In her debut post, CAPA blogger Maddie Anderson introduces herself and shares her first impressions of Florence, where she'll be studying abroad for the summer. Check out her blog for some helpful advice on pre-departure, packing, and setting expectations!
Deciding to participate in a study abroad program is a big decision. I enrolled in the CAPA Florence program for six weeks in the summer and imagined a trip filled with pasta, wine, and walking around a historic city. I am one week into my semester and have come face to face with a few challenges and pleasant surprises. Hopefully, sharing my tips and tricks based on my experience could help you too as you prepare for your semester abroad.
My flight from TPA to ATL after my original flight to JFK was canceled the morning of.
Packing can be an overwhelming and daunting task. How do you fit everything you need for six weeks into one 50lbs checked bag and a carry-on? The answer is you don't, nor do you want to. You may be faced with dragging it through the airport, across the city, and then up numerous flights of stairs to your apartment. My philosophy to packing was to have enough for a week and depend on shopping for the rest. My reasoning for this was: I want the full experience. What's a better way to feel like a local than shopping like a local, and you save on luggage room. I've made a few stops at local stores, finding unique outfits to wear here and having something I can wear when I return to the United States. Less exciting, I also had to stock up on basic toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, body wash, etc., but I’d been warned to bring deodorant from home). It gave me the push I needed to go out and try interacting with the locals and work on my Italian, as mundane as it was.
Having the Duomo right around the corner from our apartment is a beautiful reminder of the living history that is all around Florence, but the 8:00am church bells get old after a few days.
Please take all of your expectations and throw them out the window. This is possibly the hardest lesson I had to learn at the start of my semester. From unfinished paperwork, canceled flights, and overall mayhem, traveling is messy. I spent weeks leading up to my departure imagining how my first days entering Italy would play out—not one aspect of my daydream came into reality.
A group dinner with my roommates.
The first night in the city, all of my roommates and I were exhausted from traveling and starving. We roamed the streets for a little before stumbling across a pizza shop. Although I had a list of "Top Places to Eat in Florence" in my back pocket, and this hole-in-the-wall pizzeria was not definitely on the list, I don't feel any regret. My expectations of hitting up all the must-see places have been replaced by the hope to make the most of the time we have in this city.
View from our CAPA hike to San Michelangelo Gardens.
Exhausted is how I would describe my first week. Not in a bad way, But I am logging 16,000+ steps a day and an unreasonable amount of flights of stairs, as a Florida flat-lander these changes in elevations are a whole new experience. I have made it my goal to make every moment of this semester go unwasted and so far so good. However, my definition of "unwasted" is starting to shift. Wanting to see everything all at once started taking a toll on my body and energy. I had to ask myself, what's the point if I'm too tired to enjoy everything. Now a full day looks less like trying to see four museums after a three-hour class and more like taking a stroll to a new cafe or a walk in the park before I go home to do homework.
CAPA students on a class break.
A semester abroad is kind of a tricky situation to jump into. It's like being a freshman all over again, learning how to balance school and life. As much as I want to soak up the Italian lifestyle, and live every day carefree, I have to remember that this is a SEMESTER abroad, so school comes first. Attending class in a building built around the 14th century (with original art on the walls) makes it a bit easier. Thus far, the only life hack I've discovered to getting myself to a 9:00 am class ready to learn; is the coffee. CAPA has an unofficial bar (coffee shop) around the corner that appears to be used by English-speaking students. Instead of hitting snooze on my alarm until I'm late, I rush to get dressed to have maximum time with my favorite drink, at my favorite bar.
On the steps leading up to the CAPA classrooms.
Maddie Anderson is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2021, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. An Interdisciplinary Studies major from the University of North Florida, she is studying abroad in Florence this summer.
See more of Maddie's journey in Florence.