Overseas Briefing

By Middlebury Campus

When I told my relatives, friends and acquaintances that I was studying  abroad in Italy, they usually gave me a cliché response along the lines of, “Take pictures while you’re riding a Vespa and sampling wine!” or, “You’re going to have the time of your life eating gelato and drinking cappuccinos!” When most people think of traveling and studying in Italy, an Eat, Pray, Love fairytale seems to dominate their visions of my five-month stay in Florence. To them, it’s a land where all problems cease to exist and pristine beauty is found at every corner. In reality, Italy is like anywhere else on Earth and has its imperfections and challenges. Although my time here hasn’t been what family and friends predicted it would be, it has surprised me in ways I would never have expected.

I arrived in Florence a month ago and was immediately overwhelmed. My Italian was rough due to my taking the fall semester off to be a field organizer for the Obama campaign. And to be completely honest, Italian was never my top priority while at Middlebury. I struggled with some cultural aspects, a sense of loneliness and anxiety attacks upon ordering a sandwich (which now seem comical, but at the time were quite stressful). At times I wondered why I was here, and if I had made a huge mistake in choosing to study abroad.

After spending roughly two weeks in Florence, I began to notice a repeated use of a particular phrase: piano, piano, or “little by little.” The phrase has been used by almost every Italian whom I have encountered here. For Italians, it is a way of life. It’s used in regard to learning new subjects in school, maintaining relationships, completing work and even paying bills. For me, it wasn’t until I adopted this phrase as my guide to living abroad that I was able to see the opportunities laid out before me.

This gradual shift in mindset was the best thing that could have happened to me. No longer was I overly worried about messing up my Italian, because I knew that piano, piano, my skills would improve. I no longer fretted about being alone, because piano, piano,I would find friends soon enough. Most importantly I don’t have to worry about living up to my own expectations of having an amazing semester abroad, because piano, piano, I know that I will make the most of time here.

Even though Italy hasn’t turned out to be a romantic journey with Julia Roberts, it has been an amazing opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth, which, in my book, is more important. I’ve been able to eat amazing pasta and pizza with my wonderful host family, see some of the world’s oldest and most important art, attend the World Championships of cross-country skiing and, most importantly, interact with people of a different culture who, at the end of the day, aren’t all that different from you and me.

When I was told, that I was going to have the time of my life, my friends and relatives were right. However, the quality of my time here has not been defined by the location. Italy is a beautiful country with a rich culture, but what will make my semester here truly amazing is an openness and acceptance to moving forward. I know that as I progress though my time in Italy, college and life, there will be a series of ups and downs, excitements and disappointments, rewards and losses. But piano, piano, I will make sense of it all.


Written by Lander Karath ’14 from FLORENCE, ITALY