The quickest semester of my life is drawing to a close! As this is my last blog post, I wanted to share some advice with any future Florence study abroad student.
Pack warmer than you think, and travel essentials should be #1 priority. Contrary to my previous belief, Florence is NOT warm year-round. Especially since heating is not as effective in older buildings in the city center, make sure you pack plenty of slippers, socks, and sweaters to bundle up in when you’re hanging around your apartment. Also, be sure to pack travel essentials! A padlock, towel (preferably microfiber), shower shoes, and a universal adapter will come in handy when traveling throughout your semester.
Do your research. Try to do as much research about Italy as you can before coming. Learning about the history of Florence and the significance of monuments around the city made my experience abroad much richer. Learn about the basic cultural customs that may come as a surprise later – like not going outside with wet hair, when to order a cappuccino, and how to navigate the grocery store. You may be able to prevent some of your culture shock by preparing yourself as much as possible before you hop on the plane.
You won’t learn as much Italian as you think. Of course, through classes with CET and talking to locals around the city, you’ll learn much more than you did before! You’ll pick up how to form basic sentences, how to ask for the bathroom, or how to order food. But don’t expect to be fluent by the time you leave Florence, as you may need more than four months of practice to reach that level.
Take advantage of any free opportunity. My program offered lots of free activities during weeknights, including dinners with Italian family and friends, cooking classes, and a trip to a nearby garden to make tea! CET also helped us get connected with Florence’s Erasmus group, which offered weekend trips for a discounted price. Take advantage of all of these opportunities! They’re a great way to meet people and learn more about the city and its culture.
Be prepared to feel very American. While abroad, I thought about my identity as an American all the time, much more than I expected. Expect people to be curious about what America is like and if general stereotypes about the U.S. are accurate. This can be off-putting at first, but remember that people are just curious! It is an opportunity to consider your identity as an American and to think about why you may see the world in a different way than others.
Be open-minded and don’t take things personally. You may encounter new cultural practices that throw you off-guard. For example, it took me a while to get used to being in such close proximity to strangers. However, taking these differences and embracing them, rather than assuming they’re hostile, makes life abroad much easier! Trying to change your attitude about differences can definitely help you in your adjustment to a new environment.
Call home often but rely on new friends too. It is completely normal to feel homesick. I often found myself missing friends and family back home. Of course, call often so you can keep in touch! But also, you might want to try confiding in new friends about how you feel. Being honest about your homesickness could bring new friends closer together and give you a support system in your new country. Other people will relate to how you feel, and you can work on ways to combat homesickness together!
The Florence Erasmus group took us on a weekend trip to Naples. This is our group in front of the Naples Cathedral.
Get out of your bubble! The most important piece of advice I have is to step out of your comfort zone (cliché but truer than you think)! Branch out from your home friend group and try to meet new people. Be open to trying new things and ask lots of questions. Go on solo trips! Make the most out of your experience!
And finally – some recommendations! Here are some of my must-try places (from someone who has only been here four months of course)! For gelato, try Gelateria della Passera or Gelateria dei Neri. For restaurants, Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco is a great spot for traditional Tuscan food. You can also try Pino’s sandwiches for a panino and skip the All’Antico Vinaio line. For study spots, La Cite and Oblate are my go-to’s, and you can get a great aperitivo at Volume in Santo Spirito.
I am incredibly grateful that I got the opportunity to go abroad, and I’ve learned so much about myself this semester. I hope that this advice is useful to other students planning to go abroad, and that your experience is as amazing as mine was!