Finding Opportunities to Interact with Locals in Florence

Jan 25, 2016 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Esmeralda Herrera

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Meet Esmeralda, a CAPA Florence alum from Riverside Community College who studied abroad in Italy during Fall semester 2015. During her time there, she found quite a few opportunities to interact with locals, from her involvement with Ganzo! to lending a hand at a primary school, to honing her language skills at the local markets and with her landlord's assistant. Below, she talks about these opportunities and her overall expereince of Firenze.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself. 
ESMERALDA HERRERA: My name is Esmeralda. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy from Riverside Community College. My major is linguistics. I am passionate about language, especially phonetics. Italian is widely considered the most euphonic language, and after walking the streets of Florence, I can attest. You should hear how they pronounce my name!

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CW: What were your first impressions of Florence? How did these change over the course of the semester?
EH: My first impression of Florence was that it was not designed for easy navigation. However, as I started finding my way around places, I was less intimidated and more intrigued by what I'd find around each corner and down every street. When I gained the confidence to explore on my own, that’s when it clicked for me. I loved knowing that a wonderful pastry, great pasta or fresh produce was just steps away.

CW: What is GANZO! and how were you involved? Is it an experience you would recommend to future students in Florence?
EH: Ganzo! is a program that connects students with local families for the benefit of both parties. Students interact with the family, often specifically their children, in English, so as to give them pointers on the language from a native speaker’s perspective. The family, in exchange, gives the student a glimpse into real Italian family life and culture. If you’re lucky, like I was, they’ll even provide an unforgettable home-cooked dinner.

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CW: You were also able to volunteer in Florence as an assistant to the English teacher in a Florentine primary school. Tell us about what this role involved and what you learned from this experience.
EH: I loved getting to know the kids and helping them learn English. I got to sing and play with them and watch them pick up new things. I learned that helping kids is one of the most rewarding things there is. What I loved the most was how sometimes one would be able to understand me and would then help his or her peer by explaining it to them in Italian. Seeing them explain it to each other shows that they really understood it.

CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
EH: One day, our landlord’s assistant, Signora Rosa, came over to our apartment to look over our washer. With my beginner Italian, I managed  to get to know her a little during her previous few visits. She complimented me on my Italian and I felt like I had won her over. This time, I waited upstairs because I was curious to see how my roommates would fare without me. It didn’t take long before they called out for me, frustrated. I smiled to myself and headed downstairs. When Signora Rosa saw me, I might as well have been coming down the stairs in a ball gown. Her face lit up, “Eccola!” she said. “There she is!,” it means, but I’m sure it sounded like “Princess Eccola” to my roommates who had no idea. 

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CW: Give an example of how you were able to tie the knowledge you’ve gained in your CAPA classes into the way you understand your host city.
EH: My Italian teacher at CAPA was wonderful at helping us understand Florence. She knew that many aspects of the city might seem new and strange to us and was determined to answer all our questions. She didn’t want us leaving Florence scratching our heads about anything.

CW: Tell us about your local neighborhood and favorite local discovery!
EH: With Santa Croce right beside me and the Sant’Ambrogio market close by, I loved my neighborhood. It was close enough to the important things like CAPA, the Duomo, Arno River, Santa Maria Novella train station and the Artemio Franchi stadium, among other things. My favorite local discovery was Perche No gelateria, of course!

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CW: Describe your first trip to a local supermarket. What was similar to home? What was different?
EH: My first trip to the local supermarket was an adventure. By observing others, I was able to learn how things work. The biggest difference is that plastic bags aren’t free. The impressive display of pastries and baked goods is most memorable.

CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Florence" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
EH: The Sant’Ambrogio market felt like “My Florence.” I loved going there and seeing the same faces. It was a great place to practice Italian and interact with locals. And the food was cheap and amazing too!

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CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
EH: The biggest change I’ve seen in myself due to this study abroad program is a new found thirst for traveling. As a homebody, I thought I was immune, but I’m infected with wanderlust. It’s easy to continue living without what you don’t know you’re missing until you learn what you’re missing, then it’s hard to settle back in one place. Now, I’m strongly considering career paths that include traveling.

Thanks Esmeralda!

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Topics: Interviews, Florence, Italy, Volunteering Abroad