It being my first time in Europe, I expected somewhat of an adjustment to my new environment living and studying in Florence. However, I could not have predicted some of the smaller cultural challenges I have met and strived to overcome.
Making friends and meeting new people was something I was very excited for coming abroad. I only new a few familiar faces from Pitt, so I was eager to meet more people from Pitt, but even more eager people from other backgrounds both in and out of my program. However, this was quite difficult the first few weeks, as everyone has their own priorities for their study abroad experience and it was harder than I expected to find friends with the same goals for their experience as mine. It was important to me that I could make my time in Europe my own.
Along with making friends, it was at the same time hard to manage the balance between being basically a tourist but also wanting so bad to assimilate into the culture here. It was unexpectedly hard to learn to balance those two aspects knowing I am only here for two more months. Taking each day as it comes and making the most of each day is what I’ve found most beneficial to managing this challenge.
The language barrier is what has been most challenging for me. I anticipated it to be difficult, but I had not considered the level disconnect beyond base level interaction–ordering coffee, buy groceries, etc. Connecting with locals and assimilating myself to Florentine culture has always been a priority for me while abroad, in ensuring I make the most of experience. However, the language barrier puts a considerable damper on this goal, requiring a whole extra level of commitment. At my core, I am a friendly person, glad to form small connections with those I interact with in my day, specifically those I see often, such as the CAPA staff or my local barista. Although most Italians are more than proficient in English, there is still a level of anxiety with our disconnect, making it harder for me to be as authentic and personable. My Italian class helps a lot, specifically Jenny my professor, whose lessons are relevant to being in Italy while we’re taking the course (the class is called Italian: Here and Now!). Although practicing Italian “here and now” when I’m out induces a bit of anxiety for me, I have realized the locals just appreciate it when you try! Most of them often help me when they see I am learning to speak their language, and it has been those time where a further connection or conversation has been drawn.
Navigating Florence has been something that is easier than I expected. Everything is walking distance, and, thankfully, there are so many unique historical landmarks and buildings that guide me in my navigation through the streets. In the first few weeks, all the Florentine streets looked exactly the same, so these landmarks were helpful in easing me off Google Maps. Now I like to walk to and from class taking different ways to make sure I am seeing all the sights!