This trip was easily the best experience I've ever had. Right before writing this review I was going through my old pictures from the trip reminiscing, as I have done every single day since I got back. Not only did CIS go above and beyond while abroad, but they made sure we were all prepared before even stepping foot on the airplane. While applying, I was wary of whether or not my summer work schedule would allow me to go on the six week program, or the three week program. My program advisor reassured me that once I have my application in they can always switch it over–which took a complete weight off of my shoulders. Once accepted into our programs, CIS had an orientation meeting via video chat. This orientation meeting provided me with all of the information I could've asked for pre-departure, and I felt as if I knew everything about the city of Florence before even getting there. This definitely helped ease me into the culture, and mitigated any potential culture shock. I wound up doing the three week program, but I wish I could've stayed for an entire semester. Additionally, we had an orientation once we were settled in to our places as well. The orientation was long, but I don't know what I would have done without it. They described at length what to do, what not to do, which places to avoid, cultural norms we should respect, and even where to get the best mosquito repellant (which was VERY life changing). Once we arrived in Florence, I knew I was in the right place. The city itself is so utterly beautiful and rich in culture and history. Aside from the true magnificence of the city and the country, CIS provided us with numerous opportunities to truly dive into the culture and experience local life outside of the tourist realm. One of my favorite experiences was the gelato tour–where we toured around the city and tried two of the best gelato places in Florence, the kind you only find if you wander far off the beaten path and have a local to help you find it! My other favorite experience was the pasta making night. We all contributed to make a traditional Italian meal from scratch–including making home made pasta. These are only two of so many experiences I enjoyed and that truly made my time abroad feel like I was at home. Our site leaders, Peggy and Alessandro also had a huge impact on our trip. Not only were they there for us if we had any issues or concerns, but they helped to guide us whether we were looking for local spots to explore or needed to figure out how to use public transportation. This totally changed our experience, because we basically had locals we could text and ask any questions! We were able to explore so many cool places that we wouldn't have had the opportunity to had we not been able to reach out to Peggy and Alessandro. In addition, the institution where we studied could not have been more perfect. Florence University of the Arts offered numerous academic subjects to explore, and went above and beyond in ensuring that students got the most out of their experience. What is unique about FUA, is that they offer mandatory excursion trips as part of each course, where you get to travel outside of Florence and take part in activities pertaining to your class. For example, for my Italian class we visited Orvieto, a small town with a bit of a large secret–an entire community of caves under the city that were once occupied years before. We got to tour the caves and learned about the cities' history and why the caves were created. This was definitely one of my most memorable experiences, it was so unique and I would have never visited or even known about that town on my own. Overall, I could write an entire book about how great my experience was. CIS does it best, and they offer everything you could ask for! As a last point, I would like to mention that CIS has included health care while you are abroad. If we ever got sick or had any emergency, we had a doctor available to us that was free to visit, which really made a huge difference for me. Although I never needed to visit the doctor, I had a friend who broke her tail bone cliff jumping and was able to visit a doctor immediately because of this. It eased the students' minds knowing we had somewhere to go if anything happened to us, which really matters especially in a foreign country.
How can this program be improved?
The only thing I would say about this program is that the housing in our specific program could have been better. We did not have the best housing, although everyone else on our trip had good apartments. We must have gotten a bad luck of the draw–but listening to the students and their housing complaints is necessary and not to be taken lightly. I would suggest if possible a back up apartment kept open should any of the students have any serious problems with their housing–that would have really helped my roommates and I.
Would you recommend this program?
Yes, I would