Ciao ragazzi!

Studying abroad in Italy has thus far been one of the most unique and incredible experiences of my life. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of studying abroad has been noticing the differences between Italy and America. Itís the little things that stand out to me in particular rather than simply language and climate differences.

For example, it is easy to spot locals even without hearing them speak. Their clothing, facial expressions, even their walks are noticeably different than foreigners, Americans in particular. Italians are very open, physical people; for instance, a typical greeting for two people, who may only be little more than acquaintances, is to exchange a kiss on each cheek. Italians are, of course, known to be very romantic. It is not at all uncommon to see couples, shall we say, expressing their intense love for each other just about anywhere in public.

On a more personal level, religion occupies a large part of the lives of most Italians. The majority of the country is Catholic; therefore, the majority of religious buildings are Catholic churches. Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and the city has preserved its churches from the prolific period exquisitely. The United States is a relatively young, secular country ó as such we lack fantastic architectural masterpieces from the Gothic and Renaissance eras. I was overwhelmed the first time I saw the Cathedral of Florence (commonly known as the Duomo). Its neo-gothic faÁade and colossal dome, not to mention the imposing detached bell tower positioned beside the south wall, can only be fully appreciated in person. The Church of Santa Croce contains the most impressive collection of stained glass outside of France. Simply put, Italians have a history of presenting their devotion in unparalleled style.

However, there is a tragic downside to living in beautiful Firenze: as with anywhere that has so many wonderful sights and a rich culture, masses of tourists inevitably follow. I live on the northern side of the Arno River, but my school is on the south side, which means I have to navigate through massive mobs across the Ponte Vecchio at least twice a day. The Ponte Vecchio, which translates to ìAncient Bridge,” is a historic walkway across the Arno that is lined with dozens of shops owned by gold merchants. It is infamous for being clustered with tour groups from morning to night every day of the week.

At the risk of sounding snobbish, I must say that I have grown to hate tour groups. I groan at the sight of a single person holding a flag above their head leading a pack of lemmings behind them who are busy gawking and snapping photos, completely oblivious to everyone else around them. There are only so many times I can politely say ìscusa,” or ìpermisso,” before I am forced to push my way through lines of tourists sporting ever-fashionable Hawaiian shirts with cameras slung round their necks as they clumsily fumble fold-out maps in search of Michelangeloís David.

Tourists aside, there are other dangers I encounter on my daily walk to class. Traffic laws in Italy seem to be treated more as suggestions than laws. It is not at all unusual to see people on motorbikes drive on sidewalks, weaving through crowds. Cars move in packs and do not yield to pedestrians. Although the streets seem chaotic, I have not once seen an accident in Florence.

At last I arrive at my university at Piazza Pitti, 15. The Piazza is named after the enormous palace directly across the street from my school: Palazzo Pitti. It was built by the Pitti family in the 15th century and expanded by the Medici before becoming a museum and art gallery.

Classes and professors themselves are vastly different from those at Wooster. For example, I have one professor that takes us out for wine at the end of every class. He also happens to be a member of a Florentine dynastic family dating back to the 13th century. My art classes are frequently held in various places throughout the city, which is perfect, for there seems to be no end to the wealth of art in Florence.

All of this is just a taste of the vast differences between Italy and the United States that I have experienced. Ci vediamo, miei amici! See you all in January!

Dylan Takores í11, a Philosophy and Art History double major, can be reached for comments at