The first time I tried to find my new apartment in Florence, Italy, it took a map, two locals giving me directions and at least an hour of searching a three block radius.
I had never lived in a city before, in fact I’ve never even been in the city for more than just a few days. I grew up in a small beach town in New Hampshire, which is deserted in the winter and packed with tourists in the summer. I decided to stayed in the 603 for college because who doesn’t love in-state tuition?
Though I absolutely love Keene State and everything it has done for me over the past few years, I always knew I would eventually want to leave for a semester to study abroad. I never knew exactly where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to go to Europe and I wanted it to be different than New Hampshire.
I wasn’t nervous at all before I left for Florence until the exact moment in the airport when I had to say goodbye to my mom.
The moment the Logan Airport employee asked, “Are you printing boarding passes for two?” and I had to correct him and say, “No just one,” I realized I had no idea how to live on my own.
At school, I had only lived in a dorm and at home, I lived with my parents. I never had to cook all of my own meals or have my own apartment. In Keene, I didn’t even have my own room.
I had never taken an Italian class before, never had to take a connecting flight by myself and never even been in a taxi. If you’re alone, do you sit in the front or the back? How could I possibly do this on my own?
Well after many hours of travel, I made it to Florence, took my first taxi (I sat in the back – who knows if that was the right choice) and I got myself a map. That map was my best friend for the first few weeks.
I didn’t purchase a phone plan, so I couldn’t use my phone unless it was hooked up to wifi, which meant Google Maps was not an option.
I got lost all the time, gave myself over an hour to get anywhere and asked for directions from complete strangers. I learned that doors and locks in Florence are different than the USA and every single one is unique in how it opens.
There is no iced coffee here, you MUST weigh your fruits and vegetables and get a receipt before you check out at the grocery store or else the clerk gets very mad, and no one has ever heard of the word “wicked” (isn’t that wicked weird?); yet I loved every second of it. I was outside my comfort zone and learning things I would have never been able to in New Hampshire.
After a few weeks of being in Florence, I noticed something that would have seemed unbelievable just a short while before. I was able to go places I had never been before without using a map, I opened all three doors to my apartment on the first try, I left my apartment and went out and about in the city without being hassled to buy something,
I easily handed the cashier the right amount of coins without having to analyze each one to see which it was and the barista at my favorite cafe remembered how I like my morning coffee (caffé americano – you can take the girl out of America, but sometimes you can’t take the American out of the girl, am I right?).
These little moments are what made me realize I was no longer a tourist glued to my map and confused by euros (they’re so colorful!). I had finally become just a regular student studying at the Institute of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Although Florence still amazes me everyday, it has become familiar and it has become home. There’s constantly somewhere new to explore and new things to try.
It would have been easier for me to stay inside my comfort zone, to never move far away, to go to the same English speaking restaurants that the city has, to only venture to the areas I know well.
By choosing to study abroad in a place where I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know the language and didn’t know my way around, it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Every day, I wake up in a city filled with one-third of the world’s greatest artwork, I get to walk the streets that inspired Dante to write classics like “The Divine Comedy,” and I’m within walking distance to Uffizi Gallery, which contains the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Botticelli to name a few.
Though of course I miss my friends and family (and dog) back home, I realize I am having the opportunity of a lifetime here and learning things that would be impossible at home.
I have a feeling the hardest thing about studying abroad will be having to say goodbye to Florence and all the people I’ve met here when the semester ends in just a few months.
Albeit, I’ll remember the memories and lessons learned long after my flight to my other home.