Since my freshman year of college, I knew I was going to study abroad this semester. Spring abroad during the third year of college fit into my required course schedule the best, so it was the really the only available option. Now the decision where to study was the trickier part of the plan. I pride myself on my list-making and organizational skills, so I began my research and ultimate decision with a list. The list was originally compiled with broader locations and then narrowed down according to specific cities. Studying abroad allowed me to complete my art history minor, so I chose the continent Europe to follow the Western tradition of art. Australia is a beautiful continent, but, to my knowledge, Michelangelo did not practice his trade among the kangaroos. As for the countries, I narrowed down the list to include England, France, or Italy. My university in the United States has partnerships through the actual universities in these countries or at least with providers who are associated with programs in these countries. One of these programs happened to be ISA. Finally, for the cities, I crossed off all other options based on classes offered, affordability, etc., except London, Paris, Rome, or Florence. With my list down to a manageable number of four cities, I had to choose what I wanted out of the experience.
London was an attractive option to me, not really for the art aspect, but for the fact I could speak the language. Admittedly, I am rather enamored with British culture, and I wanted to be in the place of my obsession. But the intentions of my study abroad experience were for the art environment and submersion in a foreign culture, not one where I could speak the language comfortably. Also, the British Pound is fiscally stronger than the US Dollar, so I knew that I would be spending exorbitant amounts of money to travel to other countries to see the art beyond the cost of simply living. The ultimate study abroad experience, and I believe the most fulfilling for me as a young adult, is to live in a culture foreign to my own in the United States. Although London is lovely, I knew it simply did not match my ultimate purpose and goals for studying abroad. It was difficult to cross this city off the list, but I figured that one day I would simply travel to England and spend time roaming the whole United Kingdom. Scratch London.
Ah, Paris, France, still the romantic city of my dreams. Paris is renowned, art wise, for the Gothic style cathedrals scattered around the city, the presence of many museums, and the elegance and luxury associated with the French lifestyle. The fashion, the food, and the art all appealed to me. While the renowned style of the Gothic is exemplified in Paris, the birth of Impressionism is also attributed to this place. I love the colors of this art period and the inclusion of vivid brushstrokes among the textures of the paint itself. The appeal of seeing Monet’s and Manet’s paintings in real life, along with trips to the Louvre consistently, were enticing. Honestly, I could see myself content with the art and education there, but I decided to forgo this one, not only because I do not speak a lick of French. Paris, and France as a whole, holds a position in my mind as an idyllic city and nation, full of romanticism and beauty. By studying here, I believe my idyllic notions would have been destroyed. The Louvre is an enticing feature, but I knew myself well enough to understand that I would be distraught when the façade of my Parisian ideals crumbled. Perhaps others are made of stronger stuff than I, but for myself I believe it is better to save this for a weekend trip or a French vacation when I’m older, and continue to view Paris in the light I hold it in.
Arriving at last to the country of Italy, I considered Rome. Rome is the seat of the largest historical patron of the arts: the Catholic Church. Much of the art I am interested in has a religious theme as it emerges from a period of time when the market for art goods was controlled by Christianity. Rome was natural to choose because of the number of churches and the presence of the Vatican indicating art would be all around. As the city used to be the seat of an Empire, I was sure to be submersed in a culture steeped with tradition and rich history from thousands of years previous. St. Peter’s in the Vatican was originally a basilica and the colosseum still stands, so I was drawn to the presence of lingering classical antiquity throughout the city. Art wise, two great artists emerged during the Baroque period of the 16th century and kept Rome as their base. I was sure to see Caravaggio’s and Bernini’s works all around the city if I chose Rome. Language-wise, Italian is closer to Spanish than French, and while my Spanish is by no means even conversational, I was more comfortable learning Italian.
So how did I arrive in Florence?
A common theme to the three cities I rejected is their size. I am easily overwhelmed by navigation complications, and the mere thought of trying to learn my way around a new city’s transportation system, regardless of language barrier, stressed me out. Also, to navigate around my city in the United States, I drive my own car. Having a means of transportation allows me a sense of control and makes traveling around the city possible in my own time. To rely on a bus, tram, or train risked my necessity for independence, and I liked the idea of not having a vehicle of transportation. The ability to walk and navigate with ease around a city, and be comfortable making it my own, was the ultimate reason I crossed off Rome. I wanted to see things at a slower pace: my own feet.
Florence has it all for me: the city life, the art, and the foreign culture, all in a navigable and small city center. One may argue that the city is large, but the center, where I stay, is navigable. Everywhere I want, and even need, to be is only a half hour walk away from my home. I control the time. The art is everywhere I look. Each new museum I enter is a treat. My classes enlighten me to the Renaissance influence throughout the city and I feel like I notice something new each day as I familiarize myself even more. Italian is becoming easier, but I am still aware of my differing culture, especially when dinner time is after 8 PM, or when my order is misunderstood because I said something wrong. All these things, even if I get the wrong food or drink, affirm that my decision was the correct. Florence was, is, the right city for me study abroad in. I hope that perhaps some of my reasons will align with others, so they too, can have the kind of semester I am having: life-changing.
The world awaits…discover it.