The Best Four Months of my Undergraduate Career November 26, 2019

By (University of Maryland - College Park) - abroad from 08/28/2019 to 12/13/2019 with

International Studies Institute / ISI Florence

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned how to speak the language a lot better than I expected, and I was able to use it with locals and constantly learn about the city. There was always something new to see in the city, and it was certainly a worthwhile abroad experience. My education was compounded by real life experiences that were so valuable and that I will never forget.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The academics were not very rigorous. There was only one class where I felt truly challenged, which was a change of pace from my classes at the University of Maryland. However, the classes were extremely interesting and I always felt engaged. It was obvious that the professors were truly passionate about what they were teaching, and it showed in their engaging and interesting lectures. The available resources were fantastic; teachers were often available for office hours or meetings by appointment, and were quick to answer emails. Though there isn't a huge option for classes, it seems that you can't go wrong with any of them. Even classes that I initially didn't think I'd be interested in taking taught me so much valuable information that I'll hold with me forever.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I found that the ISI staff was even more helpful than my home university's staff, because the program is so small that they are able to give each and every student individual attention. I felt as if I actually made connections with the faculty and staff, which is something that not many people can say about their universities.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The apartments are far better than any dorm I've been in on a college campus, with large bedrooms, readily equipped kitchens, and spotless amenities. They were large and there was more than enough rooms for all of the roommates.

* Food:

This goes without saying- the food in Italy is fantastic! You really can't go wrong: from late night pizzas, to midnight bakeries, to baked gnocchi, or fresh fruit from the farmers market, you always have delicious options. Being a vegetarian was something that I was concerned about before coming here, but there were plenty of vegetarian and vegan options at all of the restaurants, and even several juice bars spread around the city. Some of my favorite places to study were internet cafes, where I could drink coffee, eat cornettis and get my work done.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

You can tell that ISI made a continuous conscious effort to have their students fully immerse themselves in their surroundings. They encourage you to try to speak the language when you're out and about, and their staff is always readily available for advice and questions.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

When I had a health problem in the middle of the night, I called the emergency line and a staff member arrived at the hospital almost instantaneously. There was never a moment when I felt unsafe in the program. Health care was easily accessible; pharmacies are all over Florence so getting my prescriptions or over-the-counter medication was never an issue. I didn't need any vaccines for this program and there were no prevalent health issues in the city.

* Safety:

I have had no safety-related incidents occur personally during my 3.5 months abroad in Florence. Since it is a slightly small city where everything is pretty much in walking distance, it really felt like home to me. Of course, it was important that I was cautious, especially in busy parts of the city that were filled with tourists, but the city is very easy to get around in, so as long as you remain mindful of your surroundings, you'll be safe and feel safe at all times. This was a really important factor that I had in mind before I decided which city I wanted to study abroad in, and I was happy to be able to feel safe the entire time while I was abroad.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Right off the bat-- there is not much about any program that could make studying abroad for four months in Florence anything less than magical. The city itself is beautiful, and you'll never run out of things to do. However, International Studies Institute (ISI Florence) made my experience the best that I could have hoped for.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? 60
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? I think it's best to wait a bit before you do all of your shopping. It's easy to spend a lot of your money right when you get there and not consider the longevity of your budget. For me, it was worth it to spend more money on traveling than on clothes or random things I didn't actually need. I realized this toward the end when I started being more frugal with my shopping and instead invested in my trips and was able to see and experience more things and create more memories.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? AP French High School (5)
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Trying to practice the language with local vendors where you can get one on one conversation time is a great and non-intimidating way to practice. In this sense, you can make a friendship with local vendors and they may even teach you how to say certain words. If you make an effort to speak the language, even if you're unsure of what to say, people will often be patient and help you learn how to say certain phrases.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Direct Enrollment

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The monthly lists sent out by Francesca of things to do in the neighborhood each month (fun and often free)
  • The extremely kind and involved staff. I feel like I actually became friends with some of the staff members and I could tell they cared about my success in the program.
  • The amount of activities that they organized for students to participate in and get to know their city and other students.
* What could be improved?
  • The rigorousness and intensity of the Italian class.
  • The living situations: living with people from different universities to get a chance to meet people aside from those that you go to school with.
  • A more international component: not going to school with only American students could help us make more friends with local Italians and become more immersed in the culture.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew more about things to do in Florence, because I know that many people are quick to travel and try to leave the country a lot, but there are many other places that you can see in Italy that are beautiful and easy to get to, and definitely feasible to travel to in one day. If I could have, I certainly would've taken advantage of that. Also, I wish I knew the importance of absences. Many people planned trips and didn't understand that missing more than 2 classes without an unexcused absence would dock your grade sufficiently. Knowing this, I think that many people would have hesitated before booking plenty of trips that coincided with class times.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!