1: Introductions, 2. Going places, 3. Wayfinding, 4. Communicating, 5. Quotidian life, 6. Books (1), 7. Authenticity, 8. The "art" of travel, 9. Great good places, 10. Books (2), 11. Genius loci, 12. The comfort of strangers, 13. Epiphanies, 14. Tips, 15. Farewells
When I got my week of liberty during Spring Break I encountered even more of these viajeros and for a short week I got to feel like one of them, lugging my large backpack around, buying groceries and cooking at the hostel to save money, travelling by bus, being in the sun for hours, re-wearing the same clothes, and changing places by the day in order to be able to see as many colorful mountains, waterfalls, and small pueblos as I can. I remember talking to the 25 year old owner of the hostel I was staying at in Tilcara, a small village in the province of Jujuy. He had invited his guests in the hostel to take a night walk with him to his friend’s small house in the mountains in celebration of the full moon. On the walk back to the village, I asked him about the type of people he receives at his hostel in general and if older people ever came to stay there. He contested that when older people come, they are usually older people with younger spirits, and that sometimes when older people come that he can tell would not fit the vibe he tells them there is nor more room. “All I do is give people soap, a bed, and breakfast, that’s all. And sometimes I can tell that some people who come expect a certain service that I do not provide, and I would rather not host them, because I know that they would only have complaints.” Additionally he told me, “I prefer to host travelers (viajeros) rather than tourists. Travelers never complain. I have travelled to Bolivia, Peru, Guatamala, Venezuela, Brazil, and I have stayed in some hostels where there is not even hot water. I know the place that I have here is very nice,” he told me. I have to agree that it was one of the nicest hostels I had stayed in during that trip.
It made me think about what he was trying to tell me. As I met more people, I realized he was right. The traveler needs a place to sleep and shower that is just another one of his transitory homes. The tourist is looking for a ‘hotel experience’, the tourist wants to feel like a guest.
There is something very interesting in this distinction between the viajero, the tourist, and then…the student? The temporary resident? The extranjero like me? I don’t know how I would really be classified in Buenos Aires.
What is it that the viajero is in search for and how does it differ from the others? What is it that he wants to see or accomplish in his travelers? For the traveler, travelling becomes his occupation, not a vacation. He knows that he is now a vagabond. He is travelling in order to feel homeless, and to fully enter a state of constant unfamiliarity that is as far as you can get from the cotidiano.
McCannel says that that “sightseers are motivated by a desire to see life as it is really lived, even to get in with the natives, and, at the same time, they are deprecated for always failing to achieve these goals. The term “tourist is increasingly used as a derisive label for someone who seems content with his obviously inauthentic experiences” (592). In my opinion, it really all depends on what kind of ‘sightseer’ you are. We students came here to speak and befriend Portenos, study their history and language, and live amongst them in their city, with intentions to really seek the “authentic experience”. Travelers however, viajeros like my cousin know all too well that as tourists who migrate by the day they will not gain any sense of real life in the places they travel. They are happy with obviously inauthentic experiences because they know that is all they can get as outsiders. They are not in search of knowing the “real Buenos Aires” or the real Argentine, but rather they want see beautiful landscapes, and walk through foreign villages in which everything is different. I think that McCannel’s “back-front ditchonomy” holds true in life in general as well as in tourism, however not every type of tourist is in search of seeking a view from the back. It is true that all tourists want to see things that are foreign to them, however the way that they look at these things and what they think of them completely varies from one type of tourist to another.
Although I love traveling, and therefore feel as if I should have been as dazzled and intrigued by Bruce Chatwin’s famous travel tale In Patagonia as so many other people seem to be, I just couldn’t get into the book. I tried to give it time, hoping that I would become more engaged as the story went on, however the story continued in its fragmented un-orienting way of talking about different unrelated people throughout his Chatwin’s travels. Both my professor praised the book in class, and I read many good reviews, but for some reason I could not maintain interest.
I am presuming that the book’s style is supposed to mimic the disorienting and transitive traits of traveling, however I could not manage to value the tails of different random characters because they always seemed like unrelated digressions. Each mini biography and each character listed appeared in a manner which made me feel as if they would not be relevant in the grand story and therefore easily ignorable, however to my disappointment there never ended up being a grand narrative plot. Furthermore I felt like the novel focused too much on people and not enough one other aspects that would root me to the different geographies he was travelling through. His book could not bring me on the journey along with him nor capture the sentiments of travel that I love.
Contemplating the value of this book made me think about what I would have do differently if I decided to write a book about my big trip I dream to take in the future. When thinking about the kinds of thoughts I had about the people I met and the places I went when I travelled to Northern Argentina during Spring Break I certainly can not relate to Chatwin’s impression of travel he creates through his style of writing. First of all, I feel that all of my descriptions and my stories would always be inevitably connected to me, in that I would not be able to just describe the lives of the people I meet as if I was a third person narrator writing a fiction piece as Chatwin often does. I feel that if I were to write a travel piece I would be obliged to capture what I think is the essence of traveling—the ways in which all the new things you see are foreign to you, and compare to all the things you already know. What I like about travelling is how every new landscape you come across, culture you are introduced to, and strange person you meet, makes you rethink your previous perception of life in general. When I think back about my memories of my travels I know that my opinions and my point of view would inevitably have a much larger role in the narrative.
Even though I once thought New York was the once place I’d feel at home, from the moment I arrived there. I daydreamed about filling suitcases and hopping planes. I flirted with New York but never gave it a commitment. It was a love affair I refused to consummate, not matter what the city promised me, no matter that I had picked it, and not the other way around. Instead I drowned myself in all the joy and heartbreak I had brought back from India and pretended it was New York’s fault. Eventually we realized it wasn’t working out, New York and I, and I took my nomad heart elsewhere. I needed to find out if my love for my adopted home was singular, or if I would fall in love with anywhere I traveled. On a whim that I later justified by academic relevance, I packed my bags again, and arrived in Ghana.
Ghana only reminded me my heart had miles yet to go until I figured the world out. It was not an earth shaking revelation but rather snuck up on me while writing blog posts, stewing over photo assignments, and as I tried to motivate myself to at least go out and get a beer. There were flashes when I saw the Ghana my friends had fallen in love with, but even when I loved those moments it felt like cheating. If India was a love affair, we broke up after figuring it wouldn’t work long distance, but the feelings are still there. I’m not sure I can love anywhere else again; it’s ruined me for all other places. To go back to see its familiar streets felt like going home, but it also felt like stepping into a dream. It also felt like sobering up, washing my face and remembering what real life is. In hindsight, I know I did not spend the semester learning about Ghana but rather learning about myself, how to be myself, and still leave bits of me wherever I go. How to carve up chunks of my heart and leave them places so they can give me something in return, if only the feeling of having missed something. I came to Ghana to run away, to disappear and press pause on my racing heart. Since wherever you go, there you are, all I found was an insatiable desire to be everywhere at once. With too many plans and no idea where they will take me, I have taken these past few months to remind myself of all the things I had forgotten since I left that small town north of Boston. Some people go home to locate themselves, and to remember home; I went to Africa.
Seems right to me. Ghana changed how I thought about myself, how I contextualized myself. In the eye of the hurricane, on the cusp on coming and going, ko bra, I stand on the wreckage of my former self. I remember this feeling all too well, knowing that you’ve changed but not knowing how, that breathless anticipation of returning combined with the ache of leaving a life that you absolutely cannot go back to. Its bittersweet but mostly it is addicting, beguiling you with exotic images of the things you have seen while causing you to confidently forget for just a moment all the small wrenchings of the heart that one experiences when living elsewhere. Compared to the biggest wrenching of all, the tearing of the new you from your current context, every moment of boredom and sadness disappears, and you are left with a glow constructed of every happy memory, of new friendships and days drunk on sunlight, nights just drunk. The glow of feeling down to your soul of sheer wonder and exhilaration of everything, everything new and everything possible, every time you step on and off a plane. That glow has become my addiction; it the particular shade of limelight that matches my pale complexion.
Before I came to Ghana, my concept of myself was narrow, limited. This semester has put me in my place, rightfully, with far less self-importance and far more wonder. About to step back onto a plane, rocketing toward my old life, I am drunk on wild possibility. This time, I want to make it last, take it back with me and grow it in the greenhouse of my soul, let the sun and make it grow instead of locking it back into myself. When I came back from India, I was so scared; of what, I am still not sure. Of being too different, of losing identity in order to gain a new one. Now, suitcases packed and out on the sidewalk, I am laying claim to my wandering heart and feet, which will lead me to new continents and a new selves. Beverly gave me a base to stand on, India gave me my locomotion; Ghana may give me my wings. Maybe I won’t know what Ghana has given me until I arrive in Buenos Aires, seasoned study abroad student and travel extraordinaire. Or maybe I’ll have the wind knocked out of me and replaced with the Spanish languages, and I’ll start the process of confusion again in Prague. Locust, nomad, tornado, I am whirling through the world and coming to rest only when I have spent my dervish energy, and I refuse to look behind me. As Kwame Nkrumah said, ever forward, never backward. Now, going backward and forward at the same time, my impulse is both to hold on tight and jump into the fray.
The picture is mine, from the final group trip to Wli Falls.
One of my last days in Florence began with a trip to the Bargello Museum with two of my classmates. For our final project for Art collecting and Museology, we were required to curate an exhibition at a museum in Florence, and we chose the Bargello, my personal favorite museum in Florence (it’s got Donatello’s David). Once we were through planning our exhibition, I left my classmates and decided to go grocery shopping. The grocery store I most often frequent is one that is across the Ponte Vecchio, which, at this time of year, is impossible to get across without taking out a few tourists.
Since I got to Florence, I had been hoping to see Pontormo’s Deposition, but for some reason had not taken the time to actually find it. I knew it was in the church of Santa Felicita, close to the Ponte Vecchio, but had always been in too much of a hurry across the Ponte Vecchio to remember to go to this church. Since it was one of my last days, I decided I would take the time to find it, despite looming final papers and projects.
Literally one block past my grocery store was the Piazza Santa Felicita. Everything in Florence has strange hours, so part of me was afraid it wasn’t going to be open. Thankfully, the doors were open, and I entered. This small church took me by surprise. I gaped at its beauty and began to search for the Deposition, a quest that took about 10 seconds, as the legendary painting is located directly to the visitor’s right hand side upon entering.
I stared at it in the dim church lighting and wondered why it wasn’t lit better. This is a Mannerist painting, after all. Let me see the colors! A group of American tourists entered after me, loudly asking one another for a euro. (They obviously knew this system better than me) An old lady in the church quickly shushed them, and I showed them I had a euro, which I then proceeded to stick in a machine that immediately lit up the small chapel.
I stood there with my head pressed against the gate of the chapel, eyes agape at the tangible motion and luminescent colors until the lights went out.
Then I went grocery shopping.
I think the most rewarding aspects of the experience was improving my Spanish and learning to be comfortable expressing myself in another language. I feel like studying in Spanish has improved my communication skills as a whole and expanded my understanding about communication theory in general. In my courses, not only have I had to do the same type of critical thinking that I normally do in school, I also had to read and understand the reading in Spanish, listen to lectures in Spanish, and express my thoughts in class in Spanish. When writing or speaking in English, I often want to mix Spanish words in my sentences that express my ideas more precisely than any word I can immediately think of in English. However more generally I feel that by studying another language I have been forced to think much more about words, sentences, and grammar as tools of communication because I suddenly am using a whole new set of rules to communicate that are not built into me from youth.
I haven’t yet thought about what I think will be different in me when I return home. I will definitely know much more about Argentina and the Spanish Language, that’s for sure. However I wonder if I will rethink about my own country, our language, our politics, and our cultural norms. I am so used to studying these things here that perhaps the comparison will make me understand the “United States” in a different way, or at least all the different United States I know: New York, California, and the rest through literature.
After my experience here I know that I want to come back someday to travel through South America and see the other Latin American countries and people. I can’ help but imagine what it wil be like to be back in Buenos Aires when I return in a few years…
With this in mind, I would recommend that a student coming to study here who speaks Spanish well should go study at the University of Buenos Aires rather than NYU Global Site. I say this because I think that if a student desires to really be integrated in the circles here of both academia and social life he/she needs to be circling in the Argentine institutions rather than a New York institution located in Argentina. Although it is possible to break out of the American “bubble” of the NYU academic center by going out and participating in outside activities or by meeting people at bars, I can imagine that attending classes with Argentine people at the University of Buenos Aires campuses would be a cultural experience on a whole other level. Although the academic center is nice because it is small, homey, and friendly, if you have adequate Spanish I think that studying outside of NYU would give you a much more radical experience!
Regarding housing I would definitely recommend living in a homestay! First off it is a little cheaper than living in the dorms, and second off it forces you to practice your Spanish and be surrounded by Spanish speaking people while at home. No matter what level of Spanish you are at, homestays always force you to improve and be more culturally integrated. Don’t be afraid of getting a bad homestay, because if you do you can always switch!
The third thing I would say is to balance travelling and staying in the city. Don’t freak out if you find yourself not travelling very much and remember that you came to study in a different country, not to travel the country. Enjoy the city, and try to really find yourself a life here.
Anyways, I think I may be getting a little ahead of myself. I find it hard to think about the time I have left in the city presently when the future seems to loom ahead of me so frighteningly. When it comes to thinking about the most rewarding part of my experience in Buenos Aires, I think of a few different things. I am so glad to have been able to study Spanish here, and though I’m still far from fluent – not being able to understand half the jokes I’m told or talk to a pharmacist about medicine a few things among many others – I think I’ve made a good amount of progress here and will continue studying Spanish for the rest of my time at NYU. Besides the language, the most rewarding aspect of Buenos Aires has been the city itself and the people that inhabit it. I know that sounds like a really vague statement, but being able to navigate the intricate bus system here, give people directions in Spanish, coming to know so many different cafes, and having fantastic conversations with complete strangers – taxi drivers, retired teachers, foreign travelers, hostel workers, students, tango dancers, the list goes on – has made me really confident in my ability to adapt to a completely new city and environment.
This course has really helped me along in reaching these conclusions as well by forcing me to record my experiences (and I say force in the best kind of way!) and also move beyond them by pondering the different meanings associated with travel, as well as its different facets and the idea of travel as an art. However, I know that I have not been the most habitual blogger, for which I apologize, though this part of the experience has taught me that in order to become a more aware traveler, I need to make more time to record my experiences. In the end though, this course has been a fantastic way for me to feel connected to a larger community of fellow student travelers, and I’m glad to have had you all with me through thick and thin.
I could go on for pages and pages about my experience here and what it has taught me and what I’ll remember in the future, but I don’t want to make anyone fall asleep. The final thing I want to mention is that this experience has shown me that I’ve had a passion laying close to me for all these years, really hidden until this moment. I am completely in love with the Spanish language and learning about the multitude of cultures that speak it. Being here has shown me that this isn’t some passing fancy now and that it never was in the first place; I have been learning Spanish in bits and pieces since elementary school and even though I continue to struggle studying it now, I am totally dedicated to the challenge. And not just the challenge of the language, but the challenge that all of South and Central America hold for me as well.
I do want to travel as much of the world as I can before I die, but I’m pretty sure (and this makes me shake and smile and the same time as I write this) I have found a home here. Not necessarily in Buenos Aires, but somewhere in this continent definitely. When people ask me why I like to travel, the first thing I tell them is that travelling is in my blood. My great grandparents came from various part of Europe and eventually found their ways to England. My parents were both born in England, but realized that though it was their homeland, they could not call it home. Now they have found their happiness in California. My older brother realized that the US was not where he wanted to stay and has since lived in Berlin with his girlfriend and they are planning to move to Europe once again, this time for good. My family members have each found places with which they can identify and in which they are truly happy, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that South America may be that place for me. For me, my return to this continent (and this city) is not a question of if or how or why, but simply a question of when.
This is the town with the strongest connection to Antarctica, being the place from which all boat cruises depart, weighed down by hundreds of flushed foreign faces eager for an expensive adventure. A small town with two giant casinos, the larger of the two directly facing the harbor as well as a large shipwreck that seems to be in perfect condition (ropes still sway in the wind and lifesavers cling to both sides) except for the network of gaping, rusted holes on one side. A place where next to faded Argentine flags, most doors have large stickers plastered on them telling you one last time that the Falkland Islands are the Malvinas and they belong to Argentina, in case you had forgotten.
But all this is the town itself, and this collection of neat city blocks and small details is all placed in sharp relief against a backdrop of giant snowcapped mountains that create a strange rainbow of colors – white at the top, brownish-gray in the middle, followed by a deep red that fades into green at the very bottom. These mountains are all you can see when you step out of the airport and let the cold air and wind hit you for the first time, when you walk through the sloped streets, slick and shiny black from recent rain, when you take a tour on a boat that lurches through rough water and turn around to get a good look at it all – crushing the small candy dots that are cars and the pinprick steeples of churches with two fingers while not being able to wrap an entire hand around a single mountain.
And every single one of these mountains – there must be more than twenty peaks that you can see if you slowly spin in a half circle at the edge of town closest to the water – they all have names. They each have a name, and the taxi driver that picked you up from the airport pointed each one out to you and told you their names in Spanish, but you couldn’t remember all of them and the German stranger that you shared a cab with wasn’t helping record the names. All the names are lost except Cinco Hermanos (Five Brothers), but even though the five jagged peaks really do make sense of the name, all the names don’t matter. They are all made of earth, all surrounding the town, both cradling it from outside disturbances and at the same time, united against it, effectively cutting it off from the rest of civilization.
This focus on the ordinary and lackluster character is perfectly summarized in the opening paragraph of Borges’ short story titled The Zahir. He explains that in Buenos Aires, the zahir is an “ordinary coin” (156) with which any person can buy a glass of whiskey, as the main character in the story does. However, after mentioning this mundane fact about money, he weaves an elaborate history of all the amazing things that the word “zahir” once represented – tigers in Guzerat (?) in the 18th century, blind holy men in Java, and a historic astrolabe in Persia. This glorious word and thing have since been reduced to nothing more than a coin, something insignificant, passed from one person to another in automatic daily transactions, completely routine and impersonal. The word is no longer special, and it seems to be that Borges believes the city shares the same fate.
Later in the same story, and after characterizing the city itself, Borges moves on to the people that occupy its space. He discusses the recent death of a notable, upper-class women named Clementina Villar, and is truly saddened by her passing. She is a perfect example of an Argentine socialite, and Borges says “Her life was exemplary, yet she was ravaged unremittingly by an inner despair” (157). This dead woman represents Borges’ opinion on the health of Argentine society – everything looks fine at a glance, but on closer inspection, everyone is suffering and the city only suffocates them further. He focuses on his perceptions of the city’s inhabitants so closely that we become aware that for Borges, the people are the city. The physical city has already begun to fade, and now the people are slowly disappearing into the background with it.
When speaking of the physical spaces within Buenos Aires, Borges uses fantastic diction to make the reader feel as though these places are actually fading away, falling apart in the mind of the author and no longer quite tangible – like trying to grasp onto smoke with one’s hands. Though this isn’t quite apparent in The Zahir, it cannot be ignored in a different short story titled The Waiting, in which Borges describes a residential area of Buenos Aires as a “square plot of earth” with “respectable houses with their little balconies” and “dull lozenges of the paint” (165). The city is plain and lacks any real personality, and though it tries its best to look respectable, it is still falling apart. Borges’ view of the city, as well as his earlier opinions on its inhabitants, don’t really fit with how I view Buenos Aires. I see color flashing through the streets when I ride on various buses and constantly pass by vibrant Argentines, their conversations a blur of fast Spanish and grand gesticulations. However, when I think of Borges’ descriptions and what I have seen of and experienced in the city, I can feel the little similarities. When I look at the once bright aqua of a building’s front, now faded to light sea foam and peeling, I can’t help think of Borges and his frustration with the city that seemed to be slowly falling apart – bit by bit – in front of him while no one else took any notice.
By semester’s completion, I will be able to say I’ve been to two cities in Chile, two in Uruguay, and three different provinces (many visited cities within them) of Argentina. Although these destinations may not be as extensive a list as others’, I’m still pretty impressed and more than pleased to have those passport stamps and stories to tell. I’m seriously going to miss everything that is South America, everything that will become my memories of South America (preemptively making memories is such a silly game I play, or perhaps, a terrible habit I have). The somewhat embarrassing self-picture I have posted here is from the trip I took by myself to San Carlos de Bariloche in Patagonia.
And throughout it all, I have been incredibly thankful to be in this course. I haven’t been enrolled in a writing course since freshman year, and am pretty horrible at keeping up with personal writing if I’m not forced to do so. And although I have not been all that great about the regularity of my posts (as is something to be learned about the ‘art’, per se, of blogging), I always find the time I take to sit down and write them enjoyable. And in this last post, I find the time I have taken to look back on my old posts even more enjoyable, if not a shock, combined with humble moments of reminiscing. I find it a fair generalization to say that all of us have certainly changed throughout this semester because of our experiences, and are able to notice these changes based on our recorded first memories and our knowledge now. Is not that the point of a journal, or the public version, a blog? Tracking these changes and these experiences has been, I think, essential, and that is why I am, as I will reiterate, thankful for this course.
Beyond this blog, I also have a more personal blog, conducted through blogspot, where I repost these pieces along with adding some other ones every now and then (when I can, and when I feel the need to – you can read these other posts here). And if I didn’t have this course to be a starter’s guide or a source of things to post on that other site, I would not have been quite as ambitious. Another reason to be thankful.
Now here comes the hardest part of all: having to end both of these sources of public writing, having to end my adventures abroad, having to say goodbye to a city I have come to know and love. As already mentioned, however, I still have time to make my farewells, but am most certainly not looking forward to it, no matter how much I want to see my friends and family at home.
I am more than happy that I decided to take a semester abroad, however. It is something that is much more widely advertised for college students in our generation, just as it should be. The encouragement comes with good reason. I was scared to go at first, almost reluctant. And now I think it crazy that I ever doubted coming to Buenos Aires. The stories I have, the things I’ve seen, the new ways of living I plan to carry with me for the rest of my life, will be with me forever (I feel that goes without saying). And I know, above all, that I will, one day, be back. So perhaps this farewell is more of a “goodbye for now” type deal, because I find it inevitable that one day, I will return.
I'm going to begin by saying I definitely do not feel ready to say goodbye, to sum things up, to leave, or to even think about my return to America as anything other than an annoying particularity I'm going to have to deal with in two months. My program ends at the end of this month, but I'll be staying a month longer. Now that the trees have turned from old withered crones into fluffy, majestic decorations and the weather is opening up the city like an oven with a warm batch of strudel inside, my desire and tendency to exist in the present moment is escalated. But these prompts are again stirring that reluctant part of my brain that is making me reflect.
I would recommend Berlin for the self-motivated student, but not for most. While there is so much beauty and culture in the city, I feel much of it is hidden. And while there are tons of activities available to those in the program to familiarize one with all that is out there in Berlin, it's a bit overwhelming and again, you have to sign up. Sign up, do everything, and even further than that get outside information and GO, because from my own experience, there aren't too many cases of condensed information and experiences here. You take it all in at the pace of the European dinner- slowly and with a relaxed earnestness. There is no certain way to be sure you are going to get the most out of Berlin. This city, from what I have heard and can tell, changes so rapidly and is in some ways so abstract, that you have crazy control over how your experience here is going to go. You can find anything here, you can be mostly anything. It's what I would expect of New York, without the obsession with money.
Tip for the bold, and sometimes outspoken, foreigner: Don't talk to Germans about WWII, and sometimes the Berlin Wall. They're sick of talking about it. I haven't made this mistake personally, but I've heard enough about annoyances to just say to flat out ignore it.
Spend as much time in parks and abandoned buildings as you can- these are rare in cities like New York and worth the travel. Also, go out and stay out late. Berlin has to be the best city for nightlife, and everybody is so, so nice! Take advantage of these great inventions: Bier Gartens, Bicycles, Strudels, and Sausages. It sounds simple, but it's worth it! I recently bought a bike, and if you're here for any amount of sunny time (aka not February and March) it changes the way you interact with the city- you become part of a subculture of mostly young Berliners and eight times more aware of your surroundings. The initial reluctance of leaving the dorms (oh no I have to walk so far, take the train, etc.) is partially erased by the owning of this amazing transportation device.
For preparation: Learn German, don't expect everything to be gorgeous, and relax- Germans are probably some of the nicest and most polite people out there. If you have trouble ask and you will receive. The administrators at the Berlin site are some of the most extraordinarily chill, caring, and smart people I've interacted with at the authority level of NYU. Furthermore, knowing even a little of the language for a culture that's foreign to you gives you a huge advantage in perspective and mobility. I simply can't feel at home unless I can get the gist of what 80% of the people around me are saying. Changing the language you speak and understand, I believe, changes a bit about how you think about things.
It seems like my future-self back in the states is a world away, and I'm caught up with this city so deeply that my relationship with Berlin and the German culture is rapidly adapting, always. I'm certainly not the most qualified person to be giving tips, but I can say I've had an amazing time here and can't wait to use the next two months to continue to take advantage of this opportunity.
When it comes to living situations, I have loved my off-campus apartment, but I got tremendously lucky with the group of girls I was put with. Part of me wishes I had done a homestay for the purposes of actually practicing Italian all the time, as opposed to living with a bunch of English speakers. I came with the goal of becoming fluent in Italian and have not achieved it.
A few tips for Florence include:
1. Visit all of the touristy sights before tourist season rolls around. I know that may seem logical, but I didn’t climb the Duomo when there was no line and now the line is around the side of the church. I also did not appreciate when I had the Uffizi to myself, and now you can barely move inside.
2. Take full advantage of your museum card. NYU gives you a card that allows you free entrance and to skip the lines at most major museums. Do it and do it all the time.
3. Shop at San Lorenzo Market for your vegetable, cheese, and meat needs. Everything is fresh and delicious and cheap. If you’re living in the center, shop at the Conad across the Ponte Vecchio. If you’re living farther outside, I’ve heard Esselunga is extremely cheap.
4. Travel within Italy. Everyone always wants to go to the major European cities on the weekends, which is something you should do, but remember that Italy is full of some of the most gorgeous places on earth, so give it credit. Take weekends for Tuscany, Venice, Rome, and Naples/Amalfi Coast. Why live in Italy if you don’t explore it?
5. Try and avoid bars and clubs that Americans frequent. Try out places across the Arno. Don’t go to Space. There is a 100% chance you will be groped, male or female.
6. Don’t buy anything close to the Duomo. Even if you go a few blocks in the other direction, it will be probably half as expensive, even more so if you go across the river.
7. Try and speak Italian as much as you can. Even if they respond in English, keep speaking in Italian. Don’t give in! Everyone in Florence speaks English, but why live somewhere abroad and only speak English?
Generally, Florence is amazing for food and art. The major recommendation is basically not to act too much like a tourist or an American. Try and live like a Florentine in order to get the full experience.
First of all, across the street from me is one of the best panini I have ever had from the smallest, unnamed shop run by Leo and Luca. We discovered their tasty panini the first week we were here, and have never strayed. There are many other panino shops in Florence, but I always stay true to Leo and Luca. It seems that everyone has their own favorite closer to where they live, and there is always a debate of “No, Pino’s is better! Nah, Gusta Panino all the way.” I always stick up for my across the street buddies. Whenever any of my roommates or I pass by, there is always a jubilant “Ciaoooooo!” from inside the shop. (Sidenote: I never realized how long one could draw out the word ciao until I met Leo and Luca. That o definitely carries for a couple of seconds.)
There have certainly been days where I have felt like the Italians are out to get me. Whether it’s at the market, and they rip me off because they think I am a tourist or I try to speak with someone in Italian and they repeatedly respond in English despite my efforts, I don’t feel like a local even though I am living here. Leo and Luca have the capability to make me feel like a local. I go in for a porchetta, rucola, pomodori secchi, formaggio di capra (pork, arugula, sundried tomatoes, goat cheese) panino on foccaccia bread, and they talk with me in Italian and make me feel like I actually belong here. The first couple of weeks, I could never decide what I wanted on my panino, and Luca would always ask me “truffle-a-cream?” I would, of course, always concede.
Sometimes I see them in the street, too, around the piazza near my apartment, and there’s always that “Ciaoooo!” that makes me feel like a local. It’s those people that you see around all the time that make me feel like you actually live here, that I’m not just a tourist who happens to take the public buses and speed walk past all of the tourists by the Duomo. I live here, and my panino place defines that.
It’s funny to be writing this because I don’t know where to start. This whole semester has gone by so quickly (as I knew it would). How do I process that I’ve spent the last four and a half months living in France and travelling around Europe? I am so lucky to have gotten this opportunity.
I can’t say that it was or wasn’t what I expected because I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived here. Funnily, I think it will be easier to see the differences that I have gotten used to here once I go back to the U.S. and those things are different. Of course there are obvious things like the grocery stores close earlier here and the drinking age is 18 but I’m excited to maybe experience a little bit of “culture shock” as my one friend also returning from studying abroad put it. Then again France and the U.S. are not as DRASTICALLY different as say the U.S. and Cuba (where my friend was returning from), so my shock will be much less than hers if anything at all.
I’ve been thinking about how to say goodbye to my host mom and I actually have no idea how it’s going to happen. We aren’t incredibly close but we are close enough that it’s weird to think that I may not ever see her again (or at least not for a very long time). She’s been lovely to come home to and to have dinner (and desserts!) with. What do I say to her to let her know how grateful I am for my time with her?
In general, leaving France was never something I thought about. It was always about going to France never returning from it. How do you say goodbye to a place that has seemed like a dream from the instant you got there?
I think I thought I wouldn’t be sad leaving Paris because I wasn’t sad leaving the U.S. but I actually don’t know how I am going to feel. It’s just getting sunny and springy and now I have to leave?! New York is wonderful but they speak English and their bread is sub-par to put it nicely (okay that’s an exaggeration but I am officially super pretentious about baguettes).
In the beginning of my time in Paris, I thought I wanted to live here forever. Although that is no longer the case, I know that I want to come back for extended periods of time. I can’t imagine being here just on vacation for a week or something. I’ve lived here and I hope to do it again someday for some amount of time, if for nothing else than to be a stone’s throw away from a fresh baguette.