I got into the Florence hotel right at 2pm. My travel mate, Noah, and I chose to make the two and a half hour walk to the Delta Hotel Florence (the original hotel we were scheduled to be in went bankrupt before we showed up and we all got an email to show up at a different hotel instead), so I showed up sweaty and disgusting – actually we got rained on for the first hour of our walk so I was feeling pretty mildewy by the time we got there – and came face to face with about a hundred pretty, clean Syracuse University students.
One of the Whitties who’d gone to this program before had warned me that everybody was SU and most people were already in cliques but I was surprised at how many there were. I feel super lucky that two of my friends are on the program because I think otherwise I would’ve felt super alone.
Somehow I ended up getting assigned to a room with my roommate from college. There was supposed to be a third girl in our room, but because we weren’t sure if she was coming or not we snuck our other friend, Owen, into our room and slept with all three Whitties side by side in the three different beds.
This morning all anybody wanted to do was meet the host families, but first we had to sit through about 3 hours of orientation. The SU speakers did a pretty good job of switching up speakers so that it didn’t feel insanely boring but the majority of the students were jetlagged and the rest of us were just too antsy to do anything but wait for our homestay assignments.
One thing that I thought was funny was that the woman speaker said that they were only going to teach us the vital things so we wouldn’t learn how to cross the street for another two or three weeks and I couldn’t help but thinking that a) I’d already nearly died trying to cross the street and b) I felt like most people in the program would cross a street at some point before that meeting two to three weeks from now.
Another thing about the SU kids is that a lot of the guys seem really “cool” in a way that my Whittie friends are not. We nicknamed one of the guys the “King of the Bros” because that’s sort of how he holds himself.
OWEN AND I GOT PUT INTO THE SAME HOST FAMILY.
We really didn’t think that we would, because they get so many requests but they might just be really good about putting you with friends because we got put together and all of the other people I know that asked also got put with their friend.
Our family is just a husband and a wife, Donatella and Enzo Grande. I looked at their year of birth and said, “they’re so old” before realizing they were about two years older than my parents (sorry mom and dad). Donatella is 61 and Enzo is three years younger. He works at Florence University and she used to work with something related to cancer but I didn’t totally get what. She’s retired now and likes to dance. She invited me to one of her salsa classes with her.
I hadn’t bought a gift so I bought her a potted orchid at a store near the duomo and Owen gave them chocolates he’d brought from Portland.
All day I was hoping that my stuff would arrive (I backpacked so I have two pairs of filthy clothes, my passport, and thankfully, my laptop) but everything else I have is in a suitcase that my friend was going to check with her luggage to Florence. Except that her flight got delayed and somehow my bag ended up in Zurich. It’s okay though because I hear if the airlines lose your bags you get a Delta airlines t-shirt, which is probably just as good.
Our host parents are cool. Like, really cool. They went out at 9:20 when Owen and I wanted to go to bed. Enzo went to hang out with friends and Donatella went to dance class. They’re very friendly and they have two dogs! I’ve always wanted a dog and this feels like my best chance. Camilla is a bichon frize (I think) and Pauldino is my favorite. He’s a very bouncy Jack Russel terrier.
Donatella took us (and the dogs) for a walk into Florence to show us around and then we came back and had dinner watching Italian television.
On the television she taught us a little bit about Italian politics. They’re both liberals and really like Obama. Apparently in Italy they have about 40 political parties instead of two. There’s also a huge ordeal going on right now about the artwork of a guy named Miglio (or something like that) because some specialist just discovered that a bunch of his artwork had been faked by someone else. Then we laughed about a tv show where a famous biker went around trying to get cocaine dealers to dust his cake with cocaine instead of sugar. It’s probably not as funny reading about it as it was experiencing it, but it felt like a really good bonding experience with the family.
There are two separate rooms in the house. Owen has one outside with his own bathroom. It’s larger, but I’m happy with my little one because it’s in the house where it feels happy and warm. I believe they’re one of the wealthier families because they have a dryer which apparently is pretty unheard of here in Italy. They also have a b-day which stares me in the face every time I use the toilet. One day I’ll probably give it a try, but today is SO not that day.
They really like music and play cool, cultural music while they’re cooking dinner or just hanging out which I love. Also, Donatella says “Mamma Mia!” completely seriously and Owen and I have to try not to crack up each time, because it was a joke we made before we came here.
On our walk Donatella took us into this “tunnel system” which was all graffiti that people use to travel beneath an intersection. The walls were all painted, but it was incredibly clean. When I remarked on it she said there was a homeless man who lived down there and kept it clean. The city didn’t pay him, he just cleaned it which we thought was so cool.
Overall I couldn’t be much happier with my situation. We live a 15 minute walk from the campus and Donatella’s already given me a list of about 10 gyms that I can check out tomorrow morning. After so much traveling I’m happy to finally have a place that’s home, although I do wish I had a few more things to put up in it (or to change into).