The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty, Florence Italy, Serendipity and Studying Abroad, by Megan Hennen

C_Users_Owner_Pictures_Europe 2012_Italia_Copy of DSC_0476

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty, Florence Italy, Serendipity and Studying Abroad, by Megan Hennen

I like to think of myself as laid back, however, with that being said, I have the tendency to be a stereotypical American when it comes to scheduling.  I like to have a set time for when I’m meeting people and prefer to have a general plan of events. Knowing what’s around the corner is kind of a comfort zone.

C_Users_Owner_Pictures_Europe 2012_DSC_0506_2

And then I went abroad. This had been my first time out of the country without my parents and therefore an opportunity to create an itinerary of my own.  Prior to my departure from the US, I had created a rough outline of how long I was going to stay in each predetermined city, but that was it. I got to pick and choose the things I wanted to see and do and skip the things I had no interest in. This freedom and unplanned exploring and had therefore led to a lot of “in the right place at the right time” kind of moments. At the beginning of my second week abroad, I met up with friends in Florence where we had originally planned to check out Micahlangelo’s David but soon discovered the annual gelato festival was taking place. What were the chances?! Basically, the city became one huge gelato shop that was handing out samples of just about any flavor you could think of – everything from the classic stracciatella (chocolate chip) to oro verde (olive oil). We couldn’t pass up this opportunity and decided David could wait.

C_Users_Owner_Pictures_Europe 2012_DSC_0503

What I learned from the experience was to leave some things unplanned and let surprises happen and embrace spontaneity. It makes for great memories – which are often times more memorable than those that are planned.

For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year

(c) 2014 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 8, Spring, 2014. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Megan Hennen, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

15 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty, Florence Italy, Serendipity and Studying Abroad, by Megan Hennen

    • Katy Goerke

      This reminds me of when i ate ice-cream on the steps of a cathedral in Barcelona. My trip abroad was over scheduled, and this was one of the few minutes I could relax and enjoy the culture. I think that today’s tourism industry has travelers thinking they must see a list of ‘things’ in a certain place, and by seeing those ‘things’ they miss everything else.

  1. Joe Chell

    This article interested me as I very much agree with simply being in the right place at the right time, and everything happening for a reason. This is clearly shown in this article as I’m sure the Gelato festival came as a great surprise and made your Italian experience even greater

  2. Kirsten Olsen

    I enjoy this entry quite a bit because I too am thinking about getting out of the country and have never been anywhere without my parents. When traveling you always have to think about whats best for the group, so hearing that she just planned out and did the things she wanted to do is very refreshing. Doing things in the moment and out of pure coincidence I think may be the best experiences.

  3. Ruby P.

    As someone who is very structured and scheduled and goes crazy when this doesn’t happen I COMPLETELY understand but I also see where you are coming from as far as being more laid back and just being in the moment and I definitely think that is the way a vacation, especially one overseas, should be!

  4. Interesting way to plan. Is it a lot easier to travel that way? or does it make it difficult to try and get your requirements done? How do Europeans plan differently then we do?

  5. Jojo Jurgens

    I couldn’t agree more with you, a lot of times ‘going with the flow’ is the best thing to do. Sometimes by planning something you create expectations, and having expectations many times can be disappointing.

  6. Morgan Schmitz

    I love that this is one of the lessons that you learned abroad. I am the type of person that doesn’t plan anything. When I went abroad this kinda hurt me sometimes because I would show up in a city not knowing anything. However, it allowed me to enjoy the city for what it is and has to offer and not what I was trying to make it.

  7. Cheyenne Lemm

    To me, my planner is my life. But when I don’t have mandatory things to get done I’ll call up a friend and we’ll do something fun. I get pegged as adventurous and flaky by some of my friends but I enjoy new experiences. Breaking routines is the best way to see alternative routes!

  8. Tenzing Dorji

    When it comes to traveling I never really plan ahead (apart from the basic “I will be in country X on Wednesday and Y on saturday) precisely because of this. I have had way too many experiences (delayed flights, lost luggage etc) to even consider a schedule now. Unfortunately, i have never had the luck of experiencing a Gelato festival, or any festival, but I will soon! (hopefully). Thank you for the interesting read Megan, and the opportunity to reminisce about travel.

  9. Ada Moreno

    I really enjoyed reading how your interests and preferences started becoming more apparent while you were traveling. I think that part of being abroad always comes with a certain degree of fear, and doing something spontaneous, or even getting lost for a while wondering and exploring your surroundings can be very refreshing.

  10. Zhiyu Yang

    I was amazed by the annual gelato festival in Italy. Human beings are very good at choosing only one kind of food as a festival and celebrate it all over the country. Just like the beer festival in Germany, tomato festival in Spain, choosing the food as a festival theme generate a whole new food culture which is absolutely different than only cuisine culture. Such kind of festival makes the country very unique and more attractive to tourists.

  11. Maddie Kust

    It’s so refreshing to be able to let go of schedules and give in to your surroundings when traveling. Your experience sounds like it allowed you to take in a bit a culture that you would not have been able to experience at a traditional itinerary destination. Besides, who could ever resist gelato?!

  12. Jonia G

    A read that was short and sweet (pun intended). I really enjoyed it; I tend to be less weary of keeping schedules of my own unless it comes to classes – that’s when I try to arrive early. Nevertheless, your article has convinced me to be a bit more spontaneous. It also leaves me wondering what olive oil gelato would taste like… Thank you for sharing.

  13. Samantha Roettger

    I traveled to Italy in the summer of 2012 and visited Florence as well. I went with my high school art department so needless to say that it was very structured. However, my favorite memories from the trip were the unplanned ones like dancing with elderly people at a hotel and attending flea markets. I am typically a scheduled person but also love the spontaneous adventures in life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.