While I can confidently say that studying abroad in Florence and traveling to so many unique and beautiful cities has undoubtedly been the most incredible experience of my life, it hasn’t always gone perfectly smoothly. As one could expect, I have run into a variety of obstacles and challenges, but nothing that I haven’t been able to overcome without a bit of effort and thinking outside of the box. If I had to choose a single thing as my biggest challenge while studying abroad, I would have to say it was (and still sometimes is) feeling like an outsider.
From the moment I stepped off the plane and set foot in Europe, I immediately knew I was in an entirely new continent which, to be honest, felt like a new planet. I couldn’t understand anything that those walking by me said, and every sign was in a foreign language – it was a bit overwhelming. However, I knew this was most likely going to be the case, and I tried to look as confident as possible.
It isn’t a hidden fact that Americans are thought to be boisterous and a bit ignorant by those from other countries. I was afraid that everyone would be disdainful towards me, refusing to answer me once they realized I only spoke English. I felt guilty walking into stores and cafes and not being able to address the employees or order in Italian (or the main language of whatever city I was in at the time), and felt like I was disrespecting their culture.
However, my experience couldn’t have been farther from this; I was always greeted with a smile, and treated with respect and kindness. Knowing the phrase, “Parla inglese?” (Do you speak English?) has become my go-to, and I use it multiple times a day. I have also pick up many key phrases in Italian, such as how to say please, thank you, I’m sorry, excuse me, as well as knowing how to order items off a menu and how to ask a variety of questions. In summary, it can feel daunting to not know the native language of the place you’re living in for almost half a year, but being observant and simply making an attempt to speak Italian has really gone a long way for me.
At first, walking around the city of Florence felt intimidating, as I continuously found myself feeling completely lost and like I was just walking in circles around the small, windy cobblestone streets. I truly felt like I would never learn my way around the city, and was in awe at how not everyone needed a GPS to get to a restaurant or store. This seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, in just a few short weeks, I had all of the main streets of the city memorized, and a good sense of even the outskirts of the city. Forcing myself to walk around without looking at my phone allowed me to learn the streets myself, and truly helped me feel more at home here in Florence.
While I haven’t gone the semester without a number of doubts and challenges, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. I have met so many amazing people and seen so many amazing places, and the few bumps along the way haven’t compared to every positive and unforgettable memory I have made during this journey.
Ciao for now!