One Ordinary College Student, Ninety Extraordinary DaysCiao! If you're hoping to discover what it's like to study abroad in Florence, you've come to the right place, my friend. And here’s the thing, now is the PERFECT time in your life to see the world. AEF welcomes you to join them and experience Florence. Why watch it on TV and read about it in books when you can see it in person?
Allow me to take you on a journey...
A historic, world-renowned cathedral and one of the greatest art galleries of the Western World… yeah, just a couple of casual sights on your walk to class.
What comes to mind when you think about Italy? Beauty? History? Homey little cafés on every corner? Endless amounts of pasta and pizza?
But, to be fair, plates of bruschetta, leather handbags, Renaissance sculptures, and beautiful people are all just components of Italian culture. My name is Jimmy Sullivan, I'm a 21 year old college Junior, and I'm going to give you a sneak peak of what it was like to live in Italy for the most fulfilling 90 days of my life so far.
AEF: Your Friends in Florence
Okay, so I’m going to make a guess and say that you’ve already checked out the rest of this site. If you haven’t done that yet, please do so! I won’t spend much time describing what Accademia Europea di Firenze is, because the lovely people at the school have already done that in much greater detail. Instead, I want to preface this blog by listing off five reasons why AEF has proven to be the ultimate partner and host for studying abroad, from a student’s perspective.
1) The semester is designed so that you won’t spend all your time stuck in the classroom.
Obviously, this one is HUGE. Antonio Vanni, the Director of AEF, and the rest of the staff understand that living in Italy can easily be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of us. That’s why most study abroad students will take 4-5 courses, Monday through Thursday. That’s right, attentive readers. There are no Friday classes. Those three day weekends are the perfect opportunity to travel, bringing me to reason #2...
2) They take you all over Italy!
I’m serious. AEF does a phenomenal job of organizing school field trips. Some of the highlights include Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Bologna, and a three-day outing in Padova and Trieste. (I wasn’t familiar with most of those places before I travelled either -- feel free to Google them!) Oh and one time, the whole school took a beach day to the Baratti Gulf.
3) They are serious about exposing you to Italian culture.
Their classes are no joke. Every lesson, program, and field trip that AEF offers is intended to help you gain the most enriching experience possible. You will learn Italian. For me, that’s huge. Florence is a place where, if you chose to, you could get away with speaking exclusively English. But that doesn’t hold true for everywhere in Italy. Besides, you didn’t study abroad to do the same things that you do normally, right? Besides that, professors will sometimes host their class lectures outdoors or in cafés to really immerse you in the material. For instance, my Italian class was being taught a lesson about food, so our professor, Tiberia, took us out to breakfast so that we could practice ordering in Italian. And when my History class was doing a unit on Futurism, Professor Floarea took us to Caffè Giubbe Rosse, which was frequented by Salvador Dali. Most importantly, AEF brought us to cooking classes, where we learned to cook traditional Italian cuisine, from bolognese sauce to tiramisu. My mother’s side of the family is originally from Naples, and when I told them that I could whip up lasagna FROM SCRATCH they all but shook with pride. By the way, they also offer extra-curricular activities every week, from watching the Opera to visiting artisan workshops to cheering on Florence in a professional soccer game!
4) The meal plan allows you to dine out all the time! Here’s a reminder: You’re in Italy!!! Alright folks, listen up because this is a game changer. Did you think you were going to study abroad in Italy and eat at some typical mediocre college diner hall? Not at AEF!
Like I said, those folks are the most hospitable people I’ve met in my entire life, and making sure that we’re all well fed is just another testament to that.
Here’s how it works: you can sign up for either a weekly program of either 20 or 24 meal vouchers worth €5 each. Every Monday morning, you’ll sign off for your next pack. From there, you can use them to buy groceries, grab coffee at cafés, or go out for dinner at a swanky restaurant that, if you’re like me, you wish you could afford on an average millennial budget.
My advice? Indulge yourself and try the Bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine Steak) and the Pici al Ragu di Cinghiale (Pasta with Boar Meat Sauce). Let me know how it is ;-)
5) They welcome you in as a member of an international family.
Florence is, without a doubt, an international city. The surprising number of sushi restaurants and a Hard Rock Cafe that’s located smack dab in Piazza Repubblica serve as concrete proof. For this reason, Florence is the perfect location for multicultural exposure, since it is a portal to a wide range of countries. Geographically, it’s in a fantastic position. The staff and student body at AEF is reflective of this as well. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with photographers from Ireland, dancers from China, and singers from Greece. AEF has worked incredibly hard to create an inclusive and safe environment for everybody. And as a student, you get to know your professors and the entire staff personally, on a first name basis. It goes a long way in making Florence become your home away from home.
Show me the Sweet Life, Baby!
You may have heard of the phrase ‘ la dolce vita’; the sweet life. That might be the only way that I can hope to neatly summarize a semester’s worth of cultural exposure in three words or less.
Naturally, la dolce vita is a feeling. It’s something that you sense, almost as if it permeates the air around you. Even though it resists definition, it’s as real as the inspiring sights around you.
The only way that I can show this to you is through analogies. Luckily enough, I carried a travel journal with me at all times, which I regularly used to record my experiences.
Within the first week of arriving in Italy, one of my professors took our class on a field trip where I was able to admire the city in one panoramic shot. This is what I wrote:
“The leather-stringed page holder of this journal is hanging off the edge of Forte di Belvedere right now.
This is the highest point in Florence and it featured a steep yet tranquil uphill climb through a narrow walkway flanked by terracotta roofed houses. In one of these windows, Galileo once stared up at the sky and pondered the breadth of the universe. On the walk, the scene came to life before me. The stairs to Belvedere are sloped and feature indents, potentially for some defensive measure. Archers could have lined the staircase top and from the vantage point of the brick tower house. This place seems impregnable.
From here, looking down over the city, these soldiers must have dreamt of gelato, Chianti, their families, and all things good; feeling a heartened resolve and love of their identity as Florentines.”
By this point, I was settled into the slower pace of Florentine life. I had time in the evening to go on solitary runs, and I typed this on my iPhone notes section:
“It loomed over me, commanding in the center of the charcoal-gray sky; a marble sculpture that seemed newly-minted and ancient all at once. I thought to myself that this city was blessed by the vision of true masters, because I was so lost in it that I became immune to the nipping of the wind and the shortness of my breath.”
What is studying abroad without a bit of travel? In this excerpt I found myself alone, with no wifi access, in Venice. I took the Italian approach to dealing with the situation, which means that I kicked back and said ‘No Sweat!’ “I’m currently sitting down, sipping on a Spritz at a restaurant of a name that I’m not sure of, about to chow down on lasagna bolognese while gazing out at the sea that sparkles like billions of shards of crushed stained glass...I should get lost while travelling more often!”
By this point, I was able to recognize that Florence was filled with hidden gems. I wrote this as a gift to myself for when I inevitable return! Take notes!
“Wanna find a super romantic spot in the city, maybe somewhere where you can kick back in silence and watch the city breathe? Go to Robiglio’s off of via Cavour, which is a walk past the Duomo but before arriving at the school. Take that left and stop inside the shop for a sweet or some breakfast. Go to the next door over; the sixth floor opens up into a balcony with a few tables and chairs, from which you can indulge in a commanding view of Italian life.”
... and those are just a few of the moments that I documented. The truth is, I spent much more time present and awestruck than I did writing. That’s for the best, of course!
La dolce vita...it means sitting down at a restaurant with new friends and waiting to take the first bite until everybody’s plate has been served. It means looking up at one another and leaving our phones on “Do Not Disturb”. It means asking for the check at the end of the meal and never feeling as though you are being rushed out the door.
Case in point: I once sat at a café for FIVE hours. Nobody batted an eyelash, and I, prone to the hustling life of an American college student, realized that Italy had changed me for the better. Seriously! If you have any questions that could use a student’s perspective, or if you just feel like chatting about how great Italy and/or AEF is, feel free to shoot me an email! A presto!
Western New England University
Study Abroad Semester