It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re about to experience something so unlike anything you’ve ever done before. Aside from college and sleepaway camp, I haven’t spent much time away from home. This is my first time in Europe and my third time outside of the country. Yes, I’ve studied Italy in European history class and I have a good friend that just spent a semester abroad in Florence, but nothing compares to when you actually experience it for yourself.
As beautiful and amazing as Florence is, I would not say it has exceeded my expectations. This is because I attempted to enter this program without many expectations. I didn’t want to assume what Florence would be like or how difficult my classes would be. I did not want to set a bar and then determine whether something falls above or below it. Rather than expecting things from Florence, my professors, the Florentines, etc., I wanted to take it all in without assumptions.
However, I had some personal expectations. I expected that I would experience some sort of culture shock that would necessitate considerable adjustments to my new environment. In Florence, I can’t say that I have experienced much of this. One thing I did not anticipate is the amount of English that Florentines speak. As someone who barely knows Italian, I have a surprisingly easy time getting around. Although it is fun to try and order in Italian every now and then, I mostly speak English while in Florence. Without a language barrier, it prevented me from ever feeling isolated. Furthermore, although the Florentine way of life is undeniably different than mine, it is not hard to adjust. Besides, I am taking courses here so I still maintain a similar routine to that in Pittsburgh during the school year. Most of the lifestyle differences that I have noticed are food related, such as dining etiquette and customs, which are things that I have adjusted to relatively quickly.
Academically, I did not set many expectations, nor did I know what to expect. Because all of my classes are taught in English, learning in Florence is not dramatically different than learning in Pittsburgh. The main differences revolve around the content of my courses, which are both related to Florentine and Italian history, things I have never studied at Pitt. The courses are intriguing, the professors are highly knowledgeable, and the lessons incorporate various texts and experiential learning opportunities such as on-site museum and church visits and walks around the city.
Entering the program without many expectations has been beneficial as it provides a sort of blank slate. I am able to take everything in without comparison to what I thought something would be like. Although it is inevitable to have some level of expectations when doing anything in life, it has been great to stay open-minded and disregard assumptions in order to fully embrace and appreciate Florence and my study abroad experience.
– Alexis Hammer