Most students come to NYU Florence armed with a List. Curated by those who have come here before us, any given List almost invariably features the same restaurants, bars, clubs, and gelaterias as all the others. Prior to my arrival in Florence, I had collected four Lists, the gracious gifts of friends who wanted to help me have the best semester I could. I accepted them, saved them to my laptop, and promptly ignored them for my entire trip.
My main advice to those coming here next is this: don’t just do what everyone else is doing. There is so much to discover by getting lost and wandering into the nearest open shop, and while places like Gusta Pizza will certainly always be delicious, I’ve found with little surprise that the better places – both in quality and in experience – have always been those I met through chance. I won’t tell you to skip the famous spots, but I don’t think it’s all that groundbreaking to suggest trying some local joints, too. Some favorite places I found on my own are The Bench Caffe, my friend group’s go-to coffee and lunch café, La Ménagère, a beautiful bar and restaurant with stellar cocktails and live jazz downstairs, and Uncaffe, a sweet little café tucked nicely just off the beaten path. Take my recommendations, but remember to find your own little gems, too.
This also goes for travel. Florence is swarming with study abroad travel companies like Bus2Alps and SmartTrip, and while their programs are convenient, I think it is so much more valuable to get off the student bandwagon and get to know the world individually and with as little tourism as possible. The best trips have been those where I’ve felt like a traveler, not a tourist. That sometimes means living out of a too-small backpack and eating nothing but free hostel bread because everything else is too expensive, but with these experiences comes something so much more whole than what you’d get from packing elbow-to-elbow on a stuffy bus with fifty other American students with iPhones for hands.
I don’t know exactly what I expected to gain from study abroad, in terms of both day-to-day experience and lasting transformation. What I’ve found is it won’t all be will be handed to you. You don’t arrive in Florence and get suddenly flooded with a feeling of worldliness and wisdom. You have to make things happen: go seek adventures, invite your friends or travel alone, try new foods, try to speak the language. Challenge yourself to venture outside of what you’re used to. Take it in before you take pictures. Talk to as many people as you can – if nothing else, study abroad is a chance to make friends all over the world.
That said, don’t get hung up on the idea that while you’re abroad, every moment will be a life-changing experience. More often than not, I spend my nights in my apartment with my friends, playing cards or making dinner or watching Netflix and ignoring one another. Your time here will be exciting in many ways, but you can’t forget that you’re also living and studying, and a lot of that involves the same menial activity that college always presents. While whenever you’re up for it I advocate for an adventure, you can allow yourself to be a regular person, too.
I think what’s most important about study abroad is that it can service one person in a completely different way than it services anyone else. My semester has been mostly characterized by the people in it: a new group of wonderful friends I get to take home to New York, and that is exactly what I needed. But if one person wants to practice independence, it’s also the perfect place to do it, and if someone else wants to get closer with existing friends, it’s the perfect platform for that, too. Your semester abroad should be an individual experience tailored to your own needs, rightfully different from those of anyone else.