Familiarizing with Florence


The Florence, Italy, historic skyline looking north from across the river Arno on May 15. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Duomo, center, is a Gothic-style cathedral complex completed in 1436 and is home to daily Mass services. Its dome is the largest brick and mortar dome in the world. Bryce Wininger Buy Photos

The last thing I saw before making the turn onto our hotel’s street, Via delle Oche, was the monolithic, looming shadow of the Duomo. It rose from the piazza like the dream I knew it would be. Now I see that same wondrous structure every night from the terrace of our pensione high above the narrow streets that we are just starting to memorize.

Strolling the streets of Firenze can at first be a confusing mess of winding medieval navigation, but it quickly becomes a favorite evening-time activity, when gelato, cappuccino and people-watching are at their best.

Walking among both Florentines and international visitors alike, we get no sense of cross-cultural hostility or boundary. Rather, there is an understood symbiotic and economic relationship that binds us together. And more importantly, I have never seen so many faces light up upon seeing students try out their newly acquired language skills.

Something about the effort put forth by us as visitors is so appreciated by those we now live among. This hasn’t arisen specifically or obviously because of our instant international Obama credibility, but from something greater.

All this is appreciated so much more through the lens of the intensive culture, language and art classes we find ourselves in. Being forced to draw every inch of the Duomo or the statues in La Loggia or having to struggle through restaurant ordering or requests for directions in Italian truly tests us.

Through this, though, we have already grown so much as students.

The rooftops and alleys seen far below us pulse with this life that we’ve been able to make our own as well. The drive to descend each day and join the fray is irresistible. We find ourselves craving this culture and everything it has to offer. We find ourselves wanting to experience every nook and cranny, to uncover Florence’s ancient mysteries, to get to know each other and make memories for a lifetime.

These feelings are only intensified by the incredible pleasures to be had here.

From the unbeatable food and endless wine to simply being in the environment that birthed the Renaissance, we as IU students are all stimulated in ways we never imagined. We have acquired a new family both in the people of Florence with whom we eat, elbow-to-elbow, and in each other as expatriates.

Though we are challenged daily to adjust to our new temporary homes, depending on each other as fellow students, and without the people we love who are a world away, we approach it all with a sense of adventure still.

Each day brings us closer to understanding this place and the complexities of a city that has existed since well before Christ. The only thing left now is to always remember our place as visitors and respect the culture and history with open minds and hearts.

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