Halfway Around the World, I Feel Right at Home

Megan Eiswerth
Major: Graphic Design
Book Arts in Europe, Summer I 2017

The start to my journey has been filled with incredible sights and wonderful experiences, as well as some minor speed bumps along the way. During the layover at the Frankfurt airport, me and my friend had some confusion about our gate number for our flight to Florence (our final destination). We spoke with an airport employee who knew some English, and figured out where we needed to be and when… or so we thought. We ended up being at the wrong gate at the wrong time and we MISSED OUR FLIGHT. Oh. My. Gosh. We ran to a help desk as our panic was setting in. They had no more room on the flight that our other friends took. We stood at the help desk counter for a full hour in petrified silence as two employees worked at a computer and spoke German back and forth. They said we might have to be put on a waiting list. After what felt like a lifetime, she finally said she found us some spots on a plane leaving in 5 hours! We had to pay 75€ for the ticket switch and we were absolutely exhausted, but we were so grateful that everything worked out the way it did.

A view of Florence, Italy from the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo.

 

The first taxi ride from the airport to our hostel was a great time, even though our driver drove a bit fast and scarily! We rode through narrow alleys, saw interesting street signs and roadways, and did some great initial people watching! Luckily our professor met us at the airport to escort us back to the hostel and translate for us.

The first main thing I noticed upon arriving in Italy was the difference in the overall color scheme of the city. I believe that every city has a distinct color scheme; Italy’s colors are very bright, yellow, green, orange, and some reds. Honestly, aside from obvious, subtle differences, (language, landscape, currency, architecture, etc.) the overall way of life in Italy is no different than America. I pulled out Euros from an ATM (conveniently located right outside of our hostel), and the exchange rate wasn’t too drastic. Our professor told us it was much wiser and more frugal to accept the ATM fees rather than paying a fee to have all our American money exchanged. Our hostel was also equipped with Wi-Fi, which made communicating with family and friends in America, photo sharing, and updating social media completely seamless.

A view looking down the Grande Canale in Venice.
A photo of my friend and I standing outside of a gallery building at the Biennale in Venice. The Biennale is one of the largest and most influential art shows that happens once every two years and features many artists from all around the world.

An interesting difference that struck me, in terms of social interaction, was how physically close everyone was. In America, the streets and even many sidewalks are typically very wide to accommodate large cars and to give people plenty of room. The streets and sidewalks in Florence seemed to be half the width of what I’m used to seeing. Friends will walk very close together and sometimes hold hands, and fellow pedestrians will walk right towards you, barely scooting around you or even brushing past you as they walk by. Even the cars seem to just barely avoid collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians. I think this tight proximity is partially caused by the physical restraints of the city. But honestly, overall there is just more physical intimacy that is accepted among both strangers and friends. Sometimes I would even walk past couples holding each other and kissing right in the middle of the street. At first, I was taken aback by this, but I soon fell in love with the physical closeness and affection. In America, we are very territorial: we almost seem to claim space as our own and keep our distance from strangers when in public. It was very refreshing to be in a place where every space was fully and gracefully shared among all people.

Since being here, I have really realized how small of a world we live in. Subtle differences in culture, history, and lifestyle seem trivial compared to everything else that we have in common. Already, I feel a deeper sense of connection and compassion with each person I interact with. Everyone on this earth is simply living their lives the only way they know how. Everyone gets through their day just trying to get done what they need to get done, and do what they believe is right. This world needs more patience. It needs more love and understanding. I’m very grateful to be on this adventure that allows me to meet new people, see new things, and experience new outlooks.

 

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