Five Tuscan takeaways

Published by The Florentine.

After staying in Florence for a while, it’s natural to inadvertently return home with a set of new customs that don’t quite fit into your home culture — perhaps answering the phone with a curt “pronto!” or greeting confused friends with kisses on the cheek. And then there are the customs that don’t come quite as naturally but that you still try to integrate into your everyday life, if not for any other reason than because you simply like doing them. I happened to do a lot of the latter, because living in Italy made me realize how stressful, fast-paced and altogether unhealthy my American lifestyle could be. Here are some of my top takeaways from Florentine culture that made me feel healthier, happier, and just a little more Italian that I was before.

Turning everyday moments into experiences

On one of my first days in Florence, my friend and I were walking out of a local alimentari when she asked if we could sit down. As we settled into a bench alongside the street, I looked over at her expectantly. Instead of readjusting her shoes or searching in her bag for something, she simply gazed out at the street, smiling as she watched the passersby.

When I asked her if everything was okay, she smiled at me. “Of course,” she said with a shrug. “I just wanted to take a moment.” When she noticed my surprise, she added, “Americans never take the time to soak everything in.”

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Interning in Florence after studying abroad

Published by The Florentine

Many of us have been there before: you studied abroad in Florence, fell in love, and are looking to return to the Renaissance city. Luckily for you, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There are a multitude of opportunities for young people, whether it’s returning for another degree, trying out au pairing or, if you’re looking to clean up your professional persona, getting an internship.

I took the third route. A year after a magical study abroad experience, I got an internship that allowed me to travel and work in Florence. I got on the plane, starry-eyed and ready for a study abroad 2.0, an illusion that ended soon after I stepped onto the dark cobblestone street. That’s when you’ll learn your first lesson as an intern: your first step into the “real world” won’t have the safety nets you didn’t even realize you had as a student.

Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re searching for your own dream internship near the Duomo.

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The Magic in the Moments

Written for my personal blog, used by the University of Kansas as a testimonial for the Italian Department

La Mattina

Mornings are my favorite smell in Florence. Whiffs of espresso trail me through twisting streets and wake me before I can even taste it. I like to follow sweet aromas into bakeries and entertain small talk with its shopkeepers who smile endearingly as my tongue fumbles over a language still foreign to me. They ask where I’m from. They ask if my hair is natural. Then they send me on my way with a “buona giornata.” These are my favorite exchanges of the day.

Mornings are also sweltering walks to work, trying hard not to sweat in my nice clothes or ruin my shoes on the cobblestones. The hair the shopkeepers like to compliment does not respond well to heat. I learned quickly to duck under buildings’ shadows and find shady routes that don’t take too much time. I am an expert at dodging clunky clumps of tourists and weaving around cars. It’s not my favorite routine.

But mornings remind me that I am lucky. I walk out of my apartment and into my favorite view in the world. I realized early on that my complaints are small in comparison.

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Learning to Love the Details

Published in the Florentine

When I saw the Duomo for the first time, I was stunned by the magnitude. I remember sitting on the steps in the early hours of the morning and staring up at the architecture in silence; I was the only person left in the piazza, but it felt like I was the only person left in the world. There’s something about being alone next to the goliath of a church that makes you feel so small, like you are just a dot in a Seurat painting, tiny but essential.

Being in Florence often felt like that — I was swept up in things that seemed so much bigger than I was. As a student abroad who had never travelled before, I wanted to understand the hype. I wanted to know why Michelangelo’s David filled art textbooks and why people squeezed into every empty space on the Ponte Vecchio. I wanted to see the city from every angle, from the dark cobblestone streets to the top of the red roofs. If I inspected it closely enough, could I finally unlock its secrets?

It didn’t take long for me to realize that my thirst to know Florence couldn’t be satiated easily. I had once laughed at the notion of Stendhal syndrome, but I began to wonder if it was time for a self-diagnosis. There were times when I would take a moment to take in at my surroundings and find myself so overcome with emotion that I had to sit down for a moment. Looking at the architecture for too long left me feeling dizzy. It made my head hurt and my heart swell.

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The War on Plastic: How Student Environmentalists Are Combatting the Human Footprint

Mimi Levine’s morning routine isn’t too different from other college students’, but it comes with a twist. When she wakes up, she brushes her teeth with her homemade toothpaste, puts on the deodorant she creates using online recipes, and, if she doesn’t have time for a shower, pats her hair down with a concoction of cornstarch and cocoa powder — and that’s before she starts her day. She has a slew of unusual practices, such as upcycling old chopsticks to use as stirrers, collecting wasted straws from restaurants and creating art out of litter. Levine has been called “quirky,” but everything she does has a purpose: to reduce the amount of waste she produces.

Levine, who is from Colorado, isn’t alone, but people like her are few and far between. Only about 34.5 percent of waste in the U.S. is recycled, and the average American generates about 4.35 pounds of waste per day — over 1,500 pounds per person each year. This statistic worries Levine, who calls plastic her “worst enemy.”

But Levine wasn’t always conscious of how her actions impacted the environment. It wasn’t until she studied abroad in Copenhagen that she realized just how far behind the U.S. was ecologically. “[My roommates in Denmark] were so surprised that I didn’t compost and that it wasn’t a normal thing for families in the U.S. to do, and they were surprised about just little things I’d do that I didn’t even realize were wasteful,” Levine says.

Levine began researching how the human footprint affects the planet. What she found were harrowing statistics, such as the fact that one hamburger patty uses as much water as two months of showering and that Americans use enough straws in one day to fill up 125 school busses, according to NPS. “I can’t even imagine one bus full of straws,” Levine says. “How is this possible and how is this OK? It’s crazy to think that there’s an island out in ocean that’s twice size of Texas made completely out of plastic, and I just don’t understand how people are OK with it.”

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A Smash Hit: How a Video Game Became Competitive Sport

It started with a fist bump. That was Robert Fraser and Daniel Coppock’s way of wishing each other luck before their big fight. A small crowd began to gather, pressing close to get a better view of the action. With $60 and the glory of being victor on the line, Fraser and Coppock ignored the onlookers as they turned toward the blocky ‘90s TV, gripping their GameCube controllers in concentration as the screen lit up with two large, bold words: “Ready. Go!” And the fight began.

This is a weekly routine for the two. They meet every Thursday at Merchants Pub & Plate along with 30-40 others to compete in the local Super Smash Bros tournament. Fraser, 19, and Coppock, 18, are undisputedly the best players in the house, and nearly every week they find themselves going head-to-head in the grand finals. This childhood game had become a competitive sport that brought them together.

Super Smash Bros is a fighter video game that was first released for Nintendo 64 in 1999. The game got so popular it resulted in three sequels and a worldwide competitive scene that somehow found its way to Lawrence.

“My goal was to always build a community that could sustain an event series that would make people from around the region travel to us,” says Lux Fukato, a University of Kansas graduate and a key player in Lawrence’s Smash Bros scene. “These were especially important since the alternative meant traveling 4-8 hours to other places in order to play in a quality tournament.”

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