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Farewell Firenze

Elizabeth King

Home, such a wonderful place to be. Although, after spending six weeks in Florence, Italy, the word ‘home’ feels almost ambiguous.

Florence felt like home. I had a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and friends that grew to be my “Firenze family”. My experience there was greater than I could’ve imagined. But as my departure day grew closer and closer, I felt myself getting more and more excited to go to my real home. I was ready to go back; to see my family, to sleep in my own bed, and to not live out of a suitcase.

But as I arrived home, I was prepared to encounter what everyone else seems to talk about: the culture shock, the jet lag, the intense longing for European life once again. And I waited, and waited, and waited for that all to happen. But after being home for three weeks, I can assure you, I haven’t quite experienced any of these. I was shocked. How can I, a now semi-cultured 19-year-old living in a small Indiana town, be content with Wal-Mart and cornfields when the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio were just staples in my Florentine existence? I’ve spoken with my newfound Firenze Friends and they’re all suffering from PDSFF, Post Departure Sadness From Florence. But alas, I have found myself content with my small, Midwestern life.

My time in Florence was a gift, a gift I am most thankful for. I lived a different life while I was there; I strolled, I meandered, I wandered. Every day I had the opportunity to explore a new treasure of Florence, like the Basilica de Santa Croce or San Miniato al Monte. I was able to cross many experiences off of my bucket list, like visiting the Roman Colosseum and throwing a coin in the Fontana di Trevi.

It was a different world over there, a world so unlike my own. Hopefully I can take my newfound strolling, meandering, and wandering with me to Bloomington and see my world in a different light.

I miss Florence, honestly I do. But something has to be said about the simple beauty found in an Indiana, hometown sunset.

Indiana sunset

A beautiful Indiana sunset

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Discovering The World, On A Budget

Elizabeth King

We live in a world that is interconnected more than ever before. We can write, text, call, and FaceTime across the globe in a matter of minutes and with a limited cost. Travel almost, and I stress the word almost, seems unnecessary in a world where “Googling” can potentially satisfy inquiries. I, however, am firmly against this concept, especially while studying abroad. I want to see what I can of the world in the short time I have. Being in Italy, I have access to an amazing amount of desirable travel destinations that are cost-effective and convenient.

Prior to arriving in Italy, I had planned on traveling within Italy over the free weekends. I thought I wanted to go to the big places: Rome, Venice, and Naples. My original thoughts changed once I actually arrived and spoke to both locals and people in my program. Why go to the classic, tourist pit if I could go somewhere else just as beautiful? Instead, I ended up traveling to Rome, Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast. I learned quite a bit from my time spent traveling abroad.

There are several decisions that go into planning weekend trips. I wish I had been more aware and conscious of these factors before I was planning my trips abroad. Here are some things, in no particular order, to be aware of when you are planning a weekend get-away.

Where You Want To Go

This is obviously important. Picking the right place to go is important because you need to pick a place that has enough to do and is ultimately worth the money. Earlier, I hinted that the typical tourist pits can be replaced with less well-known destinations, yet I still went to Rome. To me, Rome is worth the crowds and aggressive vendors and has so many landmarks that I had to see. The decision to go to Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast was made after we investigated the Bus2Alps website. Bus2Alps is a company that plans trips specifically for students and takes the stressful decision-making out of the equation. I had a very positive experience with Bus2Alps and thoroughly enjoyed my trips. The only negative is the expense; having someone plan your weekend getaway can get costly. Overall, I found that the added expense was worth not having to stress and plan my trip.

roman colosseum

A panoramic view of the Roman Colosseum

Who You Want To Go With

This decision has the power to make or break your experience. Be very careful with who you decide to travel with because these are the people you are spending every moment with. During my travels, I went with the same group of friends each time and it worked out well. Like any trip, there are frustrating moments but all is forgotten when you reach your desired landmarks. Overall, make sure the people you travel with are people you can trust because you’re going to have to trust them more than you’d think.

my traveling group

My traveling group on one of our weekend adventures.

How Much You Want To Spend

Traveling on a budget is extremely difficult, especially in Italy. It seems like you never stop spending money and you easily lose track of how much you have actually spent. What I found during my travels was that I would spend the most money on food and it added up quickly. I would recommend buying snacks at the local grocery store before to help offset more expensive meals and treats when you reach your destination.

What You Want To Do Once You Arrive

It is extremely important to already have figured out where you and your group wants to visit and what you want to do. You’re only visiting these places for a limited amount of time and you want to maximize that time with enough activities. When my friends and I arrived in Rome, we proceeded to get lost for two hours looking for our hostel and this set us up poorly for the rest of the day. We did have places we knew we wanted to see, though, so when we finally got un-lost, we made sure to take advantage of the remaining time. Make sure you look up the attractions before hand to make sure you know whether or not they’re open, where they are, the cost, and whether you need a reservation.

 

Traveling while abroad, in my opinion, is a must. You grow so much by being responsible for purchasing train tickets, hostels, and museum passes, all things I never once did when I was back in the States.  I can easily say that I learned a lot more by traveling on my own. By making good decisions and making good use of your time and money, you can make memories that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

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My Italian Classroom

Elizabeth King

Classes: the cause of necessary struggle and angst within each student’s life.

Having been a student for nearly 15 years of my 19 years on this earth, I understand the general structure of classes within the broad term of ‘school.’ The concept is fairly simple: teacher + students = learning = success. When I arrived in Italy to study Renaissance Florence and Drawing, I thought I knew what was in store for me. I brought my folders, notebooks, and pencils and was ready for the first day. Little did I know that these classes would be different than any class I’d experienced before.

My Renaissance Florence class did not meet in a classroom, per se. Florence was our classroom. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we would meet in the lobby of our hotel and then venture out into the city. Each day we’d visit a new museum or a new church where our professor would show us and explain the intended meaning of works of art. Donatello, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti; we saw it all. I saw so much of the history of this city I called home for 6 weeks and that was the point of the class.

Renaissance Florence class

A candid moment during a Renaissance Florence class

My Drawing class acted in a similar manner. Our classroom was anything that could be drawn (ahem, everything). Whereas in Renaissance Florence our time would be constrained to churches and museums, Drawing took us everywhere. We went to gardens, small towns outside of Florence, piazzas, etc. Florence was our oyster, as they say. Although extremely different than your traditional introduction to drawing class, this class quickly opened my eyes to the fundamentals of art in the most inspiring way.

Additionally, I didn’t anticipate the level of interaction between the professors and myself. I had grown accustomed to the lecture halls of 300 students and professors that seem almost out of reach. Here, with a class of fifteen, you witness the professors in a whole new light. I got to experience my professors riding a Merry-Go-Round with pure, uninhibited joy and buying our class gelato because it was just that kind of day; all things that aren’t possible in a typical classroom setting. During my classes, I was able to interact with my professors on a daily basis and in a personal way. My art professors would walk around the site each day and check on me, talk to me, and provide me hands on insight. For a novice art student like myself, this was a welcome surprise.

Although classes are typically the cause of stress and anxiety, classes while abroad are a breath of fresh air; a fresh take on a classic game.

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Under The Tuscan Sun

Elizabeth King

My program, the Florence Study Abroad Program through IU, is different than most in the fact that the program includes excursions in addition to classes. Most Fridays, my group treks to a charter bus, packed lunch in hand, and disembarks to a smaller Tuscan town where we spend the day exploring and visiting historical landmarks.

Our excursion days usually begin early (early for a college student, that is), leaving the hotel by 8 A.M., traveling deep into the Tuscan countryside via a two-hour bus ride, and then launching out by mid-morning. The sites we usually visit are Renaissance style churches that feature frescoes, statues, and structures of importance. My professor does an excellent job of explaining the significance of these artifacts while also keeping a group of 32 American college students engaged. Around lunchtime, my professor gives us a couple hours of free time to eat, explore the city at our own pace, or visit museums. We’re given the freedom to experience the cities on our own, a freedom that I didn’t quite expect on this trip. After our short break, we often visit several other sites before heading back to the bus. The beautiful thing about these excursions is that we finish the day with an exquisite Italian dinner.

The classic Italian dinner is nothing like typical American fare. Dinners here span several hours and courses as opposed to the minutes it takes to eat a meal from Chipotle. Dinner begins with bread and wine and is followed with a course of meats and cheeses and then several pasta courses of various types and sauces. A meat course follows and is trailed by a dessert course. The food is always delicious and leaves me feeling overwhelmingly full. The dinners are often the highlight of the day, a time where we can eat, drink, and relax in good company and reflect on the experience.

meats and cheese course

An example of a meats and cheese course.

Over the past few weeks, my group has traveled to Siena, San Gimignano, and Assisi. Of those three places, Assisi has been my favorite. The city is nestled into a hill, a stark sandstone against the green of the mountains. It is breathtaking to see the city from high above.

view of Assisi

View of Assisi

Each place we visit becomes my new favorite, and there are more excursions to come. Our future excursion destinations are Brolio, Vallombrosa, and Bologna. Who is to know what my favorite excursion will be when all is said and done?

Excursion days are especially enjoyable – days that aren’t just class after class, but a day where being immersed in a different culture is the reason for being there. It’s a unique experience that I’m very thankful for because we visit towns that, otherwise, I’d unlikely see. My program is distinctive, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

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Figuring It Out in Firenze

Elizabeth King

It is amazing how much can change in a matter of weeks. You arrive in a foreign country so dazed and disoriented, and weeks later you’re walking around with purpose and poise. How is it possible to so quickly adapt? For me, this is how my experience in Firenze (Florence) has been. When I arrived, I didn’t know how I was going to ever orient myself in a city so large and with so many winding, narrow streets. The taxi pulled up to our hotel and I was thankful I could put my trust in someone else, because I know that I would never have been able to get there myself. Yet, here I am, now able to navigate to my favorite gelateria (gelato shop) and café with ease.

This is not to say that learning how to function in a different city and culture is easy. In fact, learning how to act, where to go, and what to say is extremely difficult; it’s a process. Slowly, you figure things out. You find a new trattatoria (café) or learn a new route (despite the many wrong turns). You have to figure it out, you have to get out there and learn. There is so much to see and experience in such a short time. When I was preparing to study abroad, I read that the locals appreciate any effort you give to learn the culture and speak the language and it is so true. By being open to learning new things, you open yourself to a multitude of unique opportunities. Otherwise, you’re left sitting in your hotel room or apartment wasting away an extraordinary opportunity.

“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.” -Charles Baudelaire

Already, I’ve made so many “accomplishments” while living abroad. In my short time here, I’ve managed to navigate the city by myself to get lunch, wash my laundry by hand in my hotel bathtub, and purchase a train ticket and hostel. Although these accomplishments are trivial, they mean something. They show how I’ve grown in just a few short weeks; they show how I’m open to doing something I’ve never done before.

I’m looking forward to see how many achievements, both big and small, I can make over the duration of this trip. If I feel accomplished now, how am I going to feel at the end of this trip? So much has already changed and this is only the beginning.

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The Wonder Of It All

Elizabeth King

As my departure date fast approaches, I can’t help but be anxious. I’m nervous about the prospect of being on a new continent, within a different culture, surrounded by a foreign language. Although IU has its own unique culture, I expect the culture in Florence to be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I have a million questions running through my head: How will I communicate with locals? Am I going to look like a classic tourist? What will I struggle with while abroad? There are a multitude of unknowns, things I just can’t prepare for by looking at a traveling website or reading a book.

I’m confident that all of my questions, my fears, are going to be resolved when I actually get there, so why worry now? I think going to Italy isn’t all that different from going to college as a freshman; there is alarm, distress and anxiety, but it’s just something you’ve got to do, and in the end, you’ll do just fine.

Despite my initial trepidation, I really cannot wait for the possibility of new experiences. I’m excited about the prospect of hailing my first taxi, navigating my way through a foreign airport for the first time, and ordering my first Italian coffee. I’m excited for the “first-ness” of it. I’m excited to know that these experiences will become defining moments in my life. I believe that I’ll be able to look back on my experience here and understand how much I grew and learned in such a short time.

There is a child-like wonder when I think about Italy and its history, art, and culture. To know that I’ll soon be a part of that gives me chills. Fears aside, I can’t wait for this journey to begin and to finally experience the wonder of Italy.

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