After months of anticipation and planning, January 25th 2016 finally came around, the day I left for my study abroad experience in Florence, Italy.
Looking back at the day I left and my travel here I would say the hardest part was saying goodbyes to family and friends in person. The last person I said goodbye to was my dad right before I got in line for security, and I remember feeling so much better once he left the room and I had no more goodbyes to do in person. From there the experience was one I will never forget! The furthest I had ever traveled from my home in Colorado before this trip was to Puerto Rico, so this was all new to me. I personally had 3 different flights to get to Florence, one from Denver to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Florence. If I were to go back and change anything to get through these flights easier, I would definitely drink more water, try to sleep more on the plane (helps with jetlag later), and eat normal food (not just snacks). I was lucky enough to get to sit by 2 other study abroad girls on my 8 hour flight to Amsterdam, so that ended up making the flight even more enjoyable as we got to know each other. It may seem tempting to just watch the free in-flight movies the whole time, but trust me, you will wish you got that sleep once you arrive in Florence.
One of my favorite parts was arriving in Florence and meeting up with SAI to get our orientation materials and get a ride to our apartments. Everyone was in the same boat, coming from totally different places, looking absolutely exhausted, but with a little nervous energy still lingering about. The drive to my apartment really set in the fact that I was in Italy because no American would ever get away with that kind of driving!
Once I arrived at my place I met my 3 other roommates and we went exploring (and my exploring I mean get completely lost) and got our first meal together. I remember feeling so tired but in awe at the same time that everything looked fake to me. Looking at the Duomo after being awake for 24 hours feels like you are dreaming, I probably looked like a total idiot just standing there staring at every building I saw.
From then on it was just settling in. Having orientation right away helped a lot to distract from any homesickness or anxiety that came with our arrival. This is the time when everyone wanted to be friends with everyone, so the important thing is to try your hardest to step outside of your comfort zone and talk to anyone and everyone you can in your program to scope out who you might get along with best during these next few months abroad. I became close with my roommates fairly fast which was fortunate for me. We spent our first official day in Italy wandering around and getting lost; we walked the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, had gnocchi, and went grocery shopping for the first time. A little tip for shopping at Conad, the line goes very fast! Have your cash or card ready right away and be ready to bag your stuff as quickly as possible. I also recommend bringing your own reusable bags because theirs are very thin and they charge for them.
One thing you should remember is to savor the time you have off before classes and do stuff you won’t be able to do during school. I know for me I have class every single day so I wish I had gone to more museums before I dove in. Most people have plenty of time to do that still, but it’s also about the motivation of deciding to do that instead of sticking with a routine you might settle with of just staying home with the roommates or going out to restaurants and bars like you do every night. Remember that you will get lost, but that’s what makes it fun and forces you to try to understand your surroundings! I challenge people to not use their phones for directions at first to try to figure things out on their own.
As far as family goes, I have google hangouts (like WhatsApp) set up with all of the members of my family so we can group text whenever. It has helped so much! I try to text them on there at least once a day so they know how I am doing and then I try to call every Sunday. The first week is overall strange but normal, difficult but fun, nerve-wracking but exciting, and awakening. I’ll never forget it!
Jenica is a current student at Colorado State University studying at Florence University of the Arts in Italy, during the Spring 2016 term.