I’ve taken my final flight of the semester and I’m finally home. After following my posts you may assume that I couldn’t be happier. Everyone here is asking how my trip was and “What is the one thing you learned?” “Do you think you feel different?” And every time I answer they say “Huh, interesting…” Like it isn’t profound enough and I failed them. But whatever, it’s important to me and it’s brought a lot of clarity to my life.
Studying abroad has taught me that people matter more than experiences. This past semester I had the opportunity to do and see so many things, and they were awesome, but it would have been so much better if I was with the people that I really care about in my life. I was fortunate enough to have one of my best friends with me for most of my travels and there were some things that I feel I got the most out of because I was alone. But I still spent a lot of my time missing certain people and wishing they were there to be with me. Some times I would be out experiencing whatever city’s nightlife, but I would have rather been at any shabby bar back in New York with my friends. It kind of makes me feel guilty that I’m not grateful enough for what I got to do, but when it comes down to it, why should I feel guilty for loving people?
However I still loved this past semester and I am so glad that I took the chance to study abroad. We’re all going to school to become educated but it’s useless unless we make an effort to understand other cultures or look at life in a new perspective. All the things that I saw and people I encountered were experiences that help me cross the line of being educated to intelligent. I’m not a genius or anything now, I just know and understand a lot more than I could ever learn inside a classroom.
I’ve spoken a lot about the racism I’ve experienced but it’s because what opened my eyes to most. I’m lucky to live in the two most diverse cities in America and I rarely feel the prejudice that I did in the semester. Sometimes I forget that racism exists and right now with everything that has happened, it’s really hit me how huge of a problem it is. Going back to LA and eventually New York, I want to be more aware of its presence in the States instead of putting it behind me because I won’t have to deal with it myself anymore.
And my answer to everyone’s second question: no. No, I don’t feel different, I’m still the same person than the one that left 4 months ago. I don’t think traveling has to transform you, whatever you get is whatever you get.
After fully reflecting I have an addition to my list of tips. Don’t feel like you have to accomplish anything when you’re traveling. Treat your travels as just another day in your life, don’t go around with the burden of obligation. You don’t have to see the Sistine Chapel when you’re in Rome if you don’t want to. People might tell you that you missed out on something great, but if you were there seeing something that you don’t enjoy then you’re missing out on more.
That’s my biggest regret, trying to satisfy the request of others instead of seeing and doing what I wanted. But I’m not going to let that ruin my whole experience, it’s just an excuse to keep traveling.
So you’re thinking about studying abroad? You wanna get a slice of life on a grand scale and embark on new adventures? Then go forth my friend, but let me give you some words of wisdom.
Now I don’t want to put a rain on your parade but we gotta be responsible. Pick a place where you can take classes that will benefit you. Pick a location that’ll cross off some G.E.s or fulfill your major, or just really interest you and will help you grow as a person. For me I felt held back in the course selections here except for my literature class that doesn’t fulfill much academically, but it’s made me so happy and more thoughtful that it’s totally worth it. But still, now I have a lot to get done and check off back in New York.
I know you want to study abroad and see new places and your first instinct may be to study some place new, but don’t feel obligated to. If you’re traveling a lot its nice to feel like you’re coming “home” to someplace and familiarity helps satisfy that. Also knowing a place can help your daily life while you’re actually studying be easier and honestly you might want that because school can be overwhelming when you’re in a new country every weekend.
If you are a minority, please take that into consideration when you’re looking where to study. No one told me that I was going to experience racism and to the severity that I have while being in Italy. Even if it is a cultural thing and they truly just don’t know any better, it can get scary sometimes and you shouldn’t have to feel that way.
After you’ve gotten all that figured out and you’re ready to go! When you pack look up what items are more expensive to buy wherever you’re studying in comparison to America. In Florence shampoos, conditioners, and the like were significantly more pricey. But even if you bring those sort of items with you, don’t think you have to furnish wherever you’re staying. Leave your desk organizers, hangers, and what not back home. You have a whole semester to pack for and you don’t want to waste space and weight with nonsense. I’d suggest bringing one bag and a duffle bag to fill up later because you will buy a lot of things, seriously. Also if you’re thinking about taking up space with workout clothes, you don’t really need to bring it, you’re not gonna be working out. But if you do, it’s not gonna be often enough to stress about bringing a wardrobe of it.
When you get to wherever you are, give it time. Culture shock is real and being confused is stressful but it’ll get better. Plan your weekend vacays in advanced to save money and really see the world (or a good portion of it). Traveling alone isn’t terrible and it could actually be a better experience. Do what anything and everything you can because this is a break from life and you don’t know when you’ll get another one.
Fifteen more days here in Italy. In the midst of slowly starting to declutter, packing, and planning out my first few meals back in America there’s some time to reflect. I know I’ve sounded and been pretty bitter about my experience here in Italy, my whole experience this semester including all the places I’ve gone has been great. But, with that being said I CANNOT WAIT TO BE HOME.
Maybe I should have mentioned this in my introduction post but oh well. I’m one of those people that has moved a lot and in the middle of moving a lot my family took three years off from life to travel North America. Being 5-8 through that trip it was a great experience because I got to see everything that my mom was teaching us and I went into school knowing more than my peers as well as being just a little more cultured (cause that totally matters when you’re 8). But everything I learned then I carried with me; and my love for adventure and welcoming of the new was always present as we moved around. Splitting coasts for three years between California and New Hampshire, then another few years in Arizona, when we finally landed back in California when I was about to start high school my parents vowed that we would settle down. But my dreams were bigger than staying home and now in college here I am again splitting life between coasts and now continents. I’m sure by now we’ve all realized that traveling is EXHAUSTING and feeling “at home” or having the comfort of consistent familiarity is underrated and so nice.
It took almost four month here to make me realize that thing I care about most is being home and living my normal life. I haven’t been any same place for more that four years and I thought I was still doing alright because I’ve been living in both New York and California, but coming here is so different that it makes my need to settle so much more prominent. I know once I leave I’m going to have another year and a half of flying back and forth for school but at least I know those places and that commute is so much apart of my life it really doesn’t phase me.
I like my simple life in America where I’m one of the millions of struggling college students, all this excitement of traveling Europe is good and I’ve loved it but it’s a lot. And just on top of it being a lot to handle it’s frustrating because I haven’t been doing a whole lot for my future. I like having purpose and working to succeed, to achieve my goals and these past few months where that portion of myself has been on pause. Any time I sat on a train or waiting for a flight I’d just be making lists in my head of internships I need to apply for; the classes I need to take; the people I need to get in touch with to start networking. It’s built up into a huge list but rather than being incredibly frustrated and stressed out, I’m excited. Once I get back I can do all those things and now I’m more motivated than ever because I have to catch up, it’s a challenge and it gives me the kind of rush or excitement that I prefer to have in my life.
Are those dumb things to learn? Did I improperly experience studying aboard? Miss out on something because I like America so much? I don’t know. It’s also too late and there’s no point in dwelling on it. For now, I’m thankful because I have more motivation than I’ve had in years.
One of the many mottos that I live by is “I will not run to be on time”. It isn’t because I’m extremely lazy and don’t care if I’ll be late, I tell myself this because I never want to put myself in the position to be “running late”. I like to be right on time but because I cannot control time perfectly, I always lean towards the side of being early. In the case of traveling, I like to be really early. Who knows how long the lines will take or if someone passes out on a mode of transportation so I can’t exit. Better safe than sorry. I wish companies would take the same precaution when planning their layovers. Most people cringe at the thought of having a layover more than two hours, but WHO KNOWS WHAT COULD HAPPEN?!
When I was flying home from Amsterdam, we had a layover in Rome. It was short, maybe an hour and a half. I didn’t like that. I was already extremely nervous and cursing the person who could be so confident to make such a short layover. Well I’m about to board in Amsterdam and of course, there’s a delay, forty-five minutes. Fantastic, that means my already short layover is being cut in half to be dangerously short. Sitting that forty-five minutes I was praying the next flight would be delayed as well, I’d be getting back to Florence late, but at least I would make it back. I finally board the plane and for a reason that I still do not know, it took forever to take off, more than the usual half hour of nonsense that goes on. I try to sleep to prevent myself from giving myself and aneurism, but I daydream of the next flight taking off early instead or just this flight never leaving Amsterdam. Finally we take off and I can manage to sleep the two hour flight.
Touch down in Rome. I have twenty minutes to get to the gate of my next flight. Doing some calculations in my head, ten to fifteen minutes to get off the plane, haul a** to the next gate hopefully make it there in under five, pray that my sweat and tears will make the airport staff feel for me and let me on the flight. I’ll just make it, okay, be optimistic. However. WE CAN’T GET OFF THE PLANE. I’m staring at the seconds pass on my phone and look around, everyone is freaking out, we all need to get moving. Doors won’t budge. Okay ten minutes have passed. I think I’m about to die, my anxiety is building up and mixing with my frustration, I will combust any second if they don’t open these doors. Fifteen minutes pass. I haven’t died yet, but I swear it’s about to happen any second. Seventeen minutes, I am not making that next flight, but the doors have opened. The primitive animal inside of me comes out, crawling, climbing, and shoving my way off the plane onto the bus to the airport terminal. Two minutes, to go and I am desperate to make it to the gate on time, for the first time in my life I run to try to be on time. With two bags and jacket in hand I fly through the airport like an Olympian till I almost collapse at the gate of the next flight. By an act of God I barely make this flight. Panting I hand the lady my boarding pass and hop back onto a bus that drives to a plane that is, of course, right next to the plane I just got off of, it was still unloading passengers. Of course it had to be that funny, that the planes were RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER. But still I had to bus, run, bus while sweating and crying, just to be on this plane and I could have just walked.
Today is November 11th and that is one month exactly away from the when I come, December 11th. Every single semester it’s this day that I take a deep breath and tell myself that I’m gonna make it. Usually I’m planning out my schedule for essays, studying, and any last adventures I can squeeze in; I’m more stressed and just really want to go home and take my long needed break. It’s kind of the same now, except it is a lot more of squeezing in adventures and exhaustion is mostly irritation with Europe. I’m telling you Mark Twain was spot on about my feelings towards Europe and love for America, I love America, it’s great.
I just want things to be easy and mindless again. Daily life isn’t excruciatingly more difficult but just the tiniest things really make the difference. The biggest thing for me is to not dread walking on the streets because I have to endure being showered with racists comments and antics. I keep saying that I’m okay with it because I understand that Europe is primarily old fashioned and who can blame them for being annoyed with the heavy flow of tourist groups and their yellow flags. But even though I understand it, I’m not okay with it. The small activist in me constantly fights to for equality among races, but usually it isn’t as frequent and just on a representation in media basis. That’s because I’m fortunate enough to live somewhere where I don’t have to deal with in your face, blatant racism anymore. Say what you want about America, but I will defend it till I die because at least 98% of the time it accepts me and lets me be another one of the million meaningless faces wandering around.
For once, this might be the only time that I’m not suffering from extreme homesickness. Homesick is craving In-N-Out, burritos, and getting BOBA not whatever that “bubble tea” stuff that New York has. Homesick is counting down the seconds until I can drive my car along the coast and watch a sunset on the beach by my house and then going home to smother my sister until she tells me what I’ve missed out on the past couple months. This what I’m feeling is what people in movies feel when they’ve switched bodies with someone or they’ve transported to another decade, I just want to have normal again. Every time it rains I want to run outside and collapse in the street and yell to the sky “I’ve learned my lesson, I’ll be good I swear! Just please give me my life back!”
But like every semester I won’t be a drama queen that just stares out the window as the days go by, I can get over myself and be invested where I am at the moment. I’m excited to visit the last few countries on my list the next couple weekends and I’m willing to go to some more of the sights around Florence so that I can leave saying that I truly saw all it has to offer. Also totally focus on my studies too, because I’m STUDYING abroad (lol).
Of all the miniature epiphanies and thoughtful ideas that Twain comes up with in A Tramp Abroad, the highlight of these isn’t until the end of the whole book. Perhaps he was saving the best for last or just being cheeky ole Twain, but in reality it is the prefect bow to tie up the novel.
“I think that short visits to Europe are better for us than long ones. The former preserves us from being Europeanized; they keep our pride in our country intact, and at the same time they intensify our affection for our country and our people; where as long visits have the effect of dulling those feelings-at least in the majority of cases” (Twain).
Now he’s saying this as a visitor from America, the land of dreams and drowned in lessons of nation’s pride, but couldn’t it stand true for all countries? Maybe because the American Dream and the large numbers of the immigrant population in America (at this time and even today) make it seem that it doesn’t work both ways. People come to America to stay and to have a better chance at life. But even though American people know this, they still embark on these journeys to foreign countries, the countries of immigrants in search for something. I had to believe that these men didn’t venture through Europe because they wanted to hit all the cool sites to make their friends jealous as we do, they were going for experience and to culture themselves in a different world because in retrospect America does not have a unified culture to it.
However they are on the quest for more and for the unknown but yet, they wish to return to America. Prior to the final note Twain recants that he “was glad to get home-immeasurably glad; so glad, in fact, that it did not seem possible that anything could ever get me out of the country again. I had not enjoyed a pleasure abroad which seemed to compare with the pleasure I felt in seeing the New York Harbor.” I’m not trying to disagree with him here, I’m on his side 100%. I’ve had some pretty awesome experiences during my traveling around Europe and have respect for all the lessons I’ve learned from the people, but now that this semester is coming to an end I can’t even fathom how excited I’ll be to land in LAX in a month. And it’s almost stupid the reason why I am, but reading a novel written before me and my peers, I know that it can’t be that ridiculous. “Europe has many advantages which we have not, but the do not compensate for a good many still more valuable ones which exist nowhere but in our own country.” It’s probably because we grew up accustomed to a way of life that we’ve decided to be efficient because it’s natural that when we take on a similar task in a different country to find the way of life is different it creates complications and frustration. In a short span of time these moments hit us and build up this annoyance that makes us miss home, but eventually if it becomes normalized through time, then we lose that longing and pride for our country and ways.
It’s strange to realize that it takes time away to fully have the pride in country that we thought we had all along. But do we need it? Traveling is an awful lot of work to have an epiphany that we don’t really need if we’re living in the comfort of ignorance. It could be because there also simultaneously exists this idea of longing to experience something new and exciting that we have to travel in order to eliminate that idea.
I won’t lie, most of my time that I do spend in Florence is either on campus or in my room. Sure I do venture out to do things or to shop, but it isn’t where I spend time. Mostly because in order to just be somewhere I have to walk almost a mile to the city center and that really isn’t appealing when I’m already in my room and hanging out there is just fine. Also since I am still exploring Florence, I try to go to different cafes and restaurants to find the best of what this place has to offer.
But when exploring is too hard and I still want to get out, there’s one place that my roommate and I enjoy going to. Our Italian professor gave us a list of places in Florence that have the best pizzas and one thankfully was pretty close to us. Just a ten minute walk, but easily can be done in five if there’s rain or we’re that hungry. It opens at seven pm and we usually are always the first and only ones there when he opens the doors. The place is run by one guy, he does everything from waiting the tables, taking to go orders, and making the pizzas. He doesn’t say much but is happy to do his job and he’s impressively fast too.
The only thing he offers is pizza, water, a red wine, and a white wine. He has a good assortment of pizzas though, but in my opinion a his simple margherita is the absolute best, second best pizza I’ve had since I’ve been here (the best was in Naples, of course it had to be). Of all the times my roommate and I have gone (maybe about five or six times), only once was there someone else. Most people go to the restaurant next store, which we also have gone to and it is definitely lively and pretty good, but definitely a tourist hub. I think that’s what I like most about the pizzeria (you’d think I’d know the name by now, nope, just where it is), it’s really intimate. It’s just us and the man running the place, music is on sometimes, but even when it’s silent, it’s comfortable. It’s relaxing to be there and puts me in a good mood because I know I’m going to have an amazing pizza.
In New York my great good places, are always places that it’s comfortable and easy to hang out. Everywhere is so busy and it’s a miracle to find that random coffee shop that for some reason is always empty and a table is always open and I know I can hear my friends when I want to talk to them. Florence isn’t as crowded or busy, but I think that mentality has stuck with my and that’s why I think this pizzeria has become my place. I always know our table is going to be open, the service will be perfect, and OH MY GOD THAT PIZZA IS SO GOOD.
My quiet pizzeria would be the last place someone else would choose because they love crowded bars. Or someone would rather be somewhere outside so they can see the scenery and that’s what is most important to them. Great good places are small victories that are personal to the person.
Fashion probably was around number one on my list of concerns coming abroad. Europe is so trendy and everyone told me that people always look good even just going to the grocery store. Though I am into fashion and I have the ability to match the trends, to the core I am a beach bum. I live in the beach cites of LA, the times I’m not in Rainbows, shorts, and an old t shirt are for Sunday church and special occasions. Even in New York where the weather forces me to layer up, I’m still told I look “so Californian”. The last thing I wanted to do here was stick out more than I already do as an Asian and clearly a foreigner.
However when I got here I was shocked and relieved to know that though there is a heavy amount of high fashion present in Florence, it’s also pretty laid back. I guess I forgot to take into account that Florence is more rural than urban and a good majority of inhabitants are families and students who don’t have the time to look super fancy all the time. But though the casual is pretty laid back it, there’s something still European about it. Like they wear Adidas and back home there’s more Vans. Usually people are wearing coats and sweaters over a sweatshirt. Hats are minimal and if any, they’re nice fedoras or floppy hats, rather than beanies and snapbacks. Branching outside of Florence to other European countries it’s more or less the same, the more urban the city the less casual wear is seen, but generally there is a “look” that seems consistent throughout. And then there’s Amsterdam.
Going to Amsterdam felt like coming home, but instead of the ocean there are lots of canals. I know it’s a ridiculous theory, but possibly the reason why the fashion and culture of Amsterdam is the way it is because marijuana is legal. Hear me out, weed isn’t legal in California but it’s incredibly easy to obtain medical cards to get it and it’s widely used recreationally. Southern California culture is laid back; surf and skate brands are worn almost exclusively; wearing whatever but still looking pretty cool is the basis of the fashion. In Amsterdam I passed tons of American brand shops, seeing some brands that you barely even see in America as single stores, like DC Shoes. On the street most of the people my age looked just like the people I’d see back home, minus the blonde hair and tan skin. I wasn’t in Amsterdam long enough to fully investigate my theory, but for right now I’m going to claim that marijuana acceptance and fashion are correlated. Maybe the people of Amsterdam see island/beach life as the ultimate trend and so they are trying to follow it by wearing what surf/skate brands because I really don’t think it’s for the actual sports since I didn’t see one skateboard and there are no waves to catch in the canals. They aren’t really capturing the lifestyle but the fashion is enough to make them feel like they fit the persona too. It’s the same for New Yorkers who are into being sophisticated and so they follow and copy European trends.
Clothes are necessity because they let you be whoever you want, and also they cover your body. It’s a hackneyed saying but fashion really is a way to express yourself and identify with the people you want to identify with. It’s nice to feel comfortable in your skin and even better to be comfortable in your clothes too.
What is most apparent to me is that “travelling” comes with high expectations. Blame it on wanderlust or a desire to experience something new, but lets be real here, we just want to experience something that can be shown off. Supposedly copying is the highest form of flattery however it’s really jealousy and social media has made it worse. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I’m above this, I live by the “it didn’t happen unless I post about it” rule, but I do pride myself on being honest about my experience.
In April the Daily Mail UK posted an article “Instagram vs. Reality: What Travel Really Looks Like Without A Filter (And Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Favourtie Celebrity’s Holiday Snaps)” (what a mouthful), about the deception that goes on Instagram. Essentially the article is a compare and contrast of a celebrity’s post and the real circumstance of the place they visited. Of course when we scroll through our feed and see that Justin Bieber was flying on a private jet with spacious leg room, we know that we can’t exactly travel with his swagger. But the pictures of gorgeous sunsets in the Bahamas or perfectly composed snaps of Big Ben, yeah those are believable and so we fall for them and they entice our desire to go to those places. In reality, their personal assistant and editing team did what they can to make their simple post everything we want and when we too are in the Bahamas its typhoon season or you can’t get that snap of Big Ben because there are too many selfie sticks in the way. How foolish of us to trust the experiences of celebrities but honestly we are a lot smarter than that and we can see through their façade. For that the article also includes examples of ordinary people.
Savages those ordinary people are, how could we not fall for their beautiful pictures, they were taken by people just like us! Instagram from its humble beginnings in 2010 has evolved into a monster and thousands of apps serve their master. There are tons of photo editing apps from extra filter options to a basic versions of photo shop that allow users to contort their pictures. You can’t trust anything on Instagram, not even real people. No post goes without careful thought and multiple edits, all to make our followers relish our life. As I said, I am guilty of following it, I care all too much about my Instagram feed. Partly because I’m trying to bury the tragic years when I actually was a really lame kid that posted foolish things on the internet. Nowadays I’m trying to show the sophistication my years have brought me, throwing in some cool pics to stir some jealously, but I’m really concerned more about my aesthetic (yeah I’m THAT pretentious a**hole).
BUT though I am guilty of kind of lying on Instagram (for the sake of aesthetic), my conscious does make me tell the truth on other forms of social media, Twitter and Tumblr. With words I’m honest about my experiences and I let my followers know what’s going on behind the scenes from the pictures I post on Instagram and also Facebook. Since being abroad I spend a hefty amount of time on my phone and computer documenting everything and filling in everyone from home. Part of it is for me to remember my time here but also I feel an obligation to keep people informed because they asked me to. However though I am plagued by all these forms of social media I don’t feel like it’s hindering my travelling, because I am seeing everything for real and as it truly is, just other people aren’t. It’s up to them to interpret what I post and how they are going to react to it, just like everything else on the internet.
“Oh the places you’ll go and the sights you’ll see, you’ll have a great time”! Those are the words anyone hears before a trip and you would hope a simple “Bon Voyage” would suffice, but that would just mean they wish you a nice trip. What people really want is to see how many famous sights and picture perfect landscapes you’ll see. Travel has become keeping a tally of what you saw; how beautiful the things you saw were; how many times did you say “wow”; etc. etc. etc.
In A Room With A View Lucy is in Florence with a group of sophisticates like herself and they too are guilty of keeping their tally. Lucy makes such a fuss over making sure she experiences the beautiful sights and she feels truly robbed that she doesn’t have a room with a view but rather looks out into buildings and a courtyard. A spoiled brat to be honest, but I’ve never travelled with such luxury to be accustomed to rooms with views. However she justifies herself slightly by saying their uninteresting view makes it “feel [they] might be in London” and Florence wasn’t presenting itself to be so original and breathtaking. That is what is desired while travelling anyway, to feel that one is away from the place they left and it is totally unsatisfying when that isn’t accomplished. For that I’ll say that Lucy is justified in her dramatic needs since it is hindering her travel experience.
The next day her, Miss Bartlett, and Miss Lavish set out to the streets of Florence to see Santa Croce. Of course there is a destination in mind decided by Lucy’s wants to see it based off whatever she has heard or seen before. As they walk through the streets Miss Lavish shouts romantic ideals about travelling
“A smell! A true Florentine smell! Every city, let me teach you, has its own smell”
“One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness, one comes for life”
In the midst of their wandering and oohing and aahing over the “adorable wine carts” and the “simple souls” of bystanders they find themselves lost. Oh dear oh my, a tragic struck of bad luck in their travelling, will they ever make it to Santa Corce? Miss Lavish believing asking for directions is craven talk (whatever that means) decides they find their way by “drifting”. Lucy idly follows until she is truly and totally lost on her own and panics until “the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy”. She was taken by the culture that surrounded her and quietly observed, forgetting bout her destination and the fact she was helplessly lost. In this moment she becomes free from all the preconceived notions of travelling and the expectations of what it should be like because of how you see things. She partakes in being a flaneûr and becomes enthralled by life itself and in these moments she doesn’t feel like she is in London because she’s becoming inherently aware of what makes Italy, Italy. As Miss Lavish said earlier, “one comes to Italy for life” and Lucy is experiencing what that truly means by taking a step back from her life to take pleasure in watching others.
So is Lucy doing travelling right? Well she isn’t seeing famous things because she got lost. But she’s getting the wow factor in through observing Italian culture and she did get that room with a view so she has the beuatiful picture perfect landscape too. It seems she’s doing pretty alright. But really who is to say what travelling is and how it should be done, its an individual experience and its quality is personal to whoever is experiencing it.
Life is a blur living in New York, my days fly by so fast until there’s a once in a blue moon day that I realize where I am. It’d be nice to say that Florence isn’t like that but somehow it’s October and midterms and papers are smacking me in the face making me realize that it’s almost halfway through the semester and I’ve let time get away even here. However, thinking about it the reasons why my days go by so fast here is because I have so much time. Confused? Same.
In New York I’m moving at hundred miles per hour, rushing to class; dying in practice; slaving at an internship; babysitting; drowning in mounds of homework. I’m so busy and there is never any time to get everything done, everyday is the same grind and then there’s a break. Here, on the other hand is a lot more relaxed.
In a wide shot my days are easy and pretty short. I only go to class Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday and aside from Mondays I’m home by 3pm. Monday I have my lovely film class which takes 5 hours of my day and keeps me on campus to 8pm, but still a nice change to New York where I can be in class till 10pm. After class I’ll usually walk home because who knows if the bus will be on time and it’s not really worth it when the walk is 10 minutes. Once I’m home if I’m feeling ambitious I’ll get my homework done right away which never really takes long and aside from dinner that’s it. I have hours, SO MANY HOURS to do anything. So many hours to do things you would think I would get bored and so time would drag on and on until eventually I fall asleep but quite contrary. I spend every single one of those hours doing something and before I know it, it’s 4 am. My theory is that for the past two years I’ve been working so hard that I’m finally catching up on all the laziness that I had to miss out on and I am having a fantastic time.
Of course though most of my hours are dedicated to being a vegetable or keeping in touch with my friends back home I do have to do “daily life necessities”, like grocery shopping and laundry. But unlike New York these tasks are no problem and I do them with no emotion because it’s just something to do and they don’t interrupt my life really in anyway.
Life is simple here and I think my pure enjoyment of it is what makes time go by so fast. Not an unusual phenomenon, all the time we complain about how the good things never last. Since my days here are pleasant even with the school and chores part I can hardly call my daily life “routine”, it just doesn’t feel like it. Routine has a negative connotation that makes people go mad out of boredom or exhaustion and I’m not suffering from either of those. As dumb as it sounds life is just life. My day happens and I do things with no stress. Not even the language barrier really phases me anymore because one I’m spoken to in English and two I hear Italian so frequently now it’s just an aspect in my life that doesn’t really matter.
If anything right now life is just a blur because I’m in a weird limbo. This isn’t my life, my high stress, fast paced life. I’m on a hiatus and I feel like I’m just here spending my time until its December and life starts again.
Walking on the streets is exactly the same as watching a movie in a theater. There’s a strong sense of community or incredible consciousness that one is present amongst many people, while at the same time there is a singular experience being had with one’s surroundings or with what is happening on the screen. It’s odd balance of feeling smothered and also alone which can be either comforting or distressing depending on what one feels internally. This isn’t an original sensation that I’m creating, though I do often experience it. I’m not positive if there is a name for it but let’s just call it detached intimacy for right now.
A bit traumatized from the last time I attempted at being a flâneur in Florence it wasn’t as easy to release my mind to get lost and truly wander. However I chose to walk where I did know without any destination. I slowed my pace; took an extra second in each window that I passed; smiled at vendors rather than avoiding eye contact in order to be left alone. In my mind I pretended that my stroll was a scene in a movie, my movie. I battled whether it would be better to have a song playing along, or keep it documentary style with just natural sounds; ultimately deciding that yelling and police sirens wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and figured an instrumental would be best. Would the audience care to watch me walk along the streets or is my perspective more interesting. What am I looking at anyway? Leather, a lot of it. Also a lot of small wine shops, cafes, and gelato, what the average person would assume Italy is like. It’s almost impressive how true Florence is to Italy scenery stereotypes, everything that one would expect to see on their stroll is really all there, I can attest to it. Maybe I wouldn’t show my perspective because I wouldn’t want to spoil Italy for anyone, so I would have the camera focus on me walking. What emotions am I portraying? What message is being delivered to my audience? What do they think I’m thinking? Well they probably are thinking that I’m about to stumble upon a serendipitous moment and I would find something that would hold a great importance to myself. In reality I’m pretending I’m an actor in my own movie while I attempt to idly wander happily in my surroundings. Something isn’t going right.
In my freshman year I encountered the terms flâneur and the blasé dandy while writing one of my dreaded papers for Writing the Essay. My professor also challenged me personally to wander in order to add “substance” to my paper about New York and I had was the same exact problem. I understand what it means to be the blasé dandy and I can name times that I’ve experienced the enlightenment I got from my stroll but it’s impossible to set out and be one. By addressing the concept before hand and going to search for it there is a consciousness that puts up a barrier from gaining a full experience and enlightenment.
However even if I wasn’t truly living in the moment as a blasé dandy or a flâneur, I was still experiencing detached intimacy. I was taking in everyone around me though I was absorbed completely what was going on in my mind. I filtered what I was taking in based on the importance it would have to me or in this case the making of my tragically cliché movie. But even though I was having a more than surface experience, it was still incredibly conscious, perhaps one of these days I’ll be fortunate enough to take a truly mindless stroll.
The months leading up to this semester when I would tell people I’m going to Florence their first question would always be, “do you speak Italian?” No, I don’t. And I say that in the present tense since three weeks has taught me very little. But don’t worry, I’m not completely helpless I can survive my Italian classes without making a fool of myself. Since being here I’ve had an ongoing problem where when I’m put in the situation to utilize my Italian I just want to speak Japanese. My mind thinks “oh right now you’re being spoken to not in English and so you have to respond to them not in English, okay go!” and the only other language I know besides English is Japanese. Yeah that sounds pretty ridiculous but it’s not because my mind is broken or abnormal, it’s pretty common. Other people I know and that are in my class have had the same problem and me except for them it’s Spanish or French. Fortunately for them all three are descendants of Latin (which I took in high school and has served no benefit to me since it’s DEAD) and so they are doing pretty alright.
However even with this huge language barrier and my learning setback, I’m not really struggling. Thanks to my looks (Asian), it’s almost never assumed that I can speak Italian. I’m always greeted in English and the occasional “Ni Hao” which you may know, is Chinese. My looks has also been helpful in my Italian class since my professor typically calls on me to ask how a word or phrase would be said in Japanese and so I always have the right answer. And though in those moments I am grateful that I can get the easy hand because I’m being reduced to my looks, it’s posing a problem.
In the few times I am approached and spoken to in Italian, I’m a deer in headlights or trying to use the internet is extremely stressful if Google translate doesn’t help me out. I really do want to learn the language and put it to use because I believe it will enhance my experience here. I’m jealous of my classmates that are given those challenges to test what they know at a restaurant. I’m not saying I’m giving up on trying though. I still do my homework and practice what I know even if I am spoken to in English, I’m just not getting the complete immersion that I’m supposed to get being here.
Cultural immersion is why I’m here after all. I wanted to get in touch with my Italian heritage that I’ve been missing out on but it’s becoming clear to me that I might not ever get it. There’s a huge road block in my way which is that I’m foreign and not even that I’m American but it’s because I’m Asian. I’m not blaming Italy for it though and I’m not totally offended because what I have come to know through being here is that Italy is very traditional. They’re traditional in the formalities of how they interact with each other and what they practice but also in how they are accustomed to other ethnicities. So I am still learning about the culture in a new way that I couldn’t from a class room and like I said I’m going to keep trying to learn the language, but from a little bit of a distance.
Growing up a kid of pre tablet, when I was younger I spent most of my time in the car looking out the window. I’d always ask where we were going so that I could follow where I was by landmarks and anticipate at which building my parents would turn left or right. With every state we moved to when I was younger I would repeat this process becoming familiar with where I was just by looking out the window, and with every move I would catch on quicker.
By the time I moved to New York my freshman year directions were a no brainer and I’ve evolved from just knowing landmarks to knowing street names and even north, south, east and west. Even if I got a little bit lost I at least knew where I was and how to get to someplace familiar to get myself where I need to be.
However Florence is a whole other beast and though in America I have a strong sense of direction I also have my handy dandy Google Maps. After class one day I embarked on the journey to buy my textbooks. I’ve figured out that Florence isn’t quite the piece of cake that New York is and so I mapped out my destination beforehand. My first problem I encountered is that the address of the bookstore had to have been wrong since I ended up outside a consultation firm of some sort. I walked up the street almost half a dozen times just to be sure, just incase I glanced over it. I desperately scavenged for wifi to figure out where the new address would be but found no success. Giving up on my mission I decided to go reward my efforts with some crepes.
My problem was that I really had no idea where crepes were and I just wandered around the duomo hoping for a sign from God or that my sense of smell would guide me there. I was thankful when it took less than ten minutes to find multiple shops and after my mood elevated and I gained a new sense of confidence for navigating myself blind.
I was in an unfamiliar part of the city center but I had an idea where I was and where I needed to be so I just decided to go for it without mapping out how to get home, since mapping things out really hadn’t done me good anyway. Usually when I wander around alone like this in New York I’ll have my music in and my pace is three times faster in fear of getting ran over. But it wasn’t too hot that day and Florence is so much more peaceful to walk around than New York. For the first time since being here I was distracted from the conditions and just enjoyed walking around looking for nothing but taking in everything. Being caught up in the moment (or hour) of appreciating the city I ended up somewhere that even now I couldn’t tell you where. I snapped out of my daze and started to panic, I could be in Pisa for all I knew I was walking for so long. I couldn’t get wifi and I didn’t want to waste my data routing my way home. I sought out to look for the only landmark I really knew, the duomo, my northern star, but that was nowhere in sight. I walked for another half hour thinking that I could have easily turned on my data just for a second to at least find out where I was but my ego got the best of me. I have a good sense of direction, I can find my way home and also I need that data to post snapchats for the rest of the month.
An eternity later (10 minutes) came to a main road and my heart started to race, I knew I was getting closer to my apartment and soon I saw the best thing that day after the crepe shop “Viale Don Giovanni Minzoni”, my street name! I sped walked down the street and started to see landmarks left and right until I landed at the door of my apartment, so relieved to be home but also excited that by getting myself home I’m starting to feel comfortable in Florence, something I feared I’d never be able to do.
Florence, what a HOT place to visit! A buzzing tourist location since it has so much to offer and literally so hot. Such a beautiful place to visit, rich in culture and full of old buildings that have been here for centuries. Since these buildings are so ancient, forget about AC to cool off in after melting outside walking, since the wiring is so old too much AC could shut down an entire block! Florence, what a city, but definitely not a “city” that I am accustomed to. I know that I probably sound like a spoiled monster right now and at this very moment I may as well be.
Up until my life here in Florence started, I was just like you. An extreme desire to visit a place that from what I’ve seen, heard, and studied about sounded like the place that would change my life. In high school I took AP Art History, a class that led me straight to the second love of my life, Renaissance paintings. When I see the works that emerged out of this era I become captured in a rapture of emotions and admiration. In the summer of 2014 I had a chance to visit the Louvre Museum in Paris and see my favorite statue of all time, Nike of Samothrace, from 2nd A.D. Greece. The moment I was handed my ticket to enter I walked straight to see her and froze walking halfway up the steps. Before I knew it I was in tears completely taken by the beauty in front of me, being able to see in real life the sculpture I have loved from miles away and tiny pictures for so long. That experience decided that someway somehow I would get to Italy and I would see those paintings and buildings. I was addicted to the high and I had to get my fix.
One of the most unique and important aspects about me is that I’m half Japanese and half Italian, and it is a conscious choice to say that I’m Japanese first. At a glance and then at a complete stare down, I’m Japanese; my hair is the blackest black and stick straight; I have single eyelids that are almond shaped and brown; and glasses will always slide down my face because I don’t have a bridged nose. My first name is Japanese and the cultural traditions I follow are too. As far as my Italian side goes, I have the last name, I speak loudly, and who doesn’t love pizza? I’ve always felt lopsided and there was really no way to fix it since my dad is just as bad as I am.
So when studying abroad came up, there was no doubt I absolutely had to go to Florence. My major in Cinema Studies and minor in Producing both have London and Paris as my best options, but I didn’t care. There’s one film class here and that was enough for me. Other classes, Politics of Organized Crime in Mobs? Sure, I love mobster movies so I probably care about politics in mobs. Comparative Literature and the World Wars? Hemingway is cool and it fills my last GE requirement. Plus, I REALLY WANT TO GO TO FLORENCE because of that high I mentioned and my need to even out my cultural knowledge about myself, find the other half of me.
But all I know right now is that maybe I went into this blinded by the fantasy and I made a mistake. Kind of when you fall in love with someone and you don’t know anything about them and they end up being a registered sex offender, this feels like that. But maybe the culture shock and drastic change in living convenience is distracting me for what I’m really here for because I guess I haven’t had the chance to go to the museums and see those paintings or have gone to Naples to see my family’s roots. So right now I’m praying for a miracle or a life-changing event or some really amazing pizza to make my 17 hours of travel worth something.