The past week and a half of getting settled into my new home in Florence, Italy has been full of excitement, in every meaning of the word. After almost a full day of traveling, I arrived at the airport in Florence last Wednesday and, from there, was taken to my apartment to see where I will be living for the next four months. My time since then has been spent getting to know my roommates, my classmates, my new school, my new city, and the Italian culture. The separation process for me was surprisingly not as significant as I had anticipated. I had imagined that there would be an isolated moment in which I would suddenly realize that I am no longer at home in New Jersey and be frightened by the magnitude of this journey. This single moment of separation did not happen to me. My separation was instead more of a gradual process in which there have been small, insignificant moments or events that pushed me towards the realization that I am no longer in my home country. Examples of these moments include walking into a local business in which only Italian is spoken or walking through the city center to get to class in the mornings instead of walking across the quad at Quinnipiac. The separation process seemed to come more natural to me than I had expected, however considering I am only one week into my journey it is a personal goal of mine to maintain a healthy separation from those back home.
Now that I am in the process of getting settled in to my home in Florence I am able to relate to the concept of liminality, the idea that you are neither “here nor there,” on a personal level. I imagined that, given the fact that I am Italian American and have a good background in the Italian language, the process of being accepted as a part of the local community would come much quicker and more naturally. I find myself trying to blend in by speaking the language and sort of going with the flow, however I feel as though I am constantly carrying a large sign around that says “I’m an American.” I am no longer in New Jersey but I am also not yet a part of the Florentine community, stuck in this liminal phase.
One of the ways in which we can get through this liminal phase is through communitas, or the forming of friendships and bonds with others who are going through a similar transition. I personally have experienced communitas with my roommates and with those I knew from back home that are also studying in Florence. Since we are all trying to get acclimated to the Italian culture and perform day-to-day tasks while at the same time trying to make the most of our experience, we have formed bonds and created a sense of comfort because we are all from the same place. Simbach refers to this “emotional dependence on cultural similar” as “double-edged” because although it does create a sense of comfort, it can also delay or prevent members of a communitas from really adjusting to the new culture. (160) I have noticed that one of my biggest strengths as a member of this communitas is that I speak a good amount of Italian and have been exposed to the Italian culture before, which allows me to act as a gateway between the Italian culture and my communitas. On the other hand, one weakness that I have noticed among many members of the communitas is that we tend to stick with what we are comfortable with by doing things such as eating American food or going to places that are full of American students. Although I am aware that communitas can be unhealthy for personal growth at times, I believe it is something that I would not have been able to go through the separation process without.
In order to grow as both an individual and a part of a larger community, I have challenged myself with trying to only speak to the locals in their language. I believe that, for me, the biggest separator between where I am and where I want to be in terms of my transition is the language barrier. That is why by speaking the language I can help myself along this transition. (171)
“Only as we become a functioning part of the local community does its strangeness begin to wear off” (Simbach 171).
This picture was taken on my first Sunday in Florence. We had arrived the previous Wednesday and it had been cold and rainy every day we had been there. This Sunday, however, the sun came out in the afternoon and the temperature rose to 60 degrees. I wound up spending the whole afternoon in my room getting settled in and catching up on the sleep I had lost during travel, however about an hour before sunset I looked outside and decided that I would take advantage of this beautiful day. In the city of Florence there is a small piazza called Piazzale Michaelangelo that sits on a hill just south of the Arno River with arguably the best view of the city, which is where the picture was taken. I think this picture best describes my journey so far because it captured the moment in which I realized how lucky I am to be studying in such a beautiful city. I also think it’s interesting how in the picture there is a contrast between the darkness of the storm that is receding and the light is slowly starting to shine through, which could possibly represent the negative aspects of liminality and leaving home versus the metaphorical light that comes with traveling and constantly being exposed to new things.