Voices: I’m that ‘obnoxious’ student who studied in Florence. Here’s what I have to say about your outrage
If you’re on Twitter or have any kind of digital news “diet,” you know who I am. My March 9 article for Insider – detailing my less-than-ideal experiences during a study abroad semester in Florence – instantly went viral, generating response pieces in numerous publications around the world.
Even more immediate and abundant were the Twitter replies, retweets, and DMs I received, with the occasional email and LinkedIn message, too. I truly respect the rigor with which strangers approached the task of making sure I knew exactly how they felt about me. The general consensus is that I completely wasted my opportunities abroad. “I bet this girl barely learned any Italian, did not learn any of the cultural norms, and didn’t travel to any Italian cities/towns that are not major tourist destinations,” one – since deleted – tweet said. Apparently I am a “Debbie Downer” type who would’ve hated it anywhere and am, in fact, so terrible (and so terribly representative of many American tourists) that no European would want me back on their continent.
It seemed almost comedic to me that the trolls took center stage, and I wasn’t able to point out their inconsistencies in a systematic way. For one, I am not someone for whom the Italy trip was my first time leaving the US – do just the slightest bit of research into my work and you will see that I was born in the States, spent my early childhood in Kyiv, and traveled internationally at least twice a year from a very young age. As for Italian lessons, I can assure you it went beyond “ciao” and “come stai?”; I took months of such classes prior to working in a hostel on the Amalfi Coast the summer before my semester in Florence (where I had a daily, six-credit Italian course through NYU). And I did give Italy a lot of chances: taking day trips to Bologna, Rome, Milan, Genoa, Montecatini, Naples, Lucca, Pisa, Siena… you get it. Not that it helped change my opinion on the country.
In the past couple of days, I continued to laugh off comments that demanded I switch both of my majors because I am not cut out for them, matter-of-factly declared no one will ever want me as a wife, and called me, among many other creative monikers, a “wet blanket,” “spoiled t***,” “terrible person,” and an “ugly American.”
The lower the social media haters stooped, the more empowered I felt. Provocative stories with the power to generate engaged dialogue are among those that ultimately need to be written. Unlike what many in the “journalist Twitter” community thought, this wasn’t a clickbait grab for attention, a ChatGPT masterpiece, or – my personal favorite – a ghostwriting effort on behalf of the city of Florence to keep American students away. I believed in the merits of my story even before I wrote it and continue to believe in them now.
And yet, I am alarmed. Not in the way you may think – I’m clearly not retracting my opinion or sending apology floral arrangements to the Florence tourism board offices.
What scares me is just how quick the online community (all the more cruel for the anonymity users are afforded) is to attack a young person with an opinion that deviates from the norm. I am lucky to have good self-esteem, respect for my work, a firm moral foundation, and a strong support network of family, friends, professional acquaintances, and even the decent strangers who reached out to say my piece deeply resonated with them. But what of the next journalist who is subject to an onslaught of hate after their publication and lacks such a network?
I feel we need to rethink the power we all allow the “everyman” social media commentator to have. Ultimately, the “NYU study abroad student” tale will lose its relevance in no time. However, the widespread online habit of making a public caricature out of young journalists (particularly women), while hiding behind a screen without seemingly any repercussions, will never lose relevance.
This is what you should take away from the flurry of activity surrounding my publication, if you find no other value in it: it takes just a few taps to crucify a writer for their work. It could take far longer to undo the damage.