Before I got here, I’ll admit that I felt pretty cool to be spending a semester in Italy– pretty ballsy to leave my friends and family and head across Europe for what seemed like an eternity; three and a half measly months. Well let me explain something. When you are sitting on your ass all summer watching grass grow, three months seems like an awfully long time. When you are living in Florence and you already have the next six weeks of your life filled with trips to places you have only read about in books, three and a half months is suddenly next to nothing, and I assume it’ll feel like the same when I am bundled in a winter jacket and sitting on a plane with tears running down my face because I am on my way back to New Jersey.
Studying abroad also brings you down quite a few notches from being an overachiever to just another face in the crowd. At school, people tell me how much I do and how challenging it must be, yada yada yada. Here in Florence, I feel like the stoner in the back of the classroom as the students talk about the places they have traveled, the things that they have seen, the languages that they speak. I can barely stay awake in my nine am Italian class and most of the places I have been to consist of a pool bar and inclusive drinks.
Even people that you wouldn’t expect seem to have done it all. A frat boy named Michael who was rocking some sort of barbecue frat tee and bright sneakers told me that when he wasn’t getting drunk at school with his brothers and having mixers with ditzy sorority girls, he was doing an archaeological dig in Belize and spent his winter break touring across China. This semester, once his schooling in Florence is over, he is backpacking across Europe through Christmas with a marine.
When I first got here, even though it was all so very exciting and interesting, I couldn’t imagine ever staying for much longer than the three months that already was. However, over time, we got to know our Bus2Alps tour guides, which made me see it a little differently. All of these guides, who are in their mid-twenties and seem to come from all over, studied abroad in various places as undergrads and now intern with the company to promote during the week and then lead tours on the weekends.
One of our guides, Tiernan, said that in high school, she studied Latin because she was sick of Spanish. In college, she followed it up with Italian, because it was another romance language. She studied abroad in Siena while she was an undergrad, even though she barely made it fit in with her seasons of soccer back in the States. Even though she figured she would never have a change to come back to Italy, she ended up attending grad school for graphic design in Florence. Now, she works as Bus2Alps chief graphic designer, and even though she makes little-to-nothing for profit, she has seen places in Europe that people dream about… for free. She won’t stay in Italy forever, maybe just another year or two, and her mother warns her she better not marry an Italian. But while her friends rot away in cubicles in the States, typing away on computers and probably living with their parents, Tiernan bar hops in Sorrento and hikes Cinque Terre and white water rafts in Croatia. Doesn’t sound like too bad of a gig to me.