As I write this first onsite blog post, I am sitting on the balcony that is attached to my own bedroom and listening to Italians interacting in their native tongue and vespas rushing by. This set-up is way different from what I anticipated before arriving. I had expected to be in a cramped apartment with at least one or two roommates. Instead, I was granted the luxury of a single room in an incredibly spacious flat, which is shared between eight girls. On a deeper level, my expectations about separation are different from reality as well. I was very nervous before leaving and thought I was going to be extremely homesick. Once I got to Florence, however, all of my anxiety dissipated and I have not missed home nearly as much as I thought I would. I am still anticipating a wave of home sickness to hit me once this Disneyland Effect wears off. (The Disneyland effect is what my friends and I have been using to describe this first week. It’s like a little kid who is so in awe when they get to Disney for the first time that they are blind to anything bad about the place).
I decided to travel abroad without knowing anyone else who would be going to Florence with me, which is quite different from how a lot of the people here planned their trips. I am living with all girls from Quinnipiac and the apartment across the hall is Quinnipiac students as well. Most of them have a very close friend here with them, or at least someone they knew before. I knew nobody, which was something that scared me a lot at first. Even though I was unsure at first, I think that this has worked out in my advantage because it has forced me to be outgoing and make new friends. Also, it has kept me from completely relying on people that I already know. Although I have made friends and I have a group of girls that I have been spending a lot of time with, I do not have that security blanket of people around me. I haven’t isolated myself by being around only Quinnipiac and American students. I have been using my time alone to go out in the city on my own and explore and interact with locals on my own.
One challenge that I have faced so far is simply trying to navigate a new city. Although Florence is not too big, it is still very confusing at first, and because it’s such an old city, the twists and turns of the streets are sometimes weird. It sounds so millennial-age of me, but it was very difficult not being able to use my phone with google maps to figure out where to go. I had to get used to looking at a map before I left to go anywhere and I had to embrace the fact that I would get lost. Getting lost forced me to get comfortable with asking locals for directions, despite being intimidated by the language barrier. From these experiences, I learned something about communicating in a country where English is not the primary language. I found that people I asked for help were very willing to give me a hand if I showed that I realized that I was not in my own country first. It is polite to first ask if the person speaks English, and then ask what you need after the person replies. I think that a lot of Americans forget that even though most people speak English, our culture does not dominate in other countries; this is something I have found useful to remember.
I think that Slimbach is completely right when he says how important it is to put in effort to form intercultural relationships. A friend and I are already trying to find ways to make Italian friends. We are looking into getting a meal plan at the University of Florence, which is a school for Italian students. We were informed by a faculty member at the institution we go to in Florence that this is the best way to meet Italians and interact with locals. Slimbach quotes Craig Storti saying, “The more we retreat from the culture and the people, the less we learn about them; the less we learn about them, the more uncomfortable we feel among them; the more uncomfortable we feel among them, the more inclined we are to withdraw” (Slimbach 160). After reading this quote, I realized that although it may be scary at first to try to develop a relationship with Italian students, integrating myself will help me learn about the culture and hopefully make me feel more comfortable living in an Italian’s world. Like Slimbach mentioned earlier in the chapter, I fully understand that Italy is not going to change in order to make me feel at home, so it is up to m
e to find ways to fit into this new culture.
The picture that I have posted was taken last night at Piazzale Michelangelo, which is an elevated point of Florence that overlooks the whole city. I chose this picture because right now I am on such an emotional high because of my excitement and infatuation with this new city, that I feel like I am on top of the world. Even though I am incredibly happy right now, when I think about the rest of the semester I know that I will face more challenges and that this high will probably not last forever, but I am ready to continue this journey!