Marist students return abroad after spending first year in Florence

Imagine beginning college in a foreign country. To be more specific, imagine spending all of freshman year in Florence, Italy. After spending sophomore year in the United States you decide to study abroad again, but this time in a different country for a semester during junior year.

For a select group of freshman at Marist College, that scenario is very possible. Marist strongly supports the idea of studying abroad as it currently provides over 30 different programs all over the world. However, freshmen have an opportunity to explore Europe during their first year with the college by studying in Florence, Italy.

The adventure does not have to end after freshman year. With proper planning and a compatible major, students who spend their first two semesters in Florence can study abroad later on in their academic career.

That was the case for Marist students Brennan Weiss and Colin D’Amelio.

What is the Freshman Florence Experience?

Both Weiss and D’Amelio were among a select group of freshmen that started their Marist careers in Italy as part of the Freshman Florence Experience (FFE). FFE is a program that allows Marist freshmen (anywhere from 30-60) a chance to study abroad at the Lorenzo de’Medici (LdM) Institute in Florence, Italy. FFE provides students with international experience and a foundation to pursue general course work as well as an opportunity to travel throughout Italy and the rest of Europe.

“I was strongly considering taking a gap year to travel. I wanted to go out on a limb and do something different,” said Weiss, a junior at Marist. “FFE was the perfect program for me because it satisfied my desire to travel while not having to take any time off from school.”

Here is a video of the New Student Orientation for FFE students from June 2013.

FFE provides a way for students to step out of their comfort zone and experience a new, foreign culture. For other students, FFE might be used as springboard to attend the Poughkeepsie campus if they cannot get in right away.

“Marist had originally put me on the waiting list so this was one of the ways I could be offered housing for my sophomore year,” said D’Amelio, who is currently a senior. “It was a no brainer for me to go to Florence.”

From Italy to Poughkeepsie

One of the struggles that abroad students deal with upon their return home is reverse culture shock. After spending a year in Florence, it can be hard adjusting to life in the United States. Students go from living on their own in a different country to living under their parents’ rules once again.

In addition to adjusting to life at home, FFE students find it hard to assimilate into the Marist community in Poughkeepsie. Because FFE students did not spend their freshman year in New York, they are at a slight disadvantage because they are not accustomed to the procedures and classes at Marist as well as the surrounding area of Poughkeepsie.

“I think I speak for most FFE alums when I say it was difficult transitioning to life in Poughkeepsie,” said Weiss. “To go from a year of complete independence, European travel adventures and legal drinking to an environment that feels like a return to high school is hard.”

In order to aid FFE students in the transition to life at Marist, Marist International Programs and Marist-LdM Programs hold an orientation at the beginning of the semester. The orientation provides a way for students to reunite with friends as well as a show a blueprint for what to expect at Marist.

“We do a ‘reentry’ orientation and offer a series of activities for FFE students upon their return to New York,” said Christie Alfaro, the Assistant Director of Marist-LdM Programs.

Despite these programs and orientations, some students felt like they were not truly apart of the Marist community. D’Amelio said, “Some of my fellow FFE people took a back seat and did not jump at new opportunities. Some of them only stayed friends with FFE people and some of them had a hard time transitioning and they eventually left Marist.”

Colin d'Amelio

Colin D’Amelio overlooking Florence. Courtesy of Colin D’Amelio.

It is not the sole responsibility of the faculty and staff members to help the FFE students with the difficult transition. They can only help so much. However, both Weiss and D’Amelio both agreed that in order to succeed at Marist, they needed to branch out and find a way to fit in.

“For the most part of that first year back it did not feel like we received a lot of help from the FFE staff or housing staff. Most of the time it felt like we were on are own and it was up to us to make a good transition,” said D’Amelio. “This is a good and bad thing. It’s good because it forced kids like me to get out and make new friends and join new things.”

The decision to go back

Despite spending their first year in Florence, FFE students like Weiss and D’Amelio have the option of studying abroad again down the road. Some of these students choose to remain in Poughkeepsie for three years because they want to make up for their freshman year and enjoy life on campus. For students like Weiss and D’Amelio, studying abroad again became a reality. The reason to go back oversees was not because of disappointment at Marist, but because of the ability to see and travel across the world.

Weiss said, “There is no easier time in life to live abroad than as a college student. The way I see it, as an aspiring journalist, the more I travel the more I benefit my career. I am trying to take advantage of the opportunities provided to me at Marist, so that’s why I wanted to study abroad again.” Weiss currently studies in Rabat, Morocco.

For D’Amelio, Amsterdam provided a new challenge that had to be conquered.

“I went abroad to Amsterdam last fall not because I did not like Marist, but because I felt like I had not completed my traveling experience the first time I was abroad,” said D’Amelio. “I still like Marist and I could tell because this time I really wanted to go back to Marist at the end of the semester.”

Tips for studying abroad

College is seen as one of the best and easiest times to study abroad because almost every school now offers programs overseas. According to the 2013 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, an all-time high of over 283,000 U.S. students studied abroad, which was up three percent from the previous year.

After conversing with many Marist students who have studied abroad, the overall consensus seems to be to give it a shot. If you are on the fence, go for it because it might be harder to travel after college is over.

Weiss offered advice about traveling and how it compares to studying in a classroom.

Brennan Weiss

Brennan Weiss in Larnaca, Cyprus. Courtesy of Brennan Weiss.

“There are only positives to studying abroad, adapting to a different culture and confronting a potential language barrier. As cliche as it sounds, I believe you’ll get more out of traveling than any classroom,” said Weiss. “Walk the streets without a plan and you’ll discover amazing things.”

D’Amelio made money a point of emphasis as well as doing the things that make you uncomfortable.

“Save money! If you want to travel while your abroad, you’re going to need the money to do so and it’s always more than you think,” said D’Amelio. “Do things that scare you. If you do the things that make you uncomfortable, it will allow you to get the most out of your experience.”

For more information about studying abroad opportunities at Marist, visit

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