On a warm and sunny day last April, Melissa Kreider was living her dream, caught up in the nonstop flurry of activity that is a professional fashion shoot — Italian-style. The models wore high-end designer clothing and accessories against backdrops of marble interiors and lush gardens as she and her photography classmates captured the scenes on film.
By the end of that very long day, Kreider will tell you she was exhausted, famished and never happier as she lugged camera equipment back to her apartment. After all, she was not only living her dream — she was living it in Florence, Italy.
Sophomore honors student Melissa Kreider made the most of an eight-month study abroad experience in Florence, Italy, as she prepares for a career in fashion photography.
"I loved every single second of the day of the shoot," recalls the sophomore honors student, who is earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. "The waiting, the planning, the adjusting, the shooting. I learned so much just by watching!"
Her opportunity to study abroad was made possible through UA's Office of International Programs, which works with a network of affiliate and exchange programs for students in all majors who want to add a global perspective to their Akron Experience. The office also provides services for students from other countries who come to Akron to study.
Kreider made her first trip to the OIP in March 2011, during her senior year at Springfield High School. She knew she wanted to travel, and saw in a study abroad experience the opportunity to gain a fashion background that would complement her degree work at UA.
So, just two weeks after her high school graduation, Kreider was taking classes on the UA campus so that she would earn enough credits to be eligible to study abroad in January 2012.
Kreider can trace her passion for photography to her 11th birthday.
"I got a pink Barbie Polaroid camera, and I started photographing everything," she reveals with a laugh. "I think my interest stemmed from my parents both being photographers — there were always cameras and lenses lying around."
She soon began to acquire her own collection of Olympus and Nikon camera bodies and lenses, and focused on the subjects she liked best.
"I realized that I liked fashion and photographing people," says Kreider. "I like the entire experience of planning and styling — it gives me the satisfaction I want from my art. Fashion photography is a really hard career to go for, but I am completely willing to do it."
Of the many photos Melissa Kreider took at her first fashion photo shoot last April in Florence, this is her favorite. Her class planned every aspect of the shoot, from the Victorian avante garde theme to the models, clothes and settings.
So she chose to study at Palazzi: the Florence Association for International Education for her true introduction to the field. Over the next eight months, Kreider took a variety of photography courses, in addition to such classes as art history and Italian I.
Still 18 when she left for Italy on only the second flight of her life, Kreider says she was not daunted by the prospect of living abroad, so far from family and friends. She was nervous, however, about taking on Introduction to Fashion Photography.
"I'm so passionate about photography, but I had never taken a formal class, so I was scared," admits Kreider. "But my scared and nervous feelings always turn into productivity. Everyone is at different levels when you do study abroad. That's a good thing because it made me want to catch up and work harder. By the end, I was completely ready to do more fashion work."
One aspect of the Palazzi program Kreider really came to appreciate is that it placed exchange students in apartments around the city to help them integrate with the community and the culture. So Kreider, along with roommates from Kentucky, New York and Florida, spent their spring semester in Borgo Tegolaio, 9. Together, they discovered the wonders served around the corner at Gusta Pizza, and explored the museums and other sights around the ancient city.
"There's no way for me to learn a language unless I am completely integrated and immersed in it, so this was perfect for me," she says.
It also helped that her language class had a service-learning component — each student was required to volunteer 20 hours in the community.
"I love animals, so I volunteered at a shelter, high in the mountains of the Chianti countryside," adds Kreider. "We were only allowed to speak Italian with the locals. It changed my perspective from 'us and them.' They are people, just like us, living their lives in another part of the world. I loved that part of my study abroad experience."
She loved the food as well. Kreider switched from a vegan to vegetarian diet soon after arriving in Florence to better enjoy the bounty.
Melissa Kreider often climbed the 714 steps to the top of Giotto's Campanile, a bell tower attached to the main cathedral in Florence, to photograph the views it offered, including the yellow-slate roofs of the buildings below.
"You cannot live in a country like Italy and not eat cheese," she says with a laugh. "Cheese and gelato (Italian ice cream) are wonderful pleasures in life. Now that I'm home, I have returned to my vegan ways."
While abroad, Kreider made the most of opportunities to see more of Italy and other countries. From Venice for Carnivale to Paris for spring break, she also traveled to London, Hamburg, and parts of Holland and Belgium.
She put her cameras to good use throughout her travels, taking both digital and film photographs. And, she committed at least two hours every Sunday in Florence to shooting with film. "That just made me exercise my creative brain, by documenting every single part of my experience," she explains.
The earthquake that hit Bologna, Italy, in May 2012, made Kreider realize how connected she felt to her temporary home. "I was really attached to Italy, and I felt very sad, very upset, about the destruction in Bologna. I wasn't expecting to feel that way about another country. It pulled on my heartstrings. I'll never forget that."
Would she recommend the study abroad experience to others?
"Yes, 100 percent," says Kreider emphatically. "I think it is a vital life experience, because the world is so small now, we’re so connected by the Internet and things like that, it's easier than ever. It's expensive, but it's so worth it. Anywhere you study is going to change you for the better. I just want everyone to do it."
Before heading home to America, Melissa Kreider savors the sight of one last sunrise lighting the Ponte Vecchio, a centuries-old bridge in Florence, Italy.