Although Italy is considered to be such a classic place for studying abroad, the experience doesn’t have to be so stereotypical. While many American students choose to reside in large cities, only leaving to travel to other countries rather than within Italy, I chose to spend a majority of my time within its borders. When I first arrived to Ferrara, I had a big list of countries that I wanted to see: Austria, France, Switzerland, Greece, Ireland, etc. However, as time went on, I realized that my experience would be significantly better if I chose to stay within the country. Not only would it be cheaper and more convenient (the Trenitalia system goes basically everywhere) but also it would allow me to see all different facets of the country.
Italy, although it is frequently compared to the size of Florida, is extremely diverse. The country is made up of 20 different regions, each with an individual and deeply rooted history. It is a country significantly younger than the United States, establishing itself as a nation in the second half of the 1800s. The nation combined many kingdoms and states together, but each were, and still remain, very different. The hills of Toscana are hardly similar to the beaches in Sicilia, the mountains of the Alps, or the Etruscan heritage of Roma. While America has accents, Italy has dialects. Each town or region has their own specific variation of the language, some completely non-comprehensible and others just a slight twang. As a student that was trying to perfect their language, I considered this to be a great challenge.
I decided my mission should be to see and appreciate the Italy that nobody sees, beyond the visions portrayed in Hollywood films and travel itineraries. Because Ferrara is situated in the north, I spent more time in areas north of Roma. I experienced my own region, Emilia-Romagna, by taking day trips to Modena and Bologna. This area is known for the quality of its food, particularly stuffed pastas and meats. It is very rural, and often times when I was riding my bicycle I found myself lost in cherry blossom fields. I went northeast towards Veneto, again spending more day trips in Padova, Venezia (Venice), and Verona. The region of Veneto is breathtaking. On the train you can spot tiny medieval villages hidden between mountains, all the houses containing the same red rooftops surrounding the main church. I even ventured further north to the Dolomites and spent a weekend in Bolzano-Bozen, the last town on the Italian train line where the citizens speak German first and Italian second. We ate strudel and listened to Austrian music, forgetting we hadn’t even left the country.
I ventured to more well known cities, such as Roma (Rome) and Firenze (Florence), each slightly touristy, but magical in their own way. Of the south I visited my family in Napoli, exploring the island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast. With my program we traveled to 6 different towns in Sicilia. Finally, the very last voyage of my trip was to Cinque Terre, to hike the rocky coast of Liguria and eat the well-known pesto.
My friends and I decided to leave Italy only during our spring break, deciding to go to Barcelona, Paris, and Amsterdam. Yet, at the end of this week, we were grateful to come back to our little country that we had gotten to know so well. Hopefully I will have the rest of my life to venture to the greater cities of Europe. However, only with this experience would I have been able to explore tiny villages, eat authentic food in an Mom-and-Pop restaurant, and understand the individualities of many different cities. If I had stayed for another semester, I could have created another list of Italian regions I had yet to see, still rendering their own unique sentiments of the country.