“Back to school” time reminds us of the central role that American students have played in our 200 years of shared history. Art students have been coming to Florence for more than two centuries and Smith College was the first American university to establish a presence here in 1931. The numbers grew dramatically beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s, and there are now about 7,000 American students in Tuscany, studying the art, culture and history of Italy but also pursuing their degrees in engineering, science and business. These students are enrolled in more than 50 American university programs, which are part of the fabric of Tuscan life. They’re an important source of American investment and employment in the region and take seriously their responsibilities to support their communities. Watch for young Americans serving meals at a Caritas food kitchen, volunteering with the Misericordia or cleaning up graffiti with Angeli del Bello. This is nothing new. Three days after the 1966 Flood, then-Consul General Joseph Wheeler noted in an official dispatch to Washington: “Most of city without electricity and water and closed to all but essential traffic…hundreds of American students helping salvage individual homes, stores, museums, etc.”
Sometimes it gets so hot and humid outside that following the rules is the last thing you think about. For example, you may be at the Boboli Gardens under the beating sun and have the sudden wish to plunge into the waters of the small lake to get a close-up view of the Neptune Fountain. Don’t do it—and not only because of the color of the water. Whether we are long-term residents or day-trippers, we are all safer and happier when we follow the rules.
Following the rules is easy. It’s usually just common sense. Don’t swim in the pond at the Boboli Gardens. Don’t shoplift or urinate in the street. You will get arrested and/or fined. Don’t climb on scaffolding or over the railings on a bridge or you might fall in the Arno and injure yourself badly. As Florence swells with students and visitors from around the world this month, remember to stay safe and follow the rules. It is one of the best and easiest ways to have a happy and healthy time in the city.