Before leaving for Florence, every single one of my friends who went abroad told me that I was about to embark on the most exciting and eye-opening experience of my life and naturally I came in with very high expectations. Like many other students, this was about to be the first time that I would actually be living in a foreign country for more than a month and I quickly began to realize how big of a change this would be. I got to Florence expecting to freely explore the city and really did not even think of any problems that could arise, and of course there were more than one that presented themselves to me during the first week. A rough first week in your new study abroad destination is more than typical, but as the week continued, I realized a few tips that I wish someone had told me before coming which definitely would have made the transition easier.
First and foremost, you can get SO much farther if you try to speak the language. Don’t worry about if you are saying something wrong, try to throw yourself out there! Coming to Florence I literally knew 5 words, you don’t have to be proficient in the language, but just image if you are walking around in your own hometown and someone comes up to you and just starts speaking a different language—it just puts you off a little. As Americans, I think we naturally assume that everyone knows English, but this is not true at all, and even if you approach someone who knows English, NEVER begin the conversation assuming this. I quickly noticed that Italians are much nicer to you if you just try—this doesn’t mean you need to speak in complete sentences! It can be broken Italian, maybe google translate how to say a specific word before you approach the person, if they see that you are trying it goes a very long way, most of the time they will realize you don’t know the language and speak to you in English. If you are in a situation where you don’t have time to look something up, or simply have no idea how to say it, always remember to ask if they speak English before continuing, they will respond with yes 99% of the time. I think sometimes we are too scared to try to talk in a different language to a local because our accent will be so apparent and we will sound dumb, just remember that this is never the case! Don’t be shy and try take full advantage of the experience.
The next most important trick that I learned is to never look down when you walk—take in everything about your surroundings. For the first week I had absolutely no data or texting and it was honestly a little scary because I did not know how to get around. So I realized that I could not act like I was in America anymore. When you use Google maps to get somewhere, or if you are traveling in a group, look at every single shop and landmark that you pass, it becomes infinitely important to recognize where you are. Try to not be dependent on your phone for directions and try to figure it out yourself and use your phone with backup. I can guarantee you will learn how to get around five times quicker like this than if you relied on outside sources.
Last but not least, be thankful for the opportunity! This is an experience that you will never forget, and try to not dwell over small issues that seem big in the moment (like when I had no data). Take time to go explore the city yourself, go into the stores that you want to go to, and try new foods! If a friend wants to go shop but you want to try a new café, go for it! Being independent will help you grow as a person and truly find yourself and you will begin to realize exactly why everyone says that this is the best time of your life.
Brigitte was a SAI Florence student from Boston University during the spring 2017 semester.