Ciao for Now
Laura, SAI Ambassador
July 25, 2018

SAI recently chatted with SAI Ambassador Laura, who reflected on her memories in Florence. 

What was your favorite thing to do in your host city?

My favorite thing to do in Florence was to stop and listen to what was going on around me. Sometimes I would find myself getting so caught up in plans and activities that I would forget that the first of my favorites was the sound of the streets. I remember the first day, I opened my window and just listened to the hustle and bustle of Italian old ladies, bikes, birds, and {the best of course} bambini! “Bambini” is the plural Italian for babies. The kids would fill the streets and sing and play like an old movie. I remember closing my eyes and thinking that the background noise sounded fake because it’s so similar to what you would expect as a soundtrack to an Italian film. Keeping that in the back of my mind, my favorite thing to do in my host city was to pull off to a piazza or bench and just take a minute to listen to the beautiful Italian language, whether it be a beautiful song or bickering between Italian couple.

Daily serving of gelato

What does your study abroad experience mean to you?

With my last name, Vagnoni, I usually end up correcting everyone’s pronunciation and then following with “it’s Italian”. Therefore, I had a very easy time deciding which city I wanted to call home for five months because I knew I wanted to explore my roots. My experience helped me to visualize where my ancestors and traditions came from. I got to see and explore the city my family is from. Especially in Italy, so much of the culture and architecture is timeless and identical to what it looked like 100 years ago. The connection I felt while being in the regions where my grandparents are from was truly surreal.

Ravenna, Italy

What travel tips would you give someone studying abroad?

1) Save up your money before you leave, so you have no boundaries as to the places you can go and the things you can see. It is rewarding to know you worked hard for the upcoming experiences.
2) Spend your money on experiences over materialistic things. Don’t get me wrong, I took home some of the most special gifts and tangible items… but some of my favorite memories were activities I paid the price of, such as horseback riding on the coast of Portugal and off-roading in the hills of Tuscany.
3) Eat everything and try things you have never tried! You may find a new favorite.
4) Venture out from the people you already know, it’s great to have familiar faces but it’s also the best opportunity to meet people from all around the world.
5) Utilize every minute you have. Dedicate time to exploring Italy, too. Don’t forget that there is a lot in between your host city and the rest of Europe.

Piazza della Repubblica

What advice do you have for new study abroad students?

Become a “regular” somewhere and feel like a local! This was probably the best advice that I was given, and I would definitely agree. Especially when studying somewhere like Florence, you don’t have to speak Italian.. but try! Venture out alone during the day whether it be a midday stroll or to run errands because you’ll look like an Italian, so people will treat you like it. Try to learn as much of the language as you can and try to do as the locals do. I knew I was on a mission to find a cafe or coffee shop that I loved enough to become a part, and it wasn’t hard. It’s fun to stop in somewhere when the workers know your name.

Split, Croatia

What is your most memorable interaction with a local in your host city?

The most memorable interaction I had with a local in Florence was with Henry… the worker in Lombardi’s. Like I said, a goal of mine was to become a “regular.” Unlike my idea of becoming a regular in a cute coffee shop, I became best friends with Henry from the meat store. Lombardi’s was a store that sold all kinds of gourmet meats, cheeses and wines and had samples of everything. The free samples caught our eye and Henry was so sweet and funny that we kept going back. He’d say, “I know you come back for me, not the salami.” But it was definitely hard to pass up the truffle salami. I learned so much about where he was from and why he loved Florence. He would always ask about my sisters and parents at home. When they came to visit he was genuinely excited to meet them. The last week of my trip, I would pass by every day to say hi and he would know how many days left I had. Henry’s outgoing and joking personality truly showed how fast Italians feel like family. And, the family & friends discount is always nice!

Paragliding in Switzerland

Laura was an SAI Florence spring 2018 student from the University of South Carolina.

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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.