Study Abroad in Florence: We’re Definitely Not in California Anymore!

Sep 21, 2016 8:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler Sides is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A psychology major, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester through the custom program at Norco College.

In this week's post, Kayla shares some of her observations on the differences between culture in California and the way life happens in Florence.


Ciao! I’ve been here in Florence for about a week now, but it feels like it’s been a month! Why? I honestly don’t really know! I feel comfortable in this city, like it’s my home… The funny thing is though, it’s nothing like home. Right off the bat, I could tell that this place had some events and social norms that wouldn’t seem so normal to us Americans. I’m definitely not saying that in a negative way. In fact, I appreciate some of the differences, as hard as they are to get used to. So, this post is going to be some personal observations, not generalizations, that I’ve made as a foreigner to this city. I may be wrong on a lot of these, but this is just a list of things that stroke me as different

It rains here. That is all.

Photo: My roommate, Diana, enjoying the rain that’s so foreign to us Californians!

Fashion is taken quite seriously. Wow, I cannot say this enough. Let me just start by saying, I am not a fashionable human being. Ninety percent of my outfits consist of yoga pants, a t-shirt, and Nikes. So, you can imagine the shock I had when I noticed that almost NO ONE had the same fashion sense as I did. No matter how much of a “lazy” day people are having, when they step out onto the streets of Florence, they look presentable, trendy, and classy. You can see boys and men wearing button ups, cuffed jeans, leather shoes, ties, and suits. Women wear dresses, blouses, scarves, accessories, and anything that makes them look effortlessly professional. I find this extremely interesting. Maybe by the time I get back, I’ll dress better! Continuing on this topic, people here dress by the season.  Since it is not winter yet, dresses and light clothing are still a big trend right now. I have not seen one big jacket or pair of boots since I’ve been here. I know what you’re thinking: But, Kayla. You just said that it rains over there. Well, my friends, I don’t think people here care! If it is summer or fall, you dress in summer or fall attire… with an umbrella.  I wore leggings, boots, and a long sleeve one day and I received a lot of “you’re dressed for winter!” comments from my local friends. Today, it was raining super hard, but I was wearing a t-shirt and a skirt… along with a handful of locals I passed by as I explored the city.

Right-of-way? I cannot tell you how many times my heart has stopped as I see car tires skid by pedestrian feet and miss them by a few inches. I kid you not, crossing the streets here feels like human Frogger. For those of you not familiar with the game, it’s about a little frog that tries to cross a river/street by hopping on the correct areas to avoid falling/hitting something. Every day, at every hour, you will see people daringly run across the street, barely passing the upcoming car, or you will see them casually stroll to the other sidewalk, not even realizing a car is speeding towards them. It is completely normal to cut a car off as you walk across the street, just as normal it is for a car to start moving forward even though you’re right in front of the bumper. Pedestrians just walk when they please, and both pedestrians and drivers have such an incredible amount of trust in each other that this is just a normal, safe routine. In all honesty, I had no idea that there were stoplights/cross-walk lights at certain intersections until a few days ago. I admire the amount of trust between the two forms of traffic here, especially because I have not witnessed nor have I heard of a single accident since I’ve been here.

The dogs here are incredibly well-trained. I don’t know what it is, but these dogs don’t bark or run away. They follow their owners, chill out at their feet, and some even sit at the doors of shops if their owners are also the store owners. Italians, you’re doing it right and I would appreciate if you could teach me how to train my dogs.

Photo: A store owner had two dogs off the leash. This one sat in the doorway for two hours.

Take your time, there’s no rush.  This is definitely one of my favorite things about Florence – rarely do you ever see someone in a rush. You know that scene when someone is on the phone with a newspaper and paper coffee cup, running after a taxi while saying, “I’m on my way! Seriously! I am in the car right now and I’m a few minutes away!”  Yeah, that doesn’t really happen here, at least from what I’ve seen so far. People either have the time or make the time to sit and relax or to take a longer-than-usual stroll on the cobblestones. You don’t see anyone stressing about where they need to be and when. You see people interacting with one another, taking in the moments as they come, instead of rushing to catch up to what’s next. A small example of this is the coffee shops. One out of five coffee shops near my apartment has a to-go (or “take-away” as they call it) option. The other four shops serve coffee in ceramic cups that are meant to be enjoyed inside or out in the patio area. If you ask them for “to-go”, I guarantee that majority of the time, they will look at you with confusion and wonder why on Earth you need to drink your coffee while you’re walking.

Photo: If you would like some coffee, be prepare to sit and enjoy like we do at Tre Merli Caffe. 

There are definitely a lot more differences that I’ve noticed, but I felt like these are the ones that made the biggest impressions on me. Culture shock is a real thing, but it isn’t always a negative thing. Seeing the differences between American and Italian culture so far has made me appreciate aspects from both. I miss America and my comfort bubble I have there, but I’m excited to adapt to Italian culture, too.

Thanks Kayla!

Kayla's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned. 

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Topics: Official Bloggers and Vloggers, Florence, Italy, Cultural Insights