Written by Sarah Paster, (Brandeis University) Student Correspondent Brandeis Midyear in Florence, Fall 2015
Especially as a freshman, studying abroad for a semester has been life changing. For anyone who would consider doing this program, some words of advice:
Stick with the homestay. This was undoubtedly one of the best decisions for me when studying abroad. I was very weary to do the homestay because I wanted more “independence” or something, and honestly only did it because my mom forced me to. My host family did my laundry, cleaned my room, fed me breakfast and dinners of some of the best food that I’ve had in Italy (ziti with pumpkin and bacon, gnocchi with pesto, spinach and ricotta ravioli, just to name a few…) and has taught me SO much about Italian language and culture. Every time I would travel and come back late, they always left a tray of dinner in my apartment (since it is separate of theirs). Whenever I was homesick, it was nice to know that I still kind of had a family here. The daughter, who is 26, told me of her favorite bars and restaurants to go to. Whenever we wanted to go on a day trip somewhere, they told us about the best places around Tuscany to explore. I know that homestays in CET Florence are not so popular, but for anyone on the fence…it is so worth it.
Practice Italian as much as possible. Before coming here, I only knew Italian by playing DuoLingo when I was bored at work, but it was hard to imagine a future language barrier. When I got here I was overwhelmed that my host family couldn’t speak English and that it was a hit or miss if people at restaurants or cafes could speak English or not. It would have been helpful to learn some basic phrases and words to get around and work off of that (Io vorrei- I would like, Dove al bagno- Where’s the bathroom). Since there are so many American students here- some of which don’t even study Italian- it definitely sets you apart from the crowd to try to speak in Italian, and your effort can go a long way. It’s been cool seeing my progress in the language.
Immerse yourself in food. There are SO many different kinds of Italian food it’s kind of terrifying. Taking my food and culture class and living with the Italian family has been helpful with learning about food and customs, and there are so many things that I like that I wouldn’t have tried before. Definitely try new things as often as possible. If you go to any restaurant or café, I can almost completely guarantee that your food will be amazing. Italians take a lot of pride in their food. Other things: Italians eat much later (lunch is around 1 or 2, and dinner is around 8).
It’s okay to be homesick. It wasn’t until towards the end of the program that I felt a little homesickness, but it definitely happens to everyone at some point. Thankfully, skype exists! One thing I would recommend is to try to keep yourself as busy as possible because the busier you are, the less time you have to be bummed out. And it doesn’t hurt to incorporate some things from home into your everyday routine. For me, this included going on runs, practicing the violin, and having an occasional iced coffee at an American café by my apartment.
It’s okay to do things alone. I’ve actually learned to like this. At home, if I wanted to get a coffee or go out, I could always call a friend. It may be hard to go out if your friends are travelling for the weekend, but you should try to force yourself out of your apartment. Getting a coffee, going to a museum, or just wandering around the city is a perfectly good way to spend time, even if you are alone.
Travel a lot, and expect to spend some money. One thing I wish realized before coming here is that I should travel as much as I can, because it really is so much cheaper and easier here. Have some places in mind before arriving so you can book tickets and hotels earlier and spend less money. If you’re sad about your lessening bank account—when is the next time you’ll be studying abroad in Europe?
Have fun. This is a semester to go outside of your comfort zone, try new things, make new friends, and have a totally once in a life time experience. I learned so many things about myself that I never thought were imaginable. So, have fun!