By: Anne McAlister (UConn), Annemarie Lussier (UConn) and Tiffany Do (Penn State)
Our semester in Florence is more than halfway through and we thought it would be nice to reflect on what we’ve done so far as well as what we’ve come to realize over the past few weeks. The three of us have traveled to many different places so far including London, Paris, Prague, Barcelona and Berlin to name a few. But every time we return to Florence from these trips, we feel at home. The one thing we can all agree on is that we are glad we chose to study abroad in Florence.
One of the major reasons is because it is so easy to get around Florence. On a recent trip to London we discovered that it is a huge city and you need to take the underground subway to get to pretty much everything. We spent just 3 days there but by the end we were very tired of having to navigate the different metro lines. London is a beautiful city and it was nice to hear and understand people speaking English, but we felt like we spent more time underground than above it.
Florence is nothing like that. Every day on our way to and from class we pass beautiful historic buildings. We are immersed in the beauty of our surroundings. We can also get pretty much anywhere in the city by only a 20-minute walk. There is a public bus system, however there is no real need to use it unless you need to get somewhere very far away. We have come to enjoy walking around and immersing ourselves in the city.
One thing that could be seen as a “downside” to studying abroad in Florence is the language barrier. People who study abroad in places like London have the advantage of speaking the same language as the culture surrounding them, making it easier to get around or ask for help. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store get difficult when you do not have the ability to ask where the milk is, or when you cannot read the labels.
With this in perspective, it becomes unclear as to why someone would want to immerse themselves into such an ambiguous situation. However, a language barrier is not the worst thing in the world, in fact, it can actually be a good thing. For one, as a student, you get to learn a new language. Although tricky at times, we know from personal experience that it gets easier to converse with the locals as time goes on. It can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it actually becomes fun. Learning a new language is just another part of the overall study abroad experience, which feeds into making you a more worldly person.
Another one of our favorite reasons we’re glad we studied abroad in Florence, versus another city, is a reason that we didn’t realize until we spent a few weeks in Florence. There are so many small, specialty businesses in Florence that would greatly struggle to be able to exist in other cities, or in the US at all. There are businesses such as small art supply stores, shoe repair shops, shops that sell just cheese, and tiny little shops that sell books. There are shops that exclusively sell incense, or soap, and I’ve even seen a book repair shop.
In the US, these stores would barely be able to survive. They exist, but very rarely and often will go out of business within a few years. This is due to the growing number of superstores, such as Walmart, as well as the Internet (such as Amazon.com) In Europe, these types of businesses are much more common, but in some large cities, such as London, Paris, or Barcelona, they are also becoming less frequent due to the number of large supply stores opening up.
We think it’s absolutely fantastic that all these businesses can exist in Florence, and that one tiny shop that’s as big as our living room, can make enough money to keep itself alive and support its owner.
In conclusion, we LOVE Florence. Choosing to study abroad here was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. The culture is truly beautiful and we love being a part of it even for the small amount of time that we are here. We hope one day to come back and re-live all the great memories we have made here so far.