GBI Florence: Obstacles in Elba

The biggest challenge I’ve faced abroad thus far is the language barrier, as I know virtually no Italian. However, this did not occur in Florence, as most Florentines know English. A couple of weekends ago, three of my roommates and I traveled to Elba Island, a beach vacation spot in Italy. I believe most of the people that come here are Italians, because I did not see a single American in the town called Cavo that we stayed in. We quickly realized that most people in Cavo do not know English. Upon calling our Airbnb owner to check-in, she told us she did not speak English, which made for a slightly difficult time getting checked in, but we made it work. Luckily, the shop owner next door to our apartment spoke English very well, and she knew the owner of the Airbnb so she helped translate for us. 

Cavo is tiny and unlike anywhere I’ve been before. There was one main street with less restaurants than I can count on my hands. None of the employees spoke English. One of my roommates brought an “Easy Italian Phrase Book,” and while we were waiting for our food, which we would order with the help of Google Translate, we would learn some new phrases. Ultimately, we made it work and properly ordered food, rented beach chairs, and talked to some locals. We even managed to travel to another part of Elba, Portoferraio, and figure out the ferry and bus system. Although this weekend was challenging, it was a great learning experience and helped me learn more Italian. I learned that despite not knowing the same language, it is quite possible for people to communicate. Taking advantage of technology is important and is something I greatly encourage, as it made this language barrier a lot less daunting. Google Translate is a wonderful tool, and we were also able to use it to translate menus by using the camera feature. Additionally, we would Google various articles about how to order properly in Italian, simple phrases in Italian, etc. There is so much information that helped us right at the tip of our fingers, so I recommend that anyone in a similar situation takes advantage of these tools.

If you are planning on studying abroad in Florence and do not know Italian, do not freak out. Getting around in Florence without knowing the language is easy, because mostly everyone can speak some English. Additionally, you will likely learn how to say simple phrases in Italian just by being abroad that will help you face a situation where someone does not know English. And there’s always Google Translate. Despite probably not running into many problems in Florence, someone studying abroad here may still face a language barrier like I did in Elba. I once again advise anyone to utilize technology and make an effort to learn some simple phrases, because they go a long way.

– Alexis Hammer

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