Florence has been called Italy’s capital of culture and for good reason. Thousands of years of history, artwork, literature, politics, and industry have given the city an unparalleled cultural heritage.
Today, the city thrives on that heritage, with most of its industry consisting of fashion houses, art galleries and museums, and restoration studios. For those who might be unsure about taking an arts internship, fear not; there are plenty of business opportunities to be found. Every room in the city has its uses, with new galleries and shops opening every day that offer internships for students.
Taking an internship in Florence will give you opportunities to grow in a city of living history. With the breadth of fields in this amazing city, you might do any job, from working at a communications firm to continuing the debate about finishing the façade of San Lorenzo.
Photo Credit: Katherine Knecht
Florence is not a big-business city. Though it is home to over 300,000 people, the pace is much different than other major Italian metropolises. In another city you might work for a brand name company, but in Florence it is much more likely to be placed with a something local or only region-wide. Florence’s artistic background has drawn in tourists, artisans, and businessmen alike for hundreds of years and is what still drives the city today. There are internships available in almost any field, so it is more a question of what do you want to do rather than what can you do.
Architectural: For those interested in architecture and design, there are two fields to pursue in Florence. There are internships available working with architectural restoration groups or with urban and landscape design firms. Bring back the beauty of the city’s older buildings or help create something new.
Business: If accounting or management is what you’re looking for, there are opportunities all over the city. Event planning and management are two of the more popular options. Opportunities are also available in consulting firms and fashion business.
Museum/Gallery: Florence is filled with museums, from the world famous Uffizi Gallery to the smaller, local museums like the Davanzati Palace. Many of the galleries and newer museums offer intern positions in their public relations offices or in the gallery management areas.
When and Where to Look for an Internship
There are internships and programs available year-round of various lengths. Since most of them have final deadlines two months prior to the start of the program, it is best to start looking at least four months before you plan to go abroad, longer if you need a passport. You should apply to programs earlier rather than later in case they fill all of the spaces or if they assign internships on a rolling basis, so you can have a better chance of getting into the field you want.
Cost of Living in Florence
Depending on your lifestyle and your housing situation, you might spend very little money or a ton. If your program does not provide housing, you might have to find an apartment independently. Most programs will have either a home-stay or apartment option, though you might want to hunt for an apartment anyway. Sometimes it is actually cheaper than what your program provides. The only problem might be availability, so if you are considering renting separately, start looking as soon as possible. If you are planning to be in Florence in the warmer tourist months (April-October), start looking very early in the interest of availability. Apartments can be as little as €300 per month, but can go over €2000 per month. To save money, it is best to stay away from anything in the neighborhood of the Duomo.
Food can cost anywhere from €200 to €1200 per month depending on what you buy and how often you eat out. If you choose to eat in, sticking to the Italian diet keeps the costs the lowest. Italians eat mostly produce, pasta, and cold cuts. They eat meat only once every couple of days, seeing it as unhealthy to do so more often. Italians go grocery-shopping every day or every other day, valuing the freshness of food over convenience. Visit the Mercato Centrale or Mercato San Ambrogio for the best quality at lower prices. At the Mercato Centrale, you can buy a kilo of tomatoes (2.2 pounds) for as low as €1 or €1.50. Frozen or pre-prepared foods will cost you much more than any other grocery item.
Work Culture in Florence:
Etiquette: Just like anywhere else, every business is different in Florence. They each have different rules about attire, work schedule and language requirements. One thing that is fairly similar across the board is that Saturday is sometimes considered a regular work day. Some fields even work Saturday and Sunday, then take Monday and/or Tuesday off. Many small businesses take a break in the early afternoon for lunch and coffee, even sometimes a nap at home, which changes typical work hours. These small businesses are often open from 7 or 8 in the morning until noon or 1 pm, then have an evening shift from 4 pm until 7:30. Businesses in the city center will not take this break and usually be open from 8 or 9 in the morning until sometime in the late afternoon or early evening.
Italians’ attire shows the same variety as any other culture’s, but there are a few basic rules. Usually Italians do not wear any type of sandal in the city, especially not flip-flops. Sandals are strictly beach- or vacation-ware. Also shorts are not worn in the city, except by tourists. Some of the younger generation wear shorts or sandals as casual clothing items, but never in a business setting. Jackets or coats are worn even in May with a lightweight scarf. Many women wear these light scarves all day.
Language: In Italy, when first meeting someone, people say “Piacere,” meaning “Nice to meet you”. Also as an intern and probably as a younger person, you should always address others in the formal manner unless they tell you that you can be informal (‘Come sta?’ rather than ‘Come stai?’). It is the same idea most countries have of calling someone by Mr./Mrs./Dr. until they invite you to use their first name.
Business in Florence will probably require some knowledge of Italian. Intermediate Italian should serve most of your daily needs, though you might need to learn some field-specific vocabulary. Most Italian businesspeople know at least a little English for their work, so communicating with your boss should not be a problem. It is good manners though to attempt part of the conversation in Italian. Don’t be afraid to kindly say ‘Non capisco. In inglese per favore?’ (I don’t understand. In English please?) after making an effort to understand Italian. You will get much more respect for attempting Italian and failing than for forcing everyone else to use English.
Networking: Italians are a very sociable people, so networking will be both very easy and very helpful. Once you get to know one local businessman, you suddenly will know all of his acquaintances and business associates if you are open and polite. Italians are the type of people to take you out for a coffee the same afternoon they meet you if they really like you. Attend any events your business holds or are invited to, as well as public events in that field and introduce yourself. Make sure you give your name, where you are working, and if you’re a student, mention that you’re attending a university and which one it is. The best approach is talking with them a bit about your interests and seeing if they have any opportunities for you or if they have any friends who do. If they know you are interested and serious, they will usually introduce you to the contacts you need or give you names.
Work and Labor Laws in Florence:
An internship in Italy must be unpaid and will be less than 90 days. If you are working as an intern while you are a student, you are legally entitled to take the day off for an exam. The maximum number of work hours allowed per week is 40, so no overtime. Italian labor laws prohibit an employee being fired for discriminatory reasons. Finally, there are no Italian laws about sexual harassment; however there are laws about wrongful termination that protect the employee.
Things to Remember:
- You must carry your documents (or copies at the very least) with you at all times. If you get stopped by the police without them, you could be in trouble unless someone can bring your documents to you at the police station.
- Italians love to talk, so if you have the chance to converse with locals, go for it. They will discuss just about anything (within reason), but you should brush up on some basic Italian politics and most importantly calcio teams (that’s football to most of the world and soccer to Americans).
- It is highly unusual for a woman to make eye contact with people on the street they don't know. Even in this day, it is still considered a little forward.
- If you do make eye contact with someone walking by, you are obligated to be polite and say hello. "Ciao" or "Buon giorno/Buona sera" will do.
- It is considered very rude to be drunk in public. Italians go out for a drink, maybe two, but will not drink to excess in public.