Athena has a ton of information for you on what it's like living in Florence, but sometimes it's nice to hear about it directly from a student. Gina Mussio, from Ohio University, studied in Florence in the Fall of 2010 and is here to answer some frequently asked questions:
What should I wear?
Of course this depends on the weather, summers can be very hot in the Mediterranean country but you want to still be mindful. With the large amounts of tourists, the Florentines are used to seeing a wide variety of attire, but if you want to fit in you will leave the short-shorts at home. Italians are fashionable and to make a good impression, "fare una bella figura," is an important aspect to them--it shows care for yourself and respect for others.
In the colder months expect rain. Italians dress for the season, not the weather, and they will be bundled up in cold months. Americans wearing shorts and flip-flops in November, even if it is a warm day, are sure to be noticed.
Also pack appropriate clothes for sightseeing. If you are planning on visiting any churches (there are hundreds!) always wear sleeves and either pants or dresses and skirts with a longer hemline--many won't even allow you in without these!
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What should I pack besides clothes?
You will definitely want to leave at least half a suitcase empty to have space for souvenirs and new clothes bought during your time there! You will need a converter and an adapter--or more than one! Both can be bought in Florence but if you need them right away I suggest buying them before you leave. Blow-dryers and straighteners need convertors, laptops may or may not as they almost always have a built in converter in the cord, in that case you will only need an adaptor.
You should also bring a camera and camera charger--you'll for sure want to document your time, a credit card and a good purse that can be completely zipped up. An Italian/English dictionary will for sure come in handy--whether you want to learn the language or not. Lastly, you might like to bring some photos or things to remind you of home.
Speaking of home, what if I get homesick?
Studying abroad is an "experience of a lifetime." You will have FUN, you will travel and do new and fun things every single day--but that doesn't mean it isn't hard sometimes. There will definitely be some days when you desperately miss your parents, friends, boyfriend or girlfriend or whomever and homesickness can get the best of even the most independent traveler out there! In that case it is nice to have some remedies. Skype is a necessary and useful evil and budgeting in phone calls to the USA might be indispensable for you. It's important that you are able to acknowledge your homesickness but also attempt to move past it--enjoy the short time you have abroad!
What if my roommates and I don't get along?
While Athena attempts to match up students based on their preferences and personality, it can definitely happen that the roommate situation is less than desirable. If there is a problem that simply cannot be solved and personalities are just too different, contact an Athena representative right away and they will be happy to work with you to find a solution!
How can I stick to my workout program or continue my favorite sport?
Athena's partner school in Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, is happy to offer a wide variety of clubs that students can participate in--one of which is the soccer club. Join to practice and play other teams in the school every week! Florence is a large, international city that has many gyms as well as dance or yoga studios to choose from--including English-speaking ones! Search for the best gym for you and join! Lastly, while it is a crowded city, it is possible to run outside. Go early in the morning to avoid crashing into tourists or find a path on the outskirts of the city. Sign up for a marathon while you are there or get a group of friends to play soccer, calcio, in the park!
What if I am a vegetarian/vegan/have food allergies?
Italy is known for it's amazing food--it is flavorful and fresh. While many meals are meat-based and most Italians are still getting used to the idea of a vegetarian--there are still many options! Italians eat in courses, the appetizers, first course, second course then side dishes or a dessert. Your best bet as a vegetarian would be to search on the first course menu as they are typically meatless.
Many meals can be made out of combinations of the antipasto, appetizer and contorni or side dishes. Try Ribollita--a traditional Florentine soup! You can also seek out entirely vegetarian restaurants around Florence such Brac on Via dei Vagella that offers a varied menu of (very affordable!) vegetarian and vegan fare or La Raccolta on Via Giacomo Leopardi.
Restaurants that offer options without gluten are popping up as well, such as Il Fresco Senza Glutine, located on viale Lavagnini. Overall, it is important to keep an eye out and explore your options to find the best choice for you!
How do I get around?
Most of Florence is considered a ZTL or a limited traffic zone, meaning little to no cars! This is done because the streets are small and the large amount of people cannot be corralled onto the skinny, winding sidewalks in order for cars to get through. That being said, busses will travel on the side streets a bit out from the center and you can use those if you're inclined. Tickets can be bought at nearly any tabaccheria and are very inexpensive. Still the best option by far is to go by foot! You can get to just about any part of Florence by foot and certainly the areas you will be most frequenting. The city is relatively small and I promise the walk will never bore! By walking to your destination you are sure to learn even more about your temporary home, find useful shops and see new things everyday!
What is the nightlife like?
Florence nightlife is very lively as the city is filled with young international students. Italians love their "Happy Hour" options when many bars offer an aperativo. This is often accompanied with snack food and is usually around 6:00 pm. After, stroll the streets listening to the street performers and viewing the beautiful city at night, then head to a pub or a discoteca depending on your tastes. The pubs start to fill around 9:00 pm and the clubs begin to fill up around 1:00 am. There are numerous places to visit in the city center offering a wide variety of entertainment, explore a little and find your favorite venue!
What is the difference between a bar and a pub?
In Italy, a bar is not like a typical American bar--instead it is more akin to an American café. They sell sandwiches, coffee, beverages and more. A pub in Italy is what you would think of when you think of a bar as it primarily sells alcohol. Florence is filled with "Irish" pubs that play American music, play soccer or sometimes even American football on the TVs and offer karaoke!
How are the classes different?
Athena partners with small schools overseas to create a more personalized atmosphere for the students as well as encourage true cultural immersion. The average class size is about 10-15 students and the majority of the teachers are Italian, but teach in English (unless otherwise noted.) Besides this, it depends on the class. You will be living in one of the most historic cities in the world and as such field trips are a viable option. You might have class one day in an art gallery, a church or maybe even a gelateria!
What if I'm struggling to balance my courses with the travel I wish to do?
Taking classes abroad versus taking classes at your home university are hugely different in many ways--you're in another city, you may be taking different courses than usual or the fact that your everyday life is now exploring a new culture and traveling on the weekends. However, the courses still count for credit and are still graded. LdM has a very strict attendance policy simply to prevent students from applying to "study" abroad then never fulfilling the study part of the agreement. One main difficulty you may have is balancing coursework and traveling--as you'll often do so on the weekends. Still, use the usual time-management skills and you can for sure find a way to fit in both.
What are some must-see sights?
Click here to see my Google map. It includes typical restaurants/eateries, landmarks, popular tourist spots as well as favorite nightlife spots!