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LIM College Students Abroad: My First Week in Florence and How I Adjusted to a New Culture

posted by LIM College

by Taylor Lloyd

Florence_DuomoI have been in Florence for a week now and it has been an adjustment that I didn’t quite anticipate. I have been fortunate to travel abroad many times growing up, therefore, being exposed to new cultures has never really phased me much.

Having said that, Florence, I must admit, has been a different experience. Suddenly, the realization as to why it’s different dawned on me. I am not traveling throughout Florence. I am living here.

Traveling versus living in a foreign country are completely different experiences. Living in Florence as opposed to just visiting here is enabling me to grow in ways I honestly never expected.

I am so glad I actually took the time to carefully read the orientation packet that was given to me from SAI, which is the program that I’m studying abroad with. The information was well put together and elaborates when explaining the Italian culture and way of life, which in numerous ways is significantly unlike American lifestyle and culture.

I have lost track of how many times I’ve had to ask myself, “Is this American culture or a human norm?” 

It’s funny how habitual and routine certain customs and social behaviors have become—things that you never give a second thought to due to the fact that it’s common in your culture, but possibly only in your culture.

Florence_ArchitectureThat questioning of whether what I was accustomed to was common in other cultures forced me to reflect on the social norms and values that I have as an American. Also, being surrounded by other American students and hearing about the concerns and disappointments they are facing while being abroad and hearing it aloud was enlightening and even a bit embarrassing at times.

Some of the things causing frustration with the Americans, such as the constant need for WiFi and to be connected to their phones,which displayed their attachment to objects rather than people does put things into perspective. It has taken me some time to realize that people enrich your life and not things.

It’s ironic how smartphones have made our society so detached and self-centered in the sense that we never just live in the moment and we’re always posting about what we’re doing on social media, but very rarely are we mentally there in the way that we are physically.

If I could pick one thing I’ve learned about the Italian culture thus far that I would deem most valuable, it’s their appreciation for the things and people around them and being able to be completely present in a moment without unnecessary distractions. It is a rare occasion to see Italians go out to dinner and have their cell phones at the table. Actually, I almost never see Italians on technology and I am almost convinced that need, that diversion, may not exist here, it is certainly not a priority for them.

Florence_Ponte_VecchioWhile in Florence I only have WiFi access on occasion such as on campus or at my apartment. I have not turned on a TV since I’ve been here (not typical) and when I do have WiFi access, sure I use it, but only to post pictures for my friends and family back home. Other than those few hours a day I’ve spent little to no time on social media and I can’t tell you how liberating it makes me feel to be disconnected from the outside world.

When I am walking through the streets of Florence on my way to class or to get a cappuccino, I am present in the moment, not fixated on my phone and aware of all the beauty that is surrounding me. When you are living in another country for an extended period of time with no constant access to technology to monopolize a conversation, you really get to know people and more importantly you get to know yourself.

As silly as it may sound, you learn who you are without technology. What do you have to bring to the table other than a phone? What would you say if you didn’t have technology as a crutch to participate in a conversation? These are the questions you need to ask yourself and if you find that you’re at a loss for an answer than you should start to consider that it’s possible that you are too attached to technology and it’s not helping you as much as it is hurting you.

If I could give some advice to anyone planning to study abroad and live in a new place for an extended period of time, it would be to make sure you appreciate the time you are away and to really throw yourself into the new and unfamiliar culture. Be open to adapting even if it’s just while you’re there. I plan on integrating a lot of the Italian culture that I’ve been exposed to into my everyday life after I return to the United States.

Florence_hotel_cafeItalians love to enjoy life and each other’s company. They don’t drink to get drunk either. They drink because they genuinely appreciate the taste and the company associated with having cocktails or sharing a bottle of wine.

In the short time that I’ve been here, Italians have taught me how essential it is to preserve time in every aspect whether that is related to the art and architecture that is passed on the street or in the conversations with friends, perspective friends, and loved ones. Simply recognize the fact that as humans we have very little control in this life, nevertheless, something that is controllable is how we spend our time.

Be thankful that there isn’t WiFi everywhere you go and make sure to look up every once and a while. I promise you the view of the world is so much more beautiful when not seen through a phone.

Topics: study abroad, Italy