Exploring the Boot with Grace

By Grace McGinness, Blogger

During my orientation week as newly arrived first-year at Pitt, I picked up every study abroad flyer offered. I’d spent several years studying American history on U.S. soil already — I figured studying another country’s history on its soil would be a nice change of pace.
Now, as a junior double majoring in English writing and psychology, I’ve finally set off for a semester in Italy. Pitt offers many study abroad programs in “The Boot,” but only one of them is a semester long — Pitt in Florence.
I chose Florence as my host city for two reasons, one indulgent and one practical. I studied Italian for five years before coming to Pitt, and I don’t want to feel like I put in all that work for nothing. But I also came here to make the most of the artistic environment and deepen my interest in the humanities. I’m a writer — I want to develop my craft where some of the greatest writers developed theirs.
So while I’m here, I’m going to be writing a blog to gush about Italian culture and the global experience. I want to communicate my stories of life out here back to Pitt, so those wondering what the life of a student abroad is like can get some answers.
The program I ultimately chose is a product of Pitt and CAPA, an organization that sends students abroad all over the world to study in their university’s centers with local teachers. The classes are taught in English — save the native language class you are required to take — making it easy for native English speakers to go abroad even if they are not masters of the host country’s language.
Some may assume that study abroad just allows students to spend a semester “on vacation.” I would counter that it actually allows more students to go experience a different world with their own eyes and ears, rather than read about it in a textbook or watch a video. Also, this semester abroad offers courses that satisfy about 12 of the University’s required general education credits and 9 elective credits split between my two majors. It’s not a vacation to me — I’m here to get work done … although I’m not opposed to having fun on the side.
I want to share with you what it’s like to cook an authentic Italian meal in your own home and describe to you the medieval buildings that still stand after a thousand years. I want to relay to you how other cultures — including America’s — have influenced the Italian culture. I will warn readers how to avoid tourist traps — the inauthentic experiences peddled to the millions of travelers who pass through this city — and let you know what the locals tell me you should really see if you ever come out here.
There’s bound to be numerous digressions regarding culture shock, gelato festivals, the nightly passigata (a social walk around town after dinner), beautiful street music, illegal street vendors, my class assignments, haggling tactics, oil painting, statues (real and fake), trattorias vs. bars, artistic graffiti and, of course, wineries. And all of that is in Florence alone — I’ll also take you with me to the Cinque Torre, Sorrento, Capri, Venice, the Italian countryside and maybe Germany if I can swing it.
There’s a lot going on when you’re learning and experiencing a new culture far away from everyone you know. But here I will be sharing all the new opportunities that spring up when you step away from the familiar to explore a different place and find a different you.