Currently, I am packing up the last of my things. Tomorrow is the day I tell myself I’ve been waiting all semester for – the day I go home to the US. By this time tomorrow, I will be home, have had a wonderful non-Italian homemade meal, and will be sprawling my exhausted body across my heavenly full-sized bed. I promise it will be a relieving and genuinely satisfying moment. But at the same time, I will miss parts of this crazy semester abroad.
I’ve met some pretty special and amazing people. A few of which I hope to maintain close friendships with back in New York, and others I’ll distantly “keep in touch” with over Facebook. Although the country of Italy was not super rewarding to my experience, the people I met definitely were. Being around different people and having to make friends from scratch again allowed me to also discover parts of myself. Getting to know someone and become friends is something we kind of don’t feel like we need to worry about as juniors in college. We already have established friendships and groups, so unless put in new situations, I feel like no one ever really wants to leave those comfort zones. But in the end, they provided me with newfound confidence and asserted my identity even more so. While I am a strong believer in “you are the only one who can define yourself,” I do think, at times, it takes other people to help us believe in ourselves and actually face and become the person we try and hope to be.
While some of these new friendships were very rewarding, I also discovered how truly shitty some people can be. Dealing with the racism and sexism with people in this country demonstrated how different New York truly is from the world. Ignorance is absolutely not and will never be blissful. People are intolerant, scared of change and difference, and rude. Living in New York and growing up in Northern New Jersey, I was never really around people like that. Therefore, this experience also gave me a much greater appreciation for my life back in the US. Now, when I complain about struggles and probably pointless things back home, I’ll always think about its probably not as bad as I think it is. I never thought I would miss home as much as I did while abroad.
I think studying abroad is a great experience for anyone. It provided me with more self-confidence, self-assurance, and perspective. My appreciation for my family, friends, and home only increased and grew more genuine while abroad. Although I considered myself pretty self-sufficient before going abroad, I now believe I demonstrate more confidence when put in sticky or confusing situations. Studying abroad was both an amazing and miserable experience, but that’s what makes it worth it.
Studying abroad is close to coming to an end. The end is near. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can see the grand welcome back with American flags and the singing of God Bless America. I can see the simple pleasures of Walgreens, Magnolia cupcakes, and Seamless.
After all my travels this semester, I figure I know enough to give my own set of tips for those pondering the idea of study abroad or of just traveling in Europe. I mean I’m pretty much an expert at this point considering how cultured and educated I am now.
In no particular order:
- Always have more money than you think you’re going to need. Some people say you can travel for the price of nothing. Yes, that is true. But only if you want to stay in shitty Airbnbs, hostels with nineteen other people, and have to take trains or buses at 1am.
- It’s better to give yourself more time than you think. Especially when dealing with layovers or train transfers. If you’re ever in Italy, I can guarantee you there will be delays for no reason. Airports and train services may announce a strike at any moment.
- No matter what your lazy friends tell you. MAKE THE PLANS AHEAD! The rule of thumb is two weeks in advance, but you can probably do ok a week before you want to go. If you wait too long, the prices will skyrocket, availability will be slim, and you may end up having to arrive in an airport that is two hours from the city center.
- Traveling alone does not mean your imminent death. This doesn’t have to mean you take a solo trip to Oslo or Morocco. It could just be a simple day trip. When I was in Amsterdam, I had about six hours to myself. It was amazing! I could do whatever I wanted without worrying about what everyone else wanted. I could just relax and enjoy myself.
- If you go with friends, do not be surprised to get annoyed with them from time to time. Being with each other 24/7 for weekend after weekend is a lot of time to be with someone. You’re going to get on each other’s nerves. But it’s important to remember that it’ll pass and you need to let it go in order to have fun in the city your in.
- Be prepared to get dazed and confused. Your phone isn’t going to work a majority of the time making directions nearly impossible and meet-ups catastrophic. It’s better to figure it out beforehand, screen shot it, and do it the old-fashioned way.
- Not every city and not every person is going to be great. You’re going to have moments where you despise the places you go to, and there will be times you don’t want to leave. But that’s all part of the adventure.
- Homesickness is unavoidable. When you’re in a foreign place, the confusion and discomfort of it is going to force you to wish you were home. Although people will tell you it’s temporary, sometimes it isn’t. So just find activities to distract you from it.
- Some Europeans are racist assholes. If you’re not white, be prepared to have water thrown at you in the middle of the night and racist gibberish screamed in your face. Bigots are rapid in these parts my friends.
- Don’t let all the bad shit taint everything that’s good. While I’ve struggled with this for most of my time, you need to keep trying new things and make the most of every situation. It’s hard most of the time, I admit, but it does get better. Just think: you’re traveling all of Europe, while your friends at home are either sitting on their couches watching Netflix or partying at a Frat party in some dark, smelly basement.
Has my perspective of the world drastically changed? No.
Do I feel more “cultured” and understand the world a lot better? No.
Have I transformed into a better or different version of myself? No.
Studying abroad in Florence, Italy has had its many triumphs and pitfalls. I’ve been overjoyed with excitement and adventure, but I’ve also cried of homesickness and frustration. I’ve met new and exciting people, but I’ve also encountered bigoted idiots. From all my experiences, I do not think I have gained a stronger sense of independence, found my “true” self, or discovered new interests and ideals. If anything, I believe I have not transformed, but rather, I merely developed a stronger self-consciousness.
When I first arrived in Florence, I was hoping to enjoy to a break from the hustle-and-bustle of the city and have that “Oh, shit” moment. The moment you witness in movies where depressed or lost women go into the woods or across the world to “find themselves.” Obviously, these are silly plots and too romantic for my personal taste. During my time abroad, I, at times, felt that high of countless travel and that pure ecstasy of spontaneity and thrill. However, those experiences will only be wondrous memories. The real “transformative” memories are of simply sitting alone on a train, walking down a street, relaxing with friends, and talking to new faces. I recognized the person I want to be and the people I want to be around. I believe every person I encountered and got to know better has influenced my perception of my self. Whether he or she did so in a positive or negative way is another story, but either way, it impacted me. I figured out the values I want to keep holding and the characteristics I strive to achieve. For all the valuable new friendships, I also drifted away from others.
Do I regret going abroad? Absolutely not. In my application essay, I wrote that one of my reasons for going abroad was to discover the cultures of my parents. Being adopted from China, I never truly felt a part of my dad’s Italian traditions or my mom’s Swedish roots. Now having been to Stockholm and lived in Florence, I got the chance to really learn about them. Since their grandparents migrated from Italy and Sweden, I see the origins of certain mannerisms and habits. I also see the obvious American side of our family.
Maybe it’s the cynicism and pessimism in me, but I do not think a city and a few months of European travel really irrevocably changes someone. You can’t find yourself if you weren’t lost in the first place. Throughout my life, my friends and family also identified me as the independent one that new exactly what I wanted out of life and for life. I knew myself well. Those same ideas and values I held before coming to Florence have not altered or diverged to a new path. Instead, I realized how much of a New York City girl I am to my core, how impatient and OCD I can be, and how impetuously motivated I am. These are not newfound characteristics I just realized, but ones that were affirmed and reaffirmed during my travels. I am not a new person. I am just more sure of who that person truly is.
With all my minor complaints about Italy, it was not until my visit to Venice when I almost lost my mind. My parents and my brother came to visit me in Italy for about two weeks; four of which would be spent together in Venice. Having never been there before, I was hopefully that the beauty of the city might distract me from my bad blood with Italy. I mean I would be with my family, who I’ve missed a great deal, so it had to be better than my other Italian excursions.
First, we took a train from Florence to Venice, which to no surprise, was delayed. An hour and a half to be exact, which meant we did not arrive in Venice until about 10pm. But as we exited the train station, I admit, I was amazed at how beautiful Venice is. The lights did in fact glisten on the water, and the architecture was simple, old, yet refined at the same time. This moment of beauty was, however, disrupted by the inability of some people to help others. As Venice is a city on water, you need to take a water taxi to go to the other side of the city (unless you plan on walking with suitcases for about 45 minutes). My mom waited in line to buy tickets and ask which line we were supposed to take. The woman behind the window basically scolded my mom the moment she realized my mother’s inability to speak Italian. Firstly, she tried to misguide my mom into buying tickets that were 8 euros more expensive for no reason. She then gave my mom the line number; only for us to realize halfway through that we needed to transfer onto a different line. Let’s just say, for me, this was not something new. Many times, people in the Florence train station and the people I encountered in Naples were just the same.
When we finally arrived at the hotel, I saw that it was quaint and small. The elevator could only fit 2 people, meaning my family’s suitcases and me. The room was small leaving my brother and I on these weird beds that were smaller than your average twin. My parents had to share a pull out bed in the middle. The walls were worn down and the pillows were so thin, it still felt like I was sleeping on a rock. I mean the beds were very uncomfortable as well. But, what really got me over the edge were the twenty mosquito bites I got that night. I couldn’t sleep for every time I tried I would hear buzzing in my ears. It was the end of October for goodness sake… HOW were they still alive?
The next morning, we did the usual site seeing as we strolled towards Piazza San Marco. If you’ve seen any pictures of it, you would notice the multitude of pigeons. Note: I hate pigeons. As we approached the main center of the Piazza, my moment of fame came. With some marble tiles in the Piazza, I slipped right in the middle of a Chinese tour group. My face smack on the ground with my body sprawled in all directions. As I tried to maneuver my way back up, there were flashes from cameras and jokes that I could only imagine were pointed at me. I thought of what a kick their families and friends would have at home when my embarrassed and aching body shows up in their vacation slide shows and photo albums. After another hour or so of walking around, my family finally got a taste of how rude some people in Italy can be. My mom, who is Swedish, and I were walking ahead of my brother and dad. As we turned a corner, this guy screamed gibberish Chinese at me and almost spit in my face. Let’s just say my mom did not take it lightly.
Even though it seemed like everything was going wrong, the one thing that kept me going was my family. Being extremely close to my parents and brother, we always found a way to laugh or turn it around. We went to museums and ate at amazing restaurants together. They made me feel less shitty about everything. Therefore, this misadventure turned out to be filled with happy moments and great laughs, because I did it with my family.
Especially at an international university like NYU, studying abroad has its claims for being life changing, transformative, and unforgettable. When discussing a friend’s past experience, you hear tales of countless explorations, cultural immersion, strong friendships, and amazing food. However, maybe I’m just being cynical but there is this hype of studying abroad. It seems as if every single person who has ever gone abroad does not have a bad experience. I do admit I feel for the hype and expected my experiences abroad to be breathtaking and full of universal understanding. While I have had my share of wondrous travels, I do think studying abroad is slightly over-hyped. When your friends and family ask how it’s going, I feel like I have to say it’s good, great, or amazing. Without wanting to come across as if I’m ungrateful for the experience, I think that I’m still going to say it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. But there may be some over-exaggerations and false assumptions thrown in. Even a few of my other friends here say the same. It’s almost like we feel obligated to say it’s great, when we all really do struggle with it at times.
Adjusting was probably the most difficult part, as it seems even three months in I am fully adjusted. With the lack of racial diversity and deep historical traditions, I felt it even harder to accept Italy as a non-white and non-Italian. Like every other student going abroad, I came to Italy with my constructed identity and cultural assumptions of Italy. I think we all seem to dismiss the fact that the way we perceive ourselves and the places we live deeply affect the way we internalize our host countries. As a girl who loves the city and is always in a rush, I knew it would be hard. But I wasn’t expecting it to be frustrating and, at times, impossible. Now, I am not saying I regret my decision to go abroad. I’m very glad I did. It seems that although Italy was my host country, I absorbed and learned a lot more from the countries I visited. In Italy, it was as if I stopped giving it a chance. I felt like I just couldn’t be myself in Italy, and all I could ever think about was the amount of days left until I could go home to America. But when I traveled to new cities, I was able to look at them more forgivingly. Having been to Paris twice now, I still call it my second favorite city behind New York. Next, it would definitely be Amsterdam.
Even though Italy and I have not gotten along very well, I still knew I had to visit Rome before leaving. And I will say, I enjoyed Rome. Once I arrived in the Roma Termini station, I could already sense a feeling of improvement. Crowded streets, angry drivers, and ethnic diversity were all good signs – signs that I had finally left Florence. My favorite part of the trip was visiting Vatican City. Inside, St. Peter’s Basilica was gorgeous and intimidating. (It is the heart of the Roman Catholic Church after all). Decorated with gold scriptures, paintings, mosaics, and deep red fabrics, it was regal and rich in all senses of the words. After taking a mental break outside the steps, my friend and I decided to go to the top. Weak and disabled from endless walking in Rome, we chose the elevator option. To our utter dismay, we still had to drag our bodies up 400 narrow, winding steps. But, the view was amazing! (Just look at the featured photo). Seeing all of Rome and the outside set-up for Sunday Mass was breathtaking. I mean, we were, technically speaking, “the closest to God.” Rome, being much more urban and diverse, was a good Italian wake up call. Although still incomparable to New York and America, in general, Rome is probably the best part of Italy.
The simple words, “study abroad,” drenched with notions of hopeful discoveries, close friendships, and endless exploration, set the bar for all European experiences to be immensely fantastic. Before arriving at our destinations, we imagine fun, adventurous experiences and finding ourselves in love with the culture and language of our cities. However, as I found true with Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, “I think that short visits to Europe are better for us than long ones.” When I recount my two-week visit to Europe (Germany and France) from two summers ago, I remember how much I loved Munich, Heidelberg, and Paris. I remember all the great things I saw and did. But when I think over my past two and a half months in Florence, I am not overwhelmed with the same joyous nostalgia. With only a short amount of time in Europe, you are able to uphold the opinions and impressions of seeing everything for the first time – still clouded with ignorant bliss. As Twain states, “…to be condemned to live as the average European family lives would make life a pretty heavy burden to the average American family.” As we live our daily lives in these European cities, we lose those newly amusing impressions and grow tiresome of living “European” lives. At least, that’s how I’m starting to feel.
Like many other Twain-written novels, A Tramp Abroad is covered in satirical humor, and I can’t help but laugh and relate. In the first chapter of the novel, Twain describes the German town as “very picturesque and tumble-down, and dirty and interesting.” Although Florence is glorified in its beauty of the old, compared to the modern American cities of New York, D.C., L.A., or Chicago, old can also mean dirty and strange. Having now walked past the Duomo nearly a hundred times, my fascination is due “partly because it is so old – and partly because it is so ugly.” I’m not saying the Duomo is ugly, but as I think Twain is trying to point out with St. Marks in Venice, there no longer is that strong sense of beauty. Now, it is more of a fascination of age and history than of utter aesthetic attractiveness. One passage I couldn’t help but laugh was when he described the European floor plan. “…for in Europe the houses are so high that they do not count the first story, else they would get tired climbing before they got to the top.” Even though Twain is painting these European “habits” with frustration and humor, the difference from American ways is what really makes it so funny. I remember the first week here whenever I went shopping in multi-floored shops or visited friends’ apartments; I was confused by the way they skip the first floor (or the ground floor). My friends live on the 5th floor of their building, which at first seemed fine. But by the time I reached the top, I was sweating as if I just ran a marathon.
All in all, Twain’s novel was extremely relatable in the sense that moving from America to attempting to live the European life is just humorous. In America, life is driven by convenience and speed. But in Europe, people take their time, enjoy themselves, and don’t seem like they have to walk with purpose or do things with purpose. With that, I find myself still struggling to adapt to the European life, therefore I have a greater appreciation for New York and America, in general. “Europe has many advantages which we have not, but they do not compensate for a good many still more valuable ones which exist nowhere but in our own country.” I enjoyed testing out the foreign idea of relaxing and taking my time. The food has been delicious and satisfying, while the people have been (for the most part) friendly. However, they do not make up for how much I miss my home of New York. These European experiences merely showed me how valuable my life in New York is to me.
While my frustration and detachment from Italy taints my need to go exploring within Florence, there is one part of Italy I do enjoy. When it comes time to Italian culture, food is everything (well, aside from family). Food is not this health-crazed idea of “fuel” but an experience to indulge and gather with people. Food is the cherished art of delicacy making wine pairing a complimentary knowledge. I, too, long before going abroad have a passion for food. I consider myself a foodie as I love trying new restaurants and different flavors. I made it a routine to eat somewhere new every time my friends and I decided to “treat ourselves” (spend more than a meal swipe on food) in the city. I even still have my list of 30+ brunch places in New York, and it’s still growing. Although Florence does not include many choices outside of Italian, every now and then I walk to Mercado Centrale.
From the outside, it looks like a regular building here in Florence. However, with every step closer to the door, the aromas of olives, breads, tomatoes, and meats fill your nose. Once inside, your stomach starts to growl just by the sight of pastas, candies, and everything else you can imagine. This ground level is all shops and vegetable markets, where people can browse or purchase food. But my favorite is the first floor (in America, it would be considered the second). This floor houses food stands each with its own catered specialty. There’s a pasta stand where they make the pasta right in front of you! The Panini stand pulls you in with the sights of prosciuttos, salamis, and other cured meats. There’s even a stand dedicated to bruschetta! At the center of all this food is a bar to order drinks, as none of the other stands serve drinks. On a blackboard written in white chalk, I stumble on the list of red and white wines (and the sodas, too). I’m always promised a good meal when I eat in the Mercado Centrale. And sometimes, all you really need is food.
As I devour my plate of food, I can play my favorite pastime – people watching. Listed as a must-go-to place in Florence, a downside, but also an interest factor, the market draws many visiting tourists. I’ve heard conversations in French, German, Spanish, and many other languages. And with each language comes a specific way of doing things. Something special I noticed was the different eating styles. Little bites, big bites, speed eating, slow eating, a fork and a knife, just a fork: everyone eats in their own way. Moreover, the market has high ceilings amplifying conversations and other noises. I can hear the sizzling from a hot pan, the pounding of dough, or the slicing of bread. In a strange way, it allows me to be alone without really being alone. It gives me that perfect balance of feeling both connected and disconnected to people.
I guess another reason why I chose this place, as my go-to is the fact that through all my criticism and displeasure with Italy, I still managed to find a place I can enjoy alone or with friends. Even though I’ve lived in Italy for two months now, I still feel like a tourist. So being around other people that are even more closely linked to the term “tourist,” I’m not as embarrassed to still not know how to order in Italian and still prefer the “American” way of doing things. In Mercato Centrale, it’s as if I’m in my (sort-of) comfort zone.
Style is an original and personal aesthetic. It should embody an individual and not be considered a temporary trend. The way a woman dresses is symbolic of her confidence, attitude, and being. At the same time, every city has its own style. London, Stockholm, Madrid, Florence, and Paris all possess distinctive manners. Some are based on tradition, while others are more innovative and avant-garde. So style is simply a manner of expressing a particular way of life.
Now that I have spent two months in Italy, I think the reason why I cannot seem to fit in (or feel comfortable) here is all about style. Being deeply rooted in religion, family, and the arts, Italian style, to me, is far from the New York style. Just by observing women barely wearing shorts or skirts or never revealing their shoulders demonstrates the embedded ideals of tradition and reservation. Gazing at the works of Italian artists, you can see that Italian culture romanticizes life and adheres to the “classic” way of things. It is not common here to find various types of food like Mexican, Chinese, Thai, American, French, etc. Rather, most of the restaurants in Italy serve Italian food. To add, about 96% of Italy’s population is Italian. Therefore, diversity is not familiar here making continuity and resemblance very important and evident. While I do appreciate their culture, their lifestyle, and their traditions, it just doesn’t suit me.
Compared to Italy, New York’s style is everything Italy’s is not. The cynicism and competitiveness of the city’s people makes life more raw and realistic. Having people from all walks of life and all over the world, diversity is the norm. There is no real universal sense of religion or tradition. Being a business and technological hub, New York encourages innovation and constant movement. Every borough, neighborhood, and street has its own style on top of New York’s. The style of Brooklyn is vastly different than the Upper East Side, and yet, they still embody the same pessimistic, always-in-a-rush New Yorker. The museums possess collections from all periods of art. The skyscrapers of Times Square and Wall Street to the old homes in the West Village show that even the architecture in New York is diverse. While tradition is at the root of Italy, diversity is the root of New York.
I guess the point is that I believe I am a New Yorker to my core. With its vast differences from Italy, I feel disconnected here. To begin, my wardrobe consists of black, grey, white, and the occasional burgundy. My fashion style is minimalistic, while indulgent in black leather and denim. I mix the elements of boho, chic, tomboy, and classic in my outfits. To add, my cultural identity consists of my Chinese birth, my Italian Dad, and my Swedish, Dutch Mom. My entire life is about diversity. At the same time, my lifestyle is rooted in my love of being challenged and under pressure. As you can probably assume, my style has been clashing with Italy since the day I arrived. It only took me two months to realize the reason why. New York and I are eclectic as we derive inspiration from diverse cultures, regions, and people. We cannot help our anti-social pessimism and perpetual state of being in a rush.
But if I were to talk about style beyond Italy and New York, I would think that their differences surpass their city borders. It’s European style versus American style. Europe has its own way of doing things and so does America. All in all, style can be found everywhere in everything. We are all our own people living in distinct regions based on individual histories and ways of life.
As much as we like to think our decision to travel and to go abroad is completely personal and self-made, the truth is it’s not. With the creation and cultural obsession/necessity of social media, travel has become more convenient and a means of social competition and inspiration. Our routine of sharing our daily lives via the Internet has evolved into a habit, an almost natural behavior. The first thing we do in the morning is checking our phones for texts, posts, etc. The last thing we do at night is checking our phones for texts, posts, etc. It’s an endless cycle of posting, sharing, and liking.
The first step to travel is always the wanderlust – the craving and lusting for a sandy beach, a European city, or a cultural immersion. Now, I feel as if my inspiration to go abroad was 60% inspired by my own thoughts and 40% by what my friends and the media told me. According to this article, “Social Media and Travel Go Hand in Hand,” it states that 76% of travelers post vacation photos to social networks, and 52% of Facebook users said their friends’ photos inspired their travel plans. Looking at the beautifully filtered and square-framed Instas, I feel this massive craving to experience exactly what that person who took the photo is experiencing. A few of my good friends went abroad last spring semester documenting their weekly excursions all over Facebook and Instagram. Even more so, I received an almost live feed of their adventures through Snapchat. When deciding on where I was going to go, I trusted the opinions of my friends and stalked all their accounts to look at all the beautiful places they went. Once at our destinations, we coordinate the activities and additional trips with the ones of our friends. Moreover, our availability to recommendations online influences our decision-making. Facebook comments and likes and services like Airbnb, Yelp, and TripAdvisor provide us with feedback and information. They help us decide where to eat, what museum is worth our time, and what “non-touristy” activities are available. I know when I saw my friend’s snap of the Berlin Wall, I knew I wanted to go. And now, I’m going over fall break.
The method in which we explore these cities are via Siri and Google Maps. Rarely, do people have the same ideas of throwing away the paper and just exploring. The media has made us anxious and impatient. We want to get to the places we need to go and see the things we need to see in a certain amount of time. Only once in a while do the urges of spontaneity force us to aimlessly walk. To speak the language, we need Google Translate to make sure we can somewhat communicate with people.
Social media has also affected our perception and the way in which we absorb our destinations. Now, I feel as if most of society prefers the view from our iPhones than from our own eyes. The moment you get a view of the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, or Buckingham Palace, our natural instinct is to grab our phones and snap a picture – but only an Insta-worthy picture. As we hopefully capture the perfect picture, select the best filter, and post it at the best time, we want the validation and the positive response of our friends. It’s almost like deep down inside it’s a competition. Not only is media affecting our decision-making, but also it’s affecting the way we absorb our destinations and the methods in which we savior the memories.
For me, I’ve realized that the number of followers I collect is of no concern to me. Not receiving more than 50 likes on my Instagram posts is not the end of the world. But at the same time, when I take pictures of the places I’ve gone, in the depths of my mind, I still think: “Ooo, I think I’m gonna Instagram this picture.” After doing something fun and exploring cities, I constantly want to Snapchat the events of my day. Although I want to drift away from social media consuming my every being, like many other millennials, it’s become a part of my life, my daily routine, and therefore, a huge part of the way I travel.
We all yearn for the luxury and beauty of a room with a view. When traveling, hotels and resorts manipulate our simplistic principle that a room with a view romanticizes cities and enhances the traveling experience. Unfortunately, as Lucy from A Room With a View discovers, there is a more important view to discover.
Groomed into the high-society and wealth of proper English, Lucy begins her journey in Florence disenchanted and distraught. Her concept of beauty and mystic were only asserted through the strict outlines of pretentious high-class society. To relate, on a lighter note, to this characterization, I think it’s important to think of our expectations before traveling: the necessities, the plans, and the hopeful excursions. Fodor’s Top 10 Places to Go or “tourist traps” (as locals would say) usually establish the places that will show us the “Real Italy/Florence.” For example, in Florence, the “true beauty and elegance” of the city is seen through the Duomo, Piazzale Michelangelo, and Ponte Vecchio. However, as Foster puts it: “…the traveller who has gone to Italy to study the tactile values of Giotto, or the corruption of the Papacy, may return remembering nothing but the blue sky and the men and women who live under it” (22). Foster romanticizes the view from Lucy’s window consisting of people going about their day. And it seems that any traveller that goes for the historic beauty or the presumed, socially affirmed beauty might only remember the simplicity of daily life. “One doesn’t go to Italy for niceness…one comes for life” (24).
As soon as Lucy breaks from the beaten path, her discontent towards Italy vanishes. “For one ravishing moment Italy appeared” (27). “Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy” (29). Having the burden and weight of English society on one’s shoulders limits perspective and self-discovery. Lucy seemed to be more concerned with being “correct” (with adhering to society’s ideals and views) rather than by finding and following her own. However, getting lost in Italy and seeing Italy alongside the Emersons, who were not of high-class standing, allowed Lucy to do just that. Italy introduced Lucy to a world filled with beautiful things beyond social expectations. “The well-known world had broken up, and there emerged Florence, a magic city where people thought and did the most extraordinary things” (83). For everyone, traveling is a literal escape from comfort and norms as we enter a realm of unfamiliarity and cultural difference. It gives opportunity to discovery of both our selves and of the world. Florence forced Lucy outside the norms of English society and allowed her to see that there is a different view of life than what she has been told. After returning from her trip to Florence, Mr. Beebe described, “There was simply the sense that she had found wings, and meant to use them. I can show you a beautiful picture in my Italian diary: Miss Honeychurch as a kite, Miss Bartlett holding the string. Picture number two: the string breaks” (137). Although Lucy never broke the string propelling and supporting her in her life, Mr. Beebe believed Florence gave her the opportunity to break it.
Although A Room With a View contrasts old English society to the chaotic and dirty world of Italy, it I do agree with Foster’s assertions and conclusions. Even with the traditional beauty of the Renaissance throughout Florence, I believe my most vivid memories will be of conversations and dinners with new friends and the mannerisms and cultural language of the Italian people. These moments give opportunity to a changed view on life. Maybe after going abroad, I’ll walk slower, take my time, and indulge in wonderful bread. Or maybe I wont. Who knows what Florence will show me.
I was always an early-riser. No matter how late I went to bed, I always woke up before 9am. I’ve even grown accustomed to doing errands in the morning, grabbing a coffee by myself, or just waiting around until I found something to do. However, in Florence, I find my eyes slowly opening at 10:30am on average. Expect for Mondays.
Mondays are my early and long days. Even though I set an alarm for 7:30am, I end up waking up at 7:27am on my own. As any millennial would, I check my phone for any texts, posts, likes, etc. I might have received throughout the night. Once my eyes have had enough of the brightness of my phone, I creep out of my room (as my roommate is still sleeping) to get ready. It only takes me about 30 minutes to leave my apartment for the bus. I usually get to campus within 5 minutes. In New York, I was able to leave my dorm only 15 minutes before class started and walk to campus just in time. Here, I have to wait for the bus, which thankfully is just around the corner from my apartment. The most frustrating part of my day is the bus. It never arrives on time. And when it does, the narrow space is overwhelmed by NYU students. Once on campus, I hike to my Media class with my three friends. At the top of the hill, my heart is pounding, and I am completely out of breath. Thankfully, Villa Ullivi greets me with the rich aroma of coffee. I try my best to order my usual, Café Latte and Brioche, in Italian, to only disappointingly butcher the language.
After my first class, my friends and I rush back down and up the olive vineyard to get to Italian, where our crazy and cartoon-like Professor entertains us for the next hour. My next class does not start until 3pm giving me two hours to relax and catch up on homework. With my class held in Villa Ullivi, I make the trek for the third time after some lunch. My constant hikes to and from class excuses me from any thoughts of exercise.
After I return home from class at around 6:15pm, I make myself dinner, which 90% of the time translates to pasta. For the next four hours, I study, watch Netflix, catch up on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and re-watch episodes of Parks and Recreation.
Tuesday is my free day. By free, I mean do nothing. Without an alarm, I tend to wake up around 11am. The day consists of staying in, maybe grocery shopping, and eating. Occasionally, I may have the mental energy to leave the comfort of my bed and walk to the city center.
The great thing about Wednesdays and Thursdays is that I only have one class, Italian. After class, I eat lunch in the “cafeteria” with some friends. Lunch is also pastas, cured meats, vegetables, and more pasta. (By the time I have to go back to America, I don’t think my stomach will be able to handle any more pasta). Depending on my plans for the weekend, I leave for traveling either Thursday nights or Friday mornings. After a weekend of fun, I drag myself to my apartment late Sunday night to prepare to restart my week.
Day after day, my routine is the same. Wake up, class, and then sleep. After a month of classes, my daily and weekly routine eased my adjustment to Italy. Having a routine provides me with a sense of comfort and familiarity. Although I still do not feel the “just-like-home” sensation, the ability to have things set in permanent marker on my calendar, things that (for the most part) stay the same, is relieving.
Besides mornings and my body’s alarm clock, there are many aspects of my Florence routine that are both better and worse than in New York. Transportation in Italy is unreliable and 90% of the time late. Moreover, boredom comes more easily and frequent here. It might just be the slower-pace, but I do not feel as stressed and busy. While many people hate stress and constant movement, I love and thrive off of it. Maybe I just have to wait for midterms and finals to start. Maybe then I’ll start to feel busier and stressed. Good thing that’s only two weeks away…
I consider strolls an individual experience: a few minutes or hours of solidarity absorbing the surroundings. They are propelled by curiosity and experienced through observation and perception.
Back in New York, Friday was my strolling day. After an early morning practice for swim team, I went back to my room, freshened up, and left for a walk. My walks varied week-by-week depending on what I had to do and what I wanted to do. Living on Union Square was a wondrous convenience. I walk down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square Park or up to the Flatiron Building and Shake Shack, explore the West Village (my favorite place in the whole city), or even take a subway far uptown. The unconventional soothing sounds of enraged NY traffic, rushing commuters, sirens, and people were all part of the experience. The familiarity and disorder amused me. The wide sidewalks allowed the passing of hundreds of people just on one side of the street. The towering buildings made looking up a phenomenon in itself. On these strolls, my game was people watching. Eavesdropping into conversations, silently judging their decisions, and laughing at their enjoyment was my entertainment.
In Italy, my strolls are extremely different. I have only really been on one “real” stroll since coming to Florence. After an early class, I had to go towards the Duomo for a textbook. I took the bus to San Marco and streamlined for the bookstore. However, after completing the one task I came to do, I decided to remain downtown and explore. This decision was completely random and unforeseen (completely out of character). Here, there is no loud noise from traffic, and no one is really in a rush. But my chances of getting run over is immensely high in Florence. Rather than looking up, you can keep your forward and gaze at the Renaissance and traditional character in everything. The streets are not paved but uneven and jaded with cobblestone. The sidewalks are narrow and curved making the passing of even two people at once very difficult. There are statues in piazzas and graffiti on almost every wall. The smells are mostly of bread, meats, and desserts, so basically food.
While the bustling atmosphere marks New York strolls, Florence is experienced through the aesthetically beautiful architecture and unfamiliar slow pace. New York was my home and will probably remain my home for most of my life. Therefore, the strolls, even with some days of new expeditions, were always familiar. But in Florence, I am new and unacquainted to the small city. I do not speak the language weakening my ability to eavesdrop on conversations. I do not know the streets making getting lost very real and extremely probable. In New York, the purpose of my strolls was de-stressing and clearing my head. In Florence, my strolls do not have purpose and occur at random.
While I do enjoy being abroad, that random stroll served almost like my own epiphany and confirmation. Baudelaire’s Monsieur G, or his ideal man, was always excited and pleased by his reality, his modern environment. He created an experience that was deeply personal yet visually plain. During my entire walk in Florence, I kept comparing it to New York (I mean every post I write mentions New York). I was awed by the beauty of the city but could not find any substantial and real internal reaction. Baudelaire also said that the experience is getting lost in everything and remembering everything. Unfortunately, I do think being mentally unaware during my stroll is that. Although New York can be visually beautifully, it is does not have the character or charm of Florence. But at the same time, New York is the place where I find deep emotional and personal beauty. I can mentally get lost and still remember everything I saw, heard, and smelled on my stroll. So, Florence may be beautiful, but my heart is still in New York.
Having learned Spanish and French throughout high school and the first two years of college, I hoped learning Italian would be a little easier. Oh, how I was wrong. The problem with Romance languages and Latin based languages is that everything is very similar to one another. Thankfully, when I try to read Italian whether it is on signs or in books, I can sort-of guess the meaning of the words through my knowledge of Spanish and French. However, in terms of speaking and understanding grammar, I am totally lost. I find my mind aching to say the French or Spanish word since I know it. For tests, I resort to French grammar with nouns and verbs. While my understanding of these other languages comes in handy, it only complicates the learning process even more.
Outside the classroom, I still try my best to speak the most Italian I know. Unfortunately, this means I constantly speak, “Si, Ciao, Gratzie, and No” as much as I can. But with my Asian appearance, I rarely ever am perceived to be European. So most people just say “Hello” and automatically speak to me in English. Although this does make life easier abroad, I feel like I want people to speak to me in Italian. It almost feels as if I am taking the easy way out. Since language as huge part of a city/country’s culture, I want to learn it. It is helpful that people know English for times when I may get lost or need help. However, being able to practice the language outside the classroom will, in a way, force me to really learn and appreciate it.
At the same time, I, myself, am afraid of practicing my Italian while I am in the city. I know it sounds pretty stupid, but I hate looking stupid like a fool. As I mentioned before, because I am Asian, most people already assume I have no idea of how to speak Italian. Therefore, in the past few weeks, when I have tried Italian, I received some smirks, laughs, and pissed-off faces. These remarks are very discouraging, but I think my eagerness to learn a language overrides it. Being able to communicate in various ways fascinates me. Last weekend, I took a trip to Paris with my mom. As I do have a small background in French, I knew how to ask questions, hold conversations, and interact with people. A few times, people even asked if I was part French. I loved the feeling and the comfort of being able to read signs and actually know what they mean. To not feel embarrassed trying to pronounce a certain word or secretly translating sentences on my phone. When I arrived back in Italy, out of habit, I kept speaking in French. Obviously, I received even weirder stares from people than when I spoke English. I even said, “Bonjour, comment allez vous?” to my Italian professor the next morning. To make life even more confusing, when I was on my way to my Permesso appointment, a guy in the coffee shop asked if anyone spoke French. I, reluctantly, said a little, but surprisingly, was still able to help him out.
I know by December I will not master Italian. I will never be able to roll my Rs no matter how hard I try. But, I do hope to carry a very, very, very basic conversation. One day, I want to walk into a restaurant and say my whole order in Italian without hesitation. Language is a part of Italian culture, and I feel like the only way to really immerse myself in Italian culture is to at least try to understand the language.
While living in New York City, I always craved the experience of discovering a new part of the city: taking the subway with no destination in mind, getting off at a random stop, and just walking. This was my idea of getting lost. Whether I was in the diagonal streets of the West Village or the unfamiliar Upper West Side, I always felt a sense of home, of comfort. Finding my way to my apartment was just a subway ride away, or at the worst, a twenty-block walk. However, thinking back, I never fully felt lost. Even in unfamiliar territory, disorientation didn’t faze me. My inner-GPS was always on. I was still home.
But in Florence, I genuinely feel lost. There is no grid. The streets curve, wind, and loop. Even with Google Maps, I have no sense of direction. After two weeks, my only sense of awareness is the path I take towards the Duomo and NYU’s campus. This is not the place, where I would intentionally get lost. Unable to speak the language and without phone service in a majority of the small city, it’s almost too discomforting. Finding the bookstore for textbooks was a challenge within itself.
My first night in Florence was my first attempt at discovering the city. My roommate had yet to arrive, and I was meeting my friends for dinner in the city center. Before I began my little journey, I took a screenshot of Google’s directions and went on my way. Crossing the streets was the most difficult. While New York has its aggressive and assertive streets, Italy is straight murderous. You literally have to put your hand out when crossing certain streets to keep cars and bikes from running you over. Vespas will even attempt to swerve around you as you’re crossing. I feel like one those pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto just waiting to be run over.
This past weekend, I attempted traveling to Naples, Capri, and Pompeii with my three friends. What I learned: Italian transportation sucks! There are constant “strikes” and delays making the actual trip to your destination both impossible and improbable. Now, these strikes are not about fighting for rights, equality, or better treatment. These are mere workers just choosing not to work. The worst situation: airlines or trains can go on strike for weeks! Meaning, at a moments notice, you may have to rearrange your plans. My friends and I had just bought our tickets, and three minutes later, we couldn’t go with those tickets as the train went on strike. We had to buy tickets for a completely different company and wait around for the train for another hour. This made giving Italy another chance extremely difficult.
After two weeks here, I do feel slightly more acquainted to the city. I have little hubs where I have a sense of direction like the Duomo, the Carousel, and certain Piazzas. To go home, I no longer require the assistance of Google Maps. But, I still feel lost. My directions and physical orientation has adapted to Florence, but “I” still haven’t. Amongst the various people and the old city walls, I don’t feel a sense of belonging. The streets are still strange, the Italian conversations still foreign, and the people still too different. The combination of the cultural and ethnic difference between the city and myself is just awkward. While city-dwellers may benefit from a slower-pace and a smaller, quainter atmosphere, I, on the other hand, am just out of place. I live for the constant energy, as I hate being bored. I love the feeling of being busy and constantly rushing under pressure.
Florence is amazing, and I love every minute of it. Now, I could say that, but I never considered myself a liar.
I’ll quickly summarize the basics of myself. Born, not raised, in China, I was adopted at five-months old. I have spent the first eighteen years of my life living in Morris Plains, NJ, which is the definition of white suburbia. Now, I am proud to be an NYU student already over $100,000 in debt. As a junior in NYU’s Gallatin, I concentrate in politics and communications. I fully embrace the urine-odor streets and the perpetual rush and stress of New York life. I thrive on the independence and slight loneliness the city forces upon every inhabitant. Therefore, I find it difficult to call anywhere else in the world home.
Beyond the East Coast, I have only traveled to four other states and to France and Germany. I admit that I am not a whimsical traveler living off the spontaneity and adrenaline of discovery. But rather, my idea of travel consists of planned trips and basic-formatted itineraries. Although my Type-A personality would deem otherwise, I am curious about the vast regions of the world and the multitude of cultures, histories, and knowledge each has to offer. I enjoy new adventures and expanding my knowledge from new experiences. However, Italy was not scheduled into my itinerary for studying abroad. Originally, I decided to apply to London or Paris, the two most urban, New-York-like places in Europe. Each had courses that both interested me and assisted with my “major.” But, it was my Gallatin advisor that changed my mind. He stated that while those cities would be a change, they would hinder me from experiencing the full potential of study abroad. A place that is not as urban and commercialized would, as most people say, “allow me to get lost and find myself.” After extensive research on every other NYU program, I decided Florence. My family is Italian, and Italy was always on my travel list. With the political history of the Medici family, Machiavelli, and fascist regimes, Florence would offer many opportunities to expand my major. The art and culture that originated from the Renaissance would appeal to my aesthetic interests and passion for the fine arts. So, I applied and got in.
I will not romanticize my first week in Florence, but rather, I will give you the full, blunt truth. Florence is infuriatingly hot. It’s an average of 92 degrees every day. On top of that, the mosquitos are rampant. Just from the first two days, I found twenty new bites on my legs. I’m telling you, they must love the taste of Chinese food. On top of the uncomfortable heat and bug infestation, the language barrier and culture shock have made it difficult. Unlike New York, people are actually friendly here, which is oddly strange. I feel like an alien being both ethnically and culturally different. Mainly, I miss the grid of New York that makes it easy to navigate. I miss the diversity and my full-sized bed. More importantly, I miss air-conditioners and Walgreens.
My favorite philosopher, Nietzsche, said: “And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Maybe, I haven’t gazed long enough into my unknown abyss of Florence. It has only been the first week. Although I believe there will never be a time when I don’t crave New York, I understand it takes time to adjust and deeply appreciate the atmosphere, culture, and people around you. Until that time comes, I will try my hardest to appreciate the chaotic splendor of unfamiliar and unplanned travel.