ph. Mary Gray
You’ve weighed the pros and cons and have finally decided to take the plunge: you’re going to study abroad in Florence! The birthplace of the Renaissance. The former stomping grounds of the Supreme Poet himself, Dante Alighieri. A longstanding style capital filled with flagship stores and sartorial hotspots. The hometown of gelato, bistecca fiorentina and tons of famously fresh Tuscan specialties. An increasingly dynamic center of contemporary creativity. This opportunity is brimming with life-changing potential. Toying with the idea of completely blowing it? We’ve rounded up some tried-and-true tips on how to ruin a semester in Florence.*
1. Embrace fear
Adopt the mentality that everyone outside your study-abroad program is dangerous and any street or square without an iconic monument is “sketchy.”
2. Compare everything to the United States
Constantly talk about how there’s so much more choice and variety and convenience in America, especially when chatting with locals and hoping to charm them. Whine about slow WiFi, small apartments and Italian customer service, taking pains to ignore the natural beauty, mind-blowing architecture and melodic language at every turn. Loudly lament that restaurant service charges are clearly a giant rip-off, all the while assuming that you’re also expected to leave a 20 percent tip. Dive into the breadbasket and immediately declare that Olive Garden’s unlimited yellowed breadsticks have more flavor.
3. Never take advantage of free events
You get what you pay for, so if something is offered for free in a world cultural capital like Florence, it probably isn’t any good. Is heading to a totally free art exhibition, boutique opening, academic lecture, or food and wine festival really worth the trouble? Doing so could potentially require leaving your apartment or being late to the pre-game, and besides, running out of money is a study abroad rite-of-passage. You might risk missing out on that one if you attend too many free events.
4. Make no effort to speak Italian
Perusing an Italian phrasebook on your flight left you fairly freaked out about the language barrier, so you should probably listen to those fears and just stay mum for the entire semester. Besides showing locals that you’re a kind and considerate person, simplifying daily tasks, helping you find friends and understand local customs, and connecting you to cultural icons from Dante to Donatella Versace, are there even any benefits to learning a few Italian phrases?
5. Always move through the city in giant groups
Particularly during your first few weeks in Florence, never leave your apartment or homestay without a map, five English-speaking friends (bonus points if they have loud voices and laughs that echo), a fully charged smartphone and a list of all plug points within a 2-mile radius in case your battery runs out. Never venture east of piazza Santa Croce or west of Ponte Santa Trinita. And definitely steer clear of the ‘other side’ of the river—you know, that strange neighborhood with no Duomo and a suspicious lack of selfie stick vendors.
6. Travel to a different European city every weekend
Spend none of your orientation period exploring Florence. Instead, stay inside mapping out 4 months’ worth of weekly getaways with the first people you meet in your program. Resolve to take no classes past noon on Thursdays or before 3pm on Mondays so you can high-tail it out of Tuscany before the weekend, remaining as far as possible from the Renaissance capital for as long as possible. You’ve heard everything is closed in Florence on Mondays, anyway. When friends or family come to visit you in your adopted home, take them to a trattoria you found Googling “restaurants in Florence.” Admit that you haven’t yet seen David or sampled bistecca fiorentina, and be sure to brag incessantly about your epic Barcelona and Dublin escapades.
7. Seek out advice from no one other than former study abroad students
When deciding where to go for an authentic Florentine dinner, refer back to that handy list from your sorority sister who studied abroad in Paris and spent a Saturday in Florence while on her way to Rome. Why would you ever turn to a resource like your professors, the cute barista who makes your morning cappuccino or the fruttivendolo who’s dined in the neighborhood for decades when you have her insider knowledge to fall back on? Besides, there’s TripAdvisor, which is always so reliably consistent.
8. Always look for the WiFi signal
Prioritize finding free Internet above all else. While you’re standing in front of the bronze doors of the baptistery, get so flustered by the fact that you can’t log into Instagram that you miss everything your professor says. Fake-promise yourself you'll look up the Wikipedia entry later. Take your phone to a cafe and experience such elation when you manage to connect to a network that you fail to notice the friendly Florentine two tables over who wouldn’t mind connecting with you.
9. FaceTime and Skype constantly to ensure you don’t miss out on anything happening back home
Your parents definitely footed the bill for your Florentine adventure because they thought it’d give you extra incentive to flood them with FaceTime calls. They’re dying to see your pixelated face against the whitewashed walls of your apartment and hear your Texan roommate’s voice in the background, pleading for your Hulu Plus password and reminding you that you’re both behind on The Bachelor. That’s how they’ll know you’re really maximizing this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
10. Only shop in supermarkets and clothing chains with multiple locations in the States
Avoid all lively, colorful, fairly priced and fabulously photogenic markets (Mercato Sant’Ambrogio and the Mercato Centrale are two of the top offenders). Fill your grocery bags with non-fresh items at the overpriced supermarket two steps from your apartment so you don’t have to encounter anything stressful, like the possibility of a new cultural experience (shudder). Steer clear of the artisan studios and chic boutiques, particularly in the Oltrarno district, where the danger of finding funky jewelry, handmade leather bags and modestly priced, made-in-Italy clothing lurks at every turn. Instead, flock to famous mega-retailers on downtown drags where you will inevitably spot someone wearing the same mass-produced shirt you’ve just bagged as soon as you step outside.
11. Only eat familiar foods
Refuse to buy into the international cliché that Italian food is the freshest and finest that there is. Vow not to try any dishes whose names you don’t recognize and swear off any restaurants that don’t embrace a Burger King-esque philosophy (“Have it your way,” that is).
In fact, just go ahead and swear off anyone and anything who suggests you try anything different. Why bother? After all, you're only...you know, abroad. Oh, wait.
*Disclaimer: we don't actually recommend following any of these tips. At all. For tons of helpful articles on how to make the most of your time in Florence, check out our Florence for Students section and watch for forthcoming articles from TF. Subscribe to our free newsletter and have top local events delivered to your inbox weekly.