The Study Abroad Experience: Florence, Italy

Why do we travel? Some people want to meet new people and gain new perspectives. Others seek to step out of their comfort zones and learn more about themselves. We hope that if we travel we can make the world around us feel just a little bit smaller.

When I first arrived at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, I was in a daze. I was completely unable to process that I was in another country, halfway across the world.

It wasn’t until the following day, when I was standing outside of the Colosseum, staring up at one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, that reality finally hit me.

Italy has always been my dream country to visit. It’s the home country of my beloved grandfather and the site of many of the most renowned pieces in art history. Being given the opportunity to live and study in this country for an entire semester has already been such a surreal experience.

I live in a third floor apartment in the heart of Florence, minutes away from the Arno River. On my way to class, I pass over the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge lined with quaint shops, art dealers and souvenir sellers. I love the sound of hundreds of people’s heels clicking across the cobblestone as they admire the scenic view.

I usually have to maneuver my way around tour guides with red flags waving above their heads as they corral groups of tourists in front of the Fontana del Porcellino. People always want to rub the snout of this iconic bronze fountain of a boar. Much like throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, it’s said that rubbing the snout will ensure one’s return to Florence.

When I finally make it to the Piazza del Duomo, home of the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, I make a sharp right and continue past the gelaterias and panini shops to Florence University of the Arts’ Journalism School. It is here that I take classes in everything from ‘Travel Writing’ to ‘Love, Sex and Marriage in Renaissance Italy’.

My first week in Italy was spent traveling around to different cities as part of my Cultural Introduction seminar. From Perugia to Pisa, I have already seen so many of the incredible monuments, gardens, museums and pieces of art that Italy has to offer. The list of other places that I want to see in this country grows longer and longer each day as family members and friends recommend different hidden gems upon which the typical American tourist would never stumble. Studying abroad for four months sounds like a long time until you are actually here.

I’ve officially been living in Florence for two weeks now, and I already have this nagging feeling that I’m running out of time.

Navigating myself around a foreign city every day has been unexpectedly peaceful. There is something about these streets, these shops and these people that feels oddly familiar.

I love to take my camera and aimlessly wander. I have found so many beautiful pieces of street art hidden on the pathways that only the locals use. The best piece of advice I can give to anyone who wants to truly experience Florence is to walk slowly, breathe in the smells of the city and always take the time to look up.

I love when it rains in Florence. The streets become lined with brightly colored umbrellas. The marble statues glisten as the sun continues to peek out from behind the clouds.

The other night as I walked home from class in the rain, I was surprised at how clearly I could hear the pitter patter of rain droplets hitting the cobblestone. It was around 8:30 p.m., a standard Italian dinner time, so the streets were nearly empty.

As I turned the corner to cross over the Ponte Vecchio, I could hear the faint sound of a street performer strumming “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on his guitar.

For the first time in my life, I took my time strolling through the rain so I could enjoy the music and admire the reflection of the well-lit city on the Arno.

Before I left for Italy, many people asked me what had prompted me to study abroad. I gave a variety of answers – to learn more about my family’s heritage, immerse myself in another culture and so on. But I don’t think I truly understood why I was coming to Italy to study until I got here.

I’m traveling to challenge my own expectations of what traveling must be like. I came here to disrupt all of my preconceived notions and seek out my own experiences. I’m learning that I’m stronger, braver and more capable than I thought. I’m finding comfort in my discomfort. I’m living in the moment as I embark upon the adventure of a lifetime.

When all is said and done and I am boarding my flight to return home to the United States, I can only hope that I feel as content, fulfilled and satisfied with my stay as I do right now.

Please note: Student Shaye DiPasquale ’19 originally wrote this article for The Etownian‘s weekly Study Abroad Experience article. It was originally published on February 15, 2018. The Etownian is Elizabethtown College’s student newspaper. Click here to view the original article.

About the Author – Shaye DiPasquale ’19

Shaye is a senior Communications major, Human Services minor, and Women & Gender Studies minor. In addition to working for The Etownian, she’s a WWEC Station Manager. She studied abroad in Florence, Italy for the spring 2018 semester.


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