Finding Home Where You Least Expect It

There comes a definitive point as one is living in a new place where it suddenly clicks that this is capital H Home. Not the “home” you declare your hostel to be for the weekend, nor your childhood home, nor your home university—those are all very different forms of home, and I will not tread those waters. However, I will talk about how Florence, Italy has presented itself as my home-away-from-home, my ticking time bomb of experiences, laughter, difficulties, and happiness.

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Florence is home to over 6,000 study abroad students each semester, and here are a couple enjoying views of the famous Ponte Vecchio, the Old Bridge

Speaking frankly, over the past year of living here, I have grown from a starry-eyed infatuation with this city, to extreme loathing, and downright hatred at times. The realities of living in a centuries-old city are very real, especially when you try to seek things out. Oh, you’re feeling sick and want cream of chicken soup? Here’s some Trippa alla Romana, instead. Sunscreen? Don’t go out in the heat of the day (or pay €15+ for a bottle)! A nice hot, full pressure shower? Mmm, riiiiiiiiiight.

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Trying to get that artsy shot of David with the radial contrasts of the ceiling

During my first week here, I waited in an hour in line to see Michelangelo’s David statue at the Accademia, and now I scoff at tourists who line up outside as I walk to a nearby art supply store. I chuckle as I see people eating gelato while it’s still coat season outside, but when I first arrived, I ate gelato every day, regardless of the weather. I took photos of every dish I ate, every shop I visited, and every bridge I crossed for the first few months, and now I hardly bother sidestepping visitors’ incessant photo after photo in front of every major (and minor) attraction.

It’s these subtle shifts in perception that went unnoticed by me for a very long time. I grew weary of Florence, restless while I was here. I’d seen all the museums and visited all the galleries, I’d hit all the famous restaurants and gelaterias, and bought souvenirs for people back home. I didn’t know what else to do. I felt stagnant and claustrophobic.

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Visiting a great show at the SRISA Gallery Space

And then I’d have friends visit Florence, and it was always refreshing seeing my city through fresh eyes, because they stop and marvel at the complexities of the Duomo I walk past everyday without a second glance. They exclaim how “quaint” and “cute” the cobblestone streets are that I demolish my shoes on each day, admiring the work that goes into maintaining these traditional roads. They gush over the “cute artisan shops” they “stumbled upon” across the Arno River, one of which I interned in this semester, working each week in the traditional goldsmithing and jewelers’ quarter with an entire group of artisans.

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I worked with Joy Franklin of A Thousand Joys, helping with photography and marketing of her small jewelry business, during my Spring 2017 internship

It is easy to forget where you are in the mundane tasks of daily life.

It is precisely this sense of forgotten place that expresses the extreme privilege I have for being able to study abroad in Italy my entire junior year of college. For one year of my life, I was able to learn about Romanesque and Gothic architecture on-site in the cathedrals of Santa Maria Novella, San Miniato al Monte, Santa Croce, and Santa Maria del Fiore, some of the most beautiful in the world.

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San Miniato al Monte, my favorite church in Florence, that overlooks the entirety of the city (and has better views than the popular Piazzale Michelangelo)

For one year of my life, I learned about one-point perspective from the very spot Brunelleschi stood as he discovered it from the Baptistery of the Duomo. For one year of my life, I sat on fountains and bridges and steps all around this multicultural city, observing the daily lives of Florentines, immigrants, tourists, school groups, and fellow study abroad students for research in my Travel Writing class.

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People watching in the Santo Spirito neighborhood

For one year of my life, I experienced life-changing things, made friends from all around the world, and carved a little piece of Home in this Renaissance city.

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Bre Legan, SRISA ’16-‘17

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