One College Student, Living Like a Local in Florence Italy.
By Rachel Bergan, University of South Carolina
On January 24, 2012, I boarded a plane to Florence, Italy, with no clue as to what the next four months would bring. I was nervous, anxious, and beyond excited. The day was finally here; after a year of planning, saving, preparing, and anticipating, I was finally beginning my four-month journey abroad.
Fast-forward four months: it is May 12 and I am watching the city that I’ve grown to love get smaller and smaller, as the plane takes off and makes its way back to Boston. I — like many others — have tears rolling down my face as I say goodbye to what was, of course, “the best four months of my life.” I lived in a beautiful and historic city, ate the most delicious cuisine, witnessed amazing fashion, and truly lived like a local.
That being said, what we see on our friends’ Facebook pages — pictures of beautiful European architecture, exquisite meals, and breathtaking, picturesque sights — is not all there is to studying abroad. It is an adjustment and it can be difficult. There are times when all you want is an iced coffee from your hometown coffee shop, your dad’s delicious homemade baked mac & cheese, and a microwave. You become frustrated because you can’t drive to the grocery store on a cold day, you feel claustrophobic in your crowded, cold apartment, and all you want is to talk, face to face, with your best friends who are going on with life back home in the states. These frustrations, however, do eventually pass.
You quickly come to realize that you are in a city filled with the most amazing cappuccino and where wine is (literally) cheaper than water. You might miss your family’s home cooking, but you can go to Quattro Leoni and get mouth-watering pear ravioli or to Il Gatto for a plethora of fresh antipasti and unlimited wine. And you will become so used to cooking on your little Italian stove that you will come home and try to light your American stove with a kitchen lighter (trust me, I’ve done it). You might not be able to drive to a supersized grocery store, but you can walk along the beautiful cobblestone streets of Firenze to Mercato Sant’ambrogio and Mercato Centrale for the freshest fruits, vegetables, and pastas you will ever lay your hands on. You learn to love your freezing, pint-sized apartment and when you return to the states, you will consider it your home away from home. You will always miss your friends — that never changes — but remember, these new friends are going through a journey with you, and together you are experiencing things that only you can understand.
Today, I continue to search for pear and pecorino cheese ravioli recipes that I know will never come close to rivaling what I tasted in Florence. I pass highway signs leading to Florence, South Carolina, and wish that by driving east on Highway 20 I could magically end up in Firenze. I drive to the grocery store, to dinner, to class, wishing I could be walking along the Arno, the Duomo guiding me to wherever I need to be. I can get an iced coffee anywhere I turn, but long for that delicious Italian cappuccino from the café below my apartment. I wear my beautiful Manelli bracelets, carry my leather bag from Mercato di San Lorenzo, and browse (on a weekly basis) the pictures of the beautiful city that I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to live in.
Never in my life did I imagine I could accomplish so much in four months. I traveled to over 20 cities in five different countries. I rode a gondola through the Grand Canal in Venice; danced on tables and drank “the greatest beer in all the world” in Germany; ate traditional Greek gyros while watching a Santorini sunset; signed my name on the Lennon Wall in Prague; and danced until the sun came up in Barcelona. I spoke a few phrases of semi-convincing Italian and ate 1,000 bowls of pasta (and probably even more gelato). I learned so much about myself and grew up in ways I never would have imagined, and I made amazing friends and memories that can never be replaced. It is true that studying abroad will be “the best four months of your life,” but trust me — it is so much more than that. It is truly a life-changing experience. I love and miss you more than you will ever know, Firenze. You will always hold a special place in my heart.
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