Before coming to Florence, I expected that my time abroad would be defined by numerous milestone events that would immediately assist me in growing and learning. After 37 days in Italy, I realize that – similar to life in the U.S. – developing as an individual is a process that requires patience, even when one is thrown into a foreign culture. Although realities have been different from my expectations going into this incredible experience, it is, in a way, comforting knowing that no matter where one finds his or herself, they are faced with the same surprises, challenges, and pleasures life has to offer.
The main academic aspect of study abroad that has been different from what I expected is the teaching style of my professors. I had expected teachers to relate class discussions to Italian current events more than they do; instead, I have come to understand that the European Union (in a general sense) and the United States are similar in many ways, so much so that we discuss the same issues and reach the same varying viewpoints. Particularly, there is a great deal of talk on globalization, populism, China, immigration, etc. In other words, my professors do discuss important issues Italy faces, but the issues they focus on are the same ones America faces [seemingly]. This outlook does not hold when thinking about discussions on Florence; we are learning that this city has many intriguing and admirable quirks.
Professionally, my expectations on life in Florence have not changed. Assimilation has been simple enough, since Florence is an international city where most people speak at least some English. It has been helpful taking Italian with Jenny, because it is gratifying and respectable to attempt to speak the native language in certain instances – examples being ordering food or asking for directions. Ideally, as the weeks progress, we will all be able to healthily assimilate into the Florentine environment, understanding that as foreigners, we will never be 100% comfortable with every aspect of life here. Italian customs, including manners, transportation, and roles as students are similar to in the United States. Whenever pieces of daily life seem uncomfortably different, I remind myself that they are different and that is normal and OK.
Personally, the most noticeable expectation I had, which has since been proven flawed, is views on local food. Italian food is the best in the world; it is hard to find bad food here. That being said, occasionally, I find myself craving Five Guys, cereal variety (only 4 kinds on average at the local grocery stores), and greasy Tex-Mex. When I first tried to quell this urge for unhealthy American food by going to McDonald’s, I was shocked to find the average price of a meal to be about 8 euros.
In other news, I travelled to San Gimignano, Siena (twice), Cinque Terra, and Venice. Midterms are this week. Next week, I will make my first journey, during study abroad, outside of Italy when I travel to Munich, Vienna, and Budapest with friends from GBI London and GBI Florence. Take care.