Of all of the weird “Alli things” on my list, watching The Grinch year-round and wearing pajama pants solely when I am bummed or sick are two of the major ones. Before I left for Florence, my roommate sent me away with a tearful goodbye (she’s going to be embarrassed I wrote that), and the Grinch-printed pajama pants she already assumes I’ve taken from her drawer if I’m having a bad day. And the funny thing is that when I packed my bag, I brought them because I knew they’d remind me of best friend, and provide me something familiar and comforting when I was missing my partner in crime. But a month and a half into my study abroad experience, and the Grinch pants were seeing more than their fair share of use – not only because I missed her like crazy – but also because I was bummed…really, really bummed.
Florence is without a doubt the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. The thriving center of Renaissance Italy, Florence is covered in golden-hued buildings with green shutters, incredible churches (Google “Santa Croce” and see what I mean), and people who are somehow more beautiful than any of these structures. And so I was surrounded by this city that was full of all my favorite things – buildings that took my breath away and art museums to explore and charming coffee shops, yet at the same time, here was a city I was supposed to be calling home, and it just didn’t feel right.
In my first blog for Admissions, I talked about how I have tendency to fall in love with the places I land. And I was so sure that that was the case – but I realize now that I was wrong. I was stubborn, so adamant in my belief that I was unfailingly adaptable. But a few weeks in Italy, and I was met by a culture I hadn’t yet understood. You see, in Italy and with Italians, most often encounter number one, two, or three feel cold. Of course, what I know now of Italian culture is that on encounter number one, two, or three, you’re a stranger. On encounter four, you’re familiar, and are greeted as such. Any meeting past that, you’re family – inspiring the bellowing voices, loud excitement, and hand-talking I had grown up with knowing as “Italian culture”. But at the time, I wasn’t getting past encounter number one, two, or three – in fact, I was slinking away from them.
The first “wow” moment I had in this realization took place on train four of five in my travels from Bologna, Italy to Interlaken, Switzerland. It was hour ten of train travel that day, and the pull of the train, plus the length of each leg of the ride inspired a weird numbness in our travel excitement. As the ticket inspector wandered over to us, I’d imagine she asked to see our tickets, but as she was speaking German, I couldn’t be sure. To this question, we both hung our heads as my friend mumbled, “I’m sorry, what was that?” – both of us holding our breath, as we were accustomed to the reaction that our American accents earned us. But instead, we were only met by a reassuring smile. As she left, the wow moment came. “She just smiled at us, did you see that?!” Erica asked. And with that, suddenly the fact that I had left my Grinch pants home to free up backpack room didn’t seem like the wrong decision. After that, I returned to Florence and gave my one, two, three encounter places a fourth chance. And from there, I found an incredible warmth and finally, at last, the feeling of home.
So here’s the infamous abroad epiphany – I’m leaving a piece of my heart here in Florence, with Pasquale and Antonio, two brothers who run my favorite Italian bar, make my morning cappuccino, and begin my day with a toothy grin and a “Ciao bella!” – two individuals from whom I’ve learned the power of starting someone’s day with extraordinary warmness. I’m giving a piece of my heart to the business owners and servers at all of my favorite places – the ones who I gave fourth and fifth visits to, and now stop by my table to say hello, or light up when I walk past their shop windows and wave. I’m putting a piece of my heart on planes to Kansas City, to California, and to Iowa, to Connecticut, New Jersey, and Tennessee, with individuals who were at first interested in learning my mom’s salad dressing recipes, and now, somehow, feel like family. And something really wonderful about this experience: I’m putting more pieces of my heart on planes that will return home with fellow Hawks I had never met or spent time with before meeting them in Florence, and come January, I get to smile at them on campus, complain about missing the heightened standard of pasta we’re used to, and with whom I can reminisce about this incredible adventure.
So yes, Florence is, indeed, stealing a piece of my heart – housing it with sunsets watched at Piazzale Michelangelo, hours spent sipping cappuccinos con latte di mandorla and people watching from the middle table, in the middle room of La Menagerie (my favorite coffee shop), and the family dinners that took place in Piazza del Duomo, 5. My beautiful city managed to pull it off – and as much as this may contradict my aforementioned stubborn beliefs, I’m admitting I was so wrong. Despite jaw-dropping landmarks and gorgeous views and incredible works of art, the people will always, always, always be the best thing a city can offer. They’re the aspect that steals your heart because that’s where all of the love that brings the city to life rests. And I am so happy with the people I’ve been given the opportunity to love, and to leave my heart with.
Florence, I am so absurdly grateful for you. But as much as you’ve wooed and won me over, West Philadelphia, I am boarding a plane your way in just a few hours, and am so ready, so excited, and so grateful to reunite with the pieces of my heart I left in Chinese food dinners with my roommates, in being one of four Al(l)(i)(e)(y)’s, in the attendance question that starts every DSP chapter meeting, in DB lunch dates with my PSIP babies, and the warmth and kindness in encounters one, two, and three that make my home on Hawk Hill such a special place.
Alli DelGrippo is a junior with majors in Entertainment Marketing and Leadership, Ethics, and Organizational Sustainability. Aside from studying a mouthful of majors, you can find her walking backwards on tour, social-butterflying on the first floor of the PLC, and instagramming Barbelin more than her fair share.