Senior Studio Art major Leann Carlson had always stayed close to her home in Vineland, NJ (Cumberland County). But when the opportunity of a lifetime popped into her Rowan email inbox last year, she took it as a sign to step out of her comfort zone and explore all that the world of art has to offer. Little did she know that one semester later, she’d be traveling solo to several countries, making lifelong memories and friends, and enhancing her art skills in Florence, Italy!
Leann applied to the Seward Johnson Artist Development Travel Scholarship on a whim last winter, remembering how fascinated she was with the award after hearing about it during her freshman year. And when her best friend, Joe Cimino, received the award last year, she was so excited to hear all of his stories and see his work from the trip. It is a prestigious art scholarship for upperclassmen in the Art Department to study at Studio Art College International (SACI) in Florence, Italy for a whole semester, covering tuition, transportation, housing and more.
“When I first applied, I wasn’t 100% sure I would be right for the opportunity, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try,” she reflects. “And when they told me I got it, I knew I couldn’t give it up, no matter how nervous I was.”
Leann spent the next weeks preparing for the trip any way that she could. She studied Italian using apps such as Duolingo and Babble, and received translation books for Christmas. Joe told her stories of his time in Italy, and advised her on what to pack for the trip. He even shared a list of recommendations for restaurants, cafés and attractions to visit while she was there!
“It was terrifying at first. To travel alone, it takes a lot of courage and confidence. You have to be smart about what you’re doing and consider the language barrier,” Leann says. “This was a big jump for me. I didn’t even know who my roommates were until the day I moved in!”
Even in such a beautiful country, being thousands of miles away from the campus she grew to love was not always easy. “I have a lot of friends on campus at Rowan and know all of the faculty, since we’re a relatively small department we all get to know each other very quickly. I have a network of people at Rowan, so when I got to SACI it felt like I was starting from scratch, which was a little intimidating,” Leann recalls.
Luckily, Leann’s roommates at SACI quickly became her good friends, exploring and traveling with her during their time off from classes. They spent their free days visiting local museums, trying out the restaurants nearby and planning weekend getaways. Together, they even visited many places students dream of going, including Ravenna, Rome, Venice, Paris, Budapest, Dublin and more! “Once I got used to [being away from home], I couldn’t believe there was even a time when I was unsure about doing this.”
And even while she was enrolled at a university across the world from her home base, she found ways to incorporate her #RowanPROUD attitude into her experiences abroad: “There were times where I’d be walking through Florence and the buildings would remind me of Philadelphia, so it was a nice little piece of home while I was so far away.”
Leann’s art classes at SACI helped her stray from her comfort zone once more, introducing her to new materials and techniques she had never used before in her work. She learned the arts of etching, serigraphy (screenprinting), book making and batik, but her love of printmaking only increased with her exposure to new techniques. She returned to Glassboro at the end of the semester with a mental list of classes she wanted to get into at Rowan because of her experimentation with different media at SACI.
“This scholarship opportunity changed me as an artist and as a person,” Leann reflects. “I met a lot of different types of artists while I was away, like printmakers, which influenced me to get a lot more into printmaking myself. My roommate was a ceramicist, and I don’t know many ceramicists at Rowan, so it was interesting to hear about something I previously have not had a lot of expertise in. She even made me a mug!”
Leann credits her “incredible” experience abroad to the skills she developed through her four years at Rowan. “I learned how to network and socialize at Rowan, how to get to know my professors and classmates by going to events and speaking to as many different people as I can. My time in Italy would not have been the same without the ability to meet new people that I’ve gained here.”
Networking is also the reason Leann secured a job at the Rowan University Art Gallery on campus! “I started going to events and talking to people to get involved more in the Art Department. I learned to make it a point to get myself out there even though it’s really scary,” she says. “If you could just go out of your way to have one conversation or make one friend a day, your goal will be completed.”
Though Leann’s time abroad is over, the memories she made will stay with her for years to come, and she is looking forward to seeing who receives the Seward Johnson Artist Development Travel Scholarship this year.
“I can’t wait to just bombard them with information and advice like I was so lucky to get from Joe. I just want to pass along that information to somebody, because I definitely needed a lot of help with packing for the trip, finding my way around, learning the culture. I hope I can help the next person as well and keep that tradition going for future winners of this opportunity.”
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Story and photography by:
Nicole Cier, senior writing arts major
Additional photos courtesy of: