by Allison Beatrice, Global Photo Columnist
Even before my freshman year of college I had decided to study abroad junior year in Florence. I dropped Spanish after seven years and took up Italian in hopes of learning enough to get by. Fast forward three years later and I was literally flying solo to Italy. I did not know anyone in the country with the exception of one of my best friends who was in a completely different program. I. Was. Petrified. I knew that I was in desperate need to have a big adventure and change up my life but it was still scary (as any big jump into adulthood is).
I arrived in Italy completely sleep deprived (I’m cursed with not being able to sleep on airplanes) and delirious from excitement and nerves. I had been to Europe before but not alone and was not sure how to settle in. However, it was my homeland, it was filled with art and I spoke the language…I figured I’d get out alive at the very least.
I couldn’t have predicted that the experience would be the single best thing I could have done for myself. Yes, it was difficult and I was homesick at times, especially for the first few weeks. But every time I left my host family’s apartment and turned a corner into some unexplored part of the city, I would see a work of art or architecture that I had studied. This to me was like seeing a celebrity (I was an art history major) and my perceptions of the city shifted with every new art sighting. I quickly became a sympathetic Florentine in regards to tourists - so much so that I would get asked directions in Italian rather than English.
While living in Florence I worked at the conservation center that had restored all the artwork from the 1966 flooding of the Arno. My supervisor was Roberto, the head underwater archaeologist at the lab. He spoke very little English, which I appreciated since I wanted to keep improving my Italian. He called me “New Yorker” with his Florentine accent and asked me if I had family from Naples as I spoke with crazy hand gestures (he was right though he never guessed I also had family from Northern Italy. Guess I’m doing my paternal grandfather proud by showing off my true Neapolitan heritage). I left Italy after six months feeling not quite like the “New Yorker” I was often called, and yet not entirely like the Florentine I had tried to become. During the transition back to my “real life” I often felt like I was having an identity crisis.
This was an experience that changed me deeply, forcing me to rely on myself in a country where colloquialisms were tricky and the rules were confusing. I came home a different person, but have never been able to explain how so - aside from my newfound snobbery towards pasta, gelato and wine.