Three roller bags crashing onto the cobblestone ground, my arms flailing and me, drenched in sweat: this was my arrival at NYU Florence at the start of this semester, the fall of my sophomore year. After a full day of flying, my mind was quite fuzzy, made worse by the fact I didn’t eat anything except the airline’s questionable chicken. I hardly remember anything from that first day. I sat in Villa Sassetti on the NYU Florence campus for about a million hours filling out immigration forms and suddenly I was turning the keys in the door of my new apartment.
Orientation week was a whirlwind that saw me trying to figure out where I fit in Florence. Between the well-dressed Italians in their flowy dresses and blue suits and the hordes of U.S. tourists whacking me in the face with their selfie sticks, I had no clue who I should identify with or act like. But it wasn’t the first time I’d felt this way.
As a first-year, I found myself missing home more and more with each passing week. I struggled to put myself out there and connect with new college friends, as I wondered what my high school friends were doing, how college was going for them and who their friends were. In a way, traveling thousands of miles from my home has brought me closer to the people I grew up with. Finding ways to call your friends and family across a six-hour time difference is a new kind of challenge, but an obstacle easily hurdled when you realize the importance of reporting your fourth slice of pizza of the day. You realize that the people you want to tell your crazy stories to and send your horribly touristy selfies to are the ones you should keep around.
Having the courage to leave the comfort of a Starbucks at every corner is happily rewarded with the feeling of finally being a part of a bigger world; central Florence isn’t your Washington Square campus bubble anymore. The sudden change in scenery made me realize that I don’t have to be cooped up in my bedroom and feel homesick every day and call my parents any time something slightly upsetting happens to me. There’s no time to be homesick when you’re suddenly traveling every weekend. Living abroad for a semester also helps you realize what’s important in your life, though in different ways than New York City: it encourages you to reflect on the little things, the seemingly unimportant moments that are shaping you as a person.
These moments, though they seem insignificant, have shaped my experiences in Florence. I can run to catch the train to Rome, I can order brunch in broken Italian, I can cook chicken that tastes only vaguely burnt and I can scream the lyrics to “Party in the U.S.A.” in the middle of Piazza Duomo at 1 a.m. and hopefully not get arrested for noise disturbance. I can make mistakes and relish them because they’re not just a part of studying abroad — they’re a part of becoming confident in your vulnerabilities. And all it took for me to realize this was to pack my bags and cross the ocean, entering a new country and an unfamiliar, exciting future.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 print edition. Email Anna Cuciurean-Zapan at [email protected]