Life and Art — Florentine Style

Valentina Vela, NYUAD Class of 2015 writes about her J-Term experience at NYU Florence.

Before leaving for January Term at NYU Florence, I feared that language would be a barrier between the people of Florence and me. As it turns out, the locals I had a chance to interact with were always patient, warm, and very, very funny. Not only were the Florentines amused and thankful to hear a few awkward ciaos and grazies, they were ready to correct me and increase my vocabulary with some alloras and pregos. The people of Florence have a way of enjoying life, and they seemed interested in making sure we did too. And we did.

My class, The Miracle of Florence, was the perfect balance between academic inquiry and involvement with the host city. Our professor organized the schedule so that almost every day we had a trip to a museum, a church, or a historical place. This way, the texts we encountered in class gained relevance when we put them next to the masterpieces we were fortunate enough to visit: the Medici chapel, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Church of Santa Croce, among others. All of these places, along with some incredible restaurants and gelaterias, gave me a holistic experience of Florence, one that affected me immensely. As my fellow Miracle of Florence classmate Leena Asfour, Class of 2014 put it, "Florence is a really beautiful place — the landscape, the city, the Duomo, the art. But what really impressed me was their dedication to food. No matter if I bought something for one euro or 30, the food was simply amazing! Best food experience ever."

J-Term has a wonderful way of bringing odd groups of people together. At the beginning, I saw myself in a class with people I hardly knew — for Sama Tower standards, that is. Throughout the month, however, and during many delicious dinners and gelato outings, I was able to get closer to people I had never talked to before, as well as friends from whom I'd spent some time apart. Catching the bus together, spending a rainy afternoon in Sienna, and sometimes cooking dinner — or watching other more skilled peers cook dinner — built a sense of community in our cozy three-story building in the center of Florence, far away from NYUAD.

Valentina Vela, NYUAD Class of 2015 writes about her J-Term experience at NYU Florence.

My class, The Miracle of Florence, was the perfect balance between academic inquiry and involvement with the host city. 

Valentina Vela, Class of 2015

If I had to pick a favorite moment from this J-Term, it would have to be seeing Michelangelo's David. We set out after lunch for the Academia Gallery, in search of the stunning marble statue, and even though the gallery was just a block away from our dorm, it felt like an adventure. The Academia Gallery is small compared to other museums, especially to Florence's famous Uffizi Gallery. Its main attraction is David, the marble statue of the 15-year-old boy that defeated the giant Goliath in the Old Testament. This masterpiece is breathtaking for three reasons. When you see it, the first thing you notice is the perfection of the craft. The way the human body is shaped to exact veins and muscles is unbelievable. Then, the simple fact that it is more than 500 years old and it still stands there, perfect. And finally, Michelangelo's David is breathtaking because in his eyes, I saw all of humanity. I saw fear, pride, insecurity, happiness, loneliness, and strength. This marble statue changed the way in which I see art, people, and life. As a theater maker, this marble statue, and my experience of it, are vital in reconsidering the function that art has in the world.

It is incredible what travelling does for you. I think sometimes I undermine the shift in life-focus that coming to Abu Dhabi gave me. Living here has made me more aware of the peculiar details that make up who we are and how we behave. Every time I travel, I am conscious of the differences and similarities that exist between my culture, and that of the other. But I am also eager to learn and to bridge those things that divide us. Abu Dhabi, with its multiplicity of perspectives and ways of life, teaches me tolerance and plants a seed of curiosity every day.

Florence left me with many questions. I left the city unsatisfied and longing to return. The people, the food, the way of looking at life; all of these things seemed so different from where I come from and yet so in line with what I am looking for. Florence gave me a sense of peace, and a reminder that there is beauty in the simplest things. It just takes a minute or two — or five hours when it comes to a great meal! — to properly appreciate it.