One of the biggest adjustments that they don’t tell you about before you study abroad is the transition from an enclosed suburban campus to an open city.
Before coming to Florence, I had never been passed by a vespa on my way to class or had to use Google Maps to find the business school. Nor have I fallen asleep to the sound of street performers outside my window or awoken to the hustle and bustle of tourists.
As the days go on, I grow more and more familiar with the tracklist of the man with the guitar on Via Martelli (which includes “Hallelujah” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”) and the church bells ringing on the hour.
I am now able to walk to my favorite gelato shop called Gelateria dei Neri without the assistance of Google Maps and have walked the Ponte Vecchio enough to recognize the faces of street artists and vendors.
A question that often arises is the authenticity of the city center. I mean, never have I ever woken up to see a line of tourists outside of my window entering a Renaissance cathedral. With all of the museums and statues and fake gelato, is it possible to know what life in Florence is really like? Or do I have to look elsewhere?
This week, I found my answer. My professor of health and fitness in the Mediteranean led myself and 30 students through across the Ponte Vecchio to the outskirts of Florence.
“90 percent of students who study abroad never cross the river; they don’t know Florence,” he told us.
Regardless of the accuracy of the statement above, I am ashamed to admit that, had I not registered for this class, I would be a part of that percentage.
He showed us where he and many of my other professors grew up. The narrow streets were lined with family cars. The only sound in reach was the murmur of Italian conversation and the birds taking flight.
We stopped at a recreational center where middle school students trudged along the outdoor track and collected tennis balls on the court below. I hadn’t seen so much greenery since I had arrived in Florence from the highways of the Tuscany region.
As it turns out, beyond the facade of the city center, Florence looks a lot more like home. The difference is just beyond the bridge.