This week, my service learning professor was preparing us to experience volunteering in Florence for a local Italian organization.
He said, “Try not to be the student who sits on the beach and waits for the waves. Let go of whatever you are afraid of and go for it; jump right in and start swimming.”
Since then, I have tried to adopt this mentality in many things I do. Studying abroad is a lot different from traveling abroad than I originally anticipated. When asking friends who had previously traveled to Europe for short bouts of time about their experience, they had little to no problems with a language barrier because they only traveled to touristy locations, they seldom reported feeling overwhelmed or lost because they usually traveled in a group, and they only had enough time in each city to see the biggest attractions before they were onto the next.
I have found the opposite of these things to be true of my life abroad. I am planted in Florence for an extended period and have an amazing opportunity to explore so much more of the city and delve into the culture than I would if I was only here for a few days.
My service learning assignment focuses on global citizenship and has me volunteering 10 hours a week at the National Tumor Association (ANT), the Italian equivalent to the American Cancer Society. For starters, only one part-time worker in the entire office speaks English, so this placement is a challenge that gives my minimal Italian language skills a workout. The commute to ANT is a 45-minute walk, so I opted to rent and ride a bike the five miles round-trip to and from volunteering this week.
I was one of those crazy bike riders alongside cars and mopeds on a busy city street, accidentally rode 0.5 miles the wrong way on a one-way road and was a pile of sweat once I arrived at my destination. Traveling to a part of the city away from the tourist center, it was difficult to ask Italian locals for directions when ANT was not exactly where my GPS told me it was. After wandering around and walking past the same bakery approximately 10 times, I finally was pointed in the right direction and found where I needed to be.
I filled out some paperwork, met some employees in the office, attempted to read a brochure about the organization written entirely in Italian and got started on my first volunteer task. Then, I was back on my bike to return home in the city center. This experience challenged and molded me in ways a typical tourist would not experience.
Out of all my classes and opportunities thus far, I am most excited to volunteer for ANT on a regular basis. I must force myself to speak Italian and ride a bike five miles at least twice a week for the next 10 weeks, which are two things I would never typically do in America. I am keeping an open mind, a positive attitude, and hope that I discover a passion for this organization’s mission the same way I have some non-profits in America.
This week I have jumped right in and started swimming, even though sometimes it would be easier and less shocking to sit and wait for the waves.