My first experience abroad EVER and in Italy was through my pre-semester traveling course: Cultural Introduction to Italy. We began in Rome and worked our way towards Florence, stopping every day in different Italian towns with a full day of field learning. It was a jump into the deep end if I’ve ever heard of one, but I would not change it for the world.
Here’s a selective list of what I learned along the way, both practical and random:
- Rome has so many stray cats. So many! And they are very friendly. They will come up to you and let you pet them, just make sure to watch your hands after. They are a treasure to see while walking through the ancient parts of the city.
- DO NOT try to see the Vatican Museums on a time crunch. They deserve probably a few hours, if not a full day of exploration through the endless rooms, and seeing the Sistine Chapel (though definitely still worth it) is hard to fully appreciate after having to practically run through the entire thing to get there.
- ALWAYS keep your purse with money in a crossbody style around you, and do not take it off and put it on your chair when you sit down at a restaurant the first night and end up leaving it there. Luckily, Italians are very friendly, and the staff will have kept it safe for you, but the fear is not worth it.
- Rest when you have the time. Jetlag is a real thing and getting accustomed to the time change will take some energy out of you. It’s ok.
- Truly appreciate all the information you get from local tour guides. These people are dedicated professionals with so much local knowledge to share, and they can really enliven an experience and give you the needed context to see these amazing places’ significance. Soak up everything they tell you – it is sincerely indispensable.
- Even the smaller and lesser-known Italian towns and cities have so much to offer and learn from. Each area is rich with history and a lively backstory, and what is really wonderful is exploring what has grown so important to the locals there. Do not skip on them just because they are not well known!
- Google Maps is helpful for getting around, but it will get stuff wrong because the number system in Italy is separated between residential and business numbers (so stuff can be off sometimes). It’s ok to get a bit lost – you never know what you will discover!
- Lean into new foods and drinks even if you don’t think you will like them. As a past picky eater, I can vouch that you never really know until you try. Espresso is not something I ever thought I could drink straight, but of course, Italy got me to like it within two days.
- Recognize how fortunate you are to see such extensive arts and culture IN PERSON! The fast-paced nature of the course can make it so this gets away from you, but don’t shy away from the awe that you feel. It reminds us of how significant everything we are getting to see truly is.
- Do not hesitate to use your Italian language knowledge, even if you feel silly or don’t know much. It really does help get you more comfortable, and locals appreciate you trying. It may feel ridiculous the first few times and it is very likely that you will mess up, but everyone starts from somewhere!
Emily is a spring 22 Florence student from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.