1) Never leave your apartment
So studying abroad is harder than you expected. Navigating the streets, the language and the rain is exhausting. It’s better to just stay inside, right?
Looking back on my study abroad experience, I’m shocked at how often I was in my apartment. Sure, I went out at nights and went to class in the morning, but a mid-afternoon adventure? Never. I had homework to do, of course, but I think a large part of it was how tiring the onslaught of new things could be. I holed away in the apartment, missing out on an important study abroad opportunity: wandering.
2) Never speak in Italian
So you eschewed a host family in favor of living with other American students? You go to school with Americans, eat with them and go out at night with them. In the rare moments that you’re out without other Americans, the Italians speak to you in English. You were so worried about the language barrier but, turns out, Florence is like a mini-America – all English here!
It might sound fun, but the point of studying abroad is learning a new culture, and that includes the language. Even for those who didn’t come specifically to study the language, learning a few words can completely open up your mind and open up your travels. It helps to know a few words in the country you’ll live in for the next semester. Unfortunately for study abroad students in Florence, the city nearly has more Americans than Italians. Though fun, you didn’t come to Florence to party like it’s N.Y.U. Use your time wisely. Explore your new language as much as you’re exploring the city itself. Use it without fear!
3) Avoid the school’s cultural events
Participate in the school? psh! You haven’t participated in school events since high school, and even then they were lame. You’re here to do it on your own. Your way or the highway. Those cultural events are for kids without friends who know nothing about Italy. People completely different than you.
Truth is, those cultural events are how you get the most out of your time abroad. They can introduce you to other Italians (a much harder thing in Florence than you’d expect, see above point), help you learn the language and teach you aspects of the city you’d never find on your own. So take the cooking class, do the language exchange and go on the group trips. You’re studying abroad to immerse yourself in new things – you’ll never find that if you keep saying no.
4) Never cross the Arno
The center of Florence is incredible. You could spend a lifetime between the Duomo, Santa Croce and the Uffizi Gallery, but there’s more to Florence than just the city center. Cross the Arno river to get a glimpse of the “real” Florence. The neighborhood is Florence frozen in time, eerily similar to your image of the city during the Renaissance. (Think: artisans and real neighborhoods Renaissance, not sketchy pubs and feces on the street Renaissance)
Like I said in this Matador Network article:
“Oltrarno, or “the other side of the Arno,” is the neighborhood located across the Arno River, away from the city center. Home to the Boboli Gardens, Palazzo Pitti, and Piazzale Michelangelo, it’s also a vibrant neighborhood with some great shopping. Once the artisan quarter of Florence, it’s still home to dozens of workshops and studios.”
During your stay in Florence, search for all of Florence, not just the touristy gimmicks that immediately catch your attention.
5) Never stay in Florence for the weekend
On that note, give yourself some time in your temporary home. Though you walk the streets every day and go out at nights, it takes focused exploring to really get to know the city, and leaving every weekend to travel to a new place won’t help that.
I’m totally guilty of this. I was so thrilled to be in Europe, just a quick plane ride away to all the major European capitals, that I traveled nearly every weekend. It was great, but there’s a part of me that knows I didn’t get to live Florence like a resident would. There are a ton of events on the weekends, choose some to stay at “home.”
Most who study abroad can talk for hours about how it changed their life, but they often leave out how difficult it can be. Everyone goes abroad with big dreams in mind, but it takes a constant effort to dig deeper into an adopted city. Florence in particular seems so easy and accessible, but with so many Americans, what’s really easy is to fall into the same old rhythm.
As I’m always saying on this blog, say “Yes!” to the experience; get lost Oltrarno, stumble through your broken Italian and skip one day’s homework for a day of exploring instead.
The time goes fast. You won’t regret it.