Years ago in a universe far away I had a Fulbright professorship to Japan for a year. My wife and I and our son had adventures every single day. Just taking the trolley or subway was an adventure. If you happened to climb up the wrong subway exit, you’d fine yourself in an entirely different neighborhood than you expected.
Life went on after that year, but Jane and I never forgot how exciting it was to live in an alien environment and force ourselves out of our comfort zone. Recently we spent six weeks in Florence, Italy on a Road Scholar Living and Learning Italian in Florence program. We lived in an apartment like the natives, shopped for food and cooked like the natives, and navigated the narrow streets like the natives. Each day was an adventure. Because the narrow streets frequently changed names and because traffic came from all directions, life was very unpredictable.
We found time to wander the streets and discover many new eating experiences. Jane enjoyed gelato almost every day. We took Italian lessons (called Survival Italian) in the mornings and then had the afternoons free. The side tours included mountain towns we never would have found on our own.
Shopping in an Italian supermarket was an adventure in itself. Little did we know that customers were expected to bag and weigh and price their vegetables and fruit. Finding a specific item sometimes proved difficult. Did you know that no self-respecting Italian would eat oatmeal or eggs in the morning? My stomach never did adjust to the Italians’ schedule for eating. I need a lot more than a sweet roll in the morning, and I never wanted to eat lunch past noon or dinner after 7 pm.
I found the Italian television viewing habits interesting. While westerns have pretty much died in our country, they still have an audience in Italy. That includes very old westerns from the 40s and early 50s– real vintage American westerns– as well as the Italian versions. One channel was devoted entirely to American crime shows. Some were really vintage including Raymond Burr as Ironside. I had forgotten that he grew large was a house. In one scene, he barely could fit in an elevator. The Italian quiz shows reminded me of the Japanese versions because of the slapstick nature of what happened to contestants who answered a question wrong.
I noticed that the Italians are a nation of readers — I saw lots of small bookstores, and that warmed my heart. I also heard many Italians express their opposition to Starbucks’ planned arrival. Some had signed petitions protesting that company’s presence. The Italians are fascinated by Donald Trump and had lots of questions about him. They told me they were tired of being the laughing stock of Europe because of their former prime minister–it’s about time, they said, for Americans to see what it’s like to have the world laugh at your leader.
Florence is to me probably the world’s most interesting city. We found more museums and more art than we ever imagined. It’s a very walkable city as well. We developed a certain amount of pride in being able to navigate without getting lost. Even if we had gotten lost, we had learned enough Italian to ask directions. The Italians seemed to genuinely welcome Americans. I never felt the snobbery we’ve experienced at times in Paris.
All in all, I’d recommend the Road Scholar Living and Learning Abroad program. I honestly can’t imagine six weeks in Berlin, but the other cities do sound intriguing.