“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
There are millions of reasons to travel but I find one of the most cliché reasons to be the best: to learn more about YOU. This article may sound cheesy in an “Eat Pray Love” sort of way, but this is my honest advice looking back on my time abroad. You will spend the rest of your life reflecting on your experiences traveling so do EVERYTHING. Take every opportunity available to you, be spontaneous, and experience all that Florence, Italy – and the rest of the world – has to offer to you. The ability to travel the world puts you in an incredibly unique position; you will begin to see things in new ways and no matter what you do you will be a changed person. Below I’ve listed my advice based off of my own experiences living in Firenze as well as exploring other parts of the globe:
My Top 10 Tips:
- Do not just live in another culture, EXPERIENCE it! Become a part of the culture. The key to accomplishing this? Keeping an open mind. Branch out! Try new things! Many people go to Italy expecting it to be the similar to their own culture (just with more wine) and are surprised to discover how different it really is. The biggest change for me was the slower pace of life. It was quite difficult to adjust to initially but eventually I adjusted and began to love it! Taking your time in daily activities, like meals for example, can really change your experience. Live the Italian way! Embrace the differences! You’ll end up missing a lot of them once you’ve left.
- I know it’s tempting to go to American bars every night, but break away from the Santa Croce area and try some Italian bars! It may be a little awkward at first, but I promise it will be worth it. I’ll be the first to admit that American bars are a lot of fun (Red Garter was a personal favorite!). But I’d also recommend trying local places like Volume. Meeting actual Italians (rather than other study abroad students) is an experience you don’t want to miss out on. Also, you can’t leave Italy without visiting at least ONE real discoteca! Full Up and Space are really popular with international students and the Italians who (want to) love them 🙂
- Be a tourist for a day! Grab a friend and spend the day doing all of the stereotypical touristy things; see the David, visit the Uffizi, take photos at the Ponte Vecchio, climb the Duomo – see and do everything Florence has to offer! Many times we get so caught up in traveling and our day-to-day routines we forget to see the attractions right in front of us – don’t make that mistake!
- Learn Italian! And I don’t mean how to order your favorite foods – truly embrace the language and incorporate it into your daily life. (Italians generally appreciate if you at least try to speak to them in Italian.) The best idea is to start before you get on the plane. Unless you already have a few languages under your belt, it’s very hard to become conversational in a completely new language in a few months. The more you practice, the better you’ll be, and the more you’ll experience!
- Explore Florence at every given opportunity, even if that opportunity is studying. I studied for my midterms in the gardens of Piazzale Michelangelo (considerably better than spending the day in my room!) Pass your free time going for walks, in cafés, on the terrace of the Oblate library, and exploring Florence as a Florentine!
- Embrace the food of Italy! Yes, that does mean avoiding McDonald’s during your stay. You’re in one of the culinary capitals of the world! Treat it as such! While going to The Diner may give you a taste of home, try not to make it a habit. From Florentine specialties like lampredotto (cow stomach!) to Italian classics like gnocchi, explore the many different foods that Florence has to offer! I myself harbored a small addiction to gelato. I highly recommend eating as much of it as you can in Italy because nothing in America can compare! (Here’s a video on the 10 best gelateria’s in Florence.)
- Do a solo trip! It doesn’t have to be overnight – day trips work, too. I spent one afternoon by myself in hilltop Fiesole,and I loved the independent feeling it gave me. I spent the afternoon doing whatever I wanted to do, at my own pace. It was a really cool experience and was absolutely worth it! (Just remember to be safe and remain aware of your surroundings.)
- Travel to other cities! See and do as much as you can, because before you know it you’ll be home again. For many of us our time abroad is limited, so take risks and make the most of your time here. I visited several other cities but my favorite by far was Dublin, Ireland. The people are friendly, the city is beautiful, and overall atmosphere of Dublin is just incredible! Explore Europe and wherever else you can get to! And with super-cheap airlines like Ryan Air, Vueling, and Wizz Air – money won’t hold you back!
- While I do believe that #8 is very important, it is equally important to spend at least a few weekends in Florence! Some people have the mentality that weekdays are for Florence and weekends are for travel. However, I disagree; you chose to study in this city for a reason, and you cannot get the full Florentine experience without spending some weekends exploring and taking in the city.
- Remember, above all, how lucky you are to be abroad. Millions of people dream of traveling the world and you actually get to do it. You’ll look back on this period for the rest of your life. So give yourself something to remember. Keep a journal and record EVERYTHING. Your experiences, your feelings, write down all that happens to you because I guarantee you will look back and be thankful you did. When you return your time abroad will feel like a dream, being able to read about your experiences will make all the difference during your transition to being home.
When I returned to America I had dinner with a friend during which we described our respective time abroad. What I took away most from that conversation was the idea of truly loving a city. She described London, where she lived for a year, to be her first great love and – after reflecting upon that statement – I can’t help but agree. I am still absolutely in love with Florence; it will always be my first great love and I cannot wait to go back. This article was written several months after I returned, and I can honestly say that while I miss Florence daily, I know that I am unbelievably lucky to have had the opportunity to experience the city. I’m still in awe of its greatness.