Florida State University’s Study Abroad program in Florence, Italy, is one of just a handful of international programs currently operating in the country.
For the Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, that’s a fact worth celebrating, even if it’s a modest, mask-wearing, socially distanced affair.
On Feb. 12, Nardella stood inside of FSU’s newly renovated study center in the heart of Florence and addressed a small group of students, staff and government officials to commemorate a hopeful moment.
“Due to the pandemic that has affected the whole world, Italian cities — and Florence in particular — have suddenly emptied of foreign students, an important and lovely presence,” Nardella told the group of mask-wearing attendees who were seated a couple yards apart. “(FSU students here in) Florence therefore represents an encouraging reason for hope and trust in the future. So, thank you from my heart for that.”
Nardella added: “There has always been a strong link of deep friendship between Florence and the USA, and these historical relations are even more strengthened by the presence in the city of new members of excellent American universities, such as Florida State University.”
FSU’s Florence Study Center is about 500 years old and sits in the heart of the city. There are currently about 40 FSU students in Florence, a fraction of the nearly 10,000 American students usually living and studying abroad in the historic city, which sparked the artistic explosion of the Renaissance.
Jim Pitts, FSU’s director of International Programs, said his team has worked diligently to ensure proper precautions were taken to secure the health of participating students.
“The FSU students currently at the study center are the first from a U.S. study abroad program to return to Florence during the pandemic,” he said. “I am very pleased that our International Program staff both in Florida and Florence were able to develop health and safety protocols to allow our students to return.”
Addressing the group in the study center and clad in an FSU sweater and mask, Frank Nero, director of FSU International Programs Italy, noted that shortly after the pandemic hit, Florence was cast in silence.
“A year ago, this place was an empty crater,” he said. “The streets of Florence seemed barren without the thrill of hearing American voices and their youth, vigor and spirit.”
FSU’s history in Florence dates back more than five decades to the arrival of the university’s first Florence class in 1966. Their arrival coincided with historic flooding that left swaths of the city submerged in mud.
Those FSU students were celebrated in the city and beyond for choosing to remain in Florence to help rescue precious works of literature, art and cultural heritage. Together, the volunteers earned the nickname the “Mud Angels” for their effort.
Nero noted the bonds between FSU and Florence run deep.
“Both Florida and Florence have the same root word meaning flower and flourishing,” he said. “I know that it will be true that, even as we still face this hard winter, that the springtime will bloom again, starting with you guys.”
Lucia Cossari, associate director of FSU International Programs Italy, commended the students for making the choice to come to Florence in less-than-ideal circumstances and thanked them for “having the courage” to be there.