As some of you may know, an Insider article recently came out by a study abroad student who had spent the fall semester in Florence and absolutely hated it. I had originally planned to write a blog post about how I decided to study abroad and the steps I took to get here, but instead I want to write this piece in contrast to hers. This isn’t to say her experience studying abroad in Florence isn’t valid or true; it is. Many people have bad experiences abroad: you’re in a new place, away from everyone and everything you know, immersed in a foreign culture. It’s hard. I would never try to negate her emotions and her story, but they aren’t mine.
I came to Florence blind. I knew no Italian, knew nothing about the culture, nothing about the weather, and nothing about my program. Which, looking back, is a very arrogant way to come to a new country; I know that. But quickly after my arrival in the city, I found out I would be living on via Gino Capponi, with an outstanding view of the Duomo and the church bells to wake me up every morning. Now I am not a morning person; any of my seven roommates here can attest to that, but something about waking up to the sounds of the bells… Well, hopefully, one day you can experience it too.
The roommate situation
As for my seven roommates, I, again, came in with no expectations. I wouldn’t let myself ponder the “what ifs”: what if they hate me, what if I hate them, what if they don’t want to do the same things I do? There are plenty of things to be afraid of when coming to study abroad, but your roommates are not one of them. If you don’t get along with your roommates, there are hundreds of other people in the city to befriend, people you may be more alike. Though, that was not the case for me. The seven random girls who moved in with me? They became my best friends. Getting thrown into an apartment with a bunch of strangers forces you to get really close, really fast. Every week we have what we call “family dinners”, where one of us cooks a full-course meal, and the rest clean. On nights we aren’t going out together, or weekends we aren’t traveling together, we set up a projector we bought online and have movie nights. This past weekend we decided to take a day trip to Lucca and go on a wine tour. I thank study abroad every day for bringing me those girls.
The travel situation
Whatever you decide to do with your time abroad is valid. Whether you want to go out and party every night, or maintain your internship online from home, travel to Abroadfest, or prefer to visit more historical sights, what you do with your time here is up to you. My program, ISI Florence, has no classes on Fridays, so every student has a three-day weekend, every weekend, ideal for quick retreats to Croatia, Spain or Germany. And while many people want to travel every weekend, many others opt to stay in Florence and experience all the city has to offer. When you’re studying abroad, there is no judgment either way. If you want to take $20 Ryanair flights every weekend, do it. If you want to learn about yourself and ways to shape your life, do it.
And as someone who has traveled and who has stayed here on many weekends, it’s never lonely. In Florence, there are so many wonderful enriching things to do to fill your time: run along the Arno River, visit beautiful churches and historical buildings, check out one of the many art galleries, or walk through the leather and food markets. Every weekend I spend in Florence is one I’m grateful to have. I mean, I’m in Florence! And at the end of the day, there are so many worse places to be.
The locals situation
I won’t lie. The local Italians scared me when I first arrived. I had heard all these horror stories of them looking down on you if you opted to pay with a card instead of cash, scoffing if you ordered a cappuccino after noon or glaring if you wore leggings or any sort of casual clothing. But having been here for almost three months now, I feel certain in saying that they just don’t care that much. I was convinced that Florentines would hate me, or that I would feel so embarrassed walking to class on the days I wasn’t dressed to the nines, but I have found it to be quite the opposite. Most of the time when you’re walking down the street, they’re not looking at you. Like the culture in any other city, everyone’s wrapped up in their own little world.
While I don’t have many stories of Italians being rude toward me, I have many of the opposite. For example, on my first night in Florence, a few friends and I went out to dinner, terrified to have to order in Italian. But the waiter was patient with us, corrected us a little on our pronunciation and gave us helpful sayings to order meals during the rest of our semester. Every time an Italian has spoken to me and realized I didn’t speak much (if any) Italian, they have been nothing but kind and understanding. After all, about 5,000 American college students come to Florence every semester; they’re used to us.
The life at home situation
One thing I will say about studying abroad that is a hard pill to swallow is that your life at home goes on without you. The world doesn’t stop because you’re in Europe. Your friends are still hanging out without you, working in school and on their lives, but you’re not wasting time by being here. Sure, there is a lot you learn at school and at home, but there is so much more to learn outside the classroom as well. Immersing yourself in a new culture is a valuable experience, one that can’t be achieved from the comfort of your home. And as for your friends at home that are still hanging out without you, maybe you feel like you’re missing out, but they will still be there when you get back and you’ll have some pretty great stories to tell too.
So, the bottom line is, if you read the Insider article and started to question whether you wanted to study abroad in Florence or study abroad at all: I hope you take this as a sign to ignore it. Because as I sit on the river Arno, writing this article, basking in the sun, sipping on my coffee and watching people pass by me, I am filled with absolute certainty: studying abroad was the best decision of my life. So, this article is me shouting from the rooftops, up on my soapbox: don’t let fear stop you from experiencing your life!