Tag Archives: #florence

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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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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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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New Beginnings

My name is Christopher Amoako-Kwaw, a senior at Fairfield University in Connecticut spending my LAST fall semester of senior year in Florence, Italy. No, to just say Florence, Italy would not do this city enough justice. The beautiful, magical, breath-taking Florence, Italy is where I have been the past six days.

I never really had a picture of what Florence would look like. I’ve see photos and things of that nature, but I never could have expected what I have seen now. Before leaving this past Sunday, I can’t say that I was anxious. I’m not really someone that gets anxious because I am willing to take on any challenge. I would say that I felt that things would be a little weird. Not being around my close friends that I have made at Fairfield, not being able to go home in case of an emergency, things of that nature were on my mind. I just made sure I saw all of my friends and family members before I left. I also made sure to see professors and administrators who have supported me during this process to thank each and every one of them.

 

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A beautiful view of the city of Perguia.

 

When I first officially got here, I was actually kind of shocked. I had no idea Florence had so many tourists. I got off the plane thinking my days of seeing Americans all the time and speaking English were over. But to my surprise, they were everywhere. And I can see why. This city is truly something to behold. I am in an apartment with five other students, and my apartment is located three minutes away from the Duomo. Yes, the Duomo. It’s crazy just walking one block and being outside of its grand and mysterious grace. It’s one of the most beautiful and intricate things I have ever set my eyes on. Also, when I first got here I thought that all I would be eating is the best kind of pizza and pasta. But since I’ve been here, the pasta and pizza from the U.S. actually tastes a lot better. I’m hoping it’s because I haven’t been to the best pizza and pasta places yet, so I’ll continue looking around.

This is something worth noting: I am the only black person from Fairfield here in the program. The Fairfield Florence program host students from three different schools, Fairfield University, Providence College, and Saint Jose. I am also the ONLY black person in the entire program. So yes, definitely a difference from my college experience in the U.S. Diversity is certainly an issue back at Fairfield, but I have people like me that I surround myself with. So I’m not really sure if this is a culture shock or a culture change, buts it’s definitely about to be an experience I have never had before. I am definitely happy and excited to take on this challenge.

 

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The beautiful fountain in the square of Assasi.

 

I have actually noticed many differences between the U.S. and this beautiful city. Other than the obvious 6 hour time difference, the way Italians behave is very different. First off, the streets aren’t packed and busy until around 9:30/10 am. Back home, stores are open and people are running to work at 7:30 am, so that is very different. Another difference is the eating patterns. Restaurants, cafes, and little shops close around 3 pm and open up again around 7 pm. Apparently, that gap is used for sleep so I’ll be getting really use to that.

In terms of goals, I really just want to explore where I live. I want to know how to get home from anywhere as naturally as I do when I’m home. I want to be able to walk into a store or restaurant and not look confused at the menu or confused at what they are offering or saying. I want to be able to go to a grocery store and know exactly what the things mean and say. These are little things yes, but I know they will go a long way. My main goal is to honestly just step outside my comfort zone and meet new people. I don’t want to fall into my ways of comfort. I want to experience what others experience, together with them. I also want people to experience what I experience as well, as well as feel comfortable around me.

People were telling me that coming here would feel like I was in a different world. They certainly were not lying. But people also told me that I can handle anything that comes my way and overcome it. They were not lying about that either.

 

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Views from the Basilica of San Francesco d’assisi.

 

 

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