Students Return to Florence

Image of Kent State Study Abroad Students in Florence Italy

In June 2021, Kent State University reinstated the four-week Florence Summer Institute program after more than a year of travel bans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirty-two eager KSU students, many first-time flyers, headed to Cleveland Hopkins Airport where they would begin their trip to Florence. However, they encountered a fair share of obstacles along the way: passport verification, entry forms, exit forms, vaccination cards, COVID-19 testing, long lines and security checks.

However, they met yet another challenge as they arrived at the Delta gate in Cleveland. They discovered they would need an additional passport check and boarding pass for their international COVID-tested flight from Atlanta to Rome before they could even begin their journey.

To their relief, Support Coordinator Shaunaya Shelby stepped in to assist. A four-year Delta employee, Shaunaya approached the group with a smile and offered her immediate, expert help - coordinating with students so the group could all travel together.

Kristin Stasiowski, Ph.D., group flight leader and assistant dean, College of Arts and Sciences, quickly made an exciting discovery: Shaunaya is a graduate of both Kent State University and the Florence program!

“As Shaunaya was working with us, I explained this was the first time Kent State students were returning to Florence since COVID,” Dr. Stasiowski said. “Her help was literally saving the day.”

A 2014 graduate of the College of Communication and Information, Shaunaya was equally excited to make the connection. She studied global communication while at the university and attended the Florence program in the fall of 2013.

There she took Italian language classes under Nicoletta Peluffo, Italian language and education program coordinator, and “The Genius of Florence” course under Fabrizio Ricciardelli, director, Kent State University Florence.

“I could hardly believe the coincidence,” Dr. Stasiowski said. “To arrive at the gate and be greeted not only by a Kent State alumna, but a graduate of the very program our students were about to experience for the first time. It seemed like the universe was saying the future belongs to Flashes!”

While Shaunaya has a natural talent for customer service, she attributes much of her success at Delta to her study abroad experience in Florence.

“I knew I wanted to work for a diverse company because in Florence, I learned how to engage with diverse populations and communicate effectively, both in writing and in conversation,” she explained.

Those experiences shaped her both personally and professionally.

“It gave me a new perspective,” Shaunaya said. “Learning other cultures and immersing yourself in the unfamiliar is how I found out who I was and who I wanted to grow into.”

Kent State University is a long-time supporter of global education with robust study away and study abroad programs, as well as expansive international student services. Our longest-standing study abroad program in Florence, Italy, is celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. While we celebrate this milestone, the Biden Administration has recently committed support that will help our university and international education programs across the Unites States continue to grow global education offerings.

In July 2021, the Biden Administration committed to increased support of international education. They called for a unified national approach, in which the federal government will play a larger role to support, strengthen and promote international education, including the internationalization of American classrooms and campuses.

While the country refocuses on international education, Kent State continues to strengthen global education programs, ensuring Golden Flashes near and far have access to diverse experiences, in Northeast Ohio and beyond.

In Shaunaya’s case, that kind of diverse, international experience had a lasting effect. Despite the difficulties of the situation, she was able to demonstrate the composure, eloquence and professionalism she developed during her time abroad in front of students who were about to set off to the very place she learned it all. Before they departed, she made sure to pass on a few words of wisdom, too.

“Let any fears or reservations you have fuel you to step out and embrace the unknown,” she said. “And be sure to get the gelato from Perchè No.”

With those parting words, the Kent State students were finally prepared to take flight and embark on their own adventure in Florence.

POSTED: Thursday, August 19, 2021 - 3:42pm
UPDATED: Thursday, August 19, 2021 - 5:24pm