Written by Isabella Verga, (George Washington University), Student Correspondent for CET Florence, Fall 2022
Dear future CET Florence student,
I am writing this to you about two weeks before I leave my life in Florence behind. I wish I knew exactly what to say to you without sounding like every other Italian study abroad veteran giving advice. You don’t need me to tell you how to order a coffee or how to spot the best quality gelato. You will find those things out on your own or from other people. I also am not sure if I would consider myself qualified to give “advice,” for living in Italy for the first time. There is no master formula or way to approach your study abroad journey; everyone’s experience is so individualized. I will say that while advice and tips can be helpful to hear, I think that learning your own lessons and finding your own way is part of the fun.
I am obsessed with taking photos of the streets of Florence no matter how many times I walk through them, and I particularly loved how the light was shining here.
Nonetheless, I will share with you something important that I learned while living abroad. I am someone who came to Florence with a long list–well, an Excel spreadsheet–of recommendations for restaurants, activities, cafes, and gelato places to try in Florence from friends and family who studied abroad here. I love recommendations because I always want to have the best quality experience. However, I have also enjoyed finding my own favorite spots or having relaxing moments to myself in the city. One of my favorite activities this semester was just going on walks and admiring the window displays–specifically on Via Tornabuoni where all the luxury brand stores are. Because Italy is so new and so different from anywhere I have lived, even the most mundane things have brought me joy.
Captured on one of my night walks down Via Tornabouni where I like to window-shop. Though I definitely cannot afford any of the products in the windows on this street, I do like to dream and take photos of my favorite pieces!
Florence goes all out for the holidays, and pictured is one of the many light displays that they have set up around the city! There are trees and beautiful lights strung across nearly every street, which is amazing to see at night.
While I am a big proponent of romanticizing your life, I also want to remind you that just because you are living in Italy does not mean life is like the Lizzie McGuire movie or Eat, Pray, Love. I came to Italy expecting all sources of stress to simply fade away. Of course, your time in Italy is exhilarating, surreal, and beautiful. However, something I had to realize is that struggles and issues do not cease to exist here. You will endure embarrassment struggling through your Italian in a store, or you will feel frustration trying to find the best travel route when there is a strike going on, or you will experience stress trying to budget your money and time. Your own internal struggles also do not go away just because you are abroad, and it is important to prioritize your mental health while here.
Friends and family, you talk to while abroad may try to discount your struggles and say, “but you are in Italy…why are you stressed or complaining?” And although it is true you are in Italy, Italy is not the solution to your problems, and it also causes new struggles to arise. No place is perfect. Adjusting to living in a new country (while also being a student) is not easy, and if you feel like you are “doing something wrong” because you are sad or having a hard time, I want to tell you that you are not alone and that you are not doing anything wrong. You are a human with emotions and living—no matter where you are—is going to have its ups and down.
A delicious truffle carbonara from a restaurant in Santo Spirito called Braceria all’11. This meal was particularly great because it was amazing food and wonderful company!
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you through tough times, whether that is using CET resources to chat with someone about your experience or going for a gelato with friends (I have used this one many times). I have found that one of the best ways to get through these difficult times is to immerse myself further into Florence’s beautiful culture. Whether that is chatting with the street vendor at a local market (I love going to Santo Spirito every Sunday), or trying a new pastry at your favorite bakery, embracing your everyday life in Italy will make you even more thankful to be able to say you had one here.
This view is from a small town up in the Tuscan hills called Fiesole! It is a few mile hike from Florence that is great to do with friends on a nice day, and in addition to the beautiful views, we ate some excellent pizza at the top in the town’s piazza.
On a final note, do not put too much pressure on your abroad journey. Do not set expectations or set requirements that you must do x, y, and z. While you should try to explore and step outside of your comfort zone, do not be afraid to just be a resident and live an everyday life. You will find that your routine and your groove in this city will be just as fulfilling as all the adventures you go on both in and outside of Florence. Being a Florentine student is an unmatched experience, and making an effort to enjoy every little moment will make the entire journey even more meaningful.