So this week, I decided to add a list of tips. One that hopefully I can show my friends that are going on the same program, and proves helpful. Or anyone that stumbles across this and plans or hopes to one day go to Italy. If I can help at least one person in at least one small thing I will consider it a success. My best friend went on the exact same study abroad trip a year before me; Some of these were her pointers and some were ones I learned along the way that now I wish to pass on to others. Two of my sorority sisters are going to Italy this year and I can’t express to them how much they are going to fall in love, completely and head over heels, with the city/country. I am so excited for them to experience the city and at the same time I regard Florence in much of a homesick manner, that I wish I could literally roll up and fit into their suitcases. One day I’ll return. Honeymoon perhaps? 🙂 Anyways.. here are the tips of my study abroad trip that I learned in Florence and the other beautiful cities of Italy. Hopefully it helps 🙂
- Enjoy Florence as much as possible every single night when you don’t have homework or tests [go out to the Clubs, walk the streets IN LARGE GROUPS, OBVIOUSLY, be safe because there is crime and bad people in every part of the world. You’ll also find local spots and friends easiest this way]
- Be kind- you are in THEIR country- it’s ok if they don’t speak English. Imagine having thousands of tourists in our city, acting culturally superior, so yes some of them will be rude and unfriendly at times. Don’t take it personally.
- At the same time, some of the men will be VERY friendly. Whistling, calling you names, sometimes even following you to class. Italian men express their affection very outwardly. It’s normal, don’t freak out, don’t acknowledge them, ignore it and move on!
- Get lost (time permitting, probably not the best idea before classes) and discover every part of the city on your own. Getting lost will happen though, the school buildings are scattered around the city.. give yourself extra time the first couple of days.
- Along with that, print out maps, and take the free ones Palazzi gives you. Carry them with you everywhere, I promise they will come in handy. I folded some up in my purse, school books, apartment, they were everywhere. Not the big obnoxious ones, but the palazzi ones are convenient and only one page with the important streets on them.
- Know where you live/where the school buildings are (by using the duomo and the river as reference points). Two huge landmarks that you can always find no matter where you are.
- Bring a camera, the CORD (trust me it’s way too much to upload when you get back), and your computer. Computers are available at the labs but there are tons of students and many apartments offer wifi.
- Bring a purse that goes over your shoulder preferably one that zips up and you can keep close! I never was a victim of it but pickpockets exist everywhere!
- It was FREEZING when I got there but so hot when Summer B did, check the weather and bring socks if it’s cold! (weird I know but my toes were so cold in our stone floor apartment)
- Washcloths don’t exist in Italy, bring them if you use them!
- Bring a towel/toiletries that you don’t care about, you can leave it there and have more room in your suitcase on the way back 🙂
- Take advantage of the Wifi (if it isn’t in your apartment it only takes the school a second to put the password in and then you can use your devices at all the school buildings). At the same time, don’t spend too much time relying on your computer and phone. Get in contact with family and friends, let them know you are safe and having fun. But experience the city! Six weeks go by a LOT faster than you think, and you can facebook when you get back home! Spend time outside and soaking it all in!
- Plan to spend money…. lots of it. (self explanatory, it’s an expensive city especially with food and souvenirs and trips. It will be worth it!)
- Take weekend trips! The school leaves the weekends up to you and it is your time to explore. Go somewhere EVERY weekend, even if it is just a few towns away by train!
- Two AMAZING weekend trips: Cinque Terre (hiking, most beautiful views, and best pesto you’ll ever try in your life in one of the towns) and Amalfi Coast (one of the highlights of Italy for me… I swam in the blue grotto, laid out on the beach-a rock beach-ouch but still beautiful, went cliff diving, climbed Mt. Vesuvius, and the cities were my favorite. Look into both of these! 🙂
- Look into Train Italia, the trains take you everywhere! Side note, if you go to Pisa do it fast (literally the only thing exciting in that town is the tower and the church next to it), maybe try to do Pisa and Sienna (or another close city that you are interested in) in one trip. Verona is another great trip to take by yourself if you have time!
- Also look into Florence for Fun or Bus 2 Alps, both take study abroad students on trips and it’s a fun way to meet people from other schools when you’re on trips together!
- Frizzante-CARBONATED water. We learned this the hard way. When buying water bottles for you in your apartment look for Naturale water.
- Best gelato in Italy: Grom, Festival del Gelato, La Carraia (La carraia 2 near Corso Tintori 6 I went to every night with my roommates. Roberto is the old man that works there and the absolute sweetest). The prettiest and most extravagant looking gelato right near the popular tourist spots aren’t normally the best.
- Yellowbar has the best gnocchi in the entire world. I dream about it.
- Gusta Pizza and Gusta panini……also amazing. Please go to both, thank you.
- Keep a journal of where you go and what you do!
- Go to the farmers market for the freshest fruit and vegetables. Also much less expensive than at grocery stores (Dr. Merrick will tell you about this)
- When you get homesick go to the Diner (they have McDonalds and Subway too) but try to eat local food as much as possible! You’ll never have it the same again and they have tons of restaurants to try!
- If you like candy try Bueno bars! Their candy is the best!!
- In Rome, go back to the Trevi fountain at night!! You’ll go as a group but it’s less crowded and more beautiful during the night. Bring a camera!!
- Also in Rome- go on a pub crawl! Not an organized one, just go hop from pub to pub with a group of friends! Find the chocolate shots!!!!!!! (Vendi Ciocolatta e Vino) that strip of pubs is fun and promise it’s worth the find 🙂
This is all I can remember for now, I’ll come back and edit the list as I remember it!
Ahhh where to begin. The first week and the last were probably the slowest. My body was adjusting to the time change, we were going through the awkwardness of making friends with roommates we had just met (which happened surprisingly fast) getting lost COUNTLESS (…seriously, an embarrassing amount of times) and finding the best food I had ever tasted, sometimes in seemingly random alleyways and random small restaurants. Walking tours with radios that easily identified us as clueless tourists, Palazzi (the Italian Study Abroad Program) maps to guide us through the city, and the confused look on our faces as we wandered the historic (and huge) city clearly made locals snicker at us in a “what clueless Americans” kind of way. But I didn’t care. I was in awe. And in love. With the city, the buildings, the statues, the nightlife, THE FOOD, the locals (who despite ignoring us at first) eventually acknowledged us students as living in the city and part of the community. The classes were easy, passable, and I appreciated that my teachers assigned us things like going to the gelato festival, the uomo festival (yes, that literally means the “man festival” which was basically a fashion show of the hottest men from all of italy in designer brands), and things that hardly seemed like chores. My italian class was challenging for me because she only spoke italian. Not as in took breaks where she spoke in English. No. She literally only addressed us in Italian. Immersion works best I suppose, I learned more in 6 weeks than I had in two years. Seriously, thinking about learning a language? Go to the country. Such a great way of forcing out the first awkward interactions and then picking up on social cues, slang, things I would have never otherwise known. We also all went through immediate withdrawal from the familiar. I missed facebook.. how lame is that. And then the second day as if an angel appeared, our landlord gave us the wifi password. Oh reliance on modern technology, you are so silly. But being able to contact our families, text (thank you iphone iMessage that can use WiFi, turned out to be quite handy) and make everyone stateside jealous of our activities absolutely filled my roommates and I with uncontrollable happiness. As if the studying abroad wasn’t enough, now everyone could know on a daily basis how much we were loving it. We got settled into our apartment, walked around with our maps, and learned the ins/outs of Corso Tintori (our street). One step at a time. We treated the city gently and with caution, introducing ourselves to it, giving it and us time to acquaint ourselves, rejoicing in lost time wandering, and learning to appreciate the slowness of the lifestyle. We were new inhabitants of a completely different world it seemed, and the first week we took our time getting to know Florence.
My Study Abroad experience began on May 12th, 2012. I left the Orlando airport midday to arrive in Florence (with what seemed like a very long stop in the Gattwick London airport) the next night, around midnight. I had signed up for the Study Abroad experience FAR in advance but took so long to commit that I had to choose what flights were left. As my Nana would say it was slim pickins. Slim indeed, I was sitting in between two very…obtuse…fellow humans. Long connections and sitting right in the middle of the row would make for a very long 9-hour flight, 12-hour connection, and 3-hour second flight. But really I didn’t care. I would literally have sat in the luggage compartment if that were necessary. …Seriously. I was that excited. And I was so grateful and excited to finally be living my dream that eh, a few days of travelling was very worth it. The flight attendants were beautiful and British and had such immaculately groomed hair and outfits I was slightly in awe. Their attention to detail even landed me with a free pair of socks and about fifteen packets of pretzels 🙂 Landing in the Florence airport (real small, nothing special, no men on gondolas or gelato stores in the airport-I was only slightly disappointed) with a few other USF classmates (who I didn’t know at the time but later bonded with over our shared extended flight delay misery) at the end of the night, we stumbled around until we found a cab driver. Lucky for us, he only spoke Italian. Did I mention that none of us were fluent in the language? I had taken it for two years but unless he wanted me to count my basic numbers or identity fruits and vegetables for him in Italian, I wasn’t exactly going to the helpful Translating Tommy. Begin the long silent drive around nighttime Florence with Andre. We jumped in his very small cab with our very many bags (miraculous) and went on our merry way to our apartments. The cab driver drove me to Corso Tintori 6, my new address for the next six weeks, and then dropped me off. Yep, literally unloaded all my luggage, set it next to the monstrous door, and then ciao, good luck, bye, was on his way to drop the rest of them off. So there I am. Pitch black, around midnight, sitting on my suitcase in the middle of a seemingly random alley in Italy (actually a very popular street, great Gelato right around the corner) waiting on the program director to let me into my apartment, and 15 minutes later she drives up cute as can be, full blown stereotype here, on a Vespa. Might as well have been a white horse or a unicorn for all I cared. It was cold and I was ready to go inside and explore! Enough rambling, she let me into the apartment- a little musty but by God it had Wifi, found my room (only one who didn’t have to share with my other 4 roommates and only one with the Wifi signal in their room). Yes- being the American culturally aware girls we were, we searched for an Internet signal like it was a freakin’ pot of gold at the end of our Italian rainbows. It was stark white, a few mosquitos here and there, but after the travelling ordeal I was just beyond excited to go to bed (didn’t even unpack)! I met my roommates briefly and finally, days and days later after leaving Florida it seemed, climbed in the squeaky bed to pass out. The next day was the first day of Orientation and exploring the city and I was ready! 🙂
I’ve never blogged or done anything like this so it’s completely new to me. I studied abroad last summer and our professors encouraged us to keep journals and notes about our experiences, which luckily I did. I decided to write a blog detailing the notes I made (along with pictures of my experiences, travels, foods, culture differences) and everything that I experienced in Italy this last summer. It was definitely life changing and something I would encourage anyone to do, so I want to be able to write about it in a public forum so hopefully I can share it with more of a public audience.
I am excited to detail what USF Study Abroad entails, including pictures and weekly journals about my six weeks in Italy, trials and triumphs in a different culture, and to finally have a concrete documentation I can share with my family members and friends.
Not exactly the real thing though.