A semester in Italy: “That’s Amore”

By on February 6, 2008

*Editors Note:: Junior journalism major Jen Coughlin spent the fall semester studying abroad in Italy. Here is her story.

As I sat in the backseat of my family’s Ford Explorer while driving to Newark Liberty International Airport last August, I didn’t realize what I would be experiencing in the months to come.

The SUV was filled with my three ridiculously heavy suitcases, as well as the millions of thoughts running through my head as I listened to my iPod and admired the “scenery” on the New Jersey Turnpike. I had to pause my iPod every five minutes because of my parents’ endless amounts of questions.

“Do you have your passport?” my dad asked.

“What about your camera and battery charger? And did you bring the adapters?” my mom chimed in.

The questions ranged from if I had a sweatshirt so I would not get chilly on the plane, to if I had enough snacks so I would not get air-sick. After yes-ing my parents to death for the whole 30 minutes, we finally pulled into the terminal.

Standing with their parents were my three travel companions for the next four months: Danielle Pouliot, Sam Higgins, and Janelle Driscoll. We were traveling to London for a few days before our semester abroad in Florence, Italy.

After we checked our bags we hugged our parents and waved goodbye as we walked through security. We had dinner right next to our gate, and all we talked about was how anxious, scared, and excited we were to be spending four months in a foreign country.

Our conversations ranged from our hopes that there would not be too much of a language barrier to the location and appearance of our apartment.

While waiting, we made awkward introductions to people that we saw were also in our program, American Institute for Foreign Study, or AIFS. AIFS arranged for our transportation, hotels, meal plans, and apartments for when we arrived in Florence.

After a seven hour plane ride we finally landed at London Heathrow Airport, and after three days we went to Lido Di Camaiore, a small beach town on the coast of the Tuscan region in Italy.

Talk about a culture shock. Not one person spoke a single word of English. Within the first few days, the only way we knew how to communicate was by pointing to what we wanted, and nodding or shaking our heads as means of confirmation.

By the third day, we were all incredibly homesick and the days seemed endless. To people at home it looked like we were on a vacation, rather than an orientation. Pictures that we posted on Facebook showed us spending our days on the beach, hiking in the Apuane mountains, doing tacky poses with the Leaning Tower of Pisa and going to clubs at night. What they didn’t show was the difficult adjustment that none of us were prepared for. Each morning we took three-hour Italian classes taught by people who could not speak English. Our “school” resembled an abandoned warehouse that was covered in Italian graffiti and smelled like urine. The toilets were actual holes in the ground. It was hard to believe that it was a university during the regular school year.

By the end of the second week, we were very anxious to get to Florence but our expectations were slightly tainted due to how miserable we were in Lido di Camaiore. We had such high expectations for Florence and from what we had heard about it, it was going to be everything we had hoped for and more. No one could prepare us for the next three months.

After a two hour bus ride, we finally made it. A taxi dropped us off in a little tiny piazza called Piazza Santa Felicita. I immediately fell in love.

We lugged our enormous suitcases up a tiny dark stairway to our apartment door. As soon as we opened it, our eyes filled with tears. It completely surpassed our expectations. Our living room looked out onto the piazza, which was filled with restaurants, shops, and a beautiful church.

Everything that I pictured Florence to look like was right before my eyes. I still cannot find words that will describe everything I felt.

Right around the corner from our apartment was the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. It was the only bridge to not be bombed by the German Nazi’s during World War II. It is known for all of the gold jewelry shops that occupy it; where the gold displayed in the windows could nearly blind you and leave you bankrupt. A two minute walk across the Ponte Vecchio brought us to the infamous Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as The Duomo. It was constructed by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the foremost architects of the Italian Renaissance and it completely dominates the panorama of Florence.

Our classes did not even compare to classes here at Quinnipiac. We watched movies in almost every class, and as far as school work went, we only had a midterm, research paper and final exam in each. We did not have any classes on Fridays, which allowed us an extra day to travel. We traveled all around Italy, to Greece and to Spain to visit Caroline Valdini and Amanda Knese, who were studying in Barcelona. It was so nice to see familiar faces!

No matter how much fun we were having, Quinnipiac was always in the back of our minds. Any chance we had, we talked to our friends through Facebook, AIM and Skype. The more we talked to them and saw pictures without us, we could not help but feel sad that we were not starting off junior year with the people we love the most. The phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” could not be truer. Being away from my favorite people was hard, but definitely made me realize how much I valued my relationship with them. The same thing goes for my feelings about Quinnipiac.

My three months in Florence flew by. Before we knew it, December 1 arrived and we were at Rome Fiumicino Airport saying goodbye to people that I grew such an unbelievable bond with. However, I had never gone such a long time without seeing my family and friends, so I was anxious to get back to life in the U.S.

Now that I am settled back into college life, I am reminded of how much I have changed these past four months. In August, I could not have pictured myself doing all of the things I did. To be able to say that I went to wine-tastings in Tuscany, drove an ATV all around the island of Corfu, Greece, listened to the Pope speak and just the simple fact that I lived in a foreign country, is still something that has not fully sunken in.

My experiences have completely changed the kind of person I am, my friendships with people, as well as my relationship with my family. I truly feel like I can do anything.especially go back to Florence.


About Jen Coughlin