On May 2, 2011, I left the United States of America to embark on the greatest journey of my life.
Not only did I get to travel across the entire Italian peninsula during my month overseas, but I was able to assimilate myself into the culture and experience what it is like to live in the beautiful city of Firenze.
I assimilated into the culture by refusing to utter a word of English, and even used my Spanish background when the Italian words escaped me. I walked around with my pocket-sized translator whenever I found the time, and made an effort to learn about the magnificent culture I was surrounded by.
For some time I had known that I wanted to go abroad. My cousin studied in Barcelona for a semester and told me I could not graduate without having studied abroad. Originally, I planned to follow in her footsteps and go to Spain because I knew the language and could learn about my family history. However, when the College of Journalism and Communications began advertising the trip to Italy, something about it made it impossible for me to turn away. I had never attempted to learn about the Italian culture other than what I had been taught in history books, so I used this opportunity to learn about a group of individuals that I was unfamiliar with.
I found the Italians to remind me a lot of my own Hispanic family: loud, crazy and hungry. I quickly became friends with the woman who owned a coffee shop down the street from my apartment. We chatted for hours in a mix of Italian, English and Spanish about how life was in the U.S. versus Italy and all of the great things I had to see in Firenze. I'm truly grateful for her friendship, as well as the other Italians I socialized with. It was because of my efforts to associate with the Italians that I had the amazing cultural experience that I did. Without these interactions, I would've never found the best gelato store in all of Italy, I would never have known about the secret midnight bakery and I would've never thought to haggle prices in the street shops with the venders.
Florence wasn't all fun and games. That semester I took two courses: Journalism ethics and Leadership. What I loved about taking these courses abroad was that I could walk outside of the classroom and see how these topics were applied drastically different in the United States and Italy. A large portion of the Italian newspapers are owned by the government or corporations largely influenced by the government. Therefore, ethics is not defined by the same principles of free speech we use in the states. Leadership is also structured differently: our vote counts more in America than in Italy. These differences may seem like they would be obvious to anyone who keeps up with foreign politics, but living it provided me with a whole new level of understanding.
Three friends and I took a day trip to Bologna. As soon as we got off the train, we realized our trip might be cut short. Every store except for street vendor stands were closed. We were not allowed access to any of the tourist attractions. The streets were flooded with Italians holding up signs and screaming to protest. Not only had I never experienced a hostile situation in Italy until that point, I had never been in the middle of a protest ever back home. It was eye opening to witness first-hand that every country has its own issues, and how the majority of these issues relate back to one basic human need: freedom.
Overall, I wouldn't trade my experience in Italy for anything. It taught me so much, but the most important thing it taught me was that I have so much more to learn about it, and I fully intend to do so.