As I sit here getting ready to write about the past three weeks of my life, I’m currently typing away in a bustling literary cafe in the beautiful city of Florence, Italy—a place I’ve been dying to check off my bucket list for what seems like an eternity.
When I was in high school and touring colleges, I made it a point to always ask if there were study abroad options specifically in Italy because I knew that was an experience I wanted to apply for. Thus, leading to one of the many factors that caused me to choose Stag Country.
Because of COVID-19, there was a bit of a delay in my expected dates as I thought I would travel during my sophomore year of college. But here I am, a few months before the start of my senior year, finally living out my euro summer … and it could not have worked out better! As they say, everything happens for a reason.
Applying & Planning
I originally applied for summer session II back in early January, committing to travel from June 4 through June 23. The application process was fairly simple as it was based on your academic history, which included a letter of recommendation and a few written questions. As a result of my increasing anticipation, my honest excitement allowed me to answer everything with ease. And then I got in!
Following my acceptance, I was met with a wave of other tasks and emails. I had to complete multiple forms on the website studio.abroad such as making sure my passport was up to date, filling out my roommate questionnaire, rule comprehension tests, etc.
Over the course of the months, there were also Zoom meetings and socials where you can meet other students who were also going abroad at the same time as you. Since I applied solo, I was very anxious to find out who I would be traveling with. Unfortunately, only one other person in my session was in attendance, so the introductions would have to wait until I landed in Florence!
Planes & Pick-up Driver
As part of study abroad, the university has a partnership with the company Scholar Trip. Each student works with a representative to figure out flight options closest to you and are most affordable—but just a heads up, the flight will always be the most expensive part as mine totaled around $1500 round trip.
I was scheduled to fly out of Boston Logan International Airport on June 3, which allowed for an entire day of travel since I would have a connecting flight in Zurich, Switzerland and then land in Florence a few hours after. Arrival day countdown: 64 days!
Much like everything else in life, however, nothing is perfect. My original flight was fully canceled just the day before I was prepared to leave for the airport. To say that I was incredibly stressed was an understatement. It turns out the Florence airport staff was on a 24-hour strike—the 24 hours, of course, being the one day half of the students were supposed to arrive.
Again, I knew no one going into the experience and was unaware that I wasn’t the only one that received a cancellation email. Was I going to be the only student to miss orientation and my first class?!
Luckily, ScholarTrip helped me once again find another flight leaving Logan only two days later. Updated arrival day countdown: +3 days.
I was devastated. But alas—I used this opportunity to get my roommate’s contact information and was able to get to know one of them over text message in the days leading up. And then … June 5 came.
I was finally able to head to Boston where I navigated the airport smoothly and independently. Eleven hours later and I was in Italy.
Meeting My People
It turns out there were a few students on the same flight as me and I didn’t even realize until we made our way to our pick-up van. We exchanged information and I was let off at my apartment which is a 20-minute walk away from all of the other student housing. Upon hearing this for the first time, I was nervous I would be on the outskirts of my classmates, but it turns out everyone makes the walk to where I stay because I’m in the heart of the town.
A five-minute walk from the Duomo, a ten-minute walk from class and completely surrounded by good food, music and gelato. A win, win, win and win!
The Student Life Coordinator showed me around my new home for the next month and I was in awe. A stunning living space with a television, fully furnished kitchen, four double bedrooms (all with their own bathroom) … and air conditioning!
After I was settled in, I knocked on the bedroom door next to mine and met two of my roommates. Shoutout Erini and Reese—my girls! I honestly can’t picture not knowing them before this trip.
It turns out Erini was in my class at the Florence University of the Arts, which eased so much stress of not having someone to walk with, and Reese is the same major as me (let’s hear it for the Creative Writing people!). While Reese came into the trip solo like me, Erini applied with one guy friend she met through the Fairfield swim team. This led to our groups merging and since then we’ve hung out every day of our trip. I truly could not have asked for a better outcome.
Putting The “Study” In Study Abroad
In addition to Erini, two other boys we became friends with were in our three-credit course “Art, Food, Fashion, and Wine: Creative Advertising of Italian Destinations” which meets Monday through Friday from 3:20 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.
I originally thought this time was going to be annoying, but it turns out it’s wonderful. It gives you the morning completely to yourself to do whatever you want: explore, read, sleep in, sip on a cappuccino, etc. Then, you can grab lunch right before it starts and relax at the university’s student-run cafe Fedora. Once the class is over, the heat has subsided, the sun has lowered, almost all of the visiting tourists have retreated to their hotels and we’re nearing dinner time. It’s the perfect time of day to get out!
As for the class itself, our professor is absolutely wonderful. She kept us entertained and delivered interesting lectures, some of which took place outside of the classroom. Some classes included coffee tasting and wine tasting, a museum tour and more.
She also understood that we have a limited amount of time here and did not assign homework as a result (that does not include every course offered). We get all of our work done in class, anyway! Each day our group designs a creative digital advertisement for Italian companies that surround the topic we’re doing that day. Some of our advertisements included Ferrari, Barilla and Yesi.
And, after only 13 classes, you’ve added three credits to your transcript. If you pass, that is.
Meals & Activities
As I said before, I live in a very populated part of the city. Therefore, there are a lot of “tourist traps,” which means you might find yourself sitting down at a restaurant that isn’t the most authentic. Luckily, our RA’s have sent out a weekly newsletter giving recommendations for a multitude of places to dine and activities in more rural areas surrounded by locals.
One of my favorite places has been Largo9 which was recommended by RA Mike. I went there twice over my month-long stay and got their specialty carbonara pizza the first time and the margherita pizza on my second trip. Both meals were delicious, the place was filled with local customers and it was in a very scenic part of town—I would highly recommend it as well. Other top restaurant contenders include Il Grande Nuti Trattoria, Ristorante Parione and Sgrano Benci L’Osteria.
For lunch, I would hop on the hype for the All’Antico Vinaio and Pino paninis. However, I also urge you to try out Panini Toscano which is right outside of the Duomo. They bring each group in separately and have you try all of the ingredients before making your own sandwich.
As for things to do besides eat—I know, hard to believe there’s time for that—Reese and I are huge shopaholics, so most of the afternoon we would walk around in clothing stores. Our favorite one ended up being Melrose, a unique vintage shop that has two locations. One of which is three times the size and in a more remote location (underground near the Santa Maria Novella train station). I ended up buying a beautiful headscarf and red leather vest which I adore. Reese, on the other hand, bought too many things for me to recount.
Other activities that were more “touristy” that I did in the town of Florence, however, included visiting the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, touring and climbing the Duomo, browsing the Ponte Vecchio and taking a gelato and pizza-making class.
Traveling Around Europe
Outside of Florence, we had the weekend days open to travel and explore the rest of Italy—which was incredibly easy with access to affordable transportation such as trains.
My first trip was to Venice which I absolutely loved. When there, my friends and I roamed the island without any maps and just walked around the shops. We saw St. Mark’s Basilica cathedral and walked over the bridge for pictures. My favorite part, however, was our gondola ride which was something I’ll never forget. Our driver took his time through the canal, the weather was perfect and there was live music playing all over the island.
Another day trip included Rome where I toured the Colosseum and the Forum. I also got to see the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. All four locations were incredibly packed and hot but again, it’s something everyone should see once in their lifetime. Other students did day trips to Cinque Terre and Lake Como or weekend trips to the Alamfi, Sicily and even Barcelona.
The trip is truly what you make out of it and I encourage all students to apply for study abroad at one of our locations if you have the time and money. Because, if you milk it for all that it’s worth, you will undoubtedly end up like me—forever dreaming to go back and press replay.