This past semester in Florence has been quite the learning experience, and without a doubt has changed me greatly. After spending so much time away from home in a foreign country, I have certainly gained a bit of self-confidence as well as a sense of independence. There were many times throughout this most recent semester where I had to travel across Europe on my own, relying completely on my own experiences and knowledge to get around. I’ve even had to learn how to communicate with people who can’t speak any English.
One experience that really helped me grow as an individual happened relatively early in my time abroad. I was visiting Bologna for a day with my roommate. Bologna is a city about 45 minutes north of Florence by train that is known for it’s rich history and it’s university, which dates back to 1088, making it the oldest in all of Europe. Today it is home to a very wide range of people, with a large student population as well as a high number of young families.
The day we happened to be visiting, there was a large parade on the main street of the city that must have stretched for nearly two miles. The streets were full of confetti, silly string, and massive floats that were full of kids in different costumes related to their theme. There were minion floats, pirate floats, astronaut floats, anything you could imagine. The sidewalks were full of people, so you could imagine that there could be some confusion among all this chaos.
While my friend and I were walking through the parade we noticed a kid crying off to the side of the street who must have been seven or eight years old. It seemed like there were no adults with him and with such a large crowd nearby, he was hardly noticed by any other people. My friend and I were worried so we went up to him and asked him (stupidly in English) if he was alright. Of course, he couldn’t speak much English so we quickly realized we would need to attempt to speak to him in Italian. I had only taken Italian for a semester, so my speaking skills were certainly limited, but I was able to ask him if he was okay and if he knew where is his parents were. He responded by saying he couldn’t find them, and although I couldn’t understand the bulk of what he was saying, I was able to get a general sense of it. I told him I could help him, and looked around the area to see if I could find any police officers who could better help him. My friend and I walked with the boy to the nearest officer around the block and I explained to him that he was missing his parents. The officer then thanked us for the help and we waited at a café nearby for 15 minutes until eventually his parents were located.
Of course, this wasn’t the most difficult thing to do, but it is something that I could have simply walked past and ignored, especially when considering the language barrier and the extra effort needed to help out in a foreign language. Seeing the kid reunited with his parents really made me feel like I had matured and made me very happy I ended up helping out.
For any prospective abroad students, I recommend you go out of your way to be a good citizen no matter what country you’re in. Even attempting to speak the local language and succeeding is a great feeling and goes a long way with the person you are communicating with.