Monday, April 20, 2009

My Experience With Crossing The Border

The semester is coming to an end and this is one of the last time I will be writing to all of you about those individuals who have come across the border and into America. I thought for one of my last blogs I would write about my own experience of crossing over the border.

In the Spring of 2008, I ventured to Florence, Italy where I studied abroad for five unbelievable months. I studied literature and writing while overseas, and was able to follow in the footsteps of some of the most famous writers and literary scholars of all time, including Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, who studied in Florence during their time.

My roommate Katie and me sitting in the Arno River ledge during our first day.
Photo By: Elizabeth Pfordte

Before traveling to Florence I had been to Europe once before with my high school senior class, but I did not truly appreciate the history and beauty as I did when I lived there. Living in a foreign country was an entirely different experience than visiting several countries and only spending a few days in each.

I have traveled to nine different European countries, and each one is unique with so much rich history to offer, but today I will focus on Italy, since that is where I spend a majority of my time.

After living in America my entire life, it was quite a culture shock when traveling to a country where the only words I knew were ciao (pronounced chow and meaning hello), and grazie (meaning thank you). Thankfully were required to take an Italian speaking class during our study abroad, but until class started I relied on my nearly fluent Italian speaking roommate to help communicate for me.

The thing that surprised me the most was how many and how well Europeans spoke English. If they were to come to America, there would not be many people who could also speak their language. I almost never had a problem communicating with an Italian because they almost all spoke English.

Another thing that mesmerized me was all the beautiful architecture that surrounded Florence. My apartment was three blocks from the Duomo, one of the largest domes in the world. It was an incredible to be able to walk next to such a magnificent building everyday on my way to school.

The Duomo on a sunny day in Florence

While abroad I realized how different life is in Italy compared to America. One of the things I loved most about living in Italy was being able to walk everywhere. The only time I took a taxi or another mode of transportation other than my feet, was when my roommates and I would go to the airport. I would most likely walk at least three miles a day, but I loved every moment of it.

The Arno River

The grocery store was one of my favorite weekly activities. Two of my roommates and myself would run along the Arno River a few times every week and then venture to the massive San Lorenzo Market. There we became friends with our favorite butcher who would cut us our meat for the week and our favorite deli where we would purchase our turkey and cheeses. We also found our favorite fruit stands where the woman would always give us a small bag of oranges for free, and she always had the biggest smile when we would come visit each week. Lastly, we had our favorite bread maker. Florence doesn't add salt to their bread so it is always very bland and requires much oil and vinegar when eating. However, we found a woman at the market who makes fresh focaccia bread every morning with salt.

It's the little things about living abroad that I miss the most. I miss the simplicity of their life. They take time off every day for nap time where almost every store is closed for a two hour period each day. At first it was frustrating when I would go to get something and the store would be closed right in the middle of the day, but then I learned to appreciate and love it. I miss the easy accessibility of being able to walk everywhere and having the train station a two minute walk away where we could catch the train to other parts of Italy for a small price.

At the very top of the Duomo during sunset.

I learned that many things are much easier in Italy, such as not really needing a car in Italy, but then America has a lot to offer that Italy doesn't as well. Such as how Florence only has two McDonalds, a handful of Chinese restaurants, one Mexican restaurant, and a few other ethnic restaurants I could count on two hands. America is full of different ethnic foods, where Italy is proud of their home cooking and feel pride in featuring those restaurants with only a few ethnic restaurants to offer.

I could go on for hours about the differences between America and Italy and my experience abroad, but I won't. Each place has their own uniqueness and things to offer.

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