Ciao from Italy by Kelly McGowan

About one month ago, I arrived in Florence, Italy, anxious and exhausted from over 24 hours of traveling thanks to delayed flights, rescheduled plans, and long layovers. Instead of arriving at 11:00 a.m., my drained and jetlagged body was hauling two suitcases through the bumpy, cobblestoned streets at 7:00 p.m. But I did not let this dull my excitement – I had just arrived in Italy!

This fall semester, I am studying abroad in Florence. This is my first time ever traveling to Europe. In fact, this is only my second time leaving the United States—I went to Mexico many years ago. I spent the entire summer planning for this semester. I made a Pinterest board full of tips about how to pack for three months, the best places to eat in Florence, things to do around Europe, etcetera. I made a list of all the countries and cities in Europe I wanted to visit. I also taught myself the basics of Italian. A semester abroad is the chance of a lifetime, and I wanted to be ready to make the most out of it.

I chose to study in Italy for a few reasons. The first is because I am half-Italian! My Nonno (grandfather) grew up in Northern Italy, and I am actually going to be visiting where he grew up later this month! The second reason is, of course, for the food—ravioli, gnocchi, tortellini, pizza, panini, pesto sauce, gelato, tiramisu, and so on; wow, I’m hungry now. A major reason I chose Florence, specifically, was for the art! Florence is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. What a privilege to be living and studying in a city with such rich cultural history. I’ve already seen some masterpieces in the Uffizi Gallery, by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, and more. I will be seeing Michelangelo’s David in two weeks when my mom comes to visit me. I’m also looking forward to visiting the Louvre in Paris and seeing Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

Living in Florence has been a dream. Mornings spent strolling the streets of Florence, passing the Duomo on my way to class; nights spent walking along the Arno River eating gelato. I never thought I could love a city as much as New York, but I think Florence may offer some competition.

Besides Florence, I’ve also visited Cinque Terre and San Gimignano, both located in Italy. Cinque Terre consists of five villages on the sea, and San Gimignano is a town in Tuscany with medieval stone towers. I also went on a wine tour and got to see how wine is made!

I’ve visited two other countries, Croatia and Germany. In Croatia, I visited the island of Brac and swam in the Adriatic Sea, the most blue and clear waters I’ve ever seen. I also went swimming under a waterfall! And, fun fact: parts of Game of Thrones were actually filmed in Croatia!

In Germany, I attended Oktoberfest. I even bought a Dirndl, a traditional German dress popularly worn at the fest. It was a really fun experience, attended by people from all over the world. In Munich, I also visited the Englischer Garten, one of the largest urban parks in the world, even larger than Central Park! I’m excited to be returning to Germany in just a few weeks to visit a friend in Berlin.

I have so many more trips planned for this semester! I’ll be traveling to Barcelona, Budapest, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna, Rome, and more. I cannot wait for the experiences yet to come!