Thursday, December 23, 2010

Final thoughts on Florence.

I've been at home a few days now and between unpacking, reunions, parties, and - let's be real - sleeping, I have barely had any time to reflect on my time abroad, save for the fact that I start nearly every other sentence with "When I was in Italy..."! :P

About a month ago, though, I was nominated for some sort of award called the Coluccio Salutati intended for the students at the university who exhibit the best writing skills in the first half of the semester and a commitment to immersion into the Italian culture. I jumped through the necessary hoops to be considered, including penning a short essay addressing my experience. Of course, I was not among the final recipients but I am sharing it here below. :]

I had never planned to study abroad. I always thought myself much too timid, much too comfortable to consider it as a realistic possibility. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, went to school in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now attend university in the San Francisco Bay Area. And yet, there I was on a transatlantic flight to Italy, remembering only vaguely that months ago I had been prompted by a sudden and poignant urge to commit to spending a semester in Italy, thinking, Why did I sign up for this?

Months earlier, I had been becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there was life outside of Northern California. Once I had decided to study abroad in Florence, I completed the necessary paperwork, guided by some sense of contentment that I was finally putting myself outside of my comfort zone. This was a display of my newfound independence – my “I am woman, hear me roar” moment, if you will. I envisioned my experience, however, as less of an immersion into the Italian lifestyle and more of an academic foray with a side of garlic bread – which, I learned later, is not an Italian food. How naïve I was! Up to the very moment of my arrival in Florence, I foresaw the direst of circumstances. The thoughts plagued me: How will I navigate myself through this sprawling city? – I get lost driving in my hometown using GPS. I cannot speak a single word of Italian – would I be better off not speaking at all? And, for goodness’ sake, how on earth will I possibly manage to maintain my integrity in an Italian discoteca? I pictured myself not truly amongst but rather isolated from Florentines. I would fall victim to my innate and inescapable American-ness; I would consciously resign myself to the role of perpetual tourist.

Instead, I have found myself in the company of some of the warmest people I have ever met, immersed into one of the most dynamic cultures I have ever studied, and in the midst of the experience of a lifetime. In fact, I did not realize at first how readily I took to this city until I was in the process of returning to Florence after a weekend abroad. While chatting with my friends, I was surprised to hear myself proclaim how glad I was to be home. An epiphany! I realized that as Florence had opened its figurative arms to me, so, too, was I opening my figurative heart to Florence. I, this uncultured, untraveled California girl, was beginning to assimilate – but not to the point that I could ever relinquish my deep awe of the city. Even still, the simple things thrill me – being able to use my pre-elementary level Italian in order to hold conversation with Florentines who are all too understanding of my mistakes; being in close proximity to what I consider to be some of the most beautiful works of architecture and artwork in the world; and, perhaps most comforting, being able to walk up to the apartment in which I live with a fantastic family and being able to say I am home.

I know that after I board my plane back to the United States, I will be sitting with my tray table up and my seat in the full upright position, thinking the same thing I thought three months ago: Why did I sign up for this? – only this time, I have an answer. My realm of experience has become a little bit bigger, and the world has become a little bit smaller. Put simply, studying abroad in Florence has played an essential role in making me feel a little bit more at home in the universe, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart. It is for this reason that I can say confidently that, while my time in Florence is coming to an end, my love affair with the Italian country and culture is only just beginning – and I cannot wait to see where it leads me next.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ha nevicato a Firenze... troppo.

At first, it was magical - a going-away present on our last day in Florence.

Just a little dusting of snow that wouldn't stick.

Those of us from California were delighted to be able to say that we were able to "walk to school while it snowed."

It made visiting the Mercato di Natale in Piazza di Santa Croce just a little more special.

And then it started to come down a little thicker.

By 2:30pm, it was a full blown snowstorm.

The university.

Piazza Savonarola, across the street, looked beautiful.

But the snow literally just kept coming!

It turned the schoolyard into a winter wonderland.

We began to worry about the effects the snow would have...

But not tooooo much. ;]

After about eight hours, the snow finally stopped falling, leaving about five inches in its wake.

To anyone who lives in a snowy area, this probably seems like no big deal. For the city of Florence, however, the sudden snowfall prompted a complete stalemate. The city finds it incredibly hard to deal with such weather. Our flight out to Rome the next morning was cancelled - the airport effectively shutdown. People were stranded over night on the autostrade. Buses and taxis stopped running. It was the biggest snow Florence had seen in over twenty years.

This tree in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata looked absolutely gorgeous.

Walking down Via dei Servi and spotting the snowcapped Duomo was absolutely amazing.

The Duomo Christmas tree looked magical.

Susan and I (read: Susan) made a snowman!

Duomo + snowman = DUOMAN.

Aaand the walk home took about twice the time it usually did. But the sights were twice as pretty. ;]

Our Saturday morning flight was rebooked for Monday morning - and we got lucky. At the very least, we could say we'd seen Florence beautifully flocked in snow.

I had this wintery bouquet put together to thank my dear, dear host family for allowing me to stay with them a few extra nights.

Even after being delayed two days and traveling for nearly thirty hours, I am home and still so thankful for the way things turned out. A lot of people were rebooked for Tuesday morning, only to have their flights cancelled second and third times. Others were or are stranded in various parts of Europe due to reroutes and closed airports. I hope that those people are soon home and reunited with their families! ♥

And as for my time abroad, è finito, e non posso crederci. Home is shockingly similar to how I left it, but I feel indelibly changed. More on that later. :]

Farewell, Florence.

So finals were steadily approaching and with it came the onset of the reality of the fact that our time in Florence would soon be ending. We rushed to do all of the last minute activities we could. Fewer things are important to me than friends and gelato, so you can imagine what sort of activities took precedence in my final days in Florence.

As you're all aware, I took part in a ten-day tour of Greece back in late August and early September with about twenty-five other students who would be studying in Florence with me. We are all so incredibly thankful for that exhausting trip because it allowed us to quickly establish close friendships that we would maintain throughout the rest of the semester. The TA who accompanied us on the trip organized a reunion at a local pizzeria with the most delicious food last Monday and we were all excited to attend. I took literally no photos, but here are some I stole from the greatest invention of all time: Facebook.

Alex, me and Marin.

Alyssa, Claire, Marin, a squinty me and Alex.

Badiani is one of the oldest and most popular gelaterie in Florence - and, by either blessing or curse, it just happened to be right around the corner from my home. Naturally, Claire, Susan and I met up to share one of our last nights there. :]

In honor of the occasion, Susan decided to tackle the medium-sized gelato. She is holding mine for comparison.

Claire and I doubted her abilities to tackle such a feat.

And yet, she conquered it unfazed.

Claire was bundled up like a snow bunny because it was so gosh darn cold!

And so we began to pack and mentally prepare ourselves to depart in the next couple of days. Little did we know that lurking right around the corner was a freak snowstorm that would effectively bring Florence and much of Europe to a virtual standstill.