Elika Roohi/Sun Star Contributor
Jan. 31, 2012
For the last five months I’ve been living and studying in Florence, Italy, which is one of the most popular study-abroad locations for American students. There are more than 40 different exchange programs here, and each fall sees
approximately 4,000 new students with nearly double that every spring. In fact, behind tourism, American college students are the biggest market in Florence.
It makes sense. Florence is an incredibly old city. It started around 80 BC, but the Florence as we think of it (under the control of the Medici Family) has been around since the thirteenth century. Florence promises romance and history and sitting in cafés watching life go by. It’s situated
on the beautiful fiume di Arno (Arno River). The center of the city, where all of the universities and international student apartments are located, is big enough to boast numerous churches, grocery stores, bars, clubs and restaurants. But it’s small enough to walk from one end to the other in less than an hour.
But because Florence’s economy is so dependent on tourism and study-abroad students, it doesn’t always feel authentic. I hear almost as much English as Italian while walking through the streets in the center of the city
I’m not going to undermine the value of studying abroad in Florence, or the beauty of Italy and Italian culture. I have learned so much in the past five months. I’ve been right in the middle of the euro zone crisis and have witnessed the most political change Italy has seen in years up close and personal. I’ve traveled my way through the surrounding countries picking up a phrase or two in each one. But by no means is living in Florence out of my comfort zone. And for me, that was really the goal of studying abroad: to challenge myself with foreign cultures and language barriers and unfamiliar public transportation systems.
It was during a short trip to Barcelona, Spain, in October that I really began to think about how to break out of the American student bubble. When I got back to Italy, I started volunteering at a daycare, I signed up for a language exchange and sometimes I walked 45 minutes to get my groceries just to avoid the center of Florence. I also began corresponding with the UAF Office of International Programs and the International Studies Abroad program. When the opportunity to spend spring semester in Amman, Jordan came up, I decided to take it.
It took me a few months to realize that I might be better suited to the bustling metropolis that is Jordan’s capital city than life in the heart of the Renaissance. So for students interested in studying abroad, I have this advice: really do your research. Talk to students who
have studied at the university you’re interested in. Find out about their experiences. Email the people in charge of your exchange program with a list of questions and utilize UAF’s Office of International Programs.
This is the last column you’ll read from me in Florence. I start school in Amman in mid-February, where I’ll be taking Arabic, some Middle Eastern studies classes and eating lots of shawarma. So arrivederci, Italy and marhaba, Jordan!