Patricia Kinsella: Academic Coordinator of the Florence Fashion Program

Name: Patricia Kinsella

Hometown: San Rafael, California

Current “Hometown”: Prato, Italy

Schooling: Undergrad at USC Santa Cruz, BFA in Textile Arts from California College of Arts and Craft and MFA in Fiber at Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Michigan.

Her Campus: How did you first become involved with Kent State Florence?

Patricia Kinsella: It must have been around 2005, I started as a guest lecturer. I was asked to do some guest lectures and then a guest critique. After that I began to organize some field trips to the textile industry, both in Prato and in Como. Then in 2007 Kent State offered me this job. I started out just doing a couple of things and then it got more and more involved. But, I never really taught a class before, I was coordinator so I was just participating as a consultant, mostly acting as a liaison with the industry.

HC: Which courses do you teach here and what does your title of “Academic Coordinator of the Fashion Program” involve?

PK: Right now, I am teaching Italian Fashion and Culture and I’m also teaching Planning and Buying, but in the past I’ve also taught Product Development. My role as Academic Coordinator of the Fashion Program doesn’t actually entail teaching. Basically, I am responsible for hiring the faculty and acting as a liaison between the faculty here and the faculty back in Kent to make sure the academics are equal and that we’re both on the same page in terms of curriculum and content of the courses. I’m also responsible for planning the program, so deciding the calendar, when we’re going where and where we’re going. I organize all the sight visits, the study tour trips to Paris, Milan and London in the fall and then Rome and Milan in the spring. I am also responsible for the budget, so figuring out that we have enough money to do everything we want to do, where its going to go for visits and equipment.

HC: What is your favorite part about teaching at the Florence campus?

PK: The students. The most satisfying and most fun part for me is to see how students change throughout the course of the semester. They arrive and they don’t speak Italian, they may be excited but also really nervous. Many of them have never been out of the country before. By the end of the semester they’re traveling all over Europe by themselves and have a better idea of what they want to do with their career. I just see so many students completely blossom during their time here, so that’s probably the best part of my job.

I really enjoy teaching in general, just because I enjoy the interaction with people and I like getting to know people just helping them sharing what I know. In Florence, the learning curve I think is much greater because the challenges are greater. its not just learning the curriculum of a particular course it’s doing that in Italy, in a new environment where you don’t speak the language and people are traveling a lot. In some ways, during study abroad journeys, people are under more stress, but when you’re under more stress you learn more. The higher the challenges the more you rise to the challenge, in that sense it would be a little more accelerated than it would be when everyone’s home and comfortable on their campus.

HC: You’ve been living in Italy for over 30 years now, what made you decide to come here and what made you decide to stay?

PK: I’ve been living in Italy way too many years, since 1985, so you do the math! I Never decided to stay, I keep thinking I’m going back and I just never have done it yet. I initially came here for work. I came here on business trips because I was working as a textile designer for a company in New York who had production in Prato. I met my husband there and we decided to get married, and at that time we were really undecided if he was going to move to New York or if I was going to come to Italy. He had lived in the states, so I though maybe I should live in his country for a while and thought I would stay here like 6 months, a year maybe, and then we would go back to New York and I would pick up my life where I left off. Now its been over 30 years and I never made it back. I totally didn’t plan this, it just sort-of happened.

HC: What is one thing you miss most about the United States?

PK: My family. I always used to say "if I could read The New York Times everyday I could be totally happy" and now there’s internet, so I’m totally happy. There’s a lot of things I enjoy when I go back and I kind of don’t realize that I miss them until I have them again. But, there’s not anything that I’m like, “Oh I’m dying to get back to the states.” I always enjoy going back, but the thing I miss most is my family, they come visit often, but family is definitely the most important thing to me.

HC: Besides Italy, what is your favorite place you’ve been in Europe?

PK: Probably Greece, it’s very similar to Italy. I like Spain and France, I like the Mediterranean countries. I’m really sporty and love sports so I like to go to Austria and France to ski and I like to go to Greece to sail.

HC: When you first moved to Italy how did you deal with the initial culture shock and language barriers?

PK: I cried a lot, it was really hard. I cried and I cried. I would go to parties and not understand anything and I would come home and cry. But I also felt like I couldn’t move back until I had figured this out. That’s probably why I ended up staying so long because it took me so long to figure it out. I would get mad and become really determined. It was hard, there’s no getting around it, its like some kind of initiation and it was not easy for me at all. It took two years to learn Italian. I like a challenge, so it was digging your heels in and learning and trying to figure it out. It wasn’t like I was crying the whole time, but you go up and down. It’s different when you’re in school and you have all of your classmates and all the teachers and you have the structure. I was just here with this guy, so I had to figure it out all on my own pretty much.

HC: Aside from planning amazing field trips for your students and running a program here in Florence you also have a textile studio. How did you get started with that?

PK: When I was working in New York I managed a hand weaving studio for the company. Basically, we were making prototypes of the fabric on a small scale on handlooms to get the orders approved before we went into production. So, when I moved to Prato it just seemed like a natural thing to do because I knew how to weave and I knew the business. First, I just sort of made some contacts and from then on its been word of mouth. I’ve done a lot of other things but that is probably the most constant work I’ve done.

In the past I’ve done some Product Development for Calvin Klein Home developing and finding sources for throws for them, I also worked for a while for a company in northern Italy marketing them in the U.S, and then I’ve done some trend research with a Japanese company. I’ve also collaborated with the textile museum in Prato, I’ve curated a couple exhibitions for them. Over the years, 30 years, you can do a lot of different things, but I’ve always taught. However, the balance has gone back and forth.

HC: What advice would you have for students who are thinking of studying abroad in the future?

PK: Do it. I think is a fantastic experience. My very first experience abroad was when I was 15. I spent six weeks in Spain with a girlfriend and her cousin, and it changed my life. It made me very curious and able to understand that there’s other realities. Regardless if you end up living your whole life abroad I think its really important to get the perspective of another culture. In America we can become so isolated. You can drive for three days and everybody’s still speaking the same language. I think it’s important to understand that people have different points of view and it just gives you more options in your life. Not even if you have to move to another country, but just in terms of food, points of view, art, even the way you dress or how you think. It has to do with your experience. Although I never studied abroad, I just ended up traveling...and then living abroad.

HC: What advice do you for fashion students or anyone wanting to go into the fashion industry?

PK: I’ve sort of fallen in to every job I’ve ever had, the only job that I’ve ever applied for I didn’t get. Every job I’ve gotten people have called me or its been through someone I’ve known. You need to build your network because that’s where you get work, at least from my experience. Building your network can start from your internships, from tradeshows that we visit in this program, it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet people and get to know employers and it’s a start.

There’s a wonderful saying in Italy, “Da cose nasce cose” which means things come from things, so you have to get to know people and just have to start doing something even if its not exactly what you want. There’s another saying in Italy called, “Barca ferma non si governa” which means you can’t steer a boat that’s not moving in the water. You have to be moving. So whatever it is, start doing something. If its making your own collection or making cold calls or if its volunteering because once you’re moving, once you’re doing something opportunities will happen. Keep moving, keep doing and keep challenging yourself. Once you’re moving you can change your direction, but if you’re stuck, you’re stuck. You don’t always know what you’re good at, sometimes you just have to do something to understand what you don’t like.