My few months in Florence have been some of the best months of my life. I am incredibly grateful that I get to experience a brand-new culture, learn a new language, and explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world on a daily basis. It’s hard not to feel grateful when I get to walk along the Arno River on my way to class every day. However, throughout my time here, I have struggled with the idea of how I can feel like a citizen of this city, as opposed to a tourist. In other words, how do I live in this city, as opposed to vacation?
Our ESN Florence group organized a trip to Chianti, a 30-minute drive from Florence. This picture was taken right after we finished our wine tasting!
This was a question I considered more after a reading from my Food and Culture class. The reading discussed how the romanticization of Italian food is a large contributor to the economy. Tourists love to enjoy Italian food, and Italians can cultivate a sense of pride in sharing their food with the rest of the world. However, in romanticizing Italian food, we also tend to romanticize Italian life. The slower pace, the wonderful weather, and la dolce vita (the sweet life) are all a part of what drives tourism here. But this romanticization of Italian culture can lead to oversimplification. There is a tendency to see Italy as a spot for vacation as opposed to a country filled with working people. I have certainly been guilty of this, and the reading helped me to reshape my ideas about Italy as a country. Recently, I have been thinking more about how to change my view of Florence as a spot for vacation to a place where I live.
One aspect that helps is my schoolwork. Finding new coffee shops and libraries to complete assignments and studying in different parts of the city reminds me that I am here for school and to learn from this culture before anything else. Finding local places I can support while studying here makes me feel more like a part of the community. In my classes, I have learned more about the cultural differences and day-to-day routines of Florentines. Having these classes every day gives me a better sense of belonging.
One of the cloisters inside Santa Maria Novella, a church by the train station in Florence. We were able to visit this church for my history class and learn more about the Dominican friars that lived here.
Another aspect is attempting to learn the language. In Florence, most people speak English. At the beginning of the semester, this was helpful in that it allowed me to navigate the city easily and without fear. However, I have found that knowing enough Italian to speak with people in shops and on the street has made Florence feel more like home. Although most people still switch to English out of courtesy when I am struggling, I try my best to speak Italian while I am out and about when I can.
Today, I wanted to take an extra step to give myself a further sense of belonging in this city. Through an event organized by CET, I visited a local park near my school, Giardino di Borgo Allegri. I had never been to the park before. It was located right next to a primary school, and there was a tiny playground in the middle of the grassy field. White flowers interrupted the expanse of green, and the area was surrounded by park benches. The sky was cloudless, and the sunshine made for a perfect day outside. We repainted half of the park benches with a group of other students and worked with a volunteer group called Angeli del Bello.
The whole event took about two hours. The organizers of the group were incredibly kind and even ordered us a coffee after we finished. It felt rewarding to give back to the community that has been hosting me for the past several months. Being able to contribute actively was something I had been missing, and I am planning on attending several more of these events if I can.
Overall, I think it is all too easy not to take full advantage of a study abroad experience. Staying in the study abroad bubble is easy to do, especially in a city like Florence that already houses so many American students. However, I have found any efforts I make to step outside of the bubble incredibly rewarding, and I hope to do so more in the future.
A picture of the inside of Contempo Records. A friend and I found this store while exploring this weekend, and I had to take a picture of the amazing decorations!