Cities become your home when you get to share the city to your family and friends. One of the best 'aha' moments I had while abroad was when my mom got to visit me about half way through the semester. We were walking around the city and I was sharing everything that I knew about it, simply going on and on about how marvelous it was and why. I would talk about the Duomo and the small piazza by my apartment. My mom was impressed that I not only knew all of this information, but I knew every which way to turn while we were walking. She finally said that "Wow. This truly has become your new home." And it was simple moments like these that I truly miss the most about my time in Florence, Italy.
I had always known going in to college that I wanted to study abroad for a semester sometime during my four years. I chose Italy and immediately also chose Florence because I appreciated that it was a vibrant booming city but also a small city, in hopes that it would feel homey. I wanted to be in a place where another language was spoken. It turned out that many of the cafes I would go into often, the workers would want to help you learn Italian and would help you as you mumbled the little Italian you knew to order a cappuccino.
My next step was choosing which program I wanted to study abroad with. I was initially drawn towards AIFS (American Institute of Foreign Study) because, 1. It was an affiliate program for my school (University of Alabama), 2. It had a great flight package that would allow me to spend 3 days in London prior to arriving in Italy 3. It had a meal plan package that had great reviews and 4. It appeared to include a lot for the cost that was similar to other programs.
I ultimately chose AIFS and all I can say is AIFS went above and beyond everything I expected. It started off with the great flight package which included a 3 day all-inclusive trip to London and then a 5 day orientation in Rome. I really liked having an orientation in another city because in the morning, we would have orientation, and then in the afternoon, we got to explore the city, go the Vatican, etc.
The meal plan WAS OUT OF THIS WORLD. IT WAS INCREDIBLE! There is no better way to experience the culture of Italy than being able to eat at about 25 different restaurants throughout the city each night. Each restaurant ranged from a meal "gift card" or a set menu. And these restaurants had incredible food. It may have helped me gain a few pounds, but I also got to explore some of Italy's best food for no price. I know so many other students studying abroad that ended up cooking pasta and sauce for dinner every night to save money, whereas my friends and I got to go out to eat each night of the week.
AIFS also had an incredible and friendly staff to help you out if you need them, and planned many social events including volunteering the local schools, colleges, etc.; social nights with local Italians to practice your Italian and meet other students; free trips to the Italian country side as well as a 3 day trip to Venice; and even got to stay right on the river in an Italian style apartment. I’m telling you, AIFS did an incredible job of making sure we had every opportunity to fully engage in the Italian culture and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. With that, I urge anyone reading this to go for it and GO STUDY ABROAD.