I’ve been a resident of Florence for about two months now, so I can confidently say that I feel comfortable here. I may not be fluent in Italian yet, or know the ins-and-outs of the culture, but my Maps app has not been touched in a while, so I’d say that’s a great accomplishment! I have, however, compiled a few pieces of advice to consider when studying abroad. (Keep in mind that this is a very generic list of things that have popped into my mind so far.)
Here are a few things that I have learned so far:
- The best places, whether it be food or sightseeing, you won’t find on any tourist site. Whenever you travel to a new place you most likely have a checklist in your mind of things to do and places to visit. Upon hearing of your travel plans, friends and family will start to send you places you “must go to!!!!” and while it’s all very helpful, remember you are studying abroad to make your own memories. Instead of planning around all the recommendations, let yourself wander on your own– and, never fear a little detour if something catches your eye (unless you have a reservation, your final destination will be there waiting for you… after all, you’ll have 4 months). Embrace the unknown, and welcome in memories that will be unique to you.
- Practice the language. As I’ve traveled, I’ve realized how lucky we are as native-English speakers to travel the world because pretty much every nation is taught to speak English. On that note, while you can get by travelling fairly comfortably, make an effort to step outside of your comfort zone. Studying abroad is an incredible learning experience, so take advantage. My advice would be to download the Duolingo app and get to practicing as soon as you’ve made your decision to study abroad. It is also nice to leave a good impression by trying to adapt to the culture and attempt to meet a person halfway.
- Layers are key. So this one is location-specific. The Florentine winter is kind of a joke. Don’t get me wrong- it gets cold, just not Pittsburgh cold. The city also sees way more sun than Pittsburgh, so the afternoons get fairly warm. Mornings here are a bit chilly, so you’ll want to feel warm on your walk to class. But, once it hits noon, the sun is at its peak, and you’ll regret wearing that chunky sweater under your big coat. Don’t be afraid to throw on a light t-shirt under your sweater then go for a lighter jacket on top. Layers are meant to be shed. And, don’t forget- accessories are big in Florence. If a lighter jacket isn’t doing the trick, throw on a trendy scarf and a hat, and you’ll look like a Florentine native.
- Lastly, do not overbook. Yes, I know the second you land at your study abroad location and meet all your new friends, you are going to jump the gun and plan a trip for every weekend. Don’t do it. Resist the urge. I’m not saying don’t plan ahead, I am just reminding you that you are studying abroad to immerse yourself in a new culture. I encourage you to visit all of your dream destinations, but leave enough time in your semester to truly explore your city and country. I am writing this as I return to Florence from my spring break trip, and it took just one week away for me to miss it. Do future you a big favor, indulge in your time in your temporary home, you don’t want to look back at your time abroad and have nothing to say for the place you called home.