO means that everyone must agree on all the regulations being set. If even one, super small country disagrees with what is proposed the regulation isn’t passed. This has currently led to the longest lapse of time between new WTO regulations, about 11 years. We also discussed the way meetings work. As much as I was hoping to hear juicy details about men and women in business suits yelling in multiple languages and jumping at each other across the table, it’s apparently much more civilized than that (who woulda thought?!). The tables are set in a way that is meant to provoke conversation and matters are handled respectfully. If anything gets out of hand, our guide, a secretary for the WTO steps in and guides the conversation. The WTO has three official languages, French, Spanish and English, although translators sit in glass booths to one side of the room, available for assistance if needed. As the meeting came to a close, I felt educated, lucky, and honestly pretty awesome. A Monday morning at the WTO? Just a day in the life.

Next we went to WIPO, or the World Intellectual Property Organization. We learned about patents, trademarks, design rights and more in a meeting equipped with headsets and mics once again. Patents on average take about 4 years to get passed. On the other hand, design rights, which protect my fellow FIT peers and their work, are usually passed in a couple of months. These rights last for about ten years before needing to be renewed. They allow men and women to protect their intelligence, their artistic ability, and their creativity. My favorite fun fact from the WIPO meeting was about the most well-known and recognizable brand in the world: Coca-Cola. Their trademark is worth a whopping 67.8 billion dollars.

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The view out the bus window when I tore my eyes away from Harry Potter

After our meeting, WIPO provided us with sandwiches and waters before we had to board the bus to head back to Firenze, equipped with eight hours worth of Harry Potter movies (if you’ve gotta be on a bus for that long, you have to at least have quality marathon movies ready). In case you are struggling with the math (or not even doing the math), you’re correct in thinking we didn’t even spend 24 hours in Geneva… But it was 23 and a half hours that were well spent! After learning about these organizations in textbooks for years and hearing about them on the news, they finally became a real, whole concept to me. Next time a teacher mentions the WTO or WIPO in class, I can say I’ve been there… those are some pretty sweet bragging rights if you ask me.

Final Days Abroad

So this is it, this will be my last blog post from over 4,000 miles away in my quaint little apartment on Via del Porcellana.  Every post I have mentioned how time passes by so quickly, but I guess it’s just the truth. You make plans to do something crazy or something big or out of your comfort zone, like studying abroad for four months or even a year, and then when you do it, it’s over in a blink of an eye. As much as I truly love Florence, I am greatly anticipating my arrival home. Being here was an amazing experience and a wonderful learning opportunity, but home will always be home for me. My parents have just left Italy after their week long stay and time went by even faster when they were here, but that was of course expected. We had a great time as we went to Rome and then traveled our way back to Florence. It was a great experience to have them here because I was able to show them everything that I have learned and what I have been calling my home for these past couple of months. I felt like I knew Florence like the back of my hand and they were able to see how much I gained for this experience. 10562971_10205320574004334_4845110130351646487_n Two days and one long, hot, 16 hour bus ride lead us to Genova, Switzerland for a last minute school trip. We went to Genova to visit the World Trade Organization and the WIPO. We left early Sunday morning and took an 8-hour bus ride to Genova, Switzerland. We checked into the hostel and were given free time to explore the city. We got Starbucks, because that’s clearly what college girls are obliged to do when they haven’t had it for so long. Then we walked around the town and saw the Christmas markets and lights that were hung up all around the stores and streets. We also learned that the Swiss Franc is more than the Euro so we found ourselves at McDonalds for dinner that night. The next morning we were off to the WTO and the WIPO for meetings. We were able to speak with the secretary of the WTO and a director from the WIPO. Both had great first hand knowledge and information to share with us. We learned a lot about both non-profit organizations, what they do and how they are run. After we got back on the bus for another 8 hours and found our way back to Florence. WTO_logo_Album_300512 Well, here’s too my last 17 days of calling Italy my home. Finals are coming up and classes are coming to an end. My suitcase is getting fuller and closer to being shut for it’s arrival back home. My experience abroad will truly never be forgotten (and I’m not just being sappy and saying that) it’s just the truth. Now, onto last minute Christmas shopping in the markets, eating as much gelato as I can and taking in the last bits of the Tuscan air.

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Florence vs. NYC

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Florence in the Rain

Florence is obviously very different than New York, for one it’s a small renaissance city in comparison to the busy metropolitan city that is New York. However the differences are more than just that, everything from classes to mass transit and of course the food is different.

The Pros

  • The food is not only better but also cheaper – unlike New York good food is very easy to come by, you can pretty much find it everywhere. The food especially from bars, the Italian coffee shop, is cheap; lunch probably won’t cost more than five or six euros. Even the food you find in the stores is better, Italians have a deep love for food and it shows, they demand the best and they get it.
  • It’s a lot prettier – This may seemed a little bit biased, but it is true. This is partially due to the age of a lot of the buildings and the craftsmanship that has been put into their construction. It makes for amazing apartment views that seem like there a painting and not your view.
  • Coffee lovers rejoice – The Italians are coffee people which means that not only is the coffee really good it’s also a lot less expensive than coffee in the US is, for example a cappuccino is only € 1.20.
  • You can walk everywhere – or close to it, Florence is a small city, which means that if you can’t walk to where your going you can definitely bike to it. Florence also has a great bus system that is both inexpensive and fast.
  • ART! – Florence is known as the birthplace of the renaissance for a reason, you can simply walk around and see the history of the city around you. There are also a multitude of museums around the city that have major works of art in them.
  • Smaller classes – Florence is a smaller program than New York so there will be less people in your classes. For me I think the most I have is twenty, but my major related classes only have six people. This means more space to work and more time per student from your teachers.
  • Closer Knit School – in total there are about 70 people studying in Florence, and because of FASA events we are much more of a group than in New York where the amount of students means you will never know everyone, or even close to it.

 

The Cons

  • You will get sick of Italian food – turns out there is a limit to the amount of pasta one can eat. However Florence doesn’t have the variety of food that you can find in the US, which is sad. On the plus side once someone finds say a good Chinese food place word spreads fast.
  • You will walk a lot – for me it takes about twenty minutes to get pretty much anywhere, be it school, the supermarket, or the city center. Walking this much can be tiring and it does mean that you need to plan your time better. There are also a lot of stairs here and very few elevators.
  • There is no Netflix or Hulu – if you are a TV person like me this can be a crushing blow, because nether site is technically speaking allow to stream content in Italy. So plan ahead bring your favorite movies with you or buy season passes of your favorite TV shows.
  • Tea people and Starbucks lovers beware – there are no Starbucks in Florence, there is only one ‘American coffee’ place in the whole city and it doesn’t even come close. Tea can also be hard to find, it your not to picky your supermarket will sell tea but it’s so so. Personally I found a teashop, which is where I now buy my tea but if you like tea bring at least some with you.
  • Store hours are very different – In Italy stores aren’t open as late, most places with close by eight at the latest and on Sundays count on them only being open for a half day this includes most supermarkets. Places will also close for lunch, this can be for only and hour or up to three. Bottom line look at the store hours for the places you go most often it will save you time and hassle in the long run.

ROME-ing Around

One of the best parts of studying abroad has been the encouragement that FIT provides to be sure that you are seeing everything and traveling as much as possible. This encouragement exists in a few aspects while studying in New York, but in Florence, it’s  pushing you every single day to get out and see all that you can. For example the school set up a trip this past Friday and Saturday to Rome. During this short stay, we fit as much sight seeing into 36 hours as you could possibly imagine.

 

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The Vatican at twilight.

We hopped on an 8:50 am train on Friday morning and arrived in Rome just a short hour and a half later. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we began a day filled with walking and sight seeing. The Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica proved to be as amazing as one could imagine. Religious or not, I have found that the sense of magic found among beautiful places of worship is astounding. While in Rome, this magic was felt often. After viewing the Vatican from the outside and sending a few postcards specifically from Vatican City (it is it’s own entity) on our own, we went through a tour guided by our own Renaissance art teachers through the Vatican Museum, ending at the one and only Sistine Chapel. As we traveled through the immense Vatican Museum, the rooms got more interesting and more incredible as we went. Raphael’s four rooms, decorated top to bottom in meticulous, famous frescoes, were incredible. Despite being jam-packed with tourists led by guides holding flags above their heads, the rooms were astounding to look at. As we learned about images we had seen previously in classrooms, they loomed in front of our faces, massive and colorful.

 

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As if a picture would do it justice…

The final destination of the Vatican Museum was the Sistine Chapel. As we entered, I felt anticipation in my belly. This is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel. To say that the room was mind-blowing is an understatement. How in the world did an artist lie flat on his back and paint a ceiling of that size?! Did his arm not hurt?! I just could not understand it. A priest came in to remind us that the chapel is, in fact, a holy area and that we should take note and keep our voices down. He then gathered us in a short prayer, first in Italian and then in English. I was prayed to while in the Sistine Chapel, in Rome, under one of the most famous and jaw dropping works of art in the world… when did my life become this unreal?!

 

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Kissing the Colosseum

In the evening, my friends and I visited the lit-up Colosseum and stood looking at it entranced. Construction for the Colosseum started in 70 AD… that’s over 2000 years ago. I can barely imagine being 30, yet I was standing in front of a building older than anything I have ever seen or could have ever imagined.

 

On Saturday, we visited multiple museums, saw a ton of art, and trekked around Rome. I was lucky enough to light a candle in the Santa Maria Maggiore, the oldest church in Rome, see some of Caravaggio’s works in La Galleria Doria Pamphilij, and learn about ancient Roman ruins, left to be viewed, despite Rome modernizing a city around them. Though construction made my Lizzie McGuire moment at the Trevi Fountain impossible, I was still extremely content with Rome and all it’s ancient wonders and treasures that I am fortunate enough to have seen.

Adventuring Through Firenze

Five weeks of hanging out in Florence and relaxing has been an amazing reprieve from the crazy traveling I did at the beginning of the semester and that I am picking back up on this weekend as the semester comes to a close. Florence holds hundreds of treasures that can easily be overlooked when you are eager to travel to other countries and cities. Similar to New York City, if you get used to living there and into the routine of every day life, you forget sometimes to go out and see what is offered. One would think that being in Florence would alter that mindset, but there’s still schoolwork that needs to be done, days when you oversleep, or rainy weather to keep you inside, rather than out and discovering. Even living in a foreign country, life still becomes semi-routined.

 

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The view overlooking Firenze from the top of The Boboli Gardens

A few weeks ago I trekked over to Palazzo Pitti to go to the Boboli Gardens. We have been to the costume gallery in Palazzo Pitti in class, but I had yet to travel into the expanse of lands beyond the palace that was once occupied by a wealthy family living there many years ago. It was a sunny day and a burst of extra warm weather, so I went with friends to see what the Boboli Gardens had to offer. We get in for free with our museum cards, which makes it easy to pop into places for just an hour or two if you don’t have the full day. The Boboli Gardens astounded me in just a few hours.

 

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My T-Swift Moment

The expanse of well-manicured land complete with fountains, statues, and trails is gorgeous. Along the more traveled paths, it is elegant and incredibly maintained. It’s easy to imagine the Renaissance wealth that this family had who occupied this space. As you wander to the left or right, you come across small dirt paths, shielded by branches creating an awning over your head and shading you from the sun. It seems like a setting that you would find in a Taylor Swift music video as she treks through wooded areas with a gorgeous boy in tow—I mean I can imagine the guy will pop up, right? As we winded through the trails, simply picking left or right to determine which we direction we would go, I wish we had come a bit more prepared. Couples, friends, and families were laying on blankets, enjoying picnic lunches or reading while they relaxed in patches of sun or shade depending on preference. It was a setting you can barely come up with in your imagination, with views of Florence’s city center in one direction and the rolling hills beyond the city in another direction. A gem that’s well-known to tourists, yet amazingly hidden and not crowded even on a sunny Saturday, it was the perfect place to let my wanderlust ridden self explore.

 

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Woven Balenciaga Bags in Progress

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Hat Selfies with Lauren Vinciguerra and Kelsey Oglesby

Since setting foot in the Boboli Gardens, there has been about a week of rain and cloudy  skies to keep me from heading back. Last weekend, we made the most of a cloudy day by first attended a tour of a hat factory set up by the school. For only ten euro, we met at the tram stop and traveled to a factory that has been family owned for four generations. We toured the factory and then made out own hats. An adorable man and business owner informed us that designers such as Chanel, Pucci, and Stella McCartney contact them first to inquire about high-end hats. He even told us that they created the well-known and now famous hat worn by the singer whose name he couldn’t remember… as we guessed who it might be with no luck, he finally pointed to a picture. Ohhhh. They made the Pharrell hat and this little Italian man didn’t even know Pharrell’s name. Only in Florence.

 

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Biker Gang takes Lucca (Kelsey, Olivia, Lauren and I)

As we sat on the tram donning our newly made hats, we tried to come up with what we should do with the rest of our day, since the rain was holding up. With spontaneity that my usual, planned self didn’t even know existed, we headed to the train station and bought tickets for the next train to Lucca, a city within walls, just an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Florence.  We missed the first train, had to wait in an exceptionally long line for train tickets, and then got fined for not validating the ticket prior to getting on the train (I thought you only had to validate bus tickets… talk about the feeling of misinformed American). By the time we pulled into Lucca we were literally running away from the train in relief that we actually made it to the destination. We rented bikes from the first shop we saw for just four euro and then rode on top of the city walls that enclose Lucca. The sun was setting and the sky was pink as we pedaled through yellow leaves that had fallen from the fall-colored trees. Florence has so few trees that we reveled in a fall atmosphere that reminded us of home. It was a beautiful evening with just the slightest chill in the air.

We biked and then spent a few hours walking around, before getting gelato, and enjoying a much more relaxed ride home (validation of tickets = no fine). It was a perfect day spent making perfect memories, similar to many of my days here in Italy. You don’t have to travel far, or at all, to see beauty here. As long as you’re open to looking, you’ll find it everywhere you go.