When preparing to go abroad, no matter the destination, there are always going to be people telling you how awesome it’s going to be, how many people you’re going to meet, but also how rough it can be at times. When they tell you things like that you kind of brush them off, like yeah I know, it’s going to be different. But at the same time, you have this excited anxiety because there are so many “What if’s” that come along with it as well. To be completely honest, if someone had told me that this semester in Firenze was going to change me as a person, have me reevaluate my entire life plan, that I would meet some of the most special people, see incredible views with my own eyes, and that I would casually stroll around different countries, I would have scoffed at them saying, “I wish that could be my life”. But that is exactly what happened. Of course, not all at once, but gradually, like a teapot boils water; starting out slow, the pressure increasing until you hear the familiar whistle throughout the house.
I was not prepared for any of it really, but that’s life, you must learn to adapt. Everything about being here was different, wonderful, fabulous, frustrating, confusing, perspective changing. Small things had become difficult and you had to have patience with others, but mostly yourself. Grocery shopping was the first true hurdle that we had to go through. First, we had to find it then go around the store and if we weren’t sure what something was just by looking, we had to translate and make our best guess. Getting lost was basically a daily occurrence for about two weeks or so; stumbling along the cobblestones, tripping over them and yourself, not knowing what street you’re on, not entirely sure as to where you were supposed to be, and weaving through hundreds of tourists and locals alike. Your senses going crazy; the sounds of different languages and horns of bikes and taxis, the smell of freshly sliced prosciutto, homemade mozzarella, and salty focaccia bread filling your nose, your feet trying to maintain control of where you were stepping on the ancient ground, your eyes filled with tan and golden buildings almost glittering in the mediterranean sunlight making you squint despite wearing sunnies.
It is truly overwhelming the first couple of days, but soon you fall into a routine and you adapt to the new surroundings. You get really good at weaving through people, you learn basics in the language, you can walk on the cobblestones in heels, you don’t get lost (as often!) and sometimes you even purposely get lost just to see another part of town. You eat the food and realize what fresh really means. The church bells every hour are welcomed, you can sleep through the ambulances that sound like ducks, hearing Italian puts a smile on your face. The laughter of your roommates is like music and it makes your heart swell.
As the months went on, the tourists started to go home and the city got more quiet. You are able to spot the lost tourist or the tour group easily and you yourself get mistaken for European, to which you smile and nod, only sometimes correcting them and saying you are actually American. You have your favorite food spots for a quick panino, a creamy gelato, or a warm cappuccino with a cornetto (Italian croissant). The elderly gentleman at the gelato shop smiles whenever you come in, you’re there so often. You create some of the best combinations of ingredients on panini. You don’t think you can ever have American coffee again.
You fall in love with the city more and more everyday, realizing that your days are numbered and that you just take it in as much as you can. You go exploring just to walk around the city and see the sights like the Palazzo Vecchio or the Uffizi or the Duomo just because. You feel like you don’t need a reason to do anything other than you want to, it feels like a fabulous dream that is filled with magic.
As autumn rolls around, the city gets colder and it’s time to break out the sweaters and boots. The city changes, the tourists basically disappear and the locals are going to work or school, riding bikes and vespe (Italian plural of Vespa scooters, it means wasps because of the sound). They all dress so nicely, but so effortlessly. The women ride bikes twice their age in pumps, riding along dodging traffic and people, but making it look good. When it’s cold, you’re need for coffee increases and you and your roommates make coffee dates every Tuesday and Thursday in a small bar. You see professors and dogs, you make friends with both. Doing daily tasks, like the market, ordering food, or going shopping becomes easier as time goes on. You learn the lingo, the ways and you slowly adopt the customs and style. You constantly pay in cash and exact change, learning to love the currency and seeing your own as strange and unfamiliar. Day trips to Bologna, Rome, Cinque Terre, Pisa, or Fiesole are completely normal.
Taking cheesy photos with your friends on the carousel and singing in the streets lined with Christmas lights. Walking to classes taught by professors from all over the world. Meeting up with friends from Paris and sharing red wine while watching the sunset. Watching local artists color murals on the stone streets, eating freshly made pizza in the shape of a heart.
Firenze has become home over the past few months, a wonderful dream that has finally come true. I guess twenty was a good age and 2015 a good year. This place will always hold my heart forever, I will come back, maybe not as soon as I would like, but soon. Needless to say, studying abroad was a large dream of mine and I worked very hard to get here with great support from my family and my advisors back at Roanoke. If you want it, you have to work hard and make it happen. I owe so much to them and my new best friends, my roommates. I am beyond grateful. It can be so terrifying and the scariest thing you can ever do, but most of the time, it will end up being the best thing too. I can say that without ANY doubt at all that studying abroad in Florence, Italy was the best decision I have ever made in my short twenty years of life. I am so sad that it is over, but I must remember to smile because it happened. But I’ll still cry when it’s over.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go”
“So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so, get on your way!”
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss