Home Away From Home

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 1. Anticipation, Florence by Bhavani Pitti

Hello, everyone. My name is Bhavani and I am a sophomore at NYU Gallatin. I am spending this semester in Florence, Italy.

I am originally from Westchester, New York, so my home is very close to NYU, and I am used to always having the possibility to go home. Although I was very excited to travel to Italy, I was, and am, afraid that I will get homesick. I consider myself to be quite adept to adapting to different environments since I grew up bi-culturally, having attended a German school and visiting Germany and other European countries almost every year due to my half-German heritage. Yet the fact that I do not have the opportunity to go home whenever I want to for the entirety of one semester is somewhat unsettling. I truly feel like I am on my own here in Florence.

However, I believe that this is largely a good thing. Being so far away from my parents, I feel like I have more room to grow and make my own decisions, mistakes, and experiences. I have never been away from home for such an extended period of time, so I believe that not only the experiences that I will make abroad will shape me due to their novelty, but also merely the new experience of being away from home for this significant amount of time.

I chose this study away site because acclimating myself to a foreign culture and gaining a new outlook on life were essential factors in making my decision. This entailed, to me specifically, learning a new language. Growing up bilingually and taking up two languages during my pre-college education, I have always enjoyed tackling foreign languages. Though other study abroad sites such as London and Sydney are surely a culturally different experience from New York, I believe that learning a new language and successfully – or unsuccessfully – using it to try and communicate with people different from oneself is an invaluable experience. I wanted to make the most of my semester spent abroad and I believe that his signifies being challenged to some extent by cultural barriers and the feeling of being an outsider having to fit in. Learning Italian is one of the aspects of my study away experience that I was looking forward to the most as I have always valued the skill of being able to adjust to a new culture and picking up on a new language quickly.

The first sentence of Why We Travel by Iyer really resonated with me as I, too, believe that we find parts of our identity in reaction to feeling lost, in a way – as we discover how to deal with challenging situations. In order to grow as a person and become more competent in a wider array of situations, one’s comfort zone must be, in my opinion, pushed to a certain degree. Certain ways of life that mark the cultures that I have grown up in are not the norm in Italy, and I have discovered that learning to navigate these discrepancies builds character.

We also discover parts of our identity simply by being regarded as “exotic” because being in a foreign environment highlights and solidifies parts of our identity that we usually take for granted, or that go unnoticed in our usual surroundings. Traveling shakes up our self-perception by appealing to different parts of our identity thus far underdeveloped/under-appreciated – I have definitely, already in my first week, made this experience in Florence as people frequently ask me where I am from and seem interested in my heritage. At NYU in Manhattan, I often feel like I blend in just by being an American student from the area. Though Florence is highly populated by American college students, I feel like my identity as an American college student in Italy is becoming a more noticeable aspect of who I am.

I am very excited to document and examine my experiences and thoughts abroad through this course!

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