This is the second 2018 Hendersonville Student Ambassador profile in a series of five monthly spotlights published in the Times-News.
Rachel Raasch, 20, began planning some of her major life goals during her years at West Henderson High, where she fell in love with journalism and the Medici family of Florence, Italy.
She’d known from an early age she had to make it to Italy eventually, since her great-grandparents hailed from a town outside Naples. But Raasch had no idea that one day, the “stars would align” and she’d be a Journalism major studying Italian in an international institute named after Lorenzo de' Medici himself.
Raasch was first introduced to the Medici family in her freshman World History in 2012, and she became hooked on their history of influence. She said the documentary she watched in high school sparked her collegiate interest in “finding the common human story in different settings of social and political conflicts.”
“They were basically the original mob,” said Raasch. “I was completely enthralled by the politics and the drama of the period.”
She said, “They were kind of like the heartbeat of the Renaissance in Florence; they pulled together some of the greatest minds of the period: Leondardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Brunelleschi.”
By the time she was a sophomore at West, Raasch was researching colleges and universities with the desire to study Journalism – and study abroad.
“I saw that UNC-Chapel Hill offered a study abroad program in Florence, Italy – which is where I wanted to go – at the Lorenzo de Medici Institute,” said Raasch. “I knew that that was where I was meant to be. The stars had aligned.”
Now a rising junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, Raasch has spent the last four weeks in Florence, and has “gone all in,” immersing herself in Italian language and culture. At the Institute, Raasch has been taking an Italian class, which has allowed her to be a bit more confident as she navigates Italy.
“I don’t want to be like a clueless tourist wandering around,” she said. “I don’t want to have to fully rely on Americanized versions of everything, because I think it gives some level of inauthenticity.”
So Raasch has been taking her newfound Italian words outside the classroom to explore local culture from a more enlightened viewpoint. She’s talked with residents to find cafes and restaurants off the beaten path, and has taken a hands-on approach to studying Renaissance history – including a visit to Brunelleschi’s Dome in the Florence Cathedral she’d read about in high school.
“I think there’s a really big difference between learning something in a textbook and actually getting to experience it in real life,” Raasch said. “(I was) able to actually go in and see the stones that they used and see the curvature of the dome and think about how insane it was at that time for that architecture to be built.”
While overseas for the first time in her life, Raasch has also been able to take an introspective look and realize what it takes to be independent in Italy, in college, or in any other part of the world.
“That’s something I’ve been learning throughout my life: to trust myself, to give myself more credit for what I’m able to handle,” said Raasch. “I’m completely immersed in a foreign country (and) I’m doing it because it’s something that I love … it’s all on me to experience that.”
“Whatever happens is going to be because of Rachel,” she added. “And that’s really exciting.”