In reflection of my first two weeks in Italy, I instantly think back to the moment I stepped off the plane and the drive to my new apartment. I remember seeing everyone around me at the airport and wondering what their story was. Were they a temporary resident of Italy like me, visiting for a weekend, or coming home? I was so excited to finally be in a new country that I examined everything around me, even the fashion posters around the baggage claim. As I hopped in the taxi that would take me to my new home, my face was pressed to the window looking out at my new surroundings. I must admit, the drive from the airport on the outskirts of Florence to my apartment in the center was not what I had expected. The walls were covered in graffiti, the buildings were run down, and the grass was overgrown in these outer parts. To my disappointment the drive did not pass through an area that screamed, “this is the center of the Italian Renaissance!” After dreaming of being here for so many months I had already placed images of everything that Florence would be into my head. After navigating my way through Florence the first few days and getting a feel for what the city had to offer, I was finally able to make the separation between my fantasy land and reality. Of course, not everything was as I expected, but in many ways I’ve found it even better than expected.
It has now been a few weeks and while I’ve overcome many bumps in the initial separation process, there are still many factors that leave me in the liminal phase of being neither completely ‘here nor there.’ The communitas that I have formed were key to helping me move in comfortably to my new home and having people to share in the related experience of excitement and anxiety. I formed communitas with my direct roommates whom I ‘d never met before Italy, my friends from back at school, and new classmates. In all sorts of situations they have “provide(d) the external support needed for (me) to negotiate the challenges of (my) environment” (Slimbach, 160). At the same time, I am starting to feel that my strong relationships with my communitas are holding me back from moving to the next step of my ROP, which brings me to a weakness I have already discovered in myself.
Meeting new people and forming new relationships has always been a strength of mine. Because of this, I find myself doing almost anything with someone else, not for dependency but for sharing the experiences with others. Yes, I could go to the market for groceries alone, but going with a friend would be more fun in my opinion. The only issue I’ve found with this is that it’s not helping me step out of my comfort zone to interact with more locals. Also, when I walk into a setting (i.e. café or store) with a large squad of American friends, the locals treat us differently. I don’t feel any sort of negativity from them, however they instantly switch gears from greeting us with “Ciao!” to “Hello!” The Italians have been so polite and respectful to the point that, for example, if they hear me stuttering to order a cappuccino they will smile and reply in English. I really do appreciate the gesture, yet I never get the change to really practice the language.
To solve problems such as these, I have talked to multiple professors and faculty in my school that are Florentine locals and can give me the best places to visit for a real Italian experience. This way perhaps I will go to a café where the baristas speak as much English as I do Italian (minimal), and I will be challenged to actually practice the language. Going to these spots that the faculty and not past study abroad students recommend will hopefully lead me to “invite the unknown” and not just experience an Americanized version of Italy.
I have chosen this picture to describe my journey to date because this was one of my first views of the entire city since I have arrived and it amazed me. After class my friends and I decided to climb the Bell Tower and Duomo in Florence’s center. After completing the Bell Tower with 414 steps, I realized that if we climbed the Duomo fast enough we would have a perfect view of the sunset over the city. We rushed up 463 more steps and I felt like stopping many times, but the thought of how beautiful the top would be kept me pushing up. Finally at the top it was all worth it. From every angle I looked, the city was gleaming gold as the sun hit the metal roofs. It looked like what I had dreamed of. In a more metaphorical way, the hike to the top of the Duomo can be represented by the journey I am currently taking towards a complete cultural experience. At some moments, I hit a step where I want to give up, but the reward at the top or end of the journey is worth every challenge.