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Giving Back to Florence: A CEA Student Leads Tours at the Cathedral

The CEA Florence volunteer program CEA C’È (which means "CEA is there") provides students with opportunities to participate in local life and culture while giving back to their host city. Jonathan White received training in order to offer free tours to tourists of the Florence Cathedral. Here he shares reflections on his experience.

Volunteering as an Ars et Fides tour guide in Florence’s Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, proved to be extremely constructive, educational, and entertaining. 
Before I was able to give tours on my own, I underwent a short orientation session with a member of the Ars et Fides association. This session was essentially a tour, where I was able to learn and absorb many important facts about Santa Maria del Fiore. From that moment on, I was thrilled I had chosen this specific opportunity. I am a history major and have a great passion for art and architecture, so being able to learn about the historical significance of this edifice, as well as the numerous important works of art that it houses, was unbelievable. In addition to following the training tour, I performed online research and read over a thick packet of information about the cathedral to learn even more. A week or two after my orientation tour, I began to give tours on my own.
I was given an identification badge, which I used to enter the cathedral. Each time I went, I would get situated at my table, where I would sign in, set up the appropriate signs, information packets, and other books, and turn on the lights. Since this table was located very close to the entrance of the cathedral, many tourists would come over to ask me various questions. I would do my best to answer any question that someone had and was even able to practice my Italian by answering questions in Italian. In addition, I would tell people some interesting facts about the cathedral and the city of Florence and I would offer to give them a free tour.
I would give guided tours, free of charge, to anyone who wished to spend about fifteen minutes learning about the historical and architectural significance of Santa Maria del Fiore. During these tours, I was able to interactively apply the information and knowledge that I had acquired. I created and structured my own tour and tried to synthesize major themes of history, art, and architecture in an enjoyable manner. I incorporated interesting facts that I had known about Florence and Italy as well as humorous tales, in order to keep my guests entertained as well attentive.
The most enjoyable and beneficial aspect of my internship was how it provided me with great opportunities to break out of my comfort zone and actually interact with tourists as well as some Italian locals. I tried to make my tours interactive, allowing tourists to ask questions or make comments at any time. This allowed me to get to know the people I was giving a tour to and learn from them, just as they were learning from me. In addition, I was overjoyed that I was able to enable tourists to better appreciate and understand the significance of Santa Maria del Fiore and Florence. As a fellow tourist, who had been traveling to many towns in Italy, I sympathized with these tourists. I understood how one can feel overwhelmed by the numerous pieces of art and architecture and not truly understand their importance. I am very glad that I was able to make their travel experiences better.
Since I was able to learn about Florence and its wonderful cathedral, as well as inform others about its significance, I found my time as an Ars et Fides tour guide to be extremely beneficial and enjoyable. I highly recommend this experience to anyone who is interested in history, art, architecture, or just learning more about Florence and its people.
Jonathan White is a history major at UC Davis.
He studied at CEA in Fall 2011.

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