As my Instagram followers know well, my favorite part of the day is breakfast. I have posted more photos of my breakfasts from Italy than is palatable (see what I did there?), and that is by Instagram standards. My favorite part of breakfast is not the food. However, it is the scenery. I have my breakfasts on the quiet terrace outside my bedroom door. I can hear birds chirping and church bells chiming. Breakfast on a peaceful scenic terrace in Italy is not a bad way to begin a day.
There is certainly an iconic quality to this scene of the quiet terrace in Italy with church bells in the distance and terracotta rooftops and flowers and vines all around. In my experiences traveling through Italy so far, however, I have found that this kind of authentic beauty cannot be found in every city here.
Take Florence, for example. Florence, like New York, is a great city. However, Florence, like New York, is crowded, full of tourists and is a city in which nearly everyone speaks English. It is the host of many breathtaking sites, such as the “David” statue and the Uffizi Gallery Museum of Florence. While everyone should see the “David” and the Uffizi, be prepared to spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half in line in order to do so. Despite the tourists, lines and crowds, I was glad to have spent a weekend there, but my experience definitely made me appreciate the city where I am studying abroad, Padova, even more than I already do.
Cities like Florence — that is to say, tourist centers — are great cities for visitors, but are perhaps not as great for study abroad. One of the goals of any study abroad experience is to learn something about the culture of the country of your destination. When you are living in a tourist center, you lose out on that aspect of the study abroad experience. Language is a great example: when my friends and I were visiting Florence, those of our group who preferred to practice their Italian did not get the chance to do so because so many people in Florence are used to having to speak English to tourists. Learning to speak Italian while I am living in Italy is important to me as a student of the language.
If cities like Florence are like New York, then cities like Padua are like Boston. Padua is neither a big city nor a small city. It is a college town with a nightlife catered to college students. There are not too many tourists, and foreigners feel welcome. Authentic cities like these, where foreign students can immerse themselves into the culture without feeling like a tourist, make awesome study abroad destinations. The big cities make awesome weekend destinations.