Jack Meyer arrived to study abroad in Florence this Fall with little knowledge of Italian beyond basic greetings. Over the past few months, he's spent a significant amount of time interacting with locals, practicing his new language and enjoying the Italian culture as well as his classes and his experience living with a host mother. Below, he talks in more detail about the city, how it has influenced his writing (including his Huffington Post articles) and shows us the impressive view from the window in his room.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
JACK MEYER: My name is Jack Meyer. I was born and raised in New Jersey, in a small suburb of New York City called Chatham. I grew up in a house at the edge of the Great Swamp with my parents, Lucille and John, and a little black cat named Sheba. My parents grew up in Jersey City where several of my family members still live. I am a double major in American Studies and Art History at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. I am currently studying abroad in Firenze, Italia through CAPA International Education.
CW: Why did you choose to study abroad in Florence specifically? Tell us about the moment you arrived, your first impressions of your host city.
JM: I decided to study in Firenze since it is the birthplace of the Renaissance. Art is everywhere in Firenze: A Madonna and Child adorn each street corner, magnificent medieval crucifixes decorate ancient churches and grand museums boast a myriad of majestic works of human ingenuity. On morning walks to school, I stroll past (and even touch) architectural wonders I once marveled at in textbooks. Firenze is a living, breathing art history textbook. The moment I gazed upon the Duomo from the window of the arriving train, I knew Firenze was the perfect city to study abroad in.
CW: One worry for students heading to Italy is the language barrier. How's your Italian coming along? Do you feel that the language has been an issue? How have you overcome this barrier?
JM: Since my arrival in Firenze, my understanding and knowledge of the Italian language has greatly expanded. I am now able to listen to an entire conversation in Italian and understand around three-quarters of what is being communicated. Listening closely to the language being spoken, focusing on the individual’s facial expressions, and attempting to process the dialogue into English takes time and patience. This is the very core of why we Americans study abroad: To immerse oneself in another culture. This immersion requires communication with locals; if one does not attempt to speak the native tongue, a major aspect of cultural interaction is lost. My advice to fellow students: Go for it! Some of my most embarrassing Italian language mistakes have provided some of the most humorous moments of my experience in Italia – and, as a result, solidified many friendships with those I made the attempt to converse with.
CW: During your time in Florence so far, what has surprised you most and why?
JM: What has surprised me most about Firenze are the Fiorentini. Fiorentini throughout the city, from professors to restaurant owners to artists to bank tellers, have been tremendously warm and hospitable towards me. This is the result of a conscious effort to speak the Italian language with the Fiorentini, even if it is elementary. Fiorentini genuinely appreciate American enthusiasm for their native city, language and culture. My attempts at conversations and exchanges in the native Italian language have engendered rich, humorous, and memorable cross cultural experiences.
CW: Tell us the story of a memorable interaction you've had with a local.
JM: My favorite interaction with a local was my first in depth conversation with a Fiorentina. My parents and I arrived in Firenze after a long day of travelling. We stumbled out of the taxi in a daze at the door of our hotel – a convent managed by nuns. Sister Theresa welcomed us into the lobby while speaking rapid Italian. At this moment, I could only exchange greetings. Sister Theresa, however, followed protocol and proceeded to check us into the hotel: Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Arrival Date, Departure Date. In what felt like a comical game of gestures, Sister Theresa theatrically acted out the meaning of each word as I slowly began to understand what she attempted to convey.
CW: Talk a bit about CAPA academics. What are your favorite classes so far and why?
JM: I am so pleased and impressed with CAPA academics. I genuinely look forward to all of my classes. My professors are highly enthusiastic about the material and the participation of the students. My interactions with the professors are not limited to the classroom; often, professors walk us through the streets, into markets, throughout museums, and even to the Firenze library. Intellectually stimulating discussions have resulted from these excursions – almost all of which resulted in a greater understanding of the city and country I am living in.
CW: Close your eyes and think of the city around you. What first comes to mind when you consider each of the five senses?
JM: When I close my eyes and think of the city around me, I think of…
- Taste: My host mama’s gnudi, a delicate, delectable piatto Fiorentino made of creamy ricotta cheese. My host mama prepares her gnudi in a light sauce of butter and sage. I enjoy her gnudi so much it feels as if time slows upon tasting these exquisite dumplings.
- Smell: The blissful aromas of Macelleria Falorni, a premier butcher shop found in Greve in Chianti, a small hamlet just south of Firenze. Slabs of prosciutto hang from the ceiling, wooden baskets filled with straw hold an abundance of salami sticks, and massive wheels of smelly cheese decorate the store. The aroma of the meats and cheeses was intoxicating.
- Sight: As Lucy Honeychurch opened her wooden shutters onto Filippo Brunelleschi’s awe inspiring Duomo in A Room with a View, I, too, open my shutters to the majestic sight. Each morning I ritualistically throw open the shutters to marvel at the church and how its appearance alters depending on the time of day, weather and season. It is a view I will always remember.
- Texture: Late one evening, I strolled through Piazza del Duomo. It is close to impossible to visit the piazza during the day without encountering massive crowds of tourists; however, there was not a soul in the piazza this late evening. I walked up to the imposing Campanile de Giotto and placed my hand upon the cold white marble. In the silence of the night I touched history, placing my hand upon the campanile which has endured longer than the invention of the tourist’s camera.
- Sound: The glorious campanelli or bells of the churches of Firenze ring throughout the day, a reminder of time past and time to come. The bells are a symphony and Firenze the stage. I am an eager attendant in the audience. I recorded the sound of the bells on my iPhone to preserve the sounds of Firenze wherever I go.
CW: Tell us about your accommodation. Where do you live? What do you see around the local area? Is it safe and friendly?
JM: I live with a woman named Maura in her apartment located in central Firenze. She cooks delicious dinners for me every night. The apartment is located between the Santa Maria Novella train station and il Duomo; thus, it is quite a busy neighborhood. The neighborhood and the apartment remind me of my grandmother’s home in Downtown Jersey City; I am more than comfortable here. The central location is safe and conveniently located near the major sites in Firenze.
CW: What have you learned so far while in Florence that will help you in your future career?
JM: While living away at college affords a large amount of personal autonomy, living in a foreign city guarantees and exceeds it. Without mom, dad or the college registrar here to help me, I must navigate my way through the city of Firenze to accomplish errands. I am living on my own in the world for the first time; this will certainly help me as I pursue a career knowing how to manage my time as a self-sufficient adult. My interactions with locals and professionals alike will strengthen my communication skills and ability to interact with individuals I will meet throughout my future career.
CW: As a writer, how has being in Florence influenced your creativity?
JM: Firenze and the surrounding Tuscan countryside are the most sensuous places I have ever visited. The splendorous art of the city is a kaleidoscopic circus of colors, figures, lines, and shapes which dazzle the eye. The aromas of delicious cuisine waft out of the trattorie and into the streets. And the sounds of the city – from the bells of the imposing campanile to the massive church organs to the street musicians – create a marvelous musical melody accompanying you on every corner. I love to write about art and its many forms. Thus, the countless sensations experienced in Firenze have impelled me to transform these experiences into writing. From a golden crucifix by Cimabue to a smelly wheel of formaggio to a Spanish guitarist in Piazza della Signoria, the sights and smells and sounds of Firenze are worthy of celebration.
Want to hear more from Jack? Check out his articles in the Huffington Post!