Starting Student Life in Florence, May 30 – June 2

Here begins another chapter of my life: spending a month living and studying in Florence, Italy through my home college of Kent State University. I am lucky enough that Kent offers a convenient study abroad program in Florence due to having their own building in Florence that is staffed with some professors from Kent and some from other universities located in Florence. The program is also convenient in the fact that the classes it offers can be directly applied towards my degree, requiring absolutely no finagling through advisors to get a Florence class to cover a requirement.

            The program is four weeks long, with classes everyday from Monday to Thursday. I chose to take the course International Business and another called the Genius of Florence. International Business is exactly as it sounds, a course focusing on different environments, practices, and theories of international businesses, covering topics like globalization, sustainability, different cultures and their influence on business, global strategies and structures, and many more. The Genius of Florence is a class designed to introduce students to the city of Florence; it’s history, notable characters, and important places. The class spends half of it’s time in the classroom and the other half meeting at different locations in the city, like churches, museums, and streets.

            While living in Florence, students are housed in various apartments located in the center of the old city with four to six students per apartment. Students are encouraged to walk the streets and get to know their home away from home, as well as to travel to other cities on the weekends, with one mandatory trip to the nearby city of Siena, and other optional trips through the university as well. The program is absurdly expensive, as is all education in America, and yet the experience is absolutely incredible.

The kitchen, complete with a goodie bag of snacks and toilet paper from the leasing agency
The living room, in which I just now realized from looking at this picture that nothing in the room matches
My side of our absolutely enormous room

            On Thursday,
May 30, I left my hostel in Florence and headed to the leasing agency to pick
up and information packet and key to my apartment, which was thankfully only a
short walk away. The apartment absolutely blew me away. I have five other
roommates, which is a lot and will be interesting considering I only know one of
them, but I was confident I could handle absolutely anything, especially once I
saw how incredible the apartment is. Three rooms, with two people per room, two
bathrooms, one with a tub and one with a shower, a fully equipped kitchen, and
a spacious living room complete with multiple couches and a TV.

There are multiple cupboards around the living room, each one piled with old travel books, text books, and pretty much any other book you could think of

The other perk of the apartment that surprised me was the amount of books and dishware left in the apartment by its previous tenants. It made sense when I thought about it, as students traveling home wouldn’t want to bring heavy books or kitchen utensils back with them, but it was a nice unexpected bonus. I immediately found at least three books I wanted to read, including an Italian to English dictionary and a book on the Zodiac Killer.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, known to us students as the Duomo, due to the enormous dome on top, is the majestic marble building off to the right there

As the first one there,  I of course claimed the largest bedroom for my friend Rachel and I to share. Shortly after, two of my other roommates arrived, and I was relieved that they were friendly and seemed to be decent living companions. They invited me out to lunch and we went to Shake Café, a decently healthy smoothie and power bowl restaurant, conveniently located two blocks away right down the street from the university building.

            Later
the same day, my two roommates and I scooped up some other friends from back
home, and went to go sit in front of the Duomo, the central landmark of Florence.
The Duomo is an enormous green and white marble church with an adjacent baptistry
that may well be the most beautiful building I have ever seen. It was begun in
1296 and completed in 1436, with the iconic dome designed by Filippo
Brunelleschi, who actually refused to tell anyone how he was going to make the
dome beforehand.

            The
Duomo is also home to one of the sights of Florence that I was most excited to
see: Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, the famous golden doors of the
Baptistry that show intricate biblical scenes from the Bible. Sadly, the original
doors aren’t still on the Baptistry, but the copies are just as impressive and
the originals can still be seen in the nearby Museo dell’Opera. So we wandered
around the Duomo as the sun set, and got our first tastes of true Italian
gelato, which has forever ruined the taste of American ice cream for me.

Two of the other girls in our apartment, and my friend Rachel on the right of me

            Just
to be on brand with the stereotype of American college students abroad, we went
out drinking that night. Right before my friend and roommate Rachel got in from
her flight I picked up a bottle of wine, so once she got in she unpacked a bit
and then a whole group of us set out, some of our roommates and some extra friends.
We did our best to hunt down some local bars and clubs, even if no one else
seemed to be out, considering it was a Thursday. After a full successful first
day in Florence, we finally crawled into bed in the small hours of the morning.

            Of
course, I then proceeded to wake up early the next day with a raging headache
and some residual vertigo. Regardless of that, I walked to a grocery store and
picked up the ingredients to make breakfast for Rachel and I, a sweet potato
and onion hash with toast and eggs over easy. We then walked to get her set of
keys from the agency, and set out to wander around the city and start to get
familiar with it.

The Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge over the Arno River. The bridge is known as the city’s main street for jewelers, and is home to the Vesari Corridor, an above ground passage passing for half a mile through the city above the streets. Don’t mind the brown river

            Later
in the day, after I accidentally took a three-hour nap, Rachel and I decided to
skip the guided hike with the college and go out to dinner instead. We found
this incredible restaurant, where I ordered a mint pesto pasta with cherry
tomatoes and capers, which may not sound appetizing but was probably one of the
best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten, if not one of the best dishes ever. Afterwards
we went to find our daily dose of gelato, which was incredibly easy because
there’s a gelato place around every corner in Florence.

Mint pesto pasta, also known as the best dish I have ever eaten

            June 1st
was excruciatingly boring. We, as Kent students, had our first day of mandatory
orientation, meaning we had to be at the school by 8, where we sat through
several presentations on safety, the psychological effects of being away from
home, and various other topics that could have been covered in about a quarter
of the time it took. On the bright side, free buffet lunch at a nearby
restaurant before we went back for another presentation and later a walking
tour to some of the important places in the city we needed to know about, like
the hospital, library, and various pharmacies and grocery stores.

            After
that long of a day the last thing I wanted to do was workout, but I’d been
enough of a lump for the past few days that Rachel and I wrote a bodyweight
workout to do on the floor of our apartment. Not being able to workout as usual
has been a huge struggle for me this entire trip, but I was reminded by a few good
friends that life is not all about how strong or in shape you are, and that I
have the opportunity while abroad to improve myself in a myriad of other ways
that aren’t just physical. Even still in that light, I’ve decided to try to get
back into running, just to have a goal and be able to stay active in some way.

            To save money, instead of going out that night, our odd conglomeration of friends picked up a few bottles of wine and various liquors and crashed at our apartment for the night. Rachel and I went splits on a bottle of Limoncello, which is pretty much lemon milk flavored alcohol, but was surprisingly OK when poured over ice. By the time we all headed off to bed, we had only broke one corkscrew and everyone called it a successful night of new friends and stories.

            The
second (and last, thankfully) day of orientation was much easier than the first.
We got to get up an hour later than the day before, and the first presentation
was a lot of common sense information, pretty much telling us not to do anything
in Italy that we wouldn’t do at home. The second presentation was much more interesting,
with useful tips like not to buy gelato from places that have “mountains” of
gelato in the windows and to look for buffet places called “aperencina” where
you basically pay for a drink but get endless food thrown in.

The view of the city as the sun sets. The Duomo can be seen as the enormous dome that we use as a landmark anytime we get lost
Rachel and I, after getting the guts to ask a stranger to take a picture

            Thankfully
I got out of orientation within two hours, and had the rest of the day to relax
around the apartment, catch up on some reading and journaling (I am rereading
Dan Brown’s Inferno, which is set in Florence, and it truly is incredible to
get to read about the history of a city you will be calling home for a little
while). I also got to try my hand at preparing tofu for the first time, as I
promised myself I would go back to being vegetarian when I had my own kitchen
and could prepare my own foods.

            That
night, Rachel and I got a little dressed up and walked with some friends a mile
across the Arno River and up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a gorgeous square
with gardens and statues that provides a spectacular view of both the city
below and the surrounding hills. The city of Florence spreads out in front of
you, and it’s breathtaking to think about how this is a city that has been standing
for over a thousand years, has been the home of so many influential people, and
yet still opens its arms to visitors (and students) from all over the world,

            On
the way back down into the city, we stopped for what will be the third day of
gelato in a row. Today was mint and dark chocolate, and fantastic combination
that I will be eating again. The sun finally set for the day as we walked, and
there truly is no better feeling than wandering the streets of Italy with good
food and good friends.

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