Abroad travel tips: A study in Firenze

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By christinapastore

Five weeks ago, I stepped off a plane into Florence, Italy.  I felt nervous — it was a new country, after all — but now Florence is like a second home. If you are considering going abroad, remember Florence. As with any trip, it is important to be prepared, so here are five tips for living in this wonderful city.  Start by knowing the city’s proper Italian name: Firenze.

Tip number one: stay connected.  Unlike America, Wi-Fi is not going to be very good.  Knowing there will be bad Internet and actually dealing with it are two different things. The lack of Wi-Fi can be a nuisance, especially when trying to call home.

Speaking of calling home, make sure you download apps such as Skype, Viber or WhatsApp, before crossing the ocean.  Many of these applications require a code to download. A code that they will send … via text message. This can be problematic if you try to create an account without a cell phone capable of international texting.

My second suggestion is to walk — save a little money and skip the bus. Florence is not a big city; from the residential area it takes the three other Union students I live with and me 40 minutes to walk to school.

However, this pretty, two-mile walk is the perfect way to start the morning, especially since we always stop for breakfast.  Besides, with the money saved and calories burned you can feel that much more satisfied when you buy gelato!

But, keep in mind that this is a strange city. Although Florence is very safe, it is important to take the same precautions you would in any city, like walking with a friend. Florence has even set up safety policies where a woman alone at night gets a discount from any taxi.

My third tip concerns something everyone should expect from a study abroad in Italy: food.  Not only is eating the best way to really experience Italy, I promise you will be walking off any weight you could possibly gain.

The local Tuscan dishes are incredible. Ribolita is a delicious vegetable soup made with bread, and it would be hard to forget the boar ragu and the many homemade pasta dishes. Find your favorite places and get to know the staff. Try speaking Italian with them.

The staff will appreciate your efforts to speak their language and might even teach you some words. Having a favorite place that you go to often is a really great way to feel at home in Florence.

Besides food, there are a lot of other great things to take advantage of in  the city. So tip number four is to get the Amici Degli Uffizi, the “Friend of the Uffizi,” pass. Seriously, even if you are unsure how much museum visiting you will do, it will definitely pay for itself.

This pass will let you into any museum owned by the City of Florence free of charge, skipping every line along the way.

Want to see the real David sculpture? Forget about waiting for three hours. Get into the museum in five minutes with the pass.

Want to get out of the inner city and relax somewhere? Go to the gardens in Palazzo Pitti without paying 10 euros to get in and without waiting in line.

These gardens are enormous, by the way. A few of us tried to do Palazzo Pitti in a day, not quite realizing the magnitude of eight full museums, two of which are outside gardens. We spent three hours in the Bobali Gardens and we cannot claim to have seen even half of it. Do yourself a favor: get the pass and go as often as you can!

And finally, my fifth and possibly most important tip. If you go on the Union term abroad to Florence, you will be living with a host family. Before meeting them, I was really worried. I had no experience speaking Italian. How would we communicate?

The first day, my host mother Claudia spoke in English. Then, she warned us that from that day on she would be speaking Italian so that we would learn how to speak it faster.

She was right. I have learned more Italian in five weeks because of her than I could have hoped for if I had only taken classes.

But living with a host family is more than just learning the language. The experience is a great way to learn about Italian culture. For instance, Claudia has been teaching me to make some Italian desserts!

I really love my host family. They are very helpful and communication has not been the terrible struggle I imagined before I met them. However, if you do have a problem within your host family, the Union professor or the people at the school, Eurocenter, are there to help. Don’t hesitate to ask them about anything.

One last bit of advice: there are a lot of great options for gifts to bring your host family. American-only foods like maple syrup and mementos from your home state are all really good choices. And, especially if the family has been hosting for a few years now, Union-themed gifts are a big hit!

There is so much more I could say about Florence. Just narrowing down the list to five tips was almost impossible. I really love it here in Italy, and it seems incredible that I have already been here for five weeks. To anyone who wants to go abroad, I hope you consider this gorgeous city!

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