Living and Learning in Florence

Today’s post comes from UC Irvine student Erika Richards, who is spending this fall studying in Florence! Erika describes how the differences between her expectations and the reality of studying abroad have provided her a richer experience.

“Two hundred and twenty euros,” was her response. After months of planning a seemingly perfect travel itinerary— with my final destination being Florence— I was hit with a three digit number I was not prepared for. One delayed flight was all it took to foil my plans. Because I was delayed in Canada for seven extra hours, I missed my final connecting flight from Rome to Florence. So with my luggage in tow, and an overall sense of determination to overcome any challenge thrown my way, I began to seek out other forms of transportation. This then led me to board a bullet train that would unfortunately come to a complete halt at the halfway point between Rome and Florence, and then be delayed due to technical difficulties for an extra seventy minutes. My arrival to Tuscany was both rocky and rewarding. I learned it is wise to book separate flights with the same airline so that your missed flight will be reimbursed or exchanged for another ticket, and that in Italy if a bullet train is delayed for more that sixty minutes you’re entitled to a refund (which I’m most definitely going to use to treat myself to an Italian escapade in the near future). I had traveled across continents and oceans to learn culture, history, and language; to my jet-lagged surprise, my lessons had already begun before I had even arrived to the end of the line.

As I mentioned earlier, not only was my travel itinerary planned with presumptuous ideas of perfection, but I had also masterfully informed myself of the European activities that I looked forward to engaging in. Every travel guide, study abroad blog, and National Geographic magazine with locations and activities that piqued my interest were strategically analyzed. Lists were jotted down and plans were drawn up because I was going to use every waking moment of my study abroad experience to expand my current view and understanding of the world around me. I then proceeded to naïvely overlook the fact that my body had been accustomed to the Pacific Time Zone for the past twenty-three years. It wasn’t until my friend pointed out that I was in perpetual motion that I realized I hadn’t given myself time to settle into my new life abroad. Also, to my dismay, my eyes would suddenly swing open, wake me up, and refused to allow me to go back to sleep at 4:30 in the morning every day for the first two weeks, which really began to take its toll on my emotional and physical stability. I had arrived with the mindset that time was slipping out of my hands and if I didn’t act fast, I would be back on a plane home before I knew it. Now I know that I’m not just visiting Italy for a few days or a week, I’m living abroad.

This is my new home and I’m finding new and different ways to treat it as such. For example: I spend the majority of my days walking around the city, taking the long way home to understand the streets and orient myself to my surrounding. Every day, I discover a new shop or market that may turn into my new favorite place to buy freshly-squeezed orange juice or a kilo of grapes. Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to slowly pick up more words and phrases to help me navigate around the language barrier and because I live in the historical part of the city, I have the privilege of walking by a few of the most beautiful and famous structures in Florence on my way to class.

I treasure my morning walks the most. I can watch the city get ready to receive the millions of guests that walk through its gates. The streets are being cleaned constantly and the shopkeepers are lighting up their windows. I can walk around and take pictures without walking into someone else’s shot or bumping tourists’ shoulders. There’s a unique stillness that surrounds each historical landmark around eight in the morning. I slowly walk up and It’s just the two of us and my camera, no tourists and no overwhelming foot traffic.

My days are now filled with interesting facts from my class “The Social History of Quattrocento Florence” and stories of Boccaccio’s The Decameron. My wonderful study abroad program organized an excursion day where we were delighted with the opportunity to visit my favorite Tuscan towns, besides Florence: Siena and San Gimignano. Siena’s Duomo and its ceilings captured my heart. I had never been in the presence of something so grand. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption was the perfect introduction to Italian art. When I arrived in Italy in late August, I will admit I was completely focused on the eating and the loving part of my personal journey, but this house of worship gave me a reason to pray.~Erika Richards, UCEAP Florence 2017

Did this post inspire you to embark upon your own study abroad adventure? Use the ACCENT Program Finder to discover your options: