If you would have walked up to me a year ago and told me that one day I would spend an entire summer living in Italy, I would have thought "No way, not me!" Then on May 16, 2011, I woke up to my first full day in Florence, Italy. In Mt. Pleasant, you hear trains in the background. In Florence, you hear Vespas. Florence is A-MAZ-ING. Just walking around the twisty, cobblestone alleys of the medieval-looking streets in downtown Florence, you feel like you've taken a time machine back into the 1500s. You have this overwhelming sense of a place just craaaving to be discovered. That feeling right there is the MAGIC of studying abroad! Five other CMU students went to Florence with me. We didn't know each other before we left. However, once we arrived in Italy, we felt like family instantly! We were discovering Italy together and sharing our excitement at the same time, which made for a very exciting, high-energy experience that none of us will ever forget. My apartment was literally a stone's throw from several of the school buildings, a small market, a pizza shop, the plaza, the gym, an ATM, the library, the river, a computer lab, and--believe it or not--Leonardo Da Vinci's grave! I was placed into an apartment with two CMU girls, a girl who plays soccer for Indiana State and even a girl from Switzerland! We did everything together including weekend trips to visit nearby countries. We did one weekend in Barcelona, Spain, a long weekend in Croatia and several trips to Rome, Pisa, Venice and the Italian beaches! My first class was right next to The Duomo--an enormous, grand cathedral built in the 1200s. You really just cannot grasp the size of the Duomo until you're walking down the street and it's on the horizon--I wish someone snapped a picture of my face the first time I set eyes on it. My professors all spoke English very well--one was an ex-pro soccer player even! He was hands down hilarious and took us on super exclusive field trips. I kept a daily blog so that my family and friends could share my experience with me. Here's one excerpt from my blog:
"At the end of the day I turned to Lauren and said, 'I bet when you met me in class in 2009 you didn't think you'd be backpacking it to Barcelona with me in 2011!'" –After our trip to Spain.
The students did not have cars. No cars meant walking everywhere. I liked the feeling. It felt like I was a part of the city since I was always on foot with everyone, instead of passively seeing it through the windows of a car. Going to the market meant purchasing only what you could carry on your back. It gave me a real sense of that "old-world" culture I wanted to get out of my study abroad experience. At the market, I would usually buy cheese tortellini then go home and cook it over our match-lighting stove. It was the best pasta I have ever had! And you better believe the most savory, melt-in-your-mouth lasagna can only be found in Italy!
In Florence--and most other major cities in Italy--all the Italian folks speak English. Before I left, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to communicate my needs, such as purchasing food and a finding a bank. I went to Italy without speaking a lick of Italian. All I had was an English to Italian translator app on my iPhone. By the end of the summer, I had learned plenty of basic Italian. There was a ton of other American students in Florence from universities all across our country. I honestly met students from almost every single state. Going to Italy was the best thing I have ever done for my character and growth as a person. It really changed how I view the world and all the AMAZING people in it. I still dream about Florence all the time and I miss it so much!!!