Graham DiNicola is a International Ambassador in the Office of Global Opportunities and a civil engineering major through the College of Engineering. Last winter and spring term, he studied abroad in Florence, Italy through API. In this entry, he shares some of his favorite memories from being abroad. Read on to learn more about the authentic Italian experience!
Nearly everyone has those days dreaming about being far away from reality, but how many actually experience this dream where translating is necessary? Let me start by saying that based on firsthand experience, even if whoever is doing the translating is as sober as Sister Maria, there is nothing more that will stress you out than being yelled at by Italians. As you quickly learn, it is not the path you take that gets you yelled at, but the adventure (even if you do get lost) – and this journey is certainly one that will not be easily forgotten.
Embarking on a new scene in life is intimidating – looking at two bags, traveling to a new country with no familiar faces – now that is…. Let’s just say an experience that not many get. Traveling was nothing new to me, but accepting a new home in Florence, Italy – that was something I could never fathom, only dream about and it turned into reality.
People may say that study abroad opens up your eyes, and it certainly does; but living and studying in a new place does more than this. You become a new person, picking up on cultural aspects that many are often too blind to admire or take for granted. These realizations often come about from the people that surround you on this abroad experience.
Ian Bickerton was an older Australian Professor who wore two different socks that he claimed represented the Democratic and Republican parties and did this to demonstrate the contradiction that he is. Mix this in with his dry sense of humor, a colorful ascot, and his liberal view of the world; I was bound to learn more than just Globalization from Professor Bickerton.
Professor Bickerton was a man full of life lessons, many applicable to Florence. The first, flights are scheduled to be missed. Because of this, seeing Eisbach (the wave people surf in Munich, Germany), and enjoying a meal in Marienplatz in the shadow of Neues Rathaus became realities – did I miss my plane? No, but I was the last to board it.
The second, I should wake up every morning and go to a bar (Italian – coffee shop) and read. If by the third morning the barista does not have my order memorized, I should find a new bar. This lead to the biggest realization that the Italian culture is focused on quality – their attire, food, wine, city (the list could be an entire blog itself). It purely is the Florentine way of life.
This quality was something that I was longing to return to even when visiting other cities and countries such as Venice, Rome, Cinque Terre, Greece, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Ireland – it was the glow of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo) that greeted me home. The Duomo is something so ornate and colossal that started construction over 600 years ago – and is still being completed to this day.
That is one thing about Italians; they love the slow pace of life – even if it takes 600+ years to complete a task. Getting your day started at 8am, working at your own leisure, afternoon naps, two-hour dinners, and gathering in the plazas scattered about the city – this lifestyle is centered around enjoyment and happiness, something I got very used to. When the nights engulfed the streets of Florence, families would emerge, children would play in the plaza while the parents enjoyed a bottle of wine and the company of others – this gateway to darkness was so beautiful, it can never be put into words.
Our nights would often start with live music, a glass of wine, and a view of the entire city of Florence at the Plaza De Michelangelo. These sunsets were so perfect that pictures could never embrace the full beauty. It was a reminder of the untouched beauty such a place and culture hold – for it was here that I felt humbled and the happiest in my life. This was quality at its finest – from structures to sunsets, it was this slow pace, fineness of quality, and recognition of the importance of happiness in that solidified the Italian culture.
This finesse in the Italian culture carried over to the best dinners I have ever experienced. Sitting down with the actual owner of Trattoria La Burrasca – where the menu was hand written every day based on what was available fresh from the Mercato Centrale – was an experience in itself. The meal over fresh caprese salad, gnocchi, and Florentine steak is something that one cannot simply arrange. It was an adventure that we stumbled upon – and from it gained a weekly dinner with an even better friend.
It was these types of experience that made me realize that study abroad was not just traveling and studying, but finding a new home – for when the tourist season arose, I was just as fed up with the amount of people that had flooded the city as an actual Italian. For over the course of a semester, I had learned more than I ever could have imagined – about myself, about academics, and about the world we live in – with one aspect shining through – the most important things in life can only be experienced firsthand, not taught or read about – only experienced.
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