BY desiree carpenter, creative media’18, CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE
After over 16 hours straight of travel time, I arrived a little before noon local time in Florence, Italy for the fall 2016 semester. It was my first time out of North America, and I only knew one of the two other Champlain Abroad students that would be in the same country as me for the semester. A mixture of sheer excitement and sheer terror smothered my exhaustion as I collected my checked bags. I let out a sigh of relief when I walked towards the airport exit and was met by a group of college-aged kids and a couple of people holding signs that read “API.” Academic Programs International, the Champlain Global Partner and third-party program I used, had arranged to meet new arrivals at the airport and use a massive tour bus to shuttle us all to the hotel we were staying at for the night.
Not all of our apartments were fully ready yet, so they decided to put us in a surprisingly nice local hotel. I had lucked out and been given my own room in the flat (for no extra charge!), so I was put in a hotel room with the other girl in my apartment with a private room. As excited as both of us were to finally be in Florence, we both fell into immediate impromptu naps in the few hours before meeting up with everyone for dinner.
After waking from the much-needed nap and taking full advantage of having shower access again, I met up with the other API students to walk to where our arrival celebration dinner was being held. We traveled to a different hotel, climbed the several flights of stairs to the roof and were greeted by tons of plants forming a covering over a long, buffet-style dinner setup and several round and rectangular white tables scattered across the roof. Each table offered bottles of both sparkling and still water–one of the first things that I learned about Italian restaurant culture: always clarify how bubbly you want your water. All of us spent the evening eating and mingling with other students and struggling to keep up with all the new names. When the dinner ended, I joined a group of a dozen or so others going out to celebrate actually making it this far.
The next morning, I stuffed everything back into my suitcase and dropped my bags downstairs, to be delivered to where I was actually staying. I inhaled more pastries and fruit than I care to admit at the free hotel breakfast before joining the rest of the API students at our very first orientation meeting. A few hours later, I piled into a van with my 3 flatmates, and we were driven to the place that would be our home for the next four months.
I have to clarify something: I am fully aware that, as far as housing goes, my flatmates and I majorly lucked out. The four of us shared a three-bedroom, two-bathroom flat in the city center, less than five minutes from both Mercato Centrale and the Duomo. Since we were the top floor in our building, our living room held a narrow spiral staircase up to a small loft that opened onto a massive rooftop terrace overlooking the city straight towards the top of the Duomo. At night, all we could see was that enormous dome lit up like something out of a dream vacations calendar. The four of us were screeching in excitement at this discovery and instantly began making plans to spend countless nights up there with a beverage, enjoying the warmth and the sights and the sounds of a place that none of us had ever expected to get to call home.
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