Welcome to Florence
Understanding identity abroad is important—regardless of whether or not you think it will play a role in your own experience. While we strive to create and maintain programs that support students of all races, religions, abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations, you also play a crucial role in creating a welcoming and supportive environment for your peers navigating aspects of their identit(ies) in a new country. The information and resources on this page serve as a starting point to help you understand experiences you or your CET classmates may encounter while abroad.
Race & Ethnicity
Generally speaking, Florence itself is a very open-minded city and students seldom report contradictory experiences. Due to the increase in the immigrant population in recent years, resentment against non-European communities within Italy has grown. As a result, students may hear some blunt opinions while out and about or on the news from outspoken far-right politicians. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian communities (especially those of Chinese descent) have experienced an uptick in racial discrimination and comments. In many cases, students of color have reported that they are first considered American before their racial/ethnic identity comes into play, if it is considered at all. This can be a very different experience from the saliency students of color feel in respect to their racial/ethnic identities back in the US.
While it is always evolving, Italy on the whole can still be reluctant to fully embrace LGBTQ individuals and issues. However, Florence itself (and bigger Italian cities in general) is an open, international city where LGBTQ individuals are welcomed. Though same-sex civil unions are recognized by law as of May 2016, Italy still lags behind other countries on things like same-sex marriage, which is not yet officially recognized.There are several local LGBTQ community groups that students can reach out to, and on-site staff can provide more information upon request.
Generally speaking, Italian culture often reinforces traditional gender norms and roles. The local society is patriarchal, and the objectification of women by men is not an uncommon occurrence. This is sometimes apparent and reinforced by pop culture and advertising.
Italy is not yet fully accepting of gender diversity on the national scale, but gender diverse individuals are usually more accepted and comfortable in bigger cities like Florence. However—even in larger, more international cities—trans people are often misrepresented and misunderstood in terms of harmful stereotypes.
Though Catholicism is the predominant religion in Italy, prejudice against other religions is often less prevalent than in the United States. Students that wish to practice their faiths abroad should have no issue in doing so. A list of religious services is made available to students during orientation. Excused absences can be granted from some activities or classes for religious purposes with advanced notice.
Cost of Living
As an international city famous for its art, culture, and beauty, Florence tends to attract many visitors and is at least on par with the cost of living in a major American city. Some things might be cheaper (e.g. groceries, coffee, bus tickets, etc.), but other things can be much more expensive than in the US (e.g. rent, utilities, high-end fashion retailers, and taxi rides.). Compared to the rest of Italy, Florence’s cost of living can be on the higher end. Past students have mentioned that establishing and adhering to a budget at the beginning of the term was a strategy that helped manage any financial stress. Check out a budget sheet to get an idea of what life in CET Florence might look like financially.
CET makes every effort to offer accommodations comparable to those of your home institution. Disclosing early helps us to make proper preparations and work with you to determine if a program will be a good fit. We recommend that you use the following details to inform your decisions and conversations with your Student Services Coordinator.
ACCESS in ACADEMICS
Students typically attend classes for 1.5 to 6 hours a day, Monday through Thursday. Classes vary in size and can have fewer than 10 students, while others go up to a max of 25.
Services available for students with documented need: Low-distraction test environment; extra time on exams; modified deadlines and seating; note-taker; exam reader; audio recordings of lectures; a computer to take exams; syllabi/readings/assignments in advance; sighted companion.
Classes are held at our CET Centers, conveniently located within the historical city center. Our primary CET Center on Via Renai has two floors—the first of which is completely accessible for those with mobility issues. This includes ample classroom space, an accessible bathroom, and a ramped entrance. Our secondary CET Center on Via dei Benci has just one floor and is accessible via elevator. However the street entrance has a heavy push/pull door that could be difficult for a student using a wheelchair to access on their own.
CET occasionally plans mandatory academic activities and optional trips to nearby sites and other cities after class and on weekends. Excursions may involve urban walking, rural hiking, use of public transportation, and/or going up and down stairs.
Itinerary modifications and accommodations can be made for students with documented need. Transportation can be arranged as necessary, and excused absences are provided for mandatory excursions that are inaccessible due to a disability.
ACCESS IN HOUSING
Your Home Abroad
Apartments are located in historic buildings, so they are simple, differ in layout and location, and feature older amenities. Due to their prime locations in lively neighborhoods, students can expect some street noise. Many apartments require walking up several flights of stairs with no elevator. All apartments and most homestay locations are a 10- to 25-minute walk through the heart of Florence to the CET Center, where classes are held. Housing can be wheelchair accessible if requested in advance.
Utilities are highly regulated in Italy. For example, a law states that the heat should be set to 19°C/66.2°F (+/- 1°C). Students should plan accordingly and bring clothing that will keep them warm while inside.
Students are typically assigned to apartments according to their housing preference form. Apartment configurations vary but can include mix-gender and same-gender setups. Rooms within the apartment are same-gender. The form also includes questions to help accommodate the needs of gender diverse students.
Rooms are typically shared, but a single room in a shared apartment, with a private shower or toilet, may be available for students with documented need if requested in advance. Homestay students are provided a single or double bedroom (shared with a CET peer) and share common spaces with their local host family.
Due to the architecture of the city itself, Florence is not easily navigable by individuals with disabilities. All public offices, restaurants, museums, and schools are required by law to be accessible to those with disabilities, but in practice, many private businesses are not. Curb cuts are common but not consistent throughout the city, and many streets and sidewalks are often uneven, causing inconvenience to students with mobility issues. Public transportation has designated areas for those with disabilities, and most buses have equipment for those that need assistance entering or exiting the vehicle. Though certainly not impossible, students with mobility issues should be prepared to face challenges in navigating the city.
Health & Diet
As a part of your program fee, you are enrolled in GeoBlue health insurance for the entire duration of your program. Learn more about GeoBlue and how we operate programs with health and safety in mind.
Health & Medicine
Students are provided with a full list of health resources and services to which students have access in Florence. During orientation, on-site staff provide students with basic information and recommendations for seeing a doctor and buying medicine. On-site staff are also available to help advise students seeking health services throughout their time abroad.
Students should request enough prescription medication to last for the duration of their stay in Italy. Medications should be packed in their carry-on bag, in the original bottles, and accompanied by the doctor’s prescription. A copy of the prescription and list of medications should be left with a trusted family member or friend in the US. Some medication that is considered OTC in the US requires a prescription in Italy—students should do their research beforehand and bring the necessary amounts with them. Shipping medication to Italy (or even sourcing it locally) can sometimes prove difficult and time consuming with delivery times of up to weeks or months.
Keeping Fit in Florence
There are many private gyms that students can join for varying fees (usually around 55 to 100 EUR per month). Those interested in running or soccer can take part in clubs that are organized by staff. During orientation, students are given a full list of sports facilities.
Students can also exercise around the city (e.g., running along the Arno River or in Cascine Park), and/or get involved in soccer, basketball, and badminton tournaments with other study abroad or Italian students in town.
Managing Mental Health
During orientation, students are provided a list of health resources and services that includes several English-speaking options for mental health specialists. On-site staff are available to advise students seeking mental health services to the best of their abilities.
Specific dietary needs are easily accommodated in in Florence, and staff help students translate and explain any food allergies. Most restaurants in Florence offer at least a few vegetarian options and gluten-free dishes. Students can find a number of restaurants that accommodate Kosher diets in the Sant’Ambriogio district—an area famous for its large Jewish community.
Resources from Alumni
These are alumni-written essays that reflect upon how their own identity affected their time abroad (both good and bad) and what it was like to navigate another culture in their position. We encourage you to read these to better understand what studying abroad in Italy could be like for you or your future peers.
This is a curated list of blog posts chosen specifically to provide context for life abroad. Posts here may cover culture shock, diversity, daily life and workload, etc. To see all posts from students in Florence, head to the Student Voices blog.
- The “Study” in Study Abroad
By Isabella Verga, George Washington University | Fall 2022
- My First Trip to the Grocery Store in Florence
By Ada Rose Wagar, Brandeis University | Fall 2021
ITALY Alumni Insight
In final evaluations, we ask students how their identities affected their experience abroad. The following are a few select quotes from recent program evaluations to help you understand what life in Italy may be like for you or your future peers.
TALK TO ALUMNI
Chat with alumni about their experiences abroad. Once you start an application, your online CET account will give you access to the following resources:
- Alumni Support List: A directory of students who have volunteered to chat about their experiences abroad in Italy.
- Identity Abroad Support Network: A group of students who have volunteered to discuss their identity-related experiences in Italy. This is a volunteer-based program that started in 2019. Volunteers can also opt to have their contact information kept privately by CET staff and only shared when certain lived experiences are asked about.
Don’t see anyone listed for the Identity Abroad Support Network? Call CET for more information and resources. Consider joining after your program to support other minority students abroad.