Take the ﬁrst week that I had my ﬁrst experience as a teaching assistant in an Italian elementary school as a part of a Service Learning project at FUA, for example. We hopped on the tram outside of the Santa Maria Novella train station for a 30-minute commute. Upon arrival at our destination, I noticed that the area was completely free of tourists. There were no monuments to gaze up at, no street vendors trying to sell trinkets. Suddenly, I felt as if the city was no longer putting on a show or marketing itself as a tourist attraction. In fact, once I stepped into the Eduardo de Filippo school on Via dei Bassi in the Isolotto neighborhood, I felt like my two fellow volunteers and I were the center of attention. Children running down the hallways would stare and whisper about us, and a brave few would start a conversation. Many of them ﬁrst greeted us in Italian, then gave an enthusiastic “Hello!” once they realized we were American. I have volunteered in many elementary schools back home, but never before had I seen such raw excitement from students. With a limit-
ed English vocabulary, they were all eager to show their skills and make a connection: “I like pizza! Do you like pizza?” This excitement at the unfamiliar did not come exclusively from the kids. From the classroom teachers to people on the street, everyone was pleasantly surprised to see us in their neighborhood and quickly asked where we were from. The few hours I spent outside of the city center that day represented what I had expected when I ﬁrst moved to Florence: speaking Italian with locals, sharing life experiences, and trying to immerse myself in a new culture. Now that tourist season is kicking into gear, my weekly trip is a refreshing change. After three months of living in Florence, my biggest recommendation to anyone studying abroad is to break out of your comfort zone and spend some time with locals. Sign up for the Italian Family program, do community service, or ﬁnd a Chat Pal through the Student Life and Development Ofﬁce. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to go outside of the city limits, use some Italian, and see what you ﬁnd!