A Black Girl's Guide to Florence
Kayla, Florence, Spring 2023
April 11, 2023

Me at a wine vineyard in Siena.

For the Spring Semester, I decided to study abroad in Florence, Italy. I chose to study here for the arts, the culture, the pasta, and to learn more about myself. Don’t let the “This is your sign to study abroad” TikToks fool you. Studying abroad can be challenging. It’s a moment of firsts for everyone–it can be daunting. Beforehand, I did a lot of research on Black woman’s experiences in Italy searching Instagram, TikTok, Travel Blogs, and even Linkedin and I noticed that some of the resources were either from years ago or lack thereof. Writing this blog, I want to share my experience as a Black woman studying abroad and helpful tips to make your study abroad semester one to remember.

As a Black woman studying abroad in Florence, it is lonely. I should mention that I am the only one from my school who chose Florence. Sure, you have roommates and classmates, but the chances of them looking like you or relating to you are unlikely. Italy does not cater to Black women, it is a fact. I walked to the hair store and left intimidated by the €30 packs of hair and outdated hair products.

My friends and I at the Perugia Chocolate Factory.

During my study abroad, there were times I was treated differently. Tour guides would look directly at me when referring to slaves building the greatest monuments in Italy. I would receive my food later than my friends despite it being already cooked while the server serves a family promptly. Going to the grocery store and never being asked if I want a bag while my roommate is offered one. I will tell you, truthfully, it can make you feel horrible. The stares occur too along with the mistreatment from store owners. To some, it was never a big deal, but to me, it was.

Being alone in a new country and having these experiences can build up a lot of animosity towards it. I had no one to talk to about how I was feeling, no one who would truly understand. This made my first two months miserable. So you might be wondering what did I do? I saw two options in front of me: I could let this once-of-a-lifetime experience destroy everything within me or I could make the most out of it. So I chose the latter.

My friend and I enjoying gelato at La Carraia.

In March, I started truly taking risks and trying new things. I took a weekend trip to Interlaken Switzerland. While I was there, I went on hikes and did a chocolate-making class. Cheered along with the Fiorentina football fans. Biked 14 miles to Fiesole and back to Florence on an E-Bike for an SAI Day Trip. Went to restaurants by myself (even found a Caesar salad). Met other study-abroad students through Smart Trip Bingo Nights. All this to say, don’t let people stop you from experiencing new things. I did all of these activities by myself. Along with that, there are so many students studying abroad in Florence. This means a better opportunity to make friends. And if the first group of people you meet isn’t your style, you have so many more chances to meet new people. In March, I was fortunate to have that experience and make new friends, one of which I met from Switzerland and three I met through SAI.

My mentor Sam and I.

Towards the end of March, more opportunities began to open up for me. I started winning free trips to different parts of Italy, like wine tours and Cinque Terre. Thanks to SAI, I gained an internship at Vino e Vinci, the only paint and sip studio in Florence, which is awesome since I love painting. I gained mentorship and learned great content-creating tips from a local content creator named Sam (@aperilife). I highly recommend checking out her content to understand the experience of living in Florence. Because of her, I had the chance to experience the city through her eyes, from hosting parties and having food by the talented chef, Ileana (@thedolcevitaexperience), to cheese tastings with cheese connoisseur, Kristine (@nyccheesechick). Those experiences helped me see the joys of living in Florence and opened up my eyes to new possibilities. There is so much you can miss out on when you don’t reach out and state what you need. What I needed was community and I found that.

All the cheeses we tried at the cheese tasting.

From my experience, I learned that I can do anything. Even today, It surprises me to see how I’ve reacted to adversity. It’s not fun feeling like the only Black girl in Italy. I still have my days, but now I know what to do when I feel that way. If you ever feel alone, here are some tips and pieces of advice that can help.

1. Reach out and ask. You can always ask your study abroad office about finding students of color in your program. I found my friends just by messaging them and going on a day trip together. If you don’t ask or at least mention that you’re struggling, how will you find the community that you need? The sooner you do this, the better your experience here will be.

2. You don’t have to stick with the first people you meet. Yes, I am guilty of this too. Don’t be afraid to branch out to meet other students. Because I branched out, I have great friends and we laugh and talk about everything.

3. Stay true to your values and be yourself. If you know your limits, stick with them for your safety. Keep in mind that the people you’re hanging with may not know you that well to know your limits. Don’t feel pressured by the drinks, flights through Europe, and the parties. Those who align with your values will respect you and want to hang out.

4. Take that solo trip! Once you know where Santa Maria Novella is, you’re golden. If there is a city you have been wanting to check out, don’t let someone’s schedule stop you. Before you book your ticket, let someone know where you’re going. Share your location.

5. For my Black girls, bring your own hair supplies. The two hair stores, Black Queen Fashion Style Firenze and African Bazar, overcharge and have outdated hair products. However, if you want to get braids done, you can check out Black Beauty Firenze.

6. Advocate for yourself. If you’re not given a bag, ask for it. If your roommate is using your Tupperware, tell them that it’s yours. You really learn how to use your voice during your study abroad. The only person that you have at the end of each day is yourself. Speak up and go for what you want (that includes gelato).

7. Budget. Are you eating out every day? Are you airdrying your clothes or going to the laundromat? This can help you not get too carried away in the first few months of studying. Consider basic needs. Highly recommend working months before and saving up for your study abroad.

8. Make yourself comfortable. You’re going to be there for the next 4 months or so. Don’t let being in another country stop you from your everyday routine. By doing things that make you happy like painting, cooking or listening to your favorite playlist, you can feel less homesick. Same with printing photos to bring with you of your friends and family. That’s what I did and it helped me think of all our fun memories whenever I missed them.

My first Fiorentina Football Game!

The biggest thing that I have gained since being here is self-love. I have the biggest appreciation for all that I do. The ability to cook for myself. Going outside my comfort zone to meet other students. I learned I love exploring, trying new things, taking tons of photos, and being outside to enjoy the sun or watercolor. I even created a series called “Day in the Life of a Black Girl Studying Abroad in Florence” on TikTok to share the day-to-day of my study abroad experience. If you are a Black girl considering studying abroad, DO IT! You will learn so much during a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you want to know more about my experience or have any questions, you can reach out to me on (Instagram @kayla.angelique, TikTok @kay_angelique) or SAI Programs to know what their programs entail.

Me on the E-Bike Tour through Tuscany Day Trip.

Kayla is a Spring 2023 student, studying at Florence University of the Arts from Thomas Jefferson University!

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About SAI

SAI is dedicated to providing academic and cultural learning experiences abroad that enhance global awareness, professional development and social responsibility. We concentrate our programs in Europe, with a focus on in-depth learning of individual European countries and their unique global role in the geopolitical economy, humanities, and in the arts.