As I sit in one of the busiest Bars in Firenze on a Tuesday morning (in case you’re wondering it’s not a bar we typically think of, more like a bar where breakfast pastries are served along with the finest café), I think about my time here and how it’s ending in two weeks. I think about how I got here, and if I’m still in reality. I also think about how grateful I am for the chance I have been given to see the world from which I was once so sheltered. I am a Bloomsburg University student, pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education. Most people in my major don’t think of taking an entire semester off to study abroad with the major requirements because it is often hard to find classes that will transfer. I will be honest: it wasn’t easy. Luckily, a friend of mine had the same idea in mind so we went through with the planning together and found a way thanks to our University staff.
My friend and I are studying through a program called CEA Global Education. It is for students all over the United States who are interested in studying abroad. They have several campuses all over the world. The one that I am enrolled in is CEA Global Campus in Florence, Italy.
So why did I choose to study in Italy? Well, besides the three best reasons: pizza, pasta, and cannoli (something I learned: ‘cannolo’ is singular whereas ‘cannoli’ is plural), I wanted to explore a culture of which I am actually a member. I wanted to see and learn how my ancestors lived. More importantly, I just wanted to experience a culture that is so different than our American way of life.
Through my experiences abroad I have learned more than just how to avoid the gypsies. I have learned how to navigate in unfamiliar places using a map. I have learned how to step outside of my comfort zone and talk to people, not even knowing how to say hello and goodbye at first (good thing they are the same word – “Ciao!”). While learning so much about Italian culture, I have learned more about my own culture in the process. For instance, in the States we go grocery shopping usually for large orders that will last a week or so, but Italians will stare at you and avoid standing behind you if you do this. Italians shop for food on the same day that they are preparing it, therefore they only need to pick up a few things at a time.
During my time here I have also been given the opportunity to do an internship at a private elementary school. Through this opportunity, my friend and I got to work with the English teacher. Out of all the classrooms, only about a handful of students know English very well while the rest don’t know any. At first, I was extremely nervous to work with the children. I kept thinking, “How on earth am I suppose to communicate with children who don’t even speak the same language as me?”. Luckily, my mentor helped to ease some of my stress and my friend and I gave each other assistance with speaking. This is my time to really get creative in thinking of ways to communicate with the Italian students. I must say, my Italian improved greatly once I started working in the school thanks to my little Italian students teaching me new words! I have learned so much from my experience in the Italian classroom. A little known fact: Italian students do not know how to write in lowercase print because they are taught how to write in cursive in the 3rd grade. They also refer to ‘3rd grade’ as ‘3rd class’. I can’t wait to bring what I have learned back to the States and incorporate my new found knowledge into my future classroom.
Many students often fret over the idea of going to a foreign country. Leaving family and friends for a long period of time, going across the world, and entering a place with foreign food and language all sound absolutely horrifying, right? Trust me, I was a tad nervous in the beginning, too. Especially when everyone around me kept saying, “Don’t get taken!”. However, being here has become very addicting. I have been able to travel to see other parts of Europe (I will have been in ten different countries by the time I leave Italy). My love for Italian culture has grown with each passing day and I have been inspired to travel around the United States as well. I realized the world is so big, yet so small at the same time. Even though I am sad to leave this country that I have fallen in love with, I will be excited to once again reunite with my family and friends. I know this won’t be my last time in Italy. According to the Il Porcellino – The Piglet – located right outside the leather market near Piazza Della Republica area, if you rub the boar’s snout (which I conveniently did several times) you will return to Florence one day. You can see Il Porcellino anytime during the day, and while you’re there you can treat yourself to some leather souvenir goods.
Studying abroad has been the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. Even if I am coming back to America broke, I am rich in more ways than I could ever put a price on. I would strongly suggest studying abroad to anyone who has the slightest interest; it will change your life forever (I promise).