Written by Zoe Pringle, (Brandeis University) Student Correspondent Brandeis Midyear at CET Florence, Fall 2018
The only real experience I could use to prepare myself for living in Florence, Italy, was to recall the two days I spent here two summers ago. I know, not very helpful. While I felt mentally prepared for the challenging academics that lay ahead, the independence of living without a guardian, and the opportunity to travel, I worried about how I would adapt to an almost completely new environment. New friends, new food, new smells, and new schedule. And for reference, I’m someone who thrives in routine. Here’s the good news: I adapted to all this “new” remarkably quickly, and I think you will, too.
My trip started off with a challenge to my adaptivity and perseverance. Lost in an airport, knowing I’m going to miss my next flight and lugging around two bags of luggage that weighed just about as much as I do, I worried I already made a mistake spending my very first semester of college abroad. Luckily, my very limited French came in handy and my anxieties were eased as I sat waiting for my new flight, eating macaroons. I had navigated the trip here with difficulty, but ultimately successfully.
When I arrived in Florence, I was greeted by a bubbly CET staff member who safely got me into a cab. Driving to my apartment, I was reminded of why those two days in Florence had impacted me so much. The architecture, warmth, and mix of nature in the forever flowing city already held my heart.
Checking me into my apartment was another CET staff member. She met me outside my apartment and whipped out a ring of keys. Fun Fact: Italian keys are not as simple American keys. Some are very small, some old and stiff, requiring ten turns, complete with much jiggling and pulling, until the door clicks open. After religiously practicing getting through the five doors it takes to reach my apartment, I met my roommate and flatmate. It was instantly clear that they were going to be easy to live with, although I knew this would take some internal adjustment, as I have never had a roommate or housemate.
Fighting jet lag, I was going to bed much earlier than my roommate. This would have normally been irritating to me, trying to sleep when someone else is up in my room, but luckily I came prepared with earplugs and I have since had no trouble sleeping, even though our sleep schedules still are not lined up. With the constant noise from the echoey streets, I would highly recommend earplugs even if you know you have been placed in a single room. If you are light sensitive as well, a comfortable eye mask may make sleeping an easier experience for you.
At first, I was only eating out in small amounts, due to the lack of appetite I was feeling from jet lag. A cappuccino and pastry would fill me up for half the day and give me a week’s worth of energy. I would then gobble down a bowl of pasta, only to feel bloated for the rest of the day. After a few days of this, it became clear that we needed to go grocery shopping. We set off to the nearest grocery store and stock piled food. Pasta, carrots, peaches, bread crumbs, tomato sauce, ground meat, water, and more pasta. While checking out our massive grocery collection, the cashier became confused. We had not put labels on the produce bags. Turns out that in Italy you weigh the produce (that you’ve carefully selected with plastic gloves), choose the correct weight button, and apply a price sticker that the weighing machine has spit out to your plastic bag. My flatmate was shown this process by another employee, while I vigorously bagged our groceries, so as to ease the building up line behind us. Lesson learned.
When we got home, I threw out some of the plastic wrappings from our food, only to find out the next day that Italy is meticulous about garbage collection. One bin contains food items (basically compost), another for non-recyclable materials, and one for recyclable materials. You dispose of your garbage by walking to the nearest garbage collection (many are located around town). Failure to correctly sort your trash can result in fine, as seen on the video cameras that survey the garbage bins. Sometimes I still throw my trash in the wrong bin, but my habit is steadily improving.
Although nearly everything was new to me, not everything was teachable. Walking to the Duomo at night to take pictures, getting a recommendation to the best sandwich I have ever had, or finding collections of amazing street art are just a few of the little wonders that will happen naturally when living in Florence.
As you can see, I have had to learn a lot of new things quickly. Sometimes I feel like a baby trapped in an adult’s body, having to relearn basic tasks. But I have learned all these tasks much faster than I expected to and so have my classmates. Upon arrival, you may feel overwhelmed with all your new options and soon-to-be habits, but remember that you are delightfully elastic and impressionable. The fact you have made it to Italy at your age proves that you are a curious and persistent person. And isn’t that really all you need to adapt? Happy learning.