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Andiamo a Firenze!

After interning all summer in the nation's capital, it's the time of year when I'd usually be returning to school, eager to reunited with friends and resume the life of a student.

But instead of packing up my car to head back to the Gothic Wonderland for the third year in a row, I'm renewing my passport and getting ready to join hundreds of my classmates who opt to take a junior-year hiatus to dozens of countries around the world. Although I've spent the better part of my time at Duke as a reporter for The Chronicle, I'll be in the air somewhere between North Carolina and Florence as this edition of the paper is being put to bed.

And just as hundreds of freshmen were submerged in a new culture with dubious prospects as they took over East Campus last week, I have no idea what to expect of the place I'll be living for the next three-and-a-half months-itself an Renaissance Wonderland. Of all the possible exotic locations, I chose a Tuscan city steeped in 15th-century splendor and apparently the No. 1 study abroad destination in the world because of its subtle beauty and antiquated charm.

In my few short visits there, I have always found that Florence is reminiscent of Duke in a number of respects-overwhelmingly gorgeous, navigable but sprawling and tangible but intriguing. Instead of passing the Chapel on my way to class this semester, however, I'll view the Duomo soaring above the city's distinctive red roofs and cobblestone streets. And rather than going to an art history class in Carr, I will actually stand before Michelangelo's "David" and Botticelli's "Birth of Venus."

It may be trite, but I look forward to having the city as my classroom.

When I tire of tortellini and am bored by Chianti, I can hop on a train to Madrid or Paris to visit my friends studying in other countries-sort of like venturing down to Edens when you live on Main West.

There's no doubt I'll miss being on campus, but it's also hard to escape the Duke bubble, especially in Italy. I look forward to Oktoberfest in Munich even though I have little doubt that a part of me will wish that I were actually at Duke's own Oktoberfest held on an Indian summer-autumn afternoon in Durham. While a semester of gallivanting around Europe sounds fabulous, I'm still coming to terms with missing Tailgate on football Saturdays and the beginnings of basketball season.

Beyond donning costumes on Saturday mornings in the Blue Zone, there will be other things I miss about being on campus as well. I'll face a reality check when angry Italian vendors repeatedly reject my DukeCard as a legitimate form of payment and when I can't swing by Alpine Bagels before class. And what will Thursday nights be without Shooters?

Frankly, it's bizarre that I'm missing out on one-eighth of my time as a student at Duke. By the time I return to Durham in January, the Class of 2011 will have taken over campus and just as in Florence, in some ways I will be a foreigner once again-at least until I can reclaim my territory.

Three-and-a-half months from now, seniors will be on the trajectory toward life beyond the Duke Bubble-toward nine-to-five jobs and the vaunted "real world." I will no longer have the luxury of living on West Campus or saying that I have more than two years of college left. In fact, I will have the promise of only one more fall as an undergraduate.

As I prepare for this adventure, some Dave Matthews lyrics come to mind-"Turns out not where you are but who you're with that really matters."

Considering that I will be away from most of my Duke friends-except for my fellow travelers-and Durham until January, I hope that where I am matters to some extent. Ernest Hemingway was notorious for his ability to recognize and write with a remarkable sense of place. When I am in my native North Carolina, my sense of place is rooted in endless pitchers of sweet tea and smooth, Southern drawls. But when I'm in Florence, I'm not quite sure what my sense of place will be. As someone who wrote for The Chronicle these past two years, that's pretty intimidating.

I suppose wherever you go, there you are.

So, ciao Duke. Andiamo a Firenze!

Victoria Ward is a Trinity junior studying abroad in Florence. Her column runs every other Wednesday.

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