Studying art for a month abroad this summer in Florence, Italy, gave me a peek into a culture that clashed completely with my American lifestyle. I was repeatedly warned about culture shock, but of course I didn’t know the extent of it until I was actually living it.
I stayed in the heart of the historic part of Florence, immediately thrown into a bustling city halfway across the world when I got off my plane. Upon landing, I realized it was going to be different from any big city in America.
Navigating the city known for being the historical and modern art mecca of the world was a definite challenge with its winding cobblestone roads curving in every direction in an unorganized maze. Street signs were either covered in graffiti from famous taggers or not present at all, leaving me to ask fellow pedestrians directions with my broken Italian.
I soon found that adapting to this new culture would require being open minded and spontaneous — abandoning any idea of maintaining a routine. Limited cell phone service and Wi-Fi also meant being forced to go with the flow and be laid back.
With lots of free time, my fellow classmates and I took advantage of every waking moment to explore Florence in its entirety during our month abroad. We found ourselves accidentally wandering into an invite-only private art viewing in someone’s home, frequenting Italian dance clubs, joining a line of people outside a historical art museum when we discovered all of the museums had a special entrance fee of one euro that night, and having deep life talks with the homeless man who lived in the alleyway outside our apartment.
Art was everywhere: It was in the foam pattern on my cappuccino, on the street signs, in the songs the street musicians played, in the architecture of old churches, in the packed art supply shops, famous art museums, and in the way chef’s prepared classic
Italian cuisine. This is the norm for Italians, they live their everyday lives in front of a backdrop of some of the greatest artists the world has ever known, as well as up-and-coming modern artists.
In addition to the art and spontaneity that Italy offered, everything seemed to have more character — from the people to the architecture. Florence was expressive and packed with personality, giving it an original flair. The buildings were not all the same; they each had their own history and unique details. Maybe because of its backdrop of art at every corner, I knew I was in a place that valued originality over routine and the need to streamline everything.
Traveling in general is best done with a carefree, up-for-anything mindset. Once I learned to abandon my “American” routine and need for a fast-pace life, it left room for change, expression, authenticity and time to drink in my environment and enjoy myself wherever I went.
Being abroad was a humbling experience that showed me the shortcomings of my own culture, not that I think everything about my life at home is bad; because it definitely made me appreciate certain things from home. We don’t get to choose our hometown, and traveling makes me wonder how different my life would be if I grew up halfway across the world?
Kate Carlson recently completed a summer internship at the View Newspaper Group. She will resume classes soon at Central Michigan University where she is majoring in journalism.