Studying abroad is an experience beyond measure. A new country, a culture and new opportunities around every corner; the possibilities are endless. Moving to Italy in general and Florence in particular can change a person so deeply that they have no choice but to return again and again, or put down some roots and stick around for the long haul.
Here is a list of some of the top experiences of studying abroad in Florence:
1. Learning a language, gestures or particular idioms in a country other than your native one is a huge achievement, and endlessly fascinating. Florence is home to a huge variety of schools with different study abroad programs. From University programs to individual language schools, there are choices for every type of student.
2. Having coffee and pastries every day guilt-free. Hey, it’s just breakfast, right? Some great places that produce their own baked goods are Caffe’ San Marco (in Piazza San Marco) with a huge variety of sweets and sandwiches, Caffe’ Marino next to Ponte alla Carraia, and even Mama’s Bakery if you are looking for something a little more American-style (Via della Chiesa, in the Oltrarno).
3. Shopping for food on the day you plan to use it, all the while wrestling Italian nonni for that last baguette. Esselunga and Coop are the largest supermarkets, but there are a ton of center-based smaller markets such as Conad and Centro, with little fruit and vegetable stores all over the city.
4. Bicycling to school, work, the pub or just a friend’s place, and dodging tourists along the way, because you are a local now. If you are in the mood for some Karaoke or watching a game, Old Stove pubs in Piazza del Porcellino and Piazza Signoria are fantastic, as well as JJ Cathedral, Cocktail Bar and Monkey Bar. You will find tons of locals here as well, and Italians are very loyal to their pub of choice!
5. Going on tours. You are a foreigner, so why not get the perks of that status? Going out for a day or a weekend with people your age to see the country, eat, drink wine and explore is unforgettable. There are a ton of tour operators out there, but it’s important to find the ones with local guides and people your own age. Some great trips from Florence include San Gimignano, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Monterrigioni, Siena and Viareggio. These can all be day trips, or you can combine one or two for a packed day. And why not make new friends along the way?
6. Walking around Renaissance art and architecture every day. No big deal. If you want to experience places the locals go, check out Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset and don’t forget to brink a bottle of bubbly and a bag of snacks! Or head over to Ponte Vecchio most nights for some live music under the stars.7. Learning how to use public transportation while working your core to keep balance as the bus slams on its brakes once again. Florence is well-served by buses, so if you want to get out of the center and check out the outskirts, figuring out how to use the buses is a must.
8. The chance to be on a family farm to learn about wine production and stomp grapes in a country that is all about their grapes. This is particularly special during the Harvest. Stomping those sweet fruits and feeling the pulp between your toes is one way to enjoy, but participating in the Vendemmia (Harvest) is a great way to be a part of Italian culture and experience the process from vines to wines.
9. Making friends with other locals, from your friendly cheesemonger (Sandro and Ivana on Via Dei Serragli have cheddar cheese as well as a ton of local cheeses and that oh-so-creamy Mozzarella di Bufala) to the guy at the hardware store (Mesticcheria) down the block (they have a ton of things including kitchenware, tools and odds and ends). You have now proven your loyalty and you have the inside track.
10. Pasta. Need I say more? There are some really fantastic pastas around, such as the warm and homey Tortelli Mugellani which are potato-filled Tortelli that you can order in a ragu’ or tomato sauce (best during Fall and Winter) or the thick spaghetti-like Pici that is at its best when covered in pecorino cheese and black pepper (Cacio al Pepe). Find a ton of dried pastas at supermarkets or specialty stores, but treat yourself to fresh pasta every once in a while (Dalle Nostre Mani-also Via dei Serragli handmakes pasta every day and sells tons of other organic and bio foods. You can also find fresh pasta right inside the Central Market of San Lorenzo…mmmm buona!).