I like to say that I have three separate lives: one in my childhood home of Stonington, Connecticut, one at Fairfield University and one in Florence, Italy.
At home, my routine consists of waking up late and heading to work in food service. I recognize all of the locals and get along with my coworkers who are more or less the same rotation of college students working for minimum wage.
At Fairfield, if it’s a Monday or Thursday, I might set an alarm for my 8 a.m. Mass Media class in the same sweatshirt and leggings that I wore to sleep, grab a coffee and head to the Daniel and Grace Tully Dining Commons.
In Florence, I am one of nearly 400,000 inhabitants. Besides the occasional glance from Florentines to affirm that I am in fact American, I can maintain anonymity. A ten minute walk to class is a breeze and I wouldn’t be caught dead on the streets wearing leggings.
Before coming to Florence, my perception of the city looked like a blurry walk down cobblestone streets and the Statue of David in the square. Come to find out, this is not the case. For one, the Statue of David is housed in a museum that I have yet to see. But also, Florence is made up of streets and sidewalks and modern storefronts much like an American city.
What you see on Instagram can be a glorified version of the person or place that is featured. It is astonishing how a place like Florence with its picture-perfect Renaissance architecture and gelato on a cone can feel like home.
There is something special about the act of mundane tasks such as walking to the local grocery store with a bag in hand, or grabbing a textbook from the Paperback Exchange. The grocery stores are a real gem. They look like an average convenience store from the outside, easy to overlook. But once you walk inside, it is a never-ending maze of fresh produce and Italian brands. The shelves are stocked with enough bread, pasta and EVOO to fill an entire Stop and Shop.
If you are looking to improve your Italian, go to the grocery stores. It’s a true guessing game without the help of Google Translate. I realize that I am coming off as an ignorant American study abroad student who can only pronounce “Ciao” and “Grazie,” but that is just the fact of the matter.
To my surprise, it has been difficult to speak any language besides English. Every person that I encounter, including store clerks and professors, speak English before I can let out a “Buongiorno.” I guess that I will have to maintain my streak on Duolingo if I want to get to know the local people.
Despite the language barrier, I have picked up on Italian culture. I have opted to make some traditional Italian meals such as bruschetta and pesto pasta al dente. I also find myself eating dinner around 8 p.m., far past the Tully rush.