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Elon Center in Florence offers dance major "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity

Rachel Mehaffey '15 thought there was no way she could fit study abroad into her busy schedule, but the Elon Center in Florence provided just the right opportunity.

Rachel Mehaffey '15 on an excursion to Venice during her semester at the Elon Center in Florence.

The first time Rachel Mehaffey ‘15 set foot in the studio of the Florence Dance Center in January, she was petrified. She only finished her first Italian class just hours prior, but when she arrived for her ballet course, all of the dancers and instructors were communicating in Italian.

“It’s scary to be stripped of your ability to communicate with others like that,” she said, “People were speaking to me and all I could do was smile and nod.”

Although Mehaffey harbored initial anxiety when it came to learning the language, she said she quickly made progress and was able to overcome her fears in the dance studio.

“It’s kind of funny to look back on that first day, now,” Mehaffey said, “A lot of those people became some of my closest friends. I learned there are a lot of other ways to communicate with people than just by talking.”

Part of the prestigious and rigorous Bachelor of Fine Arts Dance Program, Mehaffey admitted she first thought global study was nearly impossible to fit into her schedule. When she heard that the Elon Center in Florence was offering dance courses, however, she quickly changed her mind.

In 2013, the Elon Center in Florence began offering to students abroad in the spring semester the opportunity to earn ten credits in dance.  This coming semester, the Elon Center in Florence will also begin offering a similar program for music majors. Both of these initiatives represent Elon’s commitment to 100% access to global study.

“It was the kind of opportunity that I would never have,” she said, “To live abroad, learn a new language and to dance with people from other countries – it just wasn’t something that I could foresee happening in the future without the program.”

Mehaffey added that living in Florence greatly improved her confidence and independence. Knowing a city so intimately made her more self-sufficient, and by the end of the semester she was taking day trips to other cities by herself.

“The most valuable experience for me was taking the weekends for myself to explore on my own,” she said, “I’ve never lived in a place like that before, with so much history, art and so many places to go. I would just buy a bus ticket on my own and go explore.”

After returning from Florence and getting acclimated to life at Elon again, Mehaffey says she possesses a much greater understanding of herself as a person, and also how her academic and personal life are integrated.

“I met so many people with different beliefs and that experience clarified what was really important to me,” she said, “I didn’t have that clarity before; spending that time abroad put everything in perspective.”
Mehaffey refers to her semester in Florence as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” The twinkle in her eye when she recalls memories of Italy is impossible to ignore; although she missed being at Elon while abroad, she says she would encourage all students to find a way to make global study work for their schedule.

“Going abroad is a great time to figure out what your relationship with the world is,” she said, “you’ll never really have the opportunity to live and study with a group of this people in such a capacity ever again.”

Mehaffey offered a last bit of advice to students who are also in rigorous academic programs or have many commitments on campus that could make global study appear inaccessible.

“Talk to your advisor, do research, and take the time to find a program that works for you,” Mehaffey said, “Always be open to the possibility that you can go abroad – you may have to shift things around, but you won’t regret it.”

Danae MacLeod,
10/3/2013 2:30 PM