Hello everyone, my name is Karen: a double major in Communication Studies and Psychology and also an upcoming Senior at the lovely University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I’ve been here at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute for 2 Summer Sessions now and have taken the Intercultural Communications Class and the Leadership & Communication Class. Both classes have been extraordinarily useful in aiding my understanding of the Italian culture and the professors have been both intelligent and insightful when it comes to my education.
This here is my dragon, Envy, who has been on a lot of adventures here in Firenze (that’s “Florence” in Italian) and has become the envy of the town, naturally. A trip down Fiume Arno- which is the river that separates upper Florence from lower Florence was just what little Envy needed. Florence is rather inland, but the Arno begins at Mount Falterona in Central Italy and flows out Westward until it connects to the Ligurian Sea. Having such a long track and uneven riverbed, the Arno has been noted to be one of the more unpredictable rivers in Italy. In overcoming the tumultuous nature of the waters, these bridges were built so as to ensure much safer travel than boats and gondolas on days where water-travel may be dangerous.
Pictured above is the famous Ponte Vecchio where little Envy has seen couples get engaged, married, and place locks around the bridge’s gates to symbolize their love and commitment. Ponte Vecchio is one of the few bridges around which still holds one of the old traditions for bridges: having shops built into the structure. While passersby are going across the Arno, this bridge allows them to see some of the finest jewelry and art stores that Florence has to offer.
However, it’s what was across the Arno that had Envy’s ultimate attention. While north of the Arno are many famous churches and museums, south of the Arno is much “greener.” The Bardini Gardens, The Torrigiani Gardens, The Boboli Gardens, and The Rose Gardens are all located in the southern part of Florence- quite the hike away from where the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute was located.
While the hot weather- with precious little rain- makes it difficult for many of the flowers to bloom in full during the Summer months, the beauty of the gardens still comes through. This is especially true when one reaches the top of the Bardini Gardens, where one can get a great view of northern Florence. The Bardini Gardens also contains a villa, along with an art gallery, and two museums which speak of the history of this specially preserved part of the city.
However, there’s also another treasure at the top of the Bardini Gardens: the Belvedere Tower. While the view is definitely something to behold, there was also a temporary Project Human exhibit by Antony Gormley atop the tower which provided a commentary on the advancement of man and the consequences of societal process. Having one’s art displayed upon a public monument is a high honor for any aspiring Italian artist.
However, after a long day of exploring the gardens, it was time for Envy to head back across the Arno. North of the Arno, as seen in the picture, one can see the Uffizi Gallery- which is one of the oldest museums in Florence and is home to the famous “Birth of Venus” painting. Unfortunately, Envy was a bit too excited while visiting the Uffizi to take pictures, but take their word for it. It’s quite the trip.
There is so much to see and experience in Florence. Finding that balance in between your classes and your exploration of the city can be a bit hectic at first, but once it’s figured out so many opportunities open up. Living in a different country has been difficult: getting lost, overcoming the language barrier, etc. On the other hand, the experience provides you with the mindset that will allow you to be more capable in the future to deal with situation outside of your comfort zone. An Italian-to-English dictionary and a city map will only get you so far; it’s your heart and approach to any given obstacle that lets you really succeed. Studying abroad here isn’t scary. The locals are friendly and, even if they don’t understand you, they’ll all group together to help you out. Asking for help is key. You’re never alone here in Italy. All you have to do is reach out and someone will take you by the hand and lead you.
Being a foreigner is something new to many of us. Adjustment forces you out of your comfort zone and into the norms of the society around you. All you need to do is remember that difference isn’t wrong; it’s just different. The entire world functions with so many different values and systems that a singular standard would take all of meaning out of true intercultural cooperation through compromise and understanding. And, that’s what studying abroad means to do: to shape you into an intercultural and international citizen, aware and able to analyze the world around you.
So, as Envy and I prepare to re-enter the United States, we hope that we will be able to bring our stories and experiences with you to help encourage you to join us in being international citizens.
From Across The World,
Lorenzo de’ Medici Istituto