Overseas and Overwhelmed

When in Florence, do as the Florentines do?

My first days in Florence were, in a way, similar to my arrival at IU my freshman year. Florence was a place I have never lived before, I hadn’t an idea what school would be like here and I was simply trying to find the people I would become friends with over the semester.

While I’ve found myself adjusting well to the pace of Florence, with roommates whom I’m already planning weekend adventures to other countries with, I’ve realized that everyone’s transition to life, in practically a new country, can be very different.

For my classmates and friends, Manny Rodriguez and Haley Hudgens, from universities on opposite sides of the United States, experiences in the first few weeks in Florence proved just how easy or difficult a move across the sea can be.

However, no matter the circumstances, whether a student from IU, Oswego University or Bolder University, how an experience abroad can change ones life permanently rests in the hands of the person’s desire to grow through exposure to new cultures.

Thank God for Google Translate

As a senior at Oswego State University of New York, Manny Rodriguez knew that Florence, Italy, was going to be his last chance to truly travel.

He decided to opt for an authentic experience with a homestay at the apartment of a 60-year-old Italian woman and her two adult children. However, he never could have expected the surprise that awaited him upon arrival.

“I just walked in and the first thing I said, I studied up some greetings beforehand just in case, and I said, ‘Parli inglese?’ and she said, ‘No.’ And I freaked out,” says Manny. “I didn’t know what to say after that,”

Manny Rodriguez had never taken an Italian class before arriving in Florence, and he had no idea that he would be staying with a family that spoke no English. While many students studying abroad ease into the newness of a foreign country by living with fellow American students, Manny had to begin adjusting to life in Italy immediately.

“I’m a very patient person, but I feel really bad for her,” he says. “She has been really patient with me. But just imagine someone is in your house and you have to tell them this, this and that, and I can only say ‘bene,’ ‘ciao,’ ‘sì’ and ‘no.’ I’m very limited, and I’m just very thankful that she is patient with me.”

Manny said technology has been a literal lifesaver for the past couple weeks in Florence. During one of his first meals, he was having an allergic reaction to the food his host mom had prepared for him, and the only way he was able to communicate what was happening was through Google translate.

However, as time passes, living in a new space is already getting a little easier for him.

Ciao, America

Haley Hudgens, on the other hand, has been living with two other American women studying abroad whom she had never met before arriving in Florence. As a student at Boulder University, born and raised in Colorado, this is Haley’s first experience in Europe. The words “culture shock” aren’t in her vocabulary, though.

Adjusting to life as a Florentine has come naturally to Haley, and every single little quirk of the city excites her.

“What secretly I love about Florence is that there are just different places for different things,” she says. “Like, you can’t go anywhere that has everything, like a department store. I love that there are specialized shops. And then just the whole smallness of this town is just really refreshing.”

The small differences between people in Italy versus the U.S. were noticeable within Haley’s first few weeks in Florence.

“Even though I haven’t had many social interactions with Italians yet, they just seem like really social people, and it’s kind of refreshing how they talk to each other and just have real conversation, whereas in the U.S., everyone just stares at their phone. Also, I see so many people on the street acknowledge each other. Like the people in this town really know each other.”

She has already admitted that she can’t even imagine returning to the U.S. For her, transitioning to a new lifestyle in Europe isn’t frightening. Instead, it’s a chance to learn a lesson from a place different from what she was used to.

“I just want to grow. I just want to expand. I literally just want to know and do everything.”