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Study Abroad

Florence Weeks 1-2

After one of the longest months of my life, I finally made it to Florence! This is gonna be a longer post talking about everything from my first two weeks in this beautiful city. I won't be offended if you just scroll through for the photos. 

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We took a train from Viareggio Tuesday morning, and arrived at my apartment around 2 pm. I had no idea what to expect. I wasn't shown any photos of the rooms, I didn't know my roommates' names, I wasn't even sure how many there would be. What I did know is that I lived in apartment number 7, and as we climbed up the stairs, I heard laughter- a good sign. 

We were greeted by 4 people all crowded in the tiny doorway of a bright red apartment. I quickly tried to figure out who everybody was as hands jutted out to shake mine. First there was Walter, the landlord, that's easy. Then I met Elna, who at the same time, was being told to move her stuff to a different room, which made things even more confusing. Then someone whose name I didn't catch introduced me to Stella, another girl in the apartment. In all of the craziness, I definitely mistook her for either Elna's mom or another student. Turns out it was the executive secretary at Accademia Italiana. Oops. 

Anyways, Elna ended up being my roommate while Stella had a double to herself on the opposite side of the apartment. We were told we'd get another roommate, but we weren't sure when. The apartment is pretty adorable, I have to say. The entire building is decorated like an art museum, my room has a big window with a view, and the laundry "room" is halfway up the world's tiniest spiral staircase leading up to a petit rooftop deck. 

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Though we eventually realized other people in our program got bigger apartments, we've already grown to love ours so much that I don't think we'd ever want to trade. Turns out we live in the perfect location. We are a 5 minute walk from school, there is a fresh market every morning right outside our door, and we live on the non-touristy side of the river, meaning there's better food for less money and more Italians than Americans.

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Our first few days here, we had orientation. This was nothing like CMU's elaborate week-long freshman orientation though. For a few hours a day we spent some time meeting the other study abroad students, touring the school and city, and finalizing our schedules. One morning, we had our Italian placement exams to determine which level we'd start at. I joined the intermediate class since I've been studying with Duolingo/Rosetta Stone over the summer. I can't wait to start practicing here!

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Everybody in the program is very friendly and clearly excited to be here. The atmosphere was so energetic and welcome during our first lunch together, I loved it. The Italian students would join us on Monday, but it was nice to have some time to get to know the study abroad students first.

Thursday night we got a fourth roommate! Gitte is a full-time fashion design major here from Denmark. She's living with Stella, which worked out well since Stella is Swedish. 

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Over the weekend, I noticed I was getting a little bit sick- honestly I wasn't surprised. If anything, I was surprised it didn't happen sooner with all of the traveling in July/August. Something funny happened though. If you know me well, you know I sleep a lot, especially on the weekends. But here, I couldn't sleep. Not because I was stressed or restless, but because I didn't want to waste a single minute that I could be outside exploring this incredible place. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's so true. I found myself waking up at 8 on a Saturday, even though I was sick and went to bed fairly late. I climbed up to the roof and enjoyed a nice breakfast with a view while everybody slept until noon. 

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Later, we visited the Museo Novecento, which had a mixture of modern, classical, and historical art. The exhibit culminated with a film showcasing snippets of all of the famous films that took place in Florence over time. It was inspiring to see how many amazing stories were told here, which made me even more motivated to wander through every possible street until I have to leave in January.  

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Monday was the first day of school, and unfortunately I had to miss a class and a half to go see the doctor. He gave me some better medicine, so I hoped I would be better soon. I walked in partway through my Italian class, and even though I really wanted to crawl back into bed, I was glad I went. The professor is very enthusiastic, and I could tell she was going to make our language learning experience as fun as possible.

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Next I had Technology of Materials, a requirement for product design at CMU. This class turned out to be a bit different than I expected. For starters, it's definitely aimed toward interior design. It does deal with different building materials... but for the most part, it's in terms of designing flooring. Also, our classes are supposed to be 50/50 Italian/English, but this one was more like 85/15. While I was a bit put off by the subject, I decided I would eventually be able to apply the information to product design. Plus, this will be a great way to practice Italian, and especially how to talk about design in Italian. 

 Apartment 7's first day of school

Apartment 7's first day of school

After school, we ran into our landlord in the stairwell, and I told him I was missing a bed sheet, hoping he might have some extras. Little did I know that this tiny request would result in one of my favorite moments here. I followed him outside to find that he was going to take me to his office on his vespa. 

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And just when I thought the day couldn't get much better, we decided to go walk around after dinner and realized there was a huge film festival right outside our door. We live right next to Piazza Santo Spirito, a nice non-touristy plaza, and it was absolutely packed. We could hardly get through to the front to even figure out what was going on. 

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The following night, we went out to a great dinner for Gitte's birthday. It's amazing how much more free time this school allows compared to CMU. It's one of the main reasons I love Europe so much- people take time to enjoy life with friends, family, and delicious food. 

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On Wednesday I had a graphic design class in the morning followed by Italian as usual. Unfortunately, the graphic class turned out to be beginner level. Luckily, changing classes here is one of the easiest processes ever. I just left during the break, walked across the hall to the academic advisor, and had a new class chosen within minutes. The higher level graphic design was only taught on Fridays, so I chose to do packaging design instead. The school made it a point to give study abroad students school off on Fridays so that we could travel, and I wasn't ready to give it up. 

Thursday I finally had my product design studio! I'm very excited about this class. The professor is great (she speaks perfect French, English and Italian, and has worked in a number of leading product design companies in America/Italy). I'm the only study abroad student in this class which is pretty nice because she speaks more Italian than English. This studio is going to be quite different than what I'm used to. Since this is actually their senior level class, there will be no project briefs. She expects us to complete a minimum of 3 products during the semester, but we can choose the topics ourselves. It's going to be very interesting, and I'm excited to put my last two years of education at CMU toward this challenge. 

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And before I knew it, it was the weekend. The days here are so long, but I can already tell the weeks are short. 

On Friday we decided to have a girls night in- gelato, wine, and We Are the Millers; I couldn't have asked for a better way to relax after a long week. I honestly got so lucky with this random roommate assignment. 

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Saturday it was pretty rainy, which was a great break from the heat. Though it wasn't too fun getting wet, it was a nice day to go out because there were finally fewer tourists in our way. We spent the day running some errands and shopping around Italian boutiques. In the evening, Elna and I decided to try out some new places, ones with mostly locals rather than American study abroad students. We ended up having a wonderful night, and even got to enjoy a spontaneous free EDM concert in a plaza near the Duomo.

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Sunday it was Stella's birthday, so we went out for another delicious dinner followed by gelato as usual. It was a perfect end to the weekend. 

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Overall, I am loving it here (if you can't tell). I feel like I'm in a movie 80% of the time, I have made some fantastic new friends, I'm learning a new language, I eat Italian food everyday (aka pasta, cheese, wine, and gelato), and I get a ton of exercise without noticing since there isn't really any public transportation (I average 5 miles and 11 flights of stairs a day). I don't know how I'm supposed to leave in January. 

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Well, now time for another school week followed by a weekend in Munich. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some Oktoberfest stories next week!

 

 

Julia Ainbinder