How to survive Florence when tú no hablas Italiano…

Written by Jillian Kazlow, (University of Wisconsin-Madison) Student Correspondent CET Florence, Spring 2019

Ciao! Io mi chiamo Jillian.

As of now, that is just about the extent of my Italian language knowledge. I’ve already survived living in Italy for about two weeks solely off of minimal vocabulary. As much as it may sound like an interesting choice, I decided to move to a cozy apartment across the Atlantic Ocean to study in a country where I barely know the native language. I can see how this might seem scary to some, but I have always had a passion for travel and I do not mind pushing myself out of my comfort zone. In my American public school system, I had the choice to learn either Spanish, Italian, or French. I intentionally chose to take Spanish classes my entire life solely based off of the assumption that its popularity would directly correlate with its usefulness. As you can tell by now, the irony of said decision is quite astounding as I am currently living in Italy and flying to Paris next weekend to see a concert with friends. Go figure. Nevertheless, as much as my Italian language skills are lacking, I am willing to absorb as many new terms and phrases as possible throughout my stay. If you know anything about me, you would know that I am always ready for a challenge. As it turns out, however, Italian language skills aren’t exactly mandatory for living in Florence.

The great thing about Florence’s territory having been practically conquered by tourists is that most people you will meet here speak English. Baristas, waiters, cab drivers, or just about anyone walking down the street. I did not know just how un-Italian I looked until the second I hesitated to answer a cashier and he immediately asked me if I’d like a plastic bag in English. Everyone I have met so far has been able to accommodate to my inability to speak Italian. Luckily, my favorite activity to participate in so far does not require much speaking at all: sightseeing.

Through my course titled “Sense of Place” which is instructed by two incredible UW-Madison professors, I have been able to climb to the top of the Duomo with my fellow students. We all bonded through what seemed to be an endless trudge to the top. We were all breath-taken once we were capable of looking out onto the beautiful city of Florence, partially from burning off our breakfast on the way up. I was able to see from some of the closest city attractions all the way to the rolling hills of Tuscany peppered with houses. I wondered what the lives of those homeowners were like. I wondered how they got there. Perhaps they were wondering how I ended up there as well. Honestly, I am not sure how I ended up at the top of the Duomo. My legs nearly gave out, but it was definitely worth it.

Speaking of an intense leg workout, my roommate and I have also discovered a beautiful spot to look out onto the city that requires maximum agility to get to by foot. Our secret spot’s view is a distance away from the Duomo. While the Duomo’s view is from the center of the city, our spot is a bit higher up than the famous sunset viewing Piazzale Michelangelo. We watched the sunset transform the sky into a canvas of bright pastel colors as the sun sparkled onto the terra cotta rooftops. It looked like a city for ants. We discovered a viewing point for locals. We exchanged smiles with groups of strangers and took turns taking photos of each other in front of the peach-tangerine dyed sky. We did not need to speak the same language to speak the same language.

*Savvy abroad pro tip: they charge a small fee if you ask for a grocery bag. Which is why it is best to bring your own reusable bag to shop with.