Little by little, but starting right now

Finding Florence

Katie O'Connor
February 12, 2009

It's the start of my second semester abroad in the enchanting city of Firenze, but for many other students, it is just the beginning of the culture unraveling that is to be expected with any new place.


Italy is far more than just any other study abroad experience, it's a change of lifestyle from the fast-paced life of deadlines and schedules many of live in the United States. So get ready for the culture shock because it will be sure to hit you, and you might not even realize when.


For example, don't be surprised if two months from now, one o'clock not only means the same to you as 13:00, but it also means 13:30. All of these differences may seem at first overwhelming and even a bit off-putting, but don't let that stop you from experiencing the city and the people as you want to.


I have been living in the city since September 2008, and although I'm not as fluent in the language as I wish I were, I think of the Italian phrase piano piano, roughly equivalent to the English expression ‘little by little.' In truth, ‘little by little' is the best and only way to truly embrace the Italian culture.


I knew I was going to be here for a year, and now as February rolls in, there are still things in this city that I haven't yet seen. My advice: take advantage of every opportunity: visit the new city exhibits, stop in the museums more than once, travel around the Tuscan region and beyond, take a day trip into Chianti and sample the wine and oil, strike up a conversation with Italians at a city ‘pub.' I promise you won't be disappointed!    


When I first arrived, I had a hard time figuring out the city life. I walked around for at least two weeks with my map and my guide book in hand, frantically trying to read street signs and remember churches for landmarks just as I've seen so many newly arriving students do. You may feel like the ‘typical American' now, but soon enough, the city will become as easy to understand as your campus back home. Knowing the difference between Mercato di San Lorenzo and Mercato Centrale will be second nature.


A bookstore where the staff speaks English helped me make the transition. Paperback Exchange, located on via delle Oche, only a strada (street) away from the famous Grom gelato that every guidebook will direct you to for your first sampling of Firenze gelato, carries all the American textbooks that you will ever need, as well as one of the best selections of guidebooks in the city. These books not only helped me orient myself with Florence, but I used them to give myself a crash course in Italian history and a plan for sightseeing that currently has me booked until the end of the semester.


In other words, don't waste another minute: get started loving Italy!


Until next issue!



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