Florence is my love, thanks to SAI and FUA December 16, 2020

By (Indiana University of Pennsylvania / IUP) - abroad from 01/27/2020 to 05/08/2020 with

SAI Study Abroad: Florence - Florence University of the Arts (FUA)

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
It was absolutely worthwhile, and I only got 1/3 of my experience. I learned so much about what I want in life, how I relate to the world, and how to navigate an unfamiliar place and unfamiliar situations. I have a strong drive to become bilingual now and a love for Italian food and culture that I wouldn't have thought possible. I have this ridiculous section of my brain just filled with Italian art history (something that will certainly come in handy as an art teacher). I learned just how delicious gluten free food can be, and cannot wait to go back and have it again. I learned how to travel with people I just met and make new friends in a second. Yes yes yes, it was so worthwhile.

Review Photos

SAI Study Abroad: Florence - Florence University of the Arts (FUA) Photo SAI Study Abroad: Florence - Florence University of the Arts (FUA) Photo SAI Study Abroad: Florence - Florence University of the Arts (FUA) Photo SAI Study Abroad: Florence - Florence University of the Arts (FUA) Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The courses were not overly rigorous, but they were still immensely influential, interesting, and well-done. The resources were numerable, from both FUA (as the host school) and SAI (as the coordinator). FUA had nice media labs, helpful staff, a gym, clubs, a campus dining area that had very fancy food, a spa, etc. SAI had very helpful staff and lots of included events/day and weekend trips available to sign up for.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

SAI was the on-site program coordinator. They set up our housing, health insurance, different events and excursions (book-making workshop, cooking class, day trips to Siena, Lucca, etc.). Even in the chaos and unknowns of the beginning of the pandemic, the on-site staff was sweet, competent, and as helpful as they could be. They helped to answer questions throughout the program and were a great resource even for just peace of mind of knowing that there was someone there was you got overwhelmed or confused. They really helped make the arrival process easy and made sure we were introduced to our new city through an orientation. They even had this magnificent dinner in a palace on our first night that was truly immaculate.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

My apartment was SO CUTE! I definitely saw some of my friend's apartments that weren't as nice, but overall everyone's housing seemed pretty nice, clean, and safe. My apartment was located near the Duomo, so it wasn't too bad of a walk to get to the main areas/campus buildings. It was only a 5-minute walk from the Mercato Centrale, a big fruit/veggie/meat/cheese/spice/wine market. We had 3 people in a room, but it honestly wasn't as crowded as you would think. There were big beautiful windows that I miss looking out so much. We had a washing machine, a stove/oven, microwave, a fridge/freezer, tv, couch, and a little table to eat at in both the kitchen and living room. The kitchen was a little cramped when we were drying our laundry but other than that the place was amply spacious. It was in a safe seeming area and the door had 4 dead-bolts and was on the 4th floor, so it was definitely secure. My only complaint is that it was on the 4th floor of STEEP stairs, but that's just how apartments in Florence are.

* Food:

I never ate at the campus dining place, partially because I have a gluten allergy and partially because we left so early. However, the food in Florence is AMAZING, obviously. Even being gluten-free, I found lots of food to try and drool over. My only qualm is that, unlike in the US, there isn't a large variety of food choices-- pretty much every restaurant is Italian. This sounds obvious and a little ethnocentric American, but after a while, you want some variety. There are a couple of Mexican or ramen type places, but they're not great. Regardless, some of my favorite restaurants were Ciro and Sons, Quinoa, Foody Farm (non-Italian options), Starbene (gluten free bakery), and Quattro Leoni (more authentic).

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I felt like I was definitely experiencing and learning from the local culture, but only tangentially. However, FUA/SAI does offer host family stays or to just simply connect you with a host family to get to know, and I am sure that would integrate you a ton. In general, socially, I found it rather easy to make friends and talk to other study abroad students because we were all confused and alone and generally social people.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I did not utilize my healthcare, but SAI did provide us with health insurance, which was nice for peace of mind at least especially when the virus starting becoming more of a concern. I had a friend that went to the hospital though and she said it was pretty easy. It wasn't exorbitantly expensive and they were relatively helpful, though navigating a hospital in a different language/country when you're in pain is a bit of a struggle. SAI staff will accompany you to the hospital though to act as an aid in those issues. For minor issues, there are lots of pharmacies around the city and the pharmacists are helpful and usually speak English.

* Safety:

I feel like Florence is a relatively safe city. As a young female, I felt okay walking on my own, even at night, but I mainly stayed near the city center. There were certainly a few times I got "cat-called", but I didn't feel unsafe when this happened-- the Italian version of catcalling is quietly saying "ciao bella" as you walk passed and it is honestly much nicer than the US obnoxiousness. The chief of police talked to us at orientation and noted a few issues, like pick-pocketing. As long as you are attentive and hold your purse in front of your body, this should be fine. I heard of one girl's phone getting stolen at a club, but that didn't seem to be a common occurence. Overall, I feel like Florence is a safe and clean city, and having the police chief speak at orientation helped me consider necessary safety issues well.

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

Florence, unknowingly, was the perfect place for me-- the art, the city size, the feeling, the atmosphere. SAI was also very helpful and provided a great program with their trips and helpful staff. Having gotten cut short because of corona, I sometimes think about going abroad again and I think I would want to experience the full thing, because it seems like it would've been fantastic beyond my wildest imagination (even more than it already was). I am sure there are other programs that are fantastic too though (SAI's Sorrento experience has caught my eye, too).


* 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)

I definitely spent too much money the first few weeks I was there. There are some things you have to buy the first week that you don't bring, which up that initial spending. Plus you're excited so you go out to eat more. As time went on, I spent a little less, but then you start to plan weekend trips and the price goes up again. I would recommend saving up beforehand, because yes you should save money where you can/have a budget, but also you will only be abroad once and you should take full advantage of it.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? ~$100-$200, but you could definitely manage less.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Do research on what to bring, but be practical. Yes, you want cute abroad outfits, but I hyper-focused on trying to dress Italian and ended up bringing fancier clothing than what I wanted to wear all the time. If you're going in the Spring, it is colder than you'd expect the first month or so-- bring more than one sweater and a reasonable coat. I ended up buying some clothing when I got there, because I didn't bring practical stuff. Go out to eat, try the delicious restaurants, but maybe try for once or twice a week, not every night. Look for cheap gelato and get the small size-- you don't need the big one and the shops with colorful, high-piled gelato are not as good and will be a rip-off. Take advantage of SAI's trips and events-- they're included (FREE) and great experiences. Plan them into your couple other weekend trips!


* 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

There were Italian language classes you could elect to take and other programs that encouraged language use, but I personally only had one class that really taught and encouraged the language use and it was still somewhat minimal.

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? I had done some duolingo, no actual classes
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? Duolingo and Babbel are great to just get you started/to practice. Babbel is better for actually learning than duolingo though. Try to build practice into your daily routine. Watch youtube videos for more useful, everyday phrases.

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
  • International Students
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?
  • Unique course offerings
  • Activities/excursions planned by SAI
  • My cute lil apartment
* What could be improved?
  • Pre-departure preparation
  • More slots to sign up for day trips
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? What exactly I was getting into-- do more research and ask questions, even if they seem stupid. (Obviously I wish I had known corona was going to come and stomp all over my carefully planned experience too haha)

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 Outright Urbanite
A social butterfly, you're happiest in bustling cities with hip people, and took advantage of all it had to offer. You enjoyed the nightlife, and had fun going out dancing, and socializing with friends. Fun-loving and dressed to the nines, you enjoyed discovering new restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars in your host country.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Grow Green and Learn Italian

Course Department:
Instructor: Martina Ghiandelli
Instruction Language: English (Italian language learning course though)
Comments: Most of the class involved Martina showing us around the city, featuring "green" places and utilizing the Italian language all around us to help us learn key, useful vocab and sentences/questions. It was unique and interesting, and Professor Ghiandelli was clearly very excited and passionate about the course. Having been sent home a month into the semester I am sure changed the way we were assessed (more papers and writing assignments). Most FUA classes in their semester programs only meet once a week, but for 2 1/2 hours so there is ample time to cover material and wander around the city. Professor Ghiandelli really cares about her students and the material-- I've been back in the US for 9 months and I still talk to her on occasion.
Credit Transfer Issues: Being an art education and dance major, this class didn't actually count toward my degree, other than an a general elective, but I do not regret taking it.