Making Friends Abroad and My Favorite Encounter with a Local in Florence

Jul 17, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Allyson Barnes

Allyson Barnes

Allyson Barnes is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An Anthropology, Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, and Studio Arts major at University of Colorado Boulder, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

In this week's post, Allyson shares how her desire to converse in Italian led her to become a regular at a cafe and eventually experiencing her favorite local encounter in Florence.


As an American studying abroad, it can be not only difficult, but also scary, to become connected with the locals in your host country. They are “different” and their culture is brand new to what you are used to. For me that gave all the more intrigue. I was so interested in what was categorized as different. The new cultures, the new perspectives, anything to give me new experiences and new outlooks on life.

Having Gelato by Ponte VecchioHaving some tasty gelato by Ponte Vecchio.

Although I had hoped to merge myself with the lives of Italians here in Florence, I never really expected to make friends like I did. After all, it was only a 6-week program and I was traveling outside of Florence on weekends. But I became a regular at a little cafe down our little street, Via Faenza, which led me to a favorite encounter.

A little bit of back story is that I have been practicing my Italian. I had begun preparing back home before I left so I would be able to have small conversations or at least be able to hold my own when I went into a restaurant or simply wanted to order an espresso. I became fairly good at many phrases, but, of course, was no where near fluent. I always tried to start with as much Italian as I could when going into a new place (and I always recommend people do the same with any language when they makes the experience more genuine). I spoke solely Italian to a new person I met until I couldn’t understand anymore and I would tell them I only spoke a little Italian (in Italian, of course).

Enjoying Florence and its cafes.Enjoying Florence and its cafes.

As I walked into this little cafe/Gelateria on my first day in Florence, I was greeted by the friendliest man I would meet on my travels. I said “ciao” back and proceeded to ask for a table and order my food. Tulio was his name and he became a good friend of mine over the course of my 6 weeks in Florence. Even in that moment, the first time I ate at the Bondi Gelateria, I was never faced with an unsmiling Tulio. He was kind and helpful and the food was amazing. He even helped me learn little things in Italian I had yet to understand. He was never impatient and always nice to me.

I saw him at least once a day every day after that. He always greeted me by stopping whatever he was doing, waving frantically and yelling, “Ciao, bella!” He was always enthusiastic when saying hello to me and always pleasant when we shared conversations about our days. We ended up even following each other on Instagram! I get to keep up with all of his gelato and food adventures and he said he looks forward to keeping up with mine.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Summer2018_From Allyson Barnes - Trying Local PizzaOne important local encounter you must have: trying local pizza.

Tulio always said that meeting new people was what made his job amazing. He owns restaurants and cafes all over Florence and he goes to each one every week. He just happened to be at the one closest to me most often. He inspired me to go out and never be afraid of saying hello, or “ciao”, which helped me to meet many other new people... just none quite like him.

Making friends, or simply meeting new people in general, can be very difficult sometimes even if you aren’t in another country. It is certainly something that requires you to step out of your comfort zone to introduce yourself and try to talk to people. I’ll be honest, sometimes it goes well, and sometimes not so much, especially if you are speaking a different language than you are used to. But all in all, it is so worth it in the end because when you do meet someone who is genuinely interested in talking to you like Tulio was with me, it makes everything worth it.

Thanks Allyson!

Allyson's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program