This week’s blog post is a mix of what life in Florence is like, what I’ve been up to during the week, school, and pieces of advice I have so far.
First off, life in Florence! Florence is absolutely beautiful and each new place I’ve been to makes me appreciate it more. I like how big the city is and that you can find action everywhere. You can go to a museum, climb to Michelangelo Hill, shop, sit on a bench and listen to live music, go to a pub and get a drink, sit at a cute coffee shop, or occasionally even do homework. Yes, you do have to do homework here. I love that Florence also can feel so small. It’s extremely easy to walk from one side of the city to the other side. I’ve gotten a lot better at figuring out where places are or asking others for help compared to my first week here. Even if I don’t know 100% where I’m at sometimes, I can always get to an area I know and go from there. The people here are all usually very friendly. My only with is that there would be some more grass and trees. I miss the feeling of the outdoors and seeing things other than cobblestone. I never thought they day would come that I would miss seeing cornfields! It’s also been raining here way more than usual apparently. It can be a beautiful, sunny day then suddenly start raining out of nowhere. It’s more of a heavy mist/very light rain but it’s not doing anything positive to my hair. I can already feel that I’ve gained more independence than I already had. I’ve also been an independent person who would go to movies, the mall, and get dinner by myself. I never had an issue doing any of that by myself except going to dinner. I usually felt a little awkward but I like food too much so I never let a little discomfort get in my way. I often wander around myself to explore the city more and never feel alone or nervous like I did when I first arrived.
It’s hard to be a clean freak and a bit of an introvert when you live with six other girls but I’m making it work. I like to go take a walk alone to get some alone time, which has really helped me get familiar with the city. Our apartment is fairly spacious compared to others but the kitchen area is so small. We have one little square of open counter space to prepare food and no microwave. I miss the convenience of heating up food so much that it’s unreal. The garbage system here is a lot different than it is back home. You’re supposed to separate your recyclables, organic garbage, cardboard/paper, and mixed items into separate bags. There are little dumpsters a block from our apartment that we have to take them to pretty much every day or else we get a mountain of garbage bags. Once you take it to the dumpster you have to make sure that you put the bag in the correct can. You can only throw away your cardboard/paper garbage once a week on Wednesday’s from 7:30-8:30 p.m. You’d be surprised at the amount of pizza boxes we collect in a week. Normally I might be a little ashamed but pizza here is healthier, right?
My school weeks have been pretty busy since I’ve been gone every weekend and have had to power through homework to catch up. I consistently get homework in my Italian course but it’s always short exercises that can be completed within a half hour. My other courses all have a midterm, final, and a final paper with a presentation to follow and no daily homework besides reading. I am in an international terrorism course that I was really looking forward to because I thought it would be very interesting. However, it has turned out to be the worst class I’ve taken in college yet. It even tops the semester I took ECON 101 (the business world is wayyyyy over my head). The most difficult part of the course is that the professor is French so it’s difficult for me to understand what he’s saying. I thought the course would be more about explaining terror events and the conflicts surround it but it’s definitely not about that. We’ve talked a lot about the French Revolution and I have yet to find the connection between that and terrorism. I have no background knowledge about terrorist events besides 9/11 so I feel like a fish out of water compared to my other classmates who are all political science majors. My other courses are going fine but aren’t anything overly interesting to me. My midterms are coming up in three weeks and I’m getting nervous because I don’t know how hard the teachers grade here. All our classes (except Italian) meets once a week for two and a half hours. I like having such short weeks but I struggle to pay attention for that long especially when I can’t understand what’s being said at times.
I joined the cooking club, which is so much fun. It meets once a week and we prepare a new meal from scratch with fresh ingredients from the central market. I am possibly the worst cook ever but somehow I have been making delicious meals. Lorenzo de Medici offers a variety of activities every month that you can sign up for to attend. The activities range from cooking, wine tasting, free museum tours, attending operas, to tours of the city. I’ve really enjoyed the activities I’ve done and highly encourage you to get involved at whatever school you attend. It’s a good way to meet people and save money. I also signed up to volunteer to teach English to kindergarteners at a local elementary school. I’m really excited and think it will be a lot of fun. I have my first meeting with the class later this week. I had a cousin who studied abroad in Florence last semester who did a program through her school called Pasta for English. Her and a friend went to a local Italian families home every week and played with their son and helped teaching him English in exchange for a home cooked meal. The family didn’t get assigned a student this semester and asked my cousin if she knew anyone who would be interested in doing this exchange with them so she sent them to me. They are such incredibly nice people and have one son named Francesco who is 5-years-old. We basically just play and talk in English for an hour or so while his mom makes dinner. Once dinner is ready we all sit down and get to know each other better. His parents are the nicest people ever and made me start to miss mine more. However, it’s really nice to have a parental figure around that you can ask for help. I’m not ready to be an adult just yet.
Finally, I will leave you with some pieces of advice.
Packing for a semester:
- Don’t listen too much to what others suggest: you know what you like to wear more than anyone else. I listened too much to what others suggested and regret it. I didn’t pack some items I really wish I would have and packed other items that I haven’t even used. The night scene here is a little dressier than Ames so pack lots of cute tops. I went overboard on cardigans and look like a grandma at the bar.
- Don’t bring hot tools: leave your straightener, blow dry, and curling irons at home. They will blow out within the first two weeks of being here even if you have the most fancy converter out there. It’s cheaper to just buy them here and split the cost with your roommates. I share a straightener, blow dry, and curling iron with 6 other girls and have yet to have an issue with needing it when it was in use. Sharing is caring!
- Leave the heels at home: there is no social scene where girls have wore heels out. Booties with heels are a definite must bring but there’s really no occasion where heels or wedges would be needed.
- Light jackets and blanket scarves are your friend: I brought my winter coat because a friend suggested it and wish I didn’t. I didn’t even use it when I went to Switzerland. An army jacket and a scarf is usually enough to keep you warm. If you can pull off a beanie then bring those too.
- Bring plastic baggies: Someone told me to pack some because they don’t exist here. I have used mine on weekend trips a lot of than I thought I would. I brought different sized bags and they have been pretty helpful at times.
- Bring your favorite snacks: I wish I would have brought some of my favorite candies or snacks to ration off throughout the trip because Italy doesn’t have Mike ‘n Ikes and those are an entire food group to me.
- Pack leisure active wear: I didn’t bring any cute, comfy sweatshirts and hate myself for it every day. I am a very casual person so those are something I wear quite often. The only sweatshirt I brought was a XXL crew neck Hawkeye sweatshirt. I have no idea what I was thinking. I wish I would have brought a few half zip hoodies.
Packing for weekend trips and advice:
- Bring your own towel and shampoo/conditioner/body wash
- If you’re staying in a hostel bring flip-flops. They are usually clean but you can never be too cautious.
- Don’t go overboard on the shoes. Bring a pair of comfy shoes to walk around in all day (even if it’s your old, beat up tennis shoes) and one cute pair to go out in.
- Pack lots of snacks! I’ve always packed a lot of snacks in my purse and suitcase to avoid having to spend money eating out that I could spend on sight seeing.
- Sign up for free walking tours: I would even suggest paying a small amount for them. It’s a good way to learn about the city, the country’s history, and get familiar with the area. This is one of the biggest ways that I’ve gotten to know the culture.
- Street vendor food is cheaper than sitting down at a restaurant and just as tasty.
- Try to speak the language. People are a lot nicer if you make an effort to speak their language even if it’s a simple ‘hello’, ‘excuse me’, ‘where is _____’.
- Always keep a tight watch on your personal belongings. Pick pocketer’s specifically target American’s.
- Look nice when out in public. European’s don’t walk around in oversized clothes and bedhead. Look the part to try and blend in a little.
- Create a budget! Knowing how much you spend and what you spend your money on will help prevent you from buying stupid things.
- RyanAir, EasyJet, Transavia, and Vueling are all low budget airlines that fly to smaller airports in major cities and ridiculously cheap. I got a flight to Paris for 9 euro.
- Go out of your comfort zone! Do the things you normally wouldn’t do. Push yourself. I promise that you won’t regret it.