It’s Election Day in Florence, and believe it or not, I feel like I might as well be back in the States! For weeks now it seems now that the same thing is on everyone’s mind: Who exactly will win the election, and more importantly for the Italians, who do we want to win as Americans abroad in Italy. Over the past couple of weeks, not a conversation goes by with Italians where I don’t hear the inevitable question: “Obama or McCain?” I never realized how much this election means to the rest of the world until I came to Italy. Even back in August when I first arrived, the updates on the news were always covering the election; and, as I soon discovered, Obama is without a doubt, the desired candidate. As the Italian economy has been suffering, as well as the rest of the economies of the world, it is not just the U.S. that Italians are thinking about. Time and time again, I hear the Italians discussing that they need a president to make a change and to get us out of the war, and in their minds, Obama has the power. Because if America goes down, so does the rest of the world. In the words of the Italians, “che grandissimo!” (similar to, “What a big decision!) Being amidst the Italians and seeing how much they are counting on this election and for Obama to win to save their own economy gave me such an appreciation for our country and its impact on the rest of the world.
This year, there’s been a push to encourage American students studying in Florence to remain active supporters of the American government while studying abroad, particularly with the Democratic Party. At our language school, a woman from the Democrats Abroad organization, Jo-Ann White, put all of her efforts into welcoming the foreign students studying in Florence commencing with a welcoming night at the historical Palazzo Vecchio. She arrived at Dante Alighieri a month ago to help us fill out our requests for our ballots, taking care of all the paperwork to ensure that we would receive our ballots and have the opportunity to vote. The Florence Chapter of Democrats Abroad did not exist in the 2004 election, and so, needless to say, it spread like wildfire to all of the American institutions in town, including St. James Church, universities, social groups and the Consulate. Leading up to the election, the Tuscan-American association (TAA), Florence’s rising organization that works to increase the bond between the Tuscan and American governments, has held numerous events ranging from Obama Pizza Parties at local trattorias to the grand Election Night held last night at Saschall Theatre, the city’s popular venue for concerts and celebrations. Because the group was seeking out support from the local American institutions throughout town, last night, I joined the staff of enthusiastic young Italians with my red Election Day “staff” t-shirt, and I helped to sell raffle tickets for their own lotteria provided by some of the American institutions in Florence, including my own directors, Gabriella and Alberto Materassi of the Dante Alighieri school. The event lasted until 4 a.m. to wait and see the final results of the election. But it was not simply a night of waiting — sponsored by various organizations throughout Florence for foreign students, there was live music, big-screen coverage of the election, an opportunity to electronically “vote” upon entering for a little competition fun, speeches from the Tuscan-American association, including the U.S. Consul General of Florence and Honorary President of the TAA, Mary Ellen Countrymen, and free food and drink, including a special Tuscan dessert of bombolone and café during the later hours of the night. Once midnight arrived, they announced the grand prize for the lotteria which I had been selling for a trip for two to New York City and some other great prizes to “live and spend like a Medici.”
Overall, the excitement was incredible, and I could not believe how excited the Italians were for this American election. Decked out with their Obama pins and American flags, it was a night to remember for me as well as for the rest of the American students that ventured out that night. For me, it was an opportunity to appreciate the ties between my life in the States and my life as a student abroad. As a staff member, I was interviewed by one of the local student Italian papers, Corriere Fiorentina, to give my thoughts on the election as a student in Florence during such a crucial election in U.S. history. Even more exciting for me was my opportunity to meet the U.S. Consul and to hear her own personal words of gratitude for continuing the support of their new organization, the TAA. With the big turnout they had last night, I think Florence is on its way to starting a great Italian-American connection, and I hope to remain a part of that experience for the rest of this year abroad.