It's always good to be prepared! JJ Koumaglo, a student from University of Colorado Boulder, picked up a few lessons from her first few weeks in Florence and wants to pass some words of advice along. Check out these tips that will help with your own preparations for a semester abroad in Italy.
Florence is a beautiful city with wonderful architecture and amazing food. It is also the most incredible place for a study abroad program. After all the forms, the applications, the flights, and everything else needed just to get to this point, there is still so much more left for you to discover. The first week in any new place can always feel intense and overwhelming. Here are a couple of tips I got from my first week abroad. Some of these things I learned here, and some are recommendations for when you’re planning. While there are so many tips and tricks to learn about any new city you travel to, I hope you never forget to just enjoy it and be in the moment.
With that being said, here are five things I learned after a week in Florence.
Explore Florence and your program through orientation and a city tour.
As with any orientation it took most of my day, but the information we received was valuable and set the tone for the following week. The orientation outlined our courses and materials needed for each; it also mentioned the academic aspects of the program. It is important to keep in mind that while abroad we are still taking courses that are impacting our degrees. During orientation, we were able to learn about the other courses offered and what the process would be if you needed to drop or add any courses. I do recommend going to all your classes and then making a change if you would like to change your schedule.
After the orientation, we were given a tour during which our guide gave us tips on food and the culture of Florence. Although it was an optional part of the orientation, it was a great way to start exploring the streets of Florence.
Buy an umbrella the first chance you get.
If you’re like me and coming from a place like Colorado, it is more likely for a person to own a beanie than an umbrella, so I recommend you purchase the latter or bring one. Here, umbrellas are common, and you will just have to learn umbrella etiquette once you get here.
I knew coming in that the weather would be cold and rainy for weeks. Yet I was not expecting this much rain and cold weather. I packed multiple sweaters in anticipation, and I recommend either bringing warmer clothes or planning on buying a couple of things during your first week. There are some days that are cooler than others, and a sweater and a heavy coat will be essential throughout the months of January and February when studying abroad in the spring semester in Florence.
Find your own way around the city.
There is no one way to get to and from any place in Florence. Personally, I believe in finding your own way around the city. I am the type of person that follows one familiar path when going somewhere. Throughout my first week, I made sure to familiarize myself with my neighborhood. I found a grocery store, a restaurant, and most importantly a gelato shop that I frequent regularly. Finding these places that are close by made me feel more grounded and made the city feel a little less scary.
My housing is 30 minutes away from the center where my classes are held, so when going to class I made sure to take a set route and used stores, buildings, and even gelato shops (if you couldn’t tell, I love gelato) as markers to ensure I am going the right way. It helps me feel more comfortable to see familiar places. My recommendation is to find your way—don’t feel pressure to go a set way, just do what makes you feel comfortable.
Eat some pizza.
I love food! And now that I am here, I wanted to eat everything within a matter of hours after landing. I will say my favorite is pizza. Authentic Italian pizza is THE best pizza ever. Don’t eat it just because I say so but to enjoy the experience.
Food is more than just a meal here; it is a way for people to socialize and be with each other. Eat the pizza and enjoy the conversations you have with your friends, enjoy the view from the restaurant, and enjoy the atmosphere because these small moments will be some of your favorite memories. They are mine and I hope you will enjoy them too.
Be in the moment.
It can be terrifying to be in a new country with new surroundings but just enjoy it. Don’t try to do everything within a week of being here. You have months to explore and learn so take each day as it is. Part of our orientation was a safety seminar with a past study abroad alumnus. During her seminar, she said, “The unexpected may be a gift.” It is a bit of advice I am keeping in mind during this experience. We cannot control everything so enjoy your moments and stay present. This is an incredible experience and there is no right way to do it. Your experience is your own and the only way to truly enjoy it is to just be.
JJ Koumaglo is an official blogger for spring 2023, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Marketing major from University of Colorado Boulder, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester. All views expressed are her own and may or may not reflect the experiences of other students.
JJ's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.