“Despite the fact that I had been excitedly telling everyone that I would be studying abroad in Florence for a semester, it didn’t sink in until I had lugged my suitcases up three flights of stairs in the early September humidity, and caught a glimpse of the Duomo from my balcony window. At the program orientation they discussed how it might take time to adjust and prepared us for various aspects of culture shock that students usually experience. Initially, these external influences didn’t really seem to affect me. My curiosity and eagerness to explore my new home led me down unknown cobblestone alleys, discovering amazing dishes that I severely butchered the pronunciation of. I loved everything Italy had to offer – amazing, fresh food; rich culture; and convenient access to the rest of Europe. Italy was spectacular, way better than charmless, concrete clad America.
Once classes started things began to feel more normalized, and I settled into a new routine consisting of pasta and gelato twice a day. As the previously unknown streets became familiar and favorite cafes were established, the initial honeymoon haze started to wane. I became aware of the absence of little aspects of home that I relied on to feel comfortable. For instance, I had no point of reference for any brands at the nearest Pam Local and the had to hunt through several pharmacies to find one that carried face wash. These novel experiences, not the different language or unfamiliarity with the city, were what reminded me daily that I was in a place very far away from home.
When preparing to study abroad I knew I wanted to do everything possible to take full advantage of the opportunity to be in Europe for an entire semester. I had a list of the places I wanted to go, and the weekends planned out to do so. What I wasn’t prepared for was how exhausting traveling practically every weekend would be. I pushed past the fatigue and sickness to explore new cities that I had dreamed about for so long. It continued to surprise me how places could appear very similar, but beyond surface-level experiences, are quite unique. Embracing interactions with locals while using public transportation, seeking restaurant recommendations, and participating in local and traditional celebrations provided invaluable insight into the daily life of each place I visited.
One experience that enriched my semester in Florence was the opportunity through my program to have dinner with a local Italian family. Every Tuesday my friend and I would walk to our family’s apartment on the outskirts of the city with empty stomachs, prepared for a decadent home cooked meal. During each visit I gained a much richer understanding of Tuscany and the Italian lifestyle in general from our lively, inquisitive discussions. While sometimes heavily aided by Google Translate on both sides, I was fascinated by their commentary every time. I loved discovering aspects of American life that were common place to me but seemed completely absurd to them, and visa versa.
Additionally, I was fortunate to be able to participate in an internship with Your Place in Florence. I had previous work experience in hospitality and marketing and was eager to see these fields approached through a different, Italian lens. From my time spent at Palazzo San Niccolò I gained an appreciation for the finer attention to details and aspects of running a local business compared to the more corporate environment I was a part of in the States. I thouroghly enjoyed collaborating with other members of the team while working on projects, and learned so much from their unique insights.
Beyond the material covered in my courses and cities explored, I learned so many things about myself during my time abroad. I began my semester in Florence as an obvious outsider and soon came to call it home. I cannot wait to see how my perspectives of my home in America have changed when I return based on what I have experienced this semester.”