Picking my study abroad program was a stressful experience for me. Having never left the country, even entertaining the idea was cause for enough anxiety—seeing all of my options, then, made me dizzy. The moment I contacted SAI Programs, however, I was immediately put at ease by their staff, who somehow never got sick of my constant questions. Along with the staff at Mizzou's international office, the people at SAI assured me that the stress was normal, that the experience was exceedingly worth it. They encouraged me through the pre departure process. In mid-2016, I enrolled at Florence University of the Arts through SAI as excited and prepared as I could be. Shakily nervous, too, and I knew that was okay.
When I got to Italy, representatives from both SAI and FUA were there to greet me. SAI told me where to find them, gave me emergency contact info, a list of activities. FUA did much the same, giving me my class information, too. When I arrived at my apartment on Via Fiesolana, it was up to me to explore Firenze -- SAI would be there to support me, FUA there to educate me.
My experience abroad was consistently captivating. The sights I saw, the things I learned, and the atmosphere I lived in will forever coat my mind. The academic experience was like nothing I'd done before ("An Italian Journal" and the one-week "Cultural Introduction to Italy" course, you should take them.) When not in class, I encourage you to immerse yourself in your city -- SAI and FUA both have city walks, cooking classes, and other activities that give context to your Italian home.
- Even for the most eager, learned traveler, the language barrier and cultural differences can be jarring initially. I encourage you to be intrigued by these differences. Listen to the language, observe the habits, practice both. Nothing is quite as gratifying as conducting yourself like a local.
- Go to class and be a sponge. Many of the teachers are Italian, and they'll teach more about the culture than an article ever could.
- Find a trustworthy ATM (called a "bancomat") and take out lumps at a time to avoid constant fees. See the touristy places, definitely, but venture further for your wallet and experience's sake.
- As always, be safe in your explorations. Florence is a safe city, that much is sure, but you should still exercise the caution you would in America -- more, in fact, because you're farther from your home country.