It was always something I wanted to do in the back of my head, especially after I had the opportunity to take my first trip to Europe with my mother at 16. I think after my two weeks abroad and seeing the culture of Europe, I really didn't want to miss out on the opportunity of living abroad in Europe for four months. So, when it came time for it, I started looking at programs and finding the best time for me to do a semester abroad.
Why did you choose AIFS’s program in Florence?
I chose this specific program for three main reasons:
It was an affiliate program with my university. I wanted to do a program where students everywhere could join, not just my university. But, I also needed a program that was an affiliate with my school, because that guarantees you receiving credit for the classes you take abroad.
It has a unique travel option where AIFS schedules all your travel to and from Europe with a three day stopover trip in London on the way to Italy. I really liked this option because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to go to London without this stopover, simply because it's further away from Italy than other countries. I also liked that it helped with transportation to/from the airport upon arriving in Europe.
The meal program in Florence, Italy. This component of AIFS is most likely the best part of any program in the world, and I'm not being dramatic. I had the opportunity to eat at about 25 restaurants throughout the city which had amazing food and plenty to choose from. Some restaurants had meals for us that were about 50 euro and we had to pay “a meal card.”
What was your favorite part about Florence?
My favorite part about Florence, Italy was the culture behind everything. I love Italian architecture and the small alley ways that you can walk down, through and around the entire city. The ambiance of the kind and carefree cafe shop workers mixed with a cappuccino is something I miss so much about Florence.
I love that Florence feels so homey relative to other larger cities; because it's on the smaller side, you can nearly walk everywhere and truly know your way around the entirety of it faster than you would think.
What made your experience abroad unique?
One thing that made my experience abroad unique was having the opportunity to volunteer at the local University of Firenze, where I was able to teach college students and other adults basic English. There were students from Florence, all around Italy, France, and other European countries, and it was really cool to be able to meet so many students, not only from Italy but across the continent. I also felt that it had a unique way of teaching me more Italian than I would have, because sometimes the main teacher would speak in Italian and I picked up on certain things that I may have not elsewhere.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The AIFS staff was incredible and helped you if you needed it. There were not keeping you on a leash, but if you needed some advice, help, or tips on what to do while in certain countries, they would be there to help and wanted to! Some of my classmates and I joined a local soccer league and we had two volunteer staff coaches to help us for all the games and practices.
One of the most memorable moments where the staff went above and beyond was when my roommate had to go to the hospital and the staff was with us every step of the way, sitting in the hospital room until the sun came up the next morning.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
One thing I wish I would have done differently is explored in my city more than I did. Because I was there for four months, some days I told myself “I'll explore tomorrow,” but ended up just watching Netflix or TV with my roommates. I regret not exploring every street, nook, and cranny of the beautiful city of Florence. I think that I would have met even more locals than ever before by exploring the random side streets and gotten a bit out of the touristy parts of the city.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
A typical day in my life consisted of waking up around 8 a.m., heading to one of the cafes that was offered by my meal plan, and grabbing a cappuccino and cornetto con cream (cream croissant). Then I would head to class and have class from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. After, I would walk around the city and grab lunch with some friends at another cafe that was on our meal plan (typically a made-to-order panino). Then I might do some class work or journaling before heading to my class around 2 p.m. Some days I would have class until 4 p.m. or 6 p.m.; it was dependent on the day of the week.
After class, the majority of the time, my friends and I would head over to the more touristy side of the city and go shopping, exploring, and simply walking the streets of Florence. If it was not too busy of a day, we would head to the Boboli gardens and relax on the grass and admire the greenery that's not so typical of Florence. Or, we may head to one of the many museums offered on our museum card.
At around 8 p.m., we’d head to dinner, usually to our favorite Mastrociliegia and sit outside and share a bottle of wine, along with each of our meals. This restaurant was probably my favorite restaurant on our meal plan. After we would sometimes grab gelato if we wanted. Then, we’d sometimes head to a bar to grab a drink after dinner with other friends and locals, or simply come home and relax.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, I loved going to the Boboli gardens, if the day was nice out, and simply explore the acres of gardens and greenery. It was refreshing to see so much greenery because Florence doesn't have a whole lot of it. Sometimes I would simply explore the city and go window shopping. Other times, I would sit and do work or journal in a cafe, sipping on a cappuccino. I loved visiting the abundant museums and farmers markets throughout the city as well.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived in a large Italian-style apartment that housed ten girls in my program. We each shared a bedroom with one other person and there were four bathrooms, along with two kitchens. My favorite part of the apartment by far was the location. It was right on the Arno River, on the corner of Ponte alla grazie (which is one bridge down from the infamous Ponte Vecchio). It was breathtaking to leave the apartment each morning and walk out on the streets of Florence with the Arno River right there.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
One thing I totally would recommend is taking an art class of some sort while in Italy. I am not the best artist at all, but I wish I would have taken an art class because having the opportunity to paint or draw the Ponte Vecchio for a class is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I was fortunate to take an art history course that did go above and beyond my expectations. It was truly incredible to learn about the artwork in class one day of the week, and then the next day have the opportunity to actually go see the painting, sculpture, or other piece of art at a church or museum. This was my favorite class I took by far, and I would recommend either taking an art class or art history.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Italy impacted your life?
Studying abroad and simply living in a different part of the world outside of America has opened my eyes in so many directions. I have not only become more open-minded, I have also gained more independence than ever before.
I have learned so much about myself over the past four months abroad, and studying abroad has opened my eyes to all of the cultures of the world.
Learning about other people and actually living in another culture has given me a better understanding of what values I want to hold and share within my lifetime. I think that studying abroad is so much more than taking classes in another country and travelling the world. You get to learn more about the world, but you also get to learn more about yourself and dive into new adventures that you normally wouldn't do.
Would you recommend your program and AIFS to others? Why?
One hundred percent yes! The program I chose was incredible; from the meal plan to the housing to the classes that I took to the staff, it was phenomenal. I had the opportunity to go on trips with my program to Rome, Venice, and London, and day trips to places all across Tuscany. They enriched me with the opportunity to take cooking lessons and volunteer in Florence, along with the opportunity to further my language skills by working with other college students in the area. I could not have asked for a better program; it exceeded my expectations in every way.
Haley is studying chemistry and is on the pre-physician assistant track at the University of Alabama. She is originally from Brookfield, Wisconsin. Haley studied abroad in Florence, Italy for a semester with AIFS and it changed her entire outlook on what she wants to do in the future. When she graduates in May 2017, she plans to start applying for PA schools. She currently works in the emergency room at a hospital in Tuscaloosa.