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From Studying Abroad in Florence to Debuting on 'Shark Tank'

March 26, 2021
by CEA CAPA Content Creator

Fun fact about me: “Pavone,” my last name, means “peacock” in Italian. My grandfather immigrated to America from Sicily when he was a young boy, and always told me stories about what he remembered of Italy. Growing up in an Italian family, I was already in love with the culture, the art, and – of course – the food. When it came time to choose where I wanted to study abroad the summer of my sophomore year, Florence was an absolute no-brainer. 

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I was studying Business Entrepreneurship at California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo at the time, and in the spring quarter prior to my departure I had stumbled across my “big idea”... fully convertible high heels. I was obsessed with the concept, and knew there had to be a way to make a heel that could turn into a flat. The only problem was I knew nothing of the fashion industry. I needed to be inspired, and what better place than Florence?


I enrolled in CEA’s “Food & Fashion” summer program and jetted off on one of the greatest adventures of my life. CEA does an incredible job of making sure you have a fully immersive study abroad experience. I lived in an incredible (& massive) fourth-floor, four-bedroom apartment with a window off the living room that looked right out onto the roof of the Duomo. My walk to class every day carried me right through the busiest part of town – through the leather market, past dozens of cafes, across the Duomo plaza and right into the city center. I was shocked to find the CEA study center was right in the middle of town, only minutes walking distance from almost every major attraction Florence has to offer. 


My coursework included tours of authentic culinary markets, visiting esteemed leather and metalworks craftsmen, wine pairing classes, and learning Italian the right way – by ordering gelato at Eduardo’s. My professors were incredible, making class fun and engaging, and always prioritizing getting us out into town as much as possible. Free time was spent roaming the city with my friends from class. Some favorites included watching sunsets at Piazza Michelangelo with a bottle of wine in hand, grabbing the truffle gnocchi at Osteria Santo Spirito, strolling the Boboli gardens or the Ponte Vecchio, bargaining at the leather market for tokens of my trip (I found my negotiations grew more successful the better my Italian got), and taking in the nightlife the city had to offer. My day-to-day life felt like a movie. 

On weekends, we were left to explore the rest of Italy. My friends and I ventured off to Capri, Venice, the Cinque Terre, Pisa, Siena, and more. My personal favorite excursion was the Amalfi Coast – sunbathing and enjoying delicious limoncellos while swimming in the ocean. The longer I stayed in Italy and experienced all it had to offer, the less it felt like a trip – and more like home. 


Studying abroad in Florence gave me not only some of the best memories of my life, but I also firmly believe it shaped me into who I am today. I experienced a whole new way of living... a culture that is completely different than how we live in America, focused vastly more on quality than quantity. Where every meal, outfit, or leisure activity is almost an art form, and relationships with friends and family are the most important priority. I came back with a whole new perspective on life, and more inspiration than I knew what to do with! After all, how can one not be inspired to their very core after strolling the halls of the Uffizi? I wanted to make something of my own and put my unique mark on the world in the same way all the brilliant artists of Italy had (of course, heels have nothing on Michelangelo – but it’s a start!).

When I returned to the States, I dove headfirst into pursuing my convertible high heel idea. After watching women traverse the cobblestone streets of Florence in their stylish 6” stilettos, I was more motivated than ever to create a fashionable solution. Now, a little more than four years later, Pashion Footwear is a rapidly growing company with thousands of customers, over $3.5M in venture funding raised, and a recent feature on ABC’s "Shark Tank!" It’s crazy to think all of this started with just an idea. I firmly believe my summer in Florence is what grew that idea into a passion... there’s just something magical about Italy. I’d challenge anyone to spend three months there and not feel antsy to create something beautiful. 

In case you can’t already tell from my writing thus far, if you are considering a study abroad experience in Florence, I cannot encourage you enough to go for it. Who knows – it just might change your life.


Haley Pavone is a CEA alumna who studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during the Summer 2016 term. She is a graduate of Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo.

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