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For this month’s post, I interviewed Audrey Detmer, one of my roommates from Florence, to ask her some questions about her study abroad experience and her recent trip back to Florence!
EMILY KEARNS: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to post-study abroad and post-grad!
AUDREY DETMER: After leaving Florence I returned to the University of Colorado, Boulder, where I completed my studies in political science and philosophy. I was incredibly fortunate to travel to Argentina for a month after graduation with my childhood friends, and then I moved home to California to face the struggle of finding a job post-grad. A bit of good luck and hard work led me to join the team of a political campaign as an intern, and when the candidate won, I was hired as a staffer. I've been employed with the California State Assembly for a bit over a year now working for a member of the legislature.
EK: How did you originally make your decision to study abroad in Florence?
AD: I would be lying if I said the food wasn't a major factor. My friends joke that I'm more of a "carb-etarian" than a vegetarian, and I am all about the pasta life. But more seriously, Italy was a place I had always dreamed of visiting. Florence drew me in over Rome or other Italian cities because it seemed like a small enough city that I could really get to know it during my time abroad–and I couldn't help but be persuaded once I started googling images of Tuscan sunsets.
EK: What impact did Florence (and study abroad in general) have on you?
AD: I came home from my time abroad with a self-confidence that I didn't have before. It is empowering to know that you can be on the other side of the world, away from everything and everyone you're familiar with, and make a life for yourself. And Florence specifically taught me to slow down in life, to enjoy the little everyday things.
EK: Share your absolute favorite memory from your time abroad.
AD: One of the last weekends of our program, CAPA took a trip to Cinque Terre, and it was probably my favorite day I've ever lived. It was a beautiful and sunny, and the water was crisp blue as we hiked through the vineyards between the five towns. Everyone from our school was smiling and laughing and singing, and at the end of the day we swam in the Mediterranean at sunset. When I think back to the day the word that always pops into my head is "bliss."
EK: What are your favorite ways to remember Florence and your time there?
AD: I feel lucky to say that I stay in touch with friends that I met abroad (including my current interviewer and former Florence roommate, Em :) ). Social media has been a great way to stay in contact with friends across the country, and world, that I met while studying and traveling. I also did my fair share of shopping in Florence (which is amazing, by the way) and love having a few material items that remind me of Italy. Plus, it's so fun when someone asks you where you got something to casually respond, "Oh, just the leather market in Florence."
EK: You recently took a trip back to Florence (so jealous!). What made you decide you needed to make the trip? Did you travel solo or with others?
AD: Yes! The stars sort of aligned for a trip to happen. A couple close friends of mine were individually going to be in Paris for the New Year, and I had some time off that was going to expire and money saved up, and I figured "If not now, then when?" So, I booked a flight to spend three days in Florence solo and then a flight to Paris to spend a week there with friends.
EK: Describe your feelings as you stepped foot into the city for the first time in almost 3 years.
AD: The whole experience getting to Florence was emotional. My flights were the exact same time and from the same gate at SFO that I had taken when I was headed abroad. And as misfortune would have it, I once again had my connecting flight to Florence cancelled. I was fairly drained by the time I landed and had my bag, but the second my cab crossed into the city center, I was wide-awake and awestruck. Florence was different, but not in a way that made it seem foreign. It was like coming home from college to see your childhood friend and noticing the little ways they'd changed. Every corner and restaurant was filled with memories, some that I had forgotten since I'd been there. Walking the streets again felt overwhelming and like the most natural thing I've ever done.
EK: What was your itinerary while you were there? Were you able to fit in everything you wanted to do?
AD: My cancelled connection unfortunately resulted in me losing about a half day in the city and missing seeing an orchestra I had bought tickets to see. But the two things I was most looking forward to were watching another sunset on the steps of Piazzale Michelangelo, and eating the gnocchi at Osteria Santo Spirito (I didn't know I could be so passionate about truffle oil until I lived in Italy), both of which I did. I filled my days mostly with walking the streets and visiting my old favorite places (included a walk down Pandolfini to see CAPA), and eating delicious food. I didn't feel compelled to do some of the tourist-y things that I've done before, but I did visit the Boboli Gardens on a sunny day and the Uffizi on a rainy one.
EK: How was it different being back as a tourist rather than being a student living there?
AD: It was hard not to feel a little jealous of those who still call Florence home. When my roommates and I took trips when we were abroad, we'd walk back from the train station and turn the corner and see the Duomo and be struck by two successive thoughts: "Wow, it's so great to be back home", and "Wow, we are so lucky that we get to call this home." It was different to experience Florence without seeing friends and classmates on the street, but it was special that it still gave me all the same feelings that it did before.
EK: Any pieces of advice for future Florence study abroad students?
AD: Don't just take pictures for the Instagram-able moments. Take pictures that you can look back on and remember how you felt in that moment, to remember the things you saw every day walking home. And sometimes, don't take pictures at all—be present with the people around you and you'll gain friends that'll feel connected to years after you've left.
Thanks Emily and Audrey!