When researching the location I should study, I read and heard from past study abroad students that Florence is the place to go to have a true life-altering study abroad experience. I wanted to expand my knowledge on art and culture, and I thought Florence would be the perfect place for that. Specifically, the Florence University of the Arts offered a plethora of course options that met my needs for this cultural immersion that I was hoping to experience, and I loved that the campus is located in the heart of Florence. The SAI program was the top program I found for study abroad in Florence and it seemed like the perfect fit. Before leaving the U.S., I was most nervous about actually getting to Florence and my first international flights, but I think that may have been the easiest part of this journey so far.
I think social media has this not-so-brilliant way of being a “highlight reel” per se of people’s lives and I, for one, never saw or heard a single negative thing about study abroad experiences. People don’t talk about how challenging the language barrier can be, especially when you first get here. Not only that but just the shocking difference in culture and how much it impacts even the little things. I don’t think I was really mentally prepared for everything that living in a different country truly is and how that was going to affect me.
Naturally, I was super positive going into this trip and kind of tuned out during the orientation when they talked about going through depression because I was just so ready to get out here! Then, two days after living in Florence, I got sick and couldn’t get out of bed. I got really sad about being home alone and wanted to get some medicine to feel better and get back out there with my new friends. I was too anxious to go to the doctor because I was afraid they wouldn’t know any English and I only know the basics of Italian—definitely not any medical terms. I also didn’t know if they even sold soup here which sounds crazy but is a valid question when you’re thrown into a completely unknown environment. These were all things that I didn’t research before I left and wasn’t prepared for.
Now that I’ve got cold medicine in my system, I’m trying to get out there to explore my new city more. I’m taking it day by day and learning to go slow and stop and smell the roses. All this newness is definitely helping appreciate the very little things that I often take for granted—like a beautiful sunset on my first night that reminds me of home. I’m so thankful for this experience, no matter how challenging it is right now because I know it is helping me grow into a better person.
LeAnne is a spring 2020 Florence student from the University of South Carolina.