For seven weeks this summer, I was lucky enough to be one of about 40 students in the Viterbi Summer Abroad program, which takes a handful of USC students and professors to a city in Europe. This year, it was held in Florence, Italy, where we took classes and engaged in relevant cultural experiences. As usual, four classes were offered: AME 310 (thermodynamics), ISE 460 (engineering economy), WRIT 340 (the required upper-division writing course for all USC students), and HIST 195, which is a course unique to the city the program is held in and taught by a local professor. This year, HIST 195 was a course on the history of food, with an emphasis on the staples of the Mediterranean: bread, olive oil, and wine. I was happy to take the contrasting combination of AME 310 and HIST 195.

After finals ended, I boarded a plane to Paris for some travel time before beginning the program. Then, I left for Florence, where classes began immediately. While I was only taking two classes abroad, far less than the 5-6 classes I would take in a typical semester, I found the coursework to be equally demanding as my course load on campus. Much of the difficulty was due to the fact that the courses were condensed from the typical semester length to just 7 weeks. In thermo, we had weekly quizzes that were more like small exams, and in history, we had the papers, projects, and exams that one could expect of a GE at USC. I think in many ways, however, the challenge was exciting. I had to work hard and devote ample time to my classes, but at the same time wanted to experience the culture in Florence and travel.

Viterbi encourages students both to work hard in classes and to take the program as an opportunity to travel. We went on several Viterbi organized day and weekend trips to Italian destinations such as Siena, Rome, Venice, Pisa, and Lucca. We also had free weekends (with no class on Friday) to travel on our own; I went to Vienna, Cinque Terre, and Milan.

While the combination of travel and rigorous coursework made the program academically and personally challenging, I ultimately had one of the busiest, most exciting, and memorable summers of my life. Here are some of the highlights:

Traveling to Vienna, Austria

My roommate, Alyssa, and I were eager to travel, so on our first free weekend we decided to go to Vienna. We booked some inexpensive plane tickets and were so excited to see a new place. At about 2 AM the morning we were supposed to leave, my phone buzzed with an email from the airline — our flight was cancelled. Determined to make it to Vienna, Alyssa and I took the (very slow) commuter train to Rome to catch a different plane and ended up doing the same on the way back to Florence. While the travel experience getting to and from Vienna involved a lot of running to make all of our train and plane connections, Vienna was so beautiful, vibrant, and the perfect weekend away from Florence.


I saw hundreds, if not thousands of priceless masterpieces across France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. From Manet’s Olympia in Paris, to Botticelli’s Primavera in Florence, to Velazquez’s Las Meninas and Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid, I saw so many of the works that I learned about both in art school and last semester in art history. In between viewing churches and buildings that were thousands of years old, I also got the chance to go to the International Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, which featured new innovations in the architecture field from around the world. 

Beyoncé and Jay-Z

I took a weekend in Milan to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the Run II tour. The two performed with the highest intensity I have ever seen at any concert for over two hours, weaving in poignant political messages and historic references into their pop spectacle. It was absolutely incredible.

HIST 195

This was my favorite class I have taken at USC. Our professor was a brilliant archaeologist turned winemaker, who taught us all about the history of food from the Neolithic period to today. For the class, we traveled to a flour mill to learn about the ancient grain stone grinding process, went to Eataly World in Bologna, and indulged in several tastings along the way.

Right now, I am finishing up my summer by traveling  a little more. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about my summer or studying abroad with Viterbi!

Audrey Roberts

Audrey Roberts

MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering YEAR: Class of 2021 HOMETOWN: Denver, Colorado PRONOUNS: she/her/hers INSTA: @audrey.roberts On campus, I lead outreach for the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, do materials research in the M.C. Gill Composites Center, and am the Academic Chair of my sorority.