“Home away from home.”
I feel like I heard this phrase a hundred times when I was preparing to study abroad, watching videos and reading blogs just like this one, and I was more than a bit nervous. How was I supposed to find home in Italy when home would be a literal ocean away? These doubts swirled in my head as I made my way across the Atlantic and through the Tuscan countryside, but when I first stepped into my apartment in Florence, my nerves began to subside.
Rather than living in a dorm with only Pitt students or living with an Italian host family, I found the living arrangements while abroad to be a great mix of familiarity and immersion. I lived in an apartment in Florence with three other girls, one also from Pitt but the other two from the University of Colorado Boulder. Although I was technically on the Pitt in Florence program, CAPA, the organization that arranged our housing and classes, housed students from several different programs and US universities. It was a great opportunity to get to know students outside of Pitt while also living in a residence that a Florence local might live in.
One of the things I most appreciated about the housing abroad was the variety of different locations of the student apartments, which CAPA provided scattered throughout the Historic Center of Florence. Some students had apartments right in the Piazza del Duomo, quite busy but with close access to seemingly hundreds of shops and restaurants. Others had apartments in Oltrarno, farther from the CAPA center where classes were held but with a stunning walk across the Arno River every day. My apartment was about a twenty-minute walk from the CAPA center, slightly removed from the busiest parts of the city. While the walk was longer, I enjoyed having this distance because it gave me somewhere to go home to at the end of each day and it encouraged me to explore a section of the city that I likely wouldn’t have spent much time in otherwise. These are just a few of the possible locations, all with their pros and cons, and I appreciated the unique experiences that variety offered.
And now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the apartment tour!
Our apartment really fit all of our needs. Each of the two bedrooms had its own bathroom, and my roommate’s and my bedroom had a great closet that provided plenty of space for two peoples’ clothing. The kitchen was fully stocked with dishes and tons of cooking tools, plus extra cabinet space for the groceries we would be buying. The huge windows in the common living and dining area meant we had a bright open space to share, whether we were eating dinner or just relaxing on the couches. We were lucky enough to be on the ground floor, which not only meant we didn’t have to climb a bunch of stairs every day, but I also found it to be cooler in temperature than I expected. My best guess is that this is because the heat would rise to the upper floors, but whatever the reason, this was a huge plus as most apartments don’t have air conditioning.
While all the indoor elements of the apartment were great, my favorite part of this apartment was the small backyard area. Out here is where we would hang our clothes to dry as dryers are not very common in Italy. I expected to find that a bit of a nuisance, but something about pinning up my laundry underneath a clear blue sky while taking in the buzz of small insects enjoying the various greenery was quite calming; it became part of my routine that I actually looked forward to.
It’s important to note that it’s completely normal to take some time to adjust to living in such a new environment. As much as I loved my apartment, there were some small things that were tricky to get used to. The lack of air conditioning was a shock to the system, especially as temperatures were soaring into the 90s and even the 100s by the end of June. The windows in our apartment didn’t have any screens, so opening them was basically an invitation to any passing flies or mosquitoes to come inside. The laundry washing machine was in the bathroom, and one load took upwards of about three hours until the cycle was complete, not to mention the hours of line-drying afterward.
All of this was a bit overwhelming at first, but we slowly started to figure it out. Through a combination of fans, open windows at night, and plug-in bug repellent devices, we were able to keep both the temperature and the bugs to a minimum. And while I thought the time commitment of doing laundry would get annoying, as I mentioned before, doing laundry surprisingly became one of my favorite parts of my routine; it was a time to relax, rewind, and reset. So don’t stress if you don’t immediately feel comfortable in your new living situation abroad – it just takes time to adapt.
With only six weeks for my study abroad program, I was doubtful that there would be enough time to really settle in. However, I was soon proven wrong. Maybe I was just so exhausted by the end of each day that I had no problems falling asleep back at the apartment, but within a few weeks, my little apartment in Florence began to feel like home. Studying abroad makes the world feel so much bigger and so much smaller at the same time. There’s a whole world out there at your fingertips, and you’re out there living in it! So, whether or not you end up considering your host country “home away from home,” be proud of yourself for exploring. Wherever you’re living, it will be an adventure, so soak it all in!
An Inside (and Outside) Look at my Florence Apartment
“Home away from home.”