First Impressions vs. Life As a Temporary Local: How My Florentine Experience Has Evolved Over Time by Alia Pappas

Somewhere along the way during our stay in Italy, my GATE friends and I became temporary locals of Florence. Having been here for almost a month now, I’m finding that my perspective of the city that all of GATE 15 now calls home has changed since our plane touched down on May 20th.


Upon our arrival in Florence, my roommates and I remedied our jet lag with a nap in our apartment and then set out to find some dinner. We quickly realized that we didn’t have to travel very far to find it. Turning the corner of our block, we were met with the sight of a piazza sporting restaurants, cafes, and a stunning cathedral that would remain nameless for many days until we became more familiar with our neighborhood and discovered it was called Santa Maria Novella. At this point, we were in the “honeymoon phase” and the pizza that we ate at a restaurant that I now realize caters to tourists seemed like the best we had ever eaten. Our immediate impression of Florence on that first night was that it was a city that was exciting and beautiful, which was only furthered as we walked around the block for gelato and then back to our apartment to the tune of street musicians playing “Beauty and the Beast.” At this point, we were giddy and nervous, and every moment was a lifelong memory waiting to happen and we were eager to receive each one.

Alayna Sims, Becky Dixon, Penny Dutton, and I enjoying our first dinner in Florence next to Santa Maria Novella.

Alayna Sims, Becky Dixon, Penny Dutton, and I enjoying our first dinner in Florence next to Santa Maria Novella.

For our first few days in the illustrious Firenze, my roommates and I discovered the city and made a few tourist faux-pas. I remember us searching for tourist destinations with our noses pressed to the pages of maps, jittery at the possibility of pickpockets and trying to avoid annoying waiters beckoning us into their restaurants. In our apartment, I remember being nervous about living without an air conditioner and fearing that the infamous mosquitoes would eat me alive.


The mosquitoes did eat me alive, and Vape (vah-pay), an Italian brand of mosquito repellant, has since become my new best friend. Despite this one negative, however, my extended stay in Florence has opened me up to a plethora of positive experiences and realizations. Meeting locals and discovering more of Florence are the two things that have most helped me to integrate into life in the city. One of the most prominent locals that I have met is actually one of the aforementioned “annoying” waiters that kept trying to persuade my roommates and I to eat at his restaurant. We have had to pass by “the best restaurant in the world” every day, so we have become friends with this waiter, getting high-fives from him on our way to take our midterms. He and other locals have helped me to better understand the Italians’ lifestyle and customs, which I have discovered that I love, especially walking arm-in-arm with friends and enjoying the slower pace of life here.

Becky, Penny, and I walking like Italians through the streets of Siena.

Becky, Penny, and I walking arm-in-arm like Italians through the streets of Siena. We do this all the time in Florence, too!

By exploring the city, I now walk with confidence and, although I remain aware, I am no longer terrified by pickpockets. I have come to rarely need a map and have found many restaurants and grocery stores to frequent. Sometimes, when I am walking to these places I even find myself growing a little annoyed with the lost tourists, but I remind myself to have sympathy for them because I know what it is like to be in their place. One of my shining “local” moments was when one of these tourists asked me for directions and I was able to easily give them.


Although I have grown accustomed to life in Florence, some aspects of it never get old. I still smile when I hear “Beauty and the Beast” outside my apartment, even if I have every note memorized. Florence is still just as beautiful and captivating as ever. When I first arrived here, I thought that every little experience was worth documenting. Today, I think the same. I have learned so much on this trip, such as how to be more accepting, patient, innovative, and caring. I never want to forget this life-changing experience of living in Florence, my home away from home.

My wonderful roommates and I in front of the Duomo. Florence wouldn't be the same without them!

My wonderful roommates and I in front of the Duomo. Florence wouldn’t be the same without them!

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