Category Archives: Christopher in Italy

Where is Your Home?

I’m home and it honestly doesn’t feel real. And it’s not just me that feels this way. I remember last week my roommates and the other friends I had made in my study abroad program were agreeing with me when I said that it just doesn’t seem right that we are leaving Florence so soon. That’s one change from the beginning of when I got there; the friends that I made. When I first got to Italy, I didn’t know anybody. I had to try to make new friends with people from different schools and people from difficult backgrounds. And now, we have been talking everyday about how much we want to go back. When I look back on my past blog posts, I see how excited I was to venture out into this new world and find different challenges to take on. Now looking back on the past three months, I see that I really went through a lot. Like a whole lot more than I thought I would ever go through. I went into studying abroad looking forward to meeting new people, trying new food, visiting new countries, and of course getting better in Italian. But I didn’t expect to go to countries like Austria, or I didn’t expect getting stuck in the city of Frankfort in Germany. I didn’t expect to leave my passport in Florence and realize that’s probably not the best idea if I am trying to travel to other countries.

When I think of what skills and qualities I have developed over these past three months, the one thing I am thankful for is how much experience I gained in traveling. I truly feel confident in any surrounding I could put myself in. I am also thankful that I have grown a greater sense of responsibility. During the semester, I had a random allergic reaction to something, and I broke out in hives all over my body. It was a very difficult and very uncomfortable time for me, especially because I had a flight to Amsterdam coming up. But I had to find the right medicine and the right treatment to get me through that time and through that experience in Amsterdam.

I have also gained a better insight of the term “hidden racism” through people choosing not to sit next to me on a bus or always being asked to see my passport while I’m sitting down at an airport and being asked, “Why do you have so much luggage?” It was things like this that showed me that the worlds of Italy and the United States aren’t so different. I learned throughout my time in Florence that our people, our cultures, our worlds really aren’t that far apart. The main things that really separate the States from that part of the world is how well we speak our English, what/how we eat, and how interested and involved we are in sports. In my eyes, these are the things that really differ the United States from people and cultures in Europe. At the same time, here in America we try to copy the European lifestyle. We try European food, we try to dress like Europeans. But it also goes the other way around. In Italy, they try to mimic the American lifestyle with how they dress, how they talk, and how they express themselves. These are all things that I miss already.

Regarding reverse culture shock, I am in the stage when I am gradually starting to readjust, but things are still not exactly the same. Florence truly feels like a dream. That’s what I keep telling my friends here when they ask “How was abroad?” “How was it?” “What was the craziest thing you did?” It’s crazy because a majority of people will never really understand or know the answer to these questions, they won’t ever experience the things I saw and went through. It makes me truly grateful for the opportunity to study abroad.

These past few days, I have been a little sad because I don’t really know if I will ever be back in Florence. I don’t know if I will ever be able to discover new experiences there, and do things that I wasn’t able to do within the three months there. One thing that I have realized from the beginning of my journey was how foolish I was to think I would be able to experience a big part of Italy in the three months that I was there. I could honestly compare my time there to the journey I had at the Palace of Versailles in France. I was at the Palace for about 5-6 hours, and I don’t even think I saw 10% of it. That’s how this experience has been for me. I was there for 3 months, but I only scratched the surface. There were trips I didn’t take, people I didn’t talk to, food I didn’t try, and mistakes I didn’t make but probably could have. Three months is nowhere near enough time to really immerse yourself in a brand new culture like that. But one thing that makes me happy is that I will be able to take these experiences and incorporate them into my life here in the U.S., here at Fairfield University. I can show people that studying abroad is truly worth it and you’ll discover things about yourself that you would have never thought possible. The challenges ahead of me- such as trying to finish my last spring semester as an undergrad with a 4.0 GPA, graduating, getting a job, and preparing a path for my future career- don’t seem as difficult as they did before I went to Italy. I know that these things, as tough as they will be, are things that I can handle. These are challenges that I may (ok, definitely will) mess up along the way, but I will be able to bounce back and be alright. My experiences in Italy and the other countries I visited will never leave my mind. Florence was very good to me and I am truly thankful for everything that city gave to me. I will never take it for granted.

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Community Service in Florence

When I thought about studying abroad in Florence, I knew I wanted to do some form of community service. Something to help students, maybe help them learn English, or something that involved helping the homeless. I started e-mailing and looking for opportunities to help the community out.

I eventually signed myself up for a project that partnered with Oxfam International. Oxfam is an organization whose mission is to end the injustices of poverty. Their goal is to simply engage in the discussion of poverty and find different ways to fix it by bringing people together. And so I thought this was the perfect thing to be a part of and I felt that it would be a good way to leave Florence having an impact on people, even if it is just a little. I was looking forward to an interesting, fun, and unforgettable experience.

Those things were certainly true, but not ever in the way that I could have imagined. On the way to the meeting point, I thought that I was about to meet a lot of other volunteers, Italian and American, and I would make some new friends. When I got there, I was the only one volunteering. Also, the guide that I had only spoke Italian with a little bit of English. Luckily I have been taking an advanced Italian class so I was able to catch onto what she was trying to tell me. Instead of volunteering in the sense of serving food or distributing clothes, etc. to the homeless, my assignment ended up being a fundraiser. I had to try and get people to notice me, and then try to convince them to donate money so that Oxfam could send potable water to families in Sudan. Oh. And did I mention, I was only able to say this and convince people in Italian? Yes, very unexpected and not as easy as I thought it was going to be. I needed a catchphrase to get people to notice me, but then I also needed to be able to hold a conversation long enough to even convince them to donate money. I was pulling words from all over different parts of my brain.

At first this was very difficult because for one, I was really caught off guard with what I had to do and I couldn’t prepare for it beforehand. But also, I was nervous. I was nervous because I knew my Italian wasn’t the best that it could be, and I did not want to look stupid trying to convince people with broken Italian. I was nervous because I didn’t want to mess up the efforts of Oxfam with me not bringing in money because of my inability to convince people to donate. I was nervous because I did not want to get judged by people. As I tried to convince people to donate, some did and some didn’t. One person that did asked, in Italian, if I was from Sudan and if that’s the reason why I was trying to get people to donate. At first, I did not know how to answer. I didn’t know if the reason he donated was because he thought I really needed it for my family or something, or if he genuinely wanted to help Oxfam. This made me hesitant to try to convince people and I started to act quiet. But then after a while, I thought about it and decided that even if they thought it was for me, as long as it was helping somebody, it was okay. This gave me the confidence to keep trying and keep getting people to donate.

I ended up raising about 45 euros. I’m not really sure if that was a lot but I thought it was okay considering how I was thrown into the fire like that. On the bus home, I thought about my experience and I caught myself smiling. Smiling because I realized it was kind of fun doing that. Being by myself, and not doing the conventional community service that most people would probably do. This was something entirely different than what I expected and I took the challenge head on. What was also interesting about this project was that it was not directly involved with the poverty in Florence or the people of Florence at all. It was for a completely different country, a completely different culture. I was wondering why that was, considering the homeless people in Florence: Who is helping them and what foundation is working for them? But at the same time, it shows that Florence doesn’t just care for Florence. It cares for other people as well, people that they will probably never meet or see. I saw Italians in a new light through this experience. I felt happy to be a part of it. It made me feel that even when I leave in the next 2 weeks, Florence will always care about me.

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Open Letter to Humility

I have literally just a few days left here in Florence. Saying time flies would be the greatest understatement to describe where the weeks went. Where the different trips, different countries, different types and tastes of food went. Where the memories with new and interesting people went. As excited as I am to go home and be a part of my home country again, it’s clear that no matter how much I try not to think about it, Florence will always be a home of mine. I will always have an attachment to this street, to this historic apartment (we have a mirror that was owned by the Medici family), and to this dirty but special room. There’s that saying you don’t know what you have until you lose it. But in some cases, especially in a case of studying abroad and becoming accustomed to the life you have here, you understand and know what you are losing before you really even lose it. It is through realizing and thinking about this that I have humbled myself and have thanked each professor, each café worker, and each restaurant waiter that I made friends with; thanked them for allowing me to come to this country and sharing a piece of their life with me…

Humble- As simply as I can put it, I am humbled by this experience. It would honestly be impossible to try to show or explain how great and unique this experience was through words or pictures. I know I would just leave so much out and it would not do Florence justice to do that. Being here for three months put my life in perspective in the sense that I’m not really sure what else I could do in my life that would compare to studying abroad here. These final days make me thankful that I made the decision to get on that plane, and it makes me sad knowing that soon I will be heading on a plane back, with the possibility that I may never come back.

When I say I’m thankful for this study abroad experience, I don’t simply mean just being in Italy or going to other countries. I mean enduring so much, stepping out of comfort zones, making so many mistakes and learning from them and just finding ways to be a part of a new environment. There are people here who did not experience Florence in this way, meaning they simply came here to study because they could. To me, the opportunity to study abroad was a gift that I can’t and won’t ever take for granted.

Humble- I am humbled by the personal and external confidence I have developed in myself throughout these 3 months. Back home, I did not do the traveling thing. I either stayed in New York or Connecticut. And if I did go outside of that, it was something for school and never on my own accord. So the confidence it took to get on multiple planes to fly to multiple countries by myself, the confidence it took to sit on buses for 3-12 hours heading to foreign lands by myself – it’s not like I took time to decide, “Should I do this… can I handle it?” I literally booked these trips and just went with it. I think Florence does that to you without you even realizing it. It makes you want to take risks and take on personal challenges, inside the city and outside of it.

When I’m home, my mother and I communicate here and there. We aren’t the overly affectionate family type, so we check up on each other sometimes, but I know she is always there when something is going wrong or I need help. However, for the past 8 weeks or so, my phone has been messed up and I haven’t been able to talk to her. So when I left my passport in Italy on a trip to Vienna, Austria and almost got stuck there trying to get back to Florence, that’s where this confidence came in. That’s when I didn’t freak out because I couldn’t ask my mom what to do, but instead I took the time to figure out my next move and what my options were, and I’m proud of how I handled  the situation with calm and collected maturity.

Humble- I am humbled by my accomplishments: First-generation college student, first in my family to get accepted and attend college, first in my family to have been to another country other than America, and now, first to have lived in another country for an extended period of time. I am truly blessed. Sydney Johnson, my basketball coach back at Fairfield loves to tell us the quote, “We are living the dream” and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing  – trying my hardest to live out each and every day and take advantage of any and all opportunities given to me. I visited 7 countries (well, 8 if you want to include Italy): Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, France, and England. I visited a museum and a church in each country and visited each of the country’s national monuments. I visited a good portion of Italy as well, seeing cities such as Venice, Milan, Capri, Pisa, Bologna, Amalfi, and even Rome. In Rome, I went to church at the Vatican and got lucky and saw the Pope give a speech. I visited an intense soccer game and saw Florence beat one of its storied rivals. I pushed through an advanced Italian language speaking class and have done well. My writing was also published in a monthly Italian newsletter, known as Blending Newsletter, here at Florence University of the Arts (FUA), and I was also recently published in the first issue of Blending’s semesterly magazine. I thought it made sense to use my Creative Writing major and utilize it in my academics here at FUA. It’s something that will be remembered here at FUA and it’s an accomplishment I can always look back to.

 

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My writing in the Blending Newsletter.

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My roommates and me at the soccer game in Florence.

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“I Am” in Amsterdam.

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A gondola ride through the river city of Venice.

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Beautiful view in Rome.

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View from the top of the Pope’s home in Rome.

 

I have also gotten really good at cooking. I mean, really good. Granted, I wasn’t that much of a chef before so any amount of cooking would constitute as something, but I think I have out-done myself on multiple occasions. I was lucky to have a roommate who is a Food Marketing major but also a chef in training, so I picked up on many things he did in the kitchen to understand what really goes into making a good dish. I’ve been exposed to a new economy, a new way of living, and a new way of building routines. I’ve grown a new understanding of currency and the smart ways of handling money on a big scale. I’m glad for everything I’ve done and how much of an impact these accomplishments have had and will continue to have on me.

Humble- Yes I’m glad to have endeavored on this journey on my own, but at the end of it all, I am humbled by the friendships that I have back home. And by friendships, I mean the real and true bonds that I have with people. I am a senior, and so I have been through that four year process of figuring out who is really there for you and who isn’t in college. So being here in Florence for three months without my close knit group of friends really made me think about the people in my life who mean the most to me. I reflected about this because I saw people planning trips together, visiting countries together, and making memories together, and a quick rush of feelings and emotions flowed through my head and body as I thought about who I wished was here for me to plan, make, and create memories with.

However, I have gotten really close with the roommates that I have lived with in the apartment here in Florence, and it has showed me how quickly new bonds can form. Now we are making to plans to visit each other at each other’s colleges. I was able to visit some friends whom I can consider brothers in Rome and in Austria and saw them playing the game of basketball that they play as a career. I value those times with them much more than I can really explain through words. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I was able to take this challenge head on and come out here by myself. But after having all of these adventures, I am a firm believer that experiences like these should be shared with those closest to you to create memories to look back on, talk about, laugh about, and maybe even cry about.

Humble- I am humble and happy for life. I’m humbled to have the three person family that I have and a mom who did all she could so that I could even jump into this fear of the unknown. I am happy I took this opportunity and came out the same person on the outside, but 100% different on the inside. From having multiple conversations about race relations, to dealing with opinions on America’s new president, to being stared at and always having a free seat next to me on the bus – the cultural perspective I’ve gained here is just so valuable. With the way our world is being more and more internationalized, it is necessary for Americans to understand and gain more knowledge on global issues and societies. I am proud to be able to bring these new perspectives back home and share them with the people around me. I am humbled that I will have memories like this under my belt to help guide me throughout my future relationships, future career, and the rest of my life.

I am humbled by Florence.

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Newsflash

Newsflash: In the weeks prior to Election Day in the United States, my American friends were all wondering who I planned to vote for and why. My Italian professors also seem interested in who my candidate of choice was. I didn’t really think people in Europe cared about American political issues. But on the contrary, Italians are a lot more interested in American culture, history, and political issues than I expected they would be. What’s more interesting is just how knowledgeable they are of what is going on in our country. I went to this café and got a hot chocolate and my waiter asked me if I liked Obama and what he has done for our country. He started talking about our health care system and education and he knew wayyyyy more about that stuff than I did. He said America just always seems to handle issues better than this country.

I think I knew what he meant by issues; for the past 2 weeks, there have been multiple strikes and protest about the state of the economy in Florence. As a result, many buses, transportation services, trains, etc. have been experiencing issues due to workers going on strike. Apparently these strikes that involve transportation happen very often. I heard that the strikes happen for many reasons other than economic issues too, like workers just simply wanting to take a break.

Additionally, when I visited Rome a couple weeks ago, there was a huge protest going on at the Colosseum, something that involved Muslims protesting the closing of mosques and other places of worship in Italy. Maybe a few hundred or more Muslims were on the floor praying, some holding signs saying ‘peace’ and ‘let us pray.’ It reminded me of the silent demonstration put on back at Fairfield last year in the library in response to the issues of racial inequality. As I thought about this comparison, it made me feel like these countries really aren’t so different. The food, language, and clothing vary from country to country, but there will always be issues, and issues will make people come together.

Uhh newsflash: Another thing that I wasn’t aware of was the state of the weather conditions in Italy. There were two earthquakes this past month that struck central Italy, mainly in the regions of Macerata and Perugia. There was also a tornado that struck Rome yesterday or the day before. And a couple weeks ago while I was on my way to see the Statue of David (since it is free admission on Sundays) there was a terrible storm. I mean, really bad.  It did not stop me from getting my free entrance, but besides what I learned about the David statue, I was also informed that it was the 50th anniversary of the flood of the River Arno that did a lot of damage to people’s lives and the city itself. This reminded me of Hurricane Sandy hitting areas of New York back home around this time a few years ago. Definitely a weird coincidence, but it helped me get to know something about the city that I probably would have never known.

 

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The Statue of David.

 

Apparently (as told by some random Italians) the city is still in danger of floods, but President Sergio Mattarella wants everyone, Italians and foreigners included, to feel safe. And this risk of flooding doesn’t stop people from visiting to learn about Italy’s rich culture, or studying abroad here like I am. And besides the strikes, it doesn’t stop local Italians from trying to show the outside world just how beautiful and special their country is. These people really value the way Italy is viewed and they try to promote and inform others of their culture and history. It makes me feel accepted when everyone is willing to help bring me in and make me feel comfortable. Even going into restaurants, the staff just seem to enjoy my presence. It’s a joy to be around.

 

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Trying squid for the first time.

 

So last newsflash: I’m still having a blast studying abroad here. Living the dream. I only have a few weeks left, and there’s still so much to do!

 

 

 

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Do’s and Don’ts

I know I have only been in Florence for 8 weeks now and that is definitely not a long time to think that I know the ins and outs of this city. So maybe this could be for the beginners, the ones thinking about studying abroad in this amazing place and just need a little push.

DO:

Eat out once a week.

  • I say once a week because of my next point…

Go to the markets and pick out fresh ingredients!

  • Why? To cook obviously. Italy is a food country and they love getting people to try their food. But they also encourage those to learn how to make their own food, and there is always a variety of ingredients to create things you’ve never tried before.

See the Duomo. This is a must. And then…

Go the top of the Duomo because it’s one of the greatest views you will ever see in your life.

 

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The view from the Duomo.

 

Go see the Statue of David. Also a must see.

Take a train to a random city you’ve never heard of and stay there for a few hours.

  • I mean why not? If you’re from New York like me or any other urban city in the States, you get lost or fall asleep on the train and wake up in random places all the time. Except this time, don’t get on the return train going home. Venture out and see a town or city you didn’t even plan on visiting. The smallest cities possess so much charm and are worth the trip.

Make random conversation.

  • I was going to class and I was thirsty so I stopped at a little café for a bottle of water. I noticed that the water was a lot cheaper than where I usually buy it so I asked him, “Why is your water so cheap?” He didn’t speak English that well, so I said I understood Italian a little bit and I tried to catch a little bit of what he said. I think the gist of what he was saying was that, “As a kid, I did not have that much water to drink and I was always thirsty. So I don’t want people to feel thirsty.” At least that’s what I hope he said because I said something like “Wow, che e` molto noble e gentile” meaning “that is very noble and kind,” and he smiled.

Visit the Santa Croce.

  • Why? The bodies of Galileo, Machiavelli, and Michelangelo are all buried there. Like what??

 

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Before entering the Santa Croce.

 

Try the club scene.

  • It is very different and very diverse. But also very special. Many other Italian cities, such as Rome, do not have club scenes and students rarely go out. So when they come to Florence, they talk about how much more fun it is.

Visit the leather markets.

  • Please, please, please go get your mom a leather purse or hand bag BEFORE she calls you complaining about how you’re cheap and don’t buy her anything.

Pet the Golden Boar so that you are granted safe travels back to Florence one day.

GET GELATO THREE TIMES A DAY. You will not get fat. Hopefully.

Go to all the famous spots like All’antico viniao sandwich place or the Vivoli Gelateria and wait in the lines that stretch to across the street. You will definitely be tired, but it is definitely worth it.

Go to a movie theater and watch a random Italian movie. (And not understand what’s going on.)

  • I definitely went in there hoping to find a movie with at least a little English so that I could follow it. The film definitely joined my list of one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen, but at least I can say I did it.

Have dinners with your apartment roommates and form a bond.

Speak to your close friends and family from time to time to let them know how you are doing.

  • They miss you as much as you miss them! (I think!)

Find a random relative!!

  • One of the club promoters turned out to be my cousin. Don’t ask me how or why he is out here. I just know next that next time I’m in Florence, I will get in for free with him.

Lastly, stand out as much as you can without a care in the world. Be different. Be unique.

  • Before you come here, people will tell you and give you advice on thing like how to dress in Italy, how to eat, how to talk, and maybe even how to walk. But I wouldn’t try to follow that as much as possible. Before I traveled out here, someone told me to try to tone down on the slang and try to speak as well as Italians do. But today, my Italian roommate is starting to use slang words that I do, words he has never used before, and he loves it. I even taught my teacher a new word. It’s okay to be different I think.

 

DON’T: 

Don’t crave American food everyday. Try something new!

  • But I’ll admit, you will definitely miss having a bagel or regular bread because they do not have that as often as you will like. They also don’t have pancakes. I forgot to add that to my lows last week.

Don’t assume restaurants or shops have the best food because they advertise it as much and as big as they can. The tiniest cafés and secret little restaurants have the best food.

  • I remember my roommates and I were on our way to this famous restaurant that we heard had ‘okay’ pasta and we wanted to try it out for ourselves. On the way, we got lost and ended up in an alley way and found this small restaurant called ‘Acquacotta’ that had the best spaghetti ever. (You’re welcome.)

 

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The BEST spaghetti.

 

Don’t assume everyone speaks English fluently.

  • Simple because, they don’t. But they will try and that’s good enough.

Don’t assume people know you’re American.

  • (Relating to my last bullet) I say this because sometimes people will hear you speak English but will still approach you using Italian. What’s nice about this is that you get to practice your Italian a little so it’s not that bad.

DON’T eat out every night.

  • I said in my Do’s to eat out once a week. Not just to cook, but the quality and deliciousness of the dinner lifestyle is too rich, in money and variety, to have every night. It may lose its value quickly as some people have experienced.

Don’t get a taxi everywhere. WALK as much as possible.

  • As much as I hate walking (well, used to) I love it now. 8 weeks in, I enjoy the 25 minute walk to class at 7:30 am three times a week. I enjoy walking in circles trying to find a food spot that my maps never seem to be able to accurately locate.

Don’t assume water is free, ANYWHERE.

Don’t assume the water is hot either!

Don’t sit down when you get a coffee because you get charged a sit down fee. I know. It’s crazy.

Don’t get fooled by con artists. They think they are low but they are not!

  • Some guy asked me where I got my pants from and he thought he felt the need to touch my pockets to figure out where. Not me sir, not me.

Don’t lose awareness of your surroundings. Always be on the lookout.

Don’t forget to remind your friends how much you miss them!

  • As annoying as they are I miss my girlfriend and other friends, my brothers on the basketball team, and yes, my mother too.

Don’t forget why you’re here. Immerse yourself as much as possible.

  • Grades and rest are important, yes. But try not to stay in bed all day, or spend all day studying. There is way too much to see and time goes fast.

Don’t assume you know Florence because you have lived here for 8 weeks! There is still much more to see, discover, and experience.

Don’t go to museums, churches, and parts of the cities just for pictures.

  • I know for me sometimes I get lost in is the excitement of trying to take an amazing picture to show people. But I’ve started to get a better understanding of just seeing the value of where I’m at without pulling out my phone.

Don’t spend all your money right away, it definitely goes fast.

Don’t think people won’t ask you random questions about who you are, and even why.

  • No joke. On my way to catch my flight to London, this guy on the train noticed that I was African and asked me what my name was. I assumed because I am black and the majority of blacks seen here selling things are from Africa, he thought that I was the same so I told him, “Christopher.” But then he said, “No, what’s your real name?” I asked him what do you mean, and he asked me why I don’t go by my African name. At first I did not know how to answer. One, because a random guy was asking me a random question on a random train. But two, because I have not really found the answer to that question for myself. A few people know of my African Heritage and my African name, Kwasi, and that is not because I like to keep it a secret. It’s just not as natural as saying my American name. Sometimes when the topic comes up, I see it as an identity thing. Do I not want people to know that I am a little different than how I already appear, or does a part of me simply reject my culture? It is hard for me to be myself, completely.  I am confident in who I am as a person, but maybe there is more than just confidence when it comes to understanding other parts of who you are as well. Though I don’t really know what more it really takes, or how to really find out. But hopefully, being in a country like the United States and Italy that is drastically different from African culture, a culture that I need to learn to embrace more, will help me find the answer to the question that random man asked me. He got off the train before I got to answer.

 

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Finally made it to London.

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Highs and Lows

It’s really hard to believe that I’ve already lived in another country for almost 5 weeks now. I’d say time is flying but then again I really don’t want time to go any faster. It is truly amazing here. I feel as though every day I am learning something new. Not just in the classrooms but through the culture as well because there are just so many things to learn about and discover. Sometimes I take walks throughout the city and just relish in the moment, thinking about my first days here and where I am now. My experience here has definitely had a great number of highs, but there definitely are some lows too… Though they may not be considered lows for people not in Italy for a semester.

I’ll start with the lows .Water isn’t free. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve walked into a diner or a restaurant and sat down waiting for a glass of water. And with that, each restaurant has their own price of water, it’s not a standard amount. I’ve paid 2 euros for a pitcher of water at some places, and other places I’ve paid 6 euros. Also, the water in the apartments isn’t the cleanest and takes a long time to filter.

I wouldn’t really consider this a low, but one thing I haven’t gotten used to yet is the street signs. I tend to get lost more often than I would like, and the buildings honestly look a lot alike, so it’s hard to remember which direction I came from. I have an 8 am class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays that is about 20-25 minutes away from my house, so getting lost sometimes on the way there is definitely a hassle. I am also trying to work on my Italian the best that I can, but when I can’t remember certain words, I resort to English for directions, and let’s say not everyone knows what I am talking about.

If I really had a true low, it would be the fact that I am not able to experience this with any of my close friends from back home. Yes, I am making new friends here who are really cool and interesting people. Yes, I am making new memories with people from around the whole world. But when I go to sleep at night, I can’t help but feel like sharing these experiences and memories with people who have been in my life for numerous years would make my time here 100x better. My time here has definitely made me value the friendships I have back home a whole lot more. I have been here for only a month, but I think I am starting to get a little homesick. But I am sure that will wear off sooner than later.

Now my highs certainly outweigh my lows.

I think I’ll start my highs off with this one: I spent and celebrated my 21st birthday in Munich, Germany, at the grand German festival known as Oktoberfest. The reason why I put this at the top of my list of highs is because how many people can say they spent their 21st birthday at Oktoberfest, surrounded by millions of different types of people, and when in my life would I be able to do this again? Chances are not so many, which is why it’s been one of my best and most exciting times here. Oh. Let’s not forget to mention that me and a friend who is studying in Spain this semester met up and wore dashikis to the festival. Yes. Out of the thousands and thousands of people there, we were probably the only two black students at the entire event, and we wore dashikis… and we got a lot of compliments on them too! The people there were so kind and giving, and the atmosphere was just full of life and joy. A table of lively Germans even invited us to sit with them at their table and just share laughs and music.

 

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Celebrating my birthday at Oktoberfest.

 

Another one of my highs here would all the different foods I have eaten and made. I have never cooked this much in my life. It doesn’t hurt that my roommate is a really good cook so I have learned a lot of different things from him as well. I’ve had a bunch of variations of pasta, different types and forms of chicken and other types of meat. One thing that is different is that here the food is not processed, which means I’m putting good things into my body. However at home I could leave chicken in the fridge or freezer for a few days to a week, and here the food, chicken especially, goes bad really fast. So if I spent my money on it, I’m going to cook it. And whenever I’m feeling a little homesick in terms of food, I have found a great place to get amazing pancakes or a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. The food at restaurants and diners is also really good and different. They are really big on sandwiches here! There are lines as long as the whole block to try sandwiches at a lot of different spots. I’ve gotten really cool with the sandwich-maker at a spot really close to my apartment so he lets me skip the line all the time, another high for me.

 

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Pizza made with love.

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The BEST gelato ever.

 

One of the best parts about being here is just the ability to travel, and it is very inexpensive which makes it a high for me. When I think about how I was in the ancient city of Pompeii not so long ago, I almost don’t believe myself.  I’ve already booked trips this month to London, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. Next month I’m going to be going to Austria to visit a friend on a basketball team there and catch one of his games. I am also planning on visiting Greece, Paris, and Switzerland.  I booked my flight to London 3 weeks ago, and in the blink of an eye, I will be going there next weekend. It really is crazy how quickly time goes when you are exploring the world. I am just really excited to see new places and find new highs to add to my list.

 

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The ancient city of Pompeii.

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Mastering New Comfort Zones

Step out of your comfort zone. That’s what they tell you to do your whole life. And sometimes it’s easy. Making new friends. Trying new food. Trying new clothes or playing a new sport. Many things you do in your life involve an element of doing something different. But realizing that you are in another country on your own for three months…Let’s just say you think about your personal comfort zone much more deeply.

And you know, that’s why I took on this challenge of studying abroad. To see if it was something I could handle, a new “comfort” zone. But since being here, I have begun to wonder how different this new comfort zone is compared to the one at Fairfield University. Going to Fairfield, I was already forced out of my comfort zone. My home is located in the dangerous part of the south Bronx, where kids don’t go to school or work. Where boys like me don’t end up as seniors in college. Where opportunities are limited because of money. That was me; that was my comfort zone. Even though I pursued a better life for myself, I understood the people around me who didn’t. I understood there were certain things I couldn’t do or get because my family did not have money. Coming home from school, sometimes having a home cooked meal, but sometimes not eating because my mother was too tired from working two jobs. Then walking into Fairfield as a freshman and seeing a completely new world , I found myself out of my comfort zone pretty fast. Such as having to adjust to living on my own, being able to take advantage of any opportunity that I wanted. Seeing white people every day and understanding the effects of being a minority. Feeling uncomfortable in certain situations because you are so different from your peers. A lifestyle completely different from the one I grew up in for 18 years.

Now fast forward four years later and I have studied in Florence, Italy for almost 3 weeks now (wow). I’ve begun to realize that there is more to a comfort zone than just experiencing new people, places, and things. Because thinking about it now, I’ve already acclimated to the culture of Fairfield. All the things mentioned before that would be categorized as culture shock are a part of me now and I embrace them. And it is very similar here in Florence as well. Living on my own, seeing white people every day, being different from those around me, all things I am very used to. So when I decided to study abroad here, live here, and step out of my comfort zone again, exactly what would I be looking to step out of?

I think I touched on it this weekend. This weekend I traveled to the Island of Capri and visited the Amalfi Coast. I was beyond amazed. The pictures I took honestly don’t capture just how amazing this place is. “Who made all of this… and how” was what was going through my head every time I turned. A lot of it is really just incomprehensible. And I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Areas and scenery like the Amalfi Coast are just places to be admired. In the new mindset of embracing myself in this “new world” so to speak, I went around the coast just asking tour guides and people questions about its history, going into random stores and asking how long they have been there and why. I paid 20 euros and got on a boat with some friends and just went around the coast for an hour taking pictures, learning about the mountains, and the ancient legends.

 

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A selfie with the colorful houses of Amalfi.

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A beautiful view of the island of Amalfi from one of the mountains of Capri.

 

The Island of Capri was another amazing sight with amazing views. Taking a 20 minute walk uphill, I went to the museum to see old artifacts of the island and what it used to look like. I also decided to take a chairlift to view the island from high in the mountains while paying a few euros to listen to the history of its creation. I can honestly say that learning and understanding the places that I visited this weekend made it much more worthwhile.

 

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The view of the island of Capri from the chair lift.

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