I am a planner. My new roommates identified that about me before I had even been on Italian soil for a full 48 hours. In our short time in Florence, I had already made multiple searches on Yelp and Google Maps for the next highly reviewed place to eat lunch, how long it would take us to get to our next meeting from the restaurant, and where we should grab gelato afterwards. You see, I don’t like the unknown or unexpected changes—I like to know exactly when and where I need to do what. Doing anything spontaneous or unplanned requires me to take a huge step out of my comfort zone…and choosing to study abroad required a leap.
Approaching senior year, I was faced with the choice to either study abroad my final semester with the remaining scholarship money I had, or I could graduate in December and start planning my future with my fiancé, whom I had been doing long distance with for a year and a half. To most, this decision probably sounds like a no-brainer—free money to go abroad for 4 months? Why wouldn’t you take it? But for me, as someone newly engaged, afraid of change, and ready to be done with taking classes, it was actually difficult initially to decide to spend spring of 2019 studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I knew though that I needed this experience—I need to experience more of the world than the tiny bubble of the southeast US where I have spent my entire life; I need to be immersed in a culture where I can experience what it is like to be an outsider; I need to challenge everything I have grown up believing is “normal.” So finally I applied to study abroad with API (Academic Programs International) and now here I am, writing from my apartment in Italy. I have come to see my time here as a “rite of passage” into my adulthood, because when I return to America, I will graduate, I will move across the country to live with my fiancé, and I will (hopefully!) get my first adult job. This trip signals the beginning of so many changes for me, and while that change is stressful to me, I have confidence that if I can navigate the unfamiliar territory of a foreign country, language, and culture, then I will be ready to navigate adulthood upon my return.
In order to prevent hiccups in my journey to Italy, I tried to plan and prepare for my time abroad in every way possible. I read every blog and travel guide I could find on Florence, and I kept a running list of things to do in the month before leaving. However, I quickly found that all the blogs and planning in the world cannot truly prepare you enough for cultural differences between countries.
*Sidebar- A few interesting things I have discovered this week that I did not read about in any other blogs on Florence:
- There is no such thing as pedestrian right of way in Florence. Even though the sidewalks are often too small here to accommodate all of the people trying to walk on them, you cannot simply walk into a crosswalk or road and expect vehicles to yield to you. Even if you are on a sidewalk, you are still not entirely safe from vehicles—drivers will often drive up on them and buses traveling 45 mph may pass inches from your arm if you are walking on the outside edge. You need eyes in the back of your head (and maybe the sides, too) to ensure you are not hit by a bus or motor scooter. Florentine streets are a battlefield for aggressive drivers and ambitious pedestrians.
- Italians dress for the season, not the weather. Even if it is 60 degrees and sunny outside in February, you will still find them wearing heavy overcoats and scarves because it is the winter here. I learned this the hard way this morning, when I decided I’d enjoy the lovely temperatures by going for a morning run in a tank top and shorts. The looks I received made me wonder if Italian men had never seen an exposed shoulder in their lives before.
- Florence is way more beautiful than any picture can ever capture. There is so much to see here, and I often find myself trying to take pictures from every angle, or videos and panoramas, in an attempt to capture the true essence of the scene to show my loved ones. It never does. Even after walking through the same plazas and past the same monuments every day, Florence still literally takes my breath away.
Today was my last day before starting classes at the Lorenzo de Medici Institute. After taking care of a few small errands in the morning, I realized I had absolutely nothing else I needed to do with my day. I had checked off all of the responsibilities I had written in my planner and it was only 1pm. I wandered the city for a little while, looking for my classroom buildings to prepare for tomorrow, and then thought to myself, “I can do whatever I want. There is nowhere I have to be and nothing I have to do. I have nothing planned. When is the last time I have had a day like this?” And with this beautiful realization, I took off walking down the nearest street that looked appealing. I had no idea where it led—I merely thought the buildings to the left looked prettier than the buildings to the right. I stopped briefly to buy a Tiramisu gelato at a shop with a line out the door, but then resumed my walk to nowhere. Eventually I found myself at the Arno, a river that cuts through the center of Florence and is crisscrossed by various old bridges, such as the famous Ponte Vecchio. I enjoyed the view from a bridge for a while, but my legs felt like walking, so I let them take me where they wanted. After about 40 minutes of hiking around the city, I found myself at the top of Piazzale Michelangelo, home to the most spectacular overlook of Florence. Although the feeling was unfamiliar, I was so content to have nothing to do and nowhere I had to be. I enjoyed the area and hiked some more until the sun started setting and I decided to head home, but I reminded myself that if there were anywhere along the way home that I should want to go, I could go there just because I wanted to. While I know that classes starting tomorrow will likely bring out the inner planner in me, I want to hold on to this feeling I experienced today forever. Maybe I should try not to plan anything more often.