Each year students revise this report to correct outdated information and to make it more useful for those who follow us. This is our one chance to say, "If I could do it over again." This is not a report on absolutes, on policies, etc., but on things to prepare you and get you thinking about your experience in Italy.
It is difficult to realize and absorb the fundamentals provided by this report while you are still in the United States. By experience we know references to subjects, such as "culture shock" and transportation information are vague until they become a reality for you here in Florence. Perhaps the most useful way to use this report is to read it, prepare for your year abroad accordingly, and bring it with you to Florence in the fall. After a few short weeks you will have questions you feel that OIP did not answer and, surprisingly, you will often find those answers in this Student Experience in Florence.
You will receive a copy of a Study Center Guide (the Student Handbook) upon your arrival in Florence. In it you will find more detailed information and suggestions pertinent to you stay from a local perspective.
When we arrived in Florence, a whole new world awaited us. To some of us this new world seemed very strange; to others it seemed only slightly out of focus. But nothing was normal. The Italians had their own customs and codes to go along with their different language. Because these people responded differently to us than we were used to, we often felt frustrated and defenseless. This is culture shock and it happens to every person who travels abroad for an extended period of time. Fortunately, it is not a permanent condition. As you begin to feel more at home in Florence, these initial problems of adjustment will diminish; keeping busy is the best way for rapid adjustment and conversing with Italians (making Italian culture part of your daily life.) ex. going to the same coffee shop and talking with the barista.
However, before that adjustment occurs and while the frustration of living in a new culture exists, there are some things you can do. These things involve your attitude. First of all, you must realize that the American way is only one of the many ways of reaching the same end. Remember that in most cases, Italians will not react to a given situation the same way as you would. Be especially attentive at first to see what is culturally acceptable and what is not. Go prepared to adjust to a new way of living and thinking. Also remember that you chose to study abroad for this experience and to not expect things to be the same as they would be in the States. Be open and patient and ask cultural questions to further understand. You will most likely encounter new views (sometimes negative) about America and Americans; learn from them and clarify them when you can. You may find that you have traveled with misconceptions and that some of the ideas you have formulated to date will be challenged during the year. Realize certain things are frowned upon in Italy, as you will no doubt learn- especially public drunkenness. Be conscious of your surroundings and realize you're absorbing and exuding culture at all times. Italians value a glass of wine or beer, but they do not view drinking as an opportunity to over consume. Just know that loud, obnoxious and drunk Americans not only put you in danger but further tarnish the view of American students for future program participants. Be prepared to get the “Death Stare” from Florentines, they tend to come off hostile when you meet them. American students are often seen as Drunk Adolescents who just come to Italy to Party and get drunk. You are moving into a different world by choice, so be prepared to deal with the differences open-mindedly rather than attempting to alter the environment around you. Remember, this is an urban environment.
Initially, many of us felt that days were like emotional roller coasters, going from great highs to great lows. These highs and lows occur even after the first few months but then you will begin to settle in and time will start to fly. I found the best thing to do on a low day is to walk around the city with a friend from school and just take in the beauty of Florence. Realize that perhaps the biggest culture shock is when you return to the United States. Another shock is how many American students actually study in Florence. This may be a bit trying at times since most students travel to Italy to be surrounded by Italians. Remember, you can be as involved as you want; just break away from the group and get involved in as many Italian activities as possible. If you like to sing, then join a choir. If you like to rock climb, then find a place to do so. The staff if Florence offers many opportunities for volunteer activities: with Italians, conversation exchanges, etc. to encourage your involvement on a local level with Florentines. The opportunities to meet Italians are endless it’s up to you to do it.
Also realize that there will be some culture shock amongst your fellow students. Everyone comes from backgrounds and with different expectations for this experience. You most likely will not agree with everyone in the program, just be understanding, open, and responsible for yourself and your actions.
When you arrive in late August, you can expect to find the weather hot and very humid with lots of mosquitoes. Make sure to bring with you plenty of mosquito repellent or cream. Some students were hardly bothered, while others experienced a lot of frustration and pain. Some students were so frustrated that they wanted to go back home so come prepared. Just to be safe, come prepared. Actual mosquito nets may be a good item to purchase beforehand, as they are expensive here (you can find them at Ikea for around 20 Euro). Yet, be prepared for high ceilings in your apartment, so you will have to attach the nets to a wall beside your bed. There is also a product called "Vape" which is an inexpensive plug-in mosquito repellent that works well and can be purchased in Italy. October can be wet and very cold at night. November and December quite chilly and very rainy (many times below freezing), although you will still find a few days of sunshine among the entire gray. January begins the true Florentine winter with very cold weather and gray days. By the end of February the temperatures begin to rise slowly and by May the hot and humid weather will return. In other words, be prepared for all kinds of weather and seasons changes.
Before You Leave (Top)
Find two suitcases with wheels on the bottom and fill them to the weight limit, usually about 50 lbs (75 lbs is the max weight the airline will take). That plus one carry-on is all you should take. Some students who exceeded the weight limit had to take stuff out at the airport or pay huge fees to take it with them. Just be aware of what you pack. Do the same with your carry-on. The fact is that you will not have to carry this luggage far, only through the airport. If you leave things out to make for light traveling, you will be sorry- we were. Pack your carry-on with enough to get you by for a few days in case your luggage is lost. Remember that you need to be able to carry your entire luggage all by yourself and you will have to help the bus driver load it onto a bus. Pack expensive items such as laptops, cameras, and camcorders in your carry on to keep them from getting lost. And remember to check the latest carry-on allowances, as you will probably not be allowed to carry certain amounts of liquids. Be sure to remember your bags might get lost for a few days. It is advisable to bring some clothes in a carry on. You may wish to disperse your clothes evenly in two suitcases in case one gets lost. A back packing backpack can be used as a carry on and is extremely helpful for travel once you are in Italy!
Clothes: It is difficult to recommend to others what clothes they should bring. If you are the type that loves to shop and can afford to, you might not want to come with a full wardrobe. Florence is the fashion center, where the quality is excellent and prices are often comparable to those in the U.S. stores (like Macy's or Nordstrom's). Florence may be the most expensive place to shop in Italy. In Florence, the open markets such as St. Ambrosio and San Lorenzo, and the Cascine park market, (open on Tuesday mornings), are excellent places to purchase fashionable clothes at affordable, cheaper prices. San Lorenzo sells gloves, scarves, shoes, excellent wool sweaters, leather jackets, and much more at lower prices. Remember that what you buy, you will have to take everything back home with you.
If you are not a shopper, do not expect to be transformed into one once you get to Florence. You will be the person who spends his or her wardrobe budget elsewhere. Bring at least one or two decent outfits; Italians are more formal than Americans are in general. But remember, Levi's are always in style. White clothes are very hard to keep clean and the heavy chemicalized water turns them yellowish. Often students wash their clothes by hand to help with wear and tear. It may be a good idea to bring a small amount of Woolite to hold you over until you are settled in. Italians dress in rather dark clothing, so your whites won't be missed. Comfortable walking shoes are a necessity on the cobblestone streets of Florence. (Boots will be absolutely necessary during the rainy season also. Make sure your shoes have a very strong sole because the cobblestone tears them up. It is better to spend more money on a good pair of boots than to constantly have to wear broke, wet, cold, cheap boots). It is very important to bring shoes that can take the wear and tear of walking all over Florence, like tennis shoes. Most girls found bringing heels to be a waste of space. Once in Florence, you will find a wide selection of good Italian-made shoes designed for walking the streets of Italy. Once in Florence, you will find a wide selection of good Italian-made shoes designed for walking the streets of Italy.
Some of us regretted not planning well enough for winter. We left our sweaters and our winter coats at home. Come prepared with a few sweaters and at least one heavy coat. It is hard to find hooded sweatshirts here. Other clothing items students wished they had brought were long underwear, wool socks (or thick soccer socks…cheaper!) hats, scarves, nylons, boots, cotton tights, wool tights, down comforter, gloves and a long lasting umbrella. You can buy decent price down comforters from Ikea, which is reachable by a free shuttle. A sleeping bag will come in handy if you are planning on camping or for hostels during winter travel, however rather good quality but inexpensive sleeping bags can be found in Florence.. Also, bring ski clothes, gloves, goggles, etc. for possible ski trips breaks. A sleeping bag doubles nicely as a comforter for everyday. Bringing a towel is also a good idea for your apartment and for when you travel to hostels. You can find something nice and inexpensive in Italy at the markets , or you can purchase a traveling sleeping bag before you get here at Target for a very low price.
School Supplies: Considering that the Preparatory Language Program begins almost immediately, it would be a good idea to bring some school supplies with you (e.g. Italian/English dictionary, Italian verb book, pens, pencils, scissors, single hole punch, and Thesaurus), such supplies are very expensive in Italy (Dr. Grip pencils cost $10-$12 in Italy!) Don't forget to bring a good English dictionary for all of your classes in English (does not apply to Architecture students). It would be a good idea to purchase your notebooks and notebook paper in Italy (paper size is different in Italy in that the Italians use a four-ring binder rather than the U.S. three-ring). "5-star" type notebooks (with pocket dividers) and folders virtually do not exist here and when found, they are ridiculously expensive. I wished I’d brought two 5 star notebooks, even though the holes are different they would have been convenient for note taking. Pens end up being pretty expensive here as well. A good place to buy supplies is at the 99 cent store in Italy.
Books: The study center has only a small library with a very limited number of books. English bookstores are somewhat expensive. Therefore, we recommend you bring books that you will need. Those that we found particularly useful were English dictionaries, Italian/English dictionaries, an English grammar text and especially an Italian grammar text. Also, 501 Italian verbs (Barron's) is a NECESSITY. You can purchase your required text at a bookstore in Florence. Books can also be traded in and exchanged at English bookstores, like the Paperback Exchange. This is a good way to acquire books for pleasure reading. Amazon.com Europe will also ship to Italy, but will take more time. Not all textbooks are necessary to buy, use your judgment as to what you’ll actually need and keep in mind anything you buy you’ll have to worry about when you leave as well.
Literature/Social Science students, who anticipate taking the Divine Comedy course, consider bringing Cliff Notes for the first two books. They are next to impossible to find in Florence, and they are a great study aid to a trilogy that is very complicated structurally. If you plan on taking the "Machiavelli" class get Cliff notes back home for "The Prince".
Architecture Students: Back up all your work before leaving you never know what might happen to your computer while abroad and if it is fixable, if possible bring an external hard drive that is easy to carry with you to back up all of your work produced here and photos as well. Do bring your materials with you or you will find yourself duplicating what you already own. Evaluate what is essential to your work and bring it with you. Especially useful: pen set, triangles, a compass, a few templates, lots of Exacto blades (which must, of course, go well-wrapped in your checked-on luggage). There are many parallel bars for student use, but bring your own if you prefer. If you're getting these materials shipped make sure they will get there in the early weeks of October because you will need them for a pre-semester project. Not useful: U.B.C. and English scales. Architecture students should also consider bringing with them a metric scale (or you can buy one here but they will cost you about 12 euro). Also bring with you rolls of canary or white trace paper, glue-guns (glue guns will burn with outlet converters) and sticks, cutting boards (very expensive), a straight edge, and any favorite modeling materials such as aluminum tubing, plexiglass, wire mesh materials or sketch pad and books, all though you can find an enormous amount of beautiful well priced leather bound sketch books, most students tend to by one even if they had brought one from home. Some students did not find a use for many of the supplies they brought from home. Basswood sticks were useful and are expensive in Italy. Bring quick set glue and insta-set/kicker as it is not available here or can be very expensive. "Il Plastico" has a wide variety of model making materials at reasonable prices . It is located on Via San Gallo126.
They(the) study center provides tables, lamps, and adequate parallel bars. Bring mounting wires and gadgets for parallel bars because we could not find those here. One student also suggests an Architectural History book and or a guide to European Architecture for traveling, a good website to check out before coming is www.mimoa.eu which contains the most updated architectural monuments in every major European city you are planning to visit. Architecture students will have to take an Intro Art Drawing course during the PLP. A supply list should be provided before your departure so you can bring the necessary supplies from home. However, supplies are easily found here, but tend to be expensive. (It was not provided for us this year and it would have been very helpful I could have saved about 40 euro of the 65 euro I spent because I already had most of them). Don’t forget to bring any other means of supplies you tend to use when designing such as markers, color pencils, watercolors, acrylics; they can be very expensive here.
Art Supplies: Also better if brought from home, as art supplies sold in Italy are expensive. You can get a 10-15% student discount at Salvini. Other art supply stores in town are Eliocopia, Zecchi and Togocci. It is strongly recommended to bring a supply of acrylics, tempera, gouache, gel mediums and any brushes for the intensive exam preparation period. For the painting part of the exam, use whichever of these supplies you are more comfortable with. Though if you bring tubes of paint in a suitcase, make sure to double or triple bag them, as the pressure at high altitudes will cause the tubes to explode, and you will have an unnecesary painting inside your suitcase. You are asked to use quick drying mediums for the entrance exam at the Accademia, after that you can use whatever medium you like. Also, any tools necessary to make canvases or sculptures such as staple guns, carving tools, measuring tape, clasps, pliers, hammers, drills, a portfolio to hold drawings to be done, etc. Canvases in Italy are cheaper than in the U.S.A. A nice drummel set would be VERY HANDY!
Art History students suggest you bring a Bible, books on terms and old notes and general books you may already have for reference to Medieval or Renaissance Art. Also Giorgio Vasari's "Lives of The Artists." A book on the symbolism of Art may be helpful as well. Also, mythology books are good for students of medieval art so that comparisons can be made.
Medication: If you are taking medication regularly, it may be wise to bring a year's supply with you because shipping medication to Italy is complicated and very expensive. The customs officials always block packages containing medication and then you are required to supply a doctor’s prescription, complete forms and pay a fee for the release of the package. Also note, some prescription drugs, despite their seemingly Latin names, have different names here. Be sure you check this with your doctor or pharmacist in California and once again when you get here. Students had no trouble obtaining contraceptives once they arrived, but the brand names are different here. However, those of you on the pill may want to stay with the same type and therefore, should bring a supply with you. A year supply of contact lenses for those students who wear them is also recommended.
As a general rule, over-the-counter medicine and toiletries can add up. Contact lens solutions can be found for about US $8-$10. Some students had trouble wearing contact lenses due to pollution while others had no problems. You can find shampoo and conditioner at the same prices as in the U.S. - name brands included. Women, you may want to bring a supply of menstrual cramp relief pills; however, they can also be found in pharmacies here. If you have any sinus problems at home, be sure to bring decongestants/antihistamines, although Sudafed is available in pharmacies. Be aware that allergies may differ in the U.S. and Italy. Cold medicines are not difficult to find. Vitamins can also be found in pharmacies at prices close to those in the U.S. Bring Tylenol, cough drops, cold syrup, Pepto Bismol and flu medicine with you. We highly suggest you bring your own Vitamin C, Zinc drops Emergen-C and Echinacea to ward off winter colds and flu. Multivitamins are hard to find here- bring them from home. If you plan to go out and party at night (which will probably happen to everyone at some point) these things are a necessity for not just hangovers but the fact that nights are cold and when one person gets sick everyone basically gets sick. Be prepared with your own home pharmacy.
We repeat, DO NOT send medicine, vitamins or aspirin to Italy, however, if you absolutely have no choice, be sure to include a doctor's prescription in the box with the medicine. (Also keep a copy for yourself, or if someone else is mailing the medicine to you, tell him or her to put these in the box with the medicine AND mail you copies of the prescriptions). As crazy as it may seem, the customs officials at the Italian border stop all packages that have these items listed in the contents. They want to see a doctor's prescription included with these items. If it is not, they will hold the package in customs for months. Meanwhile, the student has to pay a doctor here in Italy to write a prescription for the items listed above. That has to be faxed to the customs office and all the while, the student has to wait for the package to be released. Our advice is to bring a nine-month supply of medicines with you instead of having them sent. If you’re addicted to chapstick I recommend bringing a lot. You can only find weird brands and they are expensive!
Film: For those who may be bringing a portable computer, digital cameras are an excellent investment. They save money on film and developing and make it much easier to use photos in the yearbook and other publications. Online digital photo printing services will usually ship internationally at reasonable shipping rates (Shutterfly charges $5). Regular film costs about the same to develop here as in the States. Look at Foto Ottica. Avoid souvenir shops and other tourist traps and buy at photo shops. Photo equipment (cameras, memory cards, etc.), is also expensive, so bring them with you. A number of local laboratories in Florence do reasonably cheap and good work. This may be the best and most convenient way to do it. There is a photo lab (Foto Ottica Fontani) near Piazza Independenza that develops film at the reasonable price of about 7 euros for a roll of 36 exposures. Address: Viale F. Strozzi 18. Esselunga also develops film for a good price. Finally, if you want postcard type photos, with a white edge surrounding the photo, there is a store near Piazza Della Republica called "Dei" that develops film for about 5.16 euros for 24 exposures, as well as Konika on Borgo Pinti near school. Also "Photo Locchi" on Via del Corso gives students discounts on development and their entire selection of sunglasses.
Music: MP3 players , ipods and other portable music devices proved to be a necessity for all students. Don't forget to bring warranties from home. If your equipment breaks, you'll want to be able to send it in to the company if possible. It is advisable to buy all of your electrical items in Italy, its well worth the cost and hassle. Bring your music with you; you'll want it for parties and get-togethers, and CDs are very expensive (20-22 euros). Power converters and battery chargers can save on battery costs. Also, bring or buy speakers for an instant home stereo. It is possible to find inexpensive electronics and save room in you luggage.
For laptops and most electronics you only need an adapter not a converter, stock up on adapters and be prepared to buy power strips as most apartments are somewhat lacking in wall outlets.
Once You Arrive (Top)
When you first arrive, you will be excited to be here but you have one early challenge to deal with during your first week in Florence: housing. Housing is not arranged for you so it is entirely up to you to find an apartment with other CSU students, Italian students, a room with an Italian family, or a single apartment. This can be stressful and tiresome, even though the school provides agencies that will locate rentals and set-up appointments. Keep in mind that it may seem like a rough experience at the beginning, but you will feel a great sense of accomplishment and relief once you have acquired housing! Agencies charge a stiff fee, although most housing in Florence is available through agencies only. Agencies are very helpful because you can just pay your rent directly to them. Those proficient in Italian might try "La Pulce" available at newsstands. We suggest you take time to discuss your expectations and lifestyle with your future housemates. If you can, call people before you leave to get to know them and share your excitement. If you are used to having you own private room, sharing a bedroom here might not be worth the money you save. Make sure to check that your apartment has all you want and don't settle. Look for a phone, clothes washer (nobody has dryers-only drip-dry) and check to see if the cost of heat is included in your utility bill. Utilities are very expensive in Italy-gas is preferred so ask your landlords. Once you find a place you like, be prepared to pay anywhere from one to three months rent up front ($400-$1200), along with agency fees ($150-$200 each person). Travelers' checks proved beneficial for a safe way to transport enough cash for such up front housing costs. Make sure to inspect your apartment thoroughly and give your agency a dated copy when you move in, as you may get charged for previously damaged items or furniture. Remember that whatever you choose to do, your housing situation must be something you can live with for the next 9 months. Just remember that whoever you decide to live with you will have to live with them for 9 months. Many students rushed into living with peers they weren’t really compatible with trying to get the “good” apartments first. Take your time and try to really feel out your future roommates, if you don’t think they’re lifestyle is compatible with yours, don’t live with them. Some people benefited from finding places on the Internet before they came or through friends (look on Craigslist.org). Others suggested that contacting people prior to departure helped them get to know the people they were going to live with better, in order to ensure better living situations. Know that there are several options available to you. When asked about the living experience after the fact, many students believed that part of the learning experience was finding a place once they had gotten to Italy. Try to keep a patient, level head, and know what you generally want beforehand, but be ready to adjust. Some who wanted to live with italians had to have more patience, but for most it definetly paid off in the long run interms of learning the language and culture. Remember, most Italian students don’t return to the University until October, so it may be hard to find Italian students to live with. Also, although the apartment situation was the thing everyone was most worried about, most students found an apartment within 2 days of looking. Very easy to do!
For those who want to live with Italians:
Remember that it may seem like you need to find a place in the first 7 days when everyone else has found a place using the agencies. But for people who really want to live with Italians don't be discouraged. You can stay with someone who found a place or if nothing else find a hostel. Be patient, a good place will show up; you will be glad that you waited. It is more important to find a place you are comfortable in than to settle for the first place that comes along. People who lived with Italians really benefited from the experience. They met a lot more Italians and learned directly from their experience about the culture, not to mention the positive impact it can have on your language proficiency.
Before leaving for Italy, buy a map of Florence so that you are familiar with the layout of the city; this will aid you when selecting a location. Also, when hunting for housing, always keep in mind the location of the rental in relation to the center of the city and school. Some students voiced frustration about living too far from the medieval center where the nightlife and other events occur. Buses stop running around 12:30 a.m. and female students may feel stranded without a person to walk them home, but living in the center might mean older buildings, smaller spaces and a slightly higher rent. Another option is to take a taxi (055 4242), which usually takes 3-4 minutes to arrive or sometimes longer, especially if you request one in English. Although the center may not be as peaceful as the suburbs, remember the convenience of the center proved to be very important for many students. Do not be intimidated when looking at a map of Florence, while distances may seem great the city itself is actually quite small and relatively easy to navigate. You can walk one end to the other in under an hour. When looking for apartments you may find a place right next door to school or 20 minutes or more away, just but sure to pick the one you really want. If you are further away from school there’s always the buses and buying a bike is always possible.
Telephone lines can be very difficult and expensive to have installed in your apartment. Wireless internet service is now available in Florence and you can ask your landlord to have it installed for a reasonable monthly rate that you can then split with your roommates. You can then use SKYPE to call home and spend very little on your international calls. Get a cellular phone immediately, as they are cheaper than getting a phone line in your home and calls with phone cards are not much more expensive to and from the US than using a fixed phone. Most cellular phones start at $60, but are well worth the price. The main cellular providers are Wind, Tim and Vodafone. Recent students found Tim to be the best of the three, when it came to price. Some students will have cell phones to sell. Also, buying international phone cards and calling from phone centers is economical. Buy your phone cards in Florence. You must call a special number to use phone cards from the States and often times the cards must be activated before leaving the country, so we recommend reading the instructions carefully before departing for Florence.
If you really want to become fluent in Italian, live with Italians! It is possible to live with Italian students, but they do not begin university until November-which may pose a problem since you arrive in September. You may find temporary housing for a month or so, in order to find a place with Italian students when they arrive. Do not be discouraged if you crave to live with Italians. It may be a little more difficult, but always an adventure. It is not uncommon for students to change apartments if that's what it takes to make them happy, but remember you may lose your deposit if you break a contract.
If you plan to come over early (in August), keep in mind the housing agencies and landlords will be on vacation until the beginning of September.
Managing Your Money (Top)
The euro is the Italian currency. The exchange rate can rise and fall without much notice, so budget accordingly. Buy some euro before you leave the States. We recommend that you bring the equivalent of a least US $200 in euro with you when you first arrive. This will come in handy for things like tipping the bathroom attendant in the restroom at the airport. In addition, bring at least US $2,000-$3,000 with you in the form of Travelers' Checks. You will need this money right away to cover rent and deposits. Direct deposit for financial aid is the best.
There are seven-euro notes, in different colors and sizes. They are denominated in 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 euros. There are eight-euro coins denominated in 2 and 1 euro, then 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cent. Try to understand the value of the money. It will help you manage how much you spend.
Having sufficient money on hand at all times to pay for rent, food and other bills can be a real problem if you don't plan carefully. Sometimes students find their money disappearing faster than they expected. Remember also that your financial stability depends on the strength of the U.S. dollar.
Cashing Checks: While you are in Florence, if you need to cash personal checks, the Resident Director and Resident Administrator at the school can stamp your personal checks (up to $1000 a month) and the bank the IP program uses in Florence will cash them for you. This can only be done for you until the end of March, and, of course, if one of your checks bounces, you'll lose this privilege. Bank drafts and personal checks that you receive from other people can also be cashed with the stamp of the Resident Director or Resident Administrator (again, only until the end of March). You can set up an account with the bank the school works with and deposit money directly from California accounts to the Italian one through the checks. It is very easy.
International cashier's checks or international money orders can be sent to you by registered mail, and can be cashed by banks in Florence. However, if relatives or friends want to send you Christmas money, American Express Gift Travelers' Checks are the way to go. Registered mail from the US takes 6-10 days. Do not have US Postal Money Orders sent to you. They cannot be cashed outside of the US.
Three different methods for managing your money in Florence are described below. Probably the best thing to do is to use a combination of these strategies. That way, if you have problems with one, you can try another.
Keep Your Account Open in California and Bank Using the ATM's in Florence: One way that many students managed their money was to keep their bank account open in California and to withdraw money from ATM machines in Italy. ATM's are accessible most everywhere in Europe. Before you leave California, be sure that you have a 4-digit PIN number to use at the ATM's, as most ATM's in Europe only accept 4-digit PIN numbers. If you choose the ATM to be your primary method of banking, you will want to convert your account into a "joint account" with a relative who will be in California who you trust to help you manage your finances. Both people named in a joint account can make deposits and withdrawals from the account(s). Many US banks offer online banking so you can easily manage your own account while in Italy and/or have a back-up person at home.
Financial Aid: Financial aid is your responsibility. Be prepared and you shouldn't have any problems. A written statement to Long Beach can offer you the ease of having your money deposited in your bank account and being able to access your money quickly. Before you leave California, double-check to make sure that everything is in order at your home campus financial aid office. If you don't, this may be your biggest regret. Your financial aid will be mailed to you automatically in the form of a check from OIP. Financial aid arrives slowly and at irregular intervals. BE PREPARED to have some sort of back up plan if at all possible to get you through the long intervals. Also, if possible, have extra funds when you come since your first financial aid check may not arrive until September, October, or later. BEWARE: Student Loans are notoriously late in getting here.
If you will be keeping your US bank account open, we suggest that you instruct OIP to deposit your financial aid checks into your US bank account. Then you will be able to access your money from an ATM.
Education: The International Program Center in Florence (Top)
The CSU Study Center in Florence is located in a building on Via Giacomo Leopardi No 12, near Piazza Beccaria. The CSU building is an old Palace and contains classrooms, offices, and architecture labs. The IP Center accommodates students from a variety of academic disciplines, including: architecture, art history, studio art, literature, social science and a classics department (effective 2008-09 academic year). Students follow a specific course of instruction based on the program into which they were admitted. The IP Bulletin explains each concentration in greater detail and provides course descriptions. Most students, depending on their concentration, will have the opportunity to take one or two electives, which they should be able to take from outside of their concentration.
Most classes, except the Italian classes, are taught in English by highly qualified professors. You are expected to progress in your command of the Italian language sufficiently enough to take one course in Italian during the second semester. One class in each of the concentrations, except architecture, is taught in Italian during the spring term. Independent study is available for no more than three units (or one class) per semester, and must be approved before arrival in Florence (see "Academic Considerations" as well as separate OIP mailings).
Internet: Florence now offers a wireless internet service for all students who have a laptop computer. During the orientation period, students will be given appointments so that they can be configured for wireless use at the school. There are over 100 students with laptops so you have to be patient. Sign up on the sheets that will be posted for appointments and wait your turn. We did experience some technical problems and the service was not guaranteed at all times so it is good to know that there are many internet points in Florence where you can go in case of an emergency. Many students also had internet in their apartments. One can use the Florence Public Library's internet for free 3 hours a day, though it is very slow. The point is….BRING A LAPTOP! There are internet trains all over the city but will not always be comfortable enough to spend hours in.
Computers: Access to computers is VERY limited at the study center (1 Mac, 1 PC, 1 scanner & 4 printers.) If you have a laptop, we STRONGLY recommend you bring it with you to Italy. Wireless internet access is available at the study center (though somewhat limited) so if you are bringing your laptop from home make sure it is properly equipped. If you don't have a laptop, see if you can borrow one from your campus, or buy a cheap, used one for the year abroad. The students here this year have benefited greatly from having brought theirs from home. The two computers at CSU aren't enough (especially around Midterms & Finals) for all students but can help in case of an emergency. The printers can be used with your laptop once you have installed the correct program. Discs are provided so that any student can install the printer program directly on to their laptop. So, we repeat, bring a laptop with you. If you can't afford one, just be prepared to compete for the two computers at CSU and to pay for internet at the internet points in town. The computers at the Internet points can be used for projects as well, but it costs as much as using the Internet.
The Preparatory Language Program (PLP) (Top)
All students begin their academic life with an eight-week period (3 hours a day 5 days a week) of preparatory language study. Study of Italian language is required of all students throughout the year. The Preparatory Language Program (PLP) is designed to equip students to live in Florence. For these reasons, it is important to apply yourself during the PLP period. During the regular semesters, the time available in the Italian classes will be drastically reduced, as taking other classes and dealing with everyday life will occupy a great deal of your time.
The PLP is the period when you establish a very valuable base for your Italian, and it is from our own experience we say: "Learn as much as you can during the PLP!" A Modern Italian Culture & Society class complements the PLP. The students found both classes worthwhile and enjoyable. All in all with language class every day, tours, and lectures as well as just locating everything you need, the PLP experience was far from restful-although very beneficial! PLP is as useful as you make it. For those that apply themselves you really can learn a great deal and come out with a better grasp of the language, others will still feel by the end they’ve learned nothing and it was pointless. Also keep in mind that during the PLP is when you’ll have the most free time during the year, during the week take advantage by exploring Florence. The weekends are great for day trips to the nearby cities.
Some considered PLP a “Ball Buster” but it’s very laid back and the teachers are awesome.
The University of Florence (Top)
Students who come to Florence with a high level of proficiency have the option of taking courses for credit at the University of Florence. All CSU students are also welcome to audit classes at the University. We STRONGLY encourage this because it is a great way to make Italian friends. If you want to officially take classes here, you must talk with your IP advisor before you leave and take care of all necessary paperwork through the consulate. This is a separate process and not part of the visa paperwork.
Boccaccio taught a course on Dante's works at the University, which was founded in 1321. Like most European universities, the University of Florence (L'Universita degli Studi di Firenze) is divided into faculties (facolta) for each general discipline. These are located in separate buildings in various parts of the city. Faculties are divided into institutes (instituti) for the various subjects within a general discipline. Within a subject area, each specialized field has one professor who often teaches only one lecture course.
The specific courses and their meeting times are announced shortly before the academic year begins in October or November. The start of the semester varies depending on which faculty you will be attending. These are usually posted on bulletin boards near the secretary's office in each institute. Changes or additions to the schedule may even be made during the first two or three weeks of the term, and these, too, can only be followed by watching the bulletin boards or by inquiring in the secretary's office. A printed schedule of classes is rarely provided before classes begin. In some cases the room number and location can change, so it is necessary to attend the first class.
The Italian University System is undergoing changes to make the system more compatible with other European Union countries. In the past the courses were full year, but now there is a semester system. The first-semester runs from October/November to January or February and the second semester runs February to June. Exams can be written or oral, so check with the professor. Last years students were frustrated by these changes because of the confusion they caused. However, it was still a positive experience for those who attended. Here is what a former student who went to the University of Florence had to say:
"In general, I've been highly impressed by the caliber of education at the University of Florence. Professors teach subjects in which they have conducted extensive research and published. The subject matter of a course is likely to be different each year, and many students take advantage of this by following the same professor for several years. This can result in a very personalized form of education-something like finding a mentor to follow through one's academic training.
Studio Art Program
Studio art students should expect a change. You will need to pass an entrance exam to get into the Accademia or the Scuola del Nudo. So just look at the exam as a challenge and a learning experience. The teaching method in Italy differs from that of America in that you are expected to paint on your own. The teachers don't assign you projects or tell you what to do unless you ask. Americans would say that the Italian institution is less organized, so it is up to you regarding how well you will do and how much work you will produce. There is also a language barrier. Although it is easy to get around Florence with English, do not count on your professors speaking it at the Accademia.
During PLP, studio art students will prepare for the entrance exams at the Accademia. This includes art advising meetings with Marsha Steinberg, figure drawing and critique of preparatory work. Depending on the Accademia's exam, there may also be instruction on writing and speaking Italian. It is optional to bring slides or photographs of previous artwork.
At CSU, you either enter into a beginning, intermediate or advanced Italian class, depending on how you did on the placement test. Italian grammar and conversation classes at CSU and art classes at the Accedamia will be taken concurrently throughout the year. We recommend taking more than one semester of Italian prior to departure. It will make life easier.
You need drawing pencils, erasers, charcoal, ink, acrylic paints, tempera/gouache, and a sketch book.You may buy these supplies when you arrive but many students wished they had thought to bring their basic supplies to save frustration and money of buying it twice. You will use anything you normally use in a drawing class. Salvini is a good place to get these things upon arrival and they should cost around 20 euro.
Examination Period - Academia Exam (Top)
Students should go prepared to take both entrance exams for the Accademia and the Scuola del Nudo.
First eight days of October (daily 830-1:00-except Sunday)
Day 1: Still-life. Can be painted or drawn depending on the appropriate medium for the particular still-life. To be done on 70 x 100cm artists paper.
Day 2: Figure drawing. Knowledge of the human body and its correct proportions are important
Day 3: Free-themed painting. Student chooses what to paint and must develop at least one completed painting on 70 x 100cm heavy paper. Student is encouraged to create more paintings, if time allows. Also encouraged to write a short paragraph in Italian, explaining your work. Dictionaries are allowed.
Day 4: Themed project painting. Students are given a broad theme (ex. nursery wall, garden fountain, front of airport) with detailed instructions on how to execute ideas (such as dimensions of final project). Student is strongly encouraged to write a short paragraph in Italian explaining the ideas behind their work.
This past year (2007-2008) was the first time the Accademia has made the exam so "light". The 4 day exam is still very challenging and it should be taken extremely seriously, but be very aware that in past years, the exam was 8-10 days and included language exams and personal interviews.
Accademia di Belle Arti
The Accademia offers painting, sculpture, decoration, graphics/etching and set design. Most of the CSU students take exams for painting or sculpture.
Selected students will be able to choose their professors. Marsha will go over all the Accademia professors prior to you choosing and will help you "shop" for one that is suitable for you.
The Accademia schedule is a full year. No matter what year you are at CSU, everyone enters the Accademia in his/her first year. Important note: If you plan to continue studying at the Accademia for another year, it is required to pass Painting, Anatomy, and Art History to proceed to the second year.
Complimentary courses: Restoration, Photography Theory, Mass Media, Painting Techniques, Marble (for sculpture only) etc.
Scuola del Nudo
Note that students who do not pass the entrance exam for the Accademia courses (painting and sculpture) must also take the entrance exam for the Scuola del Nudo. The Scuola del Nudo offers drawing, etching and art history. It depends on the year, but sometimes it offers painting as well. Students are not guaranteed entrance to either of these institutions. If they do not pass they will study with Marsha Steinberg.
The Scuola del Nudo courses usually take place two afternoons a week for four hours each. You must fill out the paper work and pay a processing fee to sign up for the 2-hour drawing exam. All courses are taught in Italian; most people do not speak English and you are not guaranteed a professor who speaks English.
Art supplies: the cost of the supplies here are on par with the US (depending on the exchange rate) but the quality of traditional supplies are often better. To avoid costly purchases of basic supplies, it is strongly suggested that you bring what tools you use regularly. Examples: paintbrushes and clay tools.
The Scuola del Nudo is a school within the Accademia for those who do not pass the Accademia exam but who do pass the entrance exam for the Scuola. Students attending Scuola will take courses in figure drawing, which are offered two different days. 16 hours a week of which CSU students only attend 8. Students at the Scuola are also allowed to attend etching classes (Fridays and Saturdays), whereas most students at the Accademia have to wait until their third year to do so. Art History is optional.
Studying with Marsha (Top)
For those who do not pass either the Accademia or Scuola del Nudo exam, there is the option of studying independently with Marsha Steinberg, the studio art coordinator. With Marsha you can get three credits of credit per semester for an independent painting class (Ind. Study) or drawing class and if space allows, you can take the drawing class taught at CSU. The students who ended up studying with Marsha really learned a lot and felt that they had truly been challenged. Students who do get into the Accademia or Scuola del Nudo are also have the option of studying with Marsha if their schedules permits.
Prior to departure, make sure all required documents for "corsi singoli" are submitted to the Consulate (in San Francisco or Los Angeles) in order to register for the Accademia. OIP will provide instructions for applying for corsi singoli.
Your vacation schedule at the Accademia usually coincides with the one at the CSU Study Center.
At the end of the year, your Accademia professor will give you a score out of 30 for 18units in your chosen discipline. The same goes for anatomy, art history, etc, if taken. Give the signed libretto (blue identification book received mid-year) to Connie Perkins of student services at CSU to receive credit.
Keep in mind that unlike CSU which ends in May, the Accademia finals usually take place in June. Plan accordingly. Do NOT sign up for the group return flight if you are a studio art student. Make arrangements for a return flight that leaves mid to late June.
There are two student art exhibitions during the year. One is held at school in the beginning of March and the other at the end of May at Galleria Via larga. Both CSU and Accademia students participate for a diverse collection assembled by Marsha Steinberg.
The Accademia is not a 24-hour studio and is only available while the professor or assistant is present. Classes usually go from morning to late afternoon. The CSU center, on the other hand, provides one very small studio space to share during the Fall Semester and two very small spaces for the Spring Semester. They are open 24 hours, 7 days a week.
The ATAF city bus system 5, 31, 32 and C all go between the CSU center and the Accademia. It is about a 10-minute walk. For other transportation information, the ATAF office is located at the S.M.N. train station www.ataf.net
Museums and Galleries Firenze
The Accademia di Belle Arte offers the following concentrations: painting, sculpture, decoration, graphics/etching and set deign. Course schedules vary depending on your professor and your area of concentration; the entrance exam for the Accademia takes place during the first eight days of October. Students take the exam in their concentration in painting or sculpture. An Italian language exam is included, and proficiency is a virtual necessity.
The most important thing is to contact a former studio art participant. Not everything can be said in this report. Talk to one of us personally for specific information. Most students have an email and you should contact your IP Program Director at your campus to find out how to go about contacting a former participant. Much of the Accademia is based on self-starting, so it helps to develop some motivation for your creation of art, because no one will force you to paint here. This will be on your own accord.
The architecture classes begin in the first semester, after the PLP. However, towards the end of the PLP there is a pre-semester research project where you are asked to document an architecturally-important building in or around Florence. Classes during the regular semesters are only on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the year. However, on Mondays class runs from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm, and on Wednesday there are two classes, from 9:00 am to 1:00 am, and again from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm. There is much more free time on Tuesday and Thursday, as well as on the weekend, to also work on projects. Occasionally, one of the four professors will give a short, interesting lecture at the beginning of class, with topics ranging from their own professional practices to Italian Futurism. Otherwise, a typical class involves desk critiques while students work on their projects. Consistent attendance is mandatory to pass, however you aren't required to stay in class the entire five hours--in other words, you are free to come and go as you please. Usually, the professors only come one or two at a time to class, and split up to do their desk critiques.
The teaching style is both similar and different from Cal Poly, depending on each student's previous architecture studio experiences. The professors offer helpful feedback and ideas, as well as critical comments when necessary. They don't spend an enormous amount of time with each individual student, therefore self-motivation is a prerequisite to succeed. However, in my own personal experience, they spend around the same amount of time with students as a typical architecture professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. During the mid-term and final reviews, they all give you great feedback after you present your project in 10 -15 minutes. Students do not usually work in teams, other than to produce group site models or for collaboration to figure out universal project information. There are three architectural projects throughout the year, and although we are on the semester system, the projects end up being as fast, or faster than a typical quarter at Cal Poly (around 5-7 weeks for the first two), because the PLP takes up the first two months of the program. The third project is typically a longer project, and could involve a collaboration with fellow Italian architecture students from the town of Ascoli Piceno. Every year, as well, the students take around a week long trip near the end of the year to meet and work together with these Italian students in their small town. The projects range in size and complexity, with a small and well-developed first project, medium-sized second project, both leading up to a large, urban design final project.
All the students have their own large white drafting tables, which are much nicer than what we are used to at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Also, there are decent chairs provided, large storage systems for each student, and a desk lamp. The wireless internet provided is inconsistent, and not up to the standards of an American university, however you learn to be flexible and patient. It is important for students to have a laptop if they want to produce digital work, as the one computer provided here is not up to par for architectural work. Also, a very nice 8.5" x 11" laser printer is provided for students. There are nearby, affordable plotting stores and several impressive model material stores in the city (somewhat more expensive, unfortunately). The project requirements are similar to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, with a combination of digital / analog drawings and renderings and study / final site and project models. A small collection of glues, paints, and various materials are left at the school for use by the next group of students. There are three studios (large apartment rooms), which are connected and face unto the street on the second floor of the CSU Firenze University, which are left open 24 / 7 using a keypad system. The studio space is more than adequate, especially for those of us coming from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Academic Considerations (Top)
Finally, being accepted into the International Programs is certainly an exhilarating experience-but it does not mean that everything is immediately resolved for you. Take the time now to reassess your plans. Studying in Florence offers students a wonderful opportunity, but keep in mind that the attractions and distractions in Italy are numerous. Well-disciplined students will survive (grade-wise), while others might have a hard time until the end of the first semester, when they find their grade point averages have dropped considerably. Remember, class attendance does bear weight on your final grade and all of these grades will be reported at your home CSU campus and will appear on your CSU transcript.
Attendance is highly stressed. To date, the CSU imposed policy is that no more than 3 unexcused absences will be tolerated in each class during the semester. Travel plans are no exception so if you plan to travel keep that in mind when determining whether to go to class or not. Keep track of your absences!
It is important to consult carefully with your campus advisor to work out the specifics of your academic program abroad in order to coordinate it with your degree requirements. This is especially pertinent if you plan to graduate while you are abroad. Matters will go much more smoothly if you take care of these details before you come to Italy. In fact, we suggest you look into an Italian minor, as it is relatively easy to finish it while here. It would be helpful if you bring a list of classes you need in order to graduate. This way you will be able to apply some classes to classes here and make sure you receive credit at home. Do not be fooled by this program, the amount of hours you are required to be in class is the same as it is at your home campus. In fact, many classes have a mandatory attendance policy-making travel during the week very difficult. The academic week is Monday through Thursday. Fridays are reserved for make-up classes, class site visits and field trips. People who are accepted into the Accademia might have to attend class on Fridays and Saturdays as well.
Independent study: If you have a strong interest in some area and it is not already covered in the courses offered, consult an advisor about independent study. Propose a project that can be realistically undertaken within your time here and with the resources available to you. This must be approved by your home campus and by OIP before you come to Italy. (See information in the IP Participant Guide). Students who do an independent study project should know that it is extremely difficult in Italy to find reference books written in English.
Students in the art history concentration should be aware that the costs involved in this field of study would be considerably greater than in other concentrations. Museum entrance fees can be as high as 13.00 euro (including the reservation fee) at the Uffizi museum or many other state run collections. Site visits in Florence and class field trips to other cities (these are listed in detail in the course syllabi) will add up to about $400 (?), however, keep in mind the varying exchange rate.
Medical care is readily available. Facilities are well equipped and the doctors and dentists are competent. The local staff can provide you with a list of doctors who speak English. While medical insurance is included in your program cost, the insurance you get is not comprehensive and you must pay a $100 deductible. It would be a good idea to set aside the $100 as an emergency medical fund, as you need to pay medical costs up front and wait for a reimbursement from the insurance company.
A farmacia is similar to an American pharmacy. They are well stocked and carry many of the same products you will find in the United States. Furthermore, a pharmacist can sell you some medical essentials without a prescription, as many over the counter medications do not require a prescription.
Public hospitals are inexpensive as opposed to a doctor's office (30 euros versus 100 euros) and can be very handy in emergency situations, however, always follow the advice of the CSU staff about where to go. If you have an emergency, it will very hard to get your questions answered so ALWAYS carry the numbers of the CSU Florence Staff with you! Always! Even if you have a cell phone.
Keep in mind getting to and from hospitals will mostly be done on a bike or on foot. If you think you’re really getting sick go early and get it checked out before it’s to late. Listen to your body and don’t push it to hard. The way the program is structured makes being sick especially inconvenient on day to day life, don’t let illness ruin your time here.
Bus Service: Bus service is good, so you will often find the buses crowded within the city. Buses are run by ATAF. Bus maps will be given to you by CSU during orientation and are also available at the ATAF office, Piazza Duomo. 57r, and the routes are listed in the yellow pages supplement called Tutto Citta. You can buy 1-time or 4-time tickets at locations with Biglietti ATAF signs in the windows. You can also buy monthly passes at the ATAF office at the train station. You can now purchase tickets on the bus from the automatic ticket machines, but they are more expensive. You must validate your ticket (convalida) once you board at either end of the bus. The fine for not having a ticket is usually 50 times the ticket's worth, maybe more. Random inspections occur, checking for validated tickets. VALIDATE your ticket! It's not worth 50 euros.
For buses that run outside of the city, you can consult an information booklet issued by the Azienda Autonoma di Turismo. This shows which companies serve which towns. You can find this booklet at the Tourist Information Office on Via Cavour 1, or go to SITA for information on Via Santa Caterina di Siena 15r next to the train station Santa Maria Novella.
Trains: Trains are a quick, convenient, and economical way of travel to other cities and countries. Tickets are available at the train station and at travel agencies. CTS on Via dei Ginori has great deals, although they only sell tickets for travel destinations outside of Italy. Second class is the most economical (INTERCITY). Make sure you consult the schedule before buying the ticket for any supplemental charges. Fines on the train are expensive. After you buy your ticket always look for the yellow box at the train station to validate (convalidare) both portions of the ticket right before getting on the train. Look into getting a "kilometer pass" for about $100 U.S. You can get this pass, good for 3,000 km inside Italy. It is a good money-saver and can be purchased at any Italian train station. Many students also found the carta verde to be worthwhile, you can buy it at the American Express, and it saves you about 3 euros every time you buy a ticket.
When traveling on weekends or to places that are popular (i.e. Rome, Venice, or Bologna), you will want a seat. Reserve a seat (prenotazione). Second class does not require reservations, but it is possible to reserve seats in this section. Reservations are required in 1st class (i.e. EUROSTAR). There are generally long lines at Santa Maria Novella station at the ticket booths, so don't wait until the last minute to buy your tickets. They can also sell out. Tickets can also be purchased at the yellow ticket machines in the lobby area. These machines save you the hassle of waiting in a long line. If you want a seat in the "non-smoking" section, remember to request it. Purchases can be made at the train station, travel agencies (they can offer better discounts than the train stations or web can offer for some reason.), or any American Express location. It is also possible to reserve and purchase train tickets via internet.
When making a long journey (over eight hours) we found taking night trains and reserving a couchette was a great idea. This way you do not lose a day in traveling. Make sure to purchase this supplement at least 2 days in advance. Consult the inside cover of a train schedule (available at the station) for information regarding discounts. This can really save you money in travel expenses. When making a long journey, purchasing your ticket at a travel agency may be easier - they will make sleeping reservations and figure out your route. Keep in mind that some agencies require a small fee for this service. Women traveling on overnight trains should consider traveling with others. Guard your money. Every so often people were robbed on overnight trains. While overnight trains are very convenient they may not be the most comfortable way to travel, some are not heated, others just plain old.
If you buy a round-trip ticket at the train station and are not sure when you will use it, beware of expiration dates (Scadenza or Scad. on the ticket). It can be valid for a certain period. It is best to deal with a travel agent and buy a ticket for a specific date. Also, purchasing one-way tickets is a little more expensive, but allows for more spontaneity.
Within the City: Other travel alternatives are: mopeds, bikes, and, of course, your feet. Bikes are a great way of getting around the city, even though Florence's traffic is a little crazy. Also, be sure to buy a very thick chain for your lock. Pretty new bikes are stolen a lot more often so try to get a bici "bruttina" in other words, used bikes are the way to go.
Remember that buses stop running around midnight. You can always walk home if you live in, or near the city center. We often found ourselves walking home late at night, but women should avoid walking home alone. Try to stay with a group. Even then, groups of women may be verbally harassed. Be safe and take the main streets.
Flying was usually a cheaper way of travel for most students and here is a list of some of the websites that Students used to find cheap European flights:
Keep in mind that many of these low cost airlines operate out of airports that are smaller and further away from the center...
Most students used Ryanair throughout the year. The airline is very economical to put it politely. They have strict requirements for luggage and their airports are usually at least an hour outside of the city (Ex: to get to Florence you land in Pisa) keep this in mind that you will probably have to take another train or bus after arrival.
www.hapaglloydexpress.de - German discount airline
www.germanwings.de - German discount airline
www.volareweb.com -I Italian discount airline
www.easyjet.com - English discount airline
Postal Service (Top)
Take the time to write letters and postcards home. Your friends and family will appreciate your letters describing where you have been, what you have been doing, and what your impressions are. Ask your parents to save these letters for you. The cheapest and simplest way to mail international letters is by international airmail . They will be usually delivered within a reasonable amount of time - ten days to two weeks. When mailing postcards use .80 euro cents stamps for priority mail - one week versus 1 month.
When your friends and family members write to you in Italy, tell them to send letters at the "international airmail rate." Remind them to write or stamp AIRMAIL on the envelopes. Correct postage doesn't always guarantee airmail delivery. Even with all precautions made, mail service in general is not very reliable. It is recommended to have letters and packages sent to the school's address, especially the packages. It is safer this way and you don't have to pay the fees if you are not there when they try to deliver them. Be careful when sending expensive items as foreign mail is not regarded as highly important, and is often lost. PLEASE NOTE: make sure that you instruct your friends and family to declare low values (less than $30) and to write USED PERSONAL BELONGINGS, FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY on all packages. Do not have anyone send you medication, cosmetics or food, as these items are frequently stopped at the customs office and it takes time, forms and payment from you before your package will be released. IT IS NOT WORTH IT! Sometimes packages are blocked for weeks, get sent back to the sender, disappear in some warehouse and you never see them again even after having paid the requested fees!
Mailboxes are painted red, and usually have one slit for local mail (per la citta) and one for everywhere else (tutte le alter destinazioni). We advise dropping mail off at the post office, as collection times for boxes around the city are uncertain and sporadic. There are also blue boxes for international mail only.
Small packages are cheaper if sent unsealed. Stationers (carotoleria) sell a special padded envelope (busta imbottita) for this purpose, and will suggest suitable packaging. Books can be mailed at a cheaper rate if the ends of the packages are left open (it is possible to wrap them yourself). Maximum weight 5 kg.
Large packages should be taken to a local “cartoleria”/office supply store and then they can be taken to the nearest post office to be mailed (maximum weight 20 kg: maximum length 1 m.). DO NOT TRY TO WRAP THINGS YOURSELF. Scotch tape is forbidden, and it is sometimes necessary to have small lead seals (piombini). A cartoleria will also wrap parcels for a small charge. You can also use shipping centers like Mail Boxes, UPS or Internet Train. If a package is important and must arrive within days, MAILBOXES, ETC. on Via San Gallo is an alternative. It is expensive, but packages will arrive in 2 or 3 days.
Italian mail is unpredictable. Have patience. You will need it when dealing with the post office. A wise habit is to make multiple purchases when going to the post office. Get all the supplies you'll need for a couple of weeks or a month so that you don't have to go often. Be prepared for less than friendly service at the main post office. When sending insured packages be sure to ask for registered mail (a Raccomandata). At the main post office there is a machine located in the entryway where you must choose the service you need, in this case a Raccommandata, you must then push the button that coincides with the service you need and wait for your ticket to be printed, which reveals the window you need and which customer number you have been given. Wait for your window and number to be displayed and then proceed to the proper window for service.
Students should all buy and use cellular phones while in Italy. You can purchase international phone cards from local internet points, “bars/tobacco shops” or phone centers to use with your cell phones that are really reasonable. There are phone cards for 5 or 10 Euro that provide a lot of minutes for a minimal fee. The Cairo Phone Center on Via dei Macci and the Internet Train chain in Florence will allow you to call the USA for 33 cents per minute.
You can also make calls to the United States from the Central Post Office or from any of the phone centers located in town. Cheapest rates are usually in effect from 11:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.
When looking for an apartment, don't worry if it doesn't have a phone line. Most people have cell phones now. Making calls from your apartment can cause problems because local phone bills in Italy are not itemized and it is difficult to determine when the bill comes and who owes what. Just assume that you will probably spend 150 extra at the end of the year if you have a land line and used it a lot. Counters and itemized phone bills can be requested from your landlord.
The Mobile Phone System: Some of you may need to cancel your cell phone contracts because their carrier does not have locations in Europe such as Verizon Wireless, and with those cancellations comes the cancellation fees. Call their customer service and tell them your situation and they may wave your cancellation fee. Keep persisting until you can’t anymore. The cheapest cellular phone in Italy is around 40 euro. These phones work on a prepaid system, which have to be recharged periodically by a card. The recharging service can also be done by computer with the local phone service centers or at the tobacco shops equipped with this service. Incoming calls are usually free - only in Italy though. Reception, depending on location, is average. You can buy cellular phones just about anywhere in town. There are many stores that sell them and it might be worth a little “shopping around” to find the best deal for a cell phone.
Keep in mind that there are a few mobile phone carriers such as TIM, Wind, and Vodafone/Omnitel. If you use wind, you can get a plan that allows free wind-to-wind texting and up to 2000 minutes of wind-to-wind calling, all for 10 euro. GREAT deal! Wind offers a really cheap deal for calling other wind holders. It works out really well to have you and your friends all buy wind sim cards.also if you have your American phone company unlock your phone you can use it with the sim card here and avoid spending 40 euro on a new phone.
All are similar, but we found that some work better than others at different times and in different places. At times the actual phone itself can make a difference, some just get a better signal than others. Also know that quad band phones from US work here very well, if they are unlocked. ATT/Cingular can unlock your phone for free. I think T mobile also. Verizon people (I think) are out of luck. Your phone must use SIM cards for them to be able to put an Italian network SIM card in it. Second Tim offers Tim TRIBUE. it is 25 cents a day to all and 25 cents a day to text to anyone with tim TRIBUE. The service is wonderful and has good connection almost everywhere. It is like verizon "IN" or similar services in the States.
Mobile phones are convenient, especially when traveling in other countries, calling others traveling nearby, and emergencies, above all. When out of the country, rates obviously go up and incoming calls are no longer free. BE CAREFUL!
With programs like SKYPE, students are able to call friends and family for free from computers with internet connections. More information can be found at : www.skype.com. This is the most popular and economical way to call home. Make sure you get a cell phone as soon as possible, if you wait too long you run the risk of having an emergency and not being able to call anyone. You will need a microphone in order to use Skype. Sometimes it’s cheaper to get a cell phone in Italy than have an international plan on your home cell phone.
Time Difference (Top)
There is a time difference of nine hours between Italy and California. At 12:00 p.m. (noon) in California it is 9:00 p.m. in Italy.
Full service Laundromats charge by weight and the charge is about 6.00 euro per load. If you use a Laundromat, be sure to give specific instructions (no bleach, tepid water, etc.)
Self-service Laundromats are found around the city, but cost about the same as full service Laundromats. Dry cleaning costs about the same as in the United States. Dry cleaning can be expensive in certain places. At least the one I tried was 24 euro for 3 shirts, 3 pairs of pants. Be sure to read the instructions when using the Laundromats. If you don't do things in the right order or the right amount of time, the machines can take your money. It is better to bring coins or exact change.
Keep a close eye on your belongings, and money.
Another option is hand washing or, if you're lucky, you will have a washing machine in your apartment. You’ll get used to this air drying is perfectly normal in Italy, don’t forget the fabric softener.
Drinking Water (Top)
Yes, you can drink the water in Italy, unless the faucet is marked non-potable (as on trains), or unless you are out in the remote countryside where the water supply may not be controlled. Be advised that the water tastes a bit chlorinated. Brita Filter Systems are available at just about any pharmacy or local discount stores. Many people drink a lot of bottled mineral water (acqua minerale) not because the water is unsafe, but because they think it tastes better than the tap water. When you are ordering water in bars and restaurants, be sure to clarify if you want carbonated (gassata) or natural mineral water. A bottle without carbonation can be requested by simply saying senza gas (without gas), or naturale (natural). You won’t die from drinking tap.
Electric Current (Top)
Electric current varies from area to area. The current is usually AC, the cycle varying from 42 to 50, and voltage around 220. You can buy transformers and plug converters here, or bring them from home (it is recommended that you buy the more expensive, higher quality converter). It may be convenient, however, to buy irons and other small appliances in Italy rather than carrying them from the States.
There are, however, a few things that may not be suitable to plug-in (even with a converter). Sometimes it is better to use batteries. Rechargeable batteries and a charger are highly recommended. Bring extra fuses for power converters. We highly suggest you wait to buy appliances like curling irons here in Italy, if you're that kind of girl (or guy). Some girls burned up to two hair straighteners because of voltage confusion so just buy one here.
Florence is a city of small shops, which makes shopping more time-consuming but more fun too. The Cascine Park has an open market every Tuesday morning where you can find everything from frying pans, to purses, socks to new and used coats. These all can be found at quite reasonable prices. For bulk foods and staples it is advised to use the larger grocery stores (Coop, Standa, Conad and Esselunga). Paper goods, frozen foods, and soda are much cheaper in these stores compared to the small mom and pop shops found everywhere. Remember, Italy does not have mass produced foods that we’re used to like Doritos, Tapatio, Cup of Noodles, or regular American cheese. If they do they will be very hard to find, this will take some getting used to. For fresh fruits, veggies, bread and cheese, the Central Market is the best buy. However, San Ambrogio Market, two blocks away from school offered more convenience and similar prices.
Shopping hours vary but as a rough guide- Winter: Food Shops, 0800 to 1300, 1630 to 1900. Closed Wednesday afternoon. Butchers close on other afternoons, varying from city to city. Other shops, 0900 to 1300, 1530 to 1900. Closed Monday morning. Summer: Same opening and closing hours, but all shops close up Saturdays at 1300. Note: Plan on next to nothing being open on Sundays, and Mondays many stores are closed half the day or all day. Be prepared to shop for groceries at least once a week if not more. There is not Costco for buying milk, meat, dairy or other staples in bulk. There’s also no way to really keep those things from spoiling quickly. Grocery stores such as Coop or Standa will have longer lines during evening hours 5:00-7:00 so it may be worth it to get your grocery shopping out of the way earlier in the day between breaks during classes.
Also, there is an IKEA, a bus-ride away from Florence. You can find comforters, towels, pillows, anything you would need for the convenience of home, without shipping it back and forth from the States. Also across the street there is a good electronics store for converters, cables, dvd’s all that good stuff.
BM Book market, Borgo Ognissani 4r
Centro Di, Piazza dei Mozzi 1 r (art books)
Feltrinelli International, Via Cavour 12/20 r
Il Marzocchino, Via Martelli 14r
Marzocco, Via Martelli 24r
Seeber, Via Tornabuoni 70r
Paperback Exchange, Via Fiesolina (recommended for good prices)
LEF, Across from Accademia (Architecture)
After Dark, Via de Ginori, 47r
Leisure Activities (Top)
You can learn, practice, or enjoy ballet, bicycling, fencing, golf, gymnastics (actually aerobics), horseback riding, music, FRISBEE, voice, judo, Kung-fu, karate, roller-skating, skiing, all spectator sports, swimming, tennis, track/field, and numerous cultural and entertainment activities. Keep in mind that these activities can be expensive and limited. Information about sports and leisure is provided during orientation at the Florence IP Center. Sports and other activities a great way to meet and interact with more Italians and are highly recommended, just be prepared to put in work to maintain your involvement.
Dining out in Florence can be quite expensive. Lower cost restaurants are called trattorie and pizzerie. We found a complete dinner with wine at an inexpensive trattorie usually cost about 20 Euros. The best thing to do is to only eat out like once a week.
A decently priced one that we would recommend is called Trattoria ZaZa. It is located in the Plaza San Lorenzo, which is Firenze’s biggest outdoor market. If you go behind the street where the clothes are sold, you will find ZaZa.
Florence has many different discotheques (clubs) to choose from. “Bars” are not like the bars in the States, but are rather a place to sip a cappuccino with friends and neighbors. Pubs match the American definition of a bar and there are quite a few of them that are enjoyable. The atmosphere is usually relaxed and conducive to conversation. Expect to pay more if you sit at a table.
Clubs can be fun and will try to draw you in. The first few weeks of each semester they will be crowded with Americans, and Italians trying to attract Americans. Keep in mind going out can get expensive very quickly.
The best form of entertainment is discovering your own Italy with Italian and American friends. Take every opportunity to spend time with Italians you meet and find interesting. This will add dimension to your year abroad. MEET ITALIANS!!! Because they know the best places in town, don’t always travel with roommates and classmates, go out on your own and go out of your way to meet people because you’ll meet some amazing people that will turn into life-long friends.
Buying an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) at home before your arrival in Italy is an option. Yet, you can also buy them in Italy for a cheaper price.
When traveling, research plane versus train prices. Trains are not as cheap for long distances as one might think. Look at independent airline companies such as:
www.ryanair.com, www.buss.com, www.airlibexpress.com, and Go Italia.
A good internal frame backpack proved to be beneficial for most students and some who did not bring one, wished they had. It is better to purchase them in the United States, as they are quite expensive in Italy. Students over 26 should plan on spending more for travel, as travel discounts are not available for this age group. Students can also purchase discount rail passes, such as a "kilometer pass," once they are in Italy. An International Driver's License is good to have but not necessary to rent a car. It can be obtained through AAA. Also a Eurail Youth pass is highly recommended for travel outside of Italy. They can be bought in the U.S. or online and then mailed to the school. You may want to wait to figure out when you need the Europass. You can then have somebody at home buy the pass and mail it to you. You must use the passes a certain time after it is purchased. Also, once you make plans you will be able to purchase the correct number of days. Students find it better to buy a certain number of days per month rather than full month passes, as they found they lost money. Www.Eurorail.com shows the various types of rail passes available.
For many students the opportunity to study in Florence means a chance to see and experience many parts of Europe through travel. You will have vacation times during the year (one week after PLP, two semester breaks, one week for spring break and two weeks at Christmas) as well as various incidental one-day American or Italian holidays (although in many cases the breaks turned out to be less than those at our home campus). In all, expect to spend several thousand dollars on travel plans and keep this in mind when budgeting. When considering the traveling you'd like to do during your academic year keep in mind that traveling- no matter how educational- does not excuse any absences from your classes or exams. Also, you still will have to budget time during breaks if homework is assigned (architects have their projects) and at least one day at home in Florence to rest if you've been on a long trip. We advise looking into Eurail passes (especially the 5 days in 2 months) for international travel all throughout Europe. Consult your travel agent on how to purchase them, as they are only available in the U.S.
Discounts: At the beginning of the year it is advised to buy a "Carta Verde." This is a student train discount that costs around 21 Euros. Good for train travel only within Italy. CTS on via dei Ginori sell it for 25 Euros. Don't lose it, it is not replaceable. It gives you 20% discount on tickets you buy- up to one year. If you want to buy your card it may be more expensive in the winter months! Also be sure to get a Mensa card for a cheap meal every now and then.
In Prague, in the Czech Republic, you may obtain an International Union of Students Card, for a 25% to 30% discount on train and bus travel. Keep in mind, however, that most student discounts are limited to individuals under 26 years of age. The Transalpino agencies offer student discounted rail travel throughout Europe. We also recommend the American Express office in Florence.
Guides: A guidebook which lists accommodations and restaurants, as well as points of interest, comes in handy and is a good thing to bring from home. One such book that we have used is Let's Go: Italy (Harvard Student Agencies). Other good guidebooks are the Rick Steve's, Baedeker, the Michelin, the Touring Club-Italiano and the Blue Guides. Tourist offices located in or near train stations will supply you with city maps, addresses of available accommodations, and other information at little or no cost. A big help! Look for a yellow and white symbol of an "i" for "information." Accommodations are not always comfortable and do not always include shower, hot water, or soap. Youth hostels are located throughout Europe, but are at times situated outside of town. In Italy, they can end up costing as much as small pensions in the center of town. Campgrounds also exist in many places. As far as guided tours go, it is possible to pay for a bus-type tour of the major sights of a particular city when you are pressed for time, but we recommend the pleasures of arranging your own view of the cities of Europe, or look out for the “free tours” offered at most hostels, which only ask for a tip at your discretion at the end of the walking tour, we found these to be great ways to introduce us to the city.
Traveling with a non-US. Passport: Be aware of any limitation on traveling with a non-U.S. passport. If you're planning on traveling outside of Italy with a non-US. passport, even if you're just passing through a country, you need to be aware that you may need a visa. Check with the consulates of the countries to get more information before arriving in Florence. Most Consulates are located in Rome or Milan. Thus, having your necessary paperwork completed before departure will save you headaches, travel expenses, and hassles at borders.
Be Prepared: Be prepared for unexpected adventures when you travel. (For example, your train from Stuttgart to Brindisi doesn't arrive because of snow in the Alps, and you miss the ferryboat to Athens; Your passport and money are stolen in Cairo, and Italian customs officials won't let you back into Italy; You're on the wrong train to the right place, and the conductor says you must either pay more money or get off- immediately, etc.) A little forethought can go a long way, so review alternatives to situations like these before they happen to you. Never keep everything in one place. You can minimize the risk of losing everything at once by carrying a small passport pouch (worn around the neck and tucked into you shirt) and a money belt. Write all of your traveler's check numbers and give one copy to friends you're traveling with, another to someone at home, and still another can be kept with you, but in another place besides where the checks themselves are. Also, be extremely careful with valuables (i.e., passport, money, cameras) on trains (especially when you're sleeping). Thieves are abundant and good at their job. Every time you get to a new place find your hostel or hotel first, then check in, then see the town.
Safety Concerns (Top)
The events of September 11, 2001 raised a lot of safety concerns for all IP students. In Florence, the initial days after the attacks were tense merely because of the instability of the entire world. The only advice that can be offered is to always maintain vigilance. Be aware of those around you at all times and consult the U.S. State Department web site for the most updated information and travel advisories, before making any travel plans. The only thing you really have to worry about is petty theft.
Be alert in crowded markets year-round. Be careful in buses and while shopping during the crowded January sales-even in nice stores. Be alert, especially for gypsy kids. They look innocent but they are very clever and very persistent. After several months, it is easy to let your guard down. Unfortunately, it is equally necessary to beware of other Americans and of other traveling students. Money can be stolen. Make it a rule to NEVER keep large amounts of cash around the house or on your person.
Despite these last cautions, Florence is generally a safe city. Florence is an extremely accessible city that offers a variety of cultural events during the year. There are many art shows, musical concerts, and sporting events. It's important to remember that ten months is not a long time to experience a culture. If the winter months seem to be dragging, you'll be astonished at how quickly the spring flies by! Remember, all the students are experiencing the same highs and lows as you are and don't be shy to reach out to one another if you are experiencing difficulties. Take advantage of this beautiful culture, as there will be many, many eye-opening experiences.
Final Comment: This year abroad will probably be one of the most memorable times in your life- take advantage of it and have a wonderful year! Remember your family and boyfriends/girlfriends will be there when you go home, enjoy being here, live in the now. Get involved right away, figure out what it is you do to have fun at home in the States and then find a place to do it here in Florence. This way you will meet the kind of Italians that you would be friends with back home as well.
Updated 2/13/08 DAP