Ok how clever is my title… not. And it just took me two hours to come up with it. Now you know my life.
Just kidding, let me just tell you some real, uninteresting facts about me. I’m Nina, a 20 year old Connecticut lame-o (or the coolest person you’ll ever meet from my tiny bubble of a town, you choose) going to school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, currently living in Florence, Italy. I’m basicallyyyyy living your dream life 😉
Back in America, I was just enjoying my little world in my college town of Boulder, CO, smack dab next to those beautiful Rocky Mountains. I pretty much had it all going for me out there; I’m a Communications major, got some great friends, a cool house, snowboarded every weekend, what could possibly be wrong with this lifestyle? Only thing wasss, is that I guess you could say, I can’t stay in one place for too long without getting a little antsy. And by the time junior year rolled round I was like I gotta get OUT of this place for a little, you feel me? So being as I can’t miss football season, (even though it’s SUCH a joke – have you seen Colorado’s record?) I decided I was going to study abroad second semester.
I knew I wanted to be in Italy. My grandparents are from here and it was more than just about going abroad for me, it was about learning the language and feeling more connected to the family I had here (I mean, none of my Aunts and Uncles can speak English so you can image how that would be a littttle complicated…) I did some pondering about what Italian city I wanted to relocate my life to for the next four months and, after some hesitation, I jumped right into the decision to come to Florence.
At first I was unsure because I had been to the city before and I didn’t like it as much as the smaller towns I’d visited in Italy. As I mentioned before, my mother’s parents are Italian, and my Nonno’s (“grandfather” in Italian) whole family is from the small southern town of Vibo Valentia, Calabria, where all but one of his siblings still resides today. I’m not sure if anyone reading has spent lots of time in a little Italian village, but if you have, you might understand why I couldn’t appreciate Florence at first. All of my first trips to Italy, from the time I was little, were to this small town where all of my family lived, and where you really got a feel for what Americans think of as the classic “Italian Lifestyle,” AKA the ghetto (just kidding, but seriously 5 shops, old buildings, no one ever moves in or moves away – not everyone’s favorite place). To give you an idea of what this town is like and how crazy it is that I love it so much, I just found an annual report in Il Sole 24 Ore Newspaper listing Italian provinces ranked by their quality of life. Florence comes in at number 18 and Vibo Valentia comes in at number 102 out of 106. Yea… anyways. I adored being in that environment, and I didn’t want to ruin how I felt about my love for Italian towns by throwing myself into a bigger Italian city. However, with some convincing from one of my mother’s good friends who studied abroad in Florence when she was my age (I also consider her a second mother, she’s got some good advice, ya know!), I decided to head to Firenze.
Not gunna lie, I thought coming abroad would be super easy right from the start. But my first month here was a little rocky. The homestays that we got put in were a far walk (1 hour!) from the Duomo, and it was really hard to navigate the city when we came into town, not to mention ALWAYS having to take cabs home (more money than I wish to release for public knowledge went into my taxi fund).
Another issue I had the first month was making friends. This is something that has always come naturally to me, being as I’m the greatest person you’ll ever meet, HA! But going on study abroad makes you a big small fish in a big pond, and I was excited for this, to come and meet all new people. But when I got here it seemed as though everyone had come to Florence with their best friends in tow. I did my best to hang out with the girls from my school that I knew, but they weren’t the type of people I had pictured spending my semester with. They didn’t want to go out and make new friends, it seemed as though their only interest was keeping the friends they already had from our college back home which is SUPER lame if you chose to go to experience a different country and not what I’m about.
After about three weeks, I took matters into my own hands and introduced myself to a nice girl in my Italian class, Jess (also the only other girl in class that laughed at our ridiculous teacher, so I knew she was cool), and she introduced me to her roommate and friend from college at home, Mya.
The three of us hit it off on day one, probably because they’re even weirder then I am, and from then on, everything just kept rolling. I met countless other people in my program that where all super cool and different than me, which was awesome.
I got the hang of things and by the end of my four months I was blending in among locals. Ok, that’s a lie because I get so nervous when I try to speak Italian. But I can fit in when no one talks to me…? And I actually loved Florence so much that I decided to stay for the summer, and here I am interning at Studentsville (best internship ever).
Can you imagine that once upon a time I didn’t even want to come here?! The whole thing seems absolutely crazy to me. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Not to mention my mother loves to remind me, “Oh, Nina! Now you can’t leave Florence but remember when you hated it just 4 months ago?!” (She really wants me home…)
Anyways, the point of all this is that (and get ready because I’m about to throw the biggest study abroad cliché at you right now) study abroad actually changed my life. OK, I SAID IT. Sorry. I met new people from all over the world, lived in a new city, got to experience
a new culture, and above all I got to reinvent my life in a place where no one knew all the stupid shit I had done in the past. (I mean there’s not that much, but if you’ve been to college you know what I’m talking about.) So I fell madly in love with Florence and its people. And here are some things I learned along my journey:
1. Italians will play sidewalk games with you
Italian culture is all about taking things slow, and walking is no exception (something I should have picked up on from my Italian side of the family – never did). But it’s not so much their speed as it is their fearless tranquility that will make you take notice. Sometimes I play a game where I’m walking and someone starts to walk towards me and I don’t move to see if they will…. they don’t. They never do. And I guess this is cool of them because unlike some Americans with serious road rage (a.k.a. me) they’re completely unfazed if they run into someone on the sidewalk every 20 seconds. Good for them?
2. There is some legit stuff on the other side of the River Arno
Go over the bridge to the other side!!! DO IT!! I didn’t discover it until wellllll into my study abroad experience, but when I finally crossed the magical Ponte Vecchio, I found: the BEST pasta I had in Florence my whole time here (tucked away in a tiny little restaurant, maybe if you’re lucky I’ll tell you one day…ok, I’ll tell you now: Il Tarochi); a seriously cool bar only Italians go to (so they probably hate me being there but WHATEVA, now we can all go together cause here’s the reveal: Volume); more amazing food; the Boboli Gardens; list goes on, and on. Just trust me. Cross a bridge and explore the other side.
3. Everything is way closer then it seems
You’ll go to one bar, then another, then three nights later realize they’re on streets right next to each other, or better yet literally right next to each other. A good tip that I developed was to just look at as much stuff as possible, so I could remember streets based on what was on them. I learned to navigate my way through Florence a little like this: “take a right at Eby’s and then head on down past The Lion’s Fountain and then a left at that burger house and then a right at that bar you’ll see that has all the red lights and then go straight….” etc., etc. No street names needed.
4. ALWAYS look up when you walk in
It’s not always that a ceiling is really cool in Italy, but it happens a freakin’ LOT. So if you’re walking into a restaurant, church, house, etc. just take a quick glance up so you don’t miss the coolest part of wherever you are.
5. It’s ok to feel stuck in the beginning
As you read above, my first month was not necessarily the best time of my life. But instead of spending the rest of my semester like a Debbie Downer, I decided to introduce myself to some people and be the sociable outgoing person I am! Here’s the best piece of advice I can give you for making friends abroad: everyone (or most people) here are trying to do the same thing as you. They want to meet new people and have some new experiences. So don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to ANYONE because this is your one chance to do freshmen year of college over again. You get to make a whole new set of friends that you normally wouldn’t be friends with. Over the course of my 4-month program I met some of the BEST and most unexpected friends I could ever have (SHOUT-OUT: you know who you are). They’re all different from me, from each other, and from anyone else I’ve ever had the opportunity to be friends with. And I loved every second with each and every one of them.
Anyways, this is turning into a long post, so I’ll say goodbye and send more tips I have and more tips I’m still learning in the next entry.
ARRIVEDERCI (see yaa laterrr)