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.