UAF student starts year under Tuscan sun

Elika Roohi / Special to the Sun Star
Sept. 27, 2011

The Duomo in Florence, Italy. Photo by Elika Roohi.

Last spring, I attended the UAF Office of International Programs’ study abroad orientation. About 20 sophomores and juniors crowded into a room in Duckering, and the great study abroad staff at UAF gave us their final bits of wisdom and sent us away.

It’s the end of September now, and we’re all over the world. There are UAF students in China, Scotland, Switzerland, Japan, Spain, Italy and numerous other countries. For the last month, we’ve been furnishing international student apartments, dealing with language barriers and foreign currencies, and settling in to what will end up being quite a year.

I’m a journalism sophomore studying in Florence, Italy. Last year, I was a regular Sun Star reporter, and this year I’ll be making an appearance in this column every so often.

Italy, the land of art, opera, food, and refined Europeans is a far cry from Fairbanks, Alaska. But even across the world, a few things are familiar.

School is school, even in Italy. The classes here are taught mostly in English to foreign exchange students on a variety of topics — mostly liberal arts. Some of the more popular courses are those in the culinary arts department, and the extremely popular Wine Appreciation classes. Most classes are held once a week for two and half hours, and are taught by Italians or ex-pats.

Everyone attending Florence University of the Arts is required to take an Italian language class. These are the classes that meet more than once a week, and are taught entirely in Italian.

I’ve been learning more about my professor than about the language in my Italian class so far. He is an aspiring actor and dancer from Sienna who looks like the Italian equivalent of a surfer dude. He has a dog named Roger who eats gelato, and was an extra in that scene from “New Moon” where everyone was wearing red cloaks and wandering around the streets of Italy.

That’s the thing about Florence, everyone here has a story to tell. I can’t always understand what I’m being told because my Italian is still pretty bad at this point. But when I can follow along, and even sometimes when I can’t, it’s pretty interesting.

There are our neighbors across the hall. They’re from Egypt, and speak a few words of English, broken Italian, and fluent Arabic. One of them works at the Greek restaurant down the street, and the other works at the café on our corner. And when they’re not working, we’ve caught them watching belly dance videos on YouTube on multiple occasions.

Then there’s the head of student services, a native Florentine who rides her bicycle 45 minutes to work every day. She told me not to judge people by their cultural stereotypes because French women are supposed to be standoffish, but one of her best friends is French, and she’s very nice.

And then there’s one of my professors, an American woman from New Jersey who has lived in Florence for 10 years. She came to Italy on a trip around Europe in her mid-20s, and never left. Now she has a son, a boyfriend who owns a wine bar and a job teaching 20-year-olds to fall in love with Florence.

She does a good job. A month into my year here, and I’m really starting to appreciate the Italian life. Things like not rushing through meals, taking frequent breaks and showing up when you want to. Life here is just slower than at home, and that’s an idea I’m starting to really get behind.

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1 Response

  1. Brian Patrick O'Donoghue says:

    Elika, I look forward to following your adventures!

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