Arrivederci, GIF! Ciao, summer in Firenze!

9 May

April 18th marked the last day of my program abroad. I ended it with a two-hour final exam in my Philosophy of Ethics class. What a way to end a semester abroad. Anyways, it was a whirlwind end of a semester as I wrote 6 papers and had 6 finals. I always hate how the end of semesters are spent studying and cooped up inside. The weather was finally starting to turn around here and we were all looking out at the sunshine from the library or our pensione. Also, you don’t get time to enjoy and celebrate a great semester with friends because you have to spend that time studying. And then, all of a sudden, it’s over. It has come to an end. Most people left on the 20th to fly back to the States, although a fair amount of students do also stay after to travel throughout Europe. I mean, why not? You’re already over here, so you might as well take advantage of it. Plus, I have come to realize that now is the really one of the few opportunities we have to travel as much as we do. We’re young so our bodies can take all the travel and hussle and bussle of being on the go and as students we are able to do so much when we visit other cities. There is just so much you can do as a young adult, I am trying to make the most out of it. Which is why, I am glad I am staying here for an additional couple of months. Though perhaps this saying is much over used, it is quite true “You only live once.” (or as my generation often refers to it as, “YOLO”) So now, I am trying to live by that…to an extent.

This semester has brought so many new insights and experiences that  I never dreamt of having. Though I didn’t necessarily have expectations coming into it, it is not at all what I imagined it might be. But that is not meant in a bad way at all. Sometimes it is nice not to have expectations because as I have learned, it sucks to be disappointed. So, Firenze in a lot of ways, impressed me and exceeded any hopes I had. I’ll admit I do have several peeves about the program, it has still been a wonderful community to be a part of and I would not have traded it in for anything. If I can, I will summarize highlights and the top ten things I have learned, experienced, or gained in these past four months. So, here it goes!

10. If you have an opportunity, seize it. We do only live once, so, if there is something you want to do, just do it. You never know when you’ll get another opportunity like this so if you have a desire, fulfill it (within reason, of course).

9. Being abroad has been a humbling experience. I think we can all be very grateful for this opportunity and the realization that we should not take anything for granted. It’s hard because we often get caught up in the mundane task of every day life, but if you just take a moment to think about everything we have, we are lucky, very lucky in fact. I hope and believe that when I return to the States, I will have a new, better outlook on the different aspects of American culture and society, including social class divisions.

A little anecdote: On April 12th, Forza, an ambassador program that I am a part of, held our annual event called Be Hope to Her. As a Forza ambassador, I am one of about 25 fellow students who will represent GIF back at our Spokane campus. The main event we sponsor while in Florence, however, is Be Hope to Her. This event takes place each semester. We raise awareness to communities in Africa that work tremendously hard just to get adequate water. With donations from students (through participation in the event itself and raffles), our goal each semester is to raise $400. $400 is the cost it takes to build a well, a sustainable resource for a small community in Africa that can supply healthy access to a necessity. Women travel with buckets on their head for miles just to reach a well to get adequate water. They will make this trip multiple times a day, returning with water in their buckets after each trip. With a police escort and designated route, we walk in a single file line with the empty buckets on our head. Those who do not wear the buckets pass out fliers in English and Italian explaining our purpose. In past years the event has gotten a huge response from the Florentine community and is something they enjoy seeing. We make our way to a fountain where we then fill our buckets with water and continue on our way. We end at a drain to deposit our water. It is symbolic because those of us who walk are supposed to appear more somber and serious (we are not allowed to engage in conversation with others) as we represent the struggle the women in Africa face trying to get something that to us, seems so easy. My arms were already exhausted carring the bucket empty to the water site…and of course after the water was in the bucket, it was much more difficult to balance. I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like for these women who make a trek probably 3 or 4 times the length we did and doing it multiple times a day. Unbelievable. 

B2O Her1

Just after we filled up our buckets with water

B2O Her 2

Walking past Pitti Palace towards the end of our route.

8. Trust. Trusting yourself, friends, and travel companions is really important when you are planning and travelling to different places. Sometimes you have to let others take the lead and trust that they know what they’re doing.

7. Take risks. Living in a different country, visiting different cities easily pushes you out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to take that one extra step to discover something new.

6. Take advantage of the city you are living in. There is so much to see and learn about where you are, it is necessary to take time to explore the area. I learned so much from having my Uffizi pass and being able to back to museums whenever I wanted to. Even walking around town, visiting a new part of the city, or getting lost in it is the best way to get to know it and you’ll often find your favorite place that way.

5. Be independent. There is honestly nothing scary about being on your own (well, maybe a few things…but at least it’s an adventure). It is actually quite refreshing and allows you to take time for yourself and appreciate where you are and what you’re doing. Moreover, you learn so much about yourself, about where you are…it’s quite rewarding.

4. Be open. It is hard not to judge or jump to conclusions ( we all do it) but it is important to keep an open mind especially when you’re experiencing a new culture and travelling so much. We get exposed to so much more through this experience already that by keeping an open mind, we can see things in a different light.

3. I learned the skills and organization necessary for planning trips. It can be a very stressful process trying to figure out the cheapest but most efficient way to get somewhere. And, on top of that, finding cheap but safe accommodations.

2. Live in the moment. Wise words that my friend, Moire, told me my senior year of high school. Since then, I’ve tried to keep reminding myself that but after being in Florence, I find that it has become even more relevant in my life. There is nothing you can do about the past or the future, so why not just enjoy the moment? Being present, particularly when you’re travelling and always on the go, is crucial.  There is so much to soak in form the moment, that I would hate to miss something because I am thinking about when the next train is coming. You will get to the train when you get there. Until then, there is no point in worrying about because there is absolutely nothing you can do. Simple as that.

1. I have gained many new, wonderful friends being abroad. I have met people I probably never would have encountered or thought I would be friends with back in Spokane. It has been incredible sharing this experience with the small community that GIF has created. Thank you to all of my friends (old and new), Emmy, Mia, Natasha, Sydney, Sarah, Sam, Reilly, Ben, Bre, Julianna, Deanna, Lauren, Joe, Patrick, Mike, the amazing Cordova staff, especially Charlotte, Adriana, and Maria, the GIF staff and faculty, particularly Professore Batterman, Professoressa Serena, Professoressa Carrara, Shelley, Linda, Federica, my English for Pasta partner, Kyle, and our family, the Molinaris who have shaped my experience these last 4 months. Grazie mille per tutti.

Grazie mille, Firenze, GIF e i miei amici!

Grazie mille, Firenze, GIF e i miei amici!


2 Responses to “Arrivederci, GIF! Ciao, summer in Firenze!”

  1. rayapolyak May 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    this is such a wonderful post, mika. thank you for sharing your reflections on your study abroad venture, and i am so happy that it has been such a positive experience for you. excellent writing, so thoughtful and heartfelt, it made me smile just reading it 🙂


  1. Things I Learned From Studying Abroad In Spain | finding parayana - June 22, 2013

    […] of my dear friends Mika, who studied abroad this past semester in Florence, mentioned this in one of her blog posts, and I agree 100%. Being open, keeping an open mind, is the best thing to do […]

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