What I learned from studying abroad in Florence, Italy


The view of the city of Florence and Santa Maria del Fiori from San Miniato al Monte, taken during Lyon’s study abroad journey. Photo credit: Christina Lyon

On a mundane day like any other last semester, I walked out of the library and something caught my eye.

A flier for El Camino’s most recent study abroad trip featured Florence’s iconic bridge, Ponte Vecchio, and Santa Maria del Fiori, a grandiose multi-colored gothic cathedral and the third largest church in the world.

After losing myself in the vivid imagery for awhile, reality set in.

If only I knew in that moment how much I would learn about myself and Italian culture from studying abroad, I wouldn’t have hesitated going for a minute.

But the whim of jet-setting to Italy for the summer seemed unjustifiable for a full-time starving student and part-time optician like myself.

The problem was that those pictures persisted in my mind and thoughts of studying in Florence became an obsession. A buried voice in my head bravely arose and said “If not now, when?”

Four months later, after penny pinching, fundraising through a Go Fund Me Campaign and saving every dime, I found myself in a cab being zipped off to my apartment on Via de’ Ginori, two blocks from the cathedral in the heart of the city’s most thriving neighborhood.

Florence is a city for the senses: abundant with art, authentic cuisine and an ever-present and infectious passion that reverberates through its narrow cobblestone streets. I felt a constant need for someone to pinch me to assure that I was really there.

The month-long program had an active schedule for its students.

The ACCENT International study center, located in a medieval palace within a hotspot piazza for socializing locals and home to the best margherita pizza, was where I studied Italian architecture and literature.

After school we visited famous sights like the Uffizi Gallery, the world’s largest collection of Renaissance art, and Galleria Dell’Accademia, where Michelangelo’s monumental statue of David magnetizes all who enter.

On weekends we explored the small, charming towns of Tuscany: Pisa, Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena, Chianti and more. We also went on overnight excursions to Venice and Rome.

One weekend my roommates and I escaped the Tuscan heat by visiting Cinque Terre, a city comprised of five old fishing villages on the Italian Riviera where we swam in the aqua-colored water of the Mediterranean Sea.

There was also time spent more intimately and I learned about the Italian ways of life.

Traditional Italian cuisine is savored over hours of conversation with loved ones, drinking coffee out of a tiny cup is a ritual, and goods like shoes and handbags are handcrafted in tiny shops by local artisans.

On hot afternoons I’d meander through the leather markets’ myriad of colorful handbags, enjoying my favorite Italian treat: pistachio gelato.

Through my study abroad trip to Italy I learned how to slow down and appreciate the details in life that are so often overlooked, and challenged myself to be more present and appreciative of my surroundings.

Being immersed in another culture meant moving with the ebb and flow of unfamiliarity, adapting in order to thrive by allowing the newness of it to transform my old self into something better.

My trip to Florence was hard work to obtain, but my senses awakening from a moment in time lived more zestfully? That was invaluable and effortless.

Studying abroad is a life-changing experience that fosters well roundedness, personal growth and exposure to other cultures and traditions. Next summer, EC’s study abroad trip will be to Central Europe, for more details visit the study abroad website.