This year, Syracuse University’s Graduate Art History Program in Florence celebrates its 50th Anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, two alumnae of the program, who together have formed “Florence For Free,” a blog that helps travelers explore the City of Florence without worrying about how expensive it can be, agreed to participate in a short Q&A to share their experiences and discuss why prospective students should consider the program. We supplied the questions below, and Meg Dillon G ’11 and Hannah Hartsig G ’11, respectively referred to as “MD” and “HH” below, were kind enough to provide their thoughts.
Q1. Why did you pursue the Florence Graduate Program in Renaissance Art?
MD. Art History had always been a topic that I kept returning to, even though I never particularly focused on it in school. And I liked it that way! Art History was a great personal outlet for me. I read art books and visited museums in my free time. Then, as an undergrad, I studied abroad in Florence and Parma. Everything about Italy’s culture enticed me (even when it frustrated me!).
When I was still dreaming of Italy and art a few years after graduating college, I knew it wasn’t a passing fling. I began researching Masters and PhD programs in the States. After seriously considering many of them, the SU Florence Graduate Program was the only one I applied to. Few programs provided four students full funding for Masters Study (through the Florence Fellowship program). Fewer still awarded U.S. degrees while completing most of the studies abroad. Syracuse also gave me the opportunity to learn from experts at the top of the field. It sold itself!
I swear this isn’t a marketing pitch. If I could change my name and apply again, I would.
HH. To indulge in clichés, when you find that something that makes you tick, you simply can’t ignore it. When a professor told me about the program, I almost couldn’t believe such a perfect opportunity existed. Living in the midst of the art that I loved and studied would be an incomparable experience. Despite the inevitable push-back (what do you plan on doing with that degree?), I decided that I would surely live with regret if I did not at least try. Learning about history and the art that preserves it is what makes me tick, and like I said, I simply couldn’t ignore that.
Q2. How are you applying what you learned to your career?
MD. I’m currently a copywriter at a creative agency. I think it’s important to be honest here and admit that getting a job in the art world is not an easy feat. So you really have to pursue it for the love of the subject. Still, the SUF program gave me excellent training in a number of skills – critical and visual thinking, strong writing, staying independently motivated – that has given me an advantage when it comes to my career.
…and then there’s Florence for Free! Safe to say that never would have happened without the SUF program.
HH. As Meg noted, finding a job in the art world can be very difficult. I currently work in hotel sales and management. However, surprising to many, I find the analytical, writing and presentation skills I sharpened by attaining my degree in Art History working almost every day. Moreover, I have not simply ditched my love of Art for a stable paycheck. I volunteer as a tour guide in my city’s art museum utilizing my education every week. Meg and I also put our experiences to good use via our budget travel website, Florence For Free. Thanks to Syracuse, I have a business partner (although first a friend) and exciting career aspirations.
Q3. For people considering this graduate program, what would you say is the single greatest reason to apply/enroll?
MD. Full immersion. There are few places like Florence, where you can live in the midst of everything you’re studying. When you learn about the artistic greats, you not only have the opportunity to view their work - you can also visit their homes, walk their streets. You get a much richer sense of what you’re researching and why it is important.
HH. Living amidst what you are studying, researching, and ultimately love. There’s nothing like peeling yourself from the library while working on a paper, because you can actually go study your topic in person. Or how about blowing off steam with a late afternoon stroll through the Uffizi once the crowds have cleared and with your iPod in tow? Every moment in Florence, in or outside of the classroom offers something new and exciting to learn.
Q4. What did you like most about the program?
MD. At the risk of sounding like a total cheese ball, I am so grateful for the people I met (and continue to meet!) through the program. The work and schedule can be intense, so it was a blessing to connect with like-minded people who keep you motivated. Of course, it’s nice to have them, too, for weekend trips to Rome, Ravenna, Mantua, etc.
HH. Museum hopping, an incomparable education, and daily gelato runs are wonderful, but people are what make this program stand above the rest. From top-notch professors who sincerely care about mentoring you, to life-long friends, to an endless network of successful alums who are enthusiastic to help you on your career path, the network of people I found myself honored to be a part of is hands down my favorite part of the program. Let’s be honest, there aren’t many of us out there who will drop everything to read the latest on the search for the real Mona Lisa’s remains. When you find your people, it feels great. At Syracuse I found mine!
Q5. What kind of impact did traveling abroad have you on your life?
MD. I had travelled abroad to many countries before the SUF program. It was exciting, and I loved it! But I think living abroad for an extended period of time is a very different thing. Instead of jetting from one locale to the other, you have a chance to settle into a new, foreign community – for better and for worse. Because when your day-to-day basics and traditions change, you learn quickly about what really matters to you. It’s an unbelievable, challenging opportunity that I hope I’m lucky enough to have again one day.
HH. Well, first off, I wouldn’t call it traveling. The Florence Program allows you to actually live, get settled, and unabashedly call Florence your home. Living in Florence means having your own grocery store, making friends with the barista at the café on your street, owning a bus pass, learning how to translate hand gestures before words, and waking up every day to the sound of the Duomo church bells reminding you of just how blessed you are to call this place your home. This experience has impacted me in countless ways. I now prefer my dinner past eight, crave afternoon naps, and desperately miss a lifestyle in which I wore out a pair of shoes each month from walking. But perhaps more profoundly, I have a much more open mind to different cultures and ways of life, a new appreciation for every beautiful moment of every day, and most of all, have a case of the travel bug that is worse than ever. Florence was my front door to the world and I can’t wait to see what’s next.