Parker Blackburn, 20, was inspired by the fashion center of Florence and has worked more on her fashion experience there. Photos: Parker Blackburn.

Parker Blackburn was one of about three dozen University of South Carolina students lucky enough to catch one of the last flights out of the United States in February before the pandemic lockdown in Europe occurred again. 

Blackburn, a junior mass communications major, was able to study in Florence, Italy, after her initial plan to study in the United Kingdom was canceled by that country’s third lockdown.

Blackburn joins 40 other UofSC women who embarked on the study abroad experience in Florence. She currently studies fashion retailing at the Florence University of the Arts.

“It’s like our own little sorority; we came together. But it is also important to branch outside of the UofSC bubble,” Blackburn said.

The 11-week study abroad experience allows the students to have in-person classes where they must continue to socially distance and wear masks.

“It is so cool to be in such a historic place for fashion and to get inspiration from just being here,” Blackburn said.

The students worked with UofSC’s study abroad office, who transferred them to the SAI, a U.S. study abroad program that sends students to Italy, France, and Spain.

Though the pandemic has changed a lot with study abroad, students are still offered opportunities to travel to mountains, historic castles and online aperitivo tastings, which are an Italian tradition of drinks and appetizers before dinner.

“They delivered Italian delicacies to us and then we got on Zoom for the breakdown of all the food from local restaurant owners,” Blackburn said.

Italy has three levels  to indicate the severity of their COVID restrictions: red, orange, and yellow. Upon Blackburn’s arrival, Florence sat at an orange zone, the middle of the three tiers, which meant shops were open, restaurants and bars were closed and there was is a mandatory curfew at 10 p.m.

detailed comparison of students who studied abroad last year compared to 2021

After Easter, the city returned to a red zone, which means that restaurants are only available for takeout, essential shops are open and you must carry a self-declaration letter to travel outside.

Other students from colleges like Parsons School of Design and the University of Pennsylvania were given the opportunity to study abroad this semester as well. Avery Barakett, a sophomore economics major at Harvard, and Blackburn’s roommate, had to acclimate to the COVID restrictions.

“Even with the current Covid restrictions, I would choose to study abroad again,” Barakett said.  “The restrictions have made us all very close, and I’ve very grateful to have a group of girls lean on throughout our study abroad experience.”

Local food production was a learning experience for Blackburn, as she was able to visit the San Ambrosio local farmer’s market and talk to local Italians.

“It was fun to learn and compare with our mass production model we have in the states. Many locals are happy to have a few [Americans] back in Florence,” Blackburn said.

Travel is still restricted, however, Blackburn and friends were able to visit historic castles like Castello di Mugnana and Monte Forato, which is a mountain outside of Florence.

This new study abroad experience is still evolving, but she hopes more students will be able to travel in the future.

Rachel Mills, the enrollment and database coordinator for Global Carolina, emphasized that most Maymester study abroad programs are cancelled.

“We do have students preparing to go abroad during Summer 2021 and we are also offering programs virtually,” she said.

As Blackburn prepares to wrap up her summer abroad, she wants future students to explore this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It taught me to really dive in whatever culture you’re traveling to. I’ve been able to have conversations from people around the world about our differences and that’s what matters.”

Local produce is a staple in the Florence community and this San Ambrosio local food market is steadily busy.

Castello di Mugnana in Chianti, Italy is another site that UofSC students were able to venture out to visit.

Blackburn and Riley Specht enjoy a ride on a Vespa and are able to travel close to Florence.

Blackburn, Barakett, and Stephanie Stark visited Monte Forato in Tuscany, Italy, a luxury some may never see.