I'm a senior at San José State University studying in Florence, Italy, during my last year as a creative arts major. I applied to study abroad on a whim and still wasn't sure if it was something I wanted to do until I received my acceptance letter. Now I am living with two Italians and two Americans, learning the language, continuing my dance training at an Italian dance studio, traveling Europe, and studying with my fellow California State University students at the CSU Florence Study Center.
The first night after my fellow CSU roommates and I moved into our apartment, a large parade flooded down our street and ended with a festival in the piazza at the end of the street. Our landlord told us that the festival had something to do with the Virgin Mary. There were marching bands, lanterns, naughty boys shooting pea shooters at the people in the windows, babies, nuns, old men…you name it!
At the Chocolate Festival in Perugia, I had my first taste of Italian hot chocolate (cioccolata calda), which is more like a melted candy bar in a cup than anything else.
At the beginning of the year, we Americans were attached to each other at the hip, but we have now realized that if your aim is to make friends with the people from your host country, you are more approachable when in a smaller group of two or three.
Aside from festivals and events, there are so many places to travel, and it is as easy as hopping on a train. Although it is nice to go with no agenda, it is also nice to look up suggestions from other travelers online.
Although we all want to avoid being labeled tourists as much as possible, it is foolish to miss out on things only for this reason! Our teachers at the CSU in Florence told us about many events, free and otherwise, during our first few weeks in Italy—including free entrance to the promenade of the Duomo.
It is not difficult to find an amazing view in Florence. Almost everywhere you go has something scenic about it. For example, when would you ever expect to have a sunset view like this when studying in the library?
Others, like Piazza Michelangelo, are more of a sought-out destination, but that is what we are here for! To see the city and everything it has to offer.
A good way to feel like you are really a part of the city rather than just a tourist is to be involved in the events going on around you—social, political, environmental. The staff informed us about "Corri La Vita," a run for breast cancer, and almost the whole school signed up to take part!
Through the course of the year, there are several field trips that are arranged throughout Italy. Some are day trips, and others are three to four days. The schedules are rigorous, and the weekends are tiring, but each one is new and exciting and different from the last.
Although there are always pros and cons of traveling abroad, especially when traveling with 110 people, the pros always win out, and the trips are worth it. Most of the trips' expenses are prepaid in the tuition cost, which makes you feel very pampered when you arrive.
No matter where you go in Italy, gelato is everywhere, and everyone is eating it. It is almost unheard of in the CSU Italy program to go more than two weeks without a gelato.
My roommates and I recently hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our house with a total of 11 people. I have only been here for three months and have already experienced so much.
These pictures are only a small peek into the adventures I have had and the places I have gone. I can tell you already that I will be a much more independent and secure person by the time I return home in June with a world of new experiences.
Learn more about the study abroad program in Italy.