Out of all of Europe, Italy is the only place I have already been. In part, I guess choosing Florence was a way to ensure I had a bit of a safety net of familiarity in my abroad experience—at least I’ve already been there, right? As someone who chose to go to college an hour away from home, in a city that I had already visited countless times in my life, this distance from home is completely new to me. The idea of going somewhere that I already had a small connection to was appealing. Not that my 10-day trek through Italy with my high school gave me more than a small taste of the country I’ll be spending the next 4 months in. Even so, I can definitely say that my nerves were calmed a bit when I arrived at my apartment here and saw the Duomo from my door, knowing that I had a vague base of knowledge and familiarity with the area.
I also chose Italy because it’s where my family was from. My Italian lineage is clear from my last name, and my Dad’s side of the family is from a small town outside of Naples of the same name. On my Mom’s side, my Grandmother and her sisters were all so excited when I told them I was going to Italy, telling me all about how I have to visit Taormina and where to find the house they left when they were children. It’s an odd thing, to be in the country your family is from without having those same strong personal relationships with the area, but hopefully by the time I leave here I’ll be able to go home and talk to my Great Aunts in their native language. And who knows, maybe some sort of intrinsic cultural connection with the country will make adapting a bit smoother, easing my transition into the semester.
To get ready for this semester, I did the amount of preparation that any slightly anxious human with a strong inclination towards organization would—I made lists upon lists of packing ideas and potential hostels, I joined a travel Facebook group supporting women travelers, and started an italian Duolingo class. I invested in a DSLR camera that I probably should have practiced more with before I left (see profile picture for me pretending that I know what I’m doing), and I looked up potential day trips and places to eat. Obviously, there was still going to be a major adjustment when I got here, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
Despite my need for some sort of familiarity and my urge to plan for as much as possible, I went abroad to see new things. I want to see new places, meet new people, try new foods, and experience new cultures. I want to soak up the habits and the everyday life of the Italians and try them myself to see how they are. Iyer wrote: “Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love.” While this is a pretty optimistic and romantic notion of travel, it is an attitude that I intend to live by in my stay here in Florence. By the time I go home, I want to look back on my trip and say “I made the most of that.” At home, where I play a varsity sport and have a job, it’s really easy for me to say “no, I have practice/have to be up early/have homework to do before the game/etc.” Here, I don’t have that excuse, and I don’t have as much on my plate. I have all of these lists and plans I made before getting here, and now I can really take advantage of them and actually go.
I hope I’m not jinxing myself, but getting settled in here has been easier than I thought it would be. I’m slowly starting to get my bearings in terms of where things are, I live next to the Duomo, and the biggest hiccup so far has been the fact that nobody on my floor can seem to figure out where they sell ziploc bags. Honestly, it’s a bit like home—there’s really good pizza, really good ice cream/gelato, and we’ve already experienced roadblocks because Netflix is shooting a movie here with Ryan Reynolds.
I know there will be problems and not every moment of this semester is going to be a life changing cultural experience, but I’m really excited to see where the next four months will take me.