Journal—A Year in Florence
occasional series from students spending the year in
I think the most satisfying thing about living abroad in
a country where the language is not my own is being able
to understand what is going on around me.
Most Italians speak to me in English, a positively unavoidable
fact in such a tourist hotspot as Florence. However, as my
tongue has become more comfortable with the suono,
or music, of the Italian language, I have found that randomly
encountered people are more willing to embrace my efforts
by responding to me in Italian.
At first I was overwhelmed
by the crazy, overlapping sounds of conversations heard
on buses, but more so by the idea that I had signed myself
up for a year of Smith academics, in Italian.
But I have come to embrace that. I can now read the daily
free paper in Italian (with a dictionary ever ready). But
I still cannot understand the rapid-fire of Italians’ conversations
or the quick-step speech of people on television.
Dolin-Aubertin (on right)
poses with fellow JYA-er Lauren Folk ’10 in Val
However, that is perfectly
okay. The essence of my study abroad, after all, is one
of self-discovery. I would never have thought myself capable
of taking a train to Austria alone or of the possibility
that my Italian skills could help me communicate there.
I never actually considered the physical exertion it takes
to live bilingually. I have to think a lot before I speak,
often to say very simple things—which
is not a bad way to learn that particular life lesson.
Living abroad in a second language means that I am rediscovering
my own voice and getting to know the person that voice speaks
I was talking to a Florentine
friend the other day and he said to me: “I think
you know Florence better than I do.”
I asked what he meant, but really,
I already knew. For me, every day here is one of discovery.
I am living with all my senses completely open to my surroundings.
I walk through the city like a child, like a sponge, and
try to see and absorb everything: the smells of chestnuts
burning and waffles cooking, the bright store displays and
the worn stone adornments on the sides of the buildings,
the winter rain on my umbrella, and most of all, the suono of
Italian that catches everything up in the magic of its sounds
and allows me to discover this new voice and this new person.