Written by Tim Rice (Vanderbilt University) Student Correspondent CET Florence, Spring 2018
One of the most enjoyable parts of studying abroad is making a bucket list of destinations you and your friends want to go to and then subsequently checking those places off the list. Trying to cram double digit countries into one semester, though, can be difficult, especially if you want to get to know your home city and country. I’d like to propose to you that spending weekends in your local area is in fact not “missing out,” but rather is a worthwhile endeavor.
I spent my first weekend doing the ‘touristy’ things in Florence. I saw the Uffizi, the Accademia, lots of old churches, climbed the Duomo, explored the Boboli gardens, and much more. I also spent some time working on my Italian and then using it at my favorite local bakery, le botteghe de il fornaio (which I found by wandering streets close to my apartment and observing all the locals going into this particular bakery – their pastries are heavenly).
Most importantly, I got the feel of the city. I oriented myself to the major landmarks and spent some quiet time just taking in the sounds and smells of Florence (which include emphatic motorized scooters, the aforementioned pastries, and almost always a great deal of cheer).
The next weekend I spent biking in the countryside, attending a Fiorentina soccer game, visiting the close-by city of Lucca (famous for the wall which surrounds it), and enjoying the Viareggio Carnival (an Italian version of Mardi Gras that is a bit less boisterous and a bit more wholesome).
My third weekend I did travel – to Austria and Hungary – but I think this trip was enhanced by the fact that I found my bearings in Italy first. If you’re going to live in a city, you might as well live there every once in a while. Find your favorite nearby shops. Cook yourself dinner with fresh produce from the market. Essentially, try and live like a local – one of my fulfilling experiences thus far was chatting in line at the market with a Florentine man and then bargaining with the vendor (never accept the first price) – and I did this all in Italian!
I certainly don’t want to give off the impression that traveling every weekend is a bad thing. On the contrary, it is exhilarating and often life-changing and almost no one who does so regrets it. I just want to emphasize that you shouldn’t feel tepid for staying home every now and then. Travel is something that will (hopefully) always be available to you in life. But adapting to an unfamiliar culture and residing in a foreign country may become an elusive opportunity once you graduate and settle into a job and family.
Studying abroad is not often described as a peaceful semester. Hectic, breathtaking, and exhausting are more often the type of labels attached. However, I’ve found that Europe (and particularly Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside) can often offer a more peaceful lifestyle than our busy lives in the states. This is only true, though, if you force yourself to connect with your city. And so to close, I’d like to borrow the words of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who said that “he is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.”