By: Zoe Bernardi, Columnist
Ciao! It has officially been 3 weeks since I landed in Italy. I am two weeks into classes and still trying to figure it all out. When most people think of studying abroad, they think it’s a four-month-long vacation: easy classes and galavanting around European countries on plane tickets that cost nothing.
I knew going into this adventure that I would be surrounded by people who are ready to drop everything and splurge on everything they see. While that physically could not be me, I am not sitting on mounds of funds that would allow me to be gone every weekend, eating at fancy restaurants and going vintage shopping. People plan fast here. I knew I needed to take my time figuring out how many trips I want to plan, how much I want to spend, all while giving myself time to explore and become familiar with Florence.
I want to know Florence for all that it is. I want to see the touristy spots and go to the markets, but I also want to walk around the residential areas that are not on the trendy top ten things-to-do lists from the internet. It is important for me to feel like a part of my Florence community by getting to know the city as my own. Rather than using Florence, I want to be a part of it.
By planning my weekends slowly and mapping everything out I am able to be more cautious with how much I spend. Through purchasing tickets and booking Airbnbs earlier I am preparing and taking my time with my travels.
Yet I have also learned about being cautious of how much I spend while I am at the location.
For example, I went to Interlaken, Switzerland Feb 6-9. I traveled via bus and then stayed in a hostel that offered breakfast every morning. Something about Switzerland to note is that it is a very expensive country. One cheeseburger is upwards of 25-30 Francs, which is similar to 25-30 American dollars. After seeing this repeating trend of overpriced items, I learned that I should eat a bigger breakfast and make a meal to bring with me for lunch. In Europe, it is common to see meat, cheese, and bread for breakfast, aka components to make a sandwich for lunch. Using the hostel’s microwave and kitchen to warm up leftovers from lunch, or buying premade meals from the local supermarket is cheaper than going out to dinner.
Tracking how much I spend is crucial to understanding what is worth purchasing and also being mindful of how much I am spending while I am here.
My best advice for those who are either studying abroad or thinking about doing it in the future is to make a list before traveling. Make a list of places you want to go, then stick with that list, rather than coming over and saying yes to places and spending money to go somewhere you don’t want to go just because everyone else is. The trips will be more beneficial and fun if they are truly where you want to go. Thoughtfully planned trips are better on the wallet than last-minute train rides, late nights and splurging on everything.
For me, the best way to see a new place and explore is by walking around, finding small cafes, local parks and markets. These activities will show you what a local would be doing, offering a glimpse into the lives of those who live here. Plus they are free, a way to explore and see new places all while enjoying the fresh air, and soaking up a new culture.
I like spending time reflecting on all the changes occurring around me. Taking this time helps me see how fortunate I am to be able to travel and learn all while being in a new place.
Being abroad for me is about gaining more independence, being mature and introducing myself to new things.
A goal for me when coming abroad was I wanted the ability to try new things independently and to have more time being alone. I felt like when I was in Maine I was always surrounded by others and was always doing something. I loved making memories with friends and loved ones, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I truly need the headspace to breathe and journal and reflect on how lucky I am to be living this life.
Doing solo trips, taking walks and doing things alone forces me to be more vulnerable. Asking for help, meeting and making new friends and putting myself out there without the comfort of always knowing someone in the room was a challenge I wanted myself to achieve.
All in all, taking time to plan and organize your trips, being mindful about who is going with, and allowing yourself to be alone is what will make these experiences be the most wonderful they can be.
Trips outside of Italy or to cities outside Florence will make Florence feel more like home to me. The joy of coming home from class and seeing my 8 roommates, or making dinner and chatting about our days is making this apartment feel like home. We have started to add photos around the place, hanging up decorations. We have each other, we care about each other. Traveling together and coming back to the apartment is making each day feel more at ease.
I am no longer just visiting Florence, I live here. I do my errands here. I am still exploring, but slowly becoming a part of the community.