The photo I have submitted for the Student Resilience Challenge is a drawing of some of my favorite people I met while studying abroad. Each portrait is based on a picture of the person sitting on the bank of the Arno on one of my most cherished days in Florence. Though the portraits are collaged together from four different pictures, we were all there together basking in the intense light of the descending sun, enjoying the rare spot of green grass on one of the last beautiful days in Florence before the weather seemingly turned to reflect our moods, with a week straight of rain and cold wind. It was nice to be able to just sit down and draw this for fun. It gave me a chance to look at pictures from Florence to use as references and reminisce, as this caption, which is essentially a journal now (sorry for the length), has too.
The four of us met, essentially, on orientation day. (From left to right is Jaelyn, Ashley, myself, and Kate—I figure it will be easier to explain with that established.) Jaelyn was one of my roommates, so we had known each other going into orientation obviously, but luck and coincidence set up the rest of the situation. We arrived at orientation a bit later than everyone else it seemed, having gotten a bit turned around trying to find the spot, so there weren’t many seats left. Jaelyn and I found two seats together and our other two roommates found two other seats far away. After the first part of orientation, we stood up to go to lunch and I just happened to overhear the two girls sitting behind us talking about having to find somewhere to eat with gluten-free options. I eat gluten-free and Jaelyn is a vegan—suffice to say, we had a bit of anxiety about finding food in the short hour we had, in a city that was extremely unfamiliar to us. I turned around to the girls, acknowledging that I had overheard them and asked if I could tag along to find food with them since I was in the same predicament. Kate and Ashley happily invited us to come. Jaelyn came with us too, being that places that accommodate one special dietary need are usually good at accommodating for others. We went to Ciro and Sons and I ate an entire, amazing, gluten-free, burrata pizza in ten minutes… I dream about that pizza still. Somehow through this short lunch and totally coincidental seating arrangement, we had created a friend group who could go out to eat together and not have to worry about being an inconvenience to others because of our restrictions. This, and finding gluten-free food, was something I had been extremely worried up leading up to coming to Florence. Ironically (and we didn’t realize this for a bit of time), I had actually texted Kate prior to leaving the US because we were both (supposed to be) going to Abroadfest and I had met Ashley on my layover from Munich to Florence. It feels a little destined that we became friends and I am so thankful for all of them.
Cutting from beginning straight to the end, the day these portraits are based off was the last day Jaelyn had in Florence. She was the first of us to leave (and at the time, none of the rest of us thought we would be leaving at all) so the day was hers to decide what she wanted to do. We saw Michelangelo’s David in the morning, sat on the bank of the Arno eating gluten-free brownies and vegan croissants from Shake Café in the afternoon, headed up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset, and topped it off with one last dinner at one of our favorites, Ristorante Quinoa. That whole day has a beautiful orange glow to it in my memories, just as the city of Florence had at sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was the perfect last day for Jaelyn, though we all would’ve much rather had our last days in May having done all we sought to, rather than cramming it all into one amazing day. I acknowledge that this day was actually rather tinged with sadness and so much chaos that our brains couldn’t really process what was happening, but I choose to remember the orange glowing parts of it instead because that’s really what I want this study abroad experience to be remembered as. It was overwhelming in traditional ways and in unprecedented ways, but it was also beautiful, eye-opening, jaw-dropping, and filled with new friendships. I am forever lucky and grateful to have gotten to bond with these people in a beautiful city that I now feel is home, even if our time there was shorter than anticipated. Grazie mille Firenze.
Brianna was a Spring 2020 Florence student from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.