Studying Abroad…It’s More than Just a Walk in the Park by Rachel Marino. Florence, Italy

I have always been a very proud Italian-American but I never really identified as American the way my friends did.  I grew up speaking English and of course lived in America but the people who raised me were Italian and I even learned to speak Italian so when people would ask about my family or my heritage a whole long list of small Italian towns that no one’s ever heard of came spilling out of my mouth, something about the seven fishes of Christmas Ever and maybe even a few words in Italian.  A month ago I temporarily moved to Florence and I have never in my life felt more American, it was like every Fourth of July that has ever occurred, every baseball hat I’ve worn and every hamburger I’ve eaten hit me at once.  I never expected to stick out the way I do.  I spent so much time reading blogs and articles on how to dress, how to look and trying to learn my way around as to avoid the most obvious sign of a tourist- a map.  Physically I always thought I looked Italian but after spending even a few days in Florence I quickly realized that Italians don’t see me how I see me.

Walking proved to be a great teacher to me through one very significant event.  “Space changes utterly when we experience it on foot.  We can stop at a place, focus attention on a particular person or object, wonder, and ask questions to discover clues about something we desire to know or understand” (Slimbach 182.)  While walking past the Duomo of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.  I heard two men playing music as many people often do in Italian cities, but especially around the Duomo.  I quickly recognized the song- “My Way” by Frank Sinatra, a classic I knew all the words to by the time I was four years old.  Some kids listen to The Wiggles soundtrack but spending a lot of time with my grandparents, I listened to Frank Sinatra, Giacomo Puccini, Pavarotti, Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.  Of course my mom snuck some Elton John and Billy Joel into my repertoire but you’d catch me singing “Fly Me to the Moon” a bit more often than “Crocodile Rock” (although that changed the older I got).  I continued past the nostalgic music to complete my walk but on my way back I passed them again.  I donated a few euros into the open violin case, which is something I don’t normally do; if I gave money to every talented street performer, then I would be more broke than I already am.

This walk encouraged me to do something I don’t usually take time for.  I definitely fall into the trap that many Americans do in daily life, passing by small joys in life as if they almost don’t matter; but this time I found a seat on the edge of the sidewalk and listened.  One man played a cello and the other, a violin.  This experience brought out all the feelings I remember so well, it re-inspired my Italian identity.  Even in my jean shorts, tank top and flip flops, (it’s still really hot here) I felt Italian again.  I listened for a while, they kept smiling at me, probably because other people started to follow my lead, stop, sit and just listen.    After about fifteen minutes they took a break and I made my move to the Lindt Chocolate store behind me, which smelled like a dream, to make some change.  After creating an assorted bag of heaven, I returned outside and placed ten euro in the case and took a CD from the stand.  Before I walked away the older man urged the younger man, whose back was to me, to turn around and talk to me.  He asked where I was from and despite the language barrier, we managed to have a short conversation.  Even though this was a rather impromptu stop in my walk, this was the most important part.  I realigned my identification of my heritage and spent time remembering the part of my upbringing that is so central to my personality today.

The travelogue I chose was Under the Tuscan Sun.  The author writes about her spontaneous uprooting from America and re-rooting in Tuscany.  The author, although much older than me, created a very familiar sense of being reborn.  Once I connected with the author on this level I was able to walk in her shoes and imagine myself experiencing Italy as she did.  A very important difference between the author and I was that even though she went through the stages of rebirth, which closely correlate to the rites of separation and rites of reincorporation: separation, liminality, reincorporation, she was persistent in keeping a part of her that was solely hers and didn’t relate to anything or anyone else.  For the author, cooking kept her grounded in Italy and I have yet to find something that will allow me to transition as the author did while finding some solid ground to grow from. “I’m up early too and love to see the town come alive.  I walk in with my Italian verb book of poetry, memorizing conjugations as I walk.  sometimes I take book of poetry because walking suits poetry” (Mayes, Whir of the Sun 80).  This quote most relates to my experience, putting the physical walk aside, Mayes’ walks were calming, eye-opening in small ways and freeing and that’s exactly what my walk was for me.

I chose to include a photo of the musicians I watched while they were playing a song very familiar to me, Con te Partiro.  It made me feel very nostalgic, I raced home afterwards to video call my grandparents.  I smiled throughout the entire performance and it showed me that the Italian side of myself is just as prominent as when I was growing up, even if the Italians don’t recognize it.

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Mayes, Frances. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. New York: Broadway, 1997. Print.

Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, Va: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.

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3 thoughts on “Studying Abroad…It’s More than Just a Walk in the Park by Rachel Marino. Florence, Italy

  1. I think including the musicians in your travelogue has given me a different perspective about what it means to integrate into a different culture, lately I have been stuck in that liminal- separation phase that really causes me to miss home and when I took my walk I knew I wanted to enjoy every minute I had here. I know its different for everyone, but my walk inspired me to really push myself pass these emotions, and just enjoy every second I am here, even if its just “seeing musicians”. I hope Italy is treating you well, and that you continue to enjoy the little things in life

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  2. Stopping a listening to music is always a nice way to relax and take in the city you are in. I am glad that walk has helped you get more connected with your heritage. It is also great that the travelogue you chose has been so relevant to your current experience. The fact that the music brought back childhood memories seems like it will help even more connecting to your host county. I hope you are truly enjoying Italy and continue to stop even once in a while and listen to the music.

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  3. Rachel, I love how you spoke about feeling out of place, regardless of the fact that you felt so Italian while growing up. I too have had a smilier experience, as my parents moved to America form Italy in their 20’s. Because of this, I can speak Italian fairly well and always considered myself an Italian-American as opposed to American-Italian, as I have duel citizenship and was primarily shaped by how my Italian family raised me. However, here, everything feels so different. I didn’t expect to feel so out of place, however, I always have the sense that “they know I’m American”. It is not that I am ashamed of it, I am very proud of where I was born and raised, but it is odd to question the Italian side of myself that I was always so sure about. What is most difficult for me is when I speak to someone in Italian and they respond to me in English, it frustrates me as I feel rejected by what I thought I knew.

    Your travelogue really resonates with me, as I too have moments of clarity when I have a sense of re-confirming my Italian nationality and forget the doubting I was struggling with. I have yet to stop and listen to performers on the street, so I am now inclined to after reading your travelogue! Continue enjoying the little things, as that is what we’ll remember years from now!

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