March 9, 2016
Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival in Florence Opening Remarks
Before the opening event of the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival officially began, I had the privilege of speaking with Abigail Rupp, Consul General of the USA in Florence, and one of the Opening Remarks speakers in the Sala di Cinquecento. What a wonderful experience to attend a meeting in one of the most beautiful halls in Florence! I had to focus on not staring at the gorgeous ceiling when speakers were addressing the audience that filled the room.
Rupp kindly sat down with me and introduced herself, and agreed to answer a few questions. The Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival is an opportunity for American students to connect with locals, as she would mention in her remarks. But what can students do besides the festival to connect with Florentines and truly immerse themselves in the culture?
One way to make Italian friends easily, she began, is by doing the activities you do in America here as well. What are your interests? Do you volunteer in the United States? Do you play a sport? There are many opportunities to do the same things in Italy, and form friendships at the same time. They have had students in the past train with local soccer teams, or volunteer at local elementary and middle schools to help teach children English.
Another way is to travel through Italy on your own, without the help of a school or a travel agency. This advice struck a chord with me, as so many students I know are only traveling through an agency, and I have questioned whether or not these experiences allow students to truly experience, appriciate and understand a foreign or host country. I agreed with Rupp that it can be scary traveling on one’s own, but much more rewarding.
For students who can speak Italian, she recommends taking advantage of their ability to take classes directly in an Italian university, or going on tours of museums in Italian instead of English. In order to meet the locals, “you just have to push yourself.”
Rupp also gave advice on how to learn Italian. Of course, the state department taught her Italian, so it was basically her job for six months to become proficient in the language. She would practice Italian for five hours a day. So how does that experience relate to students learning the language? It underscores a very important point: one has to constantly use the language in order to become fluent.
Many students are afraid of making mistakes, and this keeps them from striking up a conversation. But Rupp believes that we must “allow ourselves to be children,” and not be afraid to make mistakes. It is hard to not know anything, but you should not be afraid of trying. “Even if you say it wrong, you still get practice.”
Other ways to practice are listening to the Italian radio, and watching Italian television. Even when you think you have mastered the language, never stop learning. Rupp has lived in Florence for a year and a half, but she still takes Italian grammar classes so that she can ask questions and practice.
The festival focuses on connections through art, so naturally our conversation drifted towards the importance of art in her life. She was a ballerina during her time in school, which instilled in her a real discipline and a love of music and art. She feels lucky to watch performances, like the Florence Welcome Wave by the Florence Dance Academy, in an educated way.
Her first trip to Florence was as a high school student, and this trip was actually what inspired her to have an international career. The artwork that resonated with her the most during her stay was Michelangelo’s prisoners. She loved the ambiguity behind whether or not he intended to leave them unfinished, as well as the sense of movement exhibited by the statues.
Her experience in Florence so far has been different from her other stations because she was previously in developing countries, such as Ghana and Ethiopia. She has enjoyed working with Italy because of the strong partnership between the United States and Italy, and was happy to find out that she had the opportunity of living and working here for three years.
She believes that there is something uniquely special about Florence as well. It has been the center of revolutionary thought for so many centuries, which creates an atmosphere that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It is also an international city, not just a city of history.
According to Rupp, the first goal of the festival has already been achieved, which is simply to have it. This is the first time that the over 50 study abroad programs in Tuscany are working together to make the right impression about what American students are here to do. Students have the opportunity to interact with each other and the community. Rupp believes the festival is the perfect way to encourage exchange.