Hearing stories of my mom's adventures living in Paris as an au pair was where my interest was first peaked. For as long as I can remember I've wanted to live in Europe and travel with friends. On top of that, I have an affinity for languages. Growing up speaking Spanish, I wanted to expand my knowledge of the romance languages. Italian was a perfect match.
I went to Florence, Italy with CET Academic Programs and I lived with three good friends from Vanderbilt in an apartment in the heart of the city (by Santa Croce). The program was wonderful because it was academically inclined but had a strong emphasis on learning by experiencing. We went on many excursions with different classes to museums, vineyards, markets and restaurants. We also never had classes on Fridays because the program also understood that part of the reason students study abroad is for the travel experience.
I was extremely lucky in receiving a good amount of financial aid from Vanderbilt and because CET and Vanderbilt maintain such a close relationship, all of that aid was transferred to my study abroad semester. On top of that, though, I saved money I had made from a job that summer for travel expenses.
For Florence specifically, I wish I had known just how popular the city was, both for tourists and for study abroad students. My main goal abroad was not to become fully immersed in a culture but if it had been, I would have chosen to live with an Italian family in a home-stay. I also wish I had been more free with my money abroad, it is true that you only live that kind of life once and the money I had was meant to be spent abroad on special items, meals or unforgettable trips.
The only discrimination I faced while in Florence came from Italians assuming Americans are loud, obnoxious and wealthy. Often this assumption would hinder my ability to practice the Italian language with locals and prevented general interactions with them.
Wow, where do I begin? Studying abroad was very revealing of who I am as a person. I discovered aspects of my personality in planning trips, living with friends in close quarters, and adjusting to cultural norms that I would never have learned had I not had that experience. Academically, it gave me a new, freer perspective on my schoolwork: that there are bigger things in life to put your energy into (although schoolwork is still important to an extent).
The most memorable moment of my experience came from a trip back from Budapest. My four friends and I took a bus to vienna to connect with an overnight train. In the connection period, I was left by the bus as my friends remained on it as it drove away. I was alone for less than 5 minutes probably but the experience of not knowing where to go, who to call, how to call anyone and simply feeling truly independent was unlike anything I have experienced. Looking back, we all laugh about this moment and how surreal those 5 minutes felt.
In Florence, I always came across street performers while walking around; singers, puppeteers, full bands and artists were a lovely occurrence. The nightlife was often populated with Americans and it was a fun adventure to search for the bars where Italians hung out, but no matter the adventure, it was always fun.
First, I learned Italian and different aspects of languages in general and I learned how to budget my money and efficiently and cost-effectively manage weekend trips. Second, I learned how to be with the same people for very extended periods of time and handle different confrontational situations among those people.
Yes! CET was accommodating for all types of students. If you are looking for more of an immersion experience, I recommend a home-stay or maybe the language-intensive CET Siena program. But Florence is a magical city and CET is a wonderful way to experience it.
DO IT! If you think studying abroad is not a good match for your personality then you aren't looking in the right corners of countries and programs. Studying abroad is such a self-revealing experience that I would suggest it to absolutely anyone because I believe the things I learned about myself while abroad are incomparable to anything I would have learned anywhere else.