1. Learn the Language
When it comes to speaking Italian in Florence, you might find it to be a frustrating task with the locals.
Most people in Florence can speak at least basic English so when you begin speaking in Italian you will often hear them responding to you in English. This can be very challenging in your journey to conquer Italian but remember it is their way of extending an olive branch and making you feel comfortable in their country. Plus, just like you they want to practice their second (or third or fourth) language and are usually thrilled when they get a chance to break out their English!
While they might continue to respond to you in English, just keep insisting and keep up your side of the conversation in Italian. Don’t know that much Italian? Just start with the basics – hello, thank you, excuse me; even the little things can go a long way with the locals!
2. Set Goals for Yourself
To make sure you get the most out of your semester you must first understand what exactly it is you want out of your study abroad experience. Have a clear set of goals that you want to accomplish before you go home and constantly be reassessing during the semester to make sure you are meeting those objectives and adjust if necessary. Do you want to arrive at a basic understanding of Italian? Do you want to be able to network and make connections to put on your resume? Make sure you are always working towards your goals and don’t let the craziness of the semester get you off track.
3. Shop at the Local Market
Florence has a number of small and big local markets, some are even open-air (cue daydreams of Under the Tuscan Sun).This is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture for many reasons.
First, food is a HUGE part of the Italian culture so the more comfortable and well versed you are in their in that aspect of their culture, the more local you become. If you can cook like an Italian Mamma you are one step closer to becoming an Italian Mamma!
Second, shopping at the local market gives you a chance to rub elbows with the locals and brush up on your Italian.
Finally, not only can shopping with the locals help you to interact with them, you might actually make some friends. And if said friend happens to be able to get you discounts on cheese, well that’s the best kind of friend to have.
4. Make Friends with Locals
Friends with cheese discounts brings me to my next point. Too often American study abroad students stick to what they know. They go out in crowds of 5 or even 10 other American students, stick together and don’t mingle with the locals.
Not only does traveling in an American pack close you off to locals, it is also closes them off to you – its much harder for 1 or 2 Italians (who might be nervous about their English to boot) to approach a group of 10 Americans all hanging out together. Try to go out with just 1 or 2 friends. Or better yet, go out for a coffee at a café by yourself and try to mingle with the locals. Italians are creatures of habit so you will find that the same people will be in the coffee shop every day making it even easier to approach people. Mingling with and befriending locals is the key to immersing yourself in Italian culture and making the most of your study abroad experience!
5. Stay Organized
Studying abroad can be overwhelming – you are in a new country, with a new language, studying at a new school and living with new roommates. Plus you are trying to soak up as much of Florence as you can in the few short months you are here and travel to new countries!
That’s why it is important to stay organized. Keep track of your school work and important deadlines for papers and big tests, always make sure to have an extra copy of all important travel documents like your student visa and passport on hand, keep track of your budget and make sure you get some sleep. All of this ensures that you don’t burn out an that you are prepared in case of an emergency or any unexpected event (like a spur of the moment trip to Budapest – so make sure you finish that term paper on time!)
6. Travel, but Not Too Much
For most American students, their semester abroad is often their first time out of the country. You live in Florence but suddenly you are also in the vicinity of so many other cool countries. While it is tempting to “prost” in Munich one weekend, imbibe with a Guinness in Dublin the next weekend, and indulge in brie and a baguette in Paris the weekend after that, it is also important to get to know the city where you live!
Monday through Thursday you wrapped up in school and then if you jet off every weekend to another country you will never truly get to know Florence. Make sure to block off at least 2 or 3 weekends to stay in Florence and enjoy your home city. See how the locals spend their weekends – have a leisurely breakfast, take a passeggiata along the Arno, visit a museum; pretty much be a tourist in your own city!
7. Don’t forget to STUDY Abroad
I get it. You are in a cool new country where you can go out in the evening and have a few glasses of wine and meet cool new guys with cute accents. It is all very tempting and said activities can also result in you skipping morning classes on a fairly regular basis.
However, what you might not know about your Thursday morning 9am that you always end up skipping is that it is actually kind of fun and interesting. School can be pretty boring sometimes but most of your classes in Florence will revolve around Florentine and Italian history and culture. The cool thing about that is that the culture and history is literally outside of your doorstep. Most classes will have regular field trips, getting you out of the classroom and up close and personal with what you are learning about. So every once in a while, try to actually STUDY while you are abroad!
8. Keep a Journal
Your study abroad semester will be a whirlwind experience. You will blink and you’ll already be back at home craving another pizza from that place down the street from your old apartment. All of the weekend trips and new friends will suddenly be distant memories. To make sure you don’t forget a minute of the best experience of your life, be sure to keep a journal.
This way you can look back and remember what a regular day living in Florence felt like and take a walk down memory lane whenever you feel like.
Plus journaling is a great way to keep track of your favorite restaurants and places you visit. That way you can also be a constant source of information and recommendations for any friends or family that travel abroad (because now you are chic and always say ciao at the end of your phone conversations and are practically Italian, so naturally they will come to you for any advice).
9. Try Something New Once a Week
Just the fact that you got on a plane and moved to a new country for the next 4 months is already a daring feat. But don’t let that be the only big thing you do all semester. Studying abroad should be about challenging yourself, growing and getting out of your comfort zone.
Make sure you are constantly pushing yourself to try new things, even things that might scare you a little bit. So, don’t be afraid to make conversation in Italian with your barista when you get your morning coffee, or work up the guts to talk to that cute guy at the bar or go by yourself to that Italian language Meetup. Whatever you do, don’t stop challenging yourself!